erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Monday November 08, 2021

The 2021 World Series: Got Dingers?

Last week was a busy one and I never followed up on the World Series and my shitty prediction of same. The morning of Game 1, I laid out all the reasons why the Astros would win it all (boiled down: they hit, they hit, they hit) and not only did the Braves win in six but the Astros didn't hit. The best-hitting team in the Majors in 2021 got cold at the wrong time.  

ASTROS AVG OBP SLG
Regular Season .267 .339 .444
ALDS .288 .371 .432
ALCS .277 .341 .451
World Series .224 .298 .299

They were shut out twice and almost no-hit in Game 3. Only Michael Brantley hit regularly: .333. I didn't get why Dusty Baker didn't move Kyle Tucker up—or why he was batting so low in the first place. (.294 for the season, .286 for the Series.) When No. 3 man Alex Bregman turned ice cold, hitting .095 for the Series, Tucker, or maybe Yuli Gurriel, seemed a good replacement. Instead Dusty went with Carlos Correa. I guess?

Beyond that, it was just a dull Series. Except for Game 4 (when the Braves battled back from a 2-0 deficit) and Game 5 (Astros, 4-run deficit), no leads changed hands. None. Braves jumped out to an early lead in Game 1 and it was never close. Astros jumped out to an early lead in Game 2 and it was never close.  In Game 6, after Series MVP Jorge Soler's monster 3-run homer in the top of the 3rd, the Astros never even brought the tying run to the plate. In the 3rd they got a man on; erased in a double play. In the 4th, a man on; erased in a double play. In the final five innings, down 6-0, then 7-0, they managed three singles in three separate innings—two by Brantley—and never moved any of them along. At the end, in the bottom of the 9th inning of the last game of the 2021 season, Brantley led off with a single and was stranded at first. The Series in a nutshell.

So instead of the Astros winning their second title, tying them with the Mets and Royals for the most among expansion teams, the Braves won their fourth. Before this, they had a title per city: Boston (1914), Milwaukee (1957), and Atlanta (1995). Now Georgia gets the deuce. Four titles after almost 120 years doesn't seem like much but it actually ties them with the Tigers for ninth-most in baseball history: Reds and Pirates have five, Dodgers seven, Giants eight, A's and BoSox nine, Cards 11, and the Yankees, those bastards, a bit out front with 27. Braves move ahead of the ChiSox, Cubs, Twins and O's, all of whom have three, and the Indians and Phillies, who have two apiece. 

I should add that, for the Series, the Braves hit slightly worse than their regular season numbers, too, except in one category: 

BRAVES AVG OBP SLG
Regular Season .244 .319 .435
NLDS .234 .315 .383
NLCS .260 .321 .422
World Series .239 .303 .443

Over the six games, the Astros scored 20 runs but only two via the long ball—two solo shots by Jose Altuve—while 18 of the Braves' 25 runs came via homers. This worries me. I was hoping the Astros would be a fun, slap-happy, keep-the-line-moving team, a la the 2014-15 KC Royals, and show GMs a better path to better baseball. Instead, the lesson for GMs is the same dull one: Got dingers?

Well, at least we had a season.

Posted at 09:30 AM on Monday November 08, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 26, 2021

2021 World Series: Cheaters vs. Tomahawk Chops

A few quick thoughts before Game 1 of the 2021 World Series tonight. 

First, it's not an ideal series: The Cheaters vs. The Tomahawk Chops. Yay.

Me, I'm rooting for the Cheaters. I figure most teams cheat, Astros got caught, oh well. But the Tomahawk Chop is loud, stupid, incessant, racist. Shut it down. And right now, the best way to shut it down—the only way, really—is to shut down the Braves. So go 'Stros. 

But can the Astros do it? The Braves, after all, have already taken down, rather handily, the 95-win Brewers and the 106-win Dodgers. Surely they can add the 95-win Astros to their belts.

Maybe. But if I had to bet, I'd bet on the Astros. 

In the regular season, the two teams had pretty good pitching staffs. The Braves seem to have a few more standouts but overall the two teams were neck and neck in the stats. The Astros had the seventh-best ERA in the Majors (3.76), the Braves the eighth-best (3.88). Astros' team WHIP was 1.23, Braves 1.24. Astros struck out more (1,456 to 1,417), but the Braves walked fewer (516 to 549). I'm not seeing a big advantage for either team on the mound. 

But at the plate? Astros. 

With the possible exception of the Red Sox, the Astros had the most well-balanced offensive attack in baseball this season. They ranked first in singles (962), third in doubles (299), and ninth in homers (221). The Braves got them beat with the long ball, ranking third overall with 239, but rank only 14th in doubles (269), and shockingly, 29th in singles (779). Only my Mariners hit fewer singles than the Braves. And if you combine singles and doubles, the source of relentless “keep the train moving” offenses that often do well in the postseason, the Astros rank first while the Braves rank 24th. This is also where you can't point to the Dodgers or Brewers and go, “Well, the Braves handled them, so they'll handle the Astros,” because the Dodgers ranked 18th in singles and doubles and the Brewers ranked 27th. The Astros offense is designed to constantly put pressure on a team. They put the ball in play. They had the second-fewest strikeouts in the Majors and the ninth-most walks. They're relentless. 

TEAM H 1B 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
Astros 1,496 962 299 14 221 569 1,222 .267 .339 .444
Braves 1,307 779 269 20 239 549 1,453 .244 .319 .435

Of course, that's over the 2021 season, and this is a short series, and, as the saying goes, anything can happen. Eddie Rosario might continue to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle. Or someone else might step up. Or Astros' bats might grow cold. 

But if I was a betting man, I'd bet on the 'Stros. Go Cheaters! Stifle the Tomahawk Chop!

ADDENDA

GAME 1: So far I couldn't be more wrong. The Braves scored on the third pitch of the night, in the first three innings, and again when they needed to widen their cushion. They outhit the Astros 12-9 and won 6-2. Everything about the Astros evening was “almost.” He almost got the ball, he almost tagged that guy, the ball almost went out. Both teams left nine men on but it felt like the Astros were way worse. They were always behind and could never break through. It was a blue-ball evening. But they did break Bravers' starter Charlie Morton's leg with a comebacker. Dude still threw 16 more pitches. That's Bob Gibson territory.

GAME 2: OK, this is more along the lines of what I was thinking might happen. In the first, Altuve doubled, Brantely sacrificed him to third, Bregman sacrificed him home. In the second, with one out, we got: single, single, infield single, single to left and an error/mental lapse by Eddie Rosario who threw to third base with no one covering. Then a two-out single for another run. That made four runs on five singles. The Astros led the Majors in singles this year, and by a long shot, and they didn't strike out much, and if you keep putting the ball in play, the Eddie Rosarios of the world will make mental lapses. That said, the Astros got as many hits in this game as they did in the first game (9), they just strung them together better. And the Braves were unlucky. A lot of their early swings were rockets right at someone. The World Series is tied at one game apiece, but the games themselves have rarely been close. In both games, one team took an early lead, a 3+ run lead by the second inning, and never reliinquished it. Now we move to Atlanta.

Posted at 12:24 PM on Tuesday October 26, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 17, 2021

2021 MLB Postseason: I Should Be Rooting for the Braves But I'm Not

We've got four teams remaining in the 2021 Major League Baseball season and I'm trying to figure out who to root for. 

Normally I'd root for the team with the longest drought. Here's what it looks like when you figure out each team's last pennant/last World Series title:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 2020/2020
  • Houston Astros: 2019/2017
  • Boston Red Sox: 2018/2018
  • Atlanta Braves: 1999/1995

No brainer. I should be rooting for the Braves.

How about historically? Total number of pennants/titles:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 21/7
  • Boston Red Sox: 13/9
  • Atlanta Braves: 9/3
  • Houston Astros (est. 1962): 3/1

This one's trickier—but, as an aside, it is fascinating that the Red Sox have done so well in the World Series. Every time they went in the first 20 years of a century they won: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, and then 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018. It was the other 80 years when things fell apart. Maybe that's a reason to root for them? See them finally win a Series in the last 80 years of a century?

The Dodgers are the opposite. They have more NL pennants than anyone but failed in 2/3 of those—mostly because they lost their first seven in a row. Since 1955, they're .500. 

Braves? They're their own brand of pathetic. They never amounted to much in the early days and played second fiddle to the Red Sox in Boston. They've moved three times and have one title per city: Boston in 1914 (moved after the '52 season), Milwaukee in 1957 (moved after the '65 season), Atlanta in 1995. Most of their pennants, five of the nine, are from the 1990s, when they were good, with an out-of-this-world pitching staff, but couldn't close the deal. I would argue that the one time that team did win it all was against the best team they faced—the '95 Indians.

Anyway, historically, it's Astros or Braves.

How about payroll? I like rooting for have-nots.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: $267 million/1st overall
  • Houston Astros: $194 million/4th
  • Boston Red Sox: $184 million/5th
  • Atlanta Braves: $147 million/12th

The Braves aren't exactly have-nots but their payroll is half that of the Dodgers. So: Braves.

As for historical postseason rivalries? What matchup sounds the best? 

vs. Boston Red Sox Houston Astros
Atlanta Braves   1997-Division 1999-Division 2001-Division 2004-Divison 2005-Divison
Los Angeles Dodgers

1916-Series 2018-Series

1981-Division

Astros were NL until the 2013 season and mostly a punching bag. They faced the Dodgers in 1981 in a true division matchup (split season: winner of the first half vs. winner of the second half), won the first two games and then lost the next three. Against the Braves, they lost in '97 (three and out), lost in '99 (four and out), lost in '01 (three and out again), before finally turning the tables in '04 and '05. Astros fans, I'm sure, remember, and wouldn't mind having another shot at the Braves. Revenge is a dish best served in the World Series. 

The Dodgers and Red Sox first faced each other in 1916, when the Dodgers were called the Brooklyn Robins (after manager Wilbert Robinson) and the Red Sox pitching rotation was anchored by a young phenom named Babe Ruth, who, in Game 2, gave up an inside-the-park homer to Hi Meyers in the 1st inning, then put up goose eggs for the next 13 innings until the Red Sox won it in the bottom of the 14th. In 1918, Ruth ran his scoreless innings streak to 29 2/3—a World Series record until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961. (“A bad year for the Babe,” someone quipped.) That fifth title for the BoSox, a record at the time, wasn't matched until the Athletics won their fifth in 1930; then the Yankees in '36, the Cardinals in '44 and the Giants in '54. The Dodgers didn't win their fifth title until 1981. Eight of the original 16 teams, and 22 teams overall, have never won five titles.

Oh, and they faced each other again 102 years later, in the David Price-Steve Pearce World Series. Boston won in five.  

But the coolest matchup to me would be the two teams who haven't faced each other, both of whom started out in Boston: the one-time Boston Americans (now Red Sox) vs. the one-time Boston Red Stockings, Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees (now Braves). 

So to recap who I should root for:

  • Recent: Braves
  • Historical: Braves, Astros
  • Payroll: Braves
  • Matchups: Braves, Red Sox

So it's pretty obvious: I should be rooting for the Braves.

And yet I find myself rooting against the Braves, and with a passion. And here's the reason: The tomahawk chop. I hate the thing.

And it isn't even original to them? It started at Florida State for the Seminoles? Then migrated to KC for the Chiefs before Braves fans, with hints from the organist, adapted it for the '91 team? 

It is effective, I admit: this repetitive warlike chant resounding throughout a stadium of 50,000 people. It's just embarrassing. In an age when the Washington football team has dropped “Redskins” and the Cleveland baseball team has opted for “Guardians,” this Atlanta team is still known as the “Braves” and its mostly white fanbase still chants the “tomahawk chop.” The less we hear of this thing, the better. 

Anyway, against all logic, I find myself rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Maybe because that's the one champion that'll annoy Yankees fans the most? The Red Sox would be the third team to 10 titles, following the Yankees (who won their 10th in 1943) and Cardinals (2006). They'd truly be the team of the 21st century, with five pennants and five titles. (Second-best Giants have four pennants and three titles). And they'd finally break the back-80 jinx. 

Posted at 12:56 PM on Sunday October 17, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 09, 2021

MLB to Fans: Drop Dead

This is the way it used to work when I was a kid in the 1970s.

You’d see your favorite team (in my case, the Minnesota Twins) on your local TV station (Metromedia Television 11), but not much of the rest of the league. Most home games were blacked out, if I recall, but you’d get a lot of the away games. There was also a “Game of the Week” every Saturday afternoon, hosted by Curt Gowdy, so you could see other teams, even National League teams. Then there was the postseason. I still remember running home from elementary school to catch World Series games in the afternoon but that changed rapidly. The first night-time World Series game was in 1971, Game 4, and TV ratings doubled (shocker), so the next season every weekday World Series game was played in the evening. Back then, the World Series was set up  2-3-2 and began on Saturday, so, assuming no postponements and seven games, plus two travel days, four of the seven were still day games. That changed in ’77 when they began to start the Series on a Tuesday. Now you’re down to two day games. And in ’85, when the LCSes went to best-of-seven and the Series start returned to Saturdays, MLB said screw it, night games all the time. The last day World Series game happened in 1987, Game 6, and that was apparently the result of fan pressure. Joke was on them: The game was played at the Metrodome.

Anyway, the point is, when I was a kid, you’d see other teams occasionally, and your team a lot.

This season I saw other teams a lot and my team barely. I saw other teams because I paid $29.99 a month for MLB.TV. I barely saw my team, the scrappy Seattle Mariners, who won 90 games despite a negative run differential and the worst team batting average in the Majors, because those games are blacked out on MLB.TV. I assume they’re blacked out because ROOT Sports Northwest has exclusivity within its market (five states, believe it or not: WA, OR, ID, MT and AK), and somehow MLB hasn’t brokered a deal with them so fans can have easy access to the team.

To watch the Mariners, I had three options:

  • Get cable again (fuck that)
  • Get a VPN and change my IP address so it’s outside those five states (I’m not much of a cheater, nor tech savvy, but I should’ve explored this better)
  • Stream the games via a DirecTV sports package for $84.99 a month (fuck that)

But at least I had the MLB.TV account and other teams.

Until the postseason. Then those games went away, too. Wednesday night, I contacted MLB’s customer service to ask why. Here’s the response I got, via text, after about a 15-minute wait:

Your subscription included only regular season games. To access postseason games, you must purchase a postseason subscription for MLB.TV and authenticate with a Pay TV provider.

When I asked for the names of Pay TV providers, they sent me this link with a throng of alphabet-soup companies: Among them, Arvig, Cox, DirecTV, RCN, ATT U-Verse, and Wow! (BTW: Isn’t Wow! in the first column the same as WOW! in the second? Can’t MLB at least hire a copy editor?) 

Of course, I didn’t have any of them. I was SOL.

But so is MLB, it seems. It has a dwindling fan base that skews old, fewer and fewer people have cable (down from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center), and MLB has made no good, easy way for that dwindling fan base to watch either their own team or the playoffs. Baseball is keeping its own fans from enjoying its own product. Remarkable.

But then, I don’t think the people running Major League Baseball think of fans like me as their customer base. Their customer base is Arvig, Cox, RCN, Wow!, etc. Keep them happy, they seem to think, and everything will be just fine.

Posted at 02:14 PM on Saturday October 09, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday August 22, 2021

Miggy Hits No. 500

Miguel Cabrera went yard today for his 13th homer of the season and the 500th of his career, and to me you just have to celebrate. He's such a joyous figure. Even the Toronto home crowd gave him a standing ovation today. Plus it's been a slog getting there.

At the end of the 2016 season—when Obama was president, mind you—Miggy had hit 446 for his career, 54 short, and that seemed like a season and a half back then. But then injuries and age hit hard, and the Covid pandemic didn't help, and he had to pick up the rest piecemeal. Over five seasons he went: 16, 3, 10, 12, 13. In his rookie season, he slugged .468, and after that, through 2016, it was never below .500. After 2016, it was never above .500, and more often than not it wasn't above .400. So today's a good day. 

He did it old-school, without any 50-HR seasons, the way Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Mike Schmidt did it before him. His career high was 44, which he hit twice. He's the 28th guy to join the club, and the first since David Ortiz in 2015. We only had two in the 2010s after a record nine in the 2000s. It's a rare event again, which is nice. Not even sure who's next in line. Nellie Cruz, another joyous figure, has 443 but he's 40—although he still has pop: 27 so far this season. Giancarlo at 332 has a shot if he stays healthy. Mike Trout at 310, same.

Miggy is also 45 hits shy of 3,000. That's gotta be reachable, and if so, he'll join the even more exclusive 3,000/500 club: Just Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. 

My favorite Miggy homer isn't even on this list, of course, since it happened in the World Series. Worth a watch again. As is No. 500. They're kind of similar, aren't they? Opposite-field jobs, one as a 20-year-old rookie who had just been brushed back by Roger Clemens, the other as the grand old man of baseball everyone was cheering for. That's how quickly it goes. Touch 'em all, Miggy.

Posted at 01:20 PM on Sunday August 22, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday August 21, 2021

Bill Freehan (1941-2021)

Bill Freehan makes me think of my youth for this reason: He was ubiquitous when I was young and I haven't thought about him for a long time. Other players from the era stayed in my line of sight (Joe Morgan, say, as a color announcer) or in the conversation (Aaron, Mays, Bench), but Freehan receded from view. As a result, when I think of him, I can't help thinking of, say, getting 1971 Topps cards at Salk Drugs on 53rd and Lyndale, or watching an early '70s All-Star game in the basement of 5339, or going to Met Stadium to see the Twins take on the Tigers. I become 10 again.

He was the established guy when I first began to care about baseball—the starting American League catcher in the All-Star game from 1966 through 1972, seven straight years. Again, not just there: starting. But I wouldn't be surprised if I was a bit dismissive of him. When I began to watch in the early '70s, the NL starting catcher was always Johnny Bench, a superstar, and maybe the greatest catcher of all time. And who was our guy? Freehan? C'mon. So it's interesting now checking out how good he was. 

He was actually the best catcher in baseball before Bench arrived. By bWAR, he was the 10th-best position player in 1967, rocking a 6.1, and everyone above him is either a Hall of Famer or Paul Blair, and none are catchers. In 1968, he was fifth-best, and again, the guys above him are the guys: Yaz, Brooks, Clemente, McCovey. First-ballot HOFers. 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher—both MVPs went to pitchers: Bob Gibson in the NL and Freehan's battery mate Denny McClain in the AL—but oddly Freehan's batting numbers dipped a bit in '69 after they lowered the mound to make it easier for hitters. He was almost always a .200/.300/.400 guy. He's that for his career (.262/.340/.412), and he was that every year between 1967 and 1972, but the numbers dipped a bit in '69. He hit 25 homers in the Year of the Pitcher, and 16 the year they lowered the mound. He could always draw a walk and he never struck out much. Career, it's 753 strikeouts vs. 626 walks, and during his heyday he almost always walked more than he struck out. He won five Gold Gloves. When he retired, he was the all-time leader for chances (10,714), putouts (9,941) and fielding average for a catcher (.993). He hit exactly 200 homeruns. He was always a Detroit Tiger. 

So I'm surprised he didn't get at least a little traction for the Hall of Fame. Instead, he was a one-and-done guy. He came up for a vote in 1982, got exactly two votes, 0.5% and that was it. A lot of first-timers were on that ballot, including Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, who probably skewed things for the rest. Then Billy Williams, who would be voted in in 1987, and Tony Oliva, who was never voted in. All the others were one-and-doners like Freehan. It's not a bad squad: my man Cesar Tovar, Tommy Davis, Tommy Harper and Rico Petrocelli. But of those Freehan had the best career WAR: 44.8. If WAR was around then, I doubt he would've been one and done. 

Bill Freehan died earlier this week after suffering from dementia for several years. He was 79. The Detroit Free-Press obit lets us know how much of a Michiganlander he was: born, grew up, went to college, played, coached, died there. Above all, he was a good man. This Willie Horton quote isn't fluff: “Bill Freehan was one of the greatest men I've ever played alongside or had the pleasure of knowing. ... His entire major league career was committed to the Tigers and the city of Detroit, and he was one of the most respected and talented members of the organization through some difficult yet important times throughout the 1960s and '70s. You'd be hard-pressed to find another athlete that had a bigger impact on his community over the course of his life than Bill, who will be sorely missed in Detroit and beyond.”

Posted at 09:01 AM on Saturday August 21, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday August 07, 2021

J.R. Richard (1950-2021)

J.R. Richard was an All-Star, a superstar pitcher, and maybe halfway to the Hall of Fame, when it all suddenly ended. Maybe because of racism, maybe because of our demands on athletes. Maybe both.

In 1980 he was having another Cy Young-type season, his fifth in a row, going 10-4 with a 1.90 ERA and 119 strikeouts by the beginning of July, but he also had arm fatigue, lethargy, nausea. In his first appearance after the All-Star game, which he started for the NL, he had trouble seeing the catcher's signals and left after 3 1/3 innings. Maybe if he were white his complaints would've been taken more seriously? But he wasn't and they weren't. If you have newspapers.com, check out this July 17 UPI story about Richard going on the disabled list. There's a lot of puzzlement but not much sympathy. Astros pitching coach Mel Wright undercuts Richard's complaints by saying he's never seen anyone throw that well with a dead arm, while Richard's teammate Joe Niekro undercuts Richard himself: “He's quiet. Nobody knows him on this club. He says his arm hurts so it's best to put him on the disabled list. ... Now that we know that he's not going to be pitching we can go play baseball.”

Thanks, friendo.

Then they found a blood clot in his pitching arm but chose not to operate, “fearing that it might hurt his ability to pitch,” according to The New York TimesLess than two weeks later, July 30, he was working out at the Astrodome when he collapsed. From his 2015 memoir:

“All of a sudden, I felt a high-pitched tone ringing in my left ear. And then I threw couple of more pitches and became nauseated. A few minutes later, I threw a couple more pitches, then the feeling got so bad, I was losing my equilibrium. I went down on the AstroTurf. I had a headache, some confusion in my mind, and I felt weakness in my body.”

It was a stroke. He never pitched another game in the Majors, finishing with a 107-71 record, 3.15 ERA, 1,493 strikeouts. 

Fifteen years later, he was homeless, living under a bridge in Houston. I remember hearing about that on the radio, the sadness of it. He bounced back, but it's shame upon shame. Baseball, Bart Giamatti famously said, is designed to break your heart. And not just baseball.

Posted at 07:40 AM on Saturday August 07, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Friday July 09, 2021

'Fergie Jenkins Liked Your Reply'

Is this the best part of social media? Or maybe the only good part of social media? 

The other day, Fergie Jenkins, the great Ferguson Jenkins, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cubs and Rangers who was the first pitcher to retire with > 3,000 Ks and < 1,000 BBs, posted this on Twitter, with video of him pitching to Harmon Killebrew in the 1971 All-Star Game:

I watched the video knowing what I know—Killebrew went deep on him. This is that All-Star game when Reggie Jackson took Dock Ellis so deep it nearly tore off the transom on the top of Tigers Stadium, and at the end of the day six future Hall of Famers hit homeruns: Jackson, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, and Killebrew. That's 3,106 career homeruns between them—or an average of 500+. The wind was blowing strongly to right field, which is where Jackson and most of them hit it. Clemente went center. Only Killebrew hit it into the wind. 

Anyway, I expected someone to mention that the video cut out too quickly—before Killer's homer—but nobody had. So I did. 

Woke up to this:

Posted at 02:14 PM on Friday July 09, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 25, 2021

2021 Seattle Mariners Can't Get to First Base

I saw my first in-person no-hitter earlier this month, and even though it was against my team, and thus involved massive mixed feelings, it still felt like an event. First no-hitter! Woooo! Two days later, Wade Miley of the Reds no-hit the Indians. Then during my week in Minneapolis (my first real trip since the Covid pandemic began), there were two more, including another one against the Mariners. That makes six no-hitters this season against three teams: Seattle, Texas, Cleveland. The record for a single season is the seven no-hitters thrown in 1990. We seem destined to smash that mark.

Needless to say, the no-hitter I saw feels less like an event now.

Hitting, of course, is down across the Majors this season—the league average is in the .230s—but the Mariners are exceptional (or its opposite) in this regard. Our team batting average is .199, the lowest of the low. The Indians are third-lowest at .216. Texas, the third twice no-hit team, is the surprise: They're league average at .235. 

What's astonishing about the M's, though, is just how they're failing. They're still hitting doubles—as of today, they're tied for 9th in the Majors with 74. Homers? Tied for 15th with 54. Extra-base hits per game? 18th. Walks per game? 16th. So where are they going wrong?

With the easiest hit you can get, the one so seemingly unimportant they don't even track it in the stats. The Mariners are abysmal when it comes to hitting singles. 

So far this season we've got 170, while second-worst Cleveland is at 187. Every other team is in the 200s, with the Astros on top with 293. But that doesn't even begin to capture it. Because the M's have also played more games than most teams. So if you break it down on a per-game basis, it's much, much worse:

TEAM
 G
H 2B 3B HR AVG 1B 1B/Game
Houston Astros
47
440
90
5
52
.270
293 6.23
Washington Nationals
43
374
68
3
46
.258
257 5.98
Toronto Blue Jays
46
400
68
4
68
.252
260 5.65
Chicago White Sox
46
381
74
10
45
.254
252 5.48
San Diego Padres
48
382
65
9
48
.242
260 5.42
Los Angeles Dodgers
47
395
76
10
55
.248
254 5.40
Boston Red Sox
48
432
105
3
65
.263
259 5.40
Texas Rangers
49
384
58
6
58
.235
262 5.35
Pittsburgh Pirates
46
352
71
6
30
.229
245 5.33
Cincinnati Reds
45
383
73
4
67
.249
239 5.31
Los Angeles Angels
47
386
70
7
60
.247
249 5.30
Detroit Tigers
47
354
53
10
44
.230
247 5.26
Philadelphia Phillies
48
377
70
6
49
.238
252 5.25
Miami Marlins
47
367
70
10
44
.233
243 5.17
New York Yankees
47
355
52
2
58
.231
243 5.17
Colorado Rockies
48
384
78
13
48
.242
245 5.10
Kansas City Royals
45
341
61
10
41
.235
229 5.09
New York Mets
41
295
51
4
32
.224
208 5.07
Baltimore Orioles
47
368
81
5
47
.235
235 5.00
Minnesota Twins
47
382
79
5
65
0.241
233 4.96
Chicago Cubs
46
357
66
9
55
.237
227 4.93
St. Louis Cardinals
47
357
66
6
55
.232
230 4.89
Tampa Bay Rays
49
397
97
5
62
.235
233 4.76
Arizona Diamondbacks
48
370
80
12
51
.229
227 4.73
Milwaukee Brewers
47
330
61
5
52
.213
212 4.51
San Francisco Giants
47
346
64
6
64
.227
212 4.51
Atlanta Braves
47
363
72
6
78
.236
207 4.40
Oakland Athletics
49
359
74
8
69
.226
208 4.24
Cleveland Indians
45
319
70
8
54
.216
187 4.16
Seattle Mariners
48
301
74
3
54
.199
170 3.54

stats via ESPN.com, after May 24th games

We're half a single per game behind even the 29th-place Indians, and a full single per game behind 24 of the 30 MLB teams. The Astros hit nearly twice as many singles as we do. That's why all of our extra-base hits (18th on a per-game basis) don't add up to runs scored (27th). And that's why the .199 batting average. And that's why the two no-hitters against us. We can't get to first base. We hit them where they are.

The question is why. My friend Tim over at The Grand Salami wrote about this the other day:

The M's as a whole have bought into the Statcast obsession with power hitting. ... There is an unhealthy focus on “launch angles” and home runs and slugging as the basis for hitting a baseball. Contact, working counts, and getting on base are, at best, secondary considerations under this philosophy.

And they've been doing this in a year when the ball itself has been deadened to prevent excessive power hitting. 

So is the M's org trying to pivot at all? One would hope. In a way, it's almost good news. We don't suck across the board. Our offense is fairly average in most categories. We just can't get to first base.

UPDATE: Several hours after I wrote the above, the M's beat the A's 4-3 on 11 hits: two doubles and nine singles. Let's hope it's the start of something.

Posted at 04:42 PM on Tuesday May 25, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Friday April 02, 2021

Three Things I'd Change About Baseball

The great joy of Miggy vs. the sour idiocy of Manfred. 

The 2021 baseball season started yesterday, and from Miggy's homerun in the snow to the Mariners' eighth-inning comeback against the Giants (which our closer gave back on four pitches in the ninth), there was much joy in Mudville, particularly after last year's pandemic-shortened, fan-free season. But a few things could still use fixing. I'll start with the easy one first. 

3. Opening Day should never be April 1. C'mon. April Fools Day? You look like clowns.

2. Help a brother see his local team. Being cable-less forever, I bought the MLB.TV package yesterday and watched some of Blue Jays vs. Yankees, Minnesota at Milwaukee, Atlanta-Philly, Arizona-San Diego, etc., etc., and onto the west-coast games of ChiSox-Angels and Astros-A's. After the 'Stros put away Oakland 8-1, there was still one game going but I didn't watch it. I couldn't watch it. It was my team, the Mariners, playing the Giants at the park two miles from my home. But of course your local team is blacked out in your MLB package so you don't get to see them. I guess I'll have to investigate Xfinity-free ways to watch the M's. Or maybe I'll just root for the Angels. Either way, MLB needs to work on this.

1. Kill the “ghost-runner on second in extra innings” rule right now, bury it deep and salt the earth around it. I've been watching baseball since about 1969, more than 50 years now, and I can't think of a more idiotic, infantilizing rule change. The DH is genius in comparison. The ghost-runner rule takes a problem that isn't a problem—extra innings—and tries to speed up the result, because ... because that's all baseball commissioner and nonfan Rob Manfred can think of doing with the game. He wants to make sure baseball appeals to non-baseball fans. As for baseball fans? Apparently he doesn't give a shit. Does any other professional sport do this? “Hey, they keep tying, how do we end this fast?” In football, basketball, hockey, you keep playing overtimes like men until someone wins. Yes, there's soccer, and the idiocy of penalty kicks, but one shouldn't follow soccer's idiotic example here. And remember, soccer is long, low-scoring and the most popular sport in the world. Long and low-scoring doesn't have to mean unpopular, Rob. Stop trying to fix the thing you think is the problem that isn't the problem. Imagine if in the Borg vs. McEnroe tie-breaker that just kept going and going and going, the USTA decided, “Oh, we can't have that, this hugely popular thing that's got everyone talking about and watching our sport. Now: How would we solve this if it was first-graders involved?” Yesterday, four games were decided with the ghost-runner rule and to me they already have asterisks. And it mostly went my way! The Yankees lost because of the ghost-runner, the Mariners won. But I stopped watching the Yankees game when it went into extras and I refused to pay attention to how the M's game—which I couldn't watch because 2)—turned out. The great joy of the day turned sour. I was stunned when I realized this was still a thing; that this temporary, pandemic-season innovation was going to be permanent. I felt like Don Corleone gazing at the corpse of Santino. Look what they're doing to my boy.

Worse, they're not done.

OK, make that four things I'd change about baseball: #FireRobManfred.

Posted at 09:38 AM on Friday April 02, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday April 01, 2021

Opening Day 2021: Your Active Leaders


  • SLIDESHOW: Didn't we just do this like six months ago? To be honest, I didn't think they'd be able to pull off the 2020 season, but nice work, everyone. Having October baseball gave some sense of normalcy, and was very, very appreciated. That said, as a result of the truncated season, I expect little movement on our Active Leaders chart. But let's take a spin anyway. Early warning: You're going to see a lot of Angels. 

  • BATTING AVERAGE: A year ago, Miggy was ahead of Jose Altuve by the barest of margins, .3146 to .3145, then hit just .250. But he's still on top? Right. Because Altuve hit just .219. Currently, only nine active players have BAs over .300 and most of them, like Miggy and Jose, seem to be heading south. Three years ago, Joey Votto was hitting .313; now it's .304. Two years ago, Buster Posey was at .308; now .302. One of the guys on the rise is DJ LeMahieu, which is odd in itself. When he left the hitters' paradise of Coors, he was at .298; after two years in the Bronx, he's suddenly at .305. BTW: Miggy's .313 is the lowest by an active leader since ... ever.

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Joey Votto's .419 is 18th all-time but he's been dropping fast the past few years, while No. 2 Mike Trout (.417) has been rising—though even he, last season, had an OBP below .400 for only the third time in his career. Expect these two to change positions soon. Third place isn't close: Paul Goldschmidt at .392. Active players with career OBPs above .360? Just 20. It's a small club. 

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Here's a smaller club: Only 16 active players have career slugging percentages above .500, but only one of those, Mike Trout, is above .550—and he's way up there at .582. He'll get some competition, one imagines, when players like Aaron Judge (.558) and Juan Soto (.557) get their qualifying 3,000 plate appearances. Until then, it's his and no one's close.

  • OPS: Same deal. Seven active players have an OPS above .900, and only Trout is above .940—and he's at .9996! That's eighth all-time, behind only the gods: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Bonds, Foxx, Greenberg and Hornsby. (OK, the gods and a couple of assholes.) Among actives, the distant second-place finisher is Joey Votto at .936. 

  • GAMES: Only eight players in baseball history have ever played 3,000 career games (Rose, Yaz, Hank, Rickey, Ty, Stan, Eddie M., Cal), but Uncle Albert needs just 138 to join them. Could he do it if this is his final year? Maybe. He played in 131 games in 2019, the last full MLB season. The active runner-up is Miggy at 2,457.

  • HITS: Four active players have more than 2,000: Albert (3,236), Miggy (2,866), Cano (2,624) and just barely making the cut, Yadier Molina, with the Stanley Kubrick-ready 2,001. (Apologies to Arthur C. Clarke.) Can't imagine Miggy won't make the magic 3k threshold but here's an indication of how hard it is to get there: Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball for 10 years ... and he's at 1,380.

  • DOUBLES: Last July I wrote: “Pujols is seventh all-time with 661, and just 8 more would put him past Brett and Biggio into fifth place.” So guess how many doubles he hit in 2020? Yep: 8. He's now fifth all-time, with no real chance at fourth (Ty Cobb: 724). But applause, please. How many players in baseball history are top 5 all-time in doubles and homeruns? Doublechecking ... doublechecking ... Yep, just Albert.

  • TRIPLES: The second-saddest thing about the active leaders in triples is that there's rarely any movement. By the time you become an active leader, you're old enough that you tend not to hit many more triples. Actives leader Dexter Fowler, with 82. hit zero last year, one in 2019, zero in 2018. No. 2 Brett Gardner (69) hit one last year, no. 3 Dee Gordon (54) hit zero. Among the four-car pileup at No. 4 (Andrus, Blackmon, McCutchen, Trout, all with 48), Trout had the most: 2. So what's the saddest thing about the active leaders in triples? Fowler's 82 is the lowest for an active leader since 1883, when a dude named Tom York had 80. The most exciting play in baseball is getting rarer all the time. 

  • HOMERUNS: We should get the 28th member of the 500 HR Club this season. Miggy is sitting on 487 and hit 10 last year in a third of a season, so a full season, God willing, will put him over. He'll be the first since David Ortiz in 2015. After him, though, it's cloudy. Edwin Encarnacion has 424 but as of this writing no one's signed him. Nelson Cruz has 417, still hits a ton, but he's going to be 41 in July. Does he have 83 more in him? I could definitely see Giancarlo (312, age 30) and Trout (302, age 28) making a run later this decade. BTW: Albert passed Willie Mays last year. He's at 662.  

  • RBIs: Along with passing Willie Mays' 660 last season, Albert drove in another 25 to pass Cap Anson (2,075) and A-Rod (2,086) for the third-most RBIs in baseball history (2,100). He needs another 115 to pass Babe for second place and 83 beyond that to pass Hammerin' Hank (RIP) for No. 1. There are only three active players who have half the RBIs he has: Miggy (1729), Cano (1302) and Nellie Cruz (1152). What did MC Hammer sing? Can't touch this. 

  • RUNS: Albert's less godlike on runs scored with 1,843 or 16th all-time. Two more and he passes Biggio; 15 beyond that, Mel Ott; 23 beyond that, Tris Speaker. Among actives, it's the usual suspects—Miggy (1,457), Cano (1,257) Votto (1,041)—and then we get an unusual one. Any guesses as to the active player with the fifth-most runs scored? Wouldja believe him?

  • BASES ON BALLS: Albert's way less godlike here. He's got six years on Joey Votto and only a 114 walk lead: 1331 to 1217. When Albert goes, it'll be Joey's. I used to think Albert had a greating batting eye, because his OBP was so high, but I think pitchers were just scared of him. Now they‘re not. In St. Louis he averaged 89 walks per season; with the Angels, 40. His IBBs in St. Louis: 23 per season. With the Angels: 7. That said, career, he's still walked more than he's struck out: 1331 to 1304. That's rare. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: Chris Davis has 1,852 career Ks, 15th all-time, but Justin Upton is right on his tail (1,841) and he's getting more plate appearances: 200+ more over the last three seasons. There was a time when the active leader in K’s was a sure HOFer: Mantle, Killebrew, Stargell, Jackson, Schmidt. Now it's just as likely to be a Chris Davis or Justin Upton.

  • STOLEN BASES: I miss stolen bases. I also miss Dee Gordon. As I write this, he's not technically “active” since the Reds cut him the other day, but I assume he'll be picked up by someone. If it's not Dee and his 333 steals, then it's Billy Hamilton and Elvis Andrus with 305, followed by Brett Gardner with 270. Roman Quinn is supposedly the fastest man in baseball but he doesn't steal much—even though he hasn't been caught stealing since 2018. KC's Adalberto Mondesi led the Majors last year, and by a lot, with 24, which would be about 65 over a full season. Last player to steal 70 in a season? Jacoby Ellsbury, 2009. 

  • GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: Albert's next GDP will be his 400th career, which is the all-time record by far. Cal Ripken is second with 350. Will Miggy pass Cal, too? He's currently sixth all-time with 321. Cano is currently 16th all-time with 284. It's one of the few stats where active players thrive. 

  • DEFENSIVE WAR: Officially, Andrelton Simmons had a 0.0 dWAR last season but his career number still went down: from 26.7 to 26.6. His dWAR over the last three seasons (5.1), as he's struggled with ankle injuries, is basically what he did in 2017 (5.0), but for perspective Baseball Reference ranks his 2017 as the third-greatest defensive season in baseball history—after Terry Turner in 1906 and Art Fletcher in 1917. Second to Andrelton on the actives list is Yadier with 25.4. They‘re also the only actives > 20. Then it goes Kevin Kiermaier (16.0), Lorenzo Cain (15.5) and Brandon Crawford (14.9).

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: Which of these guys is going into the Hall? No. 1 Albert (100.8) is a no-brainer, as is No. 2 Mike Trout (74.5). Yes to No. 3 Miggy (69.6), no to Robinson Cano, sadly (69.1) for his PED problems, and I assume yes to Joey Votto (62.0), but not on the first ballot. Evan Longoria (56.7) could get over 60.0 but way doubtful he'll get in the Hall: never top 5 in MVP voting, never led the league in any hitting category. I was surprised at the next one: After only seven seasons, Mookie Betts (45.4) has the seventh-most bWAR for an active position player. He's on his way. Also surprised at No. 10: Brett Gardner (43.0). What a grinder. 

  • WINS: Last July I wondered if Justin Verlander, at 225 career wins, could make 250, writing: “He led the Majors last year with 21, and another year like that and he's a cinch. But he's 37 and the cliff can come fast.” Not sure if this is the cliff or cliff, but he started one game, won it, then was gone. Elbow injury. Then Tommy John surgery. We won't see him again until 2022. Second among actives is Zack Greinke (208), then Jon Lester (193). This is how hard it is to win 250 nowadays: After 13 years of sustained excellence, both Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are still 75 away (175). They'd need another six years at the same level to do it. 

  • ERA: Clayton Kershaw's 2.43 is tied for 35th all-time, and the only post-WWII pitcher ahead of him is a non-starter: Mariano Rivera (2.21). Jacob deGrom's 2.61 is 57th all-time and the only post-WWII pitchers ahead of him are Mo, Kershaw and Hoyt Wilhelm. That's the rarefied air they're in. The rest of the top 5 actives are: Chris Sale (3.03), Kyle Hendricks (3.12) and Corey Kluber (3.16). 

  • STRIKEOUTS: Verlander has 3,013 Ks against only 851 walks. Back in the day, the only pitcher with > 3,000 Ks and < 1,000 BBs was Fergie Jenkins. In the last two decades, he's been joined by Maddux, Shilling, and Pedro. Could JV make it an even five? Then it goes Scherzer (2,784), Greinke (2,689), and Kershaw (2,526). Their BBs for the interested: 641, 676 and 585, so they could all join, too. Then look at deGrom: 1,359 Ks/284 walks. That's not 3:1; that's nearly 5:1.

  • BASES ON BALLS: JV's 851, followed by Jon Lester's 837, followed by Francisco Liriano's 816. The last time the active leader had fewer than 851 BBs? When Walter Johnson had 845 in 1920.

  • INNINGS PITCHED: At the start of last season, Verlander needed just 18 IP to become the 137th pitcher to reach 3,000. He got six of them before the elbow. Zack Greinke is only 49 behind him at 2,939, which means Greinke seems likely to be the 137th. King Felix has 2,729 IPs but he just opted out of his O's contract and seems done. 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Every year of the 20th century some pitcher threw double-digit CGs. Every year. Then the calendar flipped and the CGs just disappeared. It's like in John Updike's “Rabbit Is Rich” when the ‘70s turn into the ’80s and disco just goes POOF. In the 21st century, only two pitchers have thrown double-digit CGs: C.C. in 2008 (10) and James Shields in 2011 (11). Now it's barely a stat. Verlander is the active leader with 26, then Kershaw at 25. If you counted the top 100 active leaders they would have 478 CGs total, which is 271 behind Cy Young.  

  • SHUTOUTS: As recently as the ‘90s the active leader (Nolan Ryan) had 60+. As recently as the 2000s the active leader (Roger Clemens) had 40+. Now it’s Clayton Kershaw's 15, and he hasn't thrown one since 2016. Then it's Ervin Santana (11) and Adam Wainwright (10). Last season, 12 shutouts were thrown—two by Trevor Bauer. That's actually better than in 2018 when the league leader was a bunch of guys tied with one. 

  • SAVES: Craig Kimbrel is on top here (348), but he's gone from lights out to out of the closer role. Last season he didn't give up a run in his final eight appearances and he still wound up with a 5.28 ERA, so you can imagine what he had to claw back from. Kenley Jansen is second (312), while No. 3 Aroldis Chapman (276) seems in a similar position to Kimbrel: He lost the closer spot, too. But who knows, right? The Mets' Edwin Diaz lost the closer role in 2019 but got it back again last year, saved 6 and posted a 1.75 ERA. His 141 saves are eighth-best among actives. He just turned 27. 

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: Which of these guys is going into the Hall? Yes to Verlander (72.3), maybe to Zack Greinke (67.1), hell yeah to Clayton Kershaw (67.0), while No. 4, Max Scherzer (60.4), is an interesting case. His bWAR says not yet but everything else is another hell yeah: black ink 51 (avg HOFer: 40), gray ink 181 (avg. HOFer 185), HOF Monitor of 154 against a likely HOFer of just 100. Dude started out slow and then BAM. No. 5, Felix Hernandez (50.4) will have to settle for the Mariners HOF. Long live the King. 

  • EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): And exit music for Albert? If so, next year's list will be a whole helluva lot different. Be safe, everybody. *FIN*
Posted at 07:34 AM on Thursday April 01, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday February 01, 2021

Assessing Dustin Pedroia's Hall of Fame Chances, and Subsequent Digressions

When I heard that Dustin Pedroia had announced his retirement from Major League Baseball after several painful seasons trying to recover from a knee injury brought on by a suspect Manny Machado slide, I went to his stats at Baseball Reference, wondering how close he comes to being a Hall of Famer.

Turns out: kinda close by some measures, way off by others.

If your measure is “Hall of Fame Monitor,” a Bill James concoction which focuses on likelihood of entry, with 100 meaning a good possibility and 130 a cinch, Pedroia is a 94. By other Jamesian measures, it's not that close. Black ink indicates how often someone led the league in a offensive/defensive category. An average HOFer is 27; Pedroia was 11. Gray ink is the same but in top 10 rankings. Average HOFer is 144; Pedroia was 70. His bWar is 51.6, below borderline, which is about 70. His percentages are good, particularly for a second baseman (.299/.365/.439), but his counting numbers are low: 1,805 career hits, 394 doubles, 922 runs scored. I do like that he walked almost as much as he struck out: 654 to 624. He was scrappy, tough, beloved.

He also won Rookie of the Year (in 2007) and MVP (in 2008), which made me wonder how often someone's won both trophies and not made the Hall. Here's the answer:

Player ROY MVP HOF?
Jackie Robinson 1947 1949 Y
Willie Mays 1951 1954, 1965 Y
Orlando Cepeda 1958 1967 Y
Willie McCovey 1959 1969 Y
Pete Rose 1963 1973 NO
Dick Allen 1964 1972 NO
Rod Carew 1967 1977 Y
Johnny Bench 1968 1970, 1972 Y
Thurman Munson 1970 1976 NO
Fred Lynn 1975 1975 NO
Andrew Dawson 1977 1987 Y
Cal Ripken Jr. 1982 1983, 1991 Y
Jose Canseco 1986 1988 NO
Jeff Bagwell 1991 1994 Y
Ichiro Suzuki 2001 2001 n/a
Albert Pujols 2001 2005, 2008, 2009 n/a
Ryan Howard 2005 2006 n/a
Dustin Pedroia 2007 2008 n/a
Ryan Brawn 2007 2011 n/a
Buster Posey 2010 2012 n/a
Mike Trout 2012 2014, 2016, 2019 n/a
Bryce Harper 2012 2015 n/a
Kris Bryant 2015 2016 n/a
Cody Bellinger 2017 2019 n/a
Jose Abreu 2014 2020 n/a

Of the 14 eligible names, five didn't get in, though Rose would have if not for gambling, and Dick Allen might get in shortly, via the Veterans Committee. Munson died young, tragically, spent 15 years on the ballot, but never topped 10% of the vote. Lynn, with a career bWAR similar to Pedroia's (50.2, and an .845 OPS), lasted two votes before falling off. Canseco, a semi-buffoonish symbol of the early roid years, didn't last that long.

Then I noticed something: Why are there so many more recent combo ROY/MVPs? 

In the 50+ years between the first Rookie of the Year award in 1947 and the end of the century, there were only 14 ROY/MVPs. In the 21 years since, there have been nearly as many: 11. One wonders why. Have advanced stats helped pick better players for the ROY, who are then more likely to become later MVPs?

There used to be longer pauses, too, between the two awards. To be exact, there was a 10-year pause: McCovey won in '59 and '69, Rose in '63 and '73, Carew in '67 and '77, Dawson in '77 and '87. Add in close calls (Cepeda, nine years; Allen, eight years), and it seemed most early honorees took a while to come up to the MLB level. Now it's zip-zip. The 21st century honorees average 2.36 years to get there, vs. 5.42 for last century's players. Again, one wonders why. Better training earlier? 

Anyway, Ryan Fagan of Sporting News thinks Pedroia could make it, given how early his career ended, and compared with other Hall of Fame second basemen. Wouldn't mind. Always liked him.

Posted at 02:13 PM on Monday February 01, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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