Baseball postsTuesday March 14, 2017
The Disappearing Art of the Steal
Luis Aparicio was the only player in the 1950s to have a 50+ stolen-base season.
Over the weekend I got lost in baseball stats, as I often do, and this time around it was single-season stolen base totals.
First, I noticed that we haven't had any blow-out years in a while (brilliant, Erik). Then, related, I noticed the number of 50+ SB seasons is way, way down. Then I noticed the 2000s have nothing on the '30s, '40s and '50s.
I'd always heard that once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, he changed the staid way of baseball—going base to base, being risk averse—and made everything jazzier and thrilling. Apparently not. Or at least not in the numbers. The '50s were our most stolen-base-less decade.
Jackie led the league twice in stolen bases, in '47 and '49, but with 29 and 37 SBs respectively. Career, he had 197, good for a five-way tie for 356th all time. It really wasn't until Aparicio in '59, and Wills in '62, that things began to rev up and go-go.
Some good trivia questions come to mind from this mix.
- For every decade since 1900, which player had the highest single-season stolen base mark? (Answer: That entire third column; good luck on the '30s and '40s.)
- Who was the only player to have the single-season high two decades in a row? (Answer: You'd thinking Rickey or Lou but it's Ty Cobb, which also makes sense.)
- Since the Henderson/Raines/Coleman heyday of the 1980s, which two players have had the highest single-season stolen base total? (Answer: Marquis Grisson and Jose Reyes with 78 each.)
But the most startling bit of trivia for me is the stolen base champ of the 1930s: Ben Chapman. That's the guy in this clip. Not Jackie or Eddie Stanky. The other guy:
Believe it or not, he had more stolen bases in his career than Jackie, too: 287. Who knew?
National Chili Day
Earlier this morning, J. Daniel, with whom I shoot the shit on Twitter about baseball, tweeted that today is National Chil Day (it is), and he included a photo of Chili Davis during his San Francisco Giants days. Made me think of the foul ball I caught off Chili in September 1995. Also made me think of that great Chili Davis story that Kirby Puckett told in his 1993 autobiography “I Love This Game!”
On a roaddtrip to Seattle, Kirby, Al Newman and Shane Mack went to their favorite seafood joint, and Mack ordered the Cajun Chicken Fettucine, which comes garnished with a large jalapeno pepper. Kirby had eaten the dish before but never the pepper. He didn't think anyone would be fool enough to eat it.
I warned Shane about this jalapeno but he said, “These things aren't hot. These aren't anything compared to the ones where I come from.” He grew up in Southern California. So he popped the entire pepper in his mouth and started chewing. His eyes exploded! He gulped his water, my water, Al's water, then signaled for more water. He was still on fire. He dranks some soda, ate some ice cream, nothing helped. ...
Now Chili Davis and the rest of the guys finally show up. We tell them the story of the pepper—Shane still can't talk—and Chili says, “Man, I'm used to hot food, bring me a bowl of those peppers.” Newman and I glance at each other. But then Chili eats the whole bowl. No problem. Doesn't even need water. Eats them like I eat oysters. Just amazing. They must have hot food in Jamaica, where Chili's from. Maybe his name is the tip-off.
Happy National Chili Day.
Carew v. Ryan Express
I've been re-reading some of Joe Posnanski's thoughts on his top 100 baseball players of all time (he stopped at No. 32, Grover Cleveland Alexander, but promises to get back to it some day: right), and I came across this nice little stat about his No. 54 pick, Rod Carew, who is just ahead of Ernie Banks and just behind Steve Carlton on his list:
Twenty five batters got 75-plus plate appearances against Nolan Ryan. Only one hit .300. Yeah. Rod Carew.
Carew hit .301/.398/.441 off Ryan. The next three in the 75+ group are: Pete Rose (.296), Steven Braun, also of the Twins (also .296) and George Brett (.287). Not a bad group of hitters.
We get some good background on Carew in the mini-bio. I knew about the train birth, didn't know it was a segregated train, knew about the doctor but not the nurse. I didn't know about the abusive father, nor the high school baseball coach. I knew about the seven batting titles, of course. No mention of Rod Carew trying on my glove. Geez, Poz, dig deeper next time.
Camera Day, Met Stadium, 1970
Joe Posnanski has begun archiving some of this stuff over on Medium.com and I spent a late lunch hour (or, really, a late snack 15 minutes) reading his piece on Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Freese/Cruz game, and I came across this gem, mentioned in passing during a graf on the Rangers' closer. It's about a better closer:
Part of the magic of Mariano Rivera is the placid look, the slumped shoulders, as if this is all just a formality, as if he had already saved the game a few hours before and is only performing it once more for those people who missed it.
God, that's nice. Nice to read Joe, on a day, and a week, and a month, and a year, that will continually enrage me as Republicans pretend that the 2016 election wasn't fixed by Russians and the director of the FBI, and thus work at sawing away at our already frayed social safety net.
The Last of the .360 Hitters
For the last few weeks, Joe Posnanski has been counting down all 34 guys on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, giving thoughts, stats, whether they'll get in the Hall this year or eventually, etc. It's been fun. Yesterday, he was at No. 20 on the list, Magglio Ordonez. Halfway through, Poz writes:
We should talk about that batting title for a minute; in 2007, Ordóñez hit .363 with a league-leading 54 doubles, 28 homers, 117 runs and 139 RBIs. He finished second in the MVP balloting to A-Rod, who mashed 54 homers.
It's that .363 average that stands out, of course — it's the second-highest average for any player over the last decade (behind Joe Mauer's .365 in 2009).
That inspired this: the last player to hit in the ...
- .350s: Josh Hamilton, Texas: .359 in 2010
- .360s: Joe Mauer, Minnesota: .365 in 2009
- .370s: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle: .372 in 2004
- .380s: Rod Carew, Minnesota: .388 in 1977 *
- .390s: Tony Gwynn, San Diego: .394 in 1994 **
- .400s: Ted Williams, Boston: .406 in 1941
* Two guys have hit greater than Carew's .388 since then: Brett in '80 and Gwynn in '94. But no one else has hit in the .380s. ***
** If you want a non-strike year, you'd have to go Brett in '80. But even with the '94 season ending on Aug. 11, Gwynn had almost as many plate appearances (475) as Brett in '80 (515).
*** Unless you don't round up, that is. Then it's Brett with .3898 in '80.
Batting average, as a statistic, has taken a beating over the last few years — and rightfully so because it is illogical. Batting average refuses to acknowledge pretty important things like walks. And it calculates capriciously. If you hit a ball that probably should have been caught, batting average gives you an out even though you didn't make an out. If you bunt a runner from first to second, batting average will let you slide on the out you made, but if you dribble a grounder that moves a runner from first to second, that out goes on your permanent record. And so on.
Still, there's something nostalgic about high-average seasons like Ordóñez's 2007 season ... because they're basically gone.
Decades with .360-plus batting average.
- 1970s: 4
- 1980s: 6
- 1990s: 10
- 2000s: 8
- 2010s: 0
The main reason is those strikeouts. Everybody, even the very best players (ESPECIALLY the very best players) strikes out a lot. And no player who has ever hit .360 or better has had 100 strikeouts. It's basic math — it's POSSIBLE to hit .360 with 100 strikeouts, but it would be very hard because you give away too many free outs.