November 30, 2021

Seamheads Near Miss League: AL East Preview

May 11, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

The AL East is loaded with talent and will feature some fantastic matchups that will pit Mickey Mantle against Walter Johnson, Jim Palmer against Manny Ramirez, and Dave Stieb against Rocky Colavito, among others.  Not to mention Red Sox vs. Yankees.  What could be better than that?

1969 Baltimore Orioles (Milo Kaminsky): In 1969, the Orioles set a franchise record with 109 wins, finished 19 games ahead of the second place Tigers, won 12 more games than the Western Division champion Twins, boasted co-Cy Young Award winner Mike Cuellar (he shared the award with Denny McLain that year), two MVP runners up in Boog Powell and Frank Robinson, and four gold glovers.  Yet they fell to the “Miracle Mets” in the World Series in only five games.  The Orioles rebounded in 1970, winning 108 games and beating the Reds in the World Series, but Milo Kaminsky thinks the ’69 team has some unfinished business and chose them to represent the city of Baltimore in the Seamheads Near Miss League.

The Orioles have what it takes to not only win the tough AL East division, but the whole enchilada.  They finished second in the league in runs scored at 4.81 per game, dominated in pitching with a 2.83 ERA, a full run better than the runner-up Red Sox, and paced the circuit in fielding at .984 and defensive efficiency at .743.

Baltimore’s top three starters—Cuellar (23-11, 2.38), Dave McNally (20-7, 3.22) and Jim Palmer (16-4, 2.34)—were outstanding, going 59-22 with a 2.69 ERA, while completing 40 starts and recording 15 shutouts between them.  Tom Phoebus went 14-7 with a 3.53 ERA and Jim Hardin went 6-7 with a 3.60 ERA while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen.  Eddie Watt was brilliant as the team’s primary closer, saving 16 games and posting a 1.65 ERA, and Pete Richert was almost as good as his left-handed complement, saving 12 games while pitching to a 2.20 ERA.  Dick Hall went 5-2 with six saves and a 1.92 earned run average, and Dave Leonhard won seven games and posted a 2.49 ERA. Marcelino Lopez went 5-3 but with a 4.41 ERA, and was the only Orioles hurler with an ERA+ below 100.

The offense was just as good as the pitching.  The team led the league in OBA, OPS, and OPS+, and boasted six hitters with double-digit home run totals.  Frank Robinson led the way with a .308 average, 32 dingers and 100 RBIs, and posted an OPS+ of 165, and Boog Powell was almost as good, posting a 160 OPS+ on the strength of his .304/37/121 season.  Paul Blair hit 26 homers and led the team with 20 steals while playing gold glove defense, and Brooks Robinson smacked 23 homers, drove in 84 runs, and copped his 10th consecutive Gold Glove in a run that would see him win the award 16 straight times from 1960-1975.

The O’s were also solid up the middle.  The catching trio of Ellie Hendricks, Andy Etchebarren, and Clay Dalrymple combined to throw out 52% of would-be base thieves and committed only five errors in over 1,480 innings; second baseman Davey Johnson won the first of his five Gold Gloves, shortstop Mark Belanger won his first of eight, and Blair won his second of eight.

2008 Boston Red Sox (Bill Simmons): The Red Sox have so many “near miss” candidates it would take a blog post unto itself to chronicle all of them.  From 1901 to 1918 the Red Sox appeared in five World Series and won them all. Then Harry Frazee traded and sold all of the team’s best players, including Babe Ruth, to the Yankees and the Sox went from being the league’s most dominant team to its most “cursed.”  They played bridesmaid to the damn Yankees for most of the 20th century and when they finally broke through to the World Series in 1946, ’67, ’75, and ’86, they lost each in seven games, three of them in heart-breaking fashion.  And, of course, there are the 1948 and ’78 one-game playoff losses, and the 1972 Luis-Aparicio-falling-down-while-rounding-third heart break.

But the 21st century has been much kinder to Red Sox Nation, bringing its denizens two championships in the last five years, and it might have been three if not for a Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in last year’s ALCS.

The ’08 Red Sox may be the most well-rounded squad in the history of the franchise.  They went 95-67, finished second in runs per game at 5.22, fourth in ERA at 4.01, and tied for first in fielding percentage at .986.  They had the league’s MVP in Dustin Pedroia, an MVP candidate in Kevin Youkilis, and a Cy Young candidate in Daisuke Matsuzaka.  They had power, finishing third in slugging; they had speed, finishing third in stolen bases and boasting three players with at least 20 steals for the first time since 1914; they had a solid one-two punch of Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90) and Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21); they had a mostly fantastic bullpen, anchored by closer Jonathan Papelbon (41 saves, 2.34); and they had a terrific defense that boasted four current or former gold glovers.

The starting lineup featured five players with an OPS+ of at least 122, led by Youkilis’ 143 (.312/29/115), followed by J.D. Drew’s 137 (.280/19/64), Manny Ramirez’s 136 (.299/20/68), David Ortiz’s 123 (.264/23/89), and Pedroia’s 122 (.326/17/83).  Mike Lowell was solid at third (.274/17/73) while battling through a torn labrum in his right hip that eventually required surgery; Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury formed a fleet-footed platoon in center field, combining to steal 70 bases and score 153 runs (Ellsbury also played left and right and went through the entire season without committing an error); and Jason Varitek made only four errors behind the plate all season and was named to his fourth All-Star team.

Other than Dice-K and Lester, however, the rotation was a little thin, and that could prove to be Boston’s undoing in the SNML.  Josh Beckett went 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA and 41-year-old Tim Wakefield went 10-11 with a 4.13, but Clay Buchholz was a disaster (2-9, 6.75), and the team was forced to rely on rookie Justin Masterson (6-5, 3.16), and veterans Paul Byrd (4-2, 4.78) and Bartolo Colon (4-2, 3.92) at different times of the season.  Fortunately Boston’s bullpen was excellent, especially Papelbon, who fanned 10 batters per nine innings, had a K/BB ratio of 9.63, and posted a WHIP of .952.  Javier Lopez pitched to a 2.43 ERA as a left-handed specialist; Hideki Okajima posted a 2.61 ERA in a set-up role; Manny Delcarmen had a 3.27 ERA and fanned 72 batters in 74 1/3 innings; and Masterson posted a 2.36 ERA in 27 appearances out of the pen.

2007 Cleveland Indians (Jack Perconte): When Jack agreed to take on the responsibility of running the Indians, he made me promise that it wouldn’t be the ’82 or ’83 teams for whom he played.  Since neither of those teams sniffed first place, or anything close to it—they finished in sixth and seventh place, respectively—that was an easy promise to keep.  The Indians had more “near miss” teams than I expected—the 1908 team finished only a half game behind the Detroit Tigers; from 1918-1921, they finished second three times; the 1954 team won a then AL record 111 games, but were swept by the Giants in the World Series; the 1951-’56 squads finished second five times; and from 1995-2001, the Indians reached the postseason six times and lost every time, including two World Series (’95 and ’97).

Finally in 2007, the Tribe looked like they were headed back to the World Series for a showdown with the Colorado Rockies, which most likely would have culminated in the franchise’s first championship since 1948.  Cleveland jumped out to a 3-1 series lead over the Red Sox in the ALCS and went into Game 5 with staff ace C.C. Sabathia (19-7, 3.21) on the hill.  But the Sox pounded Sabathia in a 7-1 victory, then did the same to Fausto Carmona (19-8, 3.06) in a 12-2 rout in Game 6 to even the series at three games apiece.  Boston continued its onslaught and won Game 7, 11-2, to complete the comeback and head to its second World Series in four years.

Unlike most of the teams in this division, the Indians weren’t dominant in any one category—they were sixth in runs per game (5.01), third in ERA (4.05), and sixth in fielding (.985)—but they were still good enough to win 96 games and finish eight games ahead of the second-place Tigers.  Offensively they boasted five players with at least 20 home runs, led by catcher Victor Martinez who hit 25 round-trippers and drove in a team-leading 114 runs.  Center fielder Grady Sizemore hit 24 homers, stole 33 bases, and scored a team-best 118 runs; designated hitter Travis Hafner belted 24 homers, drove in 100 runs, and walked 102 times; shortstop Jhonny Peralta hit 21 homers and knocked in 72; first baseman Ryan Garko went 21/61, and third baseman Casey Blake went 18/78.

Like the Red Sox, the Indians had two aces in their rotation in Sabathia and Carmona, but not much after that.  Paul Byrd went 15-8 but with a 4.59 ERA; Jake Westbrook was 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA; Cliff Lee was 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA; and Jeremy Sowers went 1-6 with a 6.42 ERA.  Cleveland’s middle relief and setup men were especially good—Rafael Betancourt posted a 1.47 ERA in 68 appearances, Rafael Perez pitched to a 1.78 ERA, and Aaron Fultz posted a 2.92 ERA—but closer Joe Borowski proved to be an adventure, posting a 5.07 ERA en route to his 45 saves.

Defensively, Sizemore won a Gold Glove for his work in center field, Martinez was solid behind the plate, and Jason Michaels played a good left field, but none of the other Indians really stood out with the glove.

1961 Detroit Tigers (Gary Gillette): The Detroit Tigers have also had a slew of “near miss” teams and all would have been good choices for the SNML.  The 1907-1909 teams won three straight pennants, but lost all three World Series, prompting American League president Ban Johnson to roast Tigers manager Hughie Jennings in the papers, “We do all right in the World Series, except when that damn National Leaguer Jennings gets into it,” Johnson told reporters (Jennings began his playing career in the American Association, then spent 11 years in the NL before taking the helm of the Tigers).

The Tigers won 100 games in 1915 but finished second to the Red Sox, then won 101 games in 1934, but lost to the Cardinals in the World Series.  They finally broke through in 1935 and beat the Cubs (a little payback for the ’07 loss), lost the 1940 Series to the Reds, then won the ’45 Fall Classic against the Cubs again (payback for the ’08 loss).  They won their next two World Series appearances (’68 and ’84), but lost in the ALCS in ’72 and ’87.  It wasn’t until 2006 that they made it back to the Fall Classic where they lost to the Cardinals in five games.

The two Tigers teams that won at least 100 games but failed to make the postseason are the previously mentioned 1915 squad (100-54) and the one Gary Gillette decided to go with, the 1961 team that won 101 games but finished an astonishing eight games behind the eventual world champion Yankees.  What most people remember about the ’61 season is the home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, and that the Yankees were one of the most powerful teams in history, smacking 240 home runs that year.  But it’s interesting to note that the Tigers outscored the Yankees, 841-827, and led the league in runs per game with 5.16.

Though they didn’t have the power of the M & M boys in New York, the C & C boys of the Motor City, Norm Cash and Rocky Colavito, put up some pretty good numbers of their own.  Cash hit .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs, walked 124 times, posted an OPS+ of 201, and won a batting crown.  Colavito hit .290 with 45 homers and 140 RBIs, and walked 113 times.  Right fielder Al Kaline batted .324 with 19 homers and 82 ribbies, and catcher Dick Brown belted 16 homers in only 93 games.

Detroit’s pitching was also very good, finishing first in complete games and walks allowed and third in ERA at 3.55.  The Tiger’s four-man rotation of Frank Lary (23-9, 3.24), Jim Bunning (17-11, 3.19), Don Mossi (15-7, 2.96), and Paul Foytack (11-10, 3.93) was solid and dependable, accounting for 65% of the team’s innings.  Closer Terry Fox was outstanding, saving 12 games and posting a 1.41 ERA in 39 appearances.  Hank Aguirre was also very good, recording eight saves with a 3.25 ERA, but Bob Bruce, Bill Fischer, and Phil Regan struggled.  If the Tigers are to compete in this league, they’ll need some of those relievers to step up.  Ron Kline appeared in only 10 games, starting eight of them, and went 5-3 with a 2.72 ERA.  He may end up being part of the solution.

Defensively, the Tigers were only league average in terms of fielding percentage, but they did a good job of turning balls in play into outs and finished third in defensive efficiency.  Lary and Kaline won Gold Gloves; Colavito and Bill Bruton formed a very good defensive trio with Kaline; Cash led AL first basemen in Rtot (a measurement from baseball-reference.com that calculates a player’s defensive value based on the number of plays he made); and Brown and Mike Roarke cut down 51% of would-be base thieves.

1954 New York Yankees (King Kaufman): For the ultimate “near miss” team, one only has to look back to 2004 when the Yankees won the AL East division with 101 victories, cruised past the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, then jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, before losing the next four games in what Red Sox Nation will fondly remember as the biggest choke job in baseball history.  The Sox went on to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series for their first championship in 86 years; the Yankees haven’t won a postseason series since.  Ah, life is good.

The Yankees have had other great teams that lost in the playoffs, including the 1980 team that went 103-59 but were swept by the Royals in the ALCS; the 1976 squad that went 97-62 but got crushed by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the World Series; the ’63 and ’64 teams that won 104 and 99 games, respectively, but lost in the Fall Classic to the Dodgers and Cards; the 1960 team that lost on Bill Mazeroski’s game and series-ending home run in Game 7; and a handful of others.

But Kaufman’s choice, the 1954 team, went 103-51 and failed to make the postseason only because the Cleveland Indians destroyed the rest of the field en route to a then AL record 111 wins.  Despite kicking ass and taking names, the Bronx Bombers finished eight games out of first; it was one of only three times from 1947-1964 that the Yanks didn’t play in the Fall Classic.

Like most of the teams in this league, the Yankees were good or great in all three categories—they led the league in runs scored with 805, finished third in ERA at 3.26, and finished in a second-place tie in fielding percentage at .979.  Though not nearly as powerful at the plate as the ’61 team, the ’54 team scored more runs per game and had fewer holes in their lineup.  Mickey Mantle led the way with a .300/27/102 campaign, Yogi Berra hit .307 with 22 homers and 125 RBIs, third baseman Andy Carey hit .302 with a .373 OBA, and Gene Woodling (98 OPS+), Hank Bauer (127 OPS+), and Irv Noren (138 OPS+) split time in left and right and formed a pretty good three-man platoon.  Twenty-three-year-old Bill “Moose” Skowron batted only 215 times, but provided excellent numbers, going .340/.392/.577 on the year.  Gil McDougald (.259/12/48) and Joe Collins (.271/12/46) were also above average.  In fact, only Phil Rizzuto (.195, 52 OPS+) proved to be an easy out.

From top to bottom, the Yankees may have the best pitching staff in the division.  Kaufman has Whitey Ford (16-8, 2.82), Harry Byrd (9-7, 2.99), Bob Grim (20-6, 3.26), Allie Reynolds (13-4, 3.32), and Tom Morgan (11-5, 3.34) starting in that order, with southpaw Ed Lopat (12-4, 3.55) stealing some of Morgan’s assignments in a spot-starting role.  Jim McDonald (4-1, 3.17), Tommy Byrne (3-2, 2.70), and Jim Konstanty (0.98 ERA in nine appearances) will work out of the pen, while Johnny Sain (22 saves, 3.16) will serve as the team’s closer.

Defensively, the team had few holes.  Berra threw out 55% of would-be base thieves and fielded at a .990 clip; Collins, McDougald, and Carey were among the best at their respective positions in Rtot, and Rizzuto was above average.  The outfield wasn’t as strong as the infield, but Bauer and Noren were among the top right fielders in the league, and Mantle led all AL outfielders in assists with 20.

1985 Blue Jays (Jason Bova): With a much shorter history to choose from, Jason had only six or seven candidates that qualified as a “near miss” and he went with the best team in franchise history in terms of winning percentage.  The ’85 team went 99-62 but lost to the Royals in a seven-game ALCS showdown and had to wait seven more years before finally making it to the World Series.  The ’89 and ’91 teams also made it as far as the ALCS, but lost both times before finally breaking through in 1992.

The Blue Jays had a solid lineup led by outfielders Jesse Barfield (.289/27/84, 22 steals) and George Bell (.275/28/95, 21 steals), and complementary players like Rance Mulliniks (.295/10/57), Willie Upshaw (.275/15/65), Lloyd Moseby (.259/18/70, 37 steals), and Ernie Whitt (.245/19/64).  Garth Iorg (.313/7/37) proved to be a solid platoon partner with Mulliniks and provided at-bats off the bench.

But the Jays’ success was predicated on pitching and defense.  They led the league in ERA at 3.31 and defensive efficiency at .724.  Staff ace Dave Stieb went only 14-13, but with a 2.48 ERA that paced the junior circuit; Doyle Alexander went 17-10 with a 3.45 ERA; Jimmy Key was 14-6 with a 3.00 ERA that was fourth best in the league; Jim Clancy was 9-6 with a 3.78 ERA.  Luis Leal will serve as the team’s fifth starter just as he did in real life and Jason is hoping he performs better than his 3-6, 5.75 showing.

The bullpen was even better and featured three hurlers who notched at least 10 saves, led by Bill Caudill (14 saves, 2.99), Tom Henke (13 saves, 2.02), and Jim Acker (7-2, 10 saves, 3.23).  Dennis Lamp served as the long man and went a perfect 11-0 in 53 appearances with a 3.32 ERA, and Gary Lavelle excelled as the lefty specialist, saving eight games and posting a 3.10 ERA in a team-high 69 games.

The team was outstanding at two defensive positions, shortstop (Tony Fernandez) and right field (Barfield), and Upshaw played a very good first base, but the rest of the group, while better than average for the most part, was merely solid.

1925 Washington Senators (Joe Dimino): Though the original incarnation of the Senators had almost twice as many seasons in the books as the Blue Jays, Joe had the same number of choices as Jason.  Five Senators teams finished in second place (1912, 1913, 1930, 1943, and 1945), the best of them being the 1930 squad that went 94-60 but still finished eight games behind Connie Mack’s powerful Athletics.  The other three teams copped pennants in 1924, 1925, and 1933, but since the ’24 team won the World Series, they don’t qualify for this league.  That left 1925 and 1933, and Joe went with the ’25 team that went 96-55 before losing to the Pirates in the World Series, thanks in large part to shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh’s eight errors.

Peckinpaugh’s meltdown in the World Series was uncharacteristic; among regular shortstops, only Jackie Tavener had fewer errors than Peckinpaugh’s 28 and Peck ranked fourth in the AL in fielding percentage at .952.  Furthermore, the Senators ranked first in the league in defensive efficiency at .689.  Much like a lot of the teams in this league, the Senators were built on pitching and defense, ranking first in both, while boasting an offense that wasn’t among the league’s best, but was good enough to rank third in runs per game at 5.45.  They were also one of only two AL teams with an OPS+ above 100 (Detroit led the league at 102, while Washington finished one point behind at 101).

While other teams of that era, like the Yankees and Browns, started leaning more heavily on the long ball, the Senators were still a small ball team, boasting a lineup that had only two players—Goose Goslin (18) and Joe Harris (12)—with more than eight home runs, but six with at least 13 stolen bases.  Goslin was the star of the team, batting .334 with 18 homers, 113 RBIs, 116 runs, 34 doubles, 20 triples, and 27 steals.  Harris was the most potent hitter, though, recording an OPS of 1.003 and a 155 OPS+ on the strength of a .323/12/59 season in only 100 games.  Sam Rice hit .350, scored 111 times, and stole 26 bags.  Joe Judge hit .314/8/66; Muddy Ruel batted .310 and paced the squad with a .411 OBA; and Peckinpaugh batted .294 and was named league MVP.

The rotation was anchored by veterans Stan Coveleski (20-5, 2.84) and Walter Johnson (20-7, 3.07), the solid but erratic Dutch Ruether, who went 18-7 with a respectable 3.87 ERA, but walked 105 batters while fanning only 68, and Tom Zachary, who was only 12-15 but with a decent 3.85 ERA.  The foursome accounted for 67% of the team’s innings, which is a good thing, considering the sorry state of the bullpen.

Firpo Marberry, the game’s first prominent closer, was very good, going 9-5 with 15 saves and a 3.47 ERA.  But Vean Gregg (4.12), Allen Russell (5.77), Curly Ogden (4.50), and Win Ballou (4.55) certainly won’t strike fear into the enemy.  Alex Ferguson (5-1, 3.25), who started in six of his seven appearances, may be needed in the bullpen to strengthen the relief corps.

Defensively, the Senators were strong and, in some cases, exceptional.  Rtot numbers aren’t available for teams from that era, but according to Bill James’ Win Shares ratings, the lowest rated Washington fielder is Goslin, who received only a C+ from the Godfather of Sabermetrics.  The rest of the team is a B- or better, with Peckinpaugh (A) and Ruel (A-) receiving the highest grades.  Center fielder Earl McNeely didn’t play enough to earn a grade from James, but he was 10 points above average with the glove and 15 points above average in range factor.

Comments

One Response to “Seamheads Near Miss League: AL East Preview”
  1. Shawn Butler says:

    I am not sure why Brooks Robinson does not get more credit as an all around player.
    What player in todays game is a consistent hitting and fielding as him? Chase Utley? And he has been doing it for only 5 years.
    I feel like if there was a middle infielder who has the ability to win consecutive gold gloves and hit 20+ HR, people would be all over him in todays game.

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