erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Monday April 06, 2015

SLIDESHOW: Opening Day 2015


  • SLIDESHOW: Opening Day! OK, so technically it was yesterday, at least for two teams (Cards/Cubs), but I'm a Monday traditionalist, not to mention a Mariners fan, which is why this annual look into the active leaders in the major (and a few minor) categories appears today. The big retiree is, of course, Whatshisface. Dejer Something. Minka Kelly's ex. Shortstuff for the Highlanders. I think he runs a website now? A shame his team didn't appreciate him more when they had him. I mean, can't a brother get a proper goodbye? Or a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins or something? Anyway, he's gone, but the following guys are still bringing it ...

  • BATTING AVERAGE: A year ago, the active batting champion was Joe Mauer, and for several years before that it was Albert Pujols, and even earlier it was Ichiro. All of those guys are still playing, but their batting averages keep dropping: Mauer hit .277 last year, Albert .272 and Ichiro .284. That's why Miguel Cabrera's on top of this category with a .320 career mark.

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Joey Votto's lifetime .417 OBP is the 21st-best in baseball history, sandwiched between Halll-of-Famer Stan Musial (.416) and future Veterans Committee Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez (.418). But it, too, is dropping. For the first time since 2008, Votto's OBP last year was below .400 (.390) and for the first time since 2010 he didn't lead the league in the category (Andrew McCutchen, at .410, did). But barring disaster he's got this category for a while: only two other active players have OBPs over .400: Uncle Albert, whose OBP in the past five years has dropped nearly 25 points (.426 to .403); and Joe Mauer, at .401 and falling.

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Albert has led this one since 2005, when his career slugging percentage was .621. It topped out a year later at .629—which would have been behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig on the all-time list. Now it's down to .588 (T-7th all-time). Expect lower: for the last two years he's slugged in the .400s. Miggy is currently second at .563, A-Rod (welcome back!) is third at .558. Then Braun, Ortiz, Votto, Howard. 

  • OPS: Albert again, way in front with .991; then Miggy (.950), Joey (.949) and A-Rod (.942). Albert's is 9th-best all-time.

  • GAMES, AT-BATS, HITS: And now onto the counting categories. Last year, games, at-bats and hits all belonged to Dejer the Munificent, but now they're the province of his one-time teammate, and even more one-time pal, A-Rod, who has 2,939 hits in 9,818 at-bats in 2,568 games. The top three in hits, by the way, are all former Mariners: Ichiro with 2,844 and Adrian Beltre with 2,604. A lot of longevity there. Just not in Seattle. 

  • SINGLES: Speaking of: Jeber led in this category last year, too, and retired with 2,595 one-baggers—fifth on the all-time list. Now it's Ichiro's turn to lead: He's at 2,311 and counting. (And you know he's counting.) No active player is close. A-Rod is second with 1,736, Beltre is third with 1,650, and Jimmy Rollins fourth with an even 1500.

  • DOUBLES: It's Uncle Albert with 561, followed by David Ortiz (547), A-Belt (528) and A-Rod (519). In a year or two, Albert should become the 15th man in baseball history to hit 600+ doubles. Only four men have done 700+: Speaker, Rose, Musial, Cobb. Craig Biggio (5th) came close at 668.

  • TRIPLES: Last year, it went Carl Crawford (117), then Jose Reyes (111) and Jimmy Rollins (107). Last season, Crawford hit 3 triples, Reyes 4, Rollins 3. So not much change. Crawford's 120 is tied for 97th all-time.

  • HOMERUNS: Can A-Lex come back after a year away, at the age of nearly 40, with new hips and thinner biceps, and started hitting homeruns and driving in runs again? He last went deep on Sept. 20, 2013 with a grand slam, his 24th, breaking Lou Gehrig's longtime career mark. I wrote about it here. With 654 career dingers, he needs just seven to pass Willie Mays for fourth all-time. 

  • RBIs: A lousy season and A-Rut could still move from 6th all-time in ribbies (1969), past Gehrig in fifth place (1995), and past Barry Bonds (1996) to claim fourth place. He just needs 28. Third place is a fer piece ahead: Cap Ansen with 2,075. Then Ruth, second, Aaron, first. Actively, A-Puj is second with 1,603, then D-Ort with 1533 and A-Belt with 1384. 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Last year, this was Jason Giambi, followed by Adam Dunn. Both retired, A-Rude returned, so now it's his. He's at 1,240. Tapping him on the shoulder is David Ortiz with 1,162, then Uncle Albert with 1,115. That's it for the over-1,000 crowd. No young bucks yet. The 20-something player with the most lifetime walks is Andrew McCutchen. With 445. 

  • INTENTIONAL BASES ON BALLS: Albert rules. He's at 286—third all-time—and he needs only eight more free passes to move past Hank Aaron into second place. But it's a long climb to first. Someone named Barry Bonds has the all-time record with ... wait for it ... 688. That's right. More than twice the amount of Hank Aaron. Roids or not, that's pretty amazing. On the active list, second-place Miggy is nearly 100 behind Albert at 190. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: What a shame Adam Dunn retired before he could break Reggie's all-time mark. Dunn left us with 2,379 whiffs (third all-time), while A-Yuk, the active leader, is currently fifth all-time with 2,075. Torii Hunter, returned to Minnesota, is second on the active list with 1,636, while Ryan Howard, stuck in Philly with the overpaid blues again, is third with 1,591.

  • STOLEN BASES: Can Ichiro get 500 this year? He's at 487 and last year stole 15 bases, so he's got a good shot. He's followed by Carl Crawford (470, 23 last year), José Reyes (455, 30), and Jimmy Rollins (453, 28). Ichiro or Crawford would be the 38th man in baseball history with 500+ steals.

  • SACRIFICE HITS: Elvis Andrus is the youngest active leader in any of these categories (he's only 26) but he's already slowing down in this one. From 2010 to 2013 he averaged 16.5 sacs a season; last year, he was down to 9. Of course, last year, who did he have to sacrifice? Elvis has 87 SHs lifetime, which is one more than 37-year-old platoon player Endy Chavez. The all-time leader? Hall-of-Famer Eddie Collins has 512, which is 120 more than second-place finisher Jake Daubert. The closest recent player is Omar Vizquel, tied for 35th with 256. We don't sacrifice like we used to. Blame Babe.

  • GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: This is the GDP you don't want, and Albert rules. Last year he led the league with 28, bringing his career total to 297. That's 10th all-time. Another 28 and he's fourth all-time. if he does it again he's first: Cal Ripken holds the record with 350. Second place on the active list is Torii Hunter with 248, followed by A-Rat with 240.

  • WINS: A year ago, this category was a tie, at 205, between Tim Hudson and C.C. Sabathia. Neither went the full Chesbro, or even a quarter Chesbro. Hudson had a 9-13 mark for the Gints, while Sabathia went 3-4 for the Yankees Suck; so it's now Hudson alone at 214. Bartolo Colon won 15 games last year to join them in the 2000 club: He's got 204. Mark Buehrle's at 199. 

  • LOSSES: A year ago, this read Mark Buehrle (142), A.J. Burnett (132), and Bartolo Colon (128). But Buehrle went 13-10 for the Blue Jays while Burnett went 8-18 for the Phillies. So now it's neck and neck. If you're a betting man, you might go Burnett ... except he's with the Pirates now. He actually gave up $4.25 million to play with them rather than the Phils. Ouch. That's a W.C. Fields-sized insult. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: C.C.'s still got it with 2,437, followed by Burnett (2,370) and Colon (2,101). The up-and-comer here? King Felix, at 29, has 1,951 strikeouts, sixth-best on the active list. 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Burnett, at 1,051, is the only active pitcher with more than 1,000 BBs. That's 96th all-time. Odd, isn't it? In an era when it seems more guys are walking, there are fewer pitchers with massive amounts of walks.

  • ERA: It's Clayton Kershaw and then everyone else. He's at 2.48, followed by Adam Wainwright at 3.00, followed by King Felix at 3.07. Their numbers are getting lower, by the way. Post PEDs, pitchers are partying like it's 1968. 

  • INNINGS PITCHED: Buehrle is the active leader with 3,084, followed by Tim Hudson (3,003) and C.C. (2,821). Where do they rank all time? 121st, 134th, and 166th, respectively. Career leader is Cy Young with 7,356. Bon chance. No pitcher in baseball history is within 1,350 IP of him. 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Last year C.C. had 37, Bartolo 35 and Mark Buehrle 29. This year? The same three lead with the same numbers. Stick a fork in this stat. If C.C. manages one more C.G., he'll wind up in a six-way tie ... for 997th on the all-time list.  

  • SHUTOUTS: Same deal. Active leader Roger Clemens retired in 2007 with 46 shutouts, active leader Randy Johnson retired two years later with 37, then active leader Roy Halladay left us with 20. Now the active leader is Tim Hudson with 13. But there's hope: both King Felix and Kaiser Clayton have 9 apiece. We might see 20 again. All-time leader: the Big Train with 110.

  • SAVES: The story isn't the top 3 in this category—Joe Nathan (376), Francisco Rodriguez (348) and Jonathan Papelbon (325)—but the man in ninth place, Craig Kimbrel, who, at 26, already has 186 saves. For the past four seasons, he's averaged 46.25 saves. If he does that for another 10 years, he'll be only 4 away from mighty Mo.

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: Buehrle, Hudson and Sabathia are the curent leaders (58.2, 56.9, 53.9), but in fourth it's the young buck, King Felix, at 45.4. Kershaw, two years younger, is at 39.7. This could get interesting in a few years.  

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: It goes A-Rod (116), then Albert (97.0), then Beltre (77.8). Wait, Beltre? Right, because he gains 23.2 in defensive WAR while Miggy loses 13.2. Based on bat alone, it goes A-Rod, Albert, Miggy.

  • DEFENSIVE WAR: Quick quiz: On the all-time defensive WAR list, who is the only player in the top 10 who didn't play on the left side of the infield? The active leader in this category is another left-side guy, Beltre at 23.2 (24th all-time), followed by Yadier Molina (18.7), Chase Utley (17.6), and then Clint Barnes, J.J. Hardy and Brendan Ryan. As for the all-time list? It goes Ozzie Smith (43.4), followed by three Orioles (Belanger, Brooks, Cal). The only non-SS/3B in the top 10 is Ivan Rodriguez tied for 8th place at 28.7.

  • EXIT MUSIC FOR A SLIDESHOW: Damn right. ¿Por qué no nosotros? *FIN*

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Posted at 06:12 AM on Apr 06, 2015 in category Baseball
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Saturday January 24, 2015

Ernie Banks (1931-2015)

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks missed his 84th birthday by a week. He was born January 31, 1931, and died yesterday, January 23, 2015, on my father’s 83rd birthday.

Has Banks’ legacy been reduced to three words? “Let’s play two!” he’d say, and mean it. Maybe it was 10 words: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame: Let’s play two!” Those aren’t bad words to be remembered by. Most Americans want to be cool but engaged is better. Enthusiasm is more fun.

He was at the end of his career when I first began watching baseball, and in the other league from my Minnesota Twins, but I knew he was the last guy to hit 500 homeruns before Harmon Killebrew did. Banks was ninth in baseball history (in May 1970), Killebrew 10th (August 1971). Banks would stop at 512.

He never went to the World Series; playing for no other team than the Cubs will do that to you. He was probably the greatest player never to make the World Series until this latest round of great, bereft players: Rod Carew (Twins, Angels); Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners, Reds). My guys.

I’ve spent part of the day looking over Banks’ lifetimes stats at BaseballReference.com. He remained thin and lanky to the end but apparently was never fast. He got caught stealing (53 times) more than he stole (50). His lifetime batting average wasn’t great (.274), nor his lifetime OBP (.330). His lifetime slugging percentage didn’t quite topple from its lofty perch (.500).

If he was a revelation at shortstop, a power-hitting, Gold-Glove MVP, he was a mediocre first basemen during the second half of his career. Here’s his line at short: .292/.355/.562 with 264 homers. And at first: .259/.307/.447 with  207 homers. Joe Posnanski’s written about this before—in a piece in which he declared Banks the 55th greatest player of all time.

How many times did he live up to the quote and play two? Someone must know. In his last season, 1971, the Cubs played the usual number of doubleheaders but Mr. Cub always sat out one of the games. Too old anymore to play two. His last real doubleheader was on July 4, 1970, just before the All-Star break, against Roberto Clemente’s Pirates. Banks went 1-4 and 1-5. The Cubs lost the first, won the second.

His last game in the Majors? Sept. 26, 1971, a Sunday. Banks batted fourth. In the 1st inning, two quick outs followed a leadoff single; then Banks singled and Ron Santo followed with a single to plate a run; Banks went to second. After a walk loaded the bases, Don Kessinger grounded out, stranding Banks at third. In the 3rd, Banks drew a walk around several outs, and would never get on base again. Grounder in the sixth, infield popup in the eighth. Cubs lost 5-1 to the hapless Phillies. The Cubs played another series in Montreal but Banks didn’t. He ended his career in the friendly confines.

In 1977, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 83% of the vote. Besides the inaugural Hall of Famers (Ruth, Cobb, Mathewson, Johnson, Wagner), and the special cases (Gehrig, Clemente), Banks was just the eighth man in baseball history to be elected to the Hall on the first ballot. Last year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. Obama—just the ninth baseball player to receive that honor.

Here’s the first reference to Banks in the New York Times. It’s from Sept. 1953:

 First mention of Ernie Banks, New York Times

Here’s the last.  

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Posted at 03:38 PM on Jan 24, 2015 in category Baseball
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Wednesday January 07, 2015

Who Was the Greatest Player Not Elected to the Hall His First Year?

To coincide with this year's Hall of Fame voting, ESPN.com has unveiled its “Hall of 100,” which, title aside, is a list of the 125 greatest players in baseball history, regardless of PEDs or PYOBs (Place Your Own Bets). But they try to get you to click on the article by touting one of their “controversial” picks: Derek Jeter in 31st place—ahead of Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey, Jr., Nolan Ryan and Pete Rose. 

Yeah yeah. A bigger Yankee oddity for me? They put Mickey Mantle 9th and Lou Gehrig 11th. Mantle ahead of Gehrig? Not sure I'd go there. 

Otherwise it's the usual suspects: Ruth, Mays, Bonds, Williams, Aaron, Cobb, Clemens. Which means, according to ESPN.com, Roger Clemens is the greatest pitcher of all time. Walter Johnson is second. 

But that's not what I want to talk about, either. As I looked over the list, I began to wonder who was the first player on it who wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. PEDs aside.  

Count 'em down:

  1. Babe Ruth, inaugural class, 1936 (95.1%)
  2. Wllie Mays, 1st year, 1979 (94.7%)
  3. Barry Bonds: PEDs
  4. Ted Williams, 1st year, 1966 (93.4%)
  5. Hank Aaron, 1st year, 1982 (97.8%)
  6. Ty Cobb, inaugural year, 1936 (98.2%)
  7. Roger Clemens: PEDs
  8. Stan Musial, 1st year, 1969, (93.2%)
  9. Mickey Mantle, 1st year, 1974 (88.2%)
  10. Honus Wagner, inaugural class, 1936 (95.13%)
  11. Lou Gehrig, special winter meeting vote, 1939
  12. Walter Johnson, inaugural class, 1936 (83.6%)
  13. Greg Maddux, 1st year, 2014 (97.2%)
  14. Rickey Henderson, 1st year, 2009 (94.8%)
  15. Rogers Hornsby, fifth year, 1942 (78.1%)

And there's your answer: Rogers Hornsby. The Rajah. From 1920 to 1925, he simply led the league in batting each year. Oh, and OBP. And slugging. And OPS. Across the board, a clean sweep, every one of those years. He led the league in batting seven times, and twice won the Triple Crown. His batting average is the second best all-time (.358), his OBP is the 8th best (.434). And he received, as percentage of HOF votes, 45, 26, 17, and 64, before finally getting the 78% that put him in. 

Think about that the next time you feel your spouse is hard to please. 

People complain about the Hall and the BBWAA now but look at the Hall and the BBWAA back then. Look at those percentages. More than 6% of voters thought Ted Williams wasn't a Hall of Famer? More than 5% with Willie Mays? 

Willie Mays?

Here's the thing: Williams' number, given the times, was actually quite a compliment: He was only the second player, after the inaugural class, to garner more than 90% of the vote. The first had been Bob Feller in 1962. Meaning no player from 1936 to 1962 received more than 90% of the vote: not Joe DiMaggio (88%), Hank Greenberg (84%), nor Bill Dickey (80%). And none of those guys went in on the first ballot, either. It took DiMaggio three tries, Dickey seven tries, Greenberg eight tries. 

In fact, in the 23 years between Gehrig's special election and Bob Feller's induction, the only player to get in on the first ballot was Met Ott in 1951: 87%.

That's not just tough, that's crazy tough. Or just crazy. 

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Posted at 07:33 PM on Jan 07, 2015 in category Baseball
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Saturday December 13, 2014

When Lou Gehrig's Last Season > the Mariners Last Season

It's really wrong to write about this. I admit that up front. But onward.

While reviewing the movie “The Theory of Everything,” about physicist Stephen Hawking, I looked up the numbers of Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” for the 1920s and '30s NY Yankees who set an MLB record for most consecutive games played and then became the first famous person to die of the moto-neuron disease that afflicts Hawking, and that, of course, bears Gehrig's name. Back in the 1960s, Hawking was given two years to live but he lives to this day. I thought that was astonishing, and I wanted to get my years right when I compared. Because didn't Gehrig stop playing in 1939? Yes, when he was diagnosed. And didn't he died in 1941? Yes, two years after diagnosis. The same timeframe Hawking was given. Yet Hawking lives.

Then I became distracted by baseball stats. 

Gehrig is one of the great hitters in baseball history. Being a member of the lifetime .300/.400/.500 club (average/OBP/SLG) is exemplary, but Gehrig was a member of the .300/.400/.600 club. Only six players in baseball history have slugging percentages over .600 but Gehrig's was way over, at .632. It's third all-time—behind only Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

So I traced the downward trajectory of this great hitter.

In 1936 he won the MVP award and led the league in OBP, SLG, OPS. In 1937 he led the league in OBP and OPS. In 1938 his numbers dropped precipitously. For the first time in a full season, he batted under .300 (.295), and for the first time since 1926 his OPS was under 1.000 (.932). In three years, his homerun totals had gone from 49 to 37 to 29. He only hit 3 in September 1938—his last off of Dutch Leonard on Sept. 27. It would be the last one he ever hit. 

Was he already feeling the effects of the ALS that would take his life? Was it age? Some combo? Because by spring 1939, he was definitely feeling it. Something was wrong. He knew it. And on May 2, 1939, after only four singles in 8 games, he famously took himself out of the lineup. His stats for the season: .143/.273/.143.

Then it hit me. A .273 OBP? Nobody wants that, particularly Gehrig, whose lifetime OBP is .443  (fifth all-time); but, under the circumstances ... that's not ...

I mean, didn't the Mariners have players last season who had lower ... ?

We did. We had eight guys with OBPs worse than Lou Gehrig's when he was afflicted with ALS:

  • Corey Hart: .271 (68 Games Played)
  • Austin Jackson: .267 (54 GPs)
  • Chris Denorfia: .256 (32)
  • Mike Zunino: .254 (131)
  • Abraham Almonte: .248 (27)
  • Jesus Montero: .235 (6)
  • Stefen Romero: .234 (72)
  • Jesus Sucre: .213 (21)

Two things to note about the above: backup catcher Jesus Sucre had 61 at-bats and drew zero walks. Zero. .213 batting average, .213 OBP. He shouldn't be on the team. 

And the second guy on the list, Austin Jackson, was actually our leadoff hitter after we acquired him midseason from the Tigers. Jackson leads off because he's speedy and old-school managers like speedy guys up front, but also perhaps because he's shown a talent for drawing a walk, and new-school managers know it's good to have a high-OBP guy up front. But a .267 OBP isn't it. We'll see if, at 28, he can bounce back. 

Anyway, I don't want this to be a thing. I don't want this to be an OBP version of the Mendoza line. Because it's remarkable that Lou Gehrig managed 4 hits and 5 walks in 8 games in 1939. But it is an indicator where the M's troubles lie. Only one of these guys, Zunino—who could at least catch well and crunch homeruns—was a regular. But added together, they played 411 games. Essentially 2.5 of the nine men in our lineup, or 27%, had OBPs lower than Lou Gehrig when he had ALS.

And not to put any added pressure on anyone, but you know how many times Gehrig struck out in his 33 plate appearances in 1939? Just once.

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Posted at 10:18 AM on Dec 13, 2014 in category Baseball
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Thursday October 30, 2014

The 2014 San Francisco Giants Were Never the Story; They Just Got in the Way of the Story

The American League Champion Kansas City Royals, 2014

“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”

I might as well get this out of my system.

After the Kansas City Royals lost Game 7 of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants last night, I posted various tempered vitriol on the usual social media sites, such as:

Congratulations to the San Francisco Bumgarners, winners of the 2014 World Series!

And:

Well, at least I won’t have to listen to Joe Buck for another 11 months.

But it was the comment below that resulted in the most backlash:

Here's something the San Francisco Giants and its fans never understood: No matter what, they weren't the story. They could only get in the way of the story. So congratulations for getting in the way of the story.

Many were confused. People who should know better, to be honest. So for them I’ll add this: Think of all the baseball movies about an underdog team of rag-tag losers who suddenly band together and eke out win after win on their way to the championship. Now think of  all the great baseball movies about the championship team that smoothly wins its third title in five years.

This year, the Kansas City Royals were a great story. A team that hadn’t tasted the postseason—even a wild-card spot—in 29 years winning one improbable game after another with speed, luck and a helluva great bullpen. They were a bunch of young guys who began to believe when no one else would. And they cut a swath through the postseason like Terrance Gore cutting a swath from first to second. In a way, it doesn’t matter that they came up 90 feet short. It doesn’t matter that they ran into the thick sweaty wall of Madison Bumgarner. It’s the Royals we’ll remember.

People are talking up a Giants dynasty now. Sure, why not. Three in five years. But year by year, dynasties are never a story. Remember that great Yankees team from 1950? Or was it ‘52? Hey, what about 1951? They won it all that year, too. But that was the year of the New York Giants great August/September comeback, punctuated by Bobby Thomson’s improbable three-run homerun in the bottom of the 9th in the Polo Grounds on October 3 to give the Giants a 5-4 win and the National League pennant. The Yankees wound up winning the World Series that year but they were a footnote. They weren’t the story; they just got in the way of the story. See Don DeLillo and “Underworld.” See “Pafko at the Wall.” See Roger Kahn and this quote from: “The Boys of Summer”: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”

So once more with feeling: Congratulations to the 2014 San Francisco Giants. May its fans glory in its triumph. But they weren’t the story; they just got in the way of the story. 

See you next year.

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Posted at 09:31 AM on Oct 30, 2014 in category Baseball
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