A Crushing: the Bombers

October 18, 2017

With the upcoming World Series, it seemed time to look at another long ago Series. There have been very few World Series’ more one-sided and crushing than 1932. The New York Yankees dismantled the Chicago Cubs in four games. Still it was a Series worth looking at for a lot of reasons, not just one home run that became famous.

Marse Joe

The Yankees were led by manager Joe McCarthy. He’d managed the Cubs in 1929 when they played Philadelphia in the World Series. They lost four games to one, including having given up a 10 run inning in game four. He knew about crushing losses. His team, however, was known as the Bronx Bombers for a reason. Generally, they crushed the opposition. In 1932 the Yanks led the American League in runs scored, walks, on base percentage, OPS, and were second in just about everything else except hits and stolen bases, where they were third. For a team known for its hitting, the pitching staff was surprisingly good. It finished first in ERA, shutouts, and strikeouts; second both hits and runs allowed; and fourth in walks.

When your infield features three future Hall of Famers, you tend to lead the league in a lot of categories. Lou Gehrig, in his prime, held down first. He hit .349 with 34 home runs, a team leading 151 RBIs (of course Gehrig led in RBIs, he was an RBI machine), had an OPS of 1.072 (OPS+ of 181), had a team leading 370 total bases to go with a team high 42 doubles. His WAR was 7.9 Fellow Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri was at second. He’d come a long way from the 1926 strikeout that was pivotal in the Yankees Series loss. He hit an even .300 with 15 home runs, a .905 OPS (OPS+ 138) and put up 5.2 WAR. Joe Sewell was both the third baseman and the third Hall of Famer in the infield. He hit .272, had an OPS+ of 96, and in 503 at bats had 56 walks and three strikeouts. His WAR was 2.6. The non-Hall of Famer was shortstop Frankie Crossetti. He hit .241 (the only starter to hit under .270) with neither power nor speed. His WAR was at 1.2. Lyn Lary, Jack Saltzgaver, and Doc Farrell provided the infield relief. Lary was the only one to hit above the Mendoza line or to have a home run. His nine stolen bases were third on the team.

The New York outfield began with two more Hall of Fame players: Earle Combs and Babe Ruth. Combs was toward the end of his career and had moved out of his normal center field position. He hit .321 with an OPS+ of 127 to go with 143 runs scored and 4.7 WAR. His replacement in center was Ben Chapman. Chapman, who became the lightning rod for opposition to Jackie Robinson, might have been an odious human being, but he was a pretty good ball player. He hit .299 for the season, had 41 doubles, 15 triples, and led the team with 38 stolen bases (more than triple the 11 steals for Lazzeri in second place). All that got him 4.3 WAR. Then there was Ruth . He hit .341, second on the team to Gehrig, had 137 RBIs (again, second to Gehrig), 41 home runs, a .661 slugging percentage, an OPS of 1.150 (OPS+ 201), and a team leading 8.3 WAR (it was his last WAR above 7). Myril Hoag and Sammy Byrd did the backing up for the starters. Hoag hit .370 in 46 games and Byrd hit .297 with eight home runs.

Bill Dickey was the backstop. He hit 310., had 15 home runs, drove in 84, had an OPS of .843 with an OPS+ of 121. It garnered him 3.0 WAR. He caught 108 games with backup Arndt Jorgens catching 56. He hit .219 with two home runs and -0.2 WAR.

Five men started more than 20 games on the mound. Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez were the twin aces. Gomez had 24 wins to Ruffing’s 18. Both had seven losses. Ruffing’s ERA was barely above three while Gomez came in at just over four. Gomez gave up one more hit than he had innings pitched with Ruffing having more innings pitched than hits. Both struck out over 175, but both also walked more than 100 batters (WHIP of 1.398 for Gomez and 1.290 for Ruffing). Gomez showed 3.4 WAR, Ruffing had 6.5. Johnny Allen’s ERA was 3.70 in 21 starts with a 1.240 WHIP and 3,4 WAR. Holdovers from the Murderer’s Row Yankees of the 1920s, Herb Pennock and George Pipgras were the other 20 game starters. Pipgras was 16-9 with an ERA of 4.19 and 1.4 WAR while Pennock was 9-5 with 0.1 WAR and a 4.60 ERA. The main men out of the bullpen were Jumbo Brown, old-timer Wilcy Moore, and lefty Ed Wells. For what it’s worth, Gordon Rhodes got into 10 games, went 1-2, and became the only man on the staff with a losing record.

It was three years since the Yankees last won a World Series (1928). The team was considerably revamped, but maintained a core that had won consecutive championships in 1927 and 1928. In 1932 they were heavily favored.

 

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2017 Awards: MVP

October 13, 2017

And of course the final of the big postseason awards, the MVP.

American League

Jose Altuve

Jose Altuve led the Houston Astros to one of the best records in baseball. He led the AL in hits, in batting average, WAR, and is a pretty fair second baseman. I think all that will give him the title over Aaron Judge. It may also help that Judge can win the Rookie of the Year Award and my guess is that some writers will vote him the Rookie award and then decide “that’s enough” and slight him for the MVP. They shouldn’t, but someone probably will.

National League

Giancarlo Stanton

Although the Marlins didn’t make the playoffs, without Giancarlo Stanton they might not have gotten to 50 wins (OK, I’ll give the rest of the roster 60 wins). He led the majors in home runs, RBIs, and led the National League in WAR and slugging. Those are the kinds of numbers that get both traditionalists and more modern stat guys attention. I think Nolan Arenado should get a lot of consideration, but my guess is that the Coors Field factor will hurt him a lot (although he didn’t do badly on the road). On a personal note, I loved Joey Votto’s season and would be very happy if he picked up a lot of support. I also think that Goldschmidt will get a lot of support.

As usual, don’t put large bets on my say so.

2017 Awards: Cy Young

October 10, 2017

Continuing along with my view of what will happen with the 2017 postseason awards, here’s a look at the big pitching awards.

American League

Corey Kluber

Kluber of the Indians led the AL in wins and ERA, still big stats for the traditional voters, and also posted a league leading WHIP and ERA+ to impress the new stat guys. His WAR was 8.0, also a league high. I think he gets the AL Cy Young without too much trouble.

National League

Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer led the National League in WHIP, WAR (for pitchers) for the new guys and in strikeouts for the older writers. His nearest rival is Clayton Kershaw who had more wins and a lower ERA, which, I believe will get him a lot of support. As much as I’d like to see Kershaw win, I am reminded that when he went down, the Dodgers didn’t miss a beat in running up the league’s best record. Apparently they can win without him. Not so sure of that when it comes to Scherzer and the Nationals. I think it may make the difference in what should be a close ballot.

Although I’m reasonably sure of Kluber, I won’t be surprised if Kershaw knocks off Scherzer for the award.

2017 Awards: Rookies

October 6, 2017

Following on my thoughts on the 2017 Manager of the Year Award here’s a look at my picks for Rookie of the Year. It’s the easiest pick.

National League

Cody Bellinger

The nod goes to Cody Bellinger, Dodgers first baseman. He led the National League rookies in homers, which always gets the writer’s attention, and was instrumental in the long streak the team had at mid-season.

American League

Aaron Judge

You expected anyone other than Aaron Judge? He propelled the resurgent Yankees to a wild card slot and set a new record for home runs by a rookie. Of course he also struck out a ton of times.

Both these should be unanimous. Someone out there will probably be in a snit and keep it from being so. They will be wrong.

2017 Awards: Managers

October 4, 2017

It’s time again for my annual foray into the minds of the writers. Each year I prove that I’m a terrible mind reader, but I continue to give my opinion on who should win the various MLB postseason awards. This time I want to start with the managers.

National League

Lovullo

Generally, the manager of the year comes from a team that wasn’t supposed to be particularly competitive, but astounds the world, or at least baseball fans, by heading into the playoffs. There are a couple of those this year: the Diamondback and the Rockies. And I begin by wondering how much the “Coors Field Effect” will hurt Bud Black. There are those that argue that Coors gives the Rockies an unfair advantage and that anything happening there is suspect. I don’t know how much I buy that, but I think ultimately it will hurt Black. The Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals were all expected to win, so I think that Torey Lovullo will probably win the National League Manager of the Year Award.

American League

Molitor

This should be a three-man race among AJ Hinch and his Astros who swept away the opposition and coasted to victory, Joe Girardi and the Yankees who weren’t supposed to be a postseason team this year, and Paul Molitor and his Twins who got to a playoff spot after 100 loses last season. Because the Astros were ultimately passed by Cleveland, I expect Hinch is out (as is Terry Francona because the Indians were supposed to win). That leaves Girardi and Molitor. My personal pick is Molitor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers favor the New York based Girardi.

If you’ve been following along all these years, you’ll recall that I’m only right about 50% of the time, so don’t bet your life savings on this.

An Overlooked and Flawed Stat

September 28, 2017

The second best Cardinals player ever

With the end of the season pending it’s time to look over the current crop of players and note both their seasonal and career statistics and see how they compare to each other and to the greats of the game. One of my favorite stats is total bases. It’s often overlooked and shouldn’t be.

For those unfamiliar with the stat it goes TB (total bases)=singles x 1 + doubles x 2 + triples x 3 + home runs x 4. So if you hit for the cycle in one game you get 10 total bases. Got it?

Essentially total bases tells us how many bases a player touched in a game/week/season/career or whatever period of time you choose while the guy is playing. I like it because, quite simply, the more bases you touch, the more likely you are to score a run. Now that doesn’t always work. For instance a player can get 100 singles and no one ever advances him a base and no runs score (which is why I still think RBIs are a worthwhile stat). But deep down I know the stat is flawed, because it doesn’t take account of how many bases a player touches by means other than a hit. Mostly its bases on balls that are missing, but so are bases gained by a steal and bases advanced by another player moving you along by a hit or a walk. And of course you’re missing catcher’s interference and hit batsmen, but neither occurs very often. So I’d like to see the stat corrected to add in at least the walks (so you get TB= singles x 1 + doubles x 2 + triples x 3 + home runs x 4 + walks x 1) and maybe even the stolen bases.

I really like total bases because it’s an easy way to quickly note how often a player gets on base and how far he gets without benefit of another player helping him out (except of course walks are left out). There are other stats that measure important things like this, but I like this simple one. It’s easy to calculate and easy to understand. And for those curious, the current all time leader is Henry Aaron at 6856. The current active leader is Albert Pujols at 5455 (good for 10th all time). And Charlie Blackmon of Colorado is this year’s current leader at 376.

 

A Strange Job

September 26, 2017

untitled

Well, I’m not going to win my fantasy league this season. I’m not yet exactly out, but am so close to being dead meat that I have to admit that this isn’t my season. And to top it off I’m not bad enough to draft in the top couple of picks for the next season.

For those of you following along, I’m in a fantasy league that is currently playing the 1913 season. We’ve about 20 games left (I think my team actually has 15) and I’m too far back to do anything about winning. Without reference to how good my players are/were and how good/indifferent a manager/gm I am, I’ve discovered how thankless a job it can be running a team that is simply playing out the string.

In our case there are a couple of things you can do when you know your team is out (other than tanking to get the first pick in 1914, which appears to be some guy named Ruth). In order to keep a player for the next season you have to use him at least 50% of his historical usage (meaning a guy who historically got 100 at bats has to have at least 50 or a pitcher with 100 innings has to pitch at least 50). In order to use him for trade bait, he also has to have 50% usage, so I’m spending a lot of time at the end of the season trying to make sure almost everyone gets to 50% so I can either keep them or offer them for trades. Other than that, the only thing left is to see if a couple of my guys can win a strikeout title or an RBI title or some such thing.

All of this got me thinking about what a strange job it must be to general manage a team that is out of contention. What exactly do you do? There are only so many guys you can call up to the majors from your farm system. And if those guys were that good they’d be at the big time level already (or you’d have to admit to being a lousy GM). You can trade, but if you’re not very good, how much is there to trade that anyone wants? Give up your one good player for prospects means you’re going to be in the same situation for the next several years. Don’t do it and you get to spin your wheels in fourth place (which is the place I’m currently in) again the next season. Draft well? Sure, why not. But how long will it take to get the guy to the top-level?

You can always work on contracts both for players and coaches as well as for scouts and front office people, but we don’t do that in my fantasy league. Maybe you start putting out discrete feelers for another job, after all if you’re in fourth place, your job may be in jeopardy. But if you’re only in fourth, does anyone want you for their GM?

All in all, it must be a very strange job to have. I think I’ll stick to being a fantasy level GM. At least I can always go back to my day job–being a gentleman blogger.

The World Series Encyclopedia: a Review

September 19, 2017

My oldest baseball book

Way back in 1961 Gillette advertised a little booklet call The World Series Encyclopedia. If you wanted one, you had to buy a new razor and one of the little booklets came with it. As it turned out, my grandfather needed a new razor and bought a Gillette. We got the book, and I still have it.

This is a paperback book about the size of the old paperback novels you used to be able to get where there were two novels in one. You read one, then turned the book over and could read the other which began on the back. So you got two books in one. The baseball book had a series of short comments about each playoff with an occasional accompanying cartoon drawing. If you look at the cover above, you can see three representative examples of the cartoons. It was pretty basic information, not great details, but if you were a kid, it was more than you probably knew and it was short and easy to read.

Every so many years, there was a break and line scores of each World Series game were given. Then at the end there were basic stats on each player who’d ever been in a World Series game. For hitters you got at bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBIs, and a batting average. For pitchers you got innings pitched, hits, walks, strikeouts, and decisions. Then there were some records showing who had the most home runs (Babe Ruth) and the most wins (Red Ruffing). And finally, there was a “preseason training camp” roster for each team for 1961 (which is wonderful to have).

I’ve enjoyed having it for over 50 years and hope to pass it along to my son. It’s way out of date, but it is so much fun to look over and see what was considered important in 1961. Copies are available on-line if you’re interested. For those of you old enough to have gotten it when it was new it was great, and you could get a good shave too.

 

A Bakers Dozen Things You Should Know About Les Nunamaker

September 14, 2017

Les Nunamaker

In keeping with my policy of informing you about players on my fantasy team, here’s some information on Les Nunamaker:

1. Leslie Grant Nunamaker was born in 1889 in Nebraska.

2. By 1909 he’d hooked on with a couple of B and A level teams in the Old Northwest as a catcher. Chicago picked him up but by 1910 he’d moved to the 3I League with Bloomington. There he caught the attention of the Cleveland Naps who drafted him away from both the minors and the Cubs.

3. The Naps (now the Indians) sold him to Boston before he ever played a game in Cleveland.

4. In 1911 he debuted with the Red Sox. He remained with Boston through 1913 serving as both a starting and a backup catcher. Although he helped the team to the 1912 American League pennant, he did not play in the World Series, which Boston won (he’d broken his finger earlier in the season).

5. In 1914 he was sold to the New York Yankees where he remained through 1917.

6. On 3 August 1914 while catching for New York, he managed to throw out three men in one inning while they were trying to steal a base. It’s still a record for the most caught stealing by a catcher in a single inning (obviously it can only be tied, never surpassed).

7. In 1918 he was traded to the St. Louis Browns, where he played one year. Included in the trade were Urban Shocker, who went to the Browns, and Eddie Plank who left St. Louis.

8. Following the season, Nunamaker enlisted in the naval aviation service, but World War I ended while he was still in training.

9. In 1919 he ended up being traded to Cleveland, the team that initially drafted him, for Josh Billings. While with Cleveland he got into his only World Series, a 1920 victory. He played in two games, got one hit (a single) in two at bats, and neither scored nor picked up an RBI.

10. He remained with Cleveland through 1922, when he was released.

11. For his career his triple slash line reads .268/.332/.339.,670 (OPS+ of 95) with two home runs (both in 1914, the year he set the caught stealing record), 194 runs scored, 216 RBIs, and 64 total bases. His WAR is 11.4.

12. Out of the majors, he managed at a variety of minor league venues then retired to run a meat market in Nebraska and serve as the Director of the Nebraska Sports Association.

13. Les Nunamaker died in Nebraska in 1938.

Nunamaker’s grave from Find a Grave

Fran the Fan

September 11, 2017

Three Rivers–home of Fran’s team

Fran the Fan was the antithesis of Baseball Barb (see just below). She was quiet, brunette, slim, short, almost never raised her voice, and would never, ever, never, ever throw a glass of beer at the bar. Among other things she’d remind you it was a waste of both beer and money. One of the running gags was that Fran would end up a banker and Barb a cocktail waitress.

She was, like Barb, married to one of the guys. In their case Mike, her husband, was the loud one and the one you always knew what he thought about anything. They were regulars at Barb’s Booth and the idea the table was named for Barb rather than Fran explains as much about the difference between them as anything I can write.

She was a stats geek (we didn’t call them that back then) who could tell you what newcomer Johnny Bench hit in July as well as what Bob Gibson had done during the 1964 World Series. She kept it all in her head and didn’t consult a book or anything. We later found out from Mike that she kept notes at home and would look them over before heading off to the NCO Club to join us for the game of the week. Still, remembering the things she did was impressive enough without the Cliff Notes.

In case of a running debate on anything baseball, Fran was the go-to person for the answer. Want to know Carl Hubbell’s ERA in 1936? Fran would have known. I don’t remember that actually ever coming up, but if it had I would have put money on her knowing.

As fate would have it, Fran was a Pirates fan. In 1970, the Pirates won the National League East title and squared off in the playoffs against Cincinnati. They showed the games on the same tape delay system they showed the American League games and Fran hung on every pitch. She died a little when the Reds won game one, even more when they won game two. Which brings this to game three.

Pittsburgh got a run in the first and Fran grabbed her beer and swallowed about half of it. Now we all loved Fran, but we also knew she wasn’t’ real good at holding her liquor. Of course when the Reds took the lead in the bottom of the first more beer went down Fran’s throat (BTW I had to look up the game to get the specifics on score and order of scores–I didn’t remember after all these years).

That got Mike’s attention and the conversation went something like this:

“You’re not going to down half a glass every time someone scores, are you?”

“If I feel like it.”

OK, that was something we worried about. We’d seen Fran with too many beers (this is the stronger German beer that we were served in the Club, not the US version) and it got stupid quick. So Mike informed us no one was to buy more for Fran. That went over well with his wife. We weren’t quite sure what to do. Most of us were more afraid of Fran than of Mike.

So Fran got up, went to the bar, and ordered three more, all for herself. By the time she was finished with all three the Pirates had tied up the game 2-2. That was good enough for her, so she swore “That’s plenty,” and stopped drinking. The fact that she’d downed all three already may have had more to do with her comment than the score.

Of course it couldn’t last. Cincy got a final run in the bottom of the eighth to go ahead 3-2 and Fran started to get up and head to the bar.

“I thought you’d had enough.” This from her husband (the rest of us had enough sense to keep quiet).

She sat down and suffered through the ninth. Two outs, two singles, and Pittsburgh had runners on first and third. A grounder to second finished them off and sent the Reds to the World Series (I had to look all that up). Fran was horrified and grieving already. As you know, baseball grief is its own special kind of sadness and Fran was crying. Fortunately everyone had the sense not to offer her a drink.

All of this made she and Barb buddies. They’d been at the same table for the entire season, but weren’t particularly close. Barb thought Fran “a mouse” and Fran was certain Barb was “a loudmouthed jerk.” But now they had a common enemy, the Cincinnati Reds. The Series was fun to watch with Barb screaming and Fran quietly putting curse after curse on the Reds. By the time it was over and Baltimore had won, they were fast buddies who settled down for the relative quiet of watching football.

All of which is meant to prove that not only do opposites attract, but that baseball can make friends of people who have almost nothing in common. Ain’t it a great game?