Posts Tagged ‘Bret Saberhagen’

Shutting Out in Game 7

October 9, 2013
Babe Adams about 1909

Babe Adams about 1909

There is nothing in baseball quite like game 7 of the World Series. It is the ultimate moment for two teams, one of which is going to be overjoyed while the other goes into deep mourning. Over the history of the World Series, there have been 36 times that the Series went to a game 7. This does not count the handful of best of nine Series’. That’s about a third of the time, which is  a number that somewhat shocked me. I presumed there were more. I wanted, in conjunction with the playoffs, to look at the game 7 phenomena. When I began  doing so, I noticed something interesting (at least to me). If about a third of all World Series’ climax with a game 7, a quarter of those game 7’s have been shutouts. Here’s a quick look at the game 7 shutouts in World Series history.

1909–Babe Adams, a really obscure deadball pitcher for the Honus Wagner led Pittsburgh Pirates threw the first game 7 shutout in the very first game 7 (not counting the game 7 that was part of the 1903 best-of-nine Series). He defeated Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers 8-0. He gave up six hits (none to Cobb), walked one and struck out one.

1934–The next game 7 shutout occurred in 1934. The St. Louis Cardinals “Gas House Gang” led by starting pitcher Dizzy Dean corralled the Detroit Tigers 11-0.  Dean gave up six hits (like Adams), struck out five and didn’t walk any. This is the game made famous for Tigers fans throwing fruit at Joe Medwick.

1955–We next have to skip all the way to the first Brooklyn Dodgers World Series champion to find the next game 7 shutout. Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees 2-0, on eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and a famous catch by Sandy Amoros.

1956–The Yankees returned the favor the next season when journeyman Johnny Kucks gave up three hits and three walks while striking out one on the way to an 11-0 beating of the Dodgers.

1957–For a decade known mostly for its hitters, the 1950s produced three consecutive game 7 shutouts. This time Braves right-hander Lew Burdette shut out the Yankees 5-0. He gave up seven hits, walked one, and struck out three.

1962– After a five-year break, the baseball god’s decided it was time again for another game 7 shutout. This time the Yankees defeated the Giants 1-0 in a game most famous for Bobby Richardson’s grab of Willie McCovey’s liner to end the game. Ralph Terry picked up the win by striking out four while giving up four hits and not walking a man.

1965–This game became the standard for judging Sandy Koufax. On two day’s rest he tossed a three hit shutout, walking three and striking out 10. The Dodgers scored two runs.

1985–Bret Saberhagen shut down St. Louis on five hits and two strikeouts without a walk, as Kansas City won 11-0 in the aftermath of the Don Denkinger blown call game.

1991–Jack Morris pitched the only game 7 shutout that went into extra innings. The Twins knocked off the Braves 1-0 with Morris giving up seven hits, walking two, and striking out eight. As a great little bit of trivia, Lonnie Smith participated in both the 1985 and 1991 games (obviously a number of Yankees and Dodgers participated in the 1955, 56, and 57 showdowns). Smith won one (1985) and lost one (1991).

That’s the list. A couple of quick observations are in order. Only the Dodgers and Yankees win two of these, 1955 and ’65 for the Dodgers and 1956 and 1962 for the Yanks. The Dodgers win the only two pitched by left-handed pitchers (Podres and Koufax). The three biggest game 7 blowouts (’34, ’56, and ’85) all ended up as 11-0 shutouts (wonder what are the odds on that). Finally, only Koufax and Dean are Hall of Fame pitchers (Morris has a year left on the ballot, plus the Vet’s Committee, so maybe there will be three). Some pretty obscure pitchers (Adams and Kucks) have also won a game 7 shutout. Want to take bets on whether there will be one this season or not?

Evaluating the Giants

November 5, 2010

I guess it’s time I add my congratulations to the Giants on their World Series victory. I have to admit I didn’t see it coming, having picked both Philadelphia and St. Louis to be the NL teams in the LCS. But with that congratulations comes a caveat from someone who studies baseball history. This isn’t the best Giants team to win a pennant. That goes, in my opinion, to the 1962 version.

Check out the starting lineup of game seven of the 1962 World Series. Felipe Alou leads off, Willie Mays bats third, Willie McCovey hits clean up, and Orlando Cepeda is in the five hole. Jack Sanford is on the mound and would have won the Cy Young Award that year if not for a fellow named Drysdale. Juan Marichal had pitched earlier and even Gaylord Perry had played a little in the season (but wasn’t a major factor in the team winning). The team got through a bruising 1962 three game playoff with Los Angeles to get to the Series, then battled the Yankees down to the last out. McCovey’s smash that Bobby Richardson caught ended game seven with crucial runs on base. To me it’s the best Giants pennant winner ever, although others may prefer the Hubbell-Ott teams of the 1930s, or the John McGraw teams of the 1920s and the 1900s.

What this team reminds of most is a combination of the  hitting of the 2002 Angels and the pitching of the 1985 Royals. The ’02 Angels (who just happened to beat the Giants in the Series) were led by the likes of Garrett Anderson, Tim Salmon, David Eckstein, and Troy Glaus. Nice players all, but not great stars. To be honest, I look over the roster and I can’t find a Hall of Famer in the lot. That’s unusual because almost every team that wins a World Series has at least one Hall of Famer around  somewhere. But they’re still a lot of really nice players who did well. Unlike the ’85 Royals, there was no George Brett around.  Take a look at the current World Series winning Giants roster, which also has no George Brett. Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe are all nice players and make teams better by their presence. But there’s not a truly great player there. Much like the Angels the sum of the parts is much superior to the bits themselves.

But pitching-wise, the 2010 Giants remind me very much of the 1985 Royals. Lincecum, Cain, Wilson have their counterparts in Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, and Dan Quisenberry. Both teams feature quality pitching that goes deep down the staff.  They both have two-time Cy Young winners (Lincecum and Saberhagen) and first-rate relievers (Wilson and Quisenberry). The second and third spot pitchers are better than average for both teams.

Unfortunately for Kansas City, the staff didn’t hold up. Arms went, other parts of the anatomy failed, wildness took over, and in Quisenberry’s case disease took him early. That’s a precautionary tale for anyone ready to assign long-term greatness to the Giants. Maybe the arms will hold up, but maybe they won’t. Whichever the case, congrats to the 2010 version.

An Anniversary in Kansas City

October 27, 2010

Dick Howser

With the start of the World Series, it seems appropriate to look back at previous champions so that the current crop of players can see the shoulders they stand upon. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the only World Series win by the Kansas City Royals. Over the last several years the Royals have become irrelevant in the American League, so many people have forgotten that they were once a powerhouse winning it all in 1985.

The Series is now primarily famous for Don Denkinger’s blown call in the ninth inning of game six. I’ve even heard people complain that call cost St. Louis the Series. It didn’t. Being unable to get their act together after the disappointment of game six did. The Cards lost game seven 11-0 (tied with a Cardinals victory in 1934 as the biggest blowout game seven ever) and Denkinger didn’t cause that. It also helped that the Royals were a good team. Ewing Kaufmann had away of finding good players who rose to the occasion when needed. They won only the single World Series on his watch, but they were competitive year after year. Dick Howser was an excellent manager who got the most out of his players and had a knack of nurturing new team members. It’s a great shame he died so very early. In fact, the early deaths of Howser and Dan Quisenberry give this team something of a tragic air.

The team itself had a young pitching staff. The four men who started the World Series games were 21 (Bret Saberhagen), 23 (Danny Jackson), and 28 year olds Charlie Leibrandt and Bud Black was the geezers (22-year-old Mark Gubicza didn’t pitch in the Series). Closer Dan Quisenberry saved 37 games that season, the last of four consecutive seasons he would lead the AL. Saberhagen picked up the Cy Young Award that season (and another in 1989). None of them went on to greatness, even Saberhagen, the best of the starters. He ended his career 167-117. Jackson had a few good years getting into World Series play in 1990 (with a winning Cincinnati) and 1993 (with a losing Philadelphia), and ending with a 112-131 record.  Leibrandt got into the 1991 World Series, lost two games, and is primarily famous today for giving up Kirby Puckett’s walk off in game six. His career record was 140-112. Black now manages at San Diego and went 121-116. Gubicza stayed with KC the longest (to 1996) but finished his career 132-136. Quiz died young but gave KC 244 saves (and for my money rates a serious look for Coopertown). For one year, they all pitched well and led a team to victory.

The infield was solid, if uneven. Steve Balboni hit .243 and led the team with 36 home runs. He also led the league in strikeouts with 166. Shortstop Onix Concepcion hit .204 and was replaced in the Series by Buddy Biancalana who had hit all of a buck-88. While neither tore up the diamond with a bat, both were decent fielders. The other two infielders were two-thirds of the heart of the team. Frank White was a great second baseman. He turned the double play with grace, could catch anything and played wider of the base than anyone else in the AL. He hit .249 with 22 home runs. Hall of Famer George Brett was at third. He led the league in slugging at .585, hit .335, had 30 home runs, 38 doubles, and 112 RBIs. Just your standard George Brett type year.

If White and Brett were two-thirds of the heart of the team, center fielder Willie Wilson was the other third. Leading off he hit .278. stole 43 bases, and led the AL with 21 triples. As an outfielder he was terrific, using his speed to roam all over the grass. Which was just as good because Lonnie Smith played left field. Smith could hit, but he was a terrible fielder. For 1985 he hit .257, stole 40 bases, and had 23 doubles. Today he’s probably most famous for the base running blunder in game seven of the 1991 Series, but for a while he was a winner (appearing on World Series winning rosters in 1980, 1982, and 1985). The Royals platooned Darryl Motley and Pat Sheridan in right field. Motley was the right-handed hitter. Both hit in the .220s, but Motley produced 17 home runs. Both Wilson and Smith were involved in drug allegations that effected their career, which adds an element of sadness about what might have been lost to this team.

The catcher and designated hitter were also solid. Jim Sundberg, lately over from Texas, was considered one of the finest catchers of the era. He hit .259 with 14 home runs in 1985, a major offensive explosion for him. Jorge Orta and Hal McRae split time as the DH (McRae was the right handed hitter). Both had acceptable years, but as the DH was not used in the 1985 Series, both were relegated to pinch hit duties. Orta got the only hit either had; it drove in two runs.  No one on the bench hit .250 and none had more than two home runs. Dane Iorg of Denkinger fame (or infamy depending on your point of view) hit .223 with one homer.

The team won the Series by hitting .288 to St.Louis’ .185 and scoring 28 runs to 13 for the Cards (take out the 11-0 game 7 and the numbers were 17-13). White had six RBIs, Brett led the team with a .370 average, and Saberhagen had two wins (including game seven) and picked up the MVP.

That was the highpoint for Kansas City. The pitching didn’t pan out, the hitters got old or faded. But for one year they were the best in baseball and showed the fans that Kansas City was relevant. Too bad that last part’s changed.

Alas Poor Stats

January 8, 2010

In an earlier post I commented on the decade. One thing I left out on purpose was the proliferation of statistics. My God, have they exploded into the public view. Most of them just say the same thing in different ways and many lead to the same conclusions. The problem with all of them is that they are flawed.

Pick a stat, any stat, and it’s flawed. Sometimes the flaw is obvious. I love runs produced (R + RBI – HR = RP). It gives you an immediate look at just how many runs a particular player gives his team. The flaw? Well, there are a couple. First, there is no context for the run. A run is a run is a run is simply not true. A run in 1965 is different that a run in 1995. Second, it leaves out contributions to runs that don’t actually produce an RBI or the run itself. A player leads off an inning with a double, is bunted to third (one out). The next man hits a sacrifice fly (1 run to the man on third, and RBI to the batter, two outs), then the next batter fans (third out, end of inning). So you have a run produced by the first and third batters, but what about the guy with the bunt? He doesn’t get it down, the fly only puts the man on third. The last batter strikes out and no run scores. Again, what abut the guy with the bunt? He gets no run produced yet his action is critical.

Some are more subtle. Take a look at WHIP. Nice stat, but knowing the number of hits a pitcher gives up isn’t the same thing as knowing the number of runs he gives up. A single that doesn’t score is 1 on the WHIP, so is a home run. Different result, but same stat effect.

 Some are just silly. There’s an old book called Super Stats that ends up with Gene Tenace as the greatest catcher ever. Oh, really?

Some come up with odd choices. A guy came up with WAR and tells me Bret Saberhagen was better than Sandy Koufax (not on Saberhagen’s best day and on Koufax’s worst maybe). I saw them both pitch and I know which was better.

So enjoy the new stats. Some are fun, some are silly, most are redundant. Just do me a favor, don’t take them too seriously and bet the farm on one of them.