Archive for the ‘American League’ category

Today’s Tie-Breakers

October 1, 2018

I really like the fact that two tie-breaking games were played today, if only because it means that the National League wild card loser will have to lose two consecutive games before being sent home.

The Brewers have already beaten the Cubs, and it looks all but certain that the Dodgers will beat the Rocks.  On paper, the Cubs looked like a better team than the Brewers, but one-and-done match-ups are more about whose starting pitcher has a better game.

Presumably, the NL wild card game will be played in Chicago, which certainly favors the Cubbies.  However, as the Cubs just learned, anything is possible in a one-game series.  The Cubs and Dodgers look like the only two NL teams with any realistic shot of winning the World Series, but the Cubs could be going home if they lose to the Rockies on Wednesday.

Certainly, the Astros and Red Sox look like the class of the American League, but anything can happen in a short series, and all the teams but the A’s have recent post-season experience.  As for the A’s, they really played great in the second half and made the trades they needed at the trade deadline to make themselves a great team.

The 2018 A’s remind me of the powerhouse A’s teams of the early 1970’s, at least in terms of their everyday players.  They hit for power, many of them will take walks, they by and large play good defense.  Except at catcher, they don’t have many holes in their line-up.

Obviously, the A’s starting pitching is not as good as that of the early 1970’s A’s, but their bullpen has been strong enough to get them to the play-offs.  We’ll see what happens.

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Willie Kamm

August 11, 2018

There’s a San Francisco baseball name that even most San Francisco baseball fans don’t remember.  Willie Kamm was probably the best defensive 3B man of the first half of the 20th Century.  He was also an effective offensive player to an extent that was recognized in his own day in spite of having very little power.

One of the things that got me interested in Willie Kamm was going out to the Musee Mechanique when it was still at the Cliff House.  They had a pin-ball type baseball game, one using a pin-ball which you hit with a mechanical bat to try to get hits while avoiding the fielder holes.  At 3B was Willie Kamm, going along with top major leaguers and Pacific Coast League (PCL) stars who also had big years in the major leagues like Winters‘ finest Frank Demaree.

I can’t recall if Joe DiMaggio was in CF — anyone been to the Musee Mechanique lately?  The table game I would date to the mid-1930’s.  If DiMaggio is in the game, then the machine probably would almost certainly have to date no earlier than Spring of 1936, when DiMaggio was coming off his huge final season for the San Francisco Seals and had long since been traded to the Yankees.  I also don’t recall if Paul Waner was in right field, but he’d be a good guess because he starred for the San Francisco Seals before reaching greater fame with the Pirates.

Willie Kamm was from San Francisco, although he started his PCL career with the Sacramento Senators at the age of only 18.  He went 2-for-9 in his first four games and was summarily released.  Then the Seals signed him.

It took two years for Kamm to develop both his bat and his glove.  He had a fine season in 1921, and then was completely off the charts at age 22.  He batted .342 with 56 doubles, nine triples and 20 HRs in 650 at-bats and 170 games, while playing elite major league defense for the second year in a row.

He was such a hot prospect, he commanded a then still astounding $100,000 purchase price from the Chicago White Sox, who were looking to replace Buck Weaver, alleged leader of the 1919 Black Sox and also a former Seal, who was banned for life in late September 1920.  The Seals also received Doug McWeeny (great name) and two players to be named later.  McWeeny went 55-24 for the Seals over three seasons between 1922 and 1925 before returning to the majors for good with the Brooklyn Dodgers, so this was a great deal for the Seals on multiple levels.

The deal was so good for the Seals in fact, that even though the transaction was completed on May 29th, they got to keep Kamm for the rest of the 1922 season before sending him east, while McWeeny went 15-7 for the rest of the year in San Francisco.  Impossible to imagine a deal like that today.

Kamm was immediately one of the Junior Circuit’s best defenders at the hot corner in 1923, and he remained such for the next 11 seasons.  He defensive excellence is easy to explain: he consistently made the most plays per game while making the fewest errors per chance.  Of course, some ChiSox fans complained if he made any errors, given how much the team had payed for him.

I would rate Brooks Robinson as a better defensive 3Bman, mainly because he had a longer major league career and was better at turning the double play, but Kamm and Robinson had in common that they made the most plays while making the fewest errors in their respective versions of the American League.

Kamm’s defensive prowess at third base was so well recognized in his own day that, while he could almost certainly have held down SS or 2B as needed, he played every single game of his professional career at 3B.  That is similar to Robinson, who played a total of 30 games at SS and second between 1956 and 1963, but never played another position in the field for the last 14 years of his career.  What you could call the “don’t mess with a good thing” principle.

Kamm’s hands were so good, he claimed he could consistently catch two base runners a season with the hidden ball trick.  I have no reason to believe he was exaggerating.

Kamm couldn’t hit home runs in the majors, finishing his career with a grand total of 29, which was a problem in the lively ball era.  However, Kamm did have the advantage that the 1920’s still valued 3B defense as a hold-over from the 1910’s, when 3B defense was very highly valued indeed.

As such, Kamm’s contributions were appreciated in a way they would not subsequently be appreciated for some time.  Kamm ran well, but was not an effective base-stealer, another holdover from the 1910’s.  Kamm had alley power, hitting between 30 and 39 doubles seven times and between nine and 13 triples four times.  He also walked a lot, including leading the AL with 90 in 1925.

One way to compare Kamm is by comparing him to the Washington Senator’s Ossie Bluege (pronounced Blue-jee) another long-time 3Bman who was about the same age and started his major league career at about the same time.  Bluege played on all three Washington Senators World Series teams (1924, 1925 and 1933) and was generally regarded as a fine defensive 3Bman and valuable major league regular.

In the ten American League seasons both Kamm and Bluege both played at least 800 innings at the hot corner, Kamm bested Bluege to the tune of 21-8-1 in the three major categories of chances per game, fielding percentage and DPs.

Over roughly the same number of career major league plate appearances (7,454 for Bluege, 6,945 for Kamm) Kamm slashed .281/.372/.384 while Bluege slashed .272/.352/.356.  Both played in what were regarded as pitchers’ parks in their era, but I don’t know which was worse for hitters.

Kamm was clearly the better player on both sides of the ball, but he’s no better remembered today than Bluege, because Kamm never played in the World Series and played most of his major league career for White Sox teams that never once made the first division (his last fourCleveland Indians teams finished 3rd or 4th every season).  It’s hard to be seen as a great player when your team never wins.

A couple of other stories from Kamm’s career and later life I found interesting were that, while he was generally considered a good teammate, he got in trouble late in his career with the Indians for giving young players too much advice.  The new Cleveland manager was Walter Johnson — that Walter Johnson.  Apparently, Johnson, like a lot of formerly great players was not a great manager.  I don’t know whether how Kamm delivered his “advice” or whether Johnson thought Kamm was a threat to his leadership, but it in interesting fact for someone who seems to have been a pretty sober ballplayer.

Kamm’s playing career ended with the Mission Reds back in the PCL in 1936, a team he managed in 1936 and 1937.  He was then at age 37 reportedly able to retire on his investments, having been told at some time presumably early in his career by Seals owner George Putnam to invest in Pacific Gas & Electric and General Motors stock and holding on the stock even when the stock market crashed in 1929.

An earlier Seals owner C.H. Strub in September or October of 1918 had convinced Kamm to sign a contract with the Seals rather than enlisting in the navy by telling him that the war would be over in a month based on how the stock market was performing.  The war ended approximately one month after Kamm signed his contract, and he apparently never forgot the lesson.

Kamm passed away in Belmont, California at the age of 88 in 1988.  At least in  my little corner of the Bay Area, Willie Kamm has not been entirely forgotten.

Aaron Judge Strikes Out Eight Times in Double-Header

June 5, 2018

Aaron Judge set a record today that may stand for a very long time, striking out eight times in a double-header.  That is the most since records have been kept (1910 in NL; 1913 in AL); and with as few double-headers as are played today, it could well last just as long.

Judge’s new record is the flip side of Stan Musial/Nate Colbert record of five homeruns in a double header.  Nate Colbert was from St. Louis and claimed to have attended as a kid the double-header in which Stan Musial set the record that Nate Colbert, the man, later equaled.

Don’t know if the claim is true, but it’s a great story.  Colbert would have been eight years old on the day that Musial did it, so it’s at least possible.

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2018

May 12, 2018

Shohei Ohtani has more or less blown up any discussion of the best hitting pitchers in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be the next two-way player, although he’s still got a long way to go and his hitting abilities may not be able to keep up with his pitching abilities as he shoots up through the minors.  McKay is already ready for a promotion to A+ ball as a pitcher, and I wouldn’t hold him back to let his hitting catch up.  Still, major league pitchers who can also pinch hit should have value in today’s extreme relief pitching game.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  I didn’t want to jump on the Ohtani as hitter bandwagon too soon, but I was convinced he’s for real (even if he doesn’t continue to bat .344 and produce over 1.000) when he beat the shift with a double down the left field line about a week ago.  Ohtani has what it takes to be a great major league hitter, although he’ll face his forced adjustments and his hitting performance will be affected by the many games in which he does not bat.  That said, the baby-faced 23 year old phenom can hit.

2.  Madison Bumgarner (.185 career batting average and .555 career OPS).  MadBum is still baseball’s best full-time pitcher hitter, but the bloom is off the rose compared to Ohtani, who will be DHing three times a week until major league baseball pitchers prove they can get him out.  A one-on-one Ohtani-MadBum home run derby at the All-Star Break would be an enormous amount of fun.  Madbum should be healthy by then.

3.  Zack Greinke  (.229 BA, .579 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.229, .564).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher may be over, but he sure could hit.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.181 BA, .561 OPS).  A poor start to the 2018 season has brought Syndergaard’s batting average below the Mendoza Line, but he has power and will take a walk.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson has had only one plate appearance since 2012, but he could hit.

8.   Mike Leake (.200, .511).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.214, .485) and Tyson Ross (.199, .476).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable MentionsCC Sabathia (.212, .539)  CC hasn’t had a hit since 2010, but he could hit when he had the opportunity to bat more than three or four times a season.  Travis Wood (.185, .537).  Wood’s major league career appears over.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.226, .618).  A shoulder injury has prevented Lorenzen from pitching or hitting so far in 2018.  Ty Blach (.194, .505) hit as a rookie in 2017 but is off to a terrible start with the bat in 2018.  Ben Lively (.182, .545) still has to prove he can be a major league starter.

Texas Rangers Claim Tommy Joseph off Waivers and CTE

March 20, 2018

The Rangers claimed former SF Giants prospect Tommy Joseph off waivers today from the Phillies.  I had wondered whether another team would claim him or wait until he passed through waivers when he would have likely elected free agency as a veteran major league player.

Joseph was originally the Giants’ second round pick (55th overall) in 2009.  He was extremely promising as a catcher on both sides of the ball, but was eventually quite literally knocked out of the position by concussions.

I’m predicting that we start to hear about more former major league baseball catchers developing CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the not too distant future.  Ryan Freel is still the only former MLBer diagnosed after death with CTE that I am aware of, but with many more catchers’ careers ending now because of concussions (pitchers throw harder and batters swing harder than ever before), it’s just a matter of time.  More on this thought later.

Back to Joseph — Tommy hit well enough that he was able to convert to 1B and reach the majors solely on his abilities as a hitter.  He was good in his 2016 rookie season, posting an .813 OPS in 347 major league plate appearances.

In 2017, Tommy Joseph had his sophomore jinx season.  He still hit with power (22 HRs), but his .721 OPS in 533 plate appearances with an ugly .289 on-base percentage isn’t going to cut it anywhere as a 1Bman.

Joseph is an old 26 in 2018 (he turns 27 on July 16th and he looks older than 26 in his baseball reference photo), but any kind of 26 is good for a righted-hitter with power who already has almost 900 career plate appearances.  He seemed to me like he was an obvious candidate for an American League team that could use a better right-handed hitter with power on the bench, and I feel gratified that at least one AL team agreed with me.

The Rangers are clearly that team.  Joseph shouldn’t play first base in any more games than are needed to rest Joey Gallo, who is a younger, better version of Tommy Joseph.  However, Gallo is a lefty swinger and so is 35-year old DH Shin-soo Choo, so there’s an obvious fit for Joseph.  Choo isn’t likely to play 149 games as he did last year, and he may well continue to spend time in the corner outfield positions as needed.  Joseph is also insurance if either Gallo or Choo gets hurt.

The one thing standing Joseph’s way is that he hasn’t had much of a platoon split in his MLB career.  He has a career .781 OPS against lefties and a .748 OPS against righties.  He better improve his hitting against lefties in 2018 if he wants to re-establish himself as a full-time major leaguer going forward, because right now his role is as right-handed power bat off the bench.

Back to CTE in a roundabout way — earlier today I happened to look up catchers who hold the records for most games caught in a season.  Randy Hundley is still the only MLB player to have caught more than 155 games in a season when he played a whooping 160 games behind the dish in 1968.

Playing 150 games a season as a catcher has been accomplished only 27 times in MLB history.  The first such iron man was George Gibson for the World Champion 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.  He caught at least 140 games in each of 1908 and 1910, and then the injuries set in as he had also reached the age of 30.

There are only two eras in major league history when catching a 150 games in a season wasn’t rare — the expansion era generation from 1962-1983 (17 such seasons) and the last two years of World War II 1944-1945 (four times).  In the expansion era more games were played in a season and catching talent was thinly spread.  In the late War years, there was a real lack of major league caliber catchers, even at the lower wartime level of play, such that some of the good ones who were available had to work double duty.

I would guess that in the days of the old Pacific Coast League when seasons were routinely 180 to 200 a season, it wasn’t rare for a catcher to catch 150 games in a season.  However, two of the greatest catchers in PCL history, Billy Raimondi and Truck Hannah, appear to have accomplished the feat a total of only three times between them during their combined 37 PCL seasons.  Of course, the fact that they weren’t overworked may be part of why they had such long professional careers.

78 times has a catcher caught at least 145 games in a major league season.  Here is a list of the only eight catchers (by my count) who wore the tools of ignorance that many times in three or more different seasons: (5 times) Jim Sundberg, Jason Kendall; (4) Randy Hundley, Gary Carter; and (3) Yogi Berra, Bob Boone, Jody Davis and Tony Pena.  Needless to say, most of these seasons happened early in these catchers’ careers.

My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of retired catchers who caught a whole of games in their major league (and professional) careers who are reaching the age when we should start to hear more about CTE in former major league catchers.

The Ten Best Panamanian Players in MLB History

December 28, 2017

Continuing on to Panama, a country between Colombia and Nicaragua which also has a long baseball tradition.  At least 58 Panamanian-born players have played in the majors league.

The first was Humberto Robinson, when he pitched a third of an inning for the Milwaukee Braves on April 20, 1955.  Hector Lopez started his successful 12 year major league career on May 12, 1955, and Webbo Clarke, who pitched for many years in the Negro Leagues, made all seven of his major league appearances for the Washington Senators in September 1955, following a 16-12 record in the Class A Sally League that year, the same league in which Robinson had won a record-setting 23 games the year before.

Both pitchers were long and lean, and Robinson went 8-13 with three saves and a career 3.25 ERA over parts of five major league seasons.  It’s likely that both pitched in the Panamanian Professional Baseball League, which played continuously between 1946 and 1972, after their U.S. careers were over.

Robinson died in Brooklyn in 2009 at the age of 79, while Clarke died at the relatively young age of 42 back in Panama.  Robinson also notably reported a bribe offered in the amount of $1,500 to throw a baseball game in 1959.

The relative success of the PPBL is surely one of the reasons so many Panamanians have played in MLB, despite a population of only 3.75 million currently. The current version of the PPBL, Probeis, has been playing continuously since 2011.

1. Rod Carew (1967-1985)(HOF).  Carew was one of the great pure-hitters of all time, a terrific base runner who stole home plate seven times in 1969, tying Pete Reiser‘s 1946 Post-World War II record.  Ty Cobb stole home eight times in 1912 and 50 times for his career.  During their mostly lively-ball era careers, Lou Gehrig stole home 15 times and Babe Ruth did it 10 times.

Carew moved to New York City after two years of high school in Panama.  He did not immediately begin playing high school baseball, because he was spending all of his time studying, working and learning English.  In 1964, he began to play with an organized team, and he reaches the majors three years later.  He worked as a hitting instructor and coach for many years after his playing career.

Carew married Marilyn Levy, a woman of Jewish ancestry, in 1970, as a result of which Carew received death threats.  They had three daughters, but divorced after 26 years, shortly after the death of their 18 year old daughter Michelle to leukemia when doctors were unable to find a matching bone marrow donor due to her unusual ancestry.  Carew subsequently performed extensive charity work to increase the number of bone marrow donors.

Carew chewed tobacco for 28 years before developing mouth cancer in 1992.  In late 2016, Carew had heart transplant surgery, but he’s still alive as of this writing.

2.  Mariano Rivera (1995-2013).  With an all-time best 652 saves, Rivera will make the Hall of Fame shortly.  He played recently enough and burned brightly enough, that no one reading this needs anything further from me to remember Rivera.

3.  Carlos Lee (1999-2012).  He bounced around a bit, but he had five seasons with 30 home runs, six with 100 or more runs batted in, and four seasons with at least 100 runs scored.  A left fielder with an exceptionally effective throwing arm, Lee is now a wealthy rancher in Texas and Panama.

4.  Ben Oglivie (1971-1986).  Oglivie took a long time to develop, but he became a fearsome slugger for Harvey’s Wallbangers during the American League Milwaukee Brewers’ great period of success from 1978 to 1983.  He led the Junior Circuit with 41 home runs in 1980 in a tie with Reggie Jackson, becoming the first player born outside the United States to lead the AL in HRs. He hit 34 regular season long flies and two more in the post-season for the Wallbangers’ team that lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

After MLB, Oglivie had two successful seasons in Japan’s NPB at the ages of 38 and 39.  He finished his playing career with two games in the Texas League at the age of 40.

Oglivie also moved to the United States (Bronx, NY) when he was in high school.  Bill Lee described Oglivie as the”brightest guy on the club” when they played together on the Red Sox, and he attended college in Boston and Milwaukee while he played.  He’s worked for years as a hitting coach since his playing days ended.

5.  Manny Sanguillen (1967-1980).  One of the batting heroes, along with Roberto Clemente and Bob Robertson, of the 1971 Pirates who came back from two games down to win the World Series against the Orioles.  Sanguillen made the National League All-Star Team three times and received MVP votes in four seasons.  Sanguillen didn’t have much power, and, a notorious bad ball hitter, he didn’t walk much either, but he had a .296 career batting average and threw out 39% of the 820 men who tried to steal bases against him.

Sanguillen played in the post-season six times for the Pirates, including driving in a run for the Pirates’ last victorious World Series team in 1979, when he was 35 and nearing the end of his career.  Sanguillen married a Pennsylvania woman, Kathy Swanger, had two kids, and still lives in the Pittsburgh area, hosting Manny’s BBQ behind center field at PNC Park.  Sanguillen says his greatest baseball accomplishment was catching Bob Moose‘s no-hitter on September 20, 1969.

6 (Tie).  Roberto Kelly (1987-2000) & Hector Lopez (1955-1966).  Kelley was a center fielder who played well for the Yankees between 1989 to 1992.  Lopez was a jack-of-all-trades guy who played at least 175 games in each of LF, RF, 3B and 2B, playing most often in left field and at third base. Lopez’s best seasons were for the Kansas City A’s and the Yankees between 1955 and 1960 and he played on five consecutive World Series teams for the Yankees from 1960 through 1964.

Lopez also sported the nicknames “The Panama Clipper” and “Hector the Hit Collector.”  Playing for Kansas City, Lopez roomed with former Negro League star, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, who got the nickname because he wore size 13 shoes, which a sportswriter wrote looked like suitcases.  After his playing career was over, Lopez became the first black, let alone Panamanian, manager of a AAA team, when he managed the International League’s Buffalo Bisons to a 7th place finish.

Roberto Kelly coached and managed for the San Francisco Giants organization for nine years until 2016, after his playing career ended.

8.  Omar Moreno (1975-1986). Today, Omar Moreno is primarily remembered as a light-hitting stolen base threat, and he was known as the Antelope, but he was also a really good player for the 1979 World Champion Pirates, leading the Senior Circuit with 77 stolen bases (in 98 attempts) and in putouts by an outfielder (489, 64 more than Gold Glove winner Garry Maddox of the 4th place Phillies) and also scoring 110 runs.  Moreno finished 15th in the NL MVP vote that year and was almost certainly more valuable than that.

In 1980, Moreno stole 96 bases (in 129 attempts) being edged out of the league lead by Ron LeFlore with 97, and again led NL outfielders in putouts, but he didn’t bat as well and only scored 87 times while making more than 500 outs on offense, even more than he prevented on defense.   Moreno stole 487 bases on his major league career at a 73% success rate.

After his playing career, Moreno and his family returned to Panama, where he started a foundation to help poor kids to play baseball.  In 2009, he became Panama’s Secretary of Sport where he represented Panama internationally and oversaw the country’s athletic programs.  After he left office, he returned to working with under-privileged children.

9. Bruce Chen (1998-2015).  Chen is a Panamanian of Chinese descent who amounts to the best starting pitcher Panama has produced.  Another bright guy, Chen studied civil engineering at Georgia Tech during his playing career.

Chen won 13 games for the Orioles in 2005, and won 12 back to back for the Royals in 2010-2011.  He was a consistently affordable bottom of the rotation starter who ate up a lot of innings by today’s standards and pitched well enough to hold onto that role for an astounding 17 seasons.

He finished his career with an 82-81 record, tying him with Mariano Rivera for most wins by a Panamanian-born pitcher, and a 4.62 ERA.  Chen came out of retirement to pitch for Team China in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

10.  Juan Berenguer (1978-1992).  Berenguer went 11-10 with a 3.42 ERA as the World Champion Detroit Tigers‘ fourth starter in 1984, but didn’t pitch in the post-season, when Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox got all the starts.  He then became an effective reliever  (32 career saves) for the Giants, Twins and Braves, ending his major league career at the age of 37.

Known as “Senor Smoke,” “El Gasolino” and the “Panama Express” because of his high-90’s fastball, Berenguer went 8-1 as a reliever and spot starter for the underwhelming Twins team that went on to win the 1987 World Series.  After his playing career, he returned to and still lives in Minnesota.

Berenguer retired with a 67-62 career record and 3.90 ERA.  He was the all-time Panamanian wins leader until Mariano Rivera passed him in 2008.

Honorable MentionsRamiro Mendoza, Rennie Stennett, Carlos Ruiz and Randall Delgado.  Panama has produced enough major league players that some pretty good ones don’t make my list of the top ten.  The 1970’s Pirates, during their best run of the post-WW II period, had three Panamanians in Sanguillen, Stennett and Moreno who were key starters on winning teams.  I remember Stennett as being one of the worst free agent signings in SF Giants’ history, although five years for $3 million sounds like peanuts today.

Carlos Ruiz deserves to be in the top ten for the six seasons he had for the Phillies from 2009 through 2014, and he was the starting catcher for the World Champion 2008 Phillies, the last period when the Phillies were consistent winners.  Randall Delgado is entering his age 28 season in 2018, so he’s certainly got a chance to break into the top 10 one day, although he missed most of the second half of the 2017 season to an elbow injury, for which he received platelet rich injections in his elbow as recently as late September.

A majority of Pananian born baseball players are Afro-Panamanian with many coming from in and around the heavily Afro-Caribbean city of Colon.  However, my personal observation spending 16 days in Panama around January 1, 1999 was that a large percentage of the population in greater Panama City appeared to my surely untrained eyes to be some admixture of European, African and Indigenous Panamanian ancestries.

The Ten Best Colombian Players in MLB History

December 27, 2017

I enjoyed writing my recent post on The Ten Best Nicaraguan Players in MLB History, so I though it might be a good idea to write similar posts on the best players from other countries, particularly those that are not well known for generating major league players.  Without much further ado, below is a list of of the ten best players from Colombia, a country with a richer baseball history than many people realize.

Baseball has long been popular in Colombia, but mostly in the cities along the Caribbean coast.  The first Latin American player in MLB during the 20th was in fact born in Colombia, Luis “Lou” Castro, who played 42 games as a middle infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902.  He replaced HOFer Napoleon “Nap” LaJoie, when a Pennsylvania Court ruled that LaJoie couldn’t play for Philadelphia after jumping his contract with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies to play in the new American League in 1901.  LaJoie was released from his contract with the Athletics and promptly signed with the Cleveland Broncos, who later came to be known as the Indians.

Like many Latino baseball players of baseball’s early days, Castro came from a wealthy background. He came to New York City at the age of 8 to get educated and to make the kinds of contacts that could be expected to benefit him later in life.  The story is similar for Estaban “Steve” Bellan, a Cuban who was sent to NYC for an education, who became the first Latino major leaguer playing parts of three seasons in the old National Association, baseball’s first all professional league, before returning to Cuba and becoming instrumental in the eventual establishment as Cuba’s most popular sport.  Unlike Bellan, Castro spent the rest of his life living in the United States.

1 & 2.  Edgar Rentaria (1996-2011) & Orlando Cabrera (1997-2011).  Two shortstops who played at the same time, it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other, because of their Colombian heritage and their similar career stats.  Rentaria’s career batting numbers are a little better, and he is likely the better player solely based on the fact that he got on base a lot more than Cabrera (.343 OBP compared to .317).  The raw defensive numbers suggest that Cabrera was a slightly better fielder.

3. & 4.  Jose Quintana (2012-2017) & Julio Teheran (2011-2017).  Two pitchers also linked by heritage, career periods and stats: Quintana has a career record of 57-57 with a 3.53 ERA, while Teheran is 58-53 with 3.59 ERA.  Fangraphs, whoever, says that Quintana’s career has been more than twice as valuable ($181 million to $85 million) than Teheran.

5.  Ernesto Frieri (2009-2017).  The all-time saves leader among Colombian born major leaguers with 73.

6.  Jolbert Cabrera (1998-2008).  Orlando Cabrera’s older brother, Jolbert wasn’t nearly as good.  Jolbert was a useful jack-of-all-trades guy who played semi-regularly for the Indians in 2001, the Dodgers in 2003 and the Mariners in 2004, as part of an eight year major league career.  He also played a couple of seasons in Japan’s NPB and finished his summer baseball career in Mexico at the age of 39.

7. & 8.  Donovan Solano (2012-2016) & Jackie Gutierrez (1983-1988).  A couple of light-hitting middle infielders, Solano played semi-regularly for the Marlins mostly at 2B from 2012 through 2014, while Gutierrez was the starting shortstop for the 1984 Boston Red Sox.  Solano is still playing at AAA, so he still has a chance to move up the list.  Gutierrez’s father represented Colombia in the 1936 Olympics as a sprinter and javelin thrower.

9.  Jorge Alfaro (2016-2017).  Alfaro is a 24 year old catcher/1Bman for the Phillies who hasn’t done a whole lot in MLB so far, except show a lot of promise with his bat.

10 (tied).  Orlando Ramirez (1974-1979) & Giovanny Urshala (2015-2017).  Another light-hitting middle infielder, Ramirez was the first Colombian player of the post-World War II era.  However, he never hit at the major league level and finished his five year major league career with only 53 hits.  Ramirez is also Jackie Gutierrez’ brother in law.

Urshala is a 3Bman who hasn’t hit much in two seasons with the Indians.  He’s young enough, though, that he still has a chance to knock Orlando Ramirez out of the top ten.

At least 20 Colombian-born players have played in MLB.  They have disproportionately been middle infielders.