Baseball postsThursday April 13, 2017
The Brothers K
Joe Posnanaski has a nice piece on the early hot hand of the Rockies' Mark Reynolds without ignore Reynolds' more infamous letter: K. He writes about Reynolds in 2008 breaking Bobby Bonds' long-standing single-season strikeout mark of 189—long-standing because (and Poz fails to mention this) players who approached it generally sat out a few games at the end of the season so they didn't break it. Reynolds had more courage, struck out 204 times, then like a Bizarro Babe Ruth shattered his own mark the next season with 223. That's still the record—although Adam Dunn, Chris Davis and Chris Carter keep trying. Interestingly, Bonds' mark, so long unbreakable, isn't even in the top 20 anymore. It's a whole new ballgame. Whuff!
At one point in the piece, Poz tries to get you to statistically comprehend just how much of a strikeout artist Reynolds is, and he does this by comparing him to one of the greatest hitters of all time:
[Reynolds] has hit 255 career home runs, which is great. He has struck out a mind-boggling 1,638 times in about 5,300 plate appearances, roughly one time in three. Reynolds has struck out 250 more times than Henry Aaron — in 8,500 fewer plate appearances.
I might've done this, too, but I would've used Reggie Jackson—the man who holds the career strikeout mark with 2,597. How do they compare?
There's actually some odd similarities between Jackson and Reynolds. Both led the league in strikeouts their first four full seasons in the majors—and then never again for Reynolds (so far) and only once more for Jackson (1982). Jackson was obviously the better player—leading the league in RBIs once, runs scored twice, OPS twice, slugging three times and HRs four times. Reynolds has led the league in nothing but Ks.
As for the Ks? Reynolds currently has 1,638 Ks in 5,285 plate appearances. When Jackson was at 5,285 plate appearances—about July 5, 1976 by my rudimentary calculations—he had 1,174 Ks, or 71% of Reynolds' total. Which would mean if Reynolds has the kind of career longevity Jackson had, and if he continues to strike out at the same pace he's at now, he'll set the mark with more than 3,600 career strikeouts. Yowsah!
Don't hold your breath. Like so many before him, Reynolds seems to be finding new life in Colorado: hitting for a higher batting average (.280 last year), striking out less often (112 whiffs). So if he stays at Coors, he might not strike out enough. If he leaves Coors, and has the kind of seasons he had in, say, Milwaukee in 2014 (.196 BA, .696 OPS), he probably won't stay in the bigs long enough. Old saying: You've got to be really, really good to strike out as much as Jackson did.
The 500 Homerun Club by Decade
Foxx, second from left, was only the second man to join the 500-HR Club
It was a relatively sunny day today in Seattle, so I went for a bikeride this morning out to Seward Park, came back, ate lunch, and watched the last four innings of the first baseball game of the 2017 season, in which the Tampa Bay Rays beats the New York Yankees 7-3.
Meaning, as I write this, the Yankees are in last place in all of Major League Baseball.
So last week I posted about the 3,000 hit club by decade. Today, on the ride, I thought about the 500 homerun club by decade. I remember that when Killbrew did it he was the 10th man to ever do it, and he was more or less on the heels of Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle. So it must not have been that common back then.
It wasn't. Here you go.
- 1920s (1): Babe Ruth, August 11, 1929
- 1930s (0)
- 1940s (2): Jimmie Foxx, Sept. 24, 1940; Mel Ott, August 1, 1945
- 1950s (0)
- 1960s (5): Ted Williams, June 17, 1960; Willie Mays, Sept. 13, 1965; Mickey Mantle, May 14, 1967; Eddie Matthews, July 14, 1967; Hank Aaron, July 14, 1968 (How about that! Aaron and Matthews, former teammates, reached the mark exactly one year from each other.)
- 1970s (4): Ernie Banks, May 12, 1970; Harmon Killebrew, August 10, 1971; Frank Robinson, September 13, 1971; Willie McCovey, June 30, 1978
- 1980s (2): Reggie Jackson, Sept. 17, 1984; Mike Schmidt, April 18, 1987
- 1990s (2): Eddie Murray, Sept. 6, 1996; Mark McGwire, August 5, 1999
- 2000s (9): Barry Bonds, April 17, 2001; Sammy Sosa, April 4, 2003; Rafael Palmeiro, May 11, 2003; Ken Griffey Jr., June 20, 2004; Frank Thomas, June 28, 2007; Alex Rodriguez, August 4, 2007; Jim Thome, Sept. 16, 2007; Manny Ramirez, May 31, 2008; Gary Sheffield, April 17, 2009
- 2010s (2): Albert Pujols, April 22, 2014; David Ortiz, Sept. 12, 2015
A total of 27. We'll have one or two more this decade (Miggy, Beltre).
How about that six-year period between Sept. 13, 1965 and Sept. 13, 1971, when seven guys joined, after only four the previous entire history of baseball? That's partly Branch Rickey's legacy.
And how about all those roided guys doing it in the 2000s? That's partly Bud Selig's legacy.
Opening Day 2017: Your Active Leaders
SLIDESHOW: Another Major League Baseball Opening Day, and another slideshow of our active leaders. Expect turnover. Last year, David Ortiz was the active leader in doubles, for example, while A-Rod was the active leader in ... almost everything else: games, at-bats, hits, runs, homers, RBIs, Ks, BBs and WAR. In case you didn't hear, both guys are no longer playing. So who will replace them on the active leaderboard? It's generally one of three of the above guys. But, yeah, mostly one guy.
BATTING AVERAGE: Miggy is one of the three, but no, not him. He is our active leader in batting average, though, with a .320 mark. Then it goes Ichiro (.312), Joey Votto (.312), Joe Altuve (.311). Only 13 active players in the Majors (min.: 3,000 plate appearances) have a career batting average north of .300.
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Yeah, not him, either. Joey Votto kills in this category. He's at .424 (and climbing) and Mike Trout is at .405 (and ditto), and they're the only actives over .400. Then it's Miggy (.398) and Paul Goldschmidt (.398). Last year, Trout led the Majors with a .441 mark.
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Yeah, this is the guy taking over for most of the A-Rod slots. Uncle Albert's been the active leader in this particular category since 2005, when it was a soaring .621. Since then, gravity has taken hold, but his current .573 is still 11th all time. Two other actives are in the career top 20: Miggy (.562, 14th), and newcomer Mike Trout (.557, 19th).
OPS: Same story. Albert has ruled OPS since his 1.049 in 2008 even though he's now down to .965. On his heels: teammate Mike Trout (.962) and Miggy and Joey Votto (both w/.960). After that, it's a 40-point drop to Paul Goldschmidt.
GAMES, AT-BATS: Top three for both of these categories is the same: 1) Adrian Beltre, 2) Ichiro, 3) Carlos Beltran. Interesting tidbit: Only eight players have ever played in 3,000 games (Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Rickey Henderson, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr.). Can Beltre be the ninth? He's only 280 away. Of course, I said the same thing last year about A-Rod, who was 281 away, and he managed only another 65 before the Yanks pulled his plug in mid-August.
HITS: Ichiro is on top with 3,030, and Beltre is second with 2,942—so he should become the 31st man to join the 3,000-hit club some time in ... June? Albert, third with 2,825, will have to wait until next year. If both make it that'll be five for the decade. Trivia: Half the members of the 3,000-hit club (14) joined in one of two decades: the '70s and '90s.
DOUBLES: Only four players (Speaker, Rose, Musial, Cobb) have ever hit 700+ doubles and Albert is sitting on 602. Can he be the fifth? Well, he's 37 and averaging about 20 per year. Beltre may be the better bet. He's nine months older and 11 behind, but he's hit 30+ doubles each of the last six years. That said, cliffs come fast.
TRIPLES: For a category that requires speed, this one has been poking along for years. Reigning champ Carl Crawford managed one triple in 2016 to make it 123, while Jose Reyes hit four to nip at his heels at 121. The all-time record, of course, is Wahoo Sam Crawford's 309. No one's touching that. When was the last time the active leader had even 200+ triples? 1928, Ty Cobb. How about 150+? Roberto Clemente in 1972. 140+? Willie Wilson in '94. 130+? Brett Butler, 1997.
HOMERUNS: Albert leads with 591, so he should reach 600 by May or June. No.2 is Miggy, waaaayyy back at 446. Beltre has 445, Beltran 421. Then a bigger dropoff. After Miggy and maybe Beltre, no 500-HR guys for a while.
RBIs: Pujols is 20th all-time with 1,817, and he added an impressive 119 last season. Only four players have ever driven in 2,000+: Aaron, Ruth, A-Rod and Cap Anson. Don't see how Albert doesn't make it five. No one active is close to him: Beltre has 1571, Miggy 1553. BTW: 8th on the active list? Robinson Cano. Not a guy you think of when you think RBIs.
RUNS: Pujols again, with 1,670, but the top 10 is a slightly different crew than RBIs, including more speedsters: Jimmy Rollins (4th), Ichiro (5th), Jose Reyes (8th), and Ian Kinsler (10th). Who's top 10 for both RBIs and Runs Scored? Pujols, Beltran, Beltre, Miggy, Matt Holliday and Robinson Cano.
BBs, Ks: The fact that Pujols is first in active walks with 1,214 isn't what's impressive; it's that he's way back at 41st in active strikeouts (1,053). So he could be one of those guys who walks more than Ks during his career. Beltran is second in walks with 1,051, Miggy third with 1,011. The active leader in Ks? Depends on your definition of “active.” Ryan Howard hasn't officially retired yet, and he's got 1843 (13th all-time). If it's not him, then it's Beltran at 1,693, with Mark Reynolds second at 1,631.
GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: Maybe this is a consequence of Albert's few Ks? He's not only the active leader with 336 GDPs, he's third all-time in that category and likely to be No. 1 by the end of the year. He's only 14 away: Cal Ripken is atop w/ 350.
STOLEN BASES: Ichiro is still first with 508, followed by Jose Reyes (488), Carl Crawford (480) and Jimmy Rollins (470). After that, it's a big drop to Rajai Davis' 365. We seem to be going down, down, down, as Bruce once sang. No one's stolen 70 this decade. (The high is Juan Pierre's 68 in 2010.) No one's stolen 75+ since Reyes' in 2007, and no one's stolen 80+ since both Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman did it in '88.
DEFENSIVE WAR: The surprise isn't Beltre on top with 27.3 points after 19 years, nor Yadier Molina second with 21 points in 13 years; it's the Angels' Andrelton Simmons in third place with 17.8 after five years. Meaning according to WAR, five years of Simmons is worth more defensively than 14 years of Chase Utley (17.7), 17 years of Jimmy Rollins (13.6) or 15 years of Brandon Phillips (9.4). Still a few bugs in the system.
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: 10 active players have WARs over 50, but only two have WARs over 75: Adrian Beltre at 90.2 and Albert Pujols at 101.1. Career, four guys have 150+ WARs: Ruth, Bonds, Mays and Cobb.
WINS: Talk about your comebacks. From 2006 to 2011, Bartolo Colon went 22-31 with a 4.72 ERA for four different teams. He was 38 and seemed done. Since then, he's gone 72-49 for two (now three) teams, with a 3.57 ERA, and has become a folk legend. He's got 233 wins, 10 ahead of C.C. Sabathia. John Lackey is a distant third with 176.
ERA: Only two active players, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, have career ERAs under 3.00, but there's a bit of a difference: MadBum is at 2.98 while Kershaw is at ... wait for it ... keep waiting ... 2.36. That's good enough for 24th all-time. He's surrounded by deadball pitchers, and Mariano Rivera.
STRIKEOUTS: CC Sabathia is 22nd all-time in Ks with 2,726, Colon is 44th with 2,365, and King Felix is 52nd with 2,264. They're 1-2-3 on the active list, but slowing down. If there's an up-and-comer in this category it's Justin Verlander, fifth among actives with 2,197. Last year, his 254 Ks was second in the Majors. Of the other three, only Sabathia cracked the top 50: at No. 50.
BASES ON BALLS: In career Ks it goes Sabathia, Colon, King Felix. In career walks it goes Sabathia, Colon ... Jiminez, Lackey, Perez, Peavy, Verlander and THEN King Felix. It's good to be the King.
INNINGS PITCHED: Colon actually went ahead of CC in this category in his last start of the season, Oct. 1, when he pitched 5 innings. He's now 4 ahead. But he truly went ahead of him during the last three years, when he's amassed 588 IPs while CC, eight years his junior, managed only 393. Colon now has 3172.1 to CC's 3168.1. Only one other active player has more than 2500: Lackey at 2,669.
COMPLETE GAMES: None of our top 3, CC (38), Bartolo (36) and King Felix (25), managed a complete game last year. The No. 4 guy, Clayton Kershaw, pitched three. He has 24. Chris Sale led the Majors last year with 6; he's at 14 career. The all-time leader is Cy Young with 749. It's a wonder we still count this stat.
SHUTOUTS: All three of Kershaw's complete games last year were shutouts, which led the Majors, and which vaulted him to No. 1 on this hit parade with 15. Bartolo has 13, CC 12, Felix 11. The record is 110, Walter Johnson, but in the top 10 all-time you have relatively recent players: 7. Nolan Ryan (61) and Tom Seaver (61); 9. Bert Blyleven (60) and 10. Don Sutton (58).
SAVES: F-Rod, who just turned 35, is not only No.1 here but No. 4 all-time with 430. He's a lock for third. He's averaged 42 over the last three seasons and is 48 away from Lee Smith (478). Then there's a bit of a gap: Trevor Hoffman is second with 601; Mo is first with 652.
WAR FOR PITCHERS: I can't believe CC is still on top of this thing, but he is, with 57.9. Kershaw is second with 52.7, then King Felix (dethroned a bit last year) with 51.4. After that, Greinke (50.9) and Verlander (50.4).
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): Enjoy the season. It's baseball: anything can happen. Even this. *FIN*
Camera Day: César Tovar, 1970
“Can someone get these kids off me?” Chris, César Tovar and me; Met Stadium, 1970.
In my memory we went to many Camera Days at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., but my father's old slides show it was just two: a sunny day in 1969, when I was 6 and Billy Martin was manager, and a cloudy day in 1970, when I was 7 and Bill Rigney was manager. I don't blame Bill Rigney for the clouds. Much.
This photo is from 1970.
At the time, the most beloved players on the Twins were Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, but right behind them, particularly for me, was this guy, César Tovar, our leadoff hitter and center fielder from Caracas, Venezuela. There was something musical in the name. A family friend, Danny, used to emphasize the second syllable of each of Tovar's names, “See-SAARRRR Toh-VARRRRR,” while spreading his arms wide like an umpire calling “Safe!” Which makes sense: Tovar was speedy, and lean down to his cheekbones. When Martin was manager he stole 45 bases. Even under the more sedate and cautious Rigney he stole 30. The year above, 1970, he also led the league in doubles (36) and triples (13). The next year he'd lead the league in hits (204).
We used to play whiffle-ball in our small, south Minneapolis backyard, with bases represented by the sandbox (home plate), the tree (first), the garage (second), and the middle metal fencepost separating our property from the neighbors (third). Apparently we played before I'd ever seen a Major League game in person, because, according to family lore, after we came back from my first game, and after I hit a single, my father looked over at me next to the tree and began to laugh. Rather than continually keeping a hand on the tree, as I usually did, as if I was only safe on it, now I was several feet away, leading off with my hands on my knees. I was imitating César Tovar.
Why did I identify so much? Maybe because I could. Killebrew and Oliva were gods. How do you identify with a god who could clobber the ball into infinity? But slapping singles and being pesky and playing whatever position they needed you to play? That seemed closer to me. He seemed closer to me. He was a short guy out there, 5' 9“, and he made it work.
”The man was a dream to hit behind,“ Harmon Killebrew says in a book called ”The Greatest Team of All Time: As Selected by Baseball's Immortals, from Ty Cobb to Willie Mays.“ He adds: ”A truly great leadoff man who always seemed to be on base and who distracted the pitcher enough to benefit everyone who batted behind him.“ Killebrew calls him the teammate who never got enough credit.
He did with Billy Martin. ”Tovar was my little leader,“ Martin wrote in his 1981 autobiography, ”Number 1.“ ”He was the guy who got everyone going. When I wanted him to push Leo [Cárdenas] a little bit or if Rod [Carew] was getting down and I needed someone to give him a boost, I'd get César to do it.“
He hit for the cycle once, in 1970, finishing it with a walk-off homerun—only the second player in baseball history to do that. He kept breaking up no-hitters. Baseball Almanac counts five times he did this—providing the lone, often late hit in a pitcher's no-hit bid:
- April 30, 1967 vs. Washington Senators' Barry Moore (single in the 6th)
- May 15, 1969 vs. Baltimore Orioles' Dave McNally (single in the 9th, one out)
- August 10, 1969 vs. Baltimore Orioles' Mike Cuellar (single in the 9th, no outs)
- August 13, 1970 vs. Washington Senators' Dick Bosman (bunt single in the 1st)
- May 31, 1975 vs. New York Yankees' Catfish Hunter (single in the 6th)
He may be best known for being one of four men to play all nine positions in a nine-inning game. It was aping a stunt that Charlie Finely pulled off with Bert Campaneris in September 1965 when the Kansas City A's were no longer in the pennant hunt (which, in Kansas City, was every year). Finley was great at gimmicks and stunts, and Twins owner Calvin Griffith was great at copying other people's ideas, so he trotted out Tovar on Sept. 22, 1968. Campy started out at his natural position, shortstop, then went around the infield and outfield, before taking on pitcher and catcher. In the 9th, he bruised his shoulder in a collission at home plate and had to leave the game. The Twins went the opposite way. Tovar started out at pitcher, went to catcher, and then around the horn. It was against the A's, interestingly, so the first guy he faced was Campaneris. His inning of pitching went: foul out, stirke out (Reggie Jackson), walk (Danny Cater), balking Cater to second, foul out (Sal Bando). At the plate, he went 1-3 with a walk and a stolen base. The Twins won 2-1. Finley gave Campy a convertible for the effort. Tovar got a color TV set.
For years, I kept the December 1, 1972 newspaper with the headline, TOVAR TRADED FOR THREE PHILLIES, which felt like a death-knell on some part of my childhood. By then, Killebrew was old, Tony O injured, and now César Tovar, Pepito to his teammates, was gone, over to a team in the National League no one ever saw, while the big player we got in return had no music to his name: Joe Lis. It was barely a name at all. In one and a half years with the Twins, Lis hit .238 with 9 homers before being purchased by Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Tovar kept getting picked up by Billy Martin. ”Get me César Tovar,“ he told told Rangers ownership in December 1973. ”The little guy can beat you so many ways—his bat, his feet, his brains, his hustle.“ In '74, Tovar hit .292 for him, but after Martin was fired midway through the '75 season, Texas allowed him to be bought by the Oakland A's for their pennant run. In '76, same thing happened with the Yankees, now managed by Billy Martin, who picked up Tovar for another pennant hunt. But he hit only .154 in 13 games for them and was done. His last at-bat came on Sept. 29 vs. Boston. He flew out to center.
His last at-bat in the Majors, I should add. He kept playing—in Venezuela and in Mexico. Rory Costello over at SABR has a great bio on him that details his beginnings in the Cincinnati organization, his post-MLB career, and his death on July 14, 1994 of pancreatic cancer. ”Such was Tovar's stature in Venezuela,“ Costello writes, ”that the nation's president, Rafael Caldera, attended the funeral."
3,000 Hit Club By Decade
1910s, '70s, '90s, '20s, '70s again.
There are 30 members of the 3,000 hit club, and we'll probably have another, Adrian Beltre (2,942) this year and most likely Albert Pujols (2,825) in 2018. Next up would be Miguel Cabrera, who is at 2,519. Barring catastrophe, he seems a lock. I've also got fingers crossed for Robinson Cano, who is at 2,210 and a young 34. Plus he's signed for seven more years. If he plays all of those years, he'll just have to average 113 per, and he's never hit fewer than 155—and that was his rookie season. (Last year he hit 195.) In fact, if all goes well, he'll probably be the first guy to join the club in the 2020s.
This used to be a pretty exclusive club. From the 1860s to 1969, there were only eight members. Then, in one decade, the 1970s, we almost doubled that total with seven more.
- 1890s: Cap Anson
- 1910s: Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie
- 1920s: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins
- 1940s: Paul Waner
- 1950s: Stan Musial
- 1970s: Hank Aaron, Wilie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Carl Yastrzemski
- 1980s: Rod Carew
- 1990s: Robin Yount, George Brett, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs
- 2000s: Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio
- 2010s: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki
I'm old enough to remember that one of the arguments against free agency—or maybe it was hand-wringing once free agency came into existence—was that players wouldn't play into their dotage; they'd take the money and run. They wouldn't join these exclusive clubs. That certainly hasn't happened.
Other bits of 3,000-hit trivia:
- Team most represented? Cleveland. Kinda. Two players were wearing Indians jerseys (Tris Speaker and Eddie Murray), one was wearing a Cleveland Naps jersey (Nap Lajoie). But it's all the same franchise.
- Lowest batting average? Cal Ripken, Jr. at .276, followed by Rickey Henderson at .279.
- Five 3,000-hit members who aren't in the Hall of Fame? Pete Rose (gambling), Rafael Palmeiro (PEDs), and three guys who aren't eligible yet: Jeter, A-Rod, and Ichiro. Jeter and Ichiro will get in. It's less certain about A-Rod.
- Homeruns for No. 3,000? Three, by Jeter, A-Rod and Wade Boggs.