Friday, September 30, 2011


James freakin' Loney: What the hell am I doing
in this post??
Gone in 60 seconds for a wild, won-ton weekend, but time enough at last for a quick start-up of a multi-part dissertation on a more structured/nuanced/artfully-balanced-on-the-end-of-a-pin MVP process.

As always, it's not just the destination but the journey, and this one will begin with a look at the hitting leaders over the last two months of 2011 season from each league (data courtesy of the always useful David Pinto Day-By-Day Database).

Almost all of the players selected are at least on the fringes of the current MVP discussion, though some will produce head-scratching. Those folks (Dan Uggla, to name one) are there mostly to show the league-leading totals in a stat (in his case, HRs over the last two months).

We'll get into the "Ptolemaic method" and how it probably won't change anyone's preconceived notions of the MVP selection process next week, but for now, peruse the data. We've sorted the hitters by OPS, and have highlighted achievement levels for OBP (just under .400 and higher) and SLG (.600 and higher).

Here's the NL:

And here's the AL:

More soon. (Threat? Promise? My candy mint is your breath mint...)

Thursday, September 29, 2011


After a baseball evening as unique and unprecedented as the one that millions watched on September 28, 2011, it's tempting to overanalyze, overwrite, overdo the infinitesimal probabilities involved in the just-as-ordered-up-by-the-media congruence of defining events that followed each other with the unexpected, unexplainable drama of real life. (Did I say it's tempting to overwrite??)

What we should take away from such a night is the realization that a whole series of events led up to it, and the purpose of this essay is to summarize and contextualize the month of September 2011, which had a parallel story line in both leagues (a fact that often gets overlooked in the Eastern Cabal's ongoing effort to outshout not only each other but the rest of the country as well).

Let's line up the standings in each league for the principal teams as they stood on September 1.

We've added "Expected Wins" (EW) and "Difference" (D) to the basic data to show a few key points that might be useful for carrying through the narrative. By looking at those, we can see two things: the Yankees were playing a bit under their expected won-loss record, while the Braves (that other team originally from Boston who took a tumble in September) were playing five games over theirs.

Both of these facts ended up being "corrected" somewhat during the final month. (Note, of course, that other teams, in both leagues, were outpacing their expected win totals at the end of August--this tool, as with all of the ones in the analyst's arsenal, is imperfect and incomplete. Detroit, Milwaukee, Arizona managed to remain "above the line.")

Note also that the expected won-loss data at the end of August suggests that the Red Sox were legitimately a .600 team. What happened to them in September (as shown in the full standings for the last month--both AL and NL are shown below) shouldn't happen even to one's worst enemy:

That's right. The Red Sox were five games unlucky in the final month. All they needed was one of those five games to go in their favor and they would have bounced back up to the river's surface instead of sinking to the stream bed like a baseball version of Shelley Winters in The Night of the Hunter.

After all that screaming about love and hate, it gets very quiet
when you're dead...
They were 2-7 in one-run games during September.

But let's also note something else. Tampa Bay was not the best team in baseball in September. They had only the third best record in the AL during that month.

They played very well, to be sure. But both the Tigers and Rangers were better. The Rangers, known for their sluggers, had an astonishing performance from their pitchers in September, a month when AL scoring actually went up. Nobody seems to have noticed this.

Let's finish with the September records of the NL teams:

Here we see that the Cardinals were the best team in September (though not in expected wins--they appear to have gotten some good breaks), and the Braves were in fact the worst (managing to get under the Astros, no mean feat when you are talking about a team with less than 60 wins over the whole season). But the Braves weren't as unlucky as the Red Sox: they simply stopped hitting.

They scored seven runs in their final five games, and lost them all.

I have no recollection of any other such amazing parallelism in "final month fortune reversal" as we've just seen over the past twenty-eight days. It's happened in one league or the other, every so often.

But when has it ever happened in both leagues, in parallel, both coming down to one-run losses on the final day of the regular season?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


How does a mousy young woman become an international
femme fatale? Easy--just put her behind bars...
Whilst the fur flies over Moneyball (fear not, we will weigh in soon...) and the parallel collapse of the two franchises originally based in Boston, there are really important matters that are being relegated to the slag heap because they just aren't as outrageous as, say, the ongoing trial of Amanda "Foxy" Knox (a debacle as protracted as the month of September for the Red Sox and Braves, who are 16-36 since August 31st).

No, what's languishing in the bulrushes is the rise of two hitters with hitting talents that remain opposite to what is favored in the version of the game that took hold in the 1990s and retains its allure despite its imminent decline.

These two hitters are far from the best in the game, but the shape of their statistics (low homer and walk totals, only middling on-base percentage despite a .300+ batting average) tends to keep the recognition of their overall usefulness--well, it keeps it pretty well locked up, that's what it does.

Who are these guys? And what millstone--I mean, milestone--have they both achieved that has us fan-dancing with our flugelhorn (an image that, try as I might, can't quite be captured even with the advent of Internet image innumerability--so you'll just have to settle for the cheap shot of a shapely sight gag)?

They are Melky Cabrera and Starlin Castro, and they are the latest members of the 200-hit club.

Starlin is only 21, so the judgmental jury (taking after the Italian "school of justice," apparently...) is still out. There is some chance that he'll develop some additional offensive skills beyond a .300 BA, middling power, and a low walk percentage (6%). His 200+ hit debut in '11 makes him only the eleventh player to crack the 200-hit milestone at age 21 or younger, which bodes well for his chances of having another 200-hit season during his career, but leaves the jury sequestered with respect to his ultimate career path (five of these eleven players on the list have been elected to the Hall of Fame or are a mortal lock for it: Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Alex Rodriguez, Joe DiMaggio, Lloyd Waner).

Melky, however, is a player who has been suspect ever since he first came up to the majors. It probably didn't help that the team was the Yankees, who despite their success with a series of preternaturally long-lived homegrown players who've helped fuel their protracted dominance (Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams) are a team that likes to spread the large-size bills around--if only to remind you that there's more than one way to influence a jury. Melky clearly didn't have the physical appearance of a pinstriped pasha...frankly, he looked more like any one of those guys you could see driving dump trucks on the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

Melky Cabrera: just barely passing muster to appear on
folding money in the Yankees' scheme of things
As was inevitable, Melky got peddled in what was supposed to be another instance of highway robbery (sent to the Braves for Javier Vazquez), had a bad year, and suddenly found himself playing in Kansas City. Melky was turning 26, and "the whole truth and nothing but" was that he was a piece of meat that had laid out in the sun too long. Spilt, spent, spoiled, and no longer even good enough to be a suspect, Melky's presence on the Royals was seen as the work of a cruel and unusually sadistic god (Old Testament division).

So, naturally enough, we are just about to drop the lethal gas on the 2011 regular season and here's Melky with 201 hits, 67 of them for extra-bases. As with Starlin, he can't walk his way out of a paper bag (as of this writing, they both have 35 bases on balls for the season), but he's sporting a 122 OPS+ and even a basic evidentiary hearing will confirm that he's had a helluva better season than Carl Crawford (who, BTW, has never had 200 hits in a season).

Nobody really expects Melky to do it again, but stranger things have happened. Sam Rice started late, flitted around, had his first 200-hit season at age 30, waited four years, did it again, then did it four more times, the last time at the age of 40. Sam's the oldest player to have 200+ hits in a season. It's probably  the main reason he's in the Hall of Fame. (And players who have 200+ hits at an advanced age, in this case 35 years old and up, do show a marked propensity for a plaque in Cooperstown. The second oldest guy to have 200+ hits in a season is Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. All in all, the percentage of old 200-hit guys (age 35 and up) in the Hall is 55%.

The big problem for 200-hit guys is that they don't walk enough to make happy those of you who wear "the sabermetric 0-for-4" (sorry, no longer available at Cafe Press, and too obscure a reference to pass the puerility test at Snorg Tees). The same dynamic that applied to high-hit players in the past is still prevalent today--they tend to swing for contact more and walk less frequently than league average. A decade-by-decade breakout of the hitting patterns (shown above) of 200-hit players reveals the slow-but-consistent decay of these hitters over time: relative to the league, which continues to feature isolated power, these guys are giving ground. The quality decline was sharp in the 1920s, but the aggregate OPS+ stayed consistent for the better part of eight decades until it took a nosedive in 2000-09.

The history of 200-hit seasons has a lot of interesting detail in it, but it seems useful to at least measure the quality extremes that exist within such seasons. These are probably best manifested by the extremes in walks drawn. Every other combination, including aging, doesn't result in significant differences in overall quality.

In order to examine this, we captured the data for those 200-hit players who walked 100 or more times in a season, and compared it to the data for 200-hit players who walk 25 times or less. There are 26 players who are 200-100s, while there are only 23 players who are 200-25s. Here they are, and here are their performance averages:

The 200-100 players have, simply put, some of the greatest seasons ever turned in over the course of baseball history. Lou Gehrig is on this list seven times. Wade Boggs pulled off this feat in four consecutive years. It's a list dominated by left-handed hitters (eight of the players here, who total 26 such seasons, are southpaws, and a ninth--Bernie Williams--is a switch-hitter, as opposed only four righties.)

Compared to the 200-100 folks, the 200-25 list loses more than 50 points of OPS+, more than 250 points of OPS, and 100 points of OBP. Some of the names on this list are so obscure that there is a 50% likelihood that they've been forgotten by their own families.

Melky and Starlin are closer to this category of 200-hit player, which means there's little likelihood of a Cooperstown plaque in either of their futures. The 200-hit players who are in the Hall hit .355 and had a .958 OPS during their 200-hit seasons. The 200-hit folks who aren't in the Hall hit .333, and their OPS is 80 points lower. That's why only 33% of the 200-25 guys are in Cooperstown, as opposed to 70% for the 200-100 guys.

One final chart, and it's a doozy. This one provides you with the complete anatomization of 200-hit seasons from 1887 until the present day, and it's sorted/clustered by age. (We are using our favored definition of age ranges from the old BBBA days, slightly different than that used at Forman et fils. Age Range 1 (orange) is age 25 and younger; Age Range 2 (sky blue) is 26-29; Age Range 3 (light green)is 30-34, Age Range 4 (yellow) is 35 and older.) The Age data shows that 26-year-olds are likeliest to join the 200-hit club. As noted earlier, Melky was 26 in 2011.

The most number of 200-hit seasons in any given year can be found in the right-most column--take a guess? Yes, if you took a flyer on 1930, you'd be right: 20 hitters had 200+ hits that year. But they had 19 the year before. What leaps out from this chart is how the lively ball just made this total jump through the roof--it's a startling contrast from the deadball era. The 1910s (16 total 200-hit seasons) and the 1920s (102 200-hit seasons) are plainly and simply alternate universes.

The slackoff began in the late 30s and it really wasn't until expansion, with its eight extra games, when baseball got back into 200+ hit seasons.

Before you get to the bottom, make a guess as to how many times someone has amassed 200 hits in a season. (No peeking!)

And notice that the vast majority of all elderly players (Age Range 4, 35 and up) with 200+ hits occur in the 1920s. The sharp rise in offense allowed some veterans to ride the wave of the new offensive environment. That seems to have been an unrepeatable event.)

But also notice the odd stepwise progression beginning in 2000 and continuing virtually uninterrupted until today of multiple 200-hit seasons moving in tandem over the age ranges. They moved over into Age Range 4 in 2009, but it's looking like this odd little phenomenon has finally come to close.

Who are the big guys right now in this area? Well, Juan Pierre, of course--the man who had only a 82 OPS+ back in 2006 when he collected 200 hits (one of four times that he's done it). The two leaders in this category, however, are Ichiro! (10 straight times, though not this year...) and Michael Young, who's done it six times, including 2011.

You can't tell from this chart, but the team with the most number of player-seasons with 200+ hits over the course of baseball history? It's a tie: 41 such seasons, held by the Tigers and the Cardinals. The Yankees are third with 36, with the Phillies and Pirates tying for fourth place with 31.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Kenley Jansen, bringing down the hammer.
It's not quite an official statistic yet, since the season has a few days left to run, but Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers' big converted catcher from Curacao, is looking like a lock to join a very small coterie of relief pitchers who have achieved the upper reaches in what might just as well be known as "K-ology."

As of today, Kenley is sporting a K/9 ratio of 15.87, which places him second on an all-time list of nine pitchers (a total of eleven pitcher-seasons, all since 1992) who've been able to generate a K-rate of fourteen or more per nine innings.

Jinx Falkenberg: a lefty, but no leftist...
Jansen came up in 2010 after a whirlwind conversion from the crouch to the slab and was lights-out in his 27 innings (0.67 ERA and 13.7 K/9). 2011 featured a rough start and a hospitalization for an irregular heartbeat, but Kenley's somewhat abbreviated second half has been downright surreal in terms of its breeze-making: since the ASB, his K/9 is 18.8. In September, he's struck out 23 batters thus far in just 9.1 innings, which ought to be record even if it isn't.

All this is, naturally enough, pretty unbelievable--not to mention unsustainable. Which is the probably the greatest shame of all, that someone can't blaze through the sky for not just a fortnight, reducing grown men into a nattering chorus of pop-eyed, teeth-gnashing bewilderment. Operating at such a level of domination is accompanied, or so it seems at least, with a curse, a jinx that's not nearly as shapely as lanky, leggy, more-than-slightly horse-faced (and all-too-often draped on the arm of some potatoe-head precursor of Dan Quayle) Jinx Falkenberg, here seen doing some whitewashing of her own.

As the chart below shows, the year after a pitcher flies through the roof in terms of striking out the side with almost comic frequency, he starts what is most often a swift descent to earth. Pitchers with such a superabundance of stuff seem to be subject to what my old pal C.O. Jones likes to call the "aiyee" curse (sometimes referred to for purposes of "clarity" as the "I.E. curse": injured and/or erratic).

It is probably inevitable that one or the other of these results will issue from such extreme performance. Only Billy Wagner was able to escape it over any great length of time. All of the high-octane K guys here who've had a "year after" (not yet the case for Jansen and the Braves' young closer Craig Kimbrel) have wound up in one of C.O.'s two categories with a depressing regularity of swiftness.

Stan to DM: "I'm not sending you a copy of
my book, because you'll just decide to
rewrite it!!"
Dibble, Benitez, Gagne, Marmol--all these guys inspired head-scratching awe at their rarified K/9 numbers. They don't seem to be able to sustain it: being a flamethrower seems to have a seed of fiery self-destruction embedded in the first five letters of the term. These guys are what our old pal Stanley Fish (as a scholar, Stan remains the master of off-speed junk) would call "self-consuming artifacts."

W(h)ither Kenley and Craig? Or can we get lucky and get a little Wagnerian echo from one or both of 'em? Baseball needs its extremes a lot more than American politics, so a little role-reversal would be more than welcome. Here's hoping that at least one of these two blazes a path across the sky that stays visible for the better part of the next decade.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Ichiro! had two hits tonight, bringing his total to 175 for the year with only nine games left. It will be one of the great surprises in baseball history if he can get to 200 from such a vantage point.

We calculated the odds prior to tonight's game, when Suzuki needed 27 hits in 10 games. It turns out that Ichiro! has actually had 27 hits over 10 games on four separate occasions in his career--four out of 1731 such ten-game clusters.

That works out to a probability of 0.23%.

Of course, that's about the probability that the Tampa Bay Rays had just a few days ago with respect to overtaking the Boston Red Sox. We will cop to trying to put the ol' BBBA whammy on the Sox when we extolled how well they were playing last month, but even we didn't anticipate something like this. The question that comes to mind (which we asked over at BTF a bit earlier this evening) is: what's the highest September ERA for a team that made it into the post-season?

Right now the Sox are right around an ERA of six. They are clearly getting the raw end of the deal this month--all of the pitchers with ERAs between 5.5 and 6.5 over the past two years, when added up, have a 5.91 ERA and an aggregate winning percentage of .369. The Sox are currently 5-14 for the month, which means that they've lost two more games than they should have thus far. The combined OPS+ allowed by the dregs of the baseball in 2010-11 is .855; the Sox hurlers in September 2011 have only been clipped at a rate of .808.

Finally the season is getting interesting!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Time for an update of the 11-game charts we've looked at earlier. More streakiness on the bottom end of things than what's been the case in recent years--is that a sign of the times in terms of a downwardly altered run-scoring environment or just random noise? We'll have to look some more at this when we've got some time in the offseason.

First, the AL East:

It'll be interesting to see the 144-154 data for the Red Sox and Rays, who've gotten closer to one another in the last few days (this data is 2-4 days out of currency). The Sox did have a splendid run in the middle of the season (47-19, as shown in the portions of the data displayed in red); the rest of their season, however, is a good bit less impressive (38-38).  The Yankees are shooting for ten straight .500+ 11-game segments, and they've been a more consistent team across the season.

While they clearly haven't won or lost the games in the same way as the Sox, the Rays have a similar profile: they've been vulnerable to "swoons," and one kinda figures they may be due for one more.

Next, the AL Central:

Since that 27-17 start, the Indians have been giving ground (42-56).

The Royals had a poor stretch in the middle of the year (18-37); when you place that on the side, the rest of their season is respectably mediocre (42-47).

The Tigers have played solid ball over the past third of a season (35-20) after a plodding start (46-42).

The Twins and the White Sox (but especially the Twins) will take a pass.

Rounding out the AL with the Western Division:

The M's hit a wall and now look like a team heavily into a "rebuilding phase" (17-38).

The A's had two bad weeks (games 67 through 77); otherwise they are a perfectly mediocre team (65-68).

The Rangers have more highs than the Angels, but they go negative more often (five sub-.500 segments as opposed to three).

On to the National League. Here's the East:

What a run for the Phillies: 54-23 over the past seven 11-game segments and only one sub-.500 segment for the whole year. Imagine if Roy Oswalt had actually been the Phourth Ace...

The Marlins have proved that they can play great and play abysmally for two different managers.

There's been a lot of deviation in the Braves' performance--and that's kept them from getting closer to the Phillies.

What did the Nationals do right in that portion of the year where they went 21-12? They were only able to win 21 games out their next 55...

The NL Central:

The Pirates (14-30 in the past seven weeks) just dropped to the track like that shot-up racehorse in The Killing...

Houston, however, had a more sustained period of freefall (17-49, as marked in red).

The opposite "behavior" has been exhibited by the Brewers (39-16) over the last third of the year.

A rotten year in Chicago--especially those first 99 games (39-60). They've played exactly .500 ball (22-22) since.

And, last (possibly least, too)--the not-so-wild West:

Someone (I think it was Dave Cameron) anointed the Rox after they opened the year 15-7. Overly oiled, they slipped on a prognosticative banana peel, losing 28 of their next 44. They haven't exactly rallied over the next 77 games (36-41).

The Dodgers had seven straight sub-.500 segments, but they might wind up over .500 anyway. They are 34-21 over the last third of the year.

The Giants have no offense, and the pitching finally couldn't get under the anemic performance of their teammates.

The Padres undid their only sustained performance of the year by bracketing it with two of their worst 11-game segments.

* *

OK, how many times have teams had four straight winning 11-game segments this year?

The Red Sox, Yanks and Phillies have each done it six times. The Cardinals and the Brewers have each done it twice. The Giants did it once. So did the Diamondbacks. So did the Angels. And so did the Rays.

The Braves and the Rangers haven't done it.

We'll see if any of this means anything--anything at all--in the upcoming post-season.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Now that the official acts of myth and mourning have welled up around the 9/11 tragedy via America's curious obsession with round numbers, perhaps it's safe to emerge with a selection of the baseball stories that this formerly random day happens to possess as part of the day-to-day history of the game.

As with so much else in American life, the individual flavor of such a day has somehow been drained away: the combination of the change in baseball's schedule structure and the parallel near-extinction of pennant races and complete games by pitchers have made what used to be a day filled with potential drama into something consigned to uniformity. When we gain, we also lose.

Here is a smattering of highlights from the earlier September 11th days in baseball.

The Brooklyn Robins, on their way to the World Series (and that singular, unassisted triple play), swept a doubleheader from the St. Louis Cardinals. Sherry Smith (9-8) blanked St. Louis on five hits in the opener, and smacked two doubles to boot; in the nightcap, Leon Cadore (who earlier that year had faced off against Boston's Joe Oeschger in MLB's longest game, a 26-inning, 1-1 tie) scattered ten hits while going 3-for-4 as the Robins amassed 20 hits en route to a 15-4 win.

Big Train a-comin': Walter Johnson
The New York Yankees and the St. Louis Browns, in a tense dogfight for the AL pennant that would go down to the last day of the season, were both victorious.

Babe Ruth hit 2 HRs and drove in five as the Yankees beat Philadelphia, 9-4, behind Bob Shawkey (18-10); the Browns rallied from a 4-2 deficit for a walk-off 5-4 win. Lefty Hub Pruett (Ruth's nemesis) pitched four innings of one-hit relief to keep the Browns close and received the win.

Walter Johnson won his 20th game (the twelfth and final time that the Big Train would do so in his career) as the Senators (en route to a second straight AL pennant) edged the Boston Red Sox, 5-4. Johnson, hitting .456 going into the game, went 0-for-3; he wound up hitting .433 for the year.

Pinky Pittenger, doing what he did best:
throw the ball around the infield...
It was Cincinnati second baseman Pinky Pittenger's greatest day in the majors. The light-hitting infielder collected six hits and four RBI as the Reds swept a doubleheader from the Boston Braves, 8-4 and 16-5.

In a tense game at Yankee Stadium, the surging Philadelphia A's seemed poised to climb to within a half game of the first-place Yankees, leading 3-1 going into the bottom of the eighth with Lefty Grove in command, but Babe Ruth hit his 49th homer to spark a four-run rally as the Bombers pulled out a 5-4 win.

The A's had been 12 1/2 games back in mid-July, but had won forty of fifty-two games to catch the Yankees, who would ultimately hold off the A's by two and a half games to win the pennant--their last for four years.

The fabulous Baker Bowl, the Coors Field of its day...
Just another game at the Baker Bowl, with 22 runs scored and 32 hits between the two teams. The hard-hitting Phillies, en route to a last-place finish, took it out on the seventh-place Reds, 15-7, paced by Don Hurst's two HRs and five RBI.

(The Phillies hit .344 as a team in the Baker Bowl that year; unfortunately for them, their opponents hit .359 there and outscored them by a hundred runs.)

The St. Louis Cardinals, still five games behind the New York Giants, salvaged a key game in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. Manager Frank Frisch brought in his ace, Dizzy Dean, in the seventh and ol' Diz held off the Phillies just enough to close out a 6-4 win. It was Dean's sixth save of the season (he would wind up with seven for the year, to go with seven shutouts and 30 wins). The Cards would then win 14 of their last 18 to slip past the Giants in the final week of the season.

The Chicago Cubs scored six in the fifth and eight in the eighth to pummel the lowly Boston Braces (who would finish the year with a woeful 38-115 record) by a score of 15-4. Stan Hack had four hits and 3 RBI. It was the eighth consecutive win for the Cubs, who would extend this September win streak to an amazing 21 straight en route to the NL pennant.

Paul Dean (Dizzy's younger brother), making his first major-league start in more than two years, scattered 12 hits to lead the sixth-place Cardinals to a 6-4 win over the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates. (The Bucs would falter later in the month and lose the pennant to the Chicago Cubs.) Johnny Mize hit a three-run HR in the fourth to get the Cards even, and two errors by the Pirates in the seventh led to two unearned runs. Dean's win raised hopes that he would recover his earlier form (19 wins in both '34 and '35), but he won only two more games for the Cardinals before being traded to the Giants in 1940.

Tiny Bonham
Bob Feller
The Indians and the Yankees, embroiled with the Detroit Tigers in one of baseball's best-ever three-way pennant chases, split a doubleheader. Tiny Bonham outdueled Bob Feller in the opener as the Yanks won, 3-1, but in the nightcap the Tribe took advantage of errors by first baseman Babe Dahlgren and starter Red Ruffing to score five runs in the third, capped by Beau Bell's two-run double as Cleveland salvaged a split with a 5-3 win in a game called after six on account of darkness. (Neither team won the pennant.)

In another see-saw pennant race, the Dodgers and the Cardinals battled the entire 1941 season with no more than four games separating the two teams. A three-game series between the two teams--their last meeting of the year--began in Sportsman's Park on September 11. The Cards scored twice in the third off Fred Fitzsimmons, but the Dodgers struck for four unearned runs in the fourth to take the lead. In the seventh, Pee Wee Reese's error (his forty-third of the year) aided the Cards in scoring two unearned runs to tie the game, and the game went into extra innings. Dixie Walker's single plated two for the Dodgers in the 11th, and Hugh Casey slammed the door for a 6-4 Brooklyn win.

Mort Cooper
Eddie Smith
Two pitchers' duels dominated the day's games. In Chicago, Bill Dickey's light-hitting brother George scored the only run of the game as the White Sox shaded the Yankees, 1-0, with Eddie Smith (the only pitcher named to the All Star team while losing 20 games) outpitching Atley Donald.

In Brooklyn, the Cardinals were (again) chasing the Dodgers, and Mort Cooper tossed a three-hit shutout to move them within a game of first place: it was Cooper's 20th win of the season. Terry Moore's two-run single off loser Whit Wyatt gave the Cards some additional breathing room in their 3-0 victory. The next day, two guys named Max faced off for the only time in baseball history: the Cards' Max Lanier outdueled the Dodgers' Max Macon as St. Louis pulled even with Brooklyn thanks to a 2-1 win.

The Detroit Tigers, struggling while their recently discharged slugger Hank Greenberg was sidelined by injury, got a gift--a pitching gem from Dizzy Trout, a two-hit shutout to lift them past the Boston Red Sox, 5-0. Doc Cramer's three-run HR in the seventh was the icing on the cake for Detroit, who survived their late-season stumbling to win the AL pennant and the World Series.

Brooklyn, chasing St. Louis, couldn't get the job done this day, playing a 19-inning 0-0 tie with the Cincinnati Reds. Their young phenom Hal Gregg, who'd wind up with 18 wins for the year, pitched ten shutout innings, but the Reds' Johnny Vander Meer topped him, throwing fifteen scoreless innings and striking out 14. Eddie Stanky went 0-for-7 for the Dodgers; Max West went 0-for-8 for the Reds.

One more time for the Dodgers and Cards, who started a series at Sportsman's Park in which all three games were decided by one run. Ralph Branca won his 20th game in the series opener as the Dodgers won, 4-3, aided by Jackie Robinson's game-tying homer in the fifth. The most exciting game of the series was played the next day, as a pitcher's duel fell apart in the seventh and the two teams traded blows: the Dodgers scored four in the the top of the ninth to take a 7-6 lead, only to watch Enos Slaughter double in two runs in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Cards to an 8-7 victory. The next day's game was eerily similar, but the Dodgers managed to hold on for a mirror-image 8-7 win.

The Boston Braves needed no rain on this day, and Spahn and Sain each won their game in a doubleheader sweep over the Phillies. Sain won his nineteenth with a 3-1 victory in the opener; Spahn homered and doubled (!) as part of a 16-hit attack mounted by Boston in the nightcap, knocking young Robin Roberts out with seven runs in the sixth en route to a 13-2 win.

Carl Furillo, playing the carom in Ebbets Field.
Carl Furillo's grand slam homer in the bottom of the seventh capped a six-run inning as the Brooklyn Dodgers doubled up in the New York Giants, 10-5, keeping them just a game-and-a-half behind the St. Louis Cardinals. The last of the great 1940s dogfights between these two teams would go down to the final day, and Furillo's scintillating September (he hit .436, driving in 35 runs in 29 games) was the catalyst for the Dodgers' late-season flurry.

September 11-13, 1951, was the only time during the Giants' great stretch run where they lost two games in a row--the second of a doubleheader on the 11th, when a ninth inning rally fell just short and they lost to the Cardinals, 403, and then on the thirteenth, when Sal Maglie was knocked out in the second inning. The Giants would lose only once more in the remaining thirteen regular season games in order to force the famous playoff series with the Dodgers.

Over the last half of the 1952 season, A's rookie right-hander Harry Byrd was one of the AL's best pitchers (2.61 ERA). He threw a one-hit shutout against the Yankees to open September, and faced the Indians' Mike Garcia on the 11th. Byrd allowed only one run--a homer to Bobby Avila--but Garcia was unhittable, allowing only two singles (both to Ferris Fain). Final score: Indians 1, A's 0. Byrd was named  AL Rookie of the Year, but the second half of '52 proved to be more illusion than reality for him.

Andy Pafko
The Dodgers and Braves previewed the real rivalry that dominated the second half of the 1950s with this game. The Braves jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two, but Lew Burdette weakened in the fifth; Roy Campanella's game-tying two-run homer knocked him out. The Dodgers scored in the sixth to lead, 6-5, but Andy Pafko homered off Ben Wade in the bottom of the inning to put the Braves back in front.

The Dodgers drew even with a run in the seventh, but the Braves scored again to lead 8-7. In the ninth, the Dodgers loaded the bases with no one out, and pinch-hitter Dick Williams had a potential grand slam taken away from him by CF Billy Bruton; as a result, Brooklyn only tied the score. In the bottom of the tenth, Pafko hit his second homer of the game to win it for the Braves, 9-8.

Rookie left-hander Dean Stone broke into the Senator starting rotation thanks to ten scoreless relief innings during May, by early July he was 7-1 and found himself named to the All-Star team. He saved his best work for September (1.32 ERA), including consecutive shutouts--the first on the the 11th against the Orioles, the second six days later against the Red Sox. Like Harry Byrd, however, Stone never duplicated his first-year success, mostly due to his inability to master his control.

The major AL rivalry in the first half of the 50s was between the Yankees and Indians; they were still at it on September 11, 1955, playing a crucial doubleheader with the Tribe clinging to a 1 1/2 game lead. The Yankees won the opener, 6-1, with the formerly wild lefty Tommy Byrne, who been banished to the minors to relocate his control, silencing Cleveland bats and allowing only four hits. (Odd note: Byrne, a good-hitting pitcher, batted eighth in this game--fifty years before Tony LaRussa appropriated the idea.) In the nightcap, the Indians rallied off Whitey Ford in the eighth to score twice--the winning run coming on a wild pitch--to win 3-2 and earn a split. Unfortunately for the Tribe, the Yankees proceeded to win eight straight to reclaim AL bragging rights.

Sal Maglie
The Dodgers and Braves put on a colossal struggle in 1956, and they started a two-game series on September 11th. Sal Maglie continued his great run for the Dodgers, scattering eight hits and improving his record to 10-4 as Brooklyn won, 4-2; Maglie even drove in two runs to help his own cause. The next day, the two teams staged another of their seesaw donnybrooks (see 1953), with the Braves pushing over a run in the eighth to win, 8-7. The pennant race went down to the final day of the season.

Larry Sherry, King of 1959...
Many forget that Larry Sherry came up with the Dodgers in mid-1959 as a starting pitcher. He started in his first five appearances before being put into a swingman role. His last starting appearance in 1959 came on September 11, in the second game of a crucial doubleheader as the Los Angeles struggled to stay close to the Giants and Braves. Sherry threw a six-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out 11 as the Dodgers swept the doubleheader to stay within a half-game of first place. (In the opener, the Dodgers had rallied for two in the bottom of the ninth and handed Roy Face his only loss in the year he went 18-1.)

Sherry would prove even more crucial to the Dodgers' pennant chances during the playoff series against the Braves, relieving Danny McDevitt in the second inning of Game 1 and throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings as the Dodgers came from behind to win, 3-2.

On September 4, the Baltimore Orioles completed a three-game sweep against the New York Yankees and opened up a two-game lead in the AL pennant race. From that point forward, the Yankees won 22 of their next 26 games to leave the young O's in the dust. Two of those wins came on September 11, when the Yankees swept a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians. Roger Maris hit his 38th homer in the opener; Mickey Mantle, who'd eventually lead the league with 40, hit his 34th in the eleventh inning of the nightcap to seal a 3-2 Yankee victory.

Alpha and omega: Ted Wiilliams and Gordy Windhorn...
The Dodgers' youth movement was paying dividends by '61, with four young hitters (Ron Fairly, the two Davis boys, Tommy and Willie, and big Frank Howard) plus a series of young pitchers (Koufax, Drysdale, Stan Williams, Ron Perranoski) making major contributions to the team. Not quite so young, but making a mark in his brief career with the Dodgers, was well-traveled journeyman outfielder Gordie Windhorn, whose pinch-hit walkoff HR in the bottom of the eleventh inning lifted the Dodgers to a 6-5 win over the Phillies and kept them 3 1/2 games behind the front-running Cincinnati Reds. (Alas, the Phils extracted their revenge on Sandy Koufax the next day, knocking out the Dodgers' emerging ace with a nine-run second inning en route to a 19-10 win. Ex-Dodger Don Demeter did much of the damage, hitting three HRs and driving in seven.) Manager Walt Alston pulled several of his regulars: Windhorn entered the game for Duke Snider in the third and proceeded to hit his second homer in as many games...which turned out to be the sum total of his major league HR output.

The Phillies just before the Phall--fourth starter Dennis Bennett has been struggling mightily since early June (2-9, 5.21 ERA), but he rallied briefly as Philadelphia pushed its lead to six games before suffering its infamous collapse. On the 11th, Bennett outpitched Juan Marichal, scattering six hits in a 1-0 shutout win. He even struck out Willie Mays three times! From this point forward, however, the Phils would lose 14 of 21, including that all-too-famous ten straight. Bennett was traded to the Red Sox for Dick Stuart over the offseason.

That intense look on Jerry Cram's face might stem from
an awareness that 9/11/74 was his best chance for a big
league win...alas, his teammates wasted his eight
scoreless innings. Lifetime record in MLB: 0-3.
The New York Mets have already passed the Chicago Cubs by this point: their 4-0 win over the first-year Montreal Expos (remember them?) behind Gary Gentry, combined with Dick Allen's game-winning eighth-inning homer for Phils in a 3-2 win over the Cubs, gave them a two-game lead in the NL East. They would clinch the division thirteen days later.

The Cardinals, chasing the Pirates in the NL East, got a two-run HR by Ken Reitz off Jerry Koosman in the ninth to tie the game at 3-3--and, sixteen innings later, pushed over run to win the longest night game in MLB history (the game did not end until 3:13 am). Claude Osteen (Cardinals) and Jerry Cram (Mets) pitched shutout ball for 9 1/3 and eight innings respectively without either starting the game or being involved in the decision. Speedster Bake McBride scored the winning run on an errant pickoff attempt and a dropped throw at home plate.

In an alternate universe, lefty Brent Strom might have been the Mets' next great pitcher after Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack: like Seaver, he'd been a star at USC and the Mets picked him in the first round of the 1970 draft with just that connection in mind. It didn't work out that way, however: they gave up on him quickly, trading him to the Indians after the '72 season for veteran reliever Phil Hennigan in an attempt to shore up their bullpen. Strom had a hard luck year for the Indians in '73 (2-10),  struggled in the minors the following year and was dumped off to the Padres. In 1975, however, he put it all back together and was recalled by the Padres in mid-June. He improved his season record to 8-5 with a September 11th win over the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, and it looked as though the Padres just might be developing a young starting staff that could boost them into contention. Alas, Strom was injured in 1977, Joe McIntosh suffered a career-derailing shoulder injury, Randy Jones was overworked, and Dave Freisleben fizzled. The Padres would have to wait for the Reagan Era before they would finally assemble a contending team.

The Red Sox, reeling from the "Boston Massacre" (four consecutive losses to the Yankees in Fenway Park, by scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4), regained some equilibrium by edging the Baltimore Orioles, 5-4. The Sox blew a 4-1 lead in the eighth when Luis Tiant weakened and Bob Stanley allowed the tying run to score, but Jim Rice hit his second homer of the game (#40 on the year) to win it for Boston.

Ye Olde Barnburner, right on schedule: the Astros and the Reds, separated by a half-game at the top of the NL West standings, square off in Cincinnati. Staff aces (J.R. Richard, Tom Seaver) are on the mound, and both are ineffective: Richard allows four runs to the Reds in the fourth, and it might have been more had not Jose Cruz thrown out George Foster at the plate. Seaver suddenly gives ground, surrendering two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to knot the game 4-4.

Dwight Gooden
Reliever Joaquin Andujar is both ineffective and sloppy, however, committing a key mental error that permits the Reds to score twice in the sixth to go back ahead, 6-4. The Astros rally off reliever Doug Bair in the seventh, however, scoring three runs to regain the lead, 7-6. Joe Sambito is one strike away from retiring the side in the seventh when Dave Concepcion hits a two-run homer, followed immediately by another from George Foster, and the Reds lead, 9-7. The Astros get four hits in the ninth, but can score only one run, and Cincinnati holds on to win 9-8. They win the next day, 7-4, and go on to win the division--the last time they will do so until 1990.

The second-place Cardinals were just one game behind the Mets in the NL East when they squared off on September 11 with each team's ace--John Tudor and Dwight Gooden--on the mound. Living up to the pre-game hype, both starters toss nine innings of shutout ball.

John Tudor
In the tenth, however, Cesar Cedeno greets Met reliever Jesse Orosco with a leadoff homer; Tudor walks a tightrope in the tenth to close out a 1-0 win for the Cards. The Mets won the next (and final) game of the series, 7-6, but the Cardinals proceeded to win 13 out of their fourteen games to build up a four-game lead, and then held on in the final week to win the NL East.

Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combined to throw a no-hitter for the Atlanta Brave as they defeated the San Diego Padres, 1-0. Terry Pendleton's fifth-inning homer accounted for the only scoring in the game as the Braves continued their drive toward the NL West division crown. (Pendleton would be named NL MVP for 1991.)


ONCE pennant races changed, something got lost in the shuffle, and the rather amazing congruence of September 11 with interesting and notable games (not so strange, of course, given its position in the season: late enough to be filled with added tension, but with enough time left to keep the result unresolved). Still, it was interesting how many times contending teams managed to hook up on just this date--a particular magic that was lost with the invention of the wild card and permanently misplaced well before 2001 gave it an entirely new meaning. In the words of those two faux-hippie sages whose toking tamped down their "Tequila"-ing, we may never pass this way again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


One of the members of the Angels has clearly had his wings clipped. Ironically, even as he wobbles woozily toward earth, his team is making a race of it in the AL West--possibly the only actual "pennant race" with a do-or-die story attached to in 2011.

But let's stick with the lede, waddya say? Who is that fallen Angel? That's not hard--it's Vernon Wells, a convenient target of derision due to his fat contract and his sleepwalking performance.

But Vernon did something the other day that puts him in line to set a major league record--he hit his 20th home run of the season.

How the heck does that put him in position to rewrite the record books? Well, because at the moment, Vernon has the lowest on-base plus slugging (OPS) of any player in baseball history to hit at least 20 HRs in a season.

As the chart shows, Vernon has just slipped below Willie Kirkland, who is the current holder of the record. Kirkland, a problematic slugger from the early 60s (part of an avalanche of hitting talent that the Giants produced and largely squandered during that time frame), chugged home with a .649 OPS in 1962 to go along with his 21 HR. (Full disclosure: Kirkland achieved this dubious feat not with the Giants, but with the Cleveland Indians.)

Wells is currently at .648, so he's in range to be a record-holder. If the Angels come back to win the AL West (and despite the Red Sox' recent struggles, it seems that this is the only way they can make the post-season), he'll join Joe Pepitone, Brooks Robinson and Frank White as the only players who pulled off this feat while playing for a post-season team.

Note that Wells doesn't have the lowest adjusted OPS (OPS+) of any player with 20+ HRs in a season. That "honor" belongs to Marquis Grissom, who chugged his way to the record (71) back in 2001. What this actually points up is the fact that Wells has a chance to pull off a daily double in terms of this record--not only can he capture the lowest OPS, he's right on the cusp of setting the record for lowest on-base percentage (OBP) as well. Grissom is currently the record holder at .250 (yep, that was his OBP, folks), but Vernon is right down there with him.

Only three men have made this list twice--Dale MurphyJoe Carter and Juan Uribe. And only one man has managed to hit more than 30 HRs with less than a .700 OPS--the inimitable Dave "Kong" Kingman. There are two Hall of Famers on this list--Brooks Robinson and Gary Carter.

Murphy's two appearances on this list (in 1978 and 1989) bookend his career. Uribe is the only man to do it in consecutive seasons.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have an entire lineup built around a group of such hitters? Let's take a look at the "fantasy team" that's possible from this group...

Juan Uribe, sad that he and Vernon Wells couldn't be
on the same team and thus become the first teammates
to join the "anemic slugger club"....
C--Jeff Newman, Rudy York
1B--Joe Pep, Steve Garvey, Richie Sexson, Eric Karros
2B--Frank White, Aaron Hill
SS--Juan Uribe, Alex Gonzalez
3B--Brooks Robinson, Matt Williams, Charley Smith, Ed Sprague,Tony Batista
OF--Dale Murphy, Joe Carter, Ruben Sierra, Gorman Thomas, Kingman, Kirkland, Grissom, Rob Deer
UT--Frank Thomas (OF-3B-1B)

There's enough talent here to put up a passable offense, but this is clearly a team of hackers: you're looking at a squad that's going to draw less than 400 walks in a season.

It would be interesting to calculate the average number of future games played by those who've landed on this list, but we'll leave that to someone else. Keep an eye on Vernon for the rest of the month as his "quest for glory" continues, and then keep the other eye open in the off-season to see what the Angels do with him.  It promises to be something less than angelic...