erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Wednesday January 03, 2018

Johnny Damon/How I Love Him

Was I the only one who channeled the 1961 Shelly Fabares song when Johnny Damon's name came up? Surely not the only one. 

My man Joe Posnanski is doing a rundown of players on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this year, and he's up to Johnny Angel/Damon, whom he covered in Kansas City when both he and Johnny were kids. Of course, Damon will always have a warm place in my heart for putting the nail in the coffin to the greatest chokesters in the history of baseball, the 2004 New York Yankees, who, up 3-0 in a best-of-7 series, lost the next four in a row to the Boston Red Sox. Good times. David Ortiz towered during this period, but Damon was the one with the grand slam and two-run homer in Game 7. He put it forever out of reach for the Yankees and their fans. For all of us in Yankees-Suck-Nation, he made watching Game 7 fun rather than tense.  

Anyway, I love this graf of Posnanski's:

Damon was an unusual player; nothing he did seemed especially smooth or graceful. His throwing motion was this odd multistep process that seemed to be building up to something impressive ... and instead the ball would kind of fall out of his hand, helpless, limp, like a firecracker that didn't go off. You could almost hear a sad trombone.

Even though Poz isn't make a HOF case for Damon, he almost makes a HOF case for Damon.

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Posted at 07:17 AM on Jan 03, 2018 in category Baseball
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Thursday December 14, 2017


The bad news is the New York Yankees landed the biggest, strongest, loudest homerun hitter in all the fucking land, Giancarlo Stanton, 6' 6“, the guy who led the Majors with 59 last season, and who hit 'em out with insane exit velocities, and they got him for not much: a few mid-level prospects and a mid-level SS/2B, Starlin Castro (last season: .300/.338/.455; career OPS: .733; age next season: 28). Stanton is a near-duplicate of the Yanks' current wonderboy, Aaron Judge, 6' 7”, who led the American League last season with 52 homers, and who hit 'em out with insane exit velocities. Both play right field. Combine those two with catcher Gary Sanchez, who, for his career, has hit 53 homers in only 177 games, and, shit, it's bad news for Yankee haters out there. Teams always talk up a new Murderers Row but this is truly that. And they're all young: Sanchez just turned 25, Judge will turn 26 in April, Stanton just turned 28. 

The good news? Miami Marlins' co-owner and chief executive Derek Jeter is getting REEEEEEEAMED over this:

It does a heart good. 

I get the corner he's in. Kind of. The Marlins are in debt, they're trying to unload big, expensive talent, but they don't seem to be getting much for it. The Stanton trade was the worst. He had a no-trade clause in his 13-year, $285 million contract (of which 10 years remain), so he got to pick which teams he wanted to be sent to. And apparently he chose the four LCS teams: Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, Cubs. And the other teams offered less. And so Jeter had no choice but to...

Nah. He had a choice. “Sorry, G., we're not getting good offers from those teams. See you in spring training.”

Stanton didn't want to stay with the Marlins; he wanted to go to a winner in his prime. So force his hand. Instead, Jeter just waved his. He waved Stanton on through. Also Dee Gordon (to us) and Marcell Ozuna (to St. Louis). In the last month, the Marlins have traded (and for not much) their two top guys in terms of 2017 WAR, and 3 of their top 5. The WAR total is 16.5 (wins), meaning instead of going 77-85, the Marlins would've wound up more like 61-101. I expect them to have that kind of season in 2018. All because of Jeter. 

Now there's a chance he's not incompetent. There's a chance that he's an undercover Yankees spy and using the Miami Marlins to be a kind of farm system for the Yankees, the way the '50s Yankees did with the Kansas City Athletics. But most people just think he's over his head. 

So. The Yankees are now poised for another dynastic run; they're ready to add to their already obscene advantage in pennants and rings; they're about to make my life miserable again. On the other side, Jeter looks like an idjit. I'm truly torn. 

Jeter criticized for Stanton, Ozuna trades

Jeter's last game in the Bronx: Me, me, me. 

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Posted at 08:56 AM on Dec 14, 2017 in category Baseball
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Monday December 04, 2017

Is There a Shelf Life to the Effectiveness of a MLB Manager?

Aaron Boone pennant-winning homerun

Boone's pennant winner in 2003. 

The New York Yankees have a new manager: Aaron Boone.

Apparently some people in Boston call him Aaron “Effin'” Boone, after Bucky “Effin'” Dent, since both hit homeruns that won, or helped win, games for the Bronx Bombers over the BoSox in do-or-die situations. Me, I think Dent deserves the epithet; his was the decisive blow in the one-game playoff in '78. Boone? Once the Yankees came back against Pedro in the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS in the Bronx, it was just a matter of time. If it hadn't been Boone, it would've been someone else. So, nah. He doesn't deserve the epithet.  

Does he deserve the managerial post? Many are wondering. He's never managed before—at any level. He's never coached before—at any level. Andrew Marchand at ESPN asks the right question:

Boone is personable and well-liked, but even with those qualities, it's not hard to wonder: If he didn't hit that walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to extend the Red Sox's curse, would he have even been considered for the job?

Here's a question that not many aren't asking anymore: Why didn't the Yanks re-sign manager Joe Girardi, who took the team to within one game of the 2017 World Series? Was it his decision to not contest a HBP against the Indians that wound up costing them the game in the ALDS—a series the Yankees eventually won? Was it the discrepancy between the Yankees 2017 run differential (+198, second-best in the Majors), and their won-loss record (91-71, 8th-best)?

Or did they just decide that 10 years as skipper was enough? 

That last question got me thinking about whether managers with long tenures win pennants and World Series. And this led me to spending way too much time crunching the numbers. Here they are. 

Of the 96 potential pennants since the beginning of the playoff era in 1969 (48 AL, 48 NL), only five have been won with a manager with more than 10 years experience. Most are in the NL: Walter Alston, a 20-year man in 1974; his successor Tommy Lasorda, with 13 years in 1988; and Tony La  Russa twice, in 2006 and 2011, with 11 and 16 years tenure, respectively. In the AL, you just have Earl Weaver in '79. He's the only one. 

As for winning the World Series? It's just Lasorda and La Russa. The longest-tenured AL manager to win the World Series in the playoff era is a three-way tie between Sparky Anderson in '84, Tom Kelly in '91 and Ned Yost in 2015. Each was just in his sixth year of management for that team. 

Here's how the tenures break down for World Series-winning managers:

Tenure w/team Total
First year 10
Second year 8
Third year 9
Fourth year 7
Fifth year 2
Sixth year 7
Seventh year 1
Eighth year 1
9 + 3

Basically if you don't win in your first four years, good luck. That's 71% of the titles right there. The Tony La Russas of the world are rare, rare beasts. 

The obvious follow-up: Well, sure, but isn't this a result of the short shelf-life of managers in general? La Russa is a rare beast because most managers get canned sooner rather than later. They get blamed for everything—as you're doing right now. For the 2017 season, for example, only two of the 30 MLB managers had more than 10 years with his current team: Mike Scioscia (18 years) and Bruce Bochy (11 years). The average tenure was 4.8 years, and the World Series wound up as a battle between second-year (Dave Roberts) and third-year (A.J. Hinch) managers. 

Even so, let's take a look at Mike Scioscia. He won it all with the Angels in his third year, 2002, then won five more AL West titles between 2004 and 2009. Since then? With a fairly fat payroll? In one of the weakest divisions in baseball? And with the best player in baseball on his team? The Angels have won just one division title, in 2014, then lost three straight games to the wild card KC Royals. Mike Trout has never been on a team that won a postseason game. In that series, which went into extra innings twice, his team held a lead for all of 1/2 an inning. 

Or how about the winningest manager of the last 20 years? Joe Torre's Yankees won four World Series titles in his first five years at the helm. The next four years, despite better regular-season records, they won just two pennants and no titles—and these seasons are best remembered, and bookended by, excruciating losses to the D-Backs in the '01 World Series and to the BoSox in the '04 ALCS. (Good times.) And in his final three years, despite being stocked with a virtual All-Star team of talent, the Yanks couldn't make it past the ALDS. (Also good times.)

1996-2000 97 64 .602 4 pennants, 4 WS titles
2001-2004 100 61 .621 2 pennants
2005-2007 95 67 .586  

Obviously a lot of factors go into a team's decline and failure. I'm just wondering if one of those factors might be the longevity of the manager. And I'm wondering if Yankees GM Brian Cashman is wondering the same thing.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Dec 04, 2017 in category Baseball
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Saturday December 02, 2017

Last Guy to Throw 300+ Innings in a Season, and Other IP Milestones

This post was inspired by my pitcher WAR/IP trivia question earlier in the week. Well, “inspired.” It's the table scraps of that post. It's the countdown to our present via the diminishing returns on innings pitched.

Here you go:

  • The all-time record for IP: Will White, 680 (1879) 
  • Last guy to throw 650+ IP: Old Hoss Radbourn, 678 (1884)
  • Last guy to throw 500+, 550+ or 600+ IP: Bill Hutchinson, 622 (1892) 
  • Last guy to throw 400+ or 450+ IP: Big Ed Walsh, 464 (1908)
  • Last guy to throw 350+ IP: Wilbur Wood, 359.1 (1973)
  • Last guy to throw 300+ IP: Steve Carlton, 304 (1980)
  • Last guy to throw 200+ IP: Justin Verlander, 251 (2011)

Look at that drop after Bill Hutchinson. He threw 622 innings in 1892 and no one ever threw 500+, let alone 600+, again. 

And look how long we held onto 350+ innings: 65 years! From 1908 to 1973, which is partly explained by the jump to the 162-game schedule in 1961. IPs were dying in the late '50s, the top numbers already consistently below 300, but they resurged into the solid 300s again with the extra eight games. The raising of the pitcher's mound in '62 didn't hurt, either. Then they really resurged in the early '70s. Why is that? Does anyone know? If it hadn't been for Mickey Lolich ('71) and Wood ('72 and '73), the last 350+ dude would've been Bob Feller in '46.

Of course, five-man rotations and the stratification of relief pitchers into set-up men and closers finally put an end to that, as well as to 300+. Steve Carlton was the last to manage that feat. 

Is Justin Verlander the last of the 250+ guys? To get over that hump, you'd have to average 7 innings for 36 starts (that's 252 IP), and no one's started 36 games in a season since 2003 (Halladay, Maddux). The top-tier norm is now 34 starts, which requires 7 1/3 per. In 2011, Verlander made 34 starts, averaging 7.38 IP per. That's how he did it. Last year's league leader in IP, Chris Sale, with 214.1, started 32 games for an average of 6.69 per. 

Last year only 15 guys managed 200+, but most, as indicated by Sales' league-leading stats, just eked over. Soon we won't even see 200+ anymore.

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Posted at 09:44 AM on Dec 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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Sunday November 26, 2017

Pitcher WAR and IP Spikes of the Early '70s

Last week, my man Joe Posnanski answered a baseball trivia question from me on Twitter. This week he announced he's essentially quitting Twitter. Sorry, everybody.

He nailed the question, by the way.

The germ of it began on Twitter, too. A friend posted the 1971 Time magazine cover of Vida Blue, I wrote “Helluva year,” then went to Baseball Reference to look up his career stats. That season, which he began as a 21-year-old, he pitched 312 innings, struck out 301, and posted a 24-8 record with a 1.82 ERA. He was voted both MVP and Cy Young. Wow. I noticed his ERA led the league but not his wins ( bolds league-leading stats), so I clicked on the Cy Young voting to see who had more wins. Mickey Lolich, it turns out, who went 25-14 with a 2.92 ERA.

But neither guy led the league in pitcher's WAR. Lolich's was 8.7, which is fantastic. Blue's was 9.0, ditto. But the league leader had an 11.7 WAR.


That sent me scurrying to BR's best single-season WAR performances by a pitcher. It's a list clogged with 19th century players. The first 20th century player on the list is Walter Johnson with a 14.6 WAR in 1913 (That's good for 9th all-time). The second is Walter Johnson, with a 13.5 WAR in 1912 (18th). That's followed by Cy Young (1901, 12.06, tied for 23rd), and Dwight Gooden's phenomenal 1985 season (12.02, 25th).

And I got curious: How many of the top 100 single-season WAR pitcher performances were after the deadball era (1920 on)?

Answer: Just 27. Several guys make the list twice. 

So that became the trivia question I sent to Joey Poz and whoever else wanted to answer it:

The point, I added, is that six of the seven aren't surprises. One is. (The guy with the 11.7 WAR in 1971.) Naming the one is the fun part. 

The six no-brainers are Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and Roger Clemens.

The other guy? Wilbur Wood.

Wilbur Wood: single-season WARIf you'd ask me the day before to give my thoughts on Wilbur Wood, I would've said he was a chubby, mediocre pitcher with the Chicago White Sox in the 1970s who once lost 20 games in a season (1975, when he went 16-20), and whose baseball card I got too much and tended to trade quickly. Yet according to WAR, he had two of the greatest pitching seasons in modern times in the early '70s.

It wasn't just him. There was something about those years, too. If you break down the post-deadball top 100 WAR pitching seasons by decade, you get this:

  • 1920s: 4 (and none after 1924)
  • 1930s: 2 (both by Lefty Grove)
  • 1940s: 1 (Hal Newhouser in the last war year, 1945)
  • 1950s: 0
  • 1960s: 6
  • 1970s: 7
  • 1980s: 2
  • 1990s: 2 (both Roger Clemens)
  • 2000s: 3 (Pedro, Randy, Zack)
  • 2010s: 0 (so far)

It's startling. The '60s are known as the pitching decade, since the mound was raised post-61*. That ended after the Year of the Pitcher ('68), and hitting supposedly returned. Yet the '70s had more great pitcher years by WAR? And they were all within the same small window: 1971-73? 1971 alone had as many top pitching WAR performances (3) as there were in the 35+ years between 1925 and 1962, and none of them was Vida Blue. It went Wood, Fergie Jenkins, Tom Seaver. The next year was Steve Carlton's great year, and he was joined by Gaylord Perry and Wilbur Wood. '73 was just Seaver.

Innings Pitched leaders went up during those years, too. In the late '50s, at the tail end of the 154-game schedule, no one threw more than 300 innings. Then we got the 162-game schedule and league leaders were again above 300, with the high for the decade being Denny McClain with 336 in 1968. But in 1971, Mickey Lolich pitched 376 innings—the most since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1917. And in '72? Wilbur Wood topped him, pitching 376.2 innings. This despite a player's strike at the start of the season that caused most teams to miss 6-8 games. (The White Sox missed 8, playing a 154-game schedule.)

And it wasn't just him. The top three pitchers for IP that year all threw more innings than any pitcher in the 1960s: Wood with 376.2, Steve Carlton with 346.1, Gaylord Perry with 342.2. Again, this was a strike-shortened year. And it was temporary. After '73 no one would ever throw as many innings as even the No. 3 guy, Perry, in '72. And after Steve Carlton threw 304 in 1980, no one would ever throw 300+ again. 

What accounts for that IP spike in the early '70s? Wood was helped by being a knuckleballer (as was Phil Niekro later in the decade), but that doesn't explain Lolich, Carlton or Perry. I assume all those innings pitched help with the WAR spike, too. I just wonder if it helps too much. 

Either way, I want my Wilbur Wood cards back.

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Posted at 02:33 PM on Nov 26, 2017 in category Baseball
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