Thursday, July 31, 2008

Walk Off Strikeout

The walk-off home run is one of the most spectacular plays baseball can offer. There are plenty of ways to end a game, of course. There's a blog dedicated to one of them- the walk-off walk. That's got to be pretty embarrassing for the pitcher. For the catcher, an even more embarrassing event has to be the walkoff strikeout- there, the pitcher has just dominated a hitter to get the strikeout.... but wait! The ball is bouncing around the backstop! The game-winning run scores!

How often does this kind of humiliation occur? Well, it just happened in a minor league game-- the Toledo Mud Hens beat the Pawktucket Red Sox 5-4 after Timo Perez swung at a ball in the dirt, and Freddy Guzman raced home with the winning run. In the major leagues, however, the event is somewhat rare. Unfortunately the Play Index won't let me run the search all at once; I had to check each year in the database individually. The results, in reverse chronological order:

August 3, 2005- With the game tied, a runner on third, and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Lou Pinella instructed Cubs pitcher Mike Remlinger to intentionally walk both Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu to load the bases. That brought up Pat Burrell, and Remlinger was replaced by Michael Wuertz- because apparently, going to the closer in a tie game on the road is ill-advised. Anyway, Burrell swung feebly at the first two pitches, and then Weurtz wasted a couple, including one in the dirt. On the 2-2 pitch, Weurtz got Burrell swinging, but the pitch got away from catcher Michael Barrett. According to this recap, Barrett panicked and threw to third rather than chasing down Jimmy Rollins, who was halfway between third and home. Rollins scored easily with the winning run. Barrett later claimed that umpire Dana DeMuth "did us a favor really by calling him out. If I had just eaten the throw and run at him, it would've been a different ballgame. I can't blame [DeMuth]. The place is so loud. I was expecting a foul tip call and didn't get it." Barrett was not alone in making a mental mistake in the game, but his was the most costly.

September 27, 2003- Late in the season, in front of a paltry crowd of 14,277, the worst team in over 40 years avoided tying the modern baseball single-season record for losses in a season by beating the Twins on a walk-off strikeout. The Detroit Tigers had rallied to tie from down 8-1 with a three-run seventh and a four-run eighth, but still needed a lot of help. With one out, Alex Sanchez drew a walk. With William Morris batting, Sanchez went to work- stealing both second and third base. This ESPN recap says that the 2-2 pitch went to the backstop, while Morris swung and missed. Sanchez scored easily, preventing the Tigers from losing their 120th game, which would have matched the 1962 Mets for most losses since 1900. Like Michael Barrett in the game above, Sanchez "thought it was a foul ball, but everyone in the dugout was yelling for me to go, so I took off. As soon as I started running, I knew we were going to win the game. That's when I put my arms in the air."

September 22, 1997- Walk-off strikeouts are not reserved only for poor teams; this time it was the 101-win Atlanta Braves who stunned the Expos in the eleventh inning. It had been seven innings since a run had crossed the plate, when Expos pitcher Shayne Bennett got into trouble-- a single, sacrifice bunt, and intentional walk gave runners on first and second with one out. Unfortunately, Bennett walked the next hitter, Greg Colbrunn, which brought up Mike Mordecai. Steve Kline was called from the bullpen, and quickly got to an 0-2 count. After wasting a pitch, Kline got Mordecai to swing on the next pitch, which was wild and Denny Bautist scored from third with the winning run.

June 16, 1986-
The largest gap between walk-off strikeouts so far, more than ten years back to this game between the Rangers and Angels. With California trailing 1-0 in the ninth inning, Texas starter Charlie Hough was still going strong. The knuckleballer got pinch hitter Rupert Jones to strike out looking, and then another pinch hitter, Jack Howell, hit a line drive to left field. George Wright, who had entered the game in the ninth, presumably as a defensive replacement, botched the catch, which went for a three-base error. Wally Joyner singled in Howell, and advanced to second on a passed ball. After a strikeout and an intentional walk (of Reggie Jackson), it brought up George Hendrick. Hough is credited with a strikeout of Hendrick, which should have ended the game. But catcher Orlando Mercado is credited with a passed ball, and Joyner scored all the way from second. Mercado was generally a solid catcher, with only sixteen passed balls in his 247 career games, but six of them came in 1986-- his only season catching Charlie Hough. So perhaps we shouldn't heap too much blame on Mercado for this one; he probably wanted to wait for it to stop and pick it up. Still, this is the first of the games I've looked at where the walk-off strikeout should have been the third out; it also is the first game I've seen where the winning run scored from second.

August 15, 1970- Sixteen years, back to a classing pitching matchup between the Mets' Tom Seaver and the Braves' Phil Neikro. Seaver was still pitching in the ninth inning, his team up 2-1. Unfortunately for Seaver, it all began to fall apart-- a single (Tony Gonzalez), flyball, and infield single (Rico Carty) brought up pinch hitter Hank Aaron. The famous slugger drew a walk to load the bases for Bob Tillman. Seaver managed to get Tillman to strikeout for the third time in the game, but the pitch was wild. So wild, in fact, that it ended the game. The first run is charged to Seaver's wild pitch, but Rico Carty scored on an error by catcher Jerry Grote. So this game is interesting because the tying and winning runs scored on the strikeout, but it was an error that was ultimately responsible for the end of the game.

And that's all for the play index. Fifty-two years, and in just five games has there been a walk-off strikeout. We've seen it happen to good teams and some of the worst teams, good pitchers and bad. It probably won't make it into the memoirs of anyone involved, but their feats are stored here for all posterity.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mariano Rivera: Greatest Pitcher of All Time

In a mop-up role, having not pitched for four days, Mariano Rivera took the mound in the ninth inning, facing the heart of the Baltimore Orioles' lineup. It started poorly, as Aubry Huff knocked Rivera's fourth cutter into the right field seats. But Mo settled down to retire Melvin Mora, Jay Payton, and Kevin Millar in order, vaulting himself into the history books.

That one inning pitched last night in Baltimore gives Mariano Rivera 1000.33 innings pitched for his career. By reaching this plateau, Rivera now qualifies for the all-time ERA and ERA+ leaderboards, according to First, the classic statistic-- earned run average. Rivera now ranks 17th all time, tied with Jim Scott. Four of the pitchers ahead of Rivera had their careers end before 1900; the latest anyone ahead of him pitched was 1933 (some guy named Ruth), pitched seriously- 1927 (Walter Johnson).

If there's one thing the statistics revolution has taught me, it's that athletes are best judged relative to their peers. For while raw statistics are impressive, their true meaning only comes from studying how much better a great athlete was, compared to his competition. And so we reveal the new career adjusted ERA+ leader: Mariano Rivera. According to ERA+, Rivera has, since 1995, been 98 percent better than his peers, measured by ability to prevent earned runs. Rivera not only takes the top spot; he dominates it. Which raises the question: is Mariano Rivera the greatest pitcher of all time?

Clearly, does not think a reliever should enter the discussion. Officially, to qualify for the career ERA title, one has to pitch 2000 innings, double the amount required by baseball-reference. A starting pitcher probably could eclipse the lower mark (1000 innings) in four or five full seasons; indeed Jake Peavy (7 seasons, 1202 IP) and Brandon Webb (6 seasons- 1235 IP) already grace the Active ERA leaderboard. But none of them have an ERA+ anywhere near the range of Mariano Rivera. Is his elevated ERA+ a factor of being a relief pitcher?

The short answer is: perhaps. Goose Gossage, whose recent election to the Hall of Fame might finally open the door for closers, finished with 1809 IP and an ERA+ of 126. All-Time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, who will soon match the 1000 IP plateau, has a career ERA+ of 144. Rather than try and name everyone; here is a list of all pitchers who relieved at least 80% of their games and threw at least 750 innings. Even with a lowered standard, only one other pitcher eclipses Pedro Martinez's record for career ERA+ by a starter (157)- Billy Wagner at 181. Rivera well out-paces Wagner's 181, although it lends some credence to the theory that relievers have inflated ERA+ that shouldn't be quantitatively compared to that of a lifetime starter.

Still, one has to expand the field to include all pitchers with 200 IP to find a single player who eclipses Rivera's ERA+ mark (and I didn't like who I found there either). Whatever the adjustment made to Rivera's numbers, due to his pitching role, it cannot completely erase how Rivera's peers have failed to come anywhere close to his production. Among pitchers with 1000 IP, Rivera is also in the top 25 in Strikeouts 9/IP, all time. Since 1995, no pitcher has prevented home runs better than Rivera. For fourteen seasons, Rivera has compiled a resume that I believe allows him to be compared with the starting pitchers, and statistically he rises as the best. And of course Rivera is, without a doubt the greatest relief pitcher of all time.

But if we can define "greatness" by performance relative to one's peers, no pitcher is greater than Mariano Rivera.

Who cares to challenge this?

Photo credit

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Long and Winding Road (Records)

It is with tireless enthusiasm that we here at The Immaculate Inning stand strong against inaccuracy in sports journalism. Short-tempered mainstream media like Buzz Bissinger and Stephen A. Smith like to criticize blogs because we don't have training and access. Yet, along with more famous blogs such as Fire Joe Morgan or Dodger Thoughts, it is up to us to take to task those who, despite training and access, can't even do a simple Google search. For me, the journey is just as interesting as the valid goal of achieving accuracy, and many of my posts here recently have been inspired by the mistakes of others.

So, standing on the wobbly shoulders of behemoths, I offer this Red Sox-Yankees series preview. This particular piece has Matt Brown of Yahoo Sports on the by-line, but the story was taken mostly from the Associated Press. The puzzling sentence:

Trying to improve on their mediocre 23-23 road record after sweeping
Minnesota and Oakland at home, the Yankees will send Joba Chamberlain (2-3,
2.52) to the mound.

Also appears here (Minneapolis Star-Tribune), here (, here (, and here (Connectiuct's The Associated Press was convinced, without much evidence, that a 23-23 road record was "mediocre." It sure seems so, compared to the team's 56-45 overall record, and brightly contrasted the six straight games they'd won in Yankee Stadium leading up to the series in Fenway. Yet, a simple check of tells a different story: The Yankees (now 25-24 on the road) have the second-best road record in the American League! In fact, the team that they were trying to "improve on their mediocre" road record against, the Boston Red Sox, have one of the worst road-records in baseball, at 24-32. It is puzzling, even disappointing, that a news agency as distinguished as the Associated Press didn't bother verifying its numbers.

Meanwhile, my "Random Baseball Stat" wheels were already churning- a .500 record is second-best in the AL? Is that an odd happenstance? Many baseball analysts point to the home-road splits of individual players to look for evidence that their home ballpark is to credit/blame for their performance: Matt Holliday is a Coors creation; Jake Peavy benefits from the large stadium in Petco. What, then, is to be made of an entire team that underperforms on the road? If the team is constructed in such a way as to benefit the home ball-park, it's certainly possible that their performance on the road will suffer more than normal. But, we must first determine what is normal.

I've tabulated the total and road records for each team in the past two seasons. You can play with the spreadsheet yourself by going here. The average AL team, in 2008, sees a winning percentage drop of 0.059 when playing on the road. The Red Sox, meanwhile, suffer a drop of .142, third-worst in all of baseball. Curiously, the two teams below the Red Sox in this category are the Rays and the Cubs, who each have higher overall winning percentages. Might having a poor road performance be not all that damaging to a team's playoff chances?

Looking at 2007, the first thing to notice is that the American League showed, overall, a lower dropoff between overall, and road winning percentages. (0.045 versus 0.059 this year) The 2007 playoff teams are all over the map, from the Angels (0.086 difference) to the Red Sox (0.037 difference). The National League is similar, especially when you consider the Mets, who lost the division in the last week of the season despite a better record on the road than at Shea.

In 2006, the story is similar. The difference in the average team's overall record versus the road record were about the same as in 2007; 0.045 for the AL and 0.046 in the NL. In the American League, the playoff teams were slightly biased toward being road warriors; the Tigers, Yankees, and Angels all had better than average road records, while the Twins were below average. The NL, meanwhile, had teams two teams above and two teams below average, including the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, who had one one of the worst road records in baseball.

It would definitely take an examination of all 14 wild-card era seasons to make a conclusion about the relationship of road performance and playoff appearance. In addition, it would probably be helpful to look at each team from a runs scored/runs allowed perspective, to see if any team got unlucky on the road. Still, the lesson remains that "mediocre" is a term to be applied to relative status, not absolute status. It is clear that teams which underperform their overall record while on the road are not rare.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Pitcher as Fielder

In response to Matt's post about near-Perfect games, jl25and3 wrote

"I'll disagree with you on Dick Bosman. The pitcher-as-fielder is considered separately from the pitcher-as-pitcher, and that's the way it should be. You're judging his pitching performance, and his fielding isn't relevant.

Think of it this way: if a batter reaches on a pitcher's error, would you count that in the pitcher's DIPS? Of course not, because it had nothing to do with his pitching.

Once the ball is hit to him, he's no longer a pitcher. He's just another infielder. That infielder's bad play shouldn't affect any evaluation of the pitcher's performance."

I started to write a response but then figured it deserved it's own post. I disagree strongly with jl. The purpose of the pitcher is to prevent the other team from scoring runs. It is extremely arbitrary to say his job as a pitcher ends as soon as the ball leaves his hand.

If a pitcher is a complete liability on defense then he cannot be a successful pitcher. A pitcher who can pitch well but cannot field his position isn't any more useful to his team than a pitcher who can't pitch well. I'd argue that batters who get on base due to errors by the pitcher should count as earned runs if they come around to score and should count toward a pitcher's WHIP(more reasonable to make a new stat called WHEPIR Walks + Hits + Errors by Pitcher / Innings Pitched).

Let's consider 3 possible results from a 3-2 count.
1) The pitcher misses the zone and the batter walks.
2) The pitcher leaves the ball up and the batter gets a single.
3) The pitcher makes a decent pitch and the batter hits a dribbler to the mound. The pitcher misplays it and the batter gets to first.

Scenarios 1 and 2 are considered the pitcher's fault as a Pitcher. In scenario 3 it's considered the pitcher's fault as a Fielder. In all three the batter is on first due only to the actions of the pitcher. I don't see the purpose of separating pitcher's pitching statistics and pitcher's fielding statistics outside of a thought experiment. The pitcher's job before he pitches is to prevent runs and the pitcher's job after the ball leaves his hand is to prevent runs. The player who throws the ball to the catcher and the player who fields the 1 position are one in the same so why should stats treat them as different people?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Robbed By the Defense: Almost Perfect Games

Tonight I was intently following (via Gameday) the start of one Ian Patrick Kennedy, 23-year old prospect for the New York Yankees. He finished the sixth inning with seven strikeouts, no walks, and no hits. It was the second game of a double-header, so the most Kennedy (or IPK as some like to call him) could expect was a seven-inning perfect game. Well... except for the fact that his teammates made four errors behind him. This fielding futility included two in the seventh inning; second baseman Chris Basak booted a grounder with two outs that would have ended Kennedy's short no-hitter. The next hitter hit one over the head of right fielder Greg Porter, whose botched catch allowed the tying run to score.

All of this got me thinking about no-hitters and perfect games. Now, for anyone who has tried to explain the concepts of "wins" and "errors" to non-baseball fans knows, these concepts are pretty arbitrary and don't really tell us anything about a pitcher's ability. There are still old fashioned folks who declare they'd rather have the pitching stats of a 2008 Livan Hernandez (10-6, 5.29 ERA) than of a 2008 Johan Santana (8-7, 3.05 ERA) because the former has more wins. Others will frequently disguise this stupidity as "he can't pitch to the score."

Similarly odd, yet less talked about, is the concept of the Earned Run. Like pitcher wins and losses, it's an invented statistic attempting to take the blame of a run away from a pitcher whose defense has failed him. Taking the defense out of the statistic should theoretically lead to a stat that more closely belies the true ability of the pitcher. However, recent stat analysis shows us the opposite; a pitcher's stats are more correlated from one season to the next if the "unearned" runs are included. (However, it is with taking the other extreme and considering only the outcomes that are independent of fielding- home runs, walks, and strikeouts- that are most predictive of pitcher ability).

Now, let's return to the concept of the "perfect game," as defined- all batters in a game of at least nine innings, retired without reaching base. The essence of the rule regarding official perfect games is constructed to make it a team effort, and I do not disagree with that. There is something that makes twenty-seven up, twenty-seven down special, and it includes the defense (and the offense scoring at least one run). However, there is also something special about a pitcher going nine innings without allowing a base-runner of his own accord. I was inspired by IPK's performance to investigate whether any pitchers have been "robbed" of a perfect game by their defense. Here's the play index search: 9 innings pitched, 0 hits, 0 walks, and more than one baserunner.

The search returned eight games, since 1956, in which the pitcher went 9 innings and had no hits, no walks, but did have some baserunners. Of these, five pitchers allowed a baserunner by hitting batsmen; these I believe to be against the spirit of the search and shall be excluded. Starting with the earliest:

Dick Bosman- July 19, 1974

Dick Bosman was a mediocre pitcher (1974: 88 ERA+) on a mediocre Indians team (77-85), who was long displaced from his best seasons with the Washington Senators. He did have good control, walking just 2.74 men per 9 innings over the course of his career. In his previous start in Minnesota, Bosman took a no-decision after 6.1 uninspiring innings, allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on 4 hits. On July 19, Bosman took the hill against the Athletics and retired the first eleven men in order. After allowing a man to reach on an error; Bosman retired the final sixteen men in order. His final line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 4 K. Should this game be included, in spirit, with the seventeen official perfect games?

I say no. The reason lies, specifically, in the reason for the error. You see, with two outs in the fourth inning, A's third baseman Sal Brando hit a ball right back to Bosman, and our potential hero threw the ball into the seats. The lone base-runner of the game was still Bosman's fault. So Bosman should still be in the league with mere mortals throwing mortal no-hitters. According to Wikipedia, Bosman is noteworthy for rebuilding old cars and selling them, including a 1933 Ford to actual perfect game thrower David Wells. The Baseball Almanac notes that Bosman is the only pitcher in recorded history to have ruined his own perfect game with a throwing error.

Jerry Reuss- June 27, 1980

Jerry Reuss was a tad more successful pitcher; over 22 seasons Reuss pitched in 628 games (527 starts) and a dead-average career ERA+ of 100. In 1980, Reuss had one of his best seasons, crafting a 2.51 ERA (141 ERA+) and winning 18 games. He would later finish second in the Cy Young voting to Steve Carlton. In the games leading up to June 27, Reuss was nothing short of spectacular. On June 21, he threw 9 shutout innings against the Mets; on June 16 he went ten innings against the Phillies but still got a no-decision. Amazingly, he already had three shutouts before taking the mound in San Fransisco, eager to top his already brilliant season.

This time, it wasn't long before the lone baserunner reached; it was in the first inning, when a ground ball of the bat of Jack Clark ate up third baseman Bill "No, A Different One" Russell. Reuss then retired the next twenty-five batters in order, winning the game for the Dodgers 8-0. Reuss had twice previously been one batter short of a no-hitter. Mike Robbins, who wrote a book about situations such as these, called "Ninety Feet from Fame: Close Calls with Immortaility" wrote that in 1972, after one of these near no-hitters, Reuss said "If I ever get to the ninth-inning again with a no-hitter, I'm going to get it." So he did. You were perfect in my eyes, Jerry.

Terry Mulholland, August 15, 1990

Terry Mullholland was much more like Bosman than Reuss; though his longevity (20 years) was more like the latter, his performance (93 ERA+, 124-142 record) was more like the former. Still, Mulholland managed to piece together some good seasons, and 1990 was one of them, with a 3.34 ERA (114 ERA+) in 26 starts for the Phillies. In the dog days of the summer, Mulholland had been struggling, allowing four or more runs and ten or more hits in each of his previous four starts. On August 15, things turned around.

While the Lenny Dykstra led Phillies staking him to a lead, Mulholland retired the first eighteen Giants in order, striking out nine. But textbook perfection was not meant to be, as San Fran centerfielder Rick Parker knocked one towards the hole between short and third. With the speedy Parker racing down the line, third baseman Charlie Hayes grabbed the ball and threw wide of John Kruk's considerably large target at first base. It was ruled an error, and Parker was eraced with a double play in the next at bat; Mulholland would retire the final 9 batters in order. According to Robbins, Kruk lobbied to have the error charged to him, but the official scorer did not relent; Hayes also apparently preserved the no-hitter by making a diving catch to end the game.

Said Mulholland after the game: "I'm not Nolan Ryan. I'm not knocking on the door for the Cy Young Award. I'm just Terry Mulholland." And yet Mulholland came closer than ever Ryan did to throwing a perfect game. He is the only man to ever have thrown a no-hitter while facing just twenty-seven batters.

Wikipedia has a good section discussing other, pre-Retrosheet Era games, including a classic pitcher's duel between Christy Mathewson (who threw a no-hit, no-walk game but was failed by two errors) and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, who also took a no-no into the ninth, but lost the game. In addition, there are other amazing pitching performances not counted as perfect games. For example, Babe Ruth was famously thrown out of a game in 1917 after walking the game's first batter. Ernie Shore relieved him, and after the runner was caught stealing retired the next twenty-six batters. It was once recognized as a perfect game, but does not fit under the current definition (it is still an official combined no-hitter).

Pedro Martinez pitched one of the best games in recent baseball history in 1995 when he went nine perfect innings, only his Expos teammates had failed to score a run. Martinez came out for the tenth but gave up a leadoff double and was taken out for a reliever.

To close, I give you the most impressive non-perfecto of them all: the twelve perfect innings by Harvey Haddix on May 26, 1959. He retired thirty-six consecutive hitters before an error allowed the 37th batter to reach base. After a sacrifice and an inentional walk (to Hank Aaron), Joe Adcock hit a home run to win the game- the homer was changed to a double because Hank Aaron simply walked off the field, and Adcock passed him on the bases. The Pirates had failed to score any runs for Haddix, despite 12 hits.

These seemingly-freak occurences should be teaching us a lesson about blame and credit and how they are divided among the men who play baseball. Immortality is rightfully given to the men who throw perfect games, but no one ever remembers the defenders who helped them do it, or the hitters that ensured the game only lasted 9 innings. Yet, in a tragedy worthy of the Bard, immortality shuns those pitchers who dare to do all they can to acheive perfection but are robbed by imperfection off the mound. To them, the Tantaluses of baseball, my glass is raised.

UPDATE: As if on cue, posts this song about the "fateful game" about Harvey Haddix, pretty awesome. Why don't we add old Harvey to that list, indeed.

Johnette Howard is wrong,0,3392980.column

Ok, we're not Fire Joe Morgan(nor do we write for The Office), but this is two days in a row where intense disagreement has driven me to write. Johnette slams Johan Santana for not demanding to be kept in the game after pitching 8 strong innings. At the end of 8 the Mets had a 6-2 lead over the Phillies. Billy Wagner wasn't available to pitch, but it wasn't even a Save situation. The Mets had the entire rest of the bullpen available for the purpose of recording 3 outs before the Mets scored 4 or more runs. I don't care what inning it is, a Major League Pitcher should not give up 4 runs in an inning. If you can't trust your bullpen to hold that lead then why do you have a bullpen?

If they only gave up 3 runs then nobody questions Santana's desire to win. If they left Santana in and he gives up 4 runs, Jerry Manuel gets roasted for leaving him in too long(see Little, Grady). If they leave him in for the 9th but he strains his elbow while throwing the last pitch, then Manuel gets slammed(and rightfully so) for overworking his pitcher for a game in July.

He had thrown 105 pitches after 8 innings, and whether you agree with it or not, 100 pitches is rule of thumb for pulling a pitcher. This isn't the playoffs where there's no tomorrow, there are 61 regular season games left, and Santana will probably pitch in about 12 of them. The NL East is a 3-way battle and it's not worth jeopardizing the 80 or so innings that a healthy Santana would pitch for one inning when you have a 4 run lead.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jeffri Chadiha is wrong

The idea of this list is to take the top 10 players who are the most irreplaceable on their teams. The answer for number 1 is simple: Peyton Manning. Now, Tom Brady may go down as one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in history, and this is coming from a teal-and-orange-bleeding Dan Marino fan. The list isn't about the best player though, it's the most indispensable.

If Tom Brady goes down, the Pats still have their defense, they still have their absurd offensive line, and they still have Randy Moss. The same Randy Moss that made Daunte Culpepper look like a good quarterback. They're obviously not as good without Brady, but they're still a lock for the playoffs in the weak AFC East.

Peyton Manning isn't just the quarterback of the Colts, he's pretty much the offensive coordinator as well. Peyton Manning runs the offense like he's playing Madden. The play that he came to the line with is merely a suggestion. He takes a look at what the defense is throwing at him, turns his head, waves his arms around, and chooses a play to beat that defensive scheme. If Peyton goes down, Tony Dungy won't, nor should he, allow Jim Sorgi to run the offense. The Colts would go from one of the most dynamic offensive teams to another team that has the play called in from the sideline.

T.O. is a joke at number 3. He was tied for 20th in the league for receiving yards per game last season. The Cowboys are still very good without T.O.

Looking down the list, with a Defensive Tackle in 6th, I can only imagine that this article is meant as some sort of comment or blog bait meant to annoy people and argue about why he's wrong. Well, I bit.

Ed Price: Wrong; Craig Breslow: awesome

I was reading through Emma Span's excellent blog, Eephus Pitch, when I came across this link. Ed Price of the Newark Star-Ledger notes that Twins pitcher Craig Breslow threw two wild pitches and also balked. Price cites the Play Index and declares that this is the first time any reliever has accomplished such a dubious feat.

Well, you know that I have an affinity for both the play index and dubious random feats, so I decided to see what other balk-walk combos there have been. I started with Price's search, and here are the results. As you can see, Breslow is far from being the first ever reliever to have two wild pitches and a balk in a single game. It has been a while since someone has done it, but it's happened sixteen times since 1956. Some pitchers have even had two balks to go with their two wild pitches.

So I don't know what kind of search Mr. Price did, but Breslow is not remarkable for what he did last night. He is, however, a remarkable person. A journeyman left-handed pitcher, Breslow graduated from Yale in 2002 with degrees in both molecular biophysics and biochemistry. After his first season in pro-ball, he interned at a Yale lab studying stem-cell research. Since then he has started a cancer-reasearch charity, the Strike3Foundation, with his sister, a thyroid cancer survivor. Kudos to anyone else who combines my dual love for biology and baseball!

As for Ed Price, well....

Update: Ed Price has altered his post and apologizes for the misleading info. Hooray!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Left-Handed Third Basemen

In the year-and-a-half since I've started the blog, there have been 109 posts. According to my Stat Counter statistics, the most popular post of all is this one, on the history of left-handed second basemen in the major leagues. Well, I've never been one above pandering to my audience, and plenty of people have come here in search of answers regarding other southpaw infielders. So let us take a look at the history of the even rarer Left-Handed Third Baseman.

The play-index over at allows one to search on a variety of parameters, and here is the result of searching for all hot-corner lefties since 1956 (the first year of full regular-season box score data). Indeed, there are just four players to have donned gloves on their right hands and played third base in the last fifty-four years. The earliest of these is Mike Squires, whose official position was third base in 13 games spread over two seasons.

The first game was on August 23, 1983. Squires had played over five seasons in the majors at this point, primarily at first base, even earning a gold glove in 1981. But on this day Squire's White Sox were getting blown out by the Royals, and manager Tony LaRussa decided to clear his bench. Between the sixth and eighth innings, LaRussa replaced all but two fielders. Quizzically, he did not replace first baseman Greg Walker with Squires, instead having the latter replace Vance Law at third base. In doing so, Squires was noted at the time for becoming the first left-handed third baseman in over 50 years, which reaches back beyond the data.

That Time Magazine article notes that Washington Senators first baseman Joe Kuhel attempted one game at third base in 1936. does record Kuhel's fielding at first base but not third; however, records Kubel as having two assists in a game in 1936. The box-score of this game has, presumably, been lost to the sands of time.

Mike Squires, meanwhile, did not record a putout or assist in his first action at third base; that would have to wait until 1984. On April 8, LaRussa pinch hit Squires for Law in the bottom of the seventh and then sent him to third for the eighth. Squires was immediately tested as Tigers' hitter Lance Parrish grounded one to third. Squires fielded and threw cleanly for the first assist by a left-handed third baseman in 48 years. In total Squires made 3 putouts and had 9 assists from third base in his 38 innings there, earning a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Notably, Squires played two innings at catcher in the major leagues, another position with very few southpaws.

Squires also managed to have an interesting three-position gambit in one game: first-base, third-base, pitcher. Yes, on April 22, 1984, Squires was asked to finish a game against the Detroit Tigers. He had started the game at first base; moved to third in the eighth, and then with two outs in the eighth LaRussa called on Squires with runners on first and second. Squires threw one pitch to Tom Brookens and induced a fly ball to centerfield to end the inning and Squires' pitching career. Surprisingly, this position combination has been tried four times since 1956; and two of them are by a friend from the last paragaph-- Vance Law.

The world would not have to wait another half-century for the next lefty third-baseman. Just over a year after Squires' final game at third base, Montreal Expos manager Buck Rodgers followed LaRussa's lead and inserted left-handed Terry Francona at third base. It was October 6, 1985, the last game in a third-place season for the Expos, and the starter at third base was-- Razor Shines. The 28-year old had a name much better than his ability (hit .185/.239/.198 in 81 career at bats). Wikipedia notes that he spent sixteen years in the minors, and is currently a manager for the Clearwater Threshers of the FSL. Anyway, Rogers must have seen enough (or there was an injury) and replaced Razor Shines with utility player (and current Red Sox manager) Terry Francona. It was the only appearance at third base in Francona's career, and he made good on all three of his assist chances. Francona was then replaced himself in the bottom of the eighth by.... Vance Law. Cue creepy music.

It would be a not quite a year after Francona's game at third, when the New York Yankees suffered an injury to regular third baseman Mike Pagliarulo on August 25. The Yankees then left for a west-coast trip, and in a game on August 29, suffered another injury, this time to shortstop Mike Fischlin. Mattingly himself vaguely recalled the circumstances in a November 2004 interview on his website. From the boxscore, it seems as though the players were shuffled around the field, with Mattingly moving from first to third. Mattingly started an around-the-horn double play to end his first inning of work at the hot corner. He would have five other assists and a putout in the rest of the game. The next day, Mattingly actually started the first game in a doubleheader at third base, though he moved to first in the sixth inning. Wayne Tolleson replaced him at third and started the second game. Pags did pinch hit in both games but did not return to regular action until September 4. Mattingly played one more game at third and that was it for his career.

Another decade passed before the next, and latest lefty third baseman. Mariners' utility man Mario Valdez pinch hit in the 8th and then played his only inning of third base in the ninth inning, but did not have a ball hit to him. And that's all for left-handed third basemen. The prospect of having to turn your back to the plate to throw across the diamond must not be appealing to most managers. One would think it would be an advantage on reaction plays down the line, while a disadvantage over a ball between third and short. Fielding bunts down the third base line would also be quite difficult for a lefty, I suppose.

Next time, we'll check out the even shorter list of left-handed shortstops. I find these investigations extremely interesting, because I get to pick out some of the rarer things in baseball history, and they always seem to coincide with other wacky events!

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the final installment, left-handed shortstops!

Tale of the Tape

Source: ESPN

Unless, of course, this unsubstantiated rumor were true. Which it isn't.

Dear Brian Cashman:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Anti-Cookie

If there were such a thing as an anti-cookie, Dan Uggla has earned it. With a chance to highlight the Marlins' surprising season on national TV, Uggla entered the All-Star game in the bottom of the sixth as a defensive replacement. His night:

Bottom sixth: Caught pop-up off bat of Joe Crede for the second out.
Top eighth: Struck out swinging with go-ahead runner on first.
Top tenth: With two on and one out, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play
Bottom tenth: Botches an easy grounder to allow Michael Young to reach leading off
Bottom tenth: Next batter, Carlos Quentin, also hits one to Uggla, and it bounces off his chest for another error.
Bottom tenth: The very next batter hits another one to Uggla, and with the bases loaded Uggla takes his sweet time throwing home, allowing Sizemore to reach base, re-loading the bases.
Top twelfth: Uggla strikes out looking on three pitches, including getting frozen on a 67-mph curveball from Joakim Soria.
Bottom twelfth: Uggla manages to not screw up, getting Grady Sizemore on a ground out despite not catching the ball cleanly.
Bottom thirteenth: J.D. Drew reaches on Uggla's third fielding error, which sets an All-Star game record.
Top fifteenth: Uggla manages to get to four pitches this time but strikes out on a 93-mph fastball from Scott Kazmir.

So, Uggla had five ground balls hit to him, and he fielded none of them cleanly. He batted four times and failed miserably each time. Sure, none of the errors actually resulted in runs for the AL and the NL managed to score runs in two of the innings where Uggla batted. Still, for such an epic breakdown on a national stage, we shall reward him with the first ever Food Lion Anti-Cookie (Definitely Not Sponsored by Food Lion). If I could follow him around all day giving him the sarcastic slow-clap, I would.

Also, to the National League: thanks for playing. Your inferiority is unparalleled.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Shannon Rowbury-- Olympian

If there is one area of society through which most Americans live vicariously, it is the world of sport. Those of us blessed with only enough athletic talent which is useful for such feats as company softball and backyard beer pong have to gain their glory by raising athletes to hero status. Their success is ours; their rivals' defeats our schadenfraude. For me, I find this kind of self-worth especially gratifying when looking at people my own age, the success of others somehow justifying my mediocre existence; at least someone has done something with the same 24 years I've gotten.

So it was with great pride that I watched the women's 1500 m race at the US Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon last night. The favorite going into the race was fellow Duke graduate Shannon Rowbury, who previously had turned in the fastest US time in five years at an earlier meet. Rowbury was in my freshman dorm at Duke, and so somehow I feel that the vicariousness is closer. Also in the race was former UNC student Erin Donahue, who I met while attending a track camp back in high school. As they announced the contestants, there was another interesting side-story, a 16-year old girl, Jordan Hasay, had qualified for the final, shattering the high school record to do so.

Soon after the gun sounded, a slow pace was set by some of the underdogs in the race. This seemed to be counter-intuitive; in order to go to Bejing, a runner not only had to finish in the top 3 but also make the Olympic qualifying time of 4:07.00. Only five runners in the race (including Rowbury and Donahue) had such a mark, so it would have made sense for those who had not eclipsed that time to do so in this race. After running the first 1100 meters in about 2:50, Rowbury tired of staying with the pack and broke free. Her lead over the second group widened with 200 meters to go and Rowbury crossed the finish line with a solid 4:05.48. Said Rowbury after the race:

"I reacted well and was able to bring home the win. I'm so excited because we have a great contingent going to Beijing. Should be an exciting next couple of months and I can't wait till August."

Rowbury joins several former ACC track stars on the US team. Donahue qualified by finished second in the race, and Walter Dix of FSU filled the gap voided by injured superstar Tyson Gay by winning the 200 m final in 19.86 seconds. Fellow Duke grad Jillian Schwartz failed to qualify in a hotly contested pole vault field; a headwind complicated matters and even Sydney gold medalist Stacy Dragila failed to qualify.

Shannon Rowbury joins an illustrious cast of successful characters from my freshman dorm. There's Doug Kim, who finished at the final table in the 2006 World Series of Poker; Dan "DJ Sensei" Morris has also made a name for himself in the world of online poker. Yet another poker player, Dave Mosca, has his own start-up company. Someday, when this blog is the number one blog about a quirky baseball feat, I can join their lofty status. Someday.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Checking in on Da Bulls

It was more than a year ago when we awarded our very first Publix Cookie Lifetime Achievement Award to Chris Mason, then pitching for the Montgomery Biscuits. He threw an Immaculate Inning, and while this sort of thing may be more common than we realize in the minor leagues, it was the first we had heard about. The pitching coach that day actually said he was disappointed in Mason for not "working the count," but of course pitching an Immaculate Inning is way more impressive than throwing waste pitches so far out of the zone that it makes the hitter giggle. Mason finished last season very well, throwing 161.1 innings with 136 strikeouts, 44 walks, and a sparkling 2.57 ERA. The Gastonia, NC got to come home this season as he was assigned to the Durham Bulls.

Last night, I went to see the Bulls take on the Charlotte Knights, and Chris Mason was the starter. Mason has struggled this season, and holds a 6.38 ERA in 17 starts, though he's still striking out a lot of hitters- 77 in 86 innings, with a respectable number of walks (29). He's just giving up way too many home runs, 18 so far! He's currently the worst starter on a staff that is in the middle of the pack in the International League (4.51 runs/game). It's the excellent hitting that has propelled the Bulls to first place in their division. On July 3 they were taking on a Charlotte Knights team that was 10 games under .500, but this game was all Knights from the beginning.

In the first inning, Mason came out throwing his 92 mph fastball up in the zone, and paid for it. He gave up a leadoff double to Jason Bourgeois, a 26-year old minor league lifer. After inducing a groundout to first, up came David Cook, another 26-year old only recently promoted from AA. Cook jumped all over a 2-1 slider and hit a bullet to the centerfield lawn for a two-run homer. Mason later gave up a double in the inning, but stranded that runner. The second inning didn't start off well, allowing a bloop single to yet another 26-year old, Fernando Cortez. Backup catcher Hector Gimenez tried to pick off Cortez with a snap throw that ended up going down the right field line. Mason walked the next batter and then Knights manager Gary Allenson went small ball, calling for a sac bunt followed by a Sac Fly from Bourgeois.

Mason then calmed down for two innings, and had a nice play on a comebacker in the fourth inning, making a diving stop to his left. He would give up another run in the fifth on a double by Bourgeois and an RBI single by Danny Richar, but got a 6-4-3 double play to end the first half of the game with the Bulls trailing 4-0. Mason's night was done and the numbers weren't pretty: 5 IP 6 H 4 R (all earned) 1 BB 3 K, and just 49 of his 76 pitches were strikes. The Bulls would rally in the bottom of the fifth, including an impressive play by first baseman Chris Richard, who scored from second on an infield single. Fernando Perez would add a two-run double to make the score 4-3, but the Knights pulled away in the 7th inning due to innefective relief work from Kurt Birkins and Nick Debarr (whose first pitch was wild, allowing the fifth run to score from third).

The loss drops Mason's record to 3-9 on the season, but he gave up another home run, which is probably more damaging to his prospect chances. Mason recently turned 24, and with Tampa Bay's pitching staff beginning to come together, Mason needs to regain the control he had as a Montgomery Biscuit last year. As for the Bulls, their strengths continue to be hitting, though they are weaker on the prospect front than previous years. The top youngsters on the team are infielders: there's Reid Brignac, a 22 year old shortstop who didn't play last night. Eliot Johnson played short last night but normally plays second base; the 23 year old is infamous already for colliding with Yankees' catching prospect Fransisco Cervelli in a spring training game, breaking the catcher's wrist. Finally there's 23-year old 3B/OF Joel Guzman, who is playing in his third season with the Bulls. Guzman is famous locally for a tape-measure home run in 2007 that reached, in dead centerfield, the third floor of the then under-construction Diamond View office building. Guzman has the most cups of coffee of the three, with 56 days in the majors; still, his development is hampered by a puzzling inability to get on base- for both 2007 and 2008 his OBP is just .281.

Also of note in the game was an ejection for my least favorite Durham Bull- Justin Ruggiano, for arguing balls and strikes in the fourth inning. Ruggiano may be the Bulls' player closest to the majors, getting a chance to hold down right field for the Rays after they traded away Delmon Young. Ruggiano performed well in the majors but was demoted after the Rays traded for Gabe Gross. Still, the reason I despise Ruggiano is for two lazy incidents in the field during games I
attended. The first was opening day of 2007, when Bulls ace Mitch Talbot left after six innings, yet to give up a hit on a cold, breezy day. In the seventh, the first batter hit a looping ball towards right field. Ruggiano was slow to react and moved in the general direction of the ball, which fell about a foot in front of him for the first hit of the game. The crowd booed Ruggiano with great anger. Later that season, I attended another game in which the Bulls were leading after 8 innings; however, the Bulls closer imploded and the game was tied. There was a runner on first with two outs, and there was a solid hit down the right field line. Ruggiano took his sweet time
getting to the ball as the go-ahead run raced around the bases. Rather than try to get the runner at the plate, Ruggiano offered up a looping throw in the general direction of the first baseman, and the Bulls went on to lose the game. So, despite Ruggiano leading the Bulls in basically every offensive category, I will always hate him.

It is certainly encouraging to the Tampa Bay Rays and frightening to the rest of baseball that they not only have the best record in the majors, but their AAA team is also one of the best. To me, though, the prospect-status of the Bulls has waned from the years of Evan Longoria and BJ Upton; this team is full of 25/26 year old AAAA-type players. The true prospects are on the way- I plan on going to see as many of David Price's starts as I can, if he comes to Durham

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Matt's Yankee Stadium Memories: Part I

As some folks may have heard, the Yankees will be playing their final games at E 161st and River Ave this season, as Yankee Stadium will be torn down and replaced by a newer, cleaner version across the street. Now, baseball fans are already pretty nostalgic, and Yankee fans especially so, given all the great teams of the past. Add to that the impending end of The House that Ruth Built, and you've got a perfect storm for the nostalgia. A number of Yankee fans over at Bronx Banter have been sharing all season how they've planned their last (and sometimes first!) trips to the Stadium. In a season where it looks as though the playoffs are but a dream, still fans are flocking to the park pilgrimage style. I am not immune to this behavior, and I will be making my last visit to the Stadium on July 8 to watch the Yankees take on the best team in baseball: the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

This will be, I believe, my fifth game in Yankee stadium. I went to one game in high school, one while in college, and two when I was very young. My only memories of my first game in Yankee stadium was that the game was against the Oakland A's, was probably in the summer of 1989, and the Yankees lost. According to, the Yanks did host the A's for three games on Memorial Day weekend, and lost all three- this is a good indication I was there for one of those games.

I was a year older when we went to my second Yankees game, and I remember more about the game, but not the opponent. The first thing that jumped into my head was that Steve Balboni (pictured) pinch hit, got on base, and was immediately lifted for a pinch runner. For some reason I considered these moves odd, and they stuck with me. I also remembered that we went to the concession stand at some point during the game and missed a home run by Kevin Maas. These two memories were enough for me to pinpoint the game; it was against the White Sox on July 14, 1990.

It's too bad I don't remember all of the details about this game, because it looks like a good one. Sure enough, Steve Balboni hit a single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning, while pinch hitting for catcher Matt Nokes. He was replaced by pinch runner Wayne Tolleson, who ended up scoring two batters later on an RBI single by Kevin Maas. The then 25-year old Maas was playing in just his twelfth career game that day, and already he was hitting .280/.400/.560. His 3-for-5 effort on July 14 raised his career OPS above 1.000, where it bounced around for the remainder of the season. He eventually played in 79 games with a .252/.367/.535 line and 21 home runs, including the one he hit during the fourth inning while I was off getting a hot dog with my dad. Maas would continue to play parts of three more seasons with the Yankees, never showing a glimpse of the "Home Run Kid" power he had in his first games in the Bronx. One of the top Yankees' blogs is dedicated to his brief moments of brilliance.

There were a number of famous players White Sox involved in the game: Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk had a pinch-hit groundout in the fifth; likely Hall of Famer Sammy Sosa was in his second big league season and went 0-for-5 hitting eighth. Current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was 3 for 5 while hitting 9th, and FOX announcer Steve Lyons was also in the game. Most historically, Bobby Thigpen set the single season record for saves in 1990, and picked up save number 29 of 57 in this one, though I probably missed it. Knowing my family we probably left with the game tied in the ninth.

This Yankees team is the first one I truly remember, and I knew all of the players. One of my first cherished baseball card sets was the 1991 Fleer Yankees set-- it was one of the very last true cardboard sets, before every company started going to glossy finishes on their cards. And what a way to go out, with quite possibly the ugliest baseball cards ever. Still, I can remember most of that team off the top of my head:

C: Matt Nokes, Bob Geren
1B: Don Mattingly, Kevin Maas
2B: Pat Kelly
SS: Alviro Espinoza, Randy Velarde
3B: Jim Leyritz
LF: Mel Hall, Oscar Azocar
CF: Roberto Kelly
RF: Jesse Barfield
DH: Steve Balboni

SP: Tim Leary CL: Dave Righetti
SP: Chuck Cary RP: Lee Gutterman
SP: Andy Hawkins RP: Greg Cadaret
SP: Mike Witt RP: Erick Plunk
SP: Dave La Point

I only had to look up third base (I'll always remember Leyritz as a catcher) and two of the starting pitchers. After Mattingly, Jesse Barfield was probably my favorite player on this team. I got to meet Barfield a few years later, while at a New Jersey Cardinals game, and told him as much. He thanked me as he signed one of the K's I brought to the games to hang up on the railing behind my seat.

Still, this team was terrible, they lost 95 games and were actually above their Pyhthagorean record. Two weeks earlier, the Yankees had lost despite Andy Hawkins allowing no hits through his 8 innings. Two weeks after this game, George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball for life because he'd hired a gambler to dig up "dirt" about Dave Winfield in order to get out of a $300,000 commitment to the Dave Winfield Foundation charity. Most folks believe that it was under the direction of Gene "Stick" Michael, without the meddling hands of Steinbrenner, that the Yankees dynasty of 1996-2001 was built. So the first game I can remember in the Bronx came at a pivotal time in my favorite team's history. But all I was concerned with was why a pinch hitter was lifted for a pinch runner immediately after getting on base, down by 3 runs in the seventh inning...

Next time, I'll review the next game I saw in Yankee Stadium, which was more than 10 years later.