erik lundegaard

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Thursday November 07, 2019

Where Have All the .350 Hitters Gone? Long Time Passing

The last man with a .370+ batting average, Ichiro hit over .350 four times.

Last year, midseason, I wrote a post called “It's 2018: Do You Know Where Your .350 Hitters Are?” and mentioned that, before this decade, in the history of baseball, the longest we'd gone without a .350 hitter was five seasons:

  • 5: 1962-1966*
  • 4: 1952-1955
  • 4: 1989-1992

(* Trivia question: Who is the only player to hit more than .350 in the “pitchers era” 1960s—between the seasons when they raised the strike zone (1962) and lowered the pitchers mound (1969)? Answer: Roberto Clemente, .357 in 1967.) 

Well, this decade has blown those numbers away.

In 2004, Ichiro hit .372 (he's the last to hit .370+) and in 2009 Joe Mauer hit .365 (he's the last to hit .360+), and the following year Josh Hamilton hit .359. He's the last guy to hit better than .350. Nobody else did it this decade. It's nine seasons in a row now—nearly double the length of the previous record.

And unlike the 1960s, this is hardly a pitchers decade. Homeruns are booming to an absurd degree. But between (I guess) uppercut swings and SABRmetric defensive shifts, we're seeing fewer and fewer hits.

These are the top batting averages since Hamilton:

  1. DJ LeMahieu, .348 (2016) 
  2. Miguel Cabrera, .347 (2013)
  3. Daniel Murphy, .346 (2016)
  4. Mookie Betts, .346 (2018)
  5. Jose Altuve, .345 (2017)
  6. Miguel Cabrera, .344 (2011)
  7. Jose Altuve, .341 (2014)

This year, the MLB leader was Tim Anderson of the ChiSox with a .335 average. He was the only guy to hit over .330. 

I assume this will change at some point. I assume MLB teams will put a premium on spray hitters that will render shifts useless, or someone like Ichiro will come along and just hit and hit and hit. 

Or maybe not.

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Posted at 07:47 AM on Nov 07, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Tuesday November 05, 2019

Mr. Suzuki If You're Nasty

What was Kurt Suzuki best known for two days ago? I would‘ve had trouble placing him, to be honest. A journeyman catcher with four different clubs (Oakland, Minnesota, Atlanta, Washington), he was good enough on defense and put up OK-enough offensive numbers (.259/.315/.392) to keep playing. He’s fourth among active players in games caught; all-time he's 42nd(!), ahead of such catching stalwarts as Tim McCarver and Terry Steinbach. He made the All-Star team in 2014. For the Washington Nationals this season and postseason, he split time behind the plate with Yan Gomes, and led off the top of the 7th inning of Game 2 of the World Series with a homerun off Justin Verlander to put the Nats up 3-2. They wound up batting around that inning, scoring 6, and gave the Nats that early, seemingly insurmountable lead. Oddly, in the Series, he and Gomes didn't spell each other in an every-other-day kind of thing. Suzuki started the first three games, Gomes the final four. That's it. Suzuki's last appearance was the first game in D.C. Did he get injured or something?

Anyway, two days ago, I wouldn't have been able to tell you any of this stuff. Maybe I would‘ve remembered the homer against Verlander. Otherwise, I would’ve gone: “Um ... Oakland, right?” 

Well, I‘ll remember him now, poor bastard.

I actually feel bad for him. Yes, he showed up at the Trump White House and donned a red MAGA cap, with its stink of racism. But even with all that, he didn’t deserve this awkward hug from Donald Trump that looks like nothing so much as the famous Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover photo. This is what Suzuki will be known for—now and forever. And as bad as it looks today, with every week, month and year of further revelations about Trump's corruption, it's going to look worse. It‘ll be his obit headline: Kurt Suzuki, 82, Catcher, Hugged from Behind by Trump at White House Ceremony.

Hell, I even feel bad for Trump. Can the dude do anything right? The World Series champions visit him, they’re from D.C., and one guy likes him enough to put on that stupid MAGA cap with its stink of racism. And he does this. It's a combo of pathetic cling (“Thank god, somebody likes me”) and copping a feel (“When you‘re a star, they let you do it”). 

Not everyone on the Nats went to the ceremony. Sean Doolittle stated his objection over the weekend in smart, measured terms, while two other regulars—third baseman Anthony Rendon and center fielder Victor Robles—bowed out as well. About half a dozen minor players refused, too.

Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-standing National, the first draft pick once they moved from Montreal, gave Trump a Nats/45 jersey and thanked him for keeping America great. One wonders what the clubhouse must be like. One wonders what the players from Trump-termed “shithole countries” must feel like.

Throughout the World Series, I felt bad that I was rooting for the Astros rather than the underdog Nationals. I don’t feel that any more. 

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Posted at 09:55 AM on Nov 05, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Monday November 04, 2019

Nats Bring D.C. First Title in 95 Years

Too matchy matchy? Nats go gray on gray for victory celebration in Houston.

I‘ve been sick for the last few days so never got around to writing about the 2019 World Series and/or Game 7. Main thought about the latter: It turned on three 7th-inning bads for the Astros:

  • Bad pitch: by Zack Greinke to Anthony Rendon with one out in the top of the 7th; found too much of the plate, and he smashed it into the left-field seats to put the Nats on the board
  • Bad call: on the fourth pitch to Juan Soto; it was clearly a strike, the ump called it a ball, and the count went to 3-1 rather than 2-2; Greinke walked him on the next pitch, which lead to...
  • Bad move: by manager A.J. Hinch, who pulled Greinke after that pitch—only his 80th

We’ll never know what would‘ve happened if the ump had made the right call and/or Hinch had shown more faith in Greinke. We do know what happened when Hinch brought in set-up man Will Harris, who’d had a great year (60 IP, 1.50 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 60-14 K/BB), but who'd faced the Nats four times already, and who, the day before, had given up a 2-run homer to Rendon—turning a slight 3-2 Astros deficit into a more problematic 5-2 hole. This time, he turned a 2-1 Astros lead into a 3-2 lead for the Nats when Howie Kendrick opposite-fielded his second pitch, an outside cutter, and the ball banged off the foul pole for a 2-run homer. Harris then gave up a single to Asdrubal Cabrera and was done for the night, the series, the season. Cameras caught him, head down, pained, in the dugout as the Nats built their lead out with a run in the 8th and two more in the 9th—but all that can be on Hinch, too. He'd had Gerrit Cole, one of the best starters in baseball, warming up but he never went to him. Later, he said he was saving him for a closer role that never came. That's about one of the dumbest things a manager can do in a regular season game, let alone Game 7 of the World Series. When there's no tomorrow, you save nothing. 

Nats didn't even have to go to their sometime closer, Sean Doolittle, opting instead for starter Patrick Corbin in the 6th (he got the win) and Daniel Hudson in the 9th, and the vaunted Astros, who won 107 games this season, went gently into that good night. As they saw their deficit grow from one run in the 7th, to two in the 8th, to four in the 9th, they stopped hitting. Their last baserunner was Yuri Gurriel's two-out single in the 7th. After that, they didn't even get the ball out of the infield: 1-3, K, 6-3, K, 5, K, K. The last three were their top-of-the-order guys: Springer, Altuve, Brantley. 

If I sound less than enthusiastic about all this it's because I was oddly rooting for the Astros. I know. I should‘ve been rooting for the Nationals, who had never been to the Series, let alone won, while the Astros had been twice before and won it all just two years ago. Nats were the underdogs, the miracle team who had come back late against the Brewers in the Wild Card matchup, and then the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS, and who kept coming back against the ’Stros. They were the story of the postseason, and their victory meant spreading the wealth, and I'm a MLB socialist: spread those rings around. But for some reason, ‘Stros. Maybe because I like Altuve, Springer, et al. Maybe I’m just an AL booster. Maybe it's because the Astros knocked out the Yankees, and whoever beats the Yankees, God bless. For whatever reason, I found myself rooting on the doomed team. 

An unsung hero of Game 7, by the way, was Max Scherzer, who was scratched from a Game 5 start due to back and neck spasms that made it difficult to dress himself, let alone throw 90-100 pitches to professional baseball players. That set up Game 7, where he wasn't his usual dominating self: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 3 K. But all that led to only 2 runs. He gritted and gutted his way through. The Astros kept threatening and he kept holding back the tide. In his five innings of work, they stranded seven.

Series MVP went rightly to Stephen Strasburg, who was 2-0 against the ‘Stros and 5-0 overall in the postseason: 36.1 IP, with a 1.98 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP, and a phenomenal 47-4 K/BB. I watched Game 5 with my friend Jeff and predicted it would go to seven. “No one’s going to beat Strasburg right now,” I said. After the Nats Game 6 victory, he texted: “You called it on Strasburg.” Me: “Not exactly Nostradamus.” Strasburg's now a free agent, as is Rendon, which should be worrisome for Nats fans hoping for a repeat. But they got this moment—the first championship in franchise history (b. 1969), and the first championship in Washington, D.C. since 1924.

For the curious, the only teams who have never hold aloft a World Series trophy are: Rangers (b. 1961), Padres (1969), Brewers (1969), Mariners (1977), Rockies (1993) and Rays (1998). Of those, only the Mariners have never gone.

See you next year.

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Posted at 06:09 AM on Nov 04, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Sunday October 20, 2019

Altuve's Walk-off Sends Astros to World Series; Yankees Suffer First Pennant-Less Decade in 100 Years

I missed it, but Altuve didn‘t.

So it’s over. The giant frachise with the giant outfielder (6' 7“, 282-pound Aaron Judge) was sent home packing, while the small-market team with the small second baseman (Jose Altuve, 5' 6, 165) continues on to the 2019 World Series on that player's giant, 2-out, bottom-of-the-9th homerun—the first series-ending walkoff HR against the Yankees since Bill Mazeroski went deep against the Casey Stengel-led Evils to end the 1960 World Series.

And I have mixed feelings.

Oh, I'm happy. No doubt. This is waaaaay better than the alternative. A dark shadow has passed. I have a bounce in my step again. More, and I‘ve been finger-crossing for this for the last few years but now I can say it aloud: this decade is the first that won’t see a Yankees pennant since ... the 1910s:

  • 1920s: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928 (6)
  • 1930s: 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939 (5)
  • 1940s: 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949 (5)
  • 1950s: 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 (8)
  • 1960s: 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964 (5)
  • 1970s: 1976, 1977, 1978 (3)
  • 1980s: 1981 (1)
  • 1990s: 1996, 1998, 1999 (3)
  • 2000s: 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009 (4)
  • 2010s: (0)

That's why we hate them. And that's why this is a great moment.

And in what fashion they went down! An early Astros lead (3-0), the Yankees chipping away (3-2) but the Astros holding them at bay with great defense (Brantley, Reddick, Altuve, Correa), until, in the 9th, two outs away, Astros closer Roberto Osuna gave up a 2-run shot to DJ LeMahieu that looked like it should‘ve been a can of corn but kept traveling and traveling and barely went out over the outstretched glove of George Springer in right to tie the game, 4-4. Shock, silence. But Osuna gathered himself and got the final two outs, which left the Astros batters facing the Yankees’ 103-mph fastball closer Aroldis Chapman. He got two quick outs. Then he couldn't get his fastball over. He walked George Springer and went 2-0 on Altuve (both fastballs that weren't close), before catching the plate with a slider. So his next pitch was a slider. Which Altuve figured. And deposited it in the left-field bleachers. And as the shortest man with the biggest heart in baseball calmly rounded the bases amid absolute, joyous chaos in Houston, the New York Yankees, the Evil Empire, the giant monster with the monstrous collection of pennants (40) and rings (27), had the stake pounded in its black heart for another baseball season.

How could I have mixed feelilngs about that?

Because I didn't watch it.

It wasn't like I had other plans, either. I had none. I purposely avoided it. I did what I did in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, which is to maintain radio silence, internet silence, avoid even potential peripheral contact with the game via Twitter or FB or my phone, because back then it seemed like any marginal contact on my part would result in the Yankees suddenly having life. I'd check the score on ESPN.com, and the Yankees would be behind (yay!) and then suddenly they wouldn't (shit!). This kept happening, too. So I avoided it all for Game 7 of 2017, which the Astros won, and I avoided it again for Game 6 this year. I told myself, ”If you avoid it completely, and the Yankees still win, then watch Game 7.“ Instead, because of my superstitions, the, yes, insane superstititons of the tightly wound baseball fan and inveterate Yankee hater, I missed one helluva game.

You‘re welcome, Astros. My sacrifice is your pennant.

Speaking of: That’s the Astros third; and they‘re playing a team that just got its first. Odd position for the ’Stros. They began in 1962 named for a gun (Houston Colt .45s), played in an artificial monstrosity (the Astrodome), then moved to a baseball-friendly park that for a time was named after an infamous, era-defining financial scandal: Enron Field. Of the 30 MLB franchises, they were the 26th to see a World Series, and it took them longer to get there (their 44th season) than any franchise besides the Senators/Rangers, who didn't win one until their 50th season in 2010. When the Astros won their second pennant in 2017, they took on a team with 19 pennants. They‘ve always been the underdogs.

Now, not so much. Startlingly so. After this run, they have the most postseason appearances by any expansion franchise (13), and the No. 2 team isn’t close (Angels: 10). Hell, they have more postseason appearances than one of the original 16 teams, the Chicago White Sox (9), who had a 60-year headstart. This third ‘Stros pennant puts them in sole possession of third place among expansion pennants, behind only the Royals (4) and Mets (5). And if they win the Series, they’ll be tied with the Royals, Mets, Blue Jays and Marlins for most World Series championships by an expansion team (2).

Now look who they‘re going against: a city that hasn’t seen a World Series since 1933 and a franchise (Expos/Nationals) that has never seen one, and who took longer to get to the Series (their 51st season) than even the Rangers. Yes, the Nats now have that record in futility. Indeed, the only team that can beat that record, i.e., the only pennant-less team left in baseball, is your Seattle Mariners, who begin their 44th pennant-less season next year.

That said, not sure who I'm rooting for this World Series. This will be the second Series with two expansion teams (Mets-Royals, 2015), and I like both of them. It's a matchup of the stellar starting pitching. In terms of regular season bWAR, the Astros are fielding the No. 1 and No. 5 starters (Verlander, Cole), while the Nats have the No. 6 and 9 guys (Strasburg, Scherzer), and the difference is slim. Right now I just want a Game 7.

Gotta say, on their main page, The New York Times massively underplayed the moment:

”Outlast"? Way to hype it, boys. (And it turns out NYT has done this before.) The inside gets closer: 

BTW: Here's how the Yanks went this entire calendar decade without making the World Series:

  • 2010: Texas Rangers (ALCS, 4-2)
  • 2011: Detroit Tigers (ALDS, 3-2)
  • 2012: Detroit Tigers (ALCS, 4-0)
  • 2013: n/a
  • 2014: n/a
  • 2015: Houston Astros (WC)
  • 2016: n/a
  • 2017: Houston Astros (ALCS, 4-3)
  • 2018: Boston Red Sox (ALDS, 3-1)
  • 2019: Houston Astros (ALCS, 4-2)

Thank you, Texas, Detroit, Boston and especially Houston. Now take 'em out, Carey. 

 

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Posted at 12:31 PM on Oct 20, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Wednesday October 16, 2019

Most Due

I forgot I did this but a couple of years ago I put together a spreadsheet that tried to calculate which MLB team was the “most due” for a World Series title. I took into account such factors as when they were founded, their total number of pennants and championships, years since a pennant and years since a championship. 

Now you can see why I‘ve never written a book. 

Anyway, it turned out that by my calculations the team that was most due was ... the Washington Nationals. Wasn’t really close. They had zero titles and zero pennants, and had been around eight years longer than the other zero/zero team, the Seattle Mariners. They had it all. But having nothing. 

Now they have something. 

Last night they beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 and won the first pennant in franchise history, and brought to Washington D.C. its first pennant since 1933. Joe Posnanski has a great read, and great Douglass Wallop homage, entitled “The Year the Nationals Won the Pennant.” It talks about the long history of heartbreak for Washington baseball, going back to Senators I (now the Twins) and Senators II (now the Rangers), and the short history of heartbreak for these Nats (formerly Expos). Other years were supposed to be their years and weren‘t; this one wasn’t and it is. They were down at the beginning of the year, they were down late against the Brewers in the Wild Card game, they were down late against the Dodgers in the fifth game of the NLDS; and then they won and won and won. And then they killed the Cardinals. 

How often does the most-due team get its due? It's a thing to behold.

Of course now You Know Who is Most Due. On so many levels. The Mariners are the only MLB franchise left that has never won a pennant, never gone to a World Series. They‘re also the team with the longest postseason drought: 18 years and counting. This is the longest drought not only in Major League Baseball but among the four major American team sports. Imagine that. 

But this is the Nats moment. Now they’re just waiting to see who they‘ll play: the Astros, who have two pennants and one title; or the New York Yankees, who have 40 pennants and 27 titles. Yes, no one’s close to either mark. No surprise, I'm rooting for the Stros. If the Yankees get in, though, what a matchup: Most Due vs. Least Due. Way least. 

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Posted at 08:43 PM on Oct 16, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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