Archive for September, 2017

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.

 

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A Strange Job

September 26, 2017

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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?

Baseball Barb

September 6, 2017

Not our kind of glass, but you get the idea

Back in 1970 I was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany. It wasn’t a bad assignment. I worked a strange shift that sometimes had me working midnight to seven in the morning and other times working from four in the afternoon to midnight. Because of the time change I was able to keep up with the pennant races through the radio (Armed Forces Network–AFN) during work hours. It was the year Baltimore won the World Series.

The local hangout was the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officers) Club which let in lowly peons too because there was no place for lowly peons to hang out (no “Enlisted Club”). They had a television in the bar area (and you thought Sports Bars were new did you?) that showed AFTV (Armed Force Television). Of course if there was a game on the TV, it was on in the club and of course it was tape delayed. That meant that those of us with strange shifts generally knew the score ahead of watching the game, but it was still worth it to watch it.

We called her “Baseball Barb.” She was the wife of one of the guys and was a great baseball fan. There were two women in our group who were great baseball people (the other we called “Fran the Fan”). Barb particularly liked the Orioles and this was their year. Barb (and it was never “Barbara” or “Babs”, always “Barb”) was big and blonde and brassy and loud and everybody loved her. Her husband, Bob (Yep, it was Bob and Barb–I couldn’t make that up), worked in the same section with me so I knew both of them well and when we were at the Club we would generally sit together and watch the game. There was this one big table that sat six and was known locally as “Barb’s Booth” (it wasn’t actually a booth) because that’s where she sat to watch the game. It was right down front directly in front of the TV with the best viewing in the place. The bar was about 10 steps in front of it and the TV was on the wall just behind the bar. So you could watch the game, get up, get a refill of your favorite German brew, sit back down, and never miss a pitch. That made it perfect for Barb.

The Orioles made the playoffs in 1970. It was only the second year of the playoffs (1969 started the idea of a round of playoffs prior to the World Series) and Baltimore made it both seasons. They drew the Twins in a best-of-five set to determine who got to meet the earliest version of “The Big Red Machine” from Cincinnati. Barb was in her element. Bob told us she’d refused to listen to the radio so she could enjoy the games “live” without knowing the outcome. The Orioles then won the first game and joy reigned in Germany.

All of which brings me to game two (I had to look up the game specifics). We all settled down at Barb’s Booth for the game. I knew Baltimore was going to win, but of course Barb didn’t. We ordered drinks and as usual they came in these tall thin glasses that were designed to look like the glasses a German Gasthaus would use when they didn’t use either a Stein or a pitcher. By the bottom of the fourth, Baltimore was up 4-0 and Barb was relaxing with her second beer and enjoying the contest.

In the bottom of the fourth Leo Cardenas walked and Harmon Killebrew did what he did better than almost anyone else; he parked one to make the score 4-2. Barb was up and yelling at the TV (What she was yelling, I’m not allowed to write on a family friendly blog). Then it happened. Tony Oliva followed with another homer to make the score 4-3. It was all too much for Baseball Barb. Her hand came up, her glass went flying, beer and all, and a string of words that I can’t repeat continued.

Of course the glass slammed into the bar, shattered, and beer flew in several directions. No one got hit with any glass, but a couple of guys got a little wet. It did bring the club to silence, which was unusual. She mumbled some sort of apology to the bartender and ducked her head as he cleaned up the mess. We got through the rest of the game without incident (and with a much quieter Barb) and Baltimore won.

A couple of days later there was game 3. Baltimore won it 6-1, but again Barb didn’t know that ahead of our journey to the club. We settled in at Barb’s Booth and Bob and I went to the bar to get drinks. The bartender (same guy as a few days earlier) handed me three glasses and gave Bob a glass and a Styrofoam cup full of beer. No one said a thing. Bob looked at me, looked at the bartender, looked at the cup, looked back at the bartender.

“You hand it to her,” he told the barkeep.

“No chance,” came the reply.

Bob looked over at me. I turned without a word and took my three glasses back to the table, leaving Bob alone with the drinks. Ultimately he came over, placed the cup in front of his wife, and sat down. Barb took it well. She even lifted the cup in salute to the bartender.

There was a refill or two during the game and the Orioles coasted to a 6-1 win. With victory in hand, Barb drained the last of her beer, looked straight at the bartender, and flipped the cup at the bar. It made it about half way. For the rest of the season, which meant the World Series, she kept getting Styrofoam cups and kept flipping them at the bar. We started calling them “Barb’s Bottles”. She missed the bartender every time.

 

Stability

September 4, 2017

Johnny Bench, Reds

Over at one of my favorite blogs, The Hall of Miller and Eric, they are running a “Mount Rushmore” of each team. As you might expect that means they are picking four players to represent the best of each franchise. But there is a kicker there. The player must have played his entire career with the same team. That means no Warren Spahn at the Braves, no Duke Snider with the Dodgers, no Yogi Berra with the Yanks (he had nine at bats with the Mets).

Now all that, especially the loss of Snider and Dazzy Vance with the Dodgers, got me to looking for players who spent their entire career with one team. Now it had to be significant time with the team, after all Moonlight Graham spent his entire Major League career with one team. I figured it would be loaded with old-time players, players who were faced with the reserve clause. Surprisingly, there were a lot of modern guys on the list. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of just a few of the players who never changed teams.

First base: Lou Gehrig, Jeff Bagwell, Willie Stargell

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer, Jackie Robinson (he was traded but never played for a second team, opting to retire instead), Craig Biggio

Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Luke Appling, PeeWee Reese, Phil Rizzuto

Third Base: Brooks Robinson, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Mike Schmidt

Outfield: Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

Catcher: Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella

Left-Handed Pitchers: Whitey Ford, Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax

Right-Handed Pitchers: Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Mariano Rivera

Not a bad lot, right?

One quick note. Honus Wagner came up with the Louisville Colonels and ended up with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not quite the same as being traded or leaving via free agency. Barney Dreyfuss owned both teams and when the National League contracted he moved all his good players to Pittsburgh and let Louisville go. I’m not sure how to deal with that, so I left him off. You might differ.