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Wednesday August 02, 2017

The Curious Case of Frank Verdi, Yankees Shortstop

Apparently there are other Moonlight Grahams besides Moonlight Graham. 

For the non-baseball fan: Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham (1877-1965) was made famous by W.P. Kinsella, who included him in his novella “Shoeless Joe,” which was made into the 1988 hit movie “Field of Dreams.” Graham was the country doctor (Burt Lancaster), who, as a young man (Frank Whaley), made it to the bigs for exactly one game with the New York Giants in 1905. He was a defensive sub who never got to the plate so his career batting line looks like this: 1 G, 0 PA, 0 AB, 0 H, 0 R, 0 2B, 0 3B, etc. Basically a 1 with a lot of zeroes after it. He was a ghost—there and not. 

Frank Verdi, Yankees SS

As Casey said, you can look it up.

Turns out he's not the only ghost. The other day I was checking out retired numbers on Baseball Reference (don't ask) and was curious who else wore #44 for the Yankees (subsequently retired for Reggie Jackson). Turns out six other guys did, including, in 1953, Frank Verdi, shortstop. His career batting line? 1 G, 0 PA, 0 AB, 0 H, 0 R, 0 2B, 0 3B, etc. He was there and not. He was a ghost. 

But the great thing about Baseball Reference? You can find that game in the modern era. It was May 10, 1953, and the Yankees were down to the Red Sox in Boston 3-1 in the top of the 6th. But then McDougal and Martin singled, Silvera sacrificed them over, and future Hall of Famer Johnny Mize, in his last year in the bigs, pinch-hitting for pitcher Allie Reynolds, hit a sac fly for a run. Two outs, Martin on second. So Casey (yes, that Casey), pinch-hits again: Joe Collins for his leadoff hitter and shortstop Phil Rizzuto. Why pinch-hit for the leadoff man? Casey was probably playing the percentages, as Casey was wont to do. Sox pitcher Sid Hudson threw right, Rizzuto batted right, Collins batted left. A better shot. And Casey was not throwing away his shot.

But Collins grounded to short. 

Now Stengel needed a new shortstop (Collins played 1st) and that's when he tapped #44, Frank Verdi. What was Verdi doing on the team at this point? Who knows? He'd had some good years in the minors, hitting over .300 for the Binghamton Triplets in 1950 and '52. When had they brought him up? And why? And how excited/nervous was he to trot out and field practice grounders and then set up behind Vic Raschi in the bottom of the 6th at Fenway Park? It was an easy inning, 1, 2, 3—ground out to third, fly out to center, strikeout—and Verdi jogged back to the dugout with the rest of the team. He didn't know it, but that was it for him. 

If the Yankees hadn't rallied, would that have been it? Good question. In the top of the 7th, Hudson got two quick outs, then gave up back-to-back singles to Mantle and Woodling. So in came Ellis Kinder ... who gave up a single and a double, and the Yanks took the lead 5-3. Then Kinder intentionally walked Silvera to get to the pitcher, Raschi, because that's what you do. But Raschi drew a walk to load the bases. 

Those intentional walks will kill you. They certainly killed Verdi's chances.

If Raschi had struck out, say, I'm sure Casey would've left Verdi in the game, and he would've led off the next inning and probably gotten his chance at the plate. But now the bases were loaded with two outs, and the Yanks had a chance to bust the game wide open. Casey took it. He told Verdi to sit and tapped Bill Rena to pinch-hit. Playing the percentages again, right? Nope. The new pitcher, Ken Holcombe, was a righty, as was Verdi, as was Rena. But at the time, Rena was hitting .353 in a limited role so maybe that's what decided it for Casey. 

And Rena grounded to third to end the inning.

Verdi (one assumes): Hell, I could've done that. 

Just think of the moment for a second. The Yanks were beyond powerhouses. They had won the last four World Series in a row, which only one other team, the 1936-39 Yankees, had ever done. It was early in the season. They were 14-7 and held a 1/2 game lead in the American League over perennial second-placers Cleveland. They were winning this game, 5-3. And Casey was still making moves like it was D-Day. He gave the kid a chance and then took it away: one game, no at-bats, no plate appearances, no chances in the field. There and not. A ghost. 

Baseball Reference has more on Verdi here. He's got his own Wiki page, too. Could a novel be far behind? Or, given the name, an opera?

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Posted at 05:53 AM on Aug 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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Sunday July 30, 2017

3,000 for Beltre

3,000 for Beltre

The 31st member of the 3,000 hit club

The last three guys to reach 3,000 hits all have one thing in common besides the obvious: They all played for the Seattle Mariners but didn't break the record with the Seattle Mariners: A Rod did it in June 2015 with the Yankees, Ichiro did it last year with the Marlins, and today Adrian Beltre did it with the Texas Rangers. It's the first time someone got their 3,000th in a Texas uni. 

Another interesting note: None of the three did it with a single. A-Rod went deep, Ichiro legged out a triple, Adrian got a two-bagger: 4, 3, 2. Apparently the next one (Pujols, at 2,911) will be a single.

Actually this is part of a deeper trend when it comes to 3,000 hits. For the first 100 years or so, 1897 (when Cap Anson did it) to 1995 (Eddie Murray), 15 of the 20 guys, or 75%, got there with a single. The other five were all doubles. Since then we've had 11 more join the club, and only three of them, or 27%, did it with a single. We've also had three HRs, two triples, and now three doubles. 

Not that far back, my friend Jim and I were commenting that if not for his *meh* years with the Mariners, Beltre might have been a Hall of Famer. He came in here gangbusters and after he left he was gangbusters again. But with us, in what should have been his prime years, he hit 20 points below his current career batting average, and slugged 61 points below his current career slugging percentage. Then he kept on, and Jim and I realized he was going into the Hall despite the shitty Mariner years. Good for him. 

So who else is up after Pujols? Maybe Carlos Beltran? He's got 2,695, but he's 40 and is currently hitting .237 with a .697 OPS. He'll have to claw his way there. Miggy (34, 2,603) seems a lock. The next in line after him? Our own Robinson Cano, 34, and sitting on 2,309. After this season we've got him for another six seasons. If he holds on, and we hold onto him, he could be the first guy to do it in an M's uniform. Would be a nice change of pace. 

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Posted at 02:29 PM on Jul 30, 2017 in category Baseball
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Thursday 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!

Reggie Jackson, career strikeout leaderAt 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.

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Posted at 06:21 AM on Apr 13, 2017 in category Baseball
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Sunday April 02, 2017

The 500 Homerun Club by Decade

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. 

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Posted at 02:17 PM on Apr 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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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*
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Posted at 06:49 AM on Apr 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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