erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

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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Wednesday October 29, 2014

The 19th Game 7 of My Lifetime

There have been 37 World Series Game 7s, but most (20) came in that 36-year sweetspot between 1955 and 1991. During that time, more than half of World Series played (55%) went to Game 7.

Before 1955? There'd been 12 in 51 years, so less than a quarter (23%) went to Game 7.

Since 1991? Five in 23 years, or 22%.

I've been alive for 19 of them and have probably watched a dozen. I'll be watching tonight, rooting for the Royals. 

Certain odds are in their favor. The last time the visiting team lost Game 6 (which would've given them the title) and then won Game 7 (which did) was the Big Red Machine in '75—after Fisk's homerun at Fenway in Game 6. Devastating loss but the Machine didn't care. It kept on going, right into the next year, when it swept both a good Phillies team in the NLCS and a noisy, Billy Martin-led Yankees squad in the World Series.

Game 7s, in general, tend to be won by the home team, but this appears to be a recent phenomenon:

Year Home team Game 7 Winner
2011 St. Louis St. Louis
2002 Anaheim Anaheim
2001 Arizona Arizona
1997 Florida Florida
1991 Minnesota Minnesota
1987 Minnesota Minnesota
1986 New York (NL) New York (NL)
1985 Kansas City Kansas City
1982 St. Louis St. Louis
1979 Baltimore Pittsburgh
1975 Boston Cincinnati
1973 Oakland Oakland
1972 Cincinnati Oakland
1971 Baltimore Pittsburgh
1968 St. Louis Detroit

Anyway, I'm glad it's here. Nothing like a Game 7. But go Royals. 

Kansas City Royals AL pennant winners

More of this tonight? Recent history says yes, the San Francisco Giants and their fans say no. 

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Posted at 07:47 AM on Oct 29, 2014 in category Baseball
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Tuesday October 28, 2014

Bill James Doesn't Like WAR

The baseball kind. A quote from Joe Posnanski's piece on the baseball stats guru (he hates that title) in winter, “Vanguard After the Revolution”:

Sometime in the last year I was doing some research that relied on these WAR systems, so I took a look at them, and … they’re not very impressive. They’re not well thought through; they haven’t made a convincing effort to address many of the inherent difficulties that the undertaking presents. They tend to get so far into the data, throw up their arms and make a wild guess. I don’t know if I’m going to get the time to do better of it, or if it will be left to others, but … we’re not at anything like an end point here. I assumed that these systems were a lot better than they actually are.

Will be interesting to see if this has an effect on WAR's sudden ubiquity. If it does, if James manages to diminish WAR, I say we send him to the Middle East.

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Posted at 02:04 PM on Oct 28, 2014 in category Baseball
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Friday October 24, 2014

The Greatest Baseball Giveaway Promotion Ever

The best giveaway promotion I've experienced at the ballpark was probably a bat night at Met Stadium in the early 1970s, back when they'd give away real bats, but reading Dan Epstein's “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76” (recommended), I came across another. It involved Bill Veeck, of course. 

Veeck (as in Wreck) was a low-rent baseball owner, frowned upon by his contemporaries, and always trying any stunt to get folks to come out to see his (usually lousy) teams. He hired the clown prince of baseball, Max Patkin, as a coach. Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76He put Eddie Gaedel, a midget, onto the St. Louis Browns roster and in one game sent him up to pinch hit (he walked). In 1976, the year in question, he had his Chicago White Sox play in shorts for a few games and brought back fan favorite Minnie Monoso, who was 51 years old and had last played in 1964, for eight at-bats.But there was more:

In addition to his endless procession of “Ethnic Night” celebrations, on-field beer-case-stacking contests, and giveaway promotions ... Veeck also installed a shower in Comiskey Park’s center field bleachers, and convinced boozed-up Sox broadcaster Harry Caray to lead the crowd in a sing-along of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every home game. The latter would become a time-honored Chicago tradition, while the former instantly entered Comiskey lore. “It had a utilitarian function,” Veeck would later say of the shower. “It gets hot out there and people like to cool off. But it also attracts a number of young girls in bathing suits, and a certain number of young men who like to look at girls in bathing suits."

Indeed. But that's not the promotion I'm talking about. I'm talking about the parenthetical hidden by the above ellipsis:

—like “Ragtime Night,” where he gave away 10,000 copies of E. L. Doctorow’s best-selling novel—

Is that the greatest thing ever? Giving away a book? A novel? A literary novel written by the left fielder in my starting nine of the literary world?

That just makes me happy. It also makes me sad that I can't imagine any circumstances where anything similar might happen today.

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Posted at 06:29 AM on Oct 24, 2014 in category Baseball
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