Archive for October, 2011

Random Thoughts on the 2011 World Series

October 29, 2011

The new Champs

Have refrained from posting here until he Series was over. Wanted to watch it, digest it, think about it, and not research other things at the same time. So here, in no particular order, are some thoughts on the just completed World Series.

1. Congratulations to the Cardinals. My grandfather would be pleased, as would my wife’s grandfather. Both were diehard Cardinals fans.

2. For an exciting Series, it certainly was sloppy. There were way too many errors, a handful of base running blunders, a missed cutoff, and even a couple of pick-offs. Not the best played World Series ever.

3. Did you notice the inordinate number of fielding plays made by pitchers? There were a bunch of those in 2006 which Detroit pitchers didn’t handle well. At least this year most were cleanly fielded. Wonder what it is about the Cards that brings out a lot of fielding plays by the pitcher?

4. It was good to see Lance Berkman win a ring. Always liked him (although he was never exactly a favorite), but, like everyone else, figured he was through. Nice to see him play for a winner and to also do well in the World Series.

5. Who the heck are Alan Craig and David Freese? Tell me you expected either to be a hero before the playoffs began. Many years some obscure play rises to prominence in the Series. This year was one of those.

6. Sorry about the Rangers. Good team, good ownership and leadership (love Nolan Ryan) but no pitching.

7. Speaking of pitching isn’t it amazing just how much better Chris Carpenter is than all the other members of both staffs?

8. If you’ve been around here much, you know I’ve always wondered about the role of managers in a game. This Series strikes me as having been played pretty well (except see above) despite the best efforts of both managers to utterly hash it.

9. Tell me you predicted the following scores: 3-2, 2-1, 4-0, 4-2. Bet you didn’t. This was supposed to be the second coming of “Murderer’s Row” from both teams and we ended up with a surprisingly low scoring Series. Only game three (16-7) and game six (10-9) were really high scoring affairs, and game six went eleven innings. It’s really kinda strange considering the lack of quality pitching on both teams.

10. If I’m happy for Berkman, I’m sorry for Michael Young.

11. And now we get to see what happens with Albert Pujols.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Kid Nichols

October 19, 2011

Kid Nichols

1. He was born Charles Augustus Nichols in Madison, Wisconsin in 1869.

2. After a few years in the minors, he hit the Major Leagues with Boston in 1890 at age 21. His youth earned him his nickname, his 27 wins earned him a permanent spot on the team.

3. In 1893, baseball went to the modern pitching distance and added the mound. He went from 35 wins to 34, his ERA jumped a  full run, his strikeouts went down, and he led the National League in WHIP for the first time. Obviously he, adjusted reasonably well (as did Cy Young).

4. Between 1891 and 1898 inclusive he averaged 31 wins a season, falling below 30 only once with 26 in 1895.

5. He remained with Boston through 1901. During his 12 years with the Beaneaters the team won five pennants, came in second once, and third another time.

6. In the 1892 split season, Boston won the first half with a .702 winning percentage, then beat Cleveland (and Cy Young) in the postseason playoff five games to none, Nichols getting two wins). In what passed for postseason play in the 1890s (split season and Temple Cup), Nichols was involved in the split season and the 1897 Temple Cup. He won one game in 1897.

7. The advent of the American League decimated the Boston team. Nichols stayed around for 1901, then spent 1902 and 1903 in the minors, pitching well and coaching a little.

8. In 1904 the Cardinals brought him back to the Majors. He went 21-13 with an ERA of 2.02 (ERA+ of 134).

9. He began 1905 with St. Louis, was traded to Philadelphia during the season, and finished his career with the Phillies in 1906.

10. His career record is in some dispute. His win total varies from 369 to 360 depending on the source. Baseball Reference settled on 361, but the Hall of Fame chose 360,  either of which is seventh ever.

11. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949 by the Veteran’s Committee. He never got more than 2.6 % of the vote by the writers (which should be proof that the writers aren’t as knowledgable about baseball as they claim).

12. He died in Kansas City, Missouri on 11 April 1953 and is buried there.

Bring on the Bullpen

October 17, 2011

Larry sherry

One of the things that I keep hearing the postseason announcers say is how important the bullpen is to teams, especially Texas and St. Louis. Well, there’s no arguing with them about the importance of the bullpen, but that’s been true for a long time. All the way back in 1959 there was a pretty obscure World Series played between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. That Series was important for a lot of reasons. The Sox were in their first World Series since the Black Sox Scandal. The Dodgers were the first champions from the West Coast. But it was also a landmark in bullpen use.

A brief rundown of the Series is important here. The ChiSox won the first game behind Early Wynn, that year’s Cy Young Award winner (there was only one Cy Young Award that season), then the Dodgers won three in a row. The Sox came back in game five to win a 1-0 thriller that introduced the nation at large to a  struggling lefty named Sandy Koufax (who would later win three of those one-a-year Cy Young Awards). Then the Dodgers put away the Sox in game six to claim their second ever World Series victory and the first for any West Coast team.

Those barebones are true, but they don’t mention the bullpens. Both were important to the teams, especially Los Angeles. The 1959 World Series saw a record for bullpen use. For the first time ever no starting pitcher (on either team) pitched a complete game. Not one. In every game both teams made use of their bullpens to hold leads, keep the score from getting worse, shutting down the opponents, just all those things that bullpens are supposed to do.

The Chisox used Gerry Staley as their main man out of the ‘pen. He pitched four games in the Series picking up a win and a save. Dick Donovan also picked up a save, coupling it with a loss. But the big bullpen star was Dodgers right-hander Larry Sherry. Without him, the Dodgers simply don’t win. He appeared in five games (all but game one), getting a three inning save in game 2, and a two inning save in game 3. In game four he pitched the last two innings to pick up the win, and in the final game he entered the game with one out in the fourth and finished the game for the win.  And to top all that off, he pinch hit in game five, grounding out third to first. Needless to say (but of course I am going to) he was chosen the World Series MVP, the first reliever to gain the honor. In fairness to others, the award was only established in 1955.

So good bullpen use isn’t new. It goes back a long, long way. But its finest hour might simply have been 1959.

Four Outs

October 13, 2011

He got more than four outs

Now I’m normally not one to spout on and on about players being better when I was younger. Some of them were, some of them weren’t. But last night during the Cardinals-Brewers game I had to sit there in the eighth and ninth innings and listen over and over and over and over and over and …well, you get the idea, to a color guy tell me how hard it was going to be for Jason Motte, the Cardinals closer, to get four outs to end a playoff game. I’ll acknowledge that getting any out in a playoff game is hard enough (so is doing it in a regular season game) and that getting the 27th out is especially tricky, but four outs? Let me note something here. Way back when I was younger bullpen men got four outs with regularity. Let me just use four guys, which is a small sample but will have to do.

In 1959 Larry Sherry became the first reliever to be chosen World Series MVP (they only started the award in 1955). He got two wins and two saves (all four of the Dodgers wins). In four games he pitched 12.2 inning, or a little over 3 innings a pop, or a little over nine outs. In 1960 Roy Face was in four games, pitching 10.1 innings, or almost eight outs a turn. A caveat here is that this is the only World Series appearance for either man and might not hold had there been other appearances.

That isn’t true for Rollie Fingers. He makes playoffs in 1972 through 1975 and makes the World Series in the middle three years (winning all three). So how’s he do? Glad you asked. In the ALCS he pitched in 11 total games going 19.2 inning, or about 5.3 outs a game. His number varies a lot from 12 outs a game in 1975 (he pitched in one game) to a low of just over three out a game in 1972 (2 games and 2.1 innings pitched). In the World Series he pitched in 16 total games over 33.1 innings. That means he got a little more than six out per appearance. Fingers made one other playoff appearance, in 1981 with the Brewers (they lost in the ALCS). This time he threw 4.2 innings over 3 games or about four and a half outs per game.

Gosse Gossage? Again, glad you asked. In five pre-World Series playoffs he pitched 17.2 innings over 11 games, or just under five outs a games (including one series where he pitched only a third of an inning). In three World Series’ he pitched 13.2 innings over 8 games, or just over 5 outs a game.

So, TBS announcers, it can be done. Quality relievers can get four outs a game in the playoffs. I realize that they’ve changed the way relievers work, having gone from the “fireman” to the “closer”, but that’s a change in philosophy, not in capability. If your closer is that good, he’s just got to be able to get four outs. Maybe Motte isn’t that good, but I got the impression that the announcers were saying it about “closers” in general and not being specific to Motte. If a manager is concerned his “closer” can’t get four outs, maybe he should think about going back to the “fireman.”

2011 NL MVP

October 10, 2011

Having gone out on a limb for the AL MVP, let me do the same for the NL. I’m going to propose someone who I know isn’t going to win, but I think he may truly be the “most valuable” for his team. I know Ryan Braun, or Prince Fielder, or Matt Kemp is going to win, but let me put in a good word for Lance Berkman.

No player meant more to his NL team this season than Berkman meant to his Cardinals. And you have to admit that the Cardinals couldn’t have expected what they got from Berkman. When Albert Pujols went down, when he didn’t play well, Berkman picked up the team. When Matt Holliday was injured, Berkman stepped into the role. With Adam Wainwright out and pitching weak for the Cardinals, Berkman gave the team an unexpected third hitter in the middle of their lineup. Try thinking of the Cardinals in the playoffs without Berkman. Ain’t gonna happen.

Again, I know he isn’t going to win, but I think there’s a solid case to be made for him.

2011 AL MVP

October 5, 2011

If you haven’t already done so, take a second and head over to the On Deck Circle blog (listed at right). Bill Miller has a fine, well reasoned article looking at the 2011 candidates for the MVP in the American League. He concludes it should be Miguel Cabrera.

Now here’s the thing. I agree with him on who should win. But I have this feeling that Cabrera won’t win. I look for him to come in third or lower. I think, in this post-steroids (I hope) era, Cabrera’s off field problems will weigh against him.  I also don’t think the writers will simply overlook Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. He plays for the most famous and important team in the AL and this season he was their best player. I think that will get him votes and I look for him to come in second. But I believe the winner will be Justin Verlander of Detroit. The last time a pitcher won the AL MVP was Dennis Eckersley in 1992. The last starter to win it was way back in 1986 when Roger Clemens won, and before that go back to 1971 when Vida Blue won. And the National League is even worse with Bob Gibson being the last winner in 1968. There have been worthy candidates in other years (Steve Carlton in 1972 comes to mind–he finished fifth), but the general comment has been “but they’ve got a Cy Young Award for pitchers”, as if a pitcher cannot be “most valuable” to his team. I think this year Verlander’s season has been so outstanding the writers will take the opportunity to rectify this.

With any kind of luck I’ll be wrong, but I won’t hold my breath.

Where’s a DH When You Need One?

October 3, 2011

Levi Meyerle

Throughout its history, baseball has been full of really good players who had bad gloves, or in the case of earliest baseball, bad hands. These guys still get jobs because they can hit anything thrown at them. One of the earliest of these was Levi Meyerle.

Meyerle was born in 1849 in Philadelphia and rose to prominence as an amateur in late 1860s Philadelphia baseball. He was considered a fine batter, but was something of a liability in the field (which is a gross understatement). He played for the local Athletics team in 1869 as a professional and moved to Chicago for the 1870 season.

In 1871 the National Association of Profession Base Ball Players was formed and Meyerle went back to Philly to star for his hometown team. Taking over as the primary third baseman, Meyerle led the team to the Association title in 1871. The title was disputed because of some ties and a team being thrown out of the league, but the league owners declared the Athletics the winner. There was no disputing Meyerle’s greatness with a bat. He hit .492 with an OPB of .500, a slugging average of .700, and an OPS of 1.200 (OPS+ of 237). He led the Association in all those categories plus in home runs, total bases, and was second in hits, and third in RBIs. Now all of this was in a  full season that lasted 26 games. He also played a horrendous third base. His fielding percentage at third was .646 (I didn’t think it was possible to have that low a percentage) with a ranger factor of 3.15 (which ain’t good for a third baseman).

All this got him another job in 1872. With that bat Philly hung on to him in both 1872 and 1873 but stuck him in the outfield for ’72. He was terrible and went back to third for ’73, where his fielding percentage jumped all the way to .746. But with his bat, it didn’t matter. He hit .329 in 1872, .349 in 1873, and continued to be one of the half-dozen or so best hitters in the Association. In 1874 he went to Chicago where the change of team rejuvenated him. He hit an Association leading .394, had an OBP of .401, a slugging percentage of .488, an OPS of .889, and an OPS+ of 181. All except the slugging percentage led the Association. The slugging percentage was third and he was second in home runs.  He split time between second and third showing a fielding percentage of .833 at second and .671 at third (apparently someone still thought he could play third). This time he played 53 games. Back with Philly in 1875 he had another good year before the Association folded.

The Athletics joined the new National League in 1876, staying most of one year before being tossed out. Meyerle hit .340 in 55 games, had an OPS+ of 159, and still couldn’t field the ball, but he was getting better at third. His fielding percentage went up to .791. With Philly out of the league in 1877, he played for Cincinnati, hit .327, slugged .430 and moved to second and shortstop where he finally got his fielding percentage over .800.

In 1878 he played for Springfield, Massachusetts and for the Washington Nationals (not the current team) in 1879. In 1880 he was with Rochester in a newly minted National Association. Although his numbers are incomplete, it’s evident that Meyerle was fading by the 1880 stint in Rochester. All three were “minor” league teams at the time and Meyerle’s presence in them points up a difference between 1870s baseball and the modern game. The National League had not yet established itself as the premier league in the sport so great players were spending significant amounts of time in what you and I would consider lower levels of the game (see the earlier article on Cal McVey, who went to California). At the time, that simply wasn’t the way it was seen. They were playing the game at a high level and some teams of the era were as good as some of the National League teams (certainly as good as some of the weaker NL teams). So it’s not like Meyerle is being sent “down” to the minors as we think of it today, but rather that he is still playing top-notch baseball.

He got back to a Major League (sort of) in 1884 when he played three games with the Union Association’s Keystones (of Philadelphia). He was 35, went 1 for 11 (a double), and retired. He lived until 1921 when he died in Philadelphia. He’s buried there.

For an eight year career Meyerle hit .356 with an OBP of .360, a slugging percentage of .479, and an OPS of .839 (and OPS+ of 162). His raw numbers show 513 hits, 86 of them doubles, 31 triples, and 10 home runs, for 691 total bases. He scores 306 runs and knocks in 278. Altogether he plays in 307 games in both the Association and NL.

As usual for a player in Meyerle’s era his percentages look much better than his raw totals. Much of that has to do with the shortness of the season. Part of it is also the relative significance of the “minor” leagues of the era. The International League and the Pacific Coast League are considered in the era (but not today) as equally important leagues with the NL and players moving there were advancing their careers, not fading away as would be the case today. Again, I have to emphasize the rules differences also matter.

But if there was ever a player destined to serve as a designated hitter, it’s Meyerle. In an era when fielding numbers were awful anyway, his are downright hideous. Wonder if anyone thought about a DH way back then? If they did, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t Meyerle’s manager. But as a hitter he’s first-rate for his era.