erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Sunday October 20, 2019

Altuve's Walk-off HR Sends Astros to World Series

I missed it, but Altuve didn‘t.

So it’s over. The giant frachise with the giant outfielder (6' 7“, 282-pound Aaron Judge) was sent home packing, while the small-market team with the small second baseman (Jose Altuve, 5' 6, 165) continues on to the 2019 World Series on that player's giant, 2-out, bottom-of-the-9th homerun—the first series-ending walkoff HR against the Yankees since Bill Mazeroski went deep against the Casey Stengel-led Evils to end the 1960 World Series.

And I have mixed feelings.

Oh, I'm happy. No doubt. This is waaaaay better than the alternative. A dark shadow has passed. I have a bounce in my step again. More, and I‘ve been finger-crossing for this for the last few years but now I can say it aloud: this decade is the first that won’t see a Yankees pennant since ... the 1910s:

  • 1920s: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928 (6)
  • 1930s: 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939 (5)
  • 1940s: 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949 (5)
  • 1950s: 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 (8)
  • 1960s: 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964 (5)
  • 1970s: 1976, 1977, 1978 (3)
  • 1980s: 1981 (1)
  • 1990s: 1996, 1998, 1999 (3)
  • 2000s: 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009 (4)
  • 2010s: (0)

That's why we hate them. And that's why this is a great moment.

And in what fashion they went down! An early Astros lead (3-0), the Yankees chipping away (3-2) but the Astros holding them at bay with great defense (Brantley, Reddick, Altuve, Correa), until, in the 9th, two outs away, Astros closer Roberto Osuna gave up a 2-run shot to DJ LeMahieu that looked like it should‘ve been a can of corn but kept traveling and traveling and barely went out over the outstretched glove of George Springer in right to tie the game, 4-4. Shock, silence. But Osuna gathered himself and got the final two outs, which left the Astros batters facing the Yankees’ 103-mph fastball closer Aroldis Chapman. He got two quick outs. Then he couldn't get his fastball over. He walked George Springer and went 2-0 on Altuve (both fastballs that weren't close), before catching the plate with a slider. So his next pitch was a slider. Which Altuve figured. And deposited it in the left-field bleachers. And as the shortest man with the biggest heart in baseball calmly rounded the bases amid absolute, joyous chaos in Houston, the New York Yankees, the Evil Empire, the giant monster with the monstrous collection of pennants (40) and rings (27), had the stake pounded in its black heart for another baseball season.

How could I have mixed feelilngs about that?

Because I didn't watch it.

It wasn't like I had other plans, either. I had none. I purposely avoided it. I did what I did in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, which is to maintain radio silence, internet silence, avoid even potential peripheral contact with the game via Twitter or FB or my phone, because back then it seemed like any marginal contact on my part would result in the Yankees suddenly having life. I'd check the score on, and the Yankees would be behind (yay!) and then suddenly they wouldn't (shit!). This kept happening, too. So I avoided it all for Game 7 of 2017, which the Astros won, and I avoided it again for Game 6 this year. I told myself, ”If you avoid it completely, and the Yankees still win, then watch Game 7.“ Instead, because of my superstitions, the, yes, insane superstititons of the tightly wound baseball fan and inveterate Yankee hater, I missed one helluva game.

You‘re welcome, Astros. My sacrifice is your pennant.

Speaking of: That’s the Astros third; and they‘re playing a team that just got its first. Odd position for the ’Stros. They began in 1962 named for a gun (Houston Colt .45s), played in an artificial monstrosity (the Astrodome), then moved to a baseball-friendly park that for a time was named after an infamous, era-defining financial scandal: Enron Field. Of the 30 MLB franchises, they were the 26th to see a World Series, and it took them longer to get there (their 44th season) than any franchise besides the Senators/Rangers, who didn't win one until their 50th season in 2010. When the Astros won their second pennant in 2017, they took on a team with 19 pennants. They‘ve always been the underdogs.

Now, not so much. Startlingly so. After this run, they have the most postseason appearances by any expansion franchise (13), and the No. 2 team isn’t close (Angels: 10). Hell, they have more postseason appearances than one of the original 16 teams, the Chicago White Sox (9), who had a 60-year headstart. This third ‘Stros pennant puts them in sole possession of third place among expansion pennants, behind only the Royals (4) and Mets (5). And if they win the Series, they’ll be tied with the Royals, Mets, Blue Jays and Marlins for most World Series championships by an expansion team (2).

Now look who they‘re going against: a city that hasn’t seen a World Series since 1933 and a franchise (Expos/Nationals) that has never seen one, and who took longer to get to the Series (their 51st season) than even the Rangers. Yes, the Nats now have that record in futility. Indeed, the only team that can beat that record, i.e., the only pennant-less team left in baseball, is your Seattle Mariners, who begin their 44th pennant-less season next year.

That said, not sure who I'm rooting for this World Series. This will be the second Series with two expansion teams (Mets-Royals, 2015), and I like both of them. It's a matchup of the stellar starting pitching. In terms of regular season bWAR, the Astros are fielding the No. 1 and No. 5 starters (Verlander, Cole), while the Nats have the No. 6 and 9 guys (Strasburg, Scherzer), and the difference is slim. Right now I just want a Game 7.

Gotta say, on their main page, The New York Times massively underplayed the moment:

”Outlast"? Way to hype it, boys. The inside gets closer: 

BTW: Here's how the Yanks went this entire calendar decade without making the World Series:

  • 2010: Texas Rangers (ALCS, 4-2)
  • 2011: Detroit Tigers (ALDS, 3-2)
  • 2012: Detroit Tigers (ALCS, 4-0)
  • 2013: n/a
  • 2014: n/a
  • 2015: Houston Astros (WC)
  • 2016: n/a
  • 2017: Houston Astros (ALCS, 4-3)
  • 2018: Boston Red Sox (ALDS, 3-1)
  • 2019: Houston Astros (ALCS, 4-2)

Thank you, Texas, Detroit, Boston and especially Houston. Now take 'em out, Carey. 


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Posted at 12:31 PM on Oct 20, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Wednesday October 16, 2019

Most Due

I forgot I did this but a couple of years ago I put together a spreadsheet that tried to calculate which MLB team was the “most due” for a World Series title. I took into account such factors as when they were founded, their total number of pennants and championships, years since a pennant and years since a championship. 

Now you can see why I‘ve never written a book. 

Anyway, it turned out that by my calculations the team that was most due was ... the Washington Nationals. Wasn’t really close. They had zero titles and zero pennants, and had been around eight years longer than the other zero/zero team, the Seattle Mariners. They had it all. But having nothing. 

Now they have something. 

Last night they beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 and won the first pennant in franchise history, and brought to Washington D.C. its first pennant since 1933. Joe Posnanski has a great read, and great Douglass Wallop homage, entitled “The Year the Nationals Won the Pennant.” It talks about the long history of heartbreak for Washington baseball, going back to Senators I (now the Twins) and Senators II (now the Rangers), and the short history of heartbreak for these Nats (formerly Expos). Other years were supposed to be their years and weren‘t; this one wasn’t and it is. They were down at the beginning of the year, they were down late against the Brewers in the Wild Card game, they were down late against the Dodgers in the fifth game of the NLDS; and then they won and won and won. And then they killed the Cardinals. 

How often does the most-due team get its due? It's a thing to behold.

Of course now You Know Who is Most Due. On so many levels. The Mariners are the only MLB franchise left that has never won a pennant, never gone to a World Series. They‘re also the team with the longest postseason drought: 18 years and counting. This is the longest drought not only in Major League Baseball but among the four major American team sports. Imagine that. 

But this is the Nats moment. Now they’re just waiting to see who they‘ll play: the Astros, who have two pennants and one title; or the New York Yankees, who have 40 pennants and 27 titles. Yes, no one’s close to either mark. No surprise, I'm rooting for the Stros. If the Yankees get in, though, what a matchup: Most Due vs. Least Due. Way least. 

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Posted at 08:43 PM on Oct 16, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Friday October 04, 2019

Win! Twins! Please!

On Monday, a friend DMed me a GIF of Bill Nye the Science Guy eating a Twinkie with a precise, studious look on his face. Then he wrote “Preview of Division Series.”

He's a Yankees fan.

So I wrote back.

Me: You mean because the Yankees have faced the Twins in the postseason five times this century and have won all five by a combined 16 games to 2? And the last time the Twins beat them was Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS when Johan Santana was on the mound? And he's been retired for seven years? And since that moment, the Yankees have won 10 straight? Because of that?

He: Something like that. 

Me: Funny. 

This is the eighth time the Twins have made the postseason this century—the M's would kill for such a record—but after winning their first series against a great Moneyball-era A's team, they‘ve been shut down, particularly by the Yankees.

  • 2002 ALCS: Lost to the Angels (4-1)
  • 2003 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-1)
  • 2004 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-1)
  • 2006 ALDS: Lost to the A’s (3-0)
  • 2009 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-0)
  • 2010 ALDS: Lost to the Yankees (3-0)
  • 2017 ALWC: Lost to the Yankees (1-0)

Who knew those 3 games to 1 losses in 2003 and 2004 would be the heyday?

The last time the Twins beat the Yankees, or anyone, in the postseason was Oct. 5, 2004: a 2-0 shutout by Santana. Oct. 5 should be a state holiday in Minnesota. That's tomorrow. 

It's gotta end sometime, right? This, too, has gotta pass, right? Either way, if another Yankee fan sends me a Twinkie gif, I‘ll respond with a gif of someone yanking his doodle, since that’s the origin of ‘Yankees.’ As if it could be any other way. 

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Posted at 08:57 AM on Oct 04, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Tuesday September 24, 2019

‘Cool Papa Bell’ Starring Jamie Hector

On Twitter, a history prof. was asking who should play who in an historical movie. He wanted likenesses between historical figures and current actors. I think he had Jack Black playing someone? Sorry, it was a few weeks back. 

Anyway, this was my decidedly 20th-century contribution: 

The guy on the left is Cool Papa Bell, one of the best players in the Negro Leagues, and the man about whom it was said he was so fast he could turn off the light and be in bed before it got dark. He's been honored by both Ken Burns, in his baseball doc, and Paul Simon, in this song, but never by Hollywood. Not by name. And he's got a helluva name. 

The guy on the right is actor Jamie Hector, who played Marlo Stanfield, the cold-blooded gangster in seasons 3-5 of HBO's “The Wire.” I can't remember when I made the connection between the two. I think I was just looking at a photo of Cool Papa and going, “Who does this remind me of again?” Then it hit. 

Maybe HBO should do the movie? If you give it to a Hollywood studio, we‘ll get another “42” (if we’re lucky) or “Race” (if we're not).

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Posted at 08:29 AM on Sep 24, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Thursday September 19, 2019

Baseball Team WAR: The Answers

Yankees' Mr. October, yes. Yankees' Mr. WAR? Less.

Yesterday I posted nine questions about baseball team-related WAR. Here are the answers. If you'd rather check out the questions first, without the answers, go to yesterday's post

1. Two active players lead their current team’s all-time WAR chart—meaning, in theory, they‘re the most valuable player that team has ever had. One of them is Mike Trout with the Angels. Who is the other?
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That's what started this whole deep dive into bWAR. I was like, “Wait, so, by this measure, Kershaw is the best player in the long history of the Dodgers/Robins/Superbas? That covers a lot of ground.” (Insert Groucho joke.) But yes, according to the Dodgers BR team page, he's at 67.7 bWAR, which is a tick better than previous record-holder Don Drysdale's 67.1. Pee Wee Reese(!) is third (66.3), followed by Duke Snider (65.7) and Jackie Robinson (61.4). Sandy Koufax is ninth. Short career. Brief moment in the sun. 

2. Two other active players are the all-time WAR leaders for an MLB team but not the one they’re currently playing for. Name them. 
Evan Longoria for the Rays (49.8) and Giancarlo Stanton for the Marlins (35.5). Stanton's is the lowest WAR for any best franchise player, Longoria's second-lowest. Every other team has at least one player who accumulated 50+ WAR for them. 

3. Which player in baseball history accumulated the most WAR for one team?
Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins franchise with 164.3. Second is Willie Mays with the NY/SF Giants with 154.8. No one else is above 150.

4. Which player has the most overall WAR but didn't make the top 5 for any one team?
It's gotta be a great player who divided his time (and loyalties) between teams, right? And it is: Alex Rodriguez. He's 16th all-time in WAR with 117.8 but it's divided between the Mariners (38.1), Rangers (25.5), and Yankees (54.2). His Mariners WAR is sixth-best on that franchise, Rangers is 14th-best, Yankees 11th-best. BTW: The answer was nearly Cy Young, who is third all-time with 163.6, but most of that for a team/franchise that doesn't exist: the National League Cleveland Spiders. But he accumulated enough bWAR in eight seasons with the Red Sox (66.5) to tie Dwight Evans for fifth place. (Oh, and here's the story of my encounter with A-Rod.)

5. Thirty-one players in baseball history have accumulated 100+ WAR but only 15 managed to do so for one team. Which team has the most such 100+ WAR players? Hint: It's not the Yankees. 
It's the New York/San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays (154.8), Barry Bonds (112.5), Mel Ott (107.8) and Christy Mathewson (104.0). The Yankees have three: Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle. Braves two: Hank Aaron and Kid Nichols. Senators/Twins, Tigers, Cards, BoSox, Pirates and Phillies each have one. See the chart below. 

6. This is a bit convoluted. If you count the top 5 players in terms of WAR for each of the 30 MLB franchises—so 150 slots in all—only two names appear twice. One has the fourth-most WAR for one team and fifth-most for another. The second player has the most WAR for one franchise and the fifth-most for another. Name them. 
Eddie Collins accumulated the fourth-most WAR in White Sox history (66.7) and fifth-most in A's history (57.3). And Randy Johnson has the fifth-most for the Mariners (39.0) and the most for the Arizona Diamondbacks (50.9).

7. Which player has the highest WAR for any expansion franchise?
George Brett's 88.7 WAR for the KC Royals is the best on any expansion franchise. 

8. Here's a few for the Yankee fans and/or haters: Of the 22 numbers the team has retired, and excluding managers (Billy, Casey, Torre), who accumulated the least amount of WAR while in pinstripes? 
Ready? It's Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. He managed 17.2 WAR in his five seasons with the Bronx Bombers. Second is Roger's Maris' 26.3. Both obviously had their numbers retired for other reasons: 61 for Maris, 3 for Reggie.

BTW: Haven't run the numbers yet, so take it with a grain of salt, but I assume the player who accumulated the least amount of WAR for a team and still had his number retired is Wade Boggs' two-year, end-of-career stint with the Tampa Bay Rays. His WAR for them was 1.2. Which kind of matches his #12 that they sadly retired.

9. Now reverse it: Which player accumulated the most amount of WAR for the Yankees but never had their number retired? Who's second?
Pitcher Red Ruffing tallied 57.3 bWAR for the Yankees from 1931 to 1946, which is the eighth-most in Yankees history—better than, among others, Whitey Ford, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Ron Guidry. But they didn't retire numbers much back then. Gehrig's was the first in MLB history, in 1939, and the Yankees did about one a decade after that: Ruth in ‘48, DiMaggio in ’52, Mantle in ‘69. Then it was off to the races; but Ruffing was generally overlooked. Plus the number he wore for most of his Yankee career, #15, was retired in 1979 when Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. 

As for second-most Yankees WAR with no retired number? That’s A-Rod again. Unless attitudes toward him soften, I imagine A-Rod will be the greatest modern player to never have his number retired by any team he played on. 

Here's a chart of the top three players in terms of bWAR in each MLB team's history, as sorted by first player WAR. Some head-scratchers in there:

Minnesota Twins Walter Johnson 164.3 Rod Carew 63.8 Harmon Killebrew 60.5
San Francisco Giants Willie Mays 154.8 Barry Bonds 112.5 Mel Ott 107.8
Detroit Tigers Ty Cobb 144.8 Al Kaline 92.8 Charlie Gehringer 80.7
Atlanta Braves Hank Aaron 142.5 Kid Nichols 107.2 Warren Spahn 98.9
New York Yankees Babe Ruth 142.4 Lou Gehrig 112.4 Mickey Mantle 110.3
St. Louis Cardinals Stan Musial 128.2 Rogers Hornbsby 91.4 Bob Gibson 89.1
Boston Red Sox Ted Williams 123.1 Carl Yastrzemski 96.4 Roger Clemens 80.8
Pittsburgh Pirates Honus Wagner 120.1 Roberto Clemente 94.5 Paul Waner 68.2
Philadelphia Phillies Mike Schmidt 106.8 Robin Roberts 71.7 Steve Carlton 69.4
Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. 95.9 Brooks Robinson 78.4 Jim Palmer 68.4
Kansas City Royals George Brett 88.7 Kevin Appier 47.0 Amos Otis 40.8
Chicago Cubs Cap Anson 84.7 Ron Santo 72.1 Ryne Sandberg 68.1
Cleveland Indians Nap Lajoie 80.0 Tris Speaker 74.2 Bob Feller 63.4
Houston Astros Jeff Bagwell 79.9 Craig Biggio 65.5 Jose Cruz 51.4
New York Mets Tom Seaver 78.8 David Wright 50.4 Dwight Gooden 46.3
Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose 78.1 Johnny Bench 75.2 Barry Larkin 70.4
Oakland Athletics Eddie Plank 77.4 Rickey Henderson 72.7 Lefty Grove 64.9
Milwaukee Brewers Robin Yount 77.3 Paul Molitor 60.0 Ryan Braun 47.7
Chicago White Sox Luke Appling 74.5 Ted Lyons 70.7 Frank Thomas 68.3
Los Angeles Angels Mike Trout 72.6 Chuck Finley 51.8 Jim Fregosi 45.9
Seattle Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. 70.6 Edgar Martinez 68.4 Ichiro Suzuki 56.2
San Diego Padres Tony Gwynn 69.2 Dave Winfield 32.0 Jake Peavy 26.8
Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw 67.7 Don Drysdale 67.1 Pee Wee Reese 66.3
Colorado Rockies Todd Helton 61.2 Larry Walker 48.3 Troy Tulowitzki 39.4
Toronto Blue Jays Dave Stieb 56.7 Roy Halladay 48.0 Tony Fernandez 37.5
Washington Nationals Gary Carter 55.8 Tim Raines 49.2 Andre Dawson 48.4
Arizona Diamondbacks Randy Johnson 50.9 Paul Goldschmidt 40.3 Brandon Webb 31.1
Texas Rangers Ivan Rodriguez 50.1 Rafael Palmeiro 44.6 Adrian Beltre 43.2
Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria 49.8 Ben Zobrist 36.0 Carl Crawford 35.6
Miami Marlins Giancarlo Stanton 35.5 Hanley Ramirez 26.9 Josh Johnson 25.7

Let me know if you notice any errors.

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Posted at 07:14 AM on Sep 19, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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