Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Left-Handed Second Basemen

This is the first in our series on left-handed infielders. Be sure to check out Left Handed Third Basemen! And don't forget, Left-Handed Shortstops!

EDIT: July 1, 2009. A helpful commenter pointed out that Thad Bosley has no record of being a second baseman, according to MLB. I went to check it out, and the game that I said he was a second baseman (July 5, 1987), now only lists him as a pinch hitter, replaced in the ninth inning by reserve Frank White. A new search of lefty-second basemen reveals just five games with them!

The last few days watching the KC Royals feed on Extra Innings has been pretty brutal. While you have to feel for guys who watch the Royals play 162 meaningless games year after year, having to listen to Herm Edwards talk about football for two innings is a bit infuriating. Would it kill MLB to let us choose which feed we get to see? Anyway, for some reason the Royals felt the need to mark the Twenty-fourth anniversary of The Pine Tar Game by giving away powder-blue Royals t-shirts with "pine tar" stains all over them. First of all- ugly. Second of all- 24 years? Huh? Third of all- the Royals ended up winning the game! Get over it!

So anyway, they showed some clips from the continuation of the "suspended game" in which Billy Martin staged sort of a protest by running out Ron Guidry into CF to finish the game, and a young Don Mattingly at second base. The announcers noted that it was weird seeing a left-handed thrower play second base. says that Mattingly didn't get a chance to make any plays at second in that half-inning, but I would imagine it is pretty weird. Imagine a left-handed second baseman making a play on a grounder up the middle. He would then have to stop, turn counter-clockwise 270 degrees, and throw to first off their back foot (with their backs to the rest of the infield). There's a reason there haven't been many left-handed second basemen. I wanted to find out exactly how few there were.

Thanks to's Play Index, we can see that, since 1957, there have only been six major league games played with a left-handed second baseman. Mattingly shows up, even though he only played one half-inning. There's also Gonzalo Marquez, who played two games at 2B for the Athletics in 1973. Here's the first game, in which Marquez reached on an error in the top of the first and then A's manager Dick Williams replaced him for the bottom of the first inning, so Marquez never saw the field. The next day, Williams did the same thing, using four different players at 2B in the game. So Marquez never fielded a ball at second either.

The next entry is Thad Bosley, an OF/DH for the Royals (among other teams) in the 1980s. A left-handed thrower, Bosley pinch-hit for the starting second baseman (Buddy Biancalana) in the bottom of the eighth inning. He then stayed on and played the top of the ninth and did not see a play at second base, and was later replaced for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth.

The oldest case listed is George Crowe, a first-baseman with the Cincinnati Reds who, in a 1958 game, was briefly switched with second-baseman Johnny Temple for one play. Following a single by Bobby Thomson (yes, of shot-heard-round-the-world fame), the two switched positions for a play cryptically described as a "Double Play: Pop-fly, 1B to 2B." What happened here? Was there some kind of trickery going on? The two men switched back after the play and Crowe never played second base for the rest of his career. Since there are no reliable box scores prior to 1957, we do not know if this sort of thing happened a lot.

Finally, the strangest case of all, that of Sam McDowell, left-handed pitcher. On July 6, 1970, McDowell was pitching for the Indians in the eighth inning of a game agains the Senators with a 6-4 lead. To that point McDowell had scattered 11 hits in 7.2 innings striking out 12 while allowing the four runs. With runners on second and third and two out, Cleveland manager Alvin Dark called to the bullpen for a righty, Dean Chance. Powerful righty Frank Howard was up next, followed by righty cleanup hitter Rick Reichardt. But Dark didn't send McDowell off the field; instead, he sent off third baseman Greg Nettles and told McDowell to go play second base. Chance then intentionally walked Howard to load the bases, then induced a groundball to third from Reichardt. Eddie Lemon, who had been playing second base, fielded the ball and threw to McDowell at 2nd for the force to end the inning. McDowell would then re-take the mound for the ninth, striking out the side to end the game. I'm not sure it's officially in the rules somewhere, but I suppose one cannot be charged with both a Win and a Save in the same game...

Suffice it to say, all six occurances have weird circumstances. Further, it is extremely interesting to us at Immaculate Inning that of the hundreds of thousands of putouts registered in Major League Baseball since 1957, only two have been registered by left-handed second basemen. Compare this to the dearth of left-handed catchers. Since 1957, only four left-handed catcher's mitts have been worn in nine different major league baseball games. Journeyman 1B/OF Benny Distefano is the latest, catching three games for the Pirates in 1989. Diminuitive first baseman Mike Squires caught two games for the White Sox in 1980, registering just one putout. Similarly, Dale Long was used for two games at catcher in 1958.

The theory as to why there are very few left-handed catchers is harder to grasp. There used to be a lot more of them in the early days of the game. One theory is that it is almost impossible for a lefty to make a snap throw to third base on a steal attempt- but isn't it just as hard for righties to make similar throws behind the runner at first? A better theory is that catchers typically are the second-best throwing players on your average little league team. If those guys were left-handed, it is likely that they would be groomed as pitchers, and would play 1B or OF when not pitching. For the most part, this one seems a lot more like tradition and is not hampered by practical problems.

Xenod would like to add that he plans on having a left-handed son and that he will grow up to be the first full-time left-handed catcher in the history of baseball. Good luck to him on that quest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Handicapping the Division Races, Part I

Despite being advertised as a "Sports blog," there has been whining that all of my content since March has been about the Yankees. This is true and I haven't paid as much attention to baseball outside of the Yankees as I would have liked to this season. In an effort to right both wrongs in one fell swoop, I'm going to take a look at each of the playoff chases. I'm starting with the NL Central, because I said so.

Following the 1997 season, acting commish and Milwaukee owner Bud Selig bit the bullet and offered that his team would switch leagues to accomodate the inclusion of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League (and prevent the scheduling nightmare of having an odd number of teams in each league). Since then, the Brewers have spent exactly zero days in first place in the six-team division past May 1. This season, they have had the pole position since April 21, with a lead that swelled to as much as 8.5 games on June 21.

There is little chance that anyone could have seen this coming. The World Series champs were in the division after all, and the Cardinals had dominated the NL Central for all but the final week of the 2006 regular season. The Brewers were in the back-seat as the Astros made an ultimately futile attempt to wrestle the division from the Cardinals- a 9 game winning streak ended when, on September 29, back-to-back homers by Edgar Renteria and Chipper Jones wasted the Astros' chance to take first place with two games to go. The Brewers, meanwhile, were wrapping up their season with fine performances from three players: 22-year old firstbaseman Prince Fielder (28 homers), 26 year-old shortsop Bill Hall (35 homers), and 30 year-old, free agent to-be Carlos Lee (28 homers).

Lee would stay within the division, signing a monstrous deal with the Astros. The Cubs, who finished fifth in the division, threw a ton of money at Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly, and Jason Marquis. The Astros lost Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens but still had Roy Oswalt and a trio of young power-hitting outfielders. The Brewers, meanwhile, would be going into the season with an astounding four players aged 25 years or younger: Fielder, 2B Rickie Weeks, SS JJ Hardy, and RF Corey Hart. When 3B Ryan Braun was called up to replace Craig Counsell in late May, it assembled quite possibly the youngest infield of all time. Adding to that the loss of Carlos Lee and the addition of 31 year-old catcher Johnny Estrada (no matter what his Spring Training SLG), the Brewers looked to be headed to one of those bumpy rebuilding seasons.

It was not so; and the team in Milwaukee has been the surprise of the season. Fielder is putting up MVP numbers while Hardy and Braun are dominating the Rookie of the Year discussions. The pitching staff has been anchored by a healthy Ben Sheets (10-4, 3.39 ERA)- who has not missed a start and is on pace to top 200 IP for the first time since 2004. A rock-solid bullpen has made up for the league average (or worse) performance of the starters not named Sheets. Still, what was once an 8.5 game lead has shrunk to just 3 games after an extra-inning loss to the Reds last night.

Getting larger in the rearview mirror have been the spend-thrift Cubs. After Carlos Zambrano remembered he's in a contract year, the Cubs have gone 29-16 since June 1. Though their lineup has had a revolving door of rookies (with great names such as Felix Pie and Angel Pagan) finding various success, the trio of Soriano, Ramirez, and Derrek Lee have mashed. Inneffective bullpen vets (such as Scott Eyre) have been replaced with oustanding performances from Carlos Marmol (1.82 ERA and 42 K in 36 IP). And the other starters- Marquis, Lilly, and Rich Hill, have been joined by sophomore Sean Marshall to have a rotation well above league average.

With the Cardinals fading fast, the NL Central looks to be a two team race down the stretch. has the race as basically a coinflip (or AK v QQ), which reflects the dead-even Pythagorean records the two teams possess. The Brewers and Cubs have just three games left against each other, at Wrigley at the end of August. Each team has the bulk of their games against the Cardinals (11) and Reds (12). In fact, the only difference in the teams' remaining schedules is that the Brewers play eight versus the Braves and Padres, while the Cubs have eight against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

The difference, then, is going to be which team finds regression first. Neither team is playing above their heads with regards to their Pythagorean record (the Brewers slightly ahead, the Cubs slightly behind). The Brewers' starting pitchers are more or less performing to their career norms (Suppan and Bush are actually below their league average career ERA+), while the Cubs' starters are more likely to falter- Lilly and Marquis are performing quite a bit above their career norms. The lineup is a different story- the Cubs' top three sluggers are likely to keep it up for the rest of the season, while the rest of the lineup struggles to maintain league average. The Brewers, meanwhile, need to hope that the rest of the NL doesn't figure out how to pitch to all their youngsters, or that the phenoms don't tire during the pressure of a playoff push. Ryan Braun and Corey Hart aren't likely to keep up their hot streaks, and JJ Hardy has (predictably) cooled from his hot start to an OPS+ of just 107.

Each team is far from perfect, and both will look to improve in the final week before the waiver-free trade deadline- the Brewers looking for a starting pitcher (but who isn't), while the Cubs should be looking for an outfield bat. While it would be great for baseball for a very young, very cheap small market team like the Brewers to pull a division win out of nowhere, in the end it's probably best to trust the more expensive team. While there are no illusions that the Cubs are likely to end their 101 year World Series drought, they are a good bet to win the coin flip for the division.

Final Verdict: Cubs over the Brewers by 2 games.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shelley Duncan: Cup of Coffee

Peter Abraham of the Journal News reports that the Yankees will purchase the contract of 27-year old Shelley Duncan from their AAA team in Scranton. Duncan will join the team the day after setting the franchise single-season home run record for Scranton (dating back to their days as a Phillies affiliate), slugging his 25th home run last night in a win over Indianapolis.

We here at Immaculate Inning are happy to celebrate the long-deserved major league debuts of older prospects. So we present Shelley Duncan with his Eight O'Clock Cup of Coffee (not sponsored by Eight O'Clock.)

Duncan steps into a Yankees clubhouse that has been feeling good since the All-Star break. Most of the lineup is hitting well so far in July, aside from Alex Rodriguez (who is forgiven, because 4 of his 12 hits this month have been homers), and Johnny Damon:
Season: .233/.337/.323
July: .158/.338/.175
Damon has also been nursing a bum foot all season, and his reluctance to go on the DL has made the highly paid Damon a designated hitter. Those numbers, then, put him on track to be the worst DH of all time. Of the 88 hitters in the American League who qualify for the batting title, Damon ranks 77th in OPS, ahead of only some rookies, some middle infielders, and Jason Kendall.
Duncan, meanwhile, is hitting .295/.380/.577 for Scranton Wilkes-Barre this season, and was the Yankees' only representive in the AAA All-Star Game. He has 25 homers and 82 strikeouts in 336 at bats this season, which puts him somewhere between Adam Dunn and Jason Giambi in terms of plate discipline. A former second-round draft pick, Duncan took his time going through the system, with the only other encouraging year coming in 2005 when he slugged 30 homers for AA Trenton. The son of Cardinals' pitching coach Dave Duncan and older brother of St. Louis' breakout player Chris Duncan, Shelley looks to add some pop to the Yankees DH and bench situations.
Should Shelley Duncan be used in the proper manner (that is, at DH instead of Damon), he should be useful for the Yankees until the return of Jason Giambi. He could potentially be the next in line of old-ish rookies to make an impact in late season callups. In late 1990, Kevin Maas brought excitement to the worst Yankees team in 80 years when he was called up after Don Mattingly went down with a back injury. Having put up decent numbers in the minors, Maas put on a power show, hitting 21 homers in 254 at bats.
Eight years later, a polar opposite Yankees team got some late-season excitement from Shane Spencer. With the division clinched in early September, the Home Run DiSpencer had put up a slugging percentage of .530 in AAA before getting his Cup of Coffee. He went on to hit ten homers in just 67 at bats (a SLG of .910!) and was even placed on the postseason roster.
Both Maas and Spencer never found sustained major league success, and it is likely that Shelley Duncan will follow a similar pattern. But, recent Yankees history has examples of late-20s rookies stepping in with immediate impact, and a Spencer/Maas-like contribution could be the spark that makes the seven game deficit disappear.
No matter how he plays, making the major leagues is the dream of every minor leaguer, and he's surely ecstatic right now. Whether it's espresso or a half-caf skim-milk latte, it's a Cup of Coffee, and that's good enough for recognition.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buddy Carlyle's Moment of History

Edward "Buddy" Carlyle, Jr, has been the very definition of "journeyman" pitcher over the last ten years. Drafted out of Bellvue East HS (Nebraska) in 1996, the Cincinnati Reds assigned Carlyle to their rookie league team in Princeton. Two years later he was traded to the Padres' organization, and continued to put up good (if not overwhelming) peripheral numbers in the minors. His 3-to-1 K:BB ratio was of particular note, and was probably part of the reason the Padres gave Carlyle his "Cup of Coffee" in late August, 1999. A little less than eight years later, Carlyle would become a member of a quite prestigious group- those who have pitched an immaculate inning.

A little over a year after his major league debut, Carlyle was sold to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan League. Following about a season of work overseas, Carlyle signed a minor league contract with the Royals, and followed that up with other minor league contracts with the Dodgers, Yankees, and Marlins before signing with the Braves this offseason. In nine starts, Carlyle has proven to be a league-average starter and continues his good command, striking out 38 to just 13 walks in 51 innings. None of the strikeouts were as momentous as the ones that came during the fourth inning of his game on July 6, 2007.

Carlyle had calmed down after allowing two runs in the bottom of the first, and in the top of the fourth recorded his first career MLB run batted in, on a line drive single to center. He then took the hill for the bottom of the frame and faced Khalil Greene, whom he set down on three pitches. Russell Branyan followed, fouling off two pitches and missing the third strike. Jose Cruz Jr stepped up and took the first pitch and missed swinging at the final two. Buddy Carlyle had recorded an immaculate inning, just the 37th pitcher to do so since 1958, and only the 40th time such an impressive moment of pitching dominance had occured. Inexplicably, the recap of the game failed to call this feat by its correct name, instead going with the verbose "pitchers who have struck out three batters on nine pitches." Immaculate Innng is way more... immaculate, no?

So without further ado, we would like to present Buddy Carlyle with the Immacualte Inning Lifetime Achievement Award, reserved for those who acheive this amazing and rare feat. Congrats Buddy, and get thee to a Publix for your complementary cookies.

Video can be found in the links here.

Mike Vick and Nike

Listening to Mike and Mike in the morning, the story of the day is, of course, the indictment of Falcons QB Michael Vick. Mike Golic tried to make comparisons to Don Imus, saying that Imus was fired only after sponsors started pulling their ads from Imus' show. Golic intimated that the Falcons and the NFL could be pressured in much the same way to suspend Vick. Mike Greenberg pointed out that the Humane Society has "all their guns ready to go," and will be pressuring NFL sponsors. He then suggested that Nike is a likely target of this pressure.

Yes, that's Nike, the company who has admitted to using child labor, involved in such practices in Pakistan, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia.

Nike: for animal rights, against human rights. Seems fair, and consistent, right?

What Vick allegedly run out of his Virginia estate is disgusting. Let's just not pretend that Nike is an honorable company if it makes a stance against this.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Edwar's Big Night

Followers of baseball know that it is almost impossible to do something that no one else in the history of the game has done. The joke during the Yankees 1996-2001 dynasty always was that if something weird happened, Don Zimmer could tell you when it had happened before. I'm not nearly as old as Don Zimmer, but I do have, whose Play Index is as close as I'm going to get, at least from 1957. You can search (with a subscription) for pretty much any event.

Last night, it was the ninth inning of the Yankees' game, and the good guys had an 8-0 lead. Lots of good things had happened in the game, such as Chein-Ming Wang having another strong outing, a home run from Robinson Cano, and some slick defensive plays. The only thing to look forward to in the top of the ninth was Edwar Ramirez. The 26-year old journeyman reliever re-invented himself a few years ago, adding what has been described as a "Bugs Bunny" changeup.

He didn't disappoint. While not an immaculate inning, Edwar struck out the side in his first inning of his major league debut, setting down pretty good hitters- Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Lew Ford. I turned to to ask: how many times has a pitcher thrown exactly one inning in his major league debut, and struck out the side?

The answer, since 1957, is now five. Surprisingly, all four have occurred in the last ten years (OK, not so surprising, since one inning appearances used to be pretty uncommon). Jordan De Jong of the Blue Jays did it this year; the only pitcher I recognize is, of course, Braden Looper. So that is a significant finding; here is a pretty rare event in baseball history.

Of course, not all pitchers throw only one inning in their major league debut. This was a little harder to account for, so I limited myself to Yankees pitchers since 1957. There have been 47 Yankees pitchers in 50 years to strike out at least three hitters in their major league debuts. Of these, only two whiffed three in their first major league inning. Al Leiter did it in the first inning of his first start in 1984- but he also allowed two hits and a run. The only pitcher, other than Edwar, to set down the side in order with strikeouts in his major league debut is Stan Bahnsen, who retired the Red Sox in order September 9, 1966. Bahnsen went on to strike out another 1,356 hitters over the course of his 16 year career.

Sure, no one else besides me will care about something like this. They'll focus on Edwar's filthy changeup, a palm-ball like pitch which dives down and in to right handed hitters at 78 mph, complimenting his accurate 91 mph fastball. And they'd be right to get excited about a pitcher who struck out 46 hitters in 26 innings in AA and AAA this year. But sometimes, it's all about the random stats.