erik lundegaard

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Wednesday July 23, 2014

The Last Dismal Years of Babe Ruth's Career Weren't So Dismal

I can get lost in baseball statistics.

I was on Babe Ruth's Baseball Reference page this evening, for example, and noticed his OPS for the last years of his career. Generally people say Ruth began to fade as a slugger in the early 1930s, and it's true his HR totals kept going down: 49, 46, 41, 34, 22, 6 and out. The “6” was for his last truncated season with the Boston Braves. He only played 28 games, with 72 at-bats and 13 hits. That's a .188 batting average. Dismal.

Except guess what? His OBP was still .359. You know how many 2014 Seattle Mariners have an OBP of greater than .359? One: Robinson Cano. Everyone else is worse. They're all worse than the last, dismal year of Babe Ruth's career.

The year before that for Ruth? 1934? His last dismal year with the Yankees? When he was deemed washed up? Sure, he batted below .300 for the first time since his misbegotten 1925 campaign, which was the first time he'd batted below .300 since 1916. To be exact, he hit .288 in 1934. But his OPS? .985. You know how many Major League baseball players have an OPS greater than .985 so far this year? Two: Troy Tulowitzski and Mike Trout. That's it. C'est tout. Everyone else in Major League baseball is worse than the last, dismal year Babe Ruth had with the New York Yankees in 1934—a year so bad they had to cut him loose.

Anyway, those aren't even the baseball stats I wanted to talk about. (I told you I get lost in this stuff.) I wanted to talk about strikeouts.

If you've been paying attention, you'll know that when I interviewed David Boies last January I had to correct him on the all-time strikeout leader. He thought Babe Ruth. I told him Ruth had long been surpassed; it was now Reggie Jackson. But I didn't know how long ago, and by how much, Ruth had been surpassed. I knew Mantle had done it, but I didn't know it was in 1964. I also didin't know Ruth had so few career strikeouts (1,330) for someone who was the career leader for so long (more than 30 years). I also didn't know Mantle's final career total of 1710 was surpassed in 1978 by Willie Stargell, who wound up with 1,936. But Stargell held the mark for only four years, until he was surpassed in 1982 by Reggie Jackson, who wound up with 2,597, or almost twice as many Ks as Ruth had.

The current active leader is Adam Dunn (2,323), and before him it was Jim Thome (who stopped at 2,548), and before him it was Sammy Sosa (2,306), and before him, Andres Galarraga (2,003). And so for 10 years now, since the end of the 2003 season, our active career leader in strikeouts has had more than 2,000 Ks.

Here's the trivia question: When was the last time the active career leader in strikeouts had fewer than 1,500?

Answer in the Comments field.

Babe Ruth, Boston Braves

Ruth, in the last, dismal year of his career, still had a better OBP than all but one of the 2014 Seattle Mariners. And that guy is making a quarter of a billion dollars. 

Posted at 06:27 PM on Jul 23, 2014 in category Baseball
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Wednesday July 16, 2014

Why Pete Rose is a Jerk

I came across this quote from Pete Rose in a NY Times article on last night's All-Star Game. In the 9th inning of a game in 1978, Braves closer Gene Garber threw Rose back-to-back changeups to strike him out and end his assault on Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak at 44 games (tied with Wee Willie Keeler for second-longest):

Afterward, Rose criticized Garber for pitching “like it was the seventh game of the World Series.”

Earlier in the week, again in the Times, there was a piece on Rose crashing into Ray Fosse to end the 1970 All-Star Game, an incident which separated Fosse's shoulder and curtailed his early, promising career. Was the linebackerish tackle too much for an exhibition game? Among Rose's comments was this:

“Nobody told me they changed it to girls’ softball between third and home.”

So playing all-out is well and good and manly if you're Pete Rose. If you're doing it to Pete Rose, well, god, what's the matter with you? Why do you gotta be so competitive?

Nice projection there, Mr. Charlie.

Posted at 12:26 PM on Jul 16, 2014 in category Baseball
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Saturday July 05, 2014

More Homers than Strikeouts: How Rare?

I know, I’m late to the Victor Martinez story. USA Today was on it a month and a half ago.

But I was checking out the stats on ESPN.com the other night, intrigued mostly by Mike Trout’s incredible numbers again this year—.313/.406/.616—when I noticed that Trout, for all his glory, still struck out a lot: 87 Ks to 51 BBs. But the guy with the second-best OPS in the AL? Victor Martinez? He’d struck out only 23 times. Against 33 walks. And 21 homers.

Victor Martinez, TigersTwenty-one homers and 23 Ks? That’s Joe DiMaggio territory. So I began to wonder when was the last time someone had a season where they homered more than they struck out? With, say, a minimum of 20 HRs?

Turns out it was 10 years ago: Barry Bonds during his Hulk-Smash period, so feel free to discount it. In which case, it hasn’t happened since George Brett’s .390 year in 1980, when he hit 24 homers against 22 strikeouts. The time before that? 1956: Both Ted Kluszewski and Yogi Berra.

All in all, according to Baseball Reference, it’s only been done 45 times in baseball history: seven times by DiMaggio, five by Yogi Berra, four by Kluszewski. And only once (discounting Bonds) in the last 58 years.

Martinez’s year is not only an anomaly for MLB but for Martinez. Career, he’s got 178 HRs against 618 Ks. Compare that with, say, Albert Pujols, who has 510 HRs against 873 Ks. That’s not bad for this day and age. But DiMaggio is still the touchstone: 361 HRs, 369 Ks.

Posted at 01:28 PM on Jul 05, 2014 in category Baseball
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Monday June 16, 2014

Tony Gwynn (1960-2014)

Tony Gwynn

About to put the ball in play.

Tony Gwynn is tied for 18th on the career batting average list with a .338 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is that almost every one of the 17 guys in front of him played in the 19th century. The closest contemporary to Gwynn among the 17 is Ted Williams (.344), who played from 1939 to 1960. Gwynn was born in 1960. Nobody who played later than the year he was born had a higher career batting average than Tony Gwynn.

Tony Gwynn is 112th on the career on-base percentage list with a .388 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is though he was not a bases-on-balls man, he still walked nearly twice as often as he struck out. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who simply walked more than they struck out, but Gwynn’s career walk-strikeout numbers are superb: 790 to 434. That’s actually comparable to Joe DiMaggio’s career walk-strikeout numbers: 790 to 369. Keep in mind: DiMaggio barely struck out in an age when few people did. Tony Gwynn barely struck out in an age when strikeout records were falling left and right. But he was a man who put the ball in play.

Tony Gwynn is 187th on the career OPS list with a .847 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is the guys who are behind him: Reggie Jackson (.845), Carl Yastrzemski (.841) and Roberto Clemente (.834). Gwynn’s secondary numbers might not have been superlative, in other words, but his primary numbers were so good they lifted everything else up.

He led the league in hits seven times and in hitting eight times. Only Ty Cobb led the league more often in hitting. But the main thing I can offer, that you can’t find on baseballreference.com or ESPN.com, is an incident with my friend Adam at the inaugural game at Safeco Field in July 1999.

The Seattle Mariners moved to Safeco mid-season, and chose for an opponent, or had chosen for them, their offical rivals, the San Diego Padres—truly the dullest, most manufactured rivalry in all professional sports. My friend Adam, a magazine editor, was on the field during batting practice. At one point, a batting-practice ball rolled up to him. Instant souvenir! Or was it? Should he, a member of the press, take it or leave it alone? But this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. So he took it.

Hey!

Did Adam look up? Did he know the dude was talking to him? Did he assume it was for someone else?

Hey you! Put that ball back!

And Adam looked over to see Tony Gwynn advancing toward him. He was shouting loudly. He was letting everyone know the awful thing Adam, now blushing crimson, had done. It’s pretty funny when you think about it. Balls getting hit left and right. Getting hit into the stands. Getting tossed into the stands by players. And here’s this future Hall of Famer, advancing on poor Adam because of one lousy ball.

Then Tony Gwynn broke into a grin to let him know he was giving him shit. Adam still has that ball.

54? Too fucking young.

Posted at 12:25 PM on Jun 16, 2014 in category Baseball
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Monday March 31, 2014

SLIDESHOW: It's Opening Day 2014! And Here are Your Active Career Leaders


  • SLIDESHOW: Opening Day! After a long winter. Less long here in Seattle but we'll make up for it with our usual soggy spring and soggy brand of baseball—despite the acquisition of Robinson Cano in a $240 million, 10-year boondoggle of a deal. No, enough of that. It's Opening Day and the M's are tied for first. So is your team (unless your team is in the NL West). A few years ago, I celebrated Opening Day by looking up the active career leaders in various categories. I wanted to see who was rising, who was falling, who had retired. It's become a tradition. So let's go. Active career leader in batting average. Any guesses? 

  • BATTING AVERAGE: Once upon a time, batting average was the be-all end-all stat; now it's disregarded if not maligned. But it still means something. With a minimum 3,000 plate appearances (as with all these batting categories), the active leader is Joe Mauer with a .323 mark, followed closely by Albert Pujols (.321), Miguel Cabrera (.320) and Ichiro (.318). In recent years, Mauer's remained steady, both Pujols and Ichiro have dropped like rocks, while Miggy rises. Mauer's .323 is 44th all-time. One assumes he won't get much higher. So what about OBP? Mauer again? Albert maybe?

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Nope. It's Joltin' Joey Votto (.419) and it's not close. Pujols is second (.409), then Mauer (.404) and Miggy (.399). I never would've guessed fifth place: Shin-Soo Choo at .389. Votto's .419 is 18th all-time, and it's rising. He's got a .450 mark in the last two years. You know what the means in Cincinnati? Complaints that he walks too much. Next up, slugging percentage and OPS ...

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE, OPS: Yep. Pujols is way out in front in Slugging. In fact, he, Cabrera (.567), Braun (.564) and A-Rod (.558) are the only active players above .550, and he's nearly at .600: .598. Actually: .5988, so really .599. (All of these numbers are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, where the stats are good and the ads are shitty.) Pujols', of course, used to be in the rarefied air above .600, with the Ruths, Gehrigs and Greenbergs, but he's struggled a bit the last two years. He's still 7th all-time. He's also the active leader in OPS with a 1.008 mark. That's 8th all-time. Quick quiz: Who's ahead of him in OPS and not slugging? Quick answer: Rogers Hornsby. Now let's start the counting categories. This is an easy one. What active player is leading in games played, at-bats, and hits?

  • GAMES, AT-BATS, HITS: For another year, it'll be this guy. Jeter's played in 2,602 games (37th all-time), has 10,614 at-bats (15th all-time), and has 3,316 hits (10th). Where will he wind up in this last category? I crunched the numbers a few months back. Who will take over in these categories when he retires after the 2014 season? Everyone's favorite suspended player. A-Rod is second in all of these, and that won't change from sitting out a season. Then there's Ichiro.The highest non-Yankee in these categories: Adrien Beltre. We'll skip singles (that's too easy) and head over to doubles ...

  • DOUBLES: Yeah, him again, although hardly in a walk. If Todd Helton hadn't retired he'd be in first with 594. Instead it's Jeter with 525. But Albert Pujols is right behind with 524, followed by David Ortiz with 520 and A-Rod with 519. Jeter's 525 ties him with Ted Williams for 38th all-time. As for the triples title? Still Jeter?

  • TRIPLES: No, this one goes Carl Crawford (117), then Jose Reyes (111), Jimmy Rollins (107) and Juan Pierre (94), but they're all 30+ and slowing down. In his last year in Tampa, Carl hit 13. In the three years since, a total of 12. C'mon, Carl, only 192 to tie Wahoo Sam Crawford (no relation) at 309. Carl's 117 triples rank him 103rd all-time. Jeter, by the way, is ninth in this category with 65, and none since 2011. None even in his 2012 comeback year. But let's move on to HRs and RBIs and watch the boo-birds come out ...

  • HOMERUNS, RBIs: ... for this guy. A-Rod is currently 5th all-time in homers with 654 (six away from Willie), and 6th in ribbies with 1969 (23 from Lou). Albert is second in both these categories, but way, way back. Barring disaster, by the way, Albert will reach 500 HRs this year. He's sitting on 492. As for bases on balls? Is that Albert, too?

  • BASES ON BALLS: Nope. Despite being 42 with a broken rib, not to mention a tainted career, Jason Giambi ain't retired yet, so this one's his. And it's all his. Meaning it ain't tainted. You can argue all you want about how much steroids, etc., helps with homers, etc. (and they obviously do), but no PEDs that we know about can give you a better batting eye. Giambi's 1357 walks place him 32nd all-time, 18 back of Reggie Reggie Reggie. After Giambi, it's Adam Dunn with 1,246, then A-Rod (1,240), Ortiz (1,087), Uncle Albert (1,067) and finally the retiring man, Mr. Jeter (1,047). So how about its opposite? Who's the active leader in strikeouts?

  • STRIKEOUTS: Stick a fork in it, it's Dunn. Adam has 2,220 Ks, Mr. Suspended has 2,075, Mr. Retiring 1,753. Those are our top 3. Another current Yankee, Alfonso Soriano is at 1732. Pujols, by the way, is way back in 58th place with 835. Ichiro, in the same number of years, and a helluva lot fewer extra-base hits, actually has more strikeouts: 876. Dunn is currently 4th on the all-time list, 377 back of Reggie. If he doesn't flame out in the next two years, we could have a new champion. Now onto stolen bases ...

  • STOLEN BASES: Rickey Henderson's all-time record of 1,406 steals isn't the most unbreakable record in baseball. That's gotta be wins or complete games (Cy Young). But it's certainly the most unbreakable recent record. No one's close. Put it this way: You give the guy in second-place all-time, Lou Brock (938), all of the stolen bases of the active leader, Ichiro (472), and he beats Rickey by four: 1,410. Ichrio, by the way, falls back to second on the active list if anyone signs Juan Pierre and his 614 career steals (18th all-time). But then they'd also have to sign Juan Pierre and his 203 caught stealings (6th all-time). Now let's look at the pitchers. Any guesses on active career leader in wins?

  • WINS: As long as Andy Pettite stays retired, this one's a tie: between Tim Hudson, now of San Francisco, and C.C. Sabathia, still with the NY Yankees Suck. Both have 205 career wins. Pettite retired with 256, Halladay, believe it or not, with only 203. Those 205 wins from these two guys are currently good for 102nd all-time. Neither will get to 300. Will anyone? As for losses ... ?

  • LOSSES: This one was Pettite's, too (153), and it would be Barry Zito's (143) but he remains unsigned. So Mark Buehrle picks up the boobie with 142. He's followed by Ryan Dempster (133, but possibly retired), A.J. Burnett (132), and Bartolo Colon (128), who is now with the Mets, and thus has a shot at passing all of these others. Strikeouts, anyone?

  • STRIKEOUTS: C.C.'s got it with 2,389, followed by Burnett (2,180) and Dempster (2,075). Those are the only guys left in MLB with more than 2,000 Ks. It's as if these guys never faced Adam Dunn. Sabathia is 42nd all-time, between Sandy Koufax and Charlie Hough. So what about its opposite: Which active pitcher has given up the most free passes?

  • BASES ON BALLS: Do we count Ryan Dempster? He's got 1,071, which is 84th all-time. But he's gone for 2014 and possibly for good. It's not like the A-Rod thing. A-Rod's chomping at the bit to get back. Dempster, less so. So if not Dempster, and not Zito (1,058), it goes to Burnett at 955. Kudos. Now ERA ...

  • ERA: With Mariano Rivera gone but definitely not forgotten (2.20, one of the lowest ERAs in baseball history), this is all Clayton Kershaw at 2.60. That's stunning, too. Mo retired in 13th place all-time, behind Walter Johnson, and surrounded by 19th-century, deadball pitchers. Kershaw is currently 55th all-time but no active pitcher is within a half a run of him. Second-best? Adam Wainwright at 3.11, then King Felix at 3.19. The career leader is Ed Walsh: 1.81. Another era. So to speak. So what about innings pitched?

  • INNINGS PITCHED: Who among our active wins leaders has pitched more: Hudson or Sabbathia? I would've guessed C.C. but it's Hudson: 2,813.2 to 2,775.1. But both take a backseat to Buehrle at 2,882.2. BTW: On the all-time list? That's 153rd. Cy Young's on top with 7,356 IP. Buehrle's 39% of the way there. He just needs to do what he's done for his entire career about two more times. But if you want a comparision with another era, go to complete games ... 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Since Halladay has retired he takes his 67 CGs with him, leaving us with Sabathia (37), Colon (35), Chris Carpenter (33), and Buehrle (29). If C.C. gets a CG this year, he'll move up into a six-way tie for 997th on the all-time list. That's right: 997th. Cy Young's on top with 749. C.C. just needs to do what he's done for his entire career about 20 more times. To me, this is the most unbreakable record in baseball. Now onto shutouts ...

  • SHUTOUTS: Again, Halladay leaves with his 20 shutouts, so the new active leader is Chris Carpenter (15), followed by Tim Hudson (13), and Colon, C.C. and Cliff Lee (12 each). Walter Johnson has the career record: 110. The closest any recent pitcher got? Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver. Each had 61. They're tied for seventh all-time. So who's the active career leader in saves now that Mo is gone?

  • SAVES: Bye-bye Mo at 652. Hello, Joe Nathan at 341. Second to him? Even though I still think of him as the kid who came in and shut down the Yankees in '02? It's 11-year veteran Francisco Rodriguez at 304. He's followed by Jonathan Papelbon (286), Huston Street (234), and J.J. Putz (189). BTW: One more save and Nathan passes Rollie Fingers for sole possession of 10th all-time. Now let's go to WAR for pitchers ...

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: Halladay, Pettitte and Mo are gone (65.6, 60.9, 56.6), which leaves us with Hudson, Buehrle, Sabathia (55.3, 54.6, 54.4). Hudson's WAR ranks 73rd all-time. First place? Cy Young, with a 170.3 WAR. This, by the way, is the highest WAR for anyone. Babe Ruth, who has the highest WAR for a position player, is stuck back at 163.2. And speaking of WAR for position players ...

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: It goes A-Rod (115.7), then Albert (93.0), Jeter (71.6), Beltre (70.5), Beltran (67.5), Ichiro (58.5). Meaning four of the top six are currently Yankees. And how much WAR did they have between them last year? A-Rod was at 0.3, Jeter -0.7, Beltran 2.4 and Ichiro 1.4 for a total of 3.4. Meaning these four guys together were worth as much as Leonys Martin of Texas. If, that is, you believe in WAR. And what kind of nut believes in WAR?

  • EXIT MUSIC FOR A SLIDESHOW: I posted this on Facebook last night after watching Dee Gordon climb the ladder: “I love the nonchalance of baseball. You make a nice catch, you don't spike the ball, you don't dance, you don't fulminate. You act like you belong.” Here's to a great season, everyone. As M's Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus used to say, My oh my.
Posted at 05:40 AM on Mar 31, 2014 in category Baseball
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