May 25, 2017

Bill Deane’s Baseball Briefs

May 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Grover Cleveland Alexander began his career with 19 straight winning seasons.

Grover Cleveland Alexander began his career with 19 straight winning seasons.

Inspired by Bob Davids’s “Baseball Briefs,” since the mid-1980s, I have compiled statistical and other tidbits of each baseball season, usually submitting them to BASEBALL DIGEST.  They typically publish some or all of them; my 2012 version (which they coincidentally entitled “Baseball Briefs”) appears in the current May/June issue.  Following are those which didn’t make the cut:

  • Despite amassing 207 strikeouts against just 28 walks, the Phillies’ Cliff Lee stumbled in with a 6-9 won-lost record.  That’s the fewest victories ever for a pitcher fanning 200 or more batters in a season. The only previous pitchers with fewer than ten wins and 200+ K’s are Toad Ramsey (8 W, 228 SO in 1888), Sam McDowell (9, 225 in 1966), Bob Johnson (8, 206 in 1970), Nolan Ryan (8, 270 in 1987), and Anibal Sanchez (8, 202 in 2011).
  • The Braves had eight different pitchers combine on a four-hit shutout of the Pirates on October 3.  While this is a record, it has been surpassed in at least one game involving major league teams.  In 1945, the St. Louis Browns defeated the cross-town Cardinals, 3-0, in one of seven World War II benefit games held on July 9-10 in place of the All-Star Game.  The Browns used nine different hurlers for one inning apiece in securing the shutout.
  • As usual, the Elias Sports Bureau — official statistician for Major League Baseball — rates the “American League Top Pinch Hitters” based on a minimum of 20 at bats.  The 2012 leader was the Yankees’ Raul Ibañez (8-for-25, .320).  But number two on Elias’s list was Oakland’s Seth Smith (4-for-20, .200), #3 was the Yanks’ Andruw Jones (4-for-22, .182), #4 was New York teammate Eric Chavez (4-for-34, .118), and #5 was the Angels’ Maicer Izturis (2-for-22, .091).  Yikes!  Meanwhile, the likes of Tampa Bay’s Jeff Keppinger (5-for-9, .556) and Luke Scott (5-for-12, .417), Oakland’s Brandon Moss (5-for-10, .500), and Seattle’s John Jaso (6-for-18, .333) all had more hits in fewer at bats than the #2-5 “top pinch hitters,” but failed to make the cut, essentially because they didn’t make enough outs!  Overall, AL substitute batsmen once again were a collective study in failure: the league used pinch-hitters on more than 1,200 occasions with an aggregate batting average of just .207.  Over the past five seasons, AL pinch-swingers have hit .219, .208, .206, .216, and .207, respectively.  Since pitchers rarely bat in this league, one continues to wonder whom these guys are hitting for which makes this such a brilliant strategy.
  • The Phillies’ Ryan Howard finished his injury-plagued season with career totals of exactly 1,100 hits, 200 doubles, and 300 home runs.
  • The Reds’ Joey Votto amassed 44 doubles in just 374 at bats in 2012.  The only previous player to collect 40+ two-baggers in fewer than 400 at bats was fellow-Canadian Larry Walker, with 44 in 395 AB in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
  • The Reds’ Mike Leake was the best-hitting pitcher in 2012, ranking best or tied for best among hurlers in runs (8), hits (18), homers (2), batting (.295), and slugging (.443).  Carlos Zambrano had an off-year at the plate, batting just .176 with a home run, but his career totals for 695 at bats now show 75 runs, 165 hits, 26 doubles, 24 homers (tied for seventh-most ever as a pitcher), 71 RBI, and a .238 average.  Here are seven other pitchers who contributed with their bats in the past season:

a. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: 13 hits, four doubles, a homer, and a .277 average.
b. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals: homer, .250.
c. Drew Pomeranz, Rockies: homer, .231.
d. Cole Hamels, Phillies: 15 hits, homer, .217.
e. Zack Greinke, Brewers-Angels: homer, .212.
f. Madison Bumgarner, Giants: two homers.
g. Alex White, Rockies: two homers.

  • Scoring rule #10.23 dictates that players must have at least 502 plate appearances (including at bats, walks, hit by pitch, sacrifice hits and flies, and reaching first on defensive interference) in order to qualify to lead the league in batting or slugging average (or, implicitly, in on-base average).  An exception to that rule applies if there is a player “whose average would be the highest, if he were charged with the required number of plate appearances.”  As researcher Neil Munro notes, this exception came into play in all three average races in the NL in 2012!  The Giants’ Melky Cabrera batted .346 in 501 plate appearances; adding a hitless at bat would have left him still at .346, higher than teammate Buster Posey (.336) or anyone else in the league (though Cabrera agreed to forfeit the batting title in light of his season-ending suspension).  The Reds’ Joey Votto had a .474 OBA in 475 PA; adding 27 hitless AB would drop him to .448, still well ahead of runner-up Posey’s .408 mark.  And the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton had a .608 slugging average in 501 PA; adding a hitless AB would leave him at .607, safely ahead of Ryan Braun’s .595 average.  Here’s an idea for MLB: instead of plate appearances, have the qualifiers meet some minimum number of hits, times reached base, or total bases, respectively.  This would eliminate the need to count things which have nothing to do with the calculations, or add imaginary at bats to someone’s record.
  • Speaking of Melky Cabrera, had he been awarded the National League batting crown, he would have matched the American League distinction of Tigers’ Triple Crown-winner Miguel Cabrera (.330).  But that wouldn’t have been the first time that two players with the same first initial and surname led their respective leagues in the same category.  In 1962, the Reds’ Frank Robinson topped the NL with 51 doubles, while the White Sox’ Floyd Robinson led the AL with 45 two-baggers.
  • The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw again led the majors in pickoffs, nailing 11 baserunners, while allowing just 8 stolen bases in 20 attempts when he was on the mound.  But the best at controlling the running game was Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto, who picked off nine runners while permitting only ONE steal in ten tries.  Compare those numbers to those of Pittsburgh’s A. J. Burnett, who allowed 38 stolen bases in 40 attempts.
  • The Rangers’ Josh Hamilton was named American League Player of the Month in both April and May, 2012, repeating the feat of Jose Bautista in 2011.  Since the AL award was established in 1974, only once previously had a player won it in each of the first two months of the season: Josh Hamilton in 2008.
  • San Diego pitcher Brad Boxberger is still awaiting his first successful defensive play in the majors.  The rookie right-hander appeared in 24 games spanning 27.2 innings, and had just three fielding chances — but made errors on all three.
  • After sleep-walking through the 2010 season (.270 average) and the first half of 2011, Derek Jeter has had a resurgence.  The Yankees’ star led the majors with 216 hits in 2012, and finished the regular season with 3304 career safeties at age 38 years, 99 days.  At the same age, Pete Rose had 3230 hits.
  • After a year away from the game, Andy Pettitte made a comeback in 2012, going 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts for the Yankees, and signing to play again in 2013.  In 17 years, Pettitte has never finished a season with more losses than wins; if he maintains that distinction, he will have broken Urban Shocker’s mark for longest career with no losing seasons (Shocker pitched 13 years, including a 0-0 season).  Beware, though: Grover Alexander began his career with 19 straight winning years, before spoiling it with an 0-3 record in his 20th and final season (1930).
  • Three players ruined their claims to trivia immortality, by returning to the majors in 2012 after homering in their final at bats in 2010, then missing the ’11 season: Kendrys Morales, Luis Hernandez, and Matt Carson.  Morales returned to hit 22 homers for the Angels before being dealt to the Mariners; he had suffered a broken fibula when he jumped with joy onto home plate after hitting a game-ending grand slam on May 29, 2010, ultimately costing him nearly two years of action.  Hernandez, who had homered in his final Mets’ AB, returned following foot surgery with two hitless appearances for the Rangers.  Carson, who had gone out with a bang with the A’s, resurfaced with the Twins, failing to homer in 66 at bats.  However, there was one addition to the list of players who homered in their final big league appearances.  Cole Gillespie hit a bases-loaded homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Diamondbacks’ September 28, 2011 game; he then spent the 2012 season playing for Reno of the Pacific Coast League, before becoming a free agent on September 23.  If he fails to return to the majors, he will have become the 47th player to finish his career with a home run — and the only one to do so with a grand slam.
  • Finally, a note of personal interest: infielder Kyle Seager completed his first full season with the Mariners in 2012, collecting 35 doubles, 20 homers, and 86 RBI, and being named team MVP.  What’s so special about that?  His parents, Jeff and Jody Bowers Seager, went to high school with me!

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