Archive for the ‘Baseball History’ category

Japanese Baseball News

June 23, 2017

Tad Iguchi, now age 42, has announced that this will be his last professional season.  It has been quite a career, as he has combined to date for more than 2,200 hits, 294 HRs and 224 stolen bases between MLB and Japan’s NPB.  Lusty numbers indeed for a career 2Bman.

On June 14th, Shun Yamaguchi, Scott Mathieson and Arquimedes Caminero combined for a no-hitter for the Yomiuri Giants against the SoftBank Hawks.  It was Yamaguchi’s first start or appearance of the 2017 NPB season.

A few years ago, Yamaguchi was definitely an MLB prospect, but it’s now looking like he’ll stay in Japan for his career.  Does anyone remember the first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB?  (Answer at bottom.)

Chris Marrero, whom I wrote about in my last post on the 2017 NPB season about a month ago, appeared to hit his first NPB home run on June 9th.  But he missed home plate!  The catcher went over and tagged Marrero, and the umpire called him out.

That’s no way to make an impression on your new team in a foreign country.  However, the man on base ahead of Marrero still scored, and Marrero has continued to hit with power in what appears to be a platoon role.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles signed American Josh Corrales recently.  What is interesting about this move is that Corrales was signed out of the BC League, Japan’s independent-A league.  He’s not the first player from the Americas to be signed by an NPB organization out of the BC League.

Corrales had an interesting year in the full season A League Midwest League at age 22, posting a 4.09 ERA and striking out 54 batters in 55 innings pitched but also walking 40.  After he was apparently released, he must have somehow decided that his chances of one day reaching NPB were better than reaching MLB, because he has no record of pitching in any of the more stable American Indy-A Leagues.  He’s only 27 years old, so an NPB big payday is still possible!

The first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB history was when Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore did it on June 23, 2017.  The Babe, who was then one of the Junior Circuit’s aces, walked the first batter of the game and was promptly thrown out of the game for arguing about it with the umpire.  Shore came in, the runner on first was thrown out trying to steal second, and Shore retired the next 26 batters consecutively for what has widely, but not unanimously, been recognized as a perfect game, sort of like Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect effort in 1959.

The first time in MLB history three or more pitchers combined for a no-hitter was September 28, 1975, when Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers accomplished the feat.  The A’s had already clinched a play-off birth and decided it was wise not to overwork their ace Vida “True” Blue (a little joke there for Charlie Finley fans).  Seems kind of ho-hum today, but it was a big deal in the 1970’s.

How Small Was He?

June 9, 2017

Something got me thinking today about the smallest real players to play in major league baseball.  Of course, Bill Veeck‘s little person Eddie Gaedel, who walked in his only major league plate appearance, was the shortest at 3’7″ to play in MLB.

Veeck was able to meld crass exploitation with real baseball know-how (in 1951, when pitching staffs were only 9 or 10 men, you can’t entirely discount the fact that Veeck could have seen the value in a pinch-hitter would almost always walk — this was the guy who turned the Indians into World’s Champions, and the best single season attendance draw continuing through the next generation, in only about three seasons).  If filling the seats was the goal, and it was, it certainly worked for Veeck, at least until Disco Demolition Night in 1976.

Will Harridge, the AL President, voided Gaedel’s contract the next day.

This is the best post on-line I found to my question, and it’s relatively recent.  Herearesomeothers.  I not sure it any of these posts mention the 5’6″ Jose Altuve.

Wee Willy Keeler (“Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t”) is the only Hall of Famer, and for that matter the only player of real consequence at 5’4.”  Nobody remembers Lee Viau today.  At 140 lbs, Keeler was 20 lbs lighter than Viau.

The first major league pitchers to develop major league curveballs were not big dudes.  Candy Cummings was 5’9″ and 120 lbs, and Bobby Mathews was 5’5″ and 140 lbs.  Candy is in the Hall of Fame for his reported discovery of the curveball.  An HOFer who got there purely on MLB performance is “Old Hoss” Radbourn listed at 5’9″ and 168 lbs.

People were a lot smaller in 19th century America.  Multiple subsequent generations of heavy meat and dairy eating has made the contemporary American male on average much larger than those whose diets were based mainly on starches.

Baseball Almanac says there were ten MLB players listed at 5’3″.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t identified, at least to the cheapskate public, the identities of those ten.  One of the posts linked above says that Mike McCormack (5’3″, 155 lbs) was the shortest player to qualify for a batting title.  However, he slashed .184/.278/.222 as the main 3Bman for the 1904 Brooklyn Superbas and was never heard of again outside of the minor league cities where he continued to play pro baseball.

“Doc” Gautreau was probably the 5’4″ that baseball reference lists him at.  Rumors of shorter height are probably a result of the fact that he was reported to weigh only 129 lbs.  He was a rangy 2Bman who made his share of errors.  He had no power, and his ability to get on base wasn’t appreciated during his three seasons as an MLB platoon player on second division Boston Braves teams in the late 1920’s.

Gautreau was a Massachusetts Canuck, like footballer Jack Kerouac a generation later.  When the Montreal Royals started play in the (now AAA) International League in 1928, they were on the look-out for a French Canadian ballplayer who would appeal to their fan base.

Gautreau, who spoke French, had left the majors in 1928, and the Royals acquired him for the 1929 season.  He gave the Royals five strong seasons and was almost certainly the team’s most popular player, since he also hustled like a guy who was 5’4″ and 129 pounds.

The subject of tiny MLBers is near and dear to my heart for reasons I will elaborate on in a later post.

Who Saw Four Home Runs from Scooter Gennett?

June 7, 2017

Anyone who bet on Scooter Gennett to have a four home run game, that’s like winning the trifecta on three horses running longer than 20-to-1 to win.

You have to give Gennett credit: he really socked all four pitches.  My favorite was the home run the opposite way to left field, where he hit it just fair and to the shortest part of the yard, but still no cheapy since he hit it 10 or 12 rows deep.

Pat Seerey (86 career HR) and Mark Whiten (105) were clearly the worst modern home run hitters to hit four in a game.  Both Whiten and Gennett had only 38 career HRs the day before their big day.

Pat Seerey was a player with skills that would be much more recognized today than in his own time.  Mark Whiten was five months younger than Scooter Gennett on their special days.

Mark Whiten’s career was a disappointment after his 1993 season, the year he hit four, although he was good in 1996, the only subsequent year he played more than 100 games — injuries were a big part of his limited career HR total.

If Scooter Gennett stays healthy, I think he’ll show a marked improvement going forward, sort of like Daniel Murphy since his performance in the 2015 post-season.  Sure, it’s only one game, but when a player accomplishes something this rare and sees the company he’s now keeping, it has to boost a player’s self-confidence tremendously.

I don’t know how Scooter wouldn’t feel confident after watching footage of his four swings.  He really socked ’em.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2017

June 2, 2017

Those few who have followed my blog over the years know that I love to write about players who have used the Independent A and Mexican leagues as a spring board to professional baseball success after their careers in the MLB system looked over.  Here are a few players I’ve been following for the last few seasons as they work their ways through interesting baseball careers.

Josh Lowey.  One of the Atlantic League’s best pitchers in 2013, Lowey had a terrific first half in the Mexican League (summer) in 2016.  That earned him a shot in South Korea’s KBO on a reported $200,ooo contract for the second half.  I don’t know if the 200 grand was pro-rated for the half season he played, but either way it was the first time in his professional baseball career he had made any real money.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for Josh.  Although he struck out 68 batters in 60 innings pitched, he also gave up 74 hits, six dingers and 37 walks, leaving him with an ugly, even for the sluggin’ KBO, ERA of 6.30.  Needless to say, he did not return to the KBO this season.

Instead, Lowey is back in the Mexican League, where’s he pitching well, but perhaps not good enough to get a shot to make more money in Taiwan’s CPBL in the second half.  He has the best strikeout rate of any Mexican League starter so far, but his ERA 4.06 ERA is only 22nd best in the 16-team circuit.  He’s also 32 years old this season, which does not help his future prospects.

Mike Loree.  As I wrote a year ago, Mike Loree remains the best starting pitcher in Taiwan’s four-team CPBL.  Minor injuries have limited him to seven starts so far this season, and his 1.60 ERA so far was the league’s best a day or so, but he’s now one inning short of qualifying.

This is Mike’s fifth season in the CPBL, and given the fact that he was the league’s best starter in 2015 and 2016, I would guess he’s probably making somewhere from $100,00 to $125,000 this season.

Loree got a raw deal from the KBO’s KT Wiz back in 2014.  The Wiz had signed both Loree and former major leaguer Andy Sisco to play for the Wiz’s minor league club the season before the Wiz started play in the KBO’s major league.  Although the limited information I was able to obtain indicated that Loree pitched better than Sisco in 2014, the Wiz brought Sisco back in 2015 but not Loree, almost certainly because of Sisco’s better MLB pedigree.

Sisco got bombed for the expansion Wiz and was quickly released, while Loree had to go back to being the Ace of the CPBL for less money. Sisco subsequently pitched in the CPBL also, but nowhere near as effectively as Loree.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  A pair of now 32 year old outfielders, both Hankerd and Gailen are still playing and still hitting.  Unfortunately, neither looks to have much chance to move up at this point to a real money league.

Gailen played for Israel’s surprisingly successful World Baseball Classic team this Spring, but didn’t play especially well, and he’s back in the Indy-A Atlantic League.  His .336 batting average is currently fifth best in the eight-team circuit.

Hankerd is back in the Mexican League for a fourth season.  His .976 OPS is currently 8th in a 16-team circuit known for its hitting.

The obvious place of advancement for players of Hankerd’s and Gailen’s proven talent level is Taiwan’s CPBL.  However, that league has only 12 slots for foreign players (three each for the league’s four teams), and, as far as I am aware, all twelve of those slots are currently held by pitchers.  Like the KBO, the CPBL wants mainly foreign pitchers.

Both the Atlantic League and the Mexican League remain loaded with former major leaguers well over 30 who can still excel at this level.  Sean Burroughs (age 36) and Alberto Callaspo (34) are first and third in the Atlantic League in hitting presently, and Lew Ford (40) played in a few games this year before likely getting hurt.  Chris Roberson (37) and Corey Brown (31) are respectively 4th and 5th in OPS in the Mexican League as of today.  I don’t have nearly as much sympathy for any of these guys, however, because all appear to have enough MLB service time to have earned a pension which presently starts at $34,000 a year at retirement age.

Players I am keeping an eye on in these leagues right now are Yadir Drake, K.C. Hobson and Ramon Urias.  Drake is a 27 year old Cuban right fielder who played pretty well at AA Tulsa in the Dodgers’s system in 2015, but started the 2016 in a terrible slump and was cut after only 19 games.  He’s currently the top hitter in the Mexican League slashing .406/.454/.703.  Hobson is a big 26 year old 1Bman, whose .959 OPS is currently 4th best in the Atlantic League.

Ramon Urias is the only real prospect, however.  He is a Mexican middle infielder who turns 23 tomorrow.  He played two seasons for the Texas Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team in 2011 and 2012 and played well enough for his age for me to wonder why the Rangers apparently released him or sold his rights to the Mexico City Red Devils.  It’s possible that the Red Devils had a more experienced player the Rangers wanted and traded Urias’ rights for that player.

At any rate, Urias had a strong age 21 season in 2015 in both the Mexican summer and winter leagues.  He apparently had some injuries in 2016, but this year his .998 OPS is currently his league’s 7th best.  Urias’ raw defensive numbers at 2B, SS and 3B look good enough that it’s surprising some major league team hasn’t already shelled out the $1M to $3M the Red Devils probably began asking for him after his 2015 campaigns.

Karl Gelinas has started his 11th consecutive season with the Quebec Capitals of the Can-Am League.  Unfortunately, at age 33 now, he doesn’t look to have a whole lot left.  2016 was his least successful campaign for the Capitals since 2009, and he’s started his season slow with a 6.55 ERA after three starts.  He started 2016 slow too, though, and finished up with what was still a solid season for this level.  Although his success for one minor league team no longer shows up in the career totals the way it once did, he remains this generation’s Lefty George.

It appears that Jose Contreras‘ professional baseball career is finally over.  At age 44 (at least), he made 10 starts in the Mexican League early in the 2016 season.  He pitched pretty well, and it is surprising that his pro career seams to have ended then.  I think his hope was to pitch again in the CPBL in the second half of 2016, as he had done the year before, but probably no Taiwanese team came calling.  He pitched in a Florida senior league this winter, and this recent article states that he is volunteering his time to the Ft. Myers Little League, teaching 8 to 12 year olds how to pitch.  The man clearly loves baseball with passion.

The above referenced article concludes with a great quote from Contreras about his pro career: “I had 28 great years: 14 in Cuba and 14 here.”

Jon Velasquez, Paul Oseguera and Brock Bond also appear to be done.  I will always feel that MLB in general and the San Francisco Giants in particular didn’t give Brock Bond a fair shake.

I’m still keeping an eye out for two guys I wrote about last year: Telvin Nash and Jack Snodgrass.  Snodgrass, formerly of the Giants’ system, pitched well enough in the Atlantic League early last year to get a shot from the Rangers.  He was hit hard in four appearances in AAA, and then got sent down to AA, where he pitched well in six starts.  Not well enough, however, to stay in organized baseball.  He’s back in the Atlantic League this year at age 29, where he appears to have quickly injured himself.

Nash (26) was signed by the White Sox last season after a strong Atlantic League start and hit well in the Class A+ Carolina League.  This year, he’s mostly been hurt.  His season didn’t start until May 12th, and he quickly hit his way up to AA, but after three games for Birmingham, he hasn’t played since May 21st.  Injuries are a great way to ruin what may be Nash’s last real shot at a major league career.

Fathers and Sons

May 22, 2017

I read an article today from the NY Times about Mike Trout, MLB’s quiet super-duper star.  One thing that stuck in my mind was that the article stated that Trout is most comparable at this point in his career to Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle and also that his father was a former minor league player.

I don’t know if Hank Aaron’s father was a ball player, but part of the legend of the Mick was that his father was a frustrated ball player, who channeled those dreams to his son, who was the perfect chalice for those dreams.  Sort of like Tiger Woods and his dad, who loved golf for whatever reason and had a son who had the natural ability and the love of his father and the game to become a legend.

Mike Trout’s dad, Jeff Trout, was a four year minor leaguer, who was probably the best baseball player to come out of Millville Senior High School in 40 years (the now longer remembered Steve Yerkes was the best player out of that school before the son).  Jeff apparently played four years at the University of Delaware before his professional career began.

Jeff could hit, slashing .321/.406/.451 in his last minor league season, but spent three years in AA ball because he couldn’t catch the ball enough.  He was a 2B/3B prospect who fielded a minor league career .956 at the former position and .915 at the latter.  Jeff had enough talent to have a reason to be frustrated when his professional baseball career ended well short of major league success.

The dynamic I’m talking about is best described in detail in Gaylord Perry‘s autobiography Me and the Spitter, probably the most entertaining baseball autobiography I read as a kid.  Evan Perry got an offer to play Class D baseball when he was 19 years old.  However, his wife was either pregnant with or had already given birth to Jim Perry, a great major league pitcher who is only remembered today as Gaylord’s older brother.

Class D baseball paid in the mid-1930’s what the low minors pay today (little more than nothing), and Evan Perry did the sensible thing of continuing to share-crop tobacco in East Carolina.  It was as bleak as that sounds — Evan was proud of the fact that he didn’t send his boys to work in the fields until they each turned 7, since he had been about 5 when he started working the plow or picking the tobaccy.

Evan was a semi-pro stud in East Carolina, and he raised his strong sons with an intense love of baseball.  It was what you did when you had finished in the fields and church had let out Sunday morning.

Mickey Mantle’s father was a wannabe professional ballplayer from rural Oklahoma few years earlier than Evan Perry.  Those were the days when real men married their pregnant, teenage girl friends and went to work in rural, depression era dead-end jobs because it still paid better than the lowest levels of minor league baseball.  In those days, the dream of major league riches was just as real to dirt-poor rural Americans as it is to dirt-poor, teenage Latin Americans today, and paid accordingly.

Gaylord was technically a cheater, Mickey became an alcoholic, and Tiger had personality deficiencies of which those who have been paying attention are now well aware.  However, all did receive the many awards and benefits that come from the most elite athletic performance.

There is probably a lot of pressure attendant with living out someone elses dreams and becoming the absolute best at one’s chosen profession.  Andre Agassi is member of this group who has publicly spoken about the misery that can come with trying to live out his father’s dream.

Even so, I like to imagine that there can be a situation where it’s more true than not that the child lived out the dream of the parent to the satisfaction of both.  I certainly hope that my child will have a better life than I’ve had, whatever that turns out to be.

Are Carlos Beltran and Adrien Beltre Future Hall of Famers?

May 12, 2017

Almost certainly.

Carlos Beltran has scored more than 1,500 runs and driven in more than 1,500.  The only qualifying players not in the Hall of Fame with that many runs scored and that many RBIs are the recent generation of nearly proven PEDers.

Beltran has some reports of chemically enhanced performance, but probably not enough to tar him as a PED cheat.

Adrian Beltre, who is currently injured, is current stuck at 2,999 career runs scored plus RBIs, one short of what is certainly a magic number for HOF purposes.  A cursory internet search has not turned up any compelling case for PED use by Beltre, so his HOF chances are indeed strong.

I’m convinced that the best of the PED guys (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, maybe Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) will eventually make the HOF on the grounds that when enough time passes, the voting sports writers will acknowledge that these guys would have made the HOF even if PEDs never existed.  As jaded as I am, I still have some faith that experienced sports writers will be able to evaluate the PED crop of players and one day decide which of them were so much better than everybody else that they deserve to be in the HOF.

I will admit, though, that it hasn’t always happened.  The Veterans’ Committee has indeed over-valued the performance of hitters in hitters’ eras and pitchers’ in pitchers’ eras, and vice versa.  I’m hopeful that 75% of sports writers in the future will learn from past mistakes and someday figure out how to evaluate the PED-era players.  Wishful thinking?  We’ll see.

Ouchies

April 20, 2017

There is a great article on espn.com interviewing Brandon Guyer about his frequency of getting hit by pitches.  Guyer attributes it to his batting stride that leaves his front leg to get hit a lot because lefties in particular pitch him inside, and he doesn’t move once he’s stepped forward into the stride.

The article got me thinking about HBPs, so I naturally hit the baseball reference lists on single season and career HBP by batters.  That got me thinking about a number of things.

First, Tim Kirkjian’s final question states that some players got hit by a lot of pitches because they “can’t hit.”  I don’t see it.  Most of the career leaders in HBP were at least good hitters.  If anything, a lot of them appear to be guys who realized the value of getting on base a lot, but weren’t particularly good at working walks.

Second, I remember so much being made about Craig Biggio breaking the career hit by pitch record some years ago now, but I didn’t realize he actually finished two HBPs behind all time leader Hughie Jennings, who got plunked 287 times between 1891 and 1903.

The generation between 1885 and 1905 was certainly the golden age of hit batsmen for a number of reasons.  First, this was the generation in which pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand and the pitchers mound was gradually moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches.  Pitchers had adjustments to make every so many seasons, so one would expect a learning curve in terms of HBP and wild pitches.

Also, that generation was the roughest era in baseball history, if not necessarily the toughest.  One would expect a lot of hit pitches because pitchers were trying to intimidate hitters (no batting helmets until 1941), and certain batters were willing and able to take advantage of it by getting on base a lot more than they would have otherwise.

This was the era in which MLB players were dominated by Northeast Irish Americans who came from poor backgrounds.  If fighting was part of the game, they fought, not unlike hockey players today.

However, the records don’t indicate that HBP were really much more frequent then than they are in the modern game.  Biggio came within two of Jennings’ career total; and Ron Hunt in 1971, when the game was much more like today than then, got hit 50 times, only once fewer than Jennings’ single season record set in 1894.

Seven of the top 21 in career terms played during the hit batsman’s Greatest Generation, as did a whopping 13 out of the top 22 single seasons.  However, those 13 single-seasons were recorded by only five different players, suggesting that it could have had as much to do with the fact that the 1885-1905 generation had an especially high number of batters with that specific skill (to get hit a lot and not get seriously hurt) in historic terms.

In fact, that’s what the records seem to show: that Brandon Guyer is one of those rare players with an extreme skill, similar to submarine or knuckleball pitchers.  In fact, it seems like there are relatively as many of these players who played or are playing in the present generation as there ever were (not bloody many), but that these guys don’t get hit quite as often per season now as during the 1885-1905 period.

This makes a certain amount of sense as the rise of sabrmetrics in the last generation has shown baseball people that HBPs are ultimately better for batters than pitchers, because a free base is a free base and leads to more runs scored.  More batters should be willing to be hit to get on base, and pitchers should be trying harder than ever to prevent the free base, except in those rare situations when a message needs to be sent.  Some pitchers, of course, still throw at hitters for intimidation purposes.

Anyway, although Brandon Guyer now has the highest HBP rate for players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, he has only 68 career HBP shortly into his age 31 season, even with the 55 he collected in 2015-2016.  That’s only good enough for a four-way tie for 246th most all time.  Another season like the last two and he could make it into the top 100, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep hitting enough to get the plate appearances he’ll need to move up the career lists.