Posts Tagged ‘Steve Carlton’

Quick, We Need a Pitcher

July 26, 2017

Lefty Grove with the A’s

With the trading deadline approaching, I note that a number of teams are shopping decent pitchers. I guess if you figure you’re not going anywhere, that’s not a bad idea. It certainly isn’t new. Throughout baseball history good pitchers have been dealt while still quality hurlers, although not necessarily during the season (all these examples occurred between seasons).

Back in 1918 the Philadelphia Phillies let Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander go to the Cubs. I’d like to say it got the Cubs the pennant, but it didn’t exactly. Alexander pitched a handful of games (3) then went off to war. Chicago did win the pennant by 10.5 games, but Alexander’s impact was minimal. What did the Phils get in return? They got Pickles Dillhoefer (one of the all time great baseball names), Mike Pendergast, and cash ($55,000). The next time Philadelphia showed up in the World Series was 1950, Alexander threw what is arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history in the 1926 World Series. He threw it for St. Louis (which should tell you there was another trade).

Between the 1933 and 1934 seasons the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox worked a trade. The BoSox got Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove (and Max Bishop and Rube Walberg) while the A’s got Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler, and $125,000. It’s hard not to believe the cash was a major factor in the trade. Neither team got anywhere near the World Series and Grove still had 44.7 WAR left.

A bit more recently, the Cardinals unloaded Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, who had just put up a 20-9 win-loss record, to the Philadelphia Phillies (do you notice that both Philly teams show up a lot in these trades?) for Rick Wise between the 1971 and 1972 seasons. Wise didn’t do much, but Carlton went 27-10, led the National League in ERA, strikeouts, ERA+, put up 12.1 WAR, and won the Cy Young Award. He later got a call to Cooperstown. Wise? He went 32-28 for the Cards in two seasons and put up 7.7 total WAR.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea to get rid of a pitcher, even a good one. But sometimes it’s a mistake. The Dodgers used to say they liked to get rid of a player a year early rather than a year late. They may be good philosophy, but sometimes the guy just has more than one year left in him.

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The Impossible Dream: the games in St. Louis

January 12, 2017

With the 1967 World Series tied at one game each, the Series moved to St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park for the next three games. If one team could sweep, the Series would end. A 2-1 split would send the games back to Boston for the finale.

Game 3

Mike Shannon

. BMike Shannon

Game 3 was played 7 October. Knowing that Bob Gibson could only pitch three games in the Series, St. Louis depended on someone else, anyone else, to win one game. In game 3 they went with Nelson Briles. Boston countered with Gary Bell on the mound. Bell was in trouble from the start. The Cardinals jumped on him in the first when leadoff hitter Lou Brock tripled, then scored on a Curt Flood single. In the second, Tim McCarver singled and rode home on Mike Shannon’s home run to make the score 3-0. Bell was due to bat in the third, so he stayed in for the entire second inning then was lifted for a pinch hitter in the third. Gary Waslewski, the reliever, did a fine job keeping the Cards off the scoreboard over three hitless inning.

In the sixth, the Red Sox finally got to Briles. Mike Andrews, pinch-hitting for Waslewski, singled, was bunted to second, and came home on a single. But with Waslewski out of the game the Cards struck back against Lee Stange in the bottom of the sixth. Lou Brock singled, then went to third on a failed pick off (Stange threw it away), and came home on Roger Maris’ single.

A Reggie Smith homer in the seventh made the score 4-2, but a Roger Maris single and an Orlando Cepeda double gave the Cardinals one more run and a 5-2 final margin of victory. The big star was Briles who gave up two runs on seven hits, no walks, and struck out four.

Game 4

Tim McCarver

Tim McCarver

Game 4 in 1967 was, is frequently the case, pivotal. In an era that tended to use three-man rotations in the World Series, the game one starters, Jose Santiago for Boston and Bob Gibson for St. Louis, were back on the mound. Boston was looking to even the Series. What they got was a second dose of Gibson’s pitching.

The game effectively ended in the first inning. Back to back singles by Lou Brock and Curt Flood brought Roger Maris to the plate. His double scored both runs. A fly to right recorded both the first out and sent Maris to third. Tim McCarver’s single brought home Maris for the third run. An out and consecutive singles brought home McCarver and sent Santiago to the showers. Reliever Gary Bell (the game three starter and loser) got the last out, but the score stood 4-0 at the end of a single inning.

It was all Gibson needed. He went the full nine innings walking one (Smith in the seventh with one out), giving up five hits, only one (a leadoff ninth inning double by Carl Yastrzemski) for extra bases, and struck out six. Yastrzemski was the only runner to reach second during the game. When getting to third on a fly out, Yastrzemski was the only Bosox to advance to third in the game.

While Gibson was shutting down the Red Sox, the Cards were adding on two more runs in the third. Orlando Cepeda led off the inning with a double, went to third on a wild pitch, and came home on a McCarver fly. A subsequent walk to Mike Shannon and a double by Julian Javier plated the final Cards run.

Down three games to one, the “Impossible Dream” was in deep trouble. Boston would have to run the table or suffer a second consecutive World Series loss to St. Louis (1946).

Game 5

Jim Lonborg

Jim Lonborg

Down to having to win all three games, the Boston Red Sox, on 9 October 1967, turned to ace Jim Lonborg to keep the World Series alive and send the games back to Boston. The Cardinals countered with future Hall of Fame hurler Steve Carlton. It was Carlton’s first appearance on the mound during the Series. It turned out to be a first rate pitching duel.

Both pitchers matched zeroes until the top of the third when, with one out Joe Foy singled. Mike Andrews then laid down a bunt to third which Mike Shannon, a converted outfielder, mishandled allowing Foy to make second and Andrews to be safe at first. A Ken Harrelson single scored Foy for the first run of the game.

And it held up all the way to the ninth. Lonborg was masterful through eight walking none, allowing two singles, and striking out four. Carlton was lifted after six but gave up only the one unearned run while giving up three hits, walking two, and striking out five. Ray Washburn relieved Carlton and in two innings gave up a lone hit and struck out two.

Going into the ninth, the Cards brought Ron Willis into pitch. He walked George Scott, gave up a double to Reggie Smith, then intentionally walked Rico Petrocelli, before being lifted for Jack Lamabe. The new pitcher was greeted by an Elston Howard single that scored both Scott and Smith. A strikeout and a double play ended the inning.

Needing three outs to send the Series back to Boston, Lonborg got consecutive ground outs before Roger Maris drove a ball over the right field fence to score St. Louis’ first run. Another ground out ensured it would be their only run. Boston won 3-1. Although Carlton had pitched well, the day belonged to Lonborg who’d showed everyone just how important he was to the Bosox.

So the World Series would go back to Boston for game six and an if necessary game seven. Not only did the Red Sox have to win both games, they would have to do it without Lonborg or use him on short rest.

 

 

 

 

The Impossible Dream: the Cards

January 5, 2017
Red Schoendienst

Red Schoendienst

In 1967 the baseball world was enamored of the Boston Red Sox. Their season was known, after the Broadway hit, “The Impossible Dream.” The National League pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals were, on the other hand, a team that had shown more recent success. From the 1920s through 1946 (coincidentally against the Red Sox) the Cards were consistent winners. They’d fallen on hard times in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s but had won as recently as 1964. Now a new team (with several holdovers from ’64 still around) was going to challenge Boston in the World Series.

Hall of Fame Manager Red Schoendienst in his third years with St. Louis headed a solid team with four future Hall of Famers. In hitting the team led the NL in stolen bases and placed second in all the triple slash categories (BA/OPB.SLG/OPS) and second in runs, hits, and total bases. They were fourth in home runs and third in doubles. The pitching was also second in most categories (ERA, hits, shutouts, runs) while being third in walks and sixth in strikeouts. The team was fourth in fielding percentage, but sixth in errors.

As with the Red Sox, the Cardinals infield was set. From first around to third it consisted of Orlando Cepeda, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, and Mike Shannon. Hall of Famer Cepeda led the team in WAR, home runs, RBIs, OPS and OPS+ on his way to the NL MVP Award. Shannon was a converted outfielder who sometimes played like it. He was getting better in the field, but was never going to make anyone forget Brooks Robinson. He hit .245 with 23 home runs and 0 WAR (making him the epitome of an average player). Both Javier and Maxvill were in the lineup for their gloves and both did well enough in the field. Javier, additionally, could hit. He managed .281 with 14 home runs (good for third on the team) and 2.6 WAR. Maxvill hit .227 with one homer. The backups were Ed Spiezio and Phil Gagliano. Neither hit .225.

There was no Carl Yazstremski in the outfield, but it was still solid across the grass. Hall of Famer Lou Brock was in left field. He wasn’t as bad an outfielder as he’s sometimes considered, but he was in the game to hit and run. He went .299 with 21 home runs (second on the team), 76 RBIs, 52 stolen bases, 325 total bases, and 5.6 WAR (third on the team). Center Fielder Curt Flood hadn’t yet become the player’s champion but was, nevertheless, a sterling ball player. He hit a team leading .335 to go with 5.3 WAR. In right field, Roger Maris was 32 and well beyond his home run hitting years as a Yankees stalwart. He hit .261 with nine home runs, 55 RBIs, and 3.6 WAR. The replacements were Bobby Tolan (later of the “Big Red Machine”) and future batting champ Alex Johnson. Tolan had six home runs while Johnson was, at .223, still learning to hit.

If the Red Sox catching situation was a mess, the Cardinals had stability there in the person of Tim McCarver. Not yet a household name because of his years as the color guy on national broadcasts, McCarver was a solid catcher who was having something like a career year. He hit .295, had 14 home runs, 69 RBIs, eight stolen bases, more walks than strikeouts, and 6.0 WAR, good for second on the team. His backups were Dave Ricketts, who hit .273, and John Romano who didn’t come close.

With a couple of exceptions, the Cardinals pitching wasn’t in any better shape than the Bosox. Seven men started 10 or more games during the season. Much of that had to do with a key injury. In July Cards ace Bob Gibson was hit by a batted ball. He made a throw to first, then managed one pitch before collapsing with a broken leg (not many people can do that). He was back by the World Series, but had only gone 13-7 with an ERA of 2.98 (ERA+ 110) and only 2.7 WAR. Dick Hughes and youngster Steve Carlton took up most of the slack. Hughes went 16-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 161 strikeouts, and 3.9 WAR. Future Hall of Famer Carlton led the team with 168 strikeouts in 193 innings, won 14 games, had an ERA of 2.98, and put up 2.9 WAR. Ray Washburn had 10 wins and an ERA north of three fifty. Nelson Briles who started 11 of 49 games had 3.6 WAR. Joe Hoerner led the bullpen with 14 saves followed by Ron Willis who had 10.

All in all the 1967 Cardinals was a fine team. With Gibson back healthy they could be formidable. The first game of the World Series was in Boston.

 

The 1980 NLCS: All the Marbles

October 29, 2015

With the NLCS tied at two games each, Philadelphia and Houston squared off in the Astrodome for game five of the 1980 series. The winner went on to the World Series, the loser went home. For both teams winning would be a unique experience. Houston had never been to a World Series and Philadelphia hadn’t been to one since 1950.

Del Unser

Del Unser

Game 5, 12 October

To send the Astros to the World Series, Houston put Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan on the mound. Philly countered with rookie Marty Bystrom, who hadn’t pitched in the NLCS and was 5-0 in six total Major League games. At the beginning it looked like a bad choice. Astros lead off man Terry Puhl singled to start the bottom of the first, stole second, and came home on a Jose Cruz double. That put Houston up 1-0. But it didn’t hold up for even one inning. In the top of the second a single and walk put Manny Trillo on second and Garry Maddox on first. A ground out moved both up one base with two outs. Phils catcher Bob Boone singled off Ryan to plate both runs and put Philadelphia up 2-1.

That held up through the top of the sixth as Bystrom matched shutout inning for shutout inning with Ryan. In the bottom of the sixth, Denny Walling lofted a fly to left that Greg Luzinski misplayed into two bases for Walling. Then an Alan Ashby single tied up the game 2-2. In the bottom of the seventh Houston exploded for three runs as Puhl singled, came home on a Walling single after Cruz walked. A wild pitch by Phils reliever Larry Christenson brought Cruz home. Art Howe then tripled to score Walling.

But this was game five in 1980 and, well, it wasn’t extra innings yet, so Philadelphia came back in the top of the eighth. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases for Pete Rose. He coaxed a walk out of Ryan to make the score 5-3. A Keith Moreland ground out scored the second run. A single by Del Unser, playing right after pinch hitting earlier, and a triple by Trillo gave the Phils a 7-5 lead with six outs to go. They got two. Singles by Craig Reynolds and Puhl put runners on first and third and back-to-back singles tied the game at 7-7.

Philly got a  man as far as third in the top of the ninth but failed to score. Houston went in order in the bottom of the ninth and for the fourth game in a row, and four of five, the NLCS went into extra innings. With one out, Unser doubled. An out later, Maddox doubled plating Unser with the go ahead run. With Dick Ruthven now on the mound, a popup, a liner, and a long fly to center finished off Houston 8-7 and sent Philadelphia to the World Series, where they defeated Kansas City four games to two. Trillo was chosen NLCS MVP.

It was a great series of games, with four of five going into extra innings. Philly outhit Houston .289 to .233, but scored only one more run (20-19).  There was a major difference in the two team’s walks and strikeouts. Philly struck out 37 times and walked 13, while Houston struck out 19 times and walked 31. Greg Luzinski had the only homer for either team (in game 1) but Houston had five triples. Houston had a team ERA of 3.49, just slightly more than Philadelphia’s 3.28, while Philly pitching gave up 40 hits to the Astros’ 55.

Individually Manny Trillo led Philly hitters (players who appeared in all 5 games) by hitting .381 and racking up eight hits. Luzinski and Trillo both had four RBIs while Luzinski and Rose each scored three runs. Steve Carlton’s eight walks led both teams, while Nolan Ryan’s 14 strikeouts easily outpaced everyone else (of course it did).  Tug McGraw picked up two saves (and took a loss) and Dick Ruthven’s 2.00 ERA led Philadelphia starters with five or more innings pitched. Joe Niekro’s 0.00 ERA over 10 innings led all starters.

For a long time now, I’ve said that the 1991 World Series was the best I ever saw. But I’m not sure that for drama, emotion, and utter excitement that the 1980 NLCS wasn’t its equal.

The 1980 NLCS: Games 3 & 4

October 27, 2015

The Astrodome hosted the third and fourth games of the 1980 NLCS. Houston was neither a hotbed for baseball nor noted for quality sports teams in general. The Astros had been around since the 1960s but were not noted for their winning ways. they had three chances to change that.

Denny Walling

Denny Walling

Game 3, 10 October

For game three, the Astros started Joe Niekro. He faced Phillies starter Larry Christenson.  Christenson started only 14 games in 1980, but was 5-1 with a decent walk to strikeout ratio. Both men were excellent. Through six innings no one scored and nobody got beyond second base. Christianson gave up only three hits and Niekro was equally good. In the seventh, the Phils pinch hit for Christianson and brought in Dickie Noles to replace him. Essentially nothing changed. Noles gave up one hit in one and a third inning and Niekro kept chugging along. By the tenth inning there was still no score, Tug McGraw replaced Noles, Niekro kept pitching, and still no one had reached third. In the eleventh, Niekro finally yielded the mound to Dave Smith. Smith allowed a hit and intentionally walked Larry Bowa, but Philadelphia failed to score. Joe Morgan led off the bottom of the 11th with a triple and finally a baserunner reached third. A pair of intentional walks loaded the bases and set up the force play everywhere. Denny Walling, who’d started at first and moved to right field later in the game, came up with no outs. He lofted a long fly to left that scored the first run of the game. It gave Houston a 1-0 victory and a 2-1 lead in games. For the game the Phillies pitchers gave up only six hits, but walked eight (several of them of the intentional variety). Houston allowed seven hits and only two walks. It was an excellent pitching duel that left Houston one win from the World Series.

Manny Trillo

Manny Trillo

Game 4, 11 October

Down two games to one, Philadelphia brought back ace Steve Carlton in hopes of setting up a game five showdown. Houston countered with 12 game winner Vern Ruhle. The two teams traded zeroes until the bottom of the fourth when Enos Cabell led off with a double and went to third on a groundout. A walk put runners at first and third. Art Howe hit a long sacrifice fly to left that scored Cabell and provided the game’s initial run. A triple and single in the bottom of the fifth put the Astros up 2-0.

The Phillies finally broke through in the eighth when consecutive singles put men on first and second. Pete Rose drove in the first Philadelphia run with another single, both runners advancing on the throw to the plate. An infield single scored the second run to tie the score and put Rose on third. A Manny Trillo fly brought Rose home with the go ahead run. Philly was now six outs from tying up the NLCS. They got three. A leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth put the tying run on base. A ground out and a Terry Puhl single tied the game at 3-3 and for the third straight time the game went into extra innings.

With one out in the top of the tenth, Rose singled. After a second out, Greg Luzinski doubled plating Rose and Trillo followed with another double that scored Luzinski. Now up 5-3, Philadelphia brought in Tug McGraw to close the game. A strikeout and two fly balls accomplished the goal and the Phillies had tied up the NLCS at two games each. A deciding game five the next day would determine who went to the World Series.

Although it did not lead to any runs, the top of the fourth gave the 1980 NLCS its most memorable play. With runners on first and second and no one out, Garry Maddox hit a soft sinking liner to pitcher Ruhle. Ruhle claimed he caught it, then threw to first to double off the runner (Manny Trillo). The first base umpire ruled McBride out but home plate umpire (and Hall of Famer) Doug Harvey said Ruhle didn’t catch the ball. Without calling time, the Phillies manager Dallas Green came onto the field. While he was starting to argue the call, Art Howe, Houston first baseman and current possessor of the ball, raced down to second and tagged the bag, arguing that the runner on second, Bake McBride who was currently standing on third without having returned to second, was out. The second base umpire agreed and called McBride out (making it a triple play). The problem was that the umpiring crew couldn’t agree on whether Ruhle caught the ball or not. After a 20 minute argument and consultation the umps ruled a double play and allowed McBride to return to second with both Maddox and Trillo out. Umpire Harvey ruled that his call of no catch “put the runner (McBride) in jeopardy and he advanced on my call,” an erroneous call. No one was quite sure what happened most people argued there was either one or three outs, but not two. The ruling stood and McBride went back to second with two outs. Larry Bowa then grounded out to finish a totally bizarre half inning.

 

The 1980 NLCS: The games in Philadelphia

October 23, 2015

Back in 1980 the League Championship Series’ were a best of five with one team hosting the first two games and the other getting game three and the if necessary games. In 1980 that meant the first two games were played in Philadelphia with the follow-up games coming in Houston.

Greg Luzinski

Greg Luzinski

Game 1, 7 October 1980

For game one the Phillies started Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton on the mound while Houston countered with Ken Forsch. Although neither pitcher did particularly well (there were several hits by both teams), there was no scoring until the top of the third when, with one out, Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedano hit back to back singles. After a second out, Gary Woods, playing for regular right fielder Terry Puhl, laced a single scoring Cruz with the games first run. The run held up through the fourth and fifth innings. In the bottom of the sixth Phillies first baseman Pete Rose singled and two outs later Greg Luzinski slugged a ball to deep left center to plate both runs and give Philly a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the seventh Garry Maddox singled. A bunt sacrifice and a stolen base put him on third with Carlton due up. The Phils sent up Greg Gross to pinch hit. He banged a single to left that scored Maddox. With Carlton out of the game Philadelphia went to its closer Tug McGraw in the eighth. He set Houston down in order and when Philadelphia failed to score in the bottom of the eighth, he took a 3-1 lead into the ninth. A walk put a man on first where he stayed as McGraw finished off Houston to give the Phillies the win. It was the last time in the NLCS that the game would end with the ninth inning.

The big heroes were Carlton, who pitched seven innings giving up one run, and Luzinski who powered the winning runs across the plate. Luzinski was injured for much of the year and failed to produce big numbers. Driving in the winning runs served as something of a redemption for him.

Dave Bergman

Dave Bergman

Game 2, 8 October 1980

Game 2 saw Nolan Ryan take on Dick Ruthven. Neither pitcher had put up stellar numbers during the season, but both began the game pitching well. In the top of the third a walk, a sacrifice, and a Terry Puhl single scored Houston’s first run. It held up until the bottom of the fourth. Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski hit back to back doubles to score Schmidt and tie the game. One sacrifice later a Maddox single scored Luzinski to put Philadelphia ahead 2-1. That scored lasted until the top of the seventh when, with two outs, Ruthven committed one of those baseball sins that haunt teams. He walked the opposing pitcher. Puhl immediately followed the walk with a double that scored Ryan to tie up the game. Both teams picked up one more run in the eighth and were blanked in the ninth, leading to a 3-3 score going into the first extra inning of the NLCS. It was a long, long inning, especially for Philly. Puhl led off the top of the 10th with a single. A bunt sent him to second, then Joe Morgan was intentionally walked. Jose Cruz singled to score Puhl, then a fielder’s choice by Cedeno led to out two, but scored a second run for Houston. With two on Dave Bergman, who’d come in to play first in the eighth inning, tripled to score both Cruz and Cedeno to make the score 7-3. The Phils weren’t through yet. A single, a walk put runners on first and second. A fly produced the first out, then a grounder to short got the second out, but the inability to complete the double play scored a fourth Philadelphia run. Another walk brought the tying run to the plate, but Schmidt flew out to Puhl in right to give Houston a 7-4 victory and even the NLCS at one game apiece.

After a day off, the Series would resume in Houston. It was now a simple best two of three series with Houston having home field for all three games. None of them would finish in nine innings.

 

the 1980 NLCS: Philadelphia

October 21, 2015
Lefty

Lefty

Unlike the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies were, by 1980, something like perennial contenders. They’d made playoff runs in the late 1970s and by 1980 were in one again. Much had changed from those 1970s runs.

After a 30 game stint at the end of 1979, manager Dallas Green was in his first full season as manager. He led a team that finished first, second, or third in almost every major hitting category. It was also a team whose pitching numbers were all over the place.

Part of the problem with the pitching was that the staff was made up of one all-time great and a bunch of other guys. The other guys included starters Dick Ruthven (17 wins), Bob Walk (11 wins), Randy Lerch, Larry Christianson, and Nino Espinosa. Those were all the men who started a dozen or more games. Lerch and Espinosa had losing records; Ruthven, Walk, and Lerch all gave up more hits than they had innings pitched; and Espinosa walked more men than he struck out. Their combined WAR was 2.8. Of course Steve Carlton made up for much of the pitching problem. He went 24-9 with an ERA of 2.34 (ERA+ 162). He led the league in strikeouts ( by more than 80), wins, ERA+, and pitching WAR (10.2). At the end of the season he’d add his third Cy Young Award to his resume.

The bullpen featured ex-Mets hero (and Faith Hill’s father-in-law) Tug McGraw. He put up 20 saves with a 1.46 ERA (260 ERA+), and struck out 75 in 96 innings. Ron Reed and Dickie Noles had a handful of saves and as a whole, the bullpen was equal to, and some might say better, than the starters.

The infield consisted of one of the better known keystone combinations of the era and two potential Hall of Famers at the corners. Larry Bowa was a longtime member of the Phils. He hit .267, stole 21 bases, didn’t walk a lot. His OPS+ stood at all of 71 and his WAR at 0.7. The second baseman was Manny Trillo. He hit .292, had an OPS+ of 104, and was fourth on the team with 3.4 WAR. Cincinnati refugee Pete Rose held down first base. He couldn’t do much in the field anymore, but could still catch the ball. He hit .282 with 12 stolen bases, 185 hits (a critical stat for him), 95 runs scored, on OPS+ of 94, and -0.4 WAR (but +0.6 OWAR). Mike Schmidt at third had a beast of a year. He led the National League in home runs with 48, RBIs with 121, in total bases, in slugging, OPS, OPS+ (171), and had 8.8 WAR. At the end of the season he’d add the MVP to his list of accomplishments. As a third baseman he wasn’t all that great, but was taking a long, slow road toward improvement. Backups included John Vukovich, Luis Aguayo, and Ramon Aviles. Additionally, 38-year-old Tim McCarver got into six games, two at first ( and the rest as a pinch hitter).

The catcher was Bob Boone. Known more for his fielding than hitting, he was considered a good handler of pitchers and had a caught stealing rate of about 33%. Offensively he hit only .229, but logged nine home runs. His backup was Keith Moreland, who got into 62 games in his rookie campaign (he’d played in 15 total games the previous two years). He hit .314, and a 113 OPS+ (0.6 WAR), and was such a good catcher that he ended up playing 1226 games, 169 as a catcher.

The outfield  was in a bit of turmoil with five men getting into 100 or more games (and later Cubs darling Bob  Dernier adding 10 games). Much of the problem lay in left field. Regular left fielder Greg Luzinski banged up his knee and only got into 106 games. And when he was in, he wasn’t producing all that well. He hit .228 with 19 home runs (but did have 56 RBIs), struck out 100 times (but ended up with an OPS+ of 113), and finished with 0.4 WAR. And to top it off he wasn’t much of an outfielder. The problem was his replacement wasn’t much better in the field. Lonnie Smith was called “Skates” for a reason (he looked like he was on ice in the outfield). He did hit well. going .339, with 33 stolen bases (13 caught stealings), 69 runs scored, a 130 OPS+, and 2.3 WAR. Garry Maddox and Bake McBride held down the other outfield positions. Both were much better fielders than either left fielder. McBride hit .309 with 87 RBIs, 116 OPS+, and 3.2 WAR. Maddox had 25 stolen bases, hit .259, hit 11 home runs, had an OPS+ of only 80 (with 1.9 WAR), but was probably the finest center fielder in the league. The other outfielder with 100 or more games was Greg Gross. He hit .240 with no power, but, along with Del Unser, was used as a pinch hitter.

As with Houston, the Phillies were a flawed team. Beyond Carlton the starting pitching was suspect. The infield was better at defense than at offense (Schmidt excepted), and the outfield was in disarray (at least a little–Luzinski was back by the playoffs). They were favored, but not by a lot.

WAR, One Pitcher, and Winning it All

September 24, 2015
Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

They tell me that the guys with the best WAR are the best players. They also tell me that a great pitcher will win for you. OK, I’ll give them both of those (sorta). But one thing I’ve noticed is that they’re certainly no predictor of a championship. It’s the nature of the game that this would be true. You simply can’t let your ace pitcher (the one with the best WAR) pitch every inning and you can’t let your best hitter (again the one with the best WAR) come up for every at bat. It’s particularly true that you can’t take the guys with the best ever pitching WAR and find a lot of World Series championships.

I’ve been particularly critical of pitching WAR (but not as much critical of offensive WAR) ever since I saw the numbers and read the ever-changing formulae. But let’s accept that it’s a good measure of pitching excellence. It still isn’t much of a predictor of how a team will do. I Went down the BBREF list of yearly WAR (which uses BBREF’s version of WAR) looking only for pitchers. I excluded all pitchers who showed up before the advent of the 20th Century. In other words I ignored the pre-American League championship games  (1884-1891). I did this because there is great disagreement about how seriously they were taken by the teams and players and how much they were treated as mere exhibitions. I also ignored the Temple Cup Series. Then I looked to find the top 10 WAR seasons for a pitcher in the American League era (1901-present). Of course I ran into Walter Johnson who had three of the top five and four of the top 12. So I changed the way I went at it. I began looking for a new name until I found 10 different pitchers. That took me all the way to 52nd on the list. Of course many of the 52 (and ties) were pre-1901 pitchers (including the first seven) and some were hitters (Ruth four times, Barry Bonds twice, and Gehrig, Yastrzemski and Hornsby once each). Here’s the list I ended up with: Walter Johnson in 1913 (16.0 WAR), Johnson in 1912 (14.6), Dwight Gooden in 1985 (13.2), Johnson in 1914 (13.0), Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 (12.8), Cy Young in 1901 (12.6), Steve Carlton in 1972 (12.5), Roger Clemens in 1997 (12.2), Johnson in 1915 (12.1), Fergie Jenkins in 1971 (12.0), Hal Newhouser in 1945 (12.0), Bob Gibson in 1968 (11.9), Alexander in 1916, Pedro Martinez in 2000, and Smokey Joe Wood in 1912 (all at 11.7). So the individual pitchers are Johnson, Gooden, Alexander, Young, Carlton, Clemens, Jenkins, Newhouser, Gibson, Martinez, and Wood (a total of 11).

Let’s notice a couple of things about this list. First, Walter Johnson’s 1912-1915 is, by WAR, the greatest pitching performance by a single pitcher over a  period of years in the last 115 years (and people still debate how good he was). Second, there are a couple of one shot wonders in the list, specifically Gooden and Wood. The remainder are quality pitchers having their peak year.

But for my purpose, the most interesting thing is that only two of the pitchers were with teams that won the World Series: Newhouser and Wood. Gibson got to the Series but the Cardinals lost in seven games (Gibson himself taking the loss in game seven). In 1901 there was no Series, but Young’s Boston team finished second.

This isn’t a knock on pitching WAR, but merely an acknowledgement that it can’t predict pennants. And one great pitcher isn’t a predictor either. It does help if the number two pitcher on your team has a pretty good year also.

300 Win Lefties

December 21, 2011

In a comment on my previous post, Bill asked for my list of the 10 best southpaws. I’m going to do something like that, but not actually list them 1 through 10. I want to use this post to make a couple of comments about the six left-handers who won 300 or more games. Later I’ll look at a few that didn’t.

Warren Spahn–maybe the most consistent pitcher ever, right or left. Between 1949 and 1963 he won less than 20 games three times (1952, ’55, and ’62). He’s 42 when he wins 23 in 1963. It tied his career high. Overall he won 363 games, never more than 23 in a season. If you’re a manager, don’t you love that number? For 15 years you can pencil in 21 wins from your ace without worrying about it. His highest ERA over the period was 3.26 ( in ’55, one of the years he doesn’t get to 20 wins), his lowest was 2.10 in 1953. the 3.26 is actually closer to his normal than the 2.10, but that’s still pretty good in the high scoring era that is the 1950s. Every year he had more innings pitched than hits, and led the National League in strikeouts four times. His ERA+ hovered around 120 for most of the period, peaking at 188 in 1953.

Steve Carlton–seems to have gotten lost over the years. For years he and Nolan Ryan were in a race to record more strikeouts than anyone else. Carlton got there first, but Ryan eventually blew by him (and everyone else). Carlton won 329 games, but unlike Spahn, won them in bunches then had periods where he didn’t do so well. His 1972 is one of those years that people still mention, and frequently is the only time he is mentioned. He won 27 games, his team won 59. He led the Nl in wins four times, in strikeouts five, and in ERA and shutouts both once. While still at St. Louis he set a record for most strikeouts in a game. Late in his career he becomes a nomad and isn’t very good.

Eddie Plank–easily the most obscure of the 300 win lefties. His career began in 1901 and ended in 1917. To give you some perspective, he was pitching 100 years ago. For years, until Spahn came along, Plank was the winningest left-hander ever. He spent time in the Federal League (1915) and that makes his win total in dispute. Some sites don’t recognize the Feds or Plank’s numbers, others do. He ended up with 326 wins (305 if you leave out the Feds), a .627 winning percentage, 69 shutouts (leading the American League twice), and played on three World Series winners. He never led the AL (or the Feds) in wins, ERA, or strikeouts. The knock on him seems to be that Connie Mack never considered Plank his ace. That appears to be true of the secondset of  World Series years (1911-14), but Plank’s best years are the period 1902-06. The A’s win a pennant in 1902 (no World Series) and lose the Series in 1905. Plank doesn’t get to play for the great A’s teams until he’s beyond his prime. He’s 2-5 in Series play and does not pitch at all in the 1910 World Series victory.

Tom Glavine–the two pitcher on the great Braves staffs of the 1990s (behind Maddux). I think that hurts him a lot in much the same way that Drysdale gets hurt by being in Koufax’s shadow (not trying to compare Glavine and Drysdale directly). Glavine has a Cy Young (actually two), Maddux four. Glavine does have a World Series MVP trophy and pitched a magnificent game six in the 1995 World Series. It seems to be forgotten that he’s the ace of that 1991 Braves team that goes from last place to the World Series (and a Jack Morris masterpiece short of the championship). Overall he’s 305-203 for a .600 winning percentage. He led the NL in wins five times and in shutouts once. He was a good pitcher, but I think gets lost in the shuffle behind Maddux, as stated above, and behind the guy listed just below him in the wins column.

Randy Johnson–it’s kind of tough to say who is really the greatest left-hander ever, but a pretty good case could be made for Johnson. His record is 303-166 for a winning percentage of .646. My guess is a lot of people don’t realize his winning percentage is that high. He’s second in strikeouts (behind Ryan), his strikeouts to innings pitched ratio is Koufaxian (is that a word?), he won the strikeout title nine times, four years in a row going over 300 k’s (with two more 300+ k seasons earlier). He has a World Series ring, winning three games in the process (but is only 7-9 overall in postseason play). He wins 20 games three times, leads in ERA in winning percentage four times each, in shutouts twice, and early on walked a ton of batters. He got that last under control early and his walk to strikeout ratio is great after the first few years. He also had that easy sidearm delivery that seems to have been relatively easy on the arm and scared left-handed hitters to death. There was another Johnson whose delivery reminds me much of Randy’s. His name was Walter and he was pretty good too.

Lefty Grove–there is a school of thought that Grove is the greatest pitcher ever. I’m not in that school, but he was really good. He played in the 1920s and 1930s, huge hitting eras, and was easily the best left-hander in the American League in perhaps in all baseball (Carl Hubbell being his only competition). For his career he ended up 300-141 for a winning percentage of  .680 which is darned close to the best ever by a left-hander (Whitey Ford’s is better) and is astonishing in the era he pitched. His ERA is 3.06, again a terrific number for the age and his 2.54 ERA in the inflated year of 1930 is one of the great feats ever by a pitcher (and almost totally overlooked today). He led the AL in ERA nine times, in strikeouts seven (all in a row), in shutouts three times, and his ERA+ in 1931 was 220. In ’31 he won 31 games (don’t you just love 31 in 31?) and lost four. He appeared in three straight World Series’ going 4-2 with his team winning the first two (1929 and 1930. The loss was 1931). He ended up at Boston where he hung on long enough for 300 wins and except for his last two years (1940-41) was pretty good even then.

So there are the left-handers who won 300 games. If I were doing a top 10, all would be on the list, although not in the order listed above.

Frick Award

December 8, 2011

Tim McCarver

It seems that baseball’s award season isn’t really over as I suggested a week or so ago that it might be. Saw that they just gave the Ford Frick Award to Tim McCarver. This is the award for excellence in broadcasting (sort of a counterpoint to the Spink Award for writers). The list is posted in the Hall of Fame, so in one sense McCarver finally made the Hall of Fame.

I’m of two minds about McCarver as a broadcaster. I remember when he was good, really good. He brought fresh commentary, new ideas, a new sense of how the game was played to the color guy spot in the booth. I learned a lot about some of the inside on-field stuff from him. I remember him saying “the manager will send him here” and the manager sent the guy and other stuff like that. I loved his stories, especially the Bob Gibson tales (there were almost none about Steve Carlton, which sort of figures). 

But by now the act is getting old. I’ve heard all the stories a dozen times. In McCarver’s defense my wife has heard all mine at least that many times and probably more. He’s not as accurate as he used to be and he has trouble with getting the right words sometimes. I know the feeling, so I’ll give him a break on it. But maybe this should be the capstone of his career and he should ride off into the sunset (do color guys do that?) and enjoy a well-earned retirement. Whatever he does, congratulations to Tim McCarver for winning the Frick Award.

My favorite McCarver story about Gibson goes like this. Red Schoendienst, Cardinals manager, ordered an intentional walk. Gibson plunked the guy with the first pitch. McCarver goes out to the mound and asks what the heck was that all about? Gibson replies, “I just saved three pitches.” Don’t know that I believe all the stories, but that one I believe.