Archive for the ‘Baseball History’ category

Willie McCovey Passes

November 1, 2018

Willie McCovey passed away today at the age of 80.  Giants fans will tell you he was the most popular San Francisco Giant of all time.  Willie Mays may have been better, but Willie Mac had a better disposition and his 1968 through 1970 season certainly must have made fellow Alabama boy and teammate Mays proud.

I had the privilege of watching McCovey play, which means a lot to me since Mays was before my time.  I will admit that the Willie Mac I remember was the 1978 version, when he was an old war-horse who wasn’t very fast to the ball anymore, but still got some big hits that drove in runs and gave Mike Ivie the opportunity to have the season that Giants’ fans best remember Mike Ivie for.

I also got to see Willie Mac having dinner at his namesake restaurant in Walnut Creek some years ago when I went there with my father, my last memory of seeing Willie in person.

You can read the San Francisco Chronicle article on his death here for more career details, if you haven’t read their article already.

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World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 6, 2018

Starting in 2009 and every couple of years thereafter, I have written a piece handicapping the likelihood of any currently active pitcher winning 300 games in his major league career.  The last such post from about two years ago is here.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

When I first started writing these posts over a decade ago, I thought we’d certainly see another 300 game winner in my life time.  About five years later, I changed my opinion almost completely.  I now think it less likely than not that any current pitcher will win 300 games, but at least it could still happen, as I explain below.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2018 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (37) 246

Justin Verlander (35) 204

Zack Greinke (34) 187

Felix Hernandez (32) 168

John Lester (34) 177

Clayton Kershaw (30) 153

Max Scherzer (33) 159

David Price (32) 143

Rick Porcello (29) 135

Madison Bumgarner (28) 110

It’s worth noting that the list of pitcher contains the same 10 as two years ago, which I think is a good sign in terms of one of them reaching 300 wins.

I like Justin Verlander’s and Max Scherzer’s chances of winning 300 the best.  Both are coming off of terrific seasons at advanced ages at which they still had extremely high strikeout rates.  These are the kinds of pitchers who end up pitching into their early 40’s and thus have the chance to eventually win 300 games.

The 12 pitchers to win 300 games after the end of World War II all pitched into their 40’s as follows:

Phil Neikro 48 (in his last MLB season)

Nolan Ryan 46

Randy Johnson 45

Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn  44

Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Early Wynn 43

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine 42

Tom Seaver 41

With the exception of knuckleballer Phil Neikro, there is a pretty obvious connection between an ace’s strikeout rate in his respective era and how long he’ll be able to compete at the major league level.  That certainly suggests that Verlander and Scherzer could pitch well into their 40’s.

Verlander has averaged 15.7 wins per season in his first 13 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.7 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 109 or 110 games, which would put him comfortably over 300 career wins.

Scherzer has average 15.9 wins per season in his first 10 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.9 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 143 games, which would just get him over 300.

Thus, if either can avoid major injury and wants to keep pitching as long as it takes for a shot at winning 300 games, it could certainly be done, particularly when you take into account that MLB teams would be willing to carry them for an extra season or two at the end if either pitcher has a realistic shot at winning 300 game.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw have all won a lot of games at their respective ages, but none of the three seems like a good bet to still be pitching at 40, let alone 42 or 43.  Sabathia is likely coming back for another season with the Yankees in 2019, but it’s hard to imagine his big body holding up for as long as it would take for him to win 300.  King Felix’s arm may be shot — we’ll have a better idea a year from now.  Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but back problems don’t improve with age.

What all current aces need to improve their chances at winning 250 or 300 games is another round of expansion, which I think could easily add two wins per year to a top starter’s career wins total.

MLB’s Race Problem

August 2, 2018

I read this article today by Jeff Pearlman, which captures some of the feelings I have about the recent news of Josh Hader‘s, Trea Turner‘s and Sean Newcomb‘s high school homophobic and/or racist tweets.  Baseball has become primarily a white pastime in the U.S., and the revelations about Hader, Turner and Newcomb, and now possibly Sonny Gray, certainly isn’t going to convince many Americans of color that baseball is still their game too.

Sure, all of Hader, Turner and Newcomb were young and dumb when they posted their offensive tweets, but the age thing cuts both ways.  None of the three of them is over the age of 25, so they’re part of a generation that really should know better and be more tolerant of diversity.

Pearlman claims that major league club houses are “almost without fail” segregated in racial or ethnic groups, with white players hanging out with whites, Latinos with Latinos, and Asians with Asians.  Pearlman would certainly know better than I, as I have never been inside a major league clubhouse except by virtue of television.

If baseball really is becoming a whites-only sport among young domestic players and the fan base which pays the freight, which has been reported for some time, then MLB is in trouble.  Maybe not as much trouble as football with its brain injury crisis, but big trouble nonetheless.

Growth rates among non-hispanic white Americans is slowing down toward zero, with something like 26 states now reporting more deaths than births among non-hispanic whites.  There also aren’t a whole lot of Europeans looking to immigrate to the U.S. like their once were, as most poorer Eastern Europeans would prefer to emigrate to or within the E.U.

Little or no growth in the fan base means little or no long-term growth for MLB.  I noticed yesterday that the Miami Marlins are averaging only 9,800 fans a game in attendance this year.  Miami is large metro area with plenty of wealth and with a large Latino population with ancestry mostly from countries where baseball is extremely popular.  Yet the Marlins can’t draw flies.

Some of the Marlins’ attendance problems have to do with a terrible team and a history of unpopular owners.  However, it also seems like greater Miami has decided it can take or leave major league baseball.

In that vein, MLB isn’t helping itself in terms of maximizing fan bases and revenues.  The power plays of the wealthy teams in New York and Los Angeles and the San Francisco Giants, which are preventing third teams from playing in the Inland Empire, northern New Jersey or the A’s from moving to San Jose, is just pure stupidity in the long term.  Major league teams need to be playing where the fans are and will be in the future, particularly if MLB’s national fan base isn’t expanding at the same rate as the other major American team sports.

Why Major League Hitters Aren’t Beating the Shifts

July 11, 2018

Here’s a good article from Jerry Crasnick about why players who are routinely shifted against aren’t changing their approach to beat the shift.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that today’s major league hitters are paid to hit the ball with power, and for left-handed hitters who are shifted against most, that means pulling the ball or driving the ball out to left center.  It’s easy to plug those holes with defensive shifts.

60 or 70 years ago, Ted Williams talked about hitting against the shifts played on him (there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Trivia question: which team invented the Williams Shift?)  Williams said that hitting against the shift never bothered him, because it meant that pitchers were trying to pitch him middle-in to get him to hit into the shift.  That meant pitchers were pitching into his power, with all-too-often predictable results: 521 career home runs despite missing nearly five years of his major league career to military service.

The shifts work better today because pitchers are better and defenders are better.  There will never again be another .344 career hitter unless umpires start calling a ten-inch tall, over the plate strike zone.  Still, an awful lot of home runs are being hit today because pitchers are pitching inside to power hitters to get them to hit into the shift.

I thought Daniel Murphy‘s comments were particularly telling because he rightly talks about the advantages to hitting for power in today’s game, but he’s dead wrong insofar as taking a free first base is not extremely valuable if the bases are empty or with a man on first with less then two outs.  Home run hitting works best when men have gotten on base first.  Earl Weaver, good pitching and defense and the three-run homer.

However, the guy the hits the home run makes a lot more money than the guy who gets on base first, all other factors being even.  That’s why Murphy overvalues power hitting over getting on base.

Ichiros will always beat the shift, but how much demand is there for the poor man’s Ichiro’s in today’s game.  (There will be future Ichiros, Tony Gwynns and Rod Carews, but they will need to play at that level.  How much demand is there in today’s game for the next Nori Aoki?

The very best players have the confidence and ability to try to take advantage of every opportunity the other team gives them.  Most major league players, however, want to maintain the swing and the approach that got them to the bigs in the first place.  Trying to hit the other way against the shift might screw up their power stroke, so why risk it?

Hitters are superstititious, and almost always associate slumps and hot streaks to what they are doing rather than to random probability over short stretches, which plays a much bigger role than most major league players realize at a conscious level.  That said, the players who have the most success don’t tend to get too high during hot stretches or too low during slumps.

Answer to trivia question:  the Chicago Cubs.  They started shifting Fred “Cy” Williams in the 1920’s when Williams played for the Phillies.  The Phillies played in the Baker Bowl, which was 280 feet down the right field line and only 300 feet to right center, only marginally counteracted by a very tall right field fence.

Phillies quickly learned the value of power hitting left-handed pull hitters, and the Cubs were the first team to respond accordingly.  Williams led the NL for the Cubs with 12 HRs in 1916 during the “Dead Ball” (dirty ball) Era, so the Cubs knew exactly what type of hitter Williams was.

 

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.

Takashi Toritani’s Consecutive Games Streak Ends at 1,939

June 2, 2018

Takashi Toritani, one of the best Japanese players of this generation who did not attempt an MLB career, had his consecutive games streak end a couple of days ago at 1,939.  It was the second longest in NPB history after only Sachio Kinugasa‘s 2,215 game streak.

By comparison, Cal Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games and Lou Gehrig in 2,130.  NPB seasons are shorter, at 143 games a season currently and 130 games a season in Kinugasa’s time, so Kinugasa and Toritani had to stay healthy at least as long as Ripken and Gehrig.

Kinugasa’s and Ripken’s career batting numbers are pretty similar, although Kinugasa played 3B, while Ripken was, of course, a shortstop.