But one of these days
The question, though, is which of these days. And that’s a question I love to pose to executives and agents around baseball every year as we head into the winter meetings:
How’d you like to pick a date when the marquee free agents will sign?
That got tricky this winter, with free-agent hitters flying off the board faster than I could compile predictions. So I decided to confine this year’s survey to just the big three of free-agent starting pitchers -- Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields. And the results were as intriguing as ever.
Nine baseball men took part in this year’s survey. Here’s how they saw it:
And now a quick breakdown:
Obviously, he’s nearing a decision. So in the decade I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had such unanimous agreement on when any free agent would sign. Not only was next Wednesday the average of these picks, it was the exact date selected by nearly half the group.
So what was more interesting were the predictions (all optional) for where Lester will sign. The six panelists willing to cast a vote (several of them split) broke down like this:
- Red Sox 3
- Cubs 2
- Dodgers .5
- Giants .5
In other words, they don’t know, either. It’s great to learn that this sort of thing represents as big a guessing game inside baseball as it does for the rest of the continent.
Now this was fun. An AL exec guessed a St. Patrick’s Day signing by the Cubs. An NL exec predicted a March 4 signing by the Nationals. Another NL exec made Scherzer the winner of his annual “Halftime of the Super Bowl” prediction (but to no team in particular). And only one of the nine panelists picked a date earlier than a month from now. So clearly, Scherzer is going nowhere fast. Literally.
But where is he going? If you truly want to get analytical, if Scherzer really does wait until spring training for somebody’s ace to get hurt, he almost has to be a Yankee, right? The odds of Masahiro Tanaka or CC Sabathia walking off a mound in midinning are certainly not minuscule. And what other team besides the Yankees could find $175 million or so stuffed in a mattress for use on an emergency sign-an-ace fund?
Well, it was just that sort of thinking that drove the confused selections of the five panelists willing to take a guess on where Scherzer will wind up. The voting:
- Yankees 2.83*
- Nationals 1.33
- Cubs .5
- Tigers .33
(* one vote split two ways, another split three ways)
One GM described this derby as “fascinating,” even to him. But it was good to know that these folks think this is just as entertaining as the rest of us do. Most amusing prediction: The exec who picked March 4 guessed a signing by Washington -- “but if Tanaka gets hurt, it’ll be the Yankees for $50 million a year.”
How linked is Shields’ timetable to Lester’s? So closely that one exec even predicted Lester’s signing date would be “two days after Lester,” to a club that misses out on Plan A. (Guess who?) And they all picked dates within two weeks of one another -- with four panelists predicting Shields will choose a team before the end of the meetings.
What nobody seemed to have a feel for was which team that will be. Three predicted a reunion with Joe Maddon in Chicago if the Cubs miss out on Lester. One guessed Shields could reunite with Andrew Friedman in L.A. A fifth picked the Red Sox if they get shut out on Lester. And a sixth took the Cardinals, just on a hunch.
So ultimately, that’s what all of this is, you understand. Just a bunch of hunches from people who do this for a living and still find the prediction business to be highly overrated -- but entertaining all the same.
OK, now that you've all had time to vent about how crazy this Giancarlo Stanton contract is, here's my question:
What the heck is so crazy about it?
The more I look at the contract, the terms, the franchise, the player and the history of players like the great Giancarlo, the more sense it starts making. Seriously.
Let's begin with this: What choice did the Marlins have? They had to do this. Didn't they? Had to. Whatever it took. Outside of maybe giving the man his own salsa club on South Beach or something.
Imagine the soundtrack if they hadn't. Imagine the bludgeoning Jeffrey Loria would have taken for being too cheap to keep his latest "franchise player," just the way he waved adios to Miguel Cabrera and Josh Beckett and Hanley Ramirez. And if that's how this had turned out, the owner would have deserved every haymaker to the kisser that he took.
So if you're one of the people who's calling him insane now, that's fine. I get it. But it seems as if we all need to pick a side. We can't say he's wrong to pay this guy and keep this guy, and also say he'd have been just as wrong not to pay him and not to keep him.
And why is that? Because if the Marlins were going to keep Giancarlo Stanton, this was the deal.
He wasn't signing an extension for five years or seven years or nine years. He was signing only if he got this deal -- a lifetime deal, a historic deal, a build-it-around-me-or-I'm-gone deal.
There had to be a full no-trade clause. There had to be an opt-out at age 30. And there had to be commitment on both sides. So that all added up to this -- 13 years, 325 million Loria family dollars. Kaboom.
Is it too many years? Sure. No kidding. Is any baseball player really worth 325 million bucks? Of course not. Not in real-world dollars. But who said this has anything to do with the real world? It's the cost of doing business in a $9 billion industry.
But it's also obvious, just from the structure of this contract, that winning was Giancarlo Stanton's primary motivation. It had to have been. Why else would he say yes to a deal that pays him "only" $30 million over the first three years and "only" $117 million before his opt-out rights kick in after Year 6?
He clearly was told that at some point in the next three to six years, the Marlins will have a sweet new TV deal and a lot more revenue to pay for talent in the back end of the contract -- but they needed to free up dollars if they were going to spend on the front end. And he still responded by asking: "Where do I sign?"
So now he's put up on his end. It's time for the Marlins to put up on their end.
He invested in them. Now they'd better invest in him, and the team around him. Or they don't deserve to have a franchise. Period.
Never in Marlins history have they been better positioned to operate like a real baseball franchise than they are right now. They have the ballpark. They have the young talent base. They have two really bright, personable baseball men running the operation, in Michael Hill and Dan Jennings. They have a legit, charismatic 22-year-old ace to front the rotation, in Jose Fernandez, once he returns from Tommy John rehab in midseason.
And now they have Giancarlo Stanton -- wrapped up, signed up and fully engaged in doing what he can to make them great.
So they have no excuses this time. They'll tell us at the news conference Wednesday that we can stop yapping about how they unloaded Miggy, and broke up the World Series champs, and gashed the payroll by $60 million after 2012, because this is different.
Well, it is, actually. It is different. So it's time for them to do this right. Or else.
Look, we have no idea what the next 13 years will hold for Giancarlo Stanton. There isn't an Excel spreadsheet or a Ouija board on earth that can tell us, either.
But if you look at what baseball history tells us about players who have an age 20-to-24 career arc like this man, it's shocking, actually, how well they tend to age. Take a look:
• According to Lee Sinins' Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, Stanton is the fifth player in history to hit 100 more home runs than the average player in his league before his age-25 season. The other four -- Eddie Mathews, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle and Mel Ott -- all went on to join the 500-Homer Club and end up in the Hall of Fame.
• Stanton's career slugging percentage (.540) is 138 points above the league average. Of the 19 other players in history who outslugged their peers by that amount (or more) through age 24, the only ones who are eligible and never wound up in Cooperstown are Dick Allen and Hal Trosky. And by December, the Veterans Committee might lop Allen off that list.
• As ESPN Stats and Info's Justin Havens reports, Stanton is one of only three players in the live-ball era who have led the National League in slugging twice before their age-25 seasons. It's safe to say the others had careers that turned out OK. Willie Mays is one. Stan Musial is the other.
• And according to baseball-reference.com, Stanton has been worth 13.90 batting wins through his age-24 season. That ranks as 20th best among players in the live-ball era. There are 14 Hall-eligible players ahead of him. All but Allen wound up having a Hall of Fame career. And again, it's possible that in a few weeks, we can say Allen had one, too.
Now let's consider something else: Giancarlo Stanton is irreplaceable. In a sport where power has disappeared, this man is a human "Going, Going, Gone" highlight reel.
He's a special player and person, with a unique skill set for his era. And he just turned 25 years old. So for any franchise to lose a player like that would be worse than sad. It would be embarrassing.
Elsewhere on this site, Dan Szymborski used the fabled ZIPS projection system to look at the likely path of Stanton’s next 13 seasons. His findings sure didn't make this deal look insane in any way.
ZIPS projected Stanton to be a guy who will still be worth three-plus wins a year through the first nine seasons of this deal and still be a threat to hit 20 homers a year through Year 11 -- meaning he's likely to give the Marlins $316 million worth of production over the next 13 seasons.
And that doesn't even factor in what his presence could mean to the franchise as it negotiates its next TV deal, or how just this signing could enhance its credibility with a long-skeptical fan base.
So tell me again then, please, why this contract is "crazy." To me, it's the thought of pushing a player like this out the door that seems way more insane than doing what it took to keep him.
It isn’t quite true that Jeremy Affeldt got more air time this October than Joe Buck. But if you were watching the Giants play baseball last month and Affeldt didn’t show up on your screen at some point, well, you must have nodded off or something.
To say he pitched a lot is kind of like saying Taylor Swift sings a lot. Do the San Francisco Giants win the World Series without him doing what he did? I’d vote no.
Eleven consecutive scoreless appearances (heaped on top of 11 more before that over the Giants’ previous two postseasons). Appearances that ranged from one out to seven outs. With 38 batters faced -- and only five hits allowed (all singles).
So that was cool. And invaluable. But now it turns out that those of us watching and chronicling him do it still missed his coolest feat of all.
He pitched in the second inning. And the third inning. And the fourth inning.
He also pitched in the fifth inning. And the sixth inning. And the seventh inning.
But why stop there? So he didn’t. He pitched in the eighth inning, too. And the ninth inning. And the 10th inning.
So wait. In an age in which bullpen guys are routinely labeled as “seventh-inning guys” or “eighth-inning guys” or “long men” or “left-handed specialists,” and daring bullpen usage now consists of using the “seventh-inning guy” in the (gasp) sixth, Affeldt did what?
Right. He pitched in nine different innings -- every single inning from the second through the 10th. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is incredible.
It’s a tribute both to Affeldt and his free-thinking manager, Bruce Bochy. But more importantly, it stands alone in the history of modern bullpen usage.
Just to be sure, I asked the Elias Sports Bureau to look at whether any other relief pitcher has ever done this in any postseason. Amazingly, Elias did find one.
It was a fellow named Charley Hall. For the Red Sox, in the 1912 World Series.
But it’s also safe to say that Charley Hall’s October went a little different than Jeremy Affeldt’s October. Here’s how our man Charley logged those innings:
In Game 2, he entered in the eighth, blew a 4-3 lead, gave up another run in the 10th and only got off the hook (twice) because the Red Sox scored unearned runs off Christy Mathewson in the eighth and 10th innings. Hall faced 14 hitters in that game. Six reached base.
Then, in Game 7 (in an eight-game Series), Charley was back for some classic, or not so classic long relief. Smoky Joe Wood gave up six runs in the first. Then Hall relieved him in the second and took one for the staff, allowing nine hits, five walks and five runs over the final eight innings.
So basically, just one outing accounted for most of those Hall innings. Affeldt, on the other hand entered games during seven different innings. Seven.
Four different times, he finished one inning and stuck around for the next. And in Game 7 of the World Series, he was the seven-out bridge from Tim Hudson to Madison Bumgarner. You didn’t forget that Affeldt pitched in that game, did you? Heck, the MadBum Relief Show wouldn’t have been possible without him.
It was that final outing that led the Giants to the parade floats. But it also gave Affeldt the chance to pull off The Greatest October Feat That Nobody Noticed.
Until now, that is. When somebody finally did notice. Anyone think we’ll ever see that again? I know what I think: No way.
They both lived to survive the wild-card games. They both think they’re America’s underdogs. And they’ve both employed Jeremy Affeldt at one time or another.
They’re about to meet in the 110th World Series. But boy, have these two teams taken dissimilar routes to get to the same place. So here are five big differences between the two World Series juggernauts:
1. What an experience
This is the Giants’ third World Series since 2010. It’s the Royals’ third World Series since, well, the invention of the Royals -- and, as you might have read somewhere, their first since the Reagan administration.
The Giants will bring 16 players to this extravaganza who have already played in a World Series. In fact, eight of those 16 have been a part of all three of the World Series runs just by this core group. And Buster Posey has won more World Series games than the Royals’ entire franchise has won it its history (eight games to six). Just sayin’.
The Royals, on the other hand, are likely to have only two players on their roster who have played in a World Series -- neither of them on the winning side. One is Omar Infante, whose World Series experience as an everyday player consists of getting swept in the World Series by the Giants, in 2012. The other is James Shields, who was the winning pitcher in the only game the Rays won in the 2008 World Series against the Phillies.
And if Raul Ibanez ends up on the K.C. roster, you can make that three. He had a big World Series (.304/.333/.609) for the 2009 Phillies, but he didn’t play on the winning side, either.
Not that any of that necessarily means anything, since these Royals are currently on such a ridiculous roll, most of them have never played on a team that has lost a single postseason game. But they definitely lose the experience war.
2. Seasons in the mirror
Considering they’re both wild-card teams, could these two teams’ seasons possibly have had less in common?
The Giants went 43-21 in their first 64 games. That was the second-best record in baseball. After that, they were eight games under .500 over their last 98 games, which ought to take care of all those myths about how hot you have to be in September to reach a World Series in October.
The Royals had a losing record (49-50) as late as July 22. Then they flip-flopped, too: They went 40-23 over their last 63 games (the third-best record in baseball). So maybe it helps to start cooking down the stretch after all.
Over in the standings, the Giants blew a 10-game lead in their division to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But that didn’t stop them from playing deeper into October than the Dodgers did.
The Royals, meanwhile, became the first team in history to trail by seven games or more twice in the same season and then chew up both of those deficits to take over first place. That didn’t stop them from still finding a way to finish behind the Tigers in their division. But as you may have noticed, the Tigers then won no games in October, and the Royals have lost no games in October. So there’s that.
3. Manage this
Ned Yost and Bruce Bochy. Not even sure we need to go on. But what the heck. Yost might be the most second-guessed manager in the history of World Series managers. Bochy might be the least second-guessed manager in the history of World Series managers.
Best we can tell, every living American with a Twitter account thinks every move Yost makes is wrong, even when it turns out right. Bochy, on the other hand, has developed a reputation as some sort of all-knowing, all-seeing Jedi tactician with a crystal ball that enables him to see how everything he does will turn out before he does it.
Bochy feels bound by no traditional tenets on bullpen usage, bunts or lineup makeup. Yost sometimes seems to feel tethered to all of them.
Bochy’s team laid down the fewest sacrifice bunts in the National League this year (45). But it’s not true that the Royals attempted that many just in the wild-card game. In fact, the two teams are tied in successful postseason sac bunts, with seven each. So regard this as proof that perception isn’t always reality -- especially in the case of Ned Yost.
4. Regime change
Royals GM Dayton Moore has spent eight years building his team in a steady, methodical crescendo -- and gotten pretty much no credit for it (unless you count a bunch of top prospects lists) until about two weeks ago.
But Giants GM Brian Sabean has been in his job longer than any general manager in baseball. This would be season No. 18 -- and counting. And this makes four World Series appearances, seven trips to the postseason and 13 winning seasons for Sabean, whose .533 lifetime winning percentage ranks 10th all-time among all GMs since 1950 who spent at least 10 years in the job.
So naturally, Sabean’s regime has been arguably the most stable in the whole sport. Meanwhile, it feels as if Moore has been swirling inside a should-Dayton-Moore-keep-his-job debate for years now.
Even their coaching staffs have epitomized the dramatic distinctions between these two regimes. The Royals have run through six hitting coaches just in the last 24 months, five in the last 17 months and two this year. The Giants, on the other hand, have had a pitching coach (Dave Righetti) and bench coach (Ron Wotus) who have been around so long (15 and 17 years respectively), they’ve held their jobs under three different managers.
So stability is vital, unless it isn’t. Remember that, kids.
5. Youth movements
The Royals and Giants do have one thing in common: They’ll each start at least five position players in this World Series who came up through their organizations. But that’ll do it for those similarities.
Those home-grown Royals -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler -- were among the most ballyhooed prospects in baseball, practically from the moment they signed. Four of them (all but Perez) were first-round picks. And three (Hosmer, Moustakas and Gordon) were top-three picks in the country.
But of the six home-grown Giants in the October lineup, only Buster Posey and Joe Panik were first-rounders. Brandon Crawford went in the fourth round, Brandon Belt in the eighth, Travis Ishikawa in the 21st. Pablo Sandoval was an international free-agent signings.
So given their draft positions, those Royals players spent year after year trying to play baseball under the weight of expectations which the outside world kept concluding they hadn’t lived up to, while many of those Giants arrived in the big leagues with little or no sense of expectation and never had to deal with any of that.
In the end, though, they find themselves playing each other in the same World Series -- a place, thankfully, where none of that matters. For the next seven games, the history of these teams couldn’t be more ancient or irrelevant. And the divergent roads they traveled somehow led them to the same destination on the baseball map.
Funny how life -- and baseball -- so often work that way, isn’t it?
It’s never a good idea to take any quotes at face value this time of year. No matter how optimistic Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was 24 hours earlier about the rapid improvement of Yadier Molina’s strained left oblique, history and reality told us this:
Nobody is physically capable of recovering from a strained oblique and starting any baseball game two days later, let alone a pivotal October baseball game. The Incredible Hulk might. Iron Man might. Human beings don’t. Won’t. Can’t.
So the Cardinals went into Game 3 of the National League Championship Series with A.J. Pierzynski hitting seventh and catching John Lackey. That’s a move Matheny essentially had to make. Now here’s what it means:
• The Lackey-Pierzynski connection: Matheny said one reason he chose Pierzynski over Tony Cruz to catch this game was that “A.J. and John Lackey obviously have had a lot of work together.” And that’s correct. Pierzynski caught Lackey both in Boston and St. Louis this season -- in 20 of his 31 starts, in fact. That’s the good news. The bad news is Lackey had a 4.24 ERA in games Pierzynski caught and a 3.01 ERA in games caught by anyone else.
Lackey’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was better (4.52 to 1) when Pierzynski caught him than when Cruz (3.00 to 1) or Molina (3.25 to 1) did, but the opponent OPS against Lackey in Pierzynski’s starts was .752, versus .639 in three starts with Cruz. It was even higher (.778) in five regular-season starts with Molina catching. But obviously, the Cruz and Molina sample sizes are significantly smaller.
• The Hudson connection: Another reason Matheny said he went with Pierzynski was that he “has some history with Tim Hudson.” That would also be correct. Counting the postseason, Pierzynski has had 23 career plate appearances against Hudson, more than anyone on the Cardinals roster except Matt Holliday. And Pierzynski has hit .381/.409/.429 against Hudson, with zero homers and just two strikeouts. Cruz, on the other hand, is 0-for-3 lifetime against Hudson, with two strikeouts.
But hold on. All but three of those plate appearances by Pierzynski came over a decade ago, from 2001 to 2003. And the last time they faced each other was on June 23, 2010. So is “history” overrated? It might be in this case.
• The rust factor: It’s been a long time since Pierzynski caught Lackey or anyone else on this staff. He last started a game behind the plate on Sept. 11 -- almost five weeks ago. And that’s the only game he has caught since Aug. 30 -- a span of six and a half weeks.
But Matheny pointed Tuesday to the fact that when the Cardinals signed Pierzynski, he was in quasi-retirement mode, walked in the door in July from attending Frank Thomas’ Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown and “was swinging the bat well, probably as good as we saw him, and also looked good behind the plate.”
Matheny also said Pierzynski’s “16 years' experience has some carry-over effect,” mentioned that Pierzynski caught a bullpen session Monday and emphasized that the Cardinals had him on the roster “in playing mode and not just pulling him off the bench as an extra player.” Nevertheless, one game behind the plate in 45 days is going to take a lot of Rust-Oleum to overcome.
• The Molina effect on the running game: As Buster Olney wrote in his column Tuesday , the drop-off from Molina to Pierzynski, in its impact on stopping the running game, is as dramatic as it gets. Then again, the drop-off from Molina to anyone is huge. Molina threw out 48 percent of opposing base stealers this year. Pierzynski threw out 18 percent (14 percent as a Cardinal).
The opposition also attempted 71 percent more steals per game against Pierzynski (0.70 attempts per game) than against Molina (0.41) in their time as Cardinals this year. But how relevant is that going to be in this series? Certainly not as much as if the Cardinals advance and have to match up without Molina against Kansas City in the World Series.
The Giants stole the second-fewest bases in the big leagues this year, have swiped just two (in five attempts) in this postseason and are playing without Angel Pagan, one of only three players on their roster who stole more than five bases this year.
So with or without Molina, this series won’t be turning into a track meet. But it did just get a lot more challenging for the Cardinals.
In other news
• Late-inning magic: The Cardinals have scored 23 runs in this postseason. They have scored 18 of them from the seventh inning on. If they can somehow keep up that 78 percent rate, it would be the highest percentage of runs scored this late in games in postseason history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the highest percentage of runs scored in the seventh inning or later by any team that played six games or more in any postseason is 70 percent, by the 1998 Braves.
• Ninth-inning magic: But the Cardinals haven’t exactly cornered the market on scoring late. The Giants have tied two games in this postseason by scoring runs with two outs in the ninth inning -- Game 2 of the NLDS (aka “The Jordan Zimmermann Game”) and Game 2 of the NLCS on Sunday.
Elias reports that the Giants are the sixth team in history to do that twice in a single postseason. The others were the 2009 Phillies, 2005 Astros, 2001 Yankees, 1992 Braves and 1985 Cardinals.
• Welcome to the LCS: Hudson was making his 11th postseason start Tuesday. The difference between this one and all the others: It was his first ever that didn’t come in a division series -- because Hudson had appeared in the postseason in six seasons but none of his teams before this one had ever advanced to an LCS. By appearing in this game, he actually unbroke a record for most division series by a player whose teams had never made an LCS. According to Elias, he had shared that one with Joe Nathan, Ellis Burks and Ramon Hernandez. But not anymore!
As Paul Konerko’s career wound down this month, in the shadows of all those trumpets blaring about Derek Jeter, I found myself wondering something: Has any player ever had a career quite like Paul Konerko’s?
And you know what? Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau, we now know the answer: No. Nobody.
Here’s what I mean by that: Pretty much no one -- and by that, of course, I’m talking about Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on Trivia Day -- remembers anymore that the White Sox were actually Konerko’s THIRD team.
Take a look at his career. He spent 55 games with the Dodgers. He got traded to the Reds and hung around Cincinnati for like 15 minutes (OK, actually 26 games). And then he wound up in Chicago for 16 fabulous years.
Who does that? How does that happen?
Seriously. How is it possible that any player could spend less than half a season with two teams, for which he was really just passing through, and then end his career by turning into a 16-year, iconic, face-of-the-franchise figure for a THIRD team? Never heard of that.
So I ran this by my friends from Elias the other day. And here’s what they told me:
There have been three players in history who spent 16 seasons or more with one team (not necessarily even consecutively) -- and also spent fewer than 100 games with at least two other teams.
One was Phil Niekro (Braves for 21 years, plus Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays).
The second was Don Sutton (Dodgers for 16 seasons, plus Astros, Brewers, A’s and Angels.)
And the third was Konerko.
Except there was one humongous difference between Konerko and those other two guys: Both Sutton and Niekro STARTED their careers by playing 16-plus seasons for their first team, then bounced around at the end of their careers. That’s the normal path. At least that’s a plot line you might expect.
But Paul Konerko did it in reverse, zipping through cameo appearances for his first two clubs and only then settling in for a lonnnggg run with team No. 3.
In other words, he’s had himself a unique, historically distinct career path, shared by no one else who ever played in the major leagues. And because he has, he got to do something this weekend that very few players ever get to do: go out as a beloved figure on the team he came to be most identified with -- but not the club he started with -- after an incredible 16-year run.
How cool is that?
Other than in Chicago, Paul Konerko hasn’t gotten the kind of send-off he deserves -- not this season and certainly not this month. Too bad. He’s been the kind of player, and human being, that any franchise would be happy to have on the payroll for a decade and a half.
He won a World Series in Chicago, hit a grand slam in a World Series, won an ALCS MVP Award. He isn’t a guy you’d elevate into the pantheon of all-time greats. But he did have one more excellent claim to fame that I haven’t seen enough hoopla about:
He’s one of just 10 players in history, whose primary position was first base, to make it into the 400-homer, 400-double club. Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, here are the others: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Eddie Murray, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro.
Perhaps you’re familiar with their work.
For some reason, though, I feel as though not enough baseball fans are as familiar as they ought to be with Konerko’s work. I hate when that happens. But now you can ask your buddies down at the old tavern tonight if they can think of anyone in history who ever had a career quite like No. 14 had.
And when they scratch their heads, you can tell them the correct answer: Nope. Nobody.
Welcome to the episode of our September History Watch in which we turn our attention to the guys who make knee surgeons everywhere drool by coiling into a catcher’s squat about 100,000 times a year.
But in between squatting, putting those fingers down, blocking sliders in the dirt, and learning to talk while covering their mouth with a mask and a mitt, catchers also have to hit for a living. And that’s where the History Watch fun begins, in the cases of two of our favorites -- the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy and the Rays’ Jose Molina.
We’ll be turning our attention to the same column on their stat sheets -- the old extra-base-hit column. But not only do the numbers in those columns look shockingly different, they look historically different. Here’s how:
The Doubles Machine That Made Milwaukee Famous
Unfortunately, Lucroy won’t be heading for the postseason next week. But fortunately, he still has an excellent chance to find himself heading for a place very few of his peers have ever landed: the extra-base-hit history books.
With two games left in the season, Lucroy has these two statistical pearls to call his own -- an incredible 52 doubles and a nearly as remarkable 67 extra-base hits. Now let’s put that in the sort of historical perspective we’re noted for.
- He is going to lead the league in doubles, seeing as how nobody else in the NL is within nine of him. And you know how many catchers have ever led their league in doubles? That would be none. So, how cool is that?
- But since “only” 45 of those doubles came in games when he was catching, Lucroy needs one more this weekend to break the record for most doubles as a catcher in one season. He and Pudge Rodriguez are tied for that one.
- But hold on, This gets even more illustrious. Lucroy is only two back of the league leaders in extra-base hits, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton. As you know, Stanton’s total (69) is frozen because he won’t be playing any more baseball this season. So, if Lucroy can catch or pass those two, that would make him just the second catcher in history to lead his league in extra-base hits. The other? Oh, only Johnny Bench (who did it twice, in 1970 and ’74).
- Finally, if Lucroy can somehow thump three more extra-base hits, that would put him in another fabulous group, of catchers who got 70 or more in a season (not necessarily all while catching). He’d be only the ninth catcher in that club. The others: Bench, Mike Piazza, Roy Campanella, Gabby Hartnett, Todd Hundley, Javier Lopez, Lance Parrish and, of course, Stan Lopata.
It feels as if we’ve almost taken Lucroy’s sensational season for granted. So, here at History Watch Central, we’re here to rectify that. And if you still don’t think all those doubles and all those extra-base hits are special, perhaps you just need to regain perspective, by comparing them to what’s happening on
The Molina Watch
It wouldn’t be an official season if we didn’t have some spectacular feat to monitor from the Flying Molina Brothers. Well, this year’s history-maker is Jose, down in Tampa Bay. But we’re afraid we can’t give him any “extra” credit for this quest.
That’s because our man Jose Molina has amassed precisely two extra-base hits all season. Yes, two. In 244 trips to the plate. And that’s going to tie the modern record for fewest extra-base hits in a season with this many plate appearances. Take a look:
At one point, we thought Molina might make it all the way to the All-Star break without an extra-base hit, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a player with at least 150 plate appearances since Larry Lintz did it in 1975. Alas, Molina sneaked in a double, off the Pirates’ Jeff Locke, on June 24, in his 43rd game of the year.
Molina then doubled again, on July 23, off Lance Lynn, of his brother’s ever-cooperative Cardinals team. And that’s been it. All season.
But here comes the part of this where everything gets wacky: Molina somehow has more stolen bases (three) this year than extra-base hits (two). And you’d think that would never happen, right? Especially when it’s a catcher doing the Rickey Henderson imitation?
Nope. Wrong. Amazingly, there have been four other catchers since 1900 who got at least 240 plate appearances in a season and pulled that off, according to Lee Sinins’ Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, including one of them twice.
Ah, but those guys weren’t 39 years old, either, as Jose Molina is. So anybody want to guess the only other player this old, at any position, who has had more stolen bases than extra-base hits in a season in the 2000s?
Ha. It’s Rickey Henderson his very own self, in 2000, when he had 36 steals and 20 extra-base hits for the Mariners and Mets -- at age 41.
So we bet you never thought you’d ever live to see the day when Rickey Henderson and any Molina brother would have their base-stealing talents compared in an actual truthful, historical note.
Well, now you have -- thanks to the September History Watch.
In just a few days, his wheel will stop spinning. His No. 2 will vanish into Monument Park. And the incredible numbers on Derek Jeter's stat sheet will freeze in time. Forever.
So what are the entries on his encyclopedia page that ought to pole-vault off the page at you? Here are 10 Jeter numbers I particularly love:
2,743 What’s that number? It’s the number of regular-season games Jeter has played in his career, every one of them for the New York Yankees. And how cool is that? The next-most games, by a man who played only for the Yankees, is 2,401, by Mickey Mantle. But even more cool is this: Jeter is one of just eight players in history who played that many games, all for one team. The others: Carl Yastrzemski (3,308 for the Red Sox), Stan Musial (3,026 for the Cardinals), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,001 for the Orioles), Brooks Robinson (2,896 for the Orioles), Robin Yount (2,856 for the Brewers), Craig Biggio (2,850 for the Astros) and Al Kaline (2,834 for the Tigers). Awesome group.
3,461 This, of course, is Derek Jeter’s hit total. And holy, schmoly, that’s a lot of hits. Heck, it’s more than Hank Greenberg and Shoeless Joe Jackson combined (3,400). And only five men in the history of baseball had more hits than Derek Jeter. See if they sound familiar: Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker. Wow.
2,673 Here’s another super-cool number. It’s the number of games Jeter has played at shortstop. And it's not only more games than Ernie Banks and Robin Yount played at short put together, but also the most games by any man in history who played one defensive position and never played anywhere else -- not even in the 19th inning, for one batter. Pete Rose played six positions. Ty Cobb played seven. Stan Musial played five (including pitcher). And Derek Jeter played one position. And only one. Now that’s how it ought to be done.
1,013 Can’t figure out why I love this so much, but whatever. Derek Jeter will finish his career with more than 1,000 multihit games. More than Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs. More than Willie Mays or Rogers Hornsby. In fact, just three other hitters in the entire live ball era finished their careers in the 1,000 Multihit Game Club: Pete Rose (1,225), Stan Musial (1,059) and Hank Aaron (1,046). Pretty fair top of the order.
200 One of the most special Jeter numbers of them all. Why? Because he’s the only man in history who ever got 200 hits in the postseason alone. Now obviously, he got several more opportunities to get those hits than, say, Ernie Banks. But let’s put this in better perspective. In 158 postseason games, roughly the equivalent of a full season, Jeter wound up with 200 hits, 20 homers, 18 steals, a .308 batting average, a .374 on-base percentage and an .838 OPS. So how many active players have ever had a regular season like that? Exactly five. And one of them is (guess who?) Derek Jeter. Who of course also had a "season" like that in October. Against the best teams and the best pitchers, in the most pressurized games of his life. Don't tell me that's overrated.
11 Perhaps you think it’s no big deal that Derek Jeter had 11 seasons in his career in which he batted over .300 and finished with both double-digit homers and steals. But you want to guess how many other players in history have had 11 seasons like that? The correct answer, according to Lee Sinins' Complete Baseball Encyclopedia: zero. Willie Mays had seven. Hank Aaron had six. Barry Bonds had eight. Name whatever high-average, power-speed guy you’d like. Ken Griffey Jr.? Seven. Alex Rodriguez? Eight. Frank Robinson? Five. It’s a reminder that Jeter could beat you in multiple ways. And did.
92 From July 21, 2006 to May 16, 2007, Derek Jeter played in 100 games. He got a hit in 92 of them. Now once upon a time, in the 19th century, Wee Willie Keeler hit 'em where they weren’t in 93 out of 100 games. But since 1900, according to streak historian Trent McCotter, you’ll find only one other player who got a hit in 92 of 100. That was Ichiro Suzuki, in 2008 and '09. But it’s mind-warping to look at the list of guys who never did it. Ty Cobb. Rogers Hornsby. Honus Wagner. Tony Gwynn. Pete Rose. George Brett. But the shortstop for the New York Yankees, who never won a batting title or hit in more than 25 games in a row? He did. We mention it only because consistency was Jeter’s most important product.
6 Derek Jeter played for the Yankees when he was 20 years old. Derek Jeter also played for the Yankees when he was 40 years old. And he played for them at all the ages in between. Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau, we know that doesn't happen much. He’s one of only six players who played for the same team at age 20 and after turning 40. The others: Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr. There’s a word for that list: iconic.
1 Finally, there’s this astounding number. According to Elias, it’s the number of games Jeter has played, in his entire career, in which his team, the mighty Yankees, was mathematically eliminated from some sort of race for some sort of trip to the postseason. One meaningless game in 20 seasons? Whoa. On one hand, it would be nuts to argue that was all Derek Jeter’s doing. On the other hand, what defines his career better than that? A man who lived for the big game -- and played nothing but big games. For 20 years. What better way to put a frame around the career of one of the greatest shortstops who ever turned a 4-6-3?
Babe Ruth once won a batting title -- while hitting 46 home runs.
Matty Alou once won a batting title -- while hitting two home runs.
Just thought you’d want to remember that because it reminds us batting champs come in all shapes and sizes, and the record books don’t note any of that except batting average.
Ah, but we September history watchers note all of that. We can’t help ourselves. So let’s take a look at three potential 2014 batting champions -- and the potentially unique paths they’re traveling.
Six of one, half-dozen of the other
If the season ended today -- and luckily, that’s highly unlikely -- Josh Harrison of the Pirates would be your National League batting champ. What’s fascinating about that is he has basically been a guy who plays every day. You just never know where.
He’s started 46 games at third base, 44 games at all three outfield positions, 13 games at second base and four at short.
“Heck, he even pitched last year,” his teammate Andrew McCutchen said.
“He’s like the hyena of our team,” McCutchen said. “He eats up anything that needs to be eaten up. You need someone to cover third base, or shortstop, or the outfield? He steps in. If you need something, he’s there.”
To be honest, I’d always focused more on the laughing portion of the hyena’s skill set than the eating portion. But that’s why MVPs are different from the rest of us, I guess. And that also brings us to the historic part of Josh Harrison’s pursuit of a batting title.
So, you ask, has there ever been a batting champion who played six positions the year he won?
Thanks for asking. And the answer is
Not since 1900. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in the modern era, we’ve had two batting champs who played five positions. One was Billy Goodman in 1950. The other might shock you; it shocked me.
Yep. In 1921, Hornsby played first, second, third, short and left field while hitting .397 in his spare time. You can look that up. Pretty good player!
But to find the most recent six-position batting champ, you have to travel back in time all the way to 1883, when Michael (King) Kelly moved his throne around to all four infield positions plus right field and also caught 56 games.
Pretty impressive. But I bet he was never compared to a hyena. So Josh Harrison, meet King Kelly. You two have a lot to talk about -- at the next sťance.
Short people can hit
If you’re not aware of the awesome Twitter account @HowManyAltuves, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Just the other day, in fact, you could have learned, by following it, that the great Jose Altuve’s hits this season have covered 4,668.4 Altuves (or close to 26,500 feet, if you haven’t mastered the Metric Altuve System yet).
But we focus on that sort of thing only because Jose Altuve is kinda, well, short. Or height-challenged. Or, at the very least, minimalistic.
Officially, he’s listed as 5-foot-7, which could lead him to all kinds of fun achievements, such as
He’d be the shortest batting champ since 5-foot-4 Willie Keeler led the NL in 1898. (Hey, why do you think they called him “Wee Willie?”)
But that’s not all Jose Altuve has on the line. Here’s more:
• He’s on pace for 227 hits. The record for most hits by an AL second baseman in the live-ball era just happens to be 227, by Charlie Gehringer in 1936.
• Altuve is leading the league in both batting average and stolen bases. The only other players to win a batting title and stolen-base title in the same season in the past 90 years: Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Jackie Robinson in 1949 and the legendary Snuffy Stirnweis in 1945. Yeah, Snuffy Stirnweis.
• If Altuve keeps up his current, furious pace, he’d finish with 227 hits, 57 steals and 46 doubles. Only one man who ever lived had a season in which he reached those three totals: Tyrus R. Cobb in 1911 (248/83/47). Whoa.
Ah, but there’s one more thing we probably ought to mention: Due to the fact that his team’s offensive talents don’t match its second baseman’s, Altuve has scored only 82 runs this year -- even with all those hits, all those steals and all those doubles. So
• The record for fewest runs scored by a guy who had 220 or more hits is 88, by Ichiro in 2009. That one’s in big trouble.
• The AL record for fewest runs scored in the live-ball era by a guy who had 220 hits and stole 50 bases is (ready?) 127, by Ichiro in 2001. That one’s in bigger trouble.
• The only batting champs who ever had 215 or more hits and still scored fewer than 90 runs are Kirby Puckett (215 hits, 75 runs for the 1989 Twins) and Rod Carew (218 hits, 86 runs for the 1974 Twins). Puckett’s record, thankfully, is in no trouble.
So is it worth rooting for Jose Altuve to win a batting title just for all the fabulous statistical tidbits it would generate? Of course it is. All the @HowManyAltuves tidbits it would generate would be an added bonus.
The midnight ride of Ben Revere
Finally, there’s one more guy with a shot at a highly unusual sort of batting title -- Ben Revere of the Phillies. He has faded to .309, which is nine points back of Harrison, so he probably isn’t going to win this thing. But if he does, boy is he headed for some odd history:
• His on-base percentage is .326. That would be the lowest OBP by any batting champ since 1900. Current record: .353 by Bill Buckner.
• Revere’s OPS is .693. Not only would that be the lowest by any batting champ in modern history, it would also be the lowest by many Altuves. Current record: .749 by Rod Carew in 1972.
• In a related development, Revere has walked precisely 12 times this season, so he’s undoubtedly headed for the fewest by any batting champ over a full season since 1900. Zack Wheat (16 in 1918) holds that esteemed mark.
• Revere also has racked up exactly 22 extra-base hits. That would be the fewest in a full season by any batting champ in the live-ball era (Carew’s 27 being the current record) -- and the fewest by any batting champ since Wheat’s 18 in 1918. Had the “gapper” even been invented in 1918?
• Revere has driven in 26 runs. He needs to avoid driving in any more if he wants to break Matty Alou’s record for fewest in a full season by any batting champ since 1900. (Alou drove in 27 in 1966.)
• Finally, Revere has scored just 68 runs. That’s not going to break any records. But it’s still pretty incredible. Here’s the most incredible part of all: That’s the same number of runs scored by Jay Bruce, the man with the fewest hits this year of any qualifying NL player. Ben Revere has 175 hits. Jay Bruce has 100. Granted, this might say more about the lineups around these players than about them specifically. But it’s worthy of mention in our September History Watch. Don’t you think?
I can remember when it used to be a compliment to be called “the best team in baseball.” Ha. Not anymore.
Now, all of a sudden, it’s an indication you’re about to roar off a cliff -- in about the next 20 minutes.
Which brings us to the latest edition of our ever-popular September History Watch. Our subjects: The A’s and Red Sox -- two teams we were referring to, not so long ago, as “the best team in baseball,” but now cause us to ask:
What the heck happened?
Where do their unbelievable falls rank among the most historic in baseball? Take a look.
The collapse of the mighty A's
On Aug. 10, with just 45 games to play, the A’s still led the Angels by four games in the AL West. You can look it up. Boy, those were the days.
But we woke up Thursday morning to video montages of the Angels spraying champagne -- and the A’s trying to figure out how they managed to drop 15.5 games in the standings sooooo quickly.
So how rare is it for a first-place team to plummet that far in the standings in the final weeks of the season? I ran that topic past the Elias Sports Bureau. Here’s what it reported:
• Just eight other first-place teams since 1900 have lost 15 games or more in the standings at any point in August. They include three of the most infamous collapsers in history: the 1969 and ’77 Cubs, and the 1914 New York Giants.
• Three of those teams actually dropped by at least 18 games in the standings once they began tumbling: the ’77 Cubs (22.5, in the final 58 games), the 1905 Cleveland Naps (19.5, in the final 65 games) and the 1977 Twins (18.0, in the final 42 games).
• But wait. Only three of those teams held an August lead, at any point, that was as large as Oakland’s, or larger -- the 1969 Cubs (9.0 ahead), the 1914 Giants (up 6.5) and a 1977 White Sox team (led by 4.5 on Aug. 1) that crumbled in sync with those ’77 Twins, in the most historic parallel swan dives in history. So we’ve just narrowed the field dramatically.
• And when we look at just those teams’ final 45 games, it turns out there’s really only one team that parallels the fall of these A’s. And anybody who was (A) alive in the '60s and (B) living in Chicago could tell you all about it. Only those ’69 Cubs went into the final 45 games with a hefty lead (plus-9.0) -- and then dropped 17 games in the standings, finished 8 behind the Mets and broke 4 million hearts.
None of the other teams on this list led by more than half a game with 45 games left in the season. So if the A’s lose a couple of more games in the standings in the next week and a half, uh-ohhhhh. That means they’d actually surpass the collapse of the ’69 Cubs, a team that scarred its fans for life. Hard to do.
But as my buddy Buster Olney has argued, if this Oakland team not only loses its division but misses out on both wild-card slots, that would be the worst collapse in history, by pretty much any standard.
We wouldn’t wish that on anybody. But it’s still scary. And now here’s something that’s just as scary:
The 111-loss team that zoomed by the World Series champs
A mere 11 months ago, the 2013 baseball season ended with the Boston Red Sox partying in Fenway Park -- and the Houston Astros gearing up to make the first pick in the draft.
The Red Sox were (ahem) “the best team in baseball.” The Astros had just lost 111 games -- a loss total matched or exceeded by only 12 other teams in the World Series era (1903-present).
But then “next year” arrived. By which we actually mean “this year.” And a funny thing happened. It was shrewdly detected by my friend Gar Ryness (aka The Batting Stance Guy) in a tweet a few days ago:
"Told you Astros would have more wins than RedSox."— Batting Stance Guy (@BattingStanceG) September 12, 2014
And that got me to thinking, which is always a dangerous development:
Has there ever been a team that lost 111 games or more one year and then won more games than the defending World Series champs the next?
Well, here’s your answer: No. Not even close.
If we exempt the 1904 Senators team that lost 113 in a season when there was no World Series, there have been 11 other teams that lost at least 111 times in a season when a World Series was played. Here’s how they fared the next year:
• Eight of them finished more than 20 games behind the defending champs.
• Four of them finished at least 35 games behind the defending champs.
• Two of them -- Pinky May’s 1942 Phillies (61 back of the Yankees) and Choo-Choo Coleman’s 1963 Mets (53 behind the Yankees) -- actually finished more than 50 games behind the defending champs.
• Their average finish was 31 games back of the champs.
• And the closest any of them came to catching, let alone outwinning, the reigning champs was 11 games, the margin that Dmitri Young’s 2004 Tigers finished behind the Marlins.
But now let’s check our handy-dandy ESPN standings page for this season. And what do we find? We find this amazing news:
The Red Sox have won 66 games.
The Astros have won 67 games.
And they each have 10 to play.
I’ve chronicled many wild and crazy developments over the years in the September History Watch. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been more riveted by any of them than I am by the thought of how this one will turn out.
A 111-loss team outwinning the team that just finished parading through the confetti? This might be the best race in baseball.
Besides the fact that you officially hate every starter on your fantasy football team already, I mean.
It means history is in the making, of course. And if you've been reading this blog for more than the past 20 minutes, you know that's right up our alley here.
So between now and the time this season hits the finish line, I'll do my best to keep you alerted on all sorts of fun, historic pursuits you need to be following -- in between combing that fantasy-football waiver wire, that is.
Now let's get started, with a look at some home run feats that are going on right in front of your eyes, although there's an excellent chance you may not have noticed them:
The Fish Tank
We'll get started with an incredible Giancarlo Stanton accomplishment that is now, unfortunately, stuck in limbo while his fractures heal. But it's sensational all the same.
When Stanton hit his 154th home run last week, it tied him (with Dan Uggla) for first place on the Marlins' "all-time" career home run list. Now here's what's especially mind-boggling about that:
OK, obviously, the Marlins haven't been around as long as, say, the Cubs. But it's still unreal for a guy this young to be his franchise's all-time home run leader. And I can prove it.
According to the Sultan of Swat Stats, noted home run historian David Vincent, since 1900 just one other player under age 25 has held that No. 1 spot for any franchise, with more than 100 homers to his name.
That would be Mel Ott. Who took over the New York Giants' all-time lead at age 23 -- in 1932. If I'm calculating correctly, that's 82 years ago.
So eight decades have come and gone. And 14 new franchises have come into existence. And nobody on any of those teams pulled this off until Stanton came along. Wow.
If you want to quibble and say that, thanks to his injury, he won't take over the undisputed lead until next year, when he's 25, you'd be correct. But the only other man you could bring into this mix is Ken Griffey Jr., who grabbed the Mariners' lead in 1994, at age 25 (with 172 homers).
But either way, this is one cool list: Stanton and just Ott. Or Stanton, Ott and Griffey. Take your pick. No matter which you choose, Giancarlo Stanton is in tremendous company.
Paging Mr. Mendoza
On the other hand, there's another unprecedented home run feat in progress right now that is more a sign of the times than a sign of some sort of golden age.
It has to do with home runs and the Mendoza Line. And I'm pretty sure the man who inspired that Mendoza Line -- Mario Mendoza, proud owner of four career homers in 1,456 plate appearances -- would have a hard time comprehending this one.
Take a look at the home runs and batting averages of these three men:
What you have here are three different 20-homer men whose averages are on the south side of Mount Mendoza. And guess how many other seasons in history have featured three hitters, with 20 or more homers, who finished with batting averages below .200?
If you guessed zero, you're a winner, all right.
Now we have had two other recent seasons in which two men joined that 20-Homer, Sub-Mendoza Club in the same year -- last season (Dan Uggla, J.P. Arencibia) and 2010 (Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds). But before that, there had been only two hitters who did that in any season, in the entire history of this sport:
So if you catch the way this is trending, it goes like this: We had two in a century, and then three in one year and we got there in a mere decade and a half. So what does that tell you? Um, we'll leave it up to you to decide which of these two numbers is more overrated, the batting average or the homers.
Donnie, Barry, Gary and Victor
And, finally, there's Victor Martinez, who's having the kind of year for the Tigers that stamps him as the anti-Rob Deer, or anti-Ruben Rivera, or anti-Mark Reynolds, or well, you get the idea.
Check out these two columns on Martinez's stat sheet this season:
31 Home runs
Now how 'bout that?
That's a line right out of the 1940s, not the 21st century. Right? And we can demonstrate the truth of that assessment for you if you'd like.
Know how many hitters have hit that many home runs, in the 162-game-schedule era (1961-present), in a season in which they struck out 45 times or fewer? Let's just say it won't take long for you to memorize this list -- because there are only three names on it:
And now Victor Martinez is fixing to join them. He's been whiffing, on the average, about 1.5 times a week this year. So if that keeps up, he's in.
To put this in better perspective, Joe DiMaggio once had a season (1941) in which he hit 30 homers and struck out exactly 13 times. So it's not as if Martinez is setting any sort of record.
But by the standard of modern times, when swinging and missing is getting more commonplace than the seventh-inning stretch? It's awesome. And worth of a mention in the first edition of the 2014 September History Watch. There's more to come. So stay tuned.
That would be the inimitable Adam T. Dunn. And for the past 14 seasons, it’s safe to say he has walked alone.
Then again, he has also whiffed alone. But it was that awesome proliferation of whiffs and walks, in multitudes never before witnessed, that has helped create Adam Dunn’s singular ambiance in the annals of his sport.
“Here’s the thing,” said Dunn's friend and former teammate Ryan Dempster. “It wasn’t just the walks, and it wasn’t just the strikeouts. It was also all those balls that ended up over the fence. So he might be 0-for-0, with four walks, and go up and hit a home run to win the game. Or he might be 0-for-4, with four 'punchies’ [i.e., strikeouts], and go up and hit a home run to win the game. You never knew with Adam, because he was always a threat.”
Yes, he was always a threat, all right. He was a threat to go through an entire game without ever putting a ball in play. He was a threat to go through an entire game without ever hitting a ball that landed on the field he was playing on. He was a threat to hit a baseball that entered Earth's orbit. And he was a threat to make history in ways no one else ever had before him.
Then, after doing all that, said another ex-teammate, Todd Jones, “he’d be back in the clubhouse, playing Xbox and talking Texas football. ... One of the most fun teammates I ever played with.”
No doubt. And I think I speak for hundreds of us media types when I say Dunn was also one of the most fun players we ever covered. If you didn’t come away from a conversation with that man laughing, you were taking this sport -- and yourself -- way too seriously.
So if this is it for the Big Donkey, if he’s really about to retire once the Oakland A’s season is, um, done, somebody needs to take a big step back and put this guy’s one-of-a-kind career in its proper, historically warped perspective. And guess what? I volunteer. So get comfortable. Here we go:
Who needs leather?
Here’s our first astounding Adam Dunn tidbit:
More than half the times he came to the plate in a 14-year career, the other team could have sent its fielders out to get lunch -- because their services weren’t going to be required.
By that I mean that, in 51 percent of his 8,280 trips to the plate, the ball never landed on the field. No kidding. Do the math:
- 2,362 strikeouts
- 1,313 walks
- 462 home runs
- 84 hit by pitch
- 4,221 journeys to home plate where no fielders were needed
Now we’ve had a few Russell Branyans and Jack Custs who pulled that off in thousands and thousands of fewer plate appearances. But to do it in more than 50 percent of 8,000 trips to the plate? That’s special. The next highest percentage in a career that long is just 46.4 percent, by Jim Thome (whose name you will hear again).
Last inaction hero
Then again, what made that last stellar feat possible is that, once you subtracted all those home runs, you wouldn’t exactly describe the rest of Adam Dunn’s at-bats as “action-packed.” Now would you?
Only four hitters in history managed to rack up more trips to the plate in which the ball never left the batter’s box than Dunn did. Here they come:
- Jim Thome 4,364 plate appearances (2,548 SO, 1,747 BB, 69 HBP)
- Barry Bonds 4,203 PA (1,539 SO, 2,558 BB, 106 HBP
- Reggie Jackson 4,068 PA (2,597 SO, 1,375 BB, 96 HBP)
- Rickey Henderson 3,986 PA (1,694 SO, 2,190 BB, 98 HBP)
- Adam Dunn 3,759 PA (2,362 SO, 1,313 BB, 84 HBP)
Just remember that those other four men, all of whom you may have heard of, rolled up those totals in careers that went on for many more plate appearances, from 10,313 for Thome to 13,346 for Rickey. Dunn, on the other hand, achieved all that inaction in anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 fewer trips than they got.
The result: The ball never left the box in an incredible 45.4 percent of his visits to home plate. And yep, that would be a record, among men who came to bat as many times as he did anyhow. C’mon, of course it would.
A true story
But that record is a picturesque reflection of the fact that Dunn was the ultimate master of what we like to refer to as the Three True Outcomes (walk/strikeout/homer). He really should have patented that little expression. Or silk-screened his face onto about a billion Three True Outcomes T-shirts at least.
We actually regret to report that Dunn does not own the all-time record for the most games ever in which a hitter jammed a walk, a strikeout and a home run into the box score. Thome does (with 154 of them). But Adam Dunn has still done it 125 times. And what makes that such a cool number is that it ties him for third (behind Mark McGwire’s 133) with these two names: Barry Bonds ... and Babe Ruth.
So all it will take is one more of those fabled Three True Outcome games in the next three weeks -- and Dunn can honestly say he just passed Babe Ruth.
In something or other.
Lots of trots
We could go on about his walk/strikeout fun for two weeks. But let’s not minimize those 462 home run trots Adam Dunn has made, because all of those homers, added to all of those walks, resulted in way more production than he’s often given credit for. So let’s be sure to recognize that.
• Dunn once ripped off five seasons in a row of 40-plus homers. Only eight other men in history ever had a 40-bomb streak that long or longer. And just three have ever topped it: the Babe (7), Alex Rodriguez (6) and Sammy Sosa (6).
• But what makes Dunn’s streak especially memorable (not to mention amusing) is that he had four consecutive seasons with exactly 40 homers. And who else could possibly do that? Well, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats home run historian David Vincent, no one else in history has ever had four straight seasons with any home run total higher than four. And this guy had four in a row with 40. So this might be the most Adam Dunn stat ever.
• If you’re not into round numbers, you’ll be delighted to know that Dunn also once had a streak of seven straight seasons with 38 homers or more. You know who else had a seven-year streak of 38-plus? That Babe Ruth guy again (from 1926-32). The only longer streak -- ever -- is nine, by Rafael Palmeiro.
• In the first six of those seasons, Dunn also walked 100 times. Want to guess how many men in history have unfurled six seasons in a row of 38-plus home runs and 100-plus walks? Precisely one. Him. For what it’s worth, Barry Bonds’ longest streak was five. Ruth’s longest was three.
• Or let’s put this another way. The only hitters ever to have any six-year stretch that matched or beat the 244 homers and 673 walks Dunn amassed from 2004-09 are (ready?) Ruth, Bonds, McGwire, Thome, Mickey Mantle and Ralph Kiner. Wait. Who?
• We should also mention that several of those home runs are what you’d call memorable. Especially a 535-foot Venus probe in 2004 that, according to eyewitnesses, exited the stadium in Cincinnati, hopped into the Ohio River, nestled itself on a piece of driftwood and then floated to the other side of the river.
“He hit it in Ohio, and it ended up in Kentucky,” laughed Dempster, his Reds teammate at the time. “Just one more thing to add to the legend that is Adam Dunn.”
The CEO of Kmart
But there’s no getting around the fact that the one talent Dunn will forever be known for best -- not entirely fairly, we might add -- is his knack for doing some prodigious swinging and missing. You never needed an air conditioner when he was in town. He could air-condition the whole area code.
• He had more seasons of 140-plus strikeouts (12) than any hitter in history. (Thome is second, with 10.)
• He had almost twice as many seasons with 160-plus strikeouts (11) as anyone else in history. (Ryan Howard, with six, is the only other guy with more than four.)
• And Dunn’s four seasons with at least 190 whiffs would be unprecedented if Mark Reynolds hadn’t come along to match them. (All the other hitters in history have combined for five!)
• Meanwhile, who owns the exalted record for most multistrikeout games in history? Yessir. Adam Dunn, with 681.
• If we up that ante to three, you may not be shocked to learn that Dunn has accumulated more games with three punchouts or more (171) than anyone who ever lived, too.
• And who holds the record for highest strikeout rate by anyone in history who got at least 5,000 plate appearances? Yeah, Adam Dunn (with a whiff every 2.90 at-bats) would be an excellent guess.
So that’s a lot of K’s on the old score sheet. But the best part of all that hacking and missing was that this guy always owned up to every last K. He knew exactly what he was and who he was. He was never going to be Tony Gwynn. He never pretended to be or aspired to be. So he took responsibility for whatever he did, no matter how beautiful, no matter how ugly. And let’s just say his teammates noticed.
“He never took himself seriously, which kept him sane,” Jones said. “He knew he’d hit balls 600 feet. Then he knew he’d swing and miss for a while. Then he’d hit balls 600 feet for a while. So he never worried about either.”
But it says something special about him that Adam Dunn was also first in line to announce, “I stunk” -- as another of his ex-teammates, Aaron Boone, fondly recalled.
“Early in his career, before a day game, we were facing a certain pitcher who will remain nameless,” Boone said. “He says to me, 'If this guy gets me out today, I quit.
I told him not to say things like that, [to] 'be careful.'
“He proceeded to go 0-for-3, with two strikeouts off this starter, to which, after the third at-bat, I just smiled and raised my eyebrows. He says to me, 'He's still terrible, I'm just WORSE!’”
The sac race
We’d be remiss, finally, not to recount Tim Kurkjian’s favorite Adam Dunn feat of all time -- his three-year pursuit of a mere sacrifice fly.
Yes, friends. Over the course of three seasons -- part of 2003, all of 2004 and the first half of 2005 -- this man went 1,085 plate appearances without hitting a single sacrifice fly. And he even had a 100-RBI season in the middle of it -- making him one of three players since the dawn of the modern sac-fly rule (in 1954) to have a 100-RBI season that didn’t include a single SF.
You’d think that would be impossible. But Dempster has a theory.
“I think his problem,” Dempster said, “is that a lot of Adam Dunn’s sacrifice flies were caught by fans. And they’re not allowed to throw them to the catcher.”
Good point, actually. But there is so much more, of course. There was the season in Washington when Dunn was threatening to hit more homers than his team had wins -- and said: “That’s OK with me, as long as I hit about 85 home runs.”
There was the time, in spring training a few years back, when Mike Schmidt said he couldn’t understand why Dunn strikes out so much. And Dunn’s totally sincere retort to that heinous affront was: “I can’t, either.”
And how can we overlook his mind-boggling 2011 season with the White Sox, the one in which he somehow hit .159, bopped just 11 homers, piled up 111 more strikeouts (177) than hits (66), and managed to accumulate 42 more multistrikeout games (52) than multihit games (12)? It might be The Worst Season of Modern Times.
So the next season, Dunn appeared on our fabulous seamhead edition of "Baseball Tonight" and reported that, at one point, his wife asked him the best question of the year: “Have you ever considered hitting RIGHT-handed?”
And he was pretty sure, by the way, that she was serious. But you know what else is serious? That more people in this sport are truly sorry to see him go than you could possibly comprehend, including just about everyone who ever played with him.
“Someone needs to know,” said Todd Jones, “this isn’t Dave Kingman reborn. ... He’s a middle-of-the-order, back-of-the-plane, buck-stops-here guy.”
“No matter where he played, he was a guy who was a clubhouse favorite,” Dempster said. “I loved playing with him. I loved hanging with him. He’s got a great sense of humor. And most of all, he cared.”
Yes, there has never been anyone quite like him, all right. And the great Adam T. Dunn has the numbers -- and the one-liners -- to prove it.
Sprinkling in changeups that disappear in midair.
Spinning sliders that dodge every bat in their path, kinda like Professor Philip Brainard after he invented Flubber.
He’s Aroldis Chapman. And he’s having one of those seasons, a season that really should not be possible -- or even legal -- in a place we like to refer to as “the major leagues.” Basically, we could sum up that season this way:
He. Strikes. Out. Everybody.
Yeah, well, in truth, if you want to get all technical on us, Chapman hasn’t exactly whiffed every hitter he’s run into this season. But our response to those of you who would make an issue of that sort of thing would be this: He’s sure come closer than any pitcher who has ever lived.
He’s averaging just a tick below two strikeouts an inning. At his current pace, he’ll wind up the season with 101 strikeouts -- and 23 hits allowed. And never at any point has he had a stretch this season where he’s gone more than seven hitters without a strikeout.
“He’s on a different planet,” said his catcher, Devin Mesoraco.
“It’s not fair,” said the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen.
“Scary,” said the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter.
And one more thing: It’s getting downright historic. So let’s take a look at the insane season of the amazing Aroldis Chapman through the eyes of his teammates, the hitters and the hard-to-fathom numbers on his stat sheet.
Where do we even begin? Well, let’s start by reminding you that, among all pitchers who have ever thrown more than six innings in a season, there has never been a smokeballer in history who averaged two strikeouts per inning.
But with 89 whiffs in 45 2/3 innings this season, Chapman is just about there. That comes to an unfathomable 17.54 strikeouts per nine innings, a ratio never before accomplished and barely even approached. The current record: 16.66, by Craig Kimbrel in 2012.
OK, how about some other crazy numbers:
" Chapman has faced 173 hitters this season, and struck out 89 of them. That comes to 51.4 percent. Of all the other pitchers who have ever reached a mound and worked at least 40 innings, only Kimbrel (50.2 percent two years ago) has ever had a season in which he whiffed half the hitters he pitched to.
" Then there’s Chapman’s ridiculous strikeouts-to-hits ratio. He’s currently at 89 K’s, 20 hits, which comes to 4.45 strikeouts for every hit. Seriously. Only two other pitchers in history have even topped 3.5: Kimbrel, of course, in 2012 (4.30) and Eric Gagne in 2003 (3.70).
" And this stuff goes on every game, you understand. Chapman just ended a streak of 49 consecutive appearances with a strikeout. He’s the only reliever in history ever to have a streak that long. And that was the second time in his career he’s ripped off a streak of 30-plus. No other reliever has ever had more than one streak of 30 or more. He’s also racked up at least two strikeouts in 32 of his 45 appearances, including six in a row, eight of his last 10 and 15 of his last 22. And he hasn’t gone whiff-less in more than two consecutive appearances at any point since (ready?) May 5-15, 2011. That was 222 outings ago.
" Oh, and one more thing: Remember three weeks ago, when Chapman faced four hitters in Colorado, walked them all and exited with shoulder soreness? That’s a sign of impending disaster for some people. It was just a blip on this guy’s radar. In the six outings since he came back, he has faced 27 hitters, striking out 15 of them.
In a season that hasn’t exactly been one long trip to the Comedy Works for the Reds, Chapman has been the No. 1 source of amusement for his teammates. All they have to do when they need a laugh is look into the opposing dugout when he stomps into the game.
“You can see it on guys’ faces,” said his third baseman, Todd Frazier. “They couldn’t get one run to tie it in the eighth. Now they’ve got to face him. It’s kind of demoralizing if you want to know the truth.”
The heat is on
If baseball had never discovered the invention of the radar gun, Chapman's legend might be very different. But whatever. We’ve never, ever seen a radar-gun phenomenon like this dude. And now we have the mind-blowing numbers to prove it.
" According to TruMedia, Chapman has launched 413 of his 809 pitches this season at 100 mph or faster. That’s 86 more triple-digit pitches than all of the other 679 men who have taken a big league mound this year have thrown combined. (In second place is Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera, who’s a mere 323 behind, with 90.)
" OK, let’s keep going. TruMedia tells us Chapman has hit 101 mph or higher 253 times this season. No one else has done it more than 15.
" Want to move the needle up to 102? Chapman has hit 102 or better 111 times. Totals for the rest of the sport: zero.
" He’s also reached 103 or higher 23 times and 104 once, according to TruMedia. And there hasn’t been a game all season where he hasn’t hit 100 at least once.
" Then there’s Pitch F/x, which computes Chapman’s average fastball velocity at 101.21 mph -- the highest by any pitcher in the eight seasons since Pitch F/x has been keeping track. And on Aug. 28, he topped out at 104.53 mph on a scorchball to Paul Goldschmidt, who, somehow or other, foul-tipped it (before, naturally, striking out three pitches later).
Now maybe we make too much of velocity in general. But, um, not in this guy’s case. Heck, even the hitters are up there checking the mph readings. Asked if he ever sneaks a look at the radar board when he’s facing Chapman, Matt Carpenter confessed: “Yeah. I look to see if it’s 104.”
When we laughed, Carpenter made it clear he was serious about that 104 stuff, because “I’ve seen it. I’ve watched him do it.”
“And the worst feeling,” Carpenter said, “is when he throws one and you foul it off, and you go, `Oh man, that was hard.’ And then you look up and you go, `Oh no, it’s 99.’ And you’re like, `Oh no. There’s more there.’”
But that’s the thing. There’s always more there, because it’s not merely how hard Chapman throws a baseball. It’s the way hitters react to it.
“We were talking about this the other day, me and a couple of other guys,” Carpenter said. “There are guys that throw 100. But then there are guys whose 100 miles an hour looks like 125. And that’s what his is like.”
Not that anyone is really sure what 125 truly looks like. But whatever it looks like, Chapman’s catcher concurs that even at these supersonic velocity levels, it feels faster than what the radar board is saying it is.
“You know, you see some guys throw it 98 or 99, and you say yeah, that’s good,” Mesoraco said. “But Chappy’s 98, 99, 103, whatever it is, it’s just different. It’s gets on you a little bit better. He’s got that big leg kick and motion, and a lot of action. So you don’t really see the ball all that well. So he’s just a different animal, that’s for sure.”
A change is coming
But now the truth can be told. It isn’t even the fastball that has caused Chapman’s strikeout numbers to explode this year. It’s his rapidly accelerating feel for his two “off-speed” pitches: the slider and changeup.
The hilarious part of using the word “off-speed” to describe those pitches is that they average 89 mph themselves. But the effect isn’t much different than if they averaged 59. Take a look:
" Here is how hitters have fared against his slider this season, according to Pitch F/x: 90 swings, 43 misses, three hits. So that’s gone well.
" And now here’s the havoc wreaked by his occasional changeups: 20 swings, 19 misses, zero hits. That’s a whiff rate of (cue the laugh track here) 95 percent!
Now these are major league hitters, remember. Not guys who got dragged in off the deck of one of those riverboats out beyond center field. And they don’t have a prayer against those two pitches, because they’re too busy gearing up for 104 mph.
“You know he can throw that fastball,” Frazier said. “But once he figured out that slider and changeup this year, it’s become a whole 'nother ballgame.”
The Aroldis 3-D experience
So now that we’ve broken down what’s made this man’s season the incomprehensibly dominating phenomenon it’s become, let’s get down to the real fun and put the entire experience of facing Aroldis Chapman in full perspective.
For the hitters, it’s about as fun as gall bladder surgery.
Asked to describe what it’s like to try to hit this guy, Andrew McCutchen replied: “I would say, I guess, it’s like trying to catch a fly. You see the fly coming. And you try to catch it. But somehow you don’t. That’s kind of the way I look at it.”
And by “a fly,” by the way, he wasn’t referring to a “fly ball,” obviously.
“No, I mean an actual fly,” McCutchen chuckled. “A bug. A really fast one that hasn’t eaten anything in a while. That’s all I can tell you. Just picture it coming dead at you. So you try to catch it. Next thing you know, you look at it, and it’s not there.
“But sometimes you might,” he went on. “I mean, you might catch it. So that’s kind of the way I look at it. You know the math and all that. When you’ve got a 90 mph fastball, you’ve got four-tenths of a second to be able to hit it. But he’s throwing 101. And he’s 6-6. So you might want to cut that in half. So it’s tough, man. He definitely throws hard. And now he’s throwing sliders and changeups. That should be illegal.”
And that’s coming from a man who has actually avoided the standard levels of embarrassment against Chapman by going 2-for-6, with three whiffs and a walk, against him.
Then again, McCutchen isn’t left-handed. Carpenter, on the other hand, keeps forgetting to learn to switch-hit before facing Chapman. And he isn’t happy about it. He’s 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against him, if you’re scoring at home.
Asked for his best description of what it feels like to dig in against Chapman from the left side, Carpenter came up with the perfect word: “Scary,” he said. “As a left-handed hitter, that’s the best way I can describe it, is just scary. He coils up like a snake, and he throws 100 miles an hour, and it just seems like it’s going to be right by your face. And it might be. He’s a very intimidating presence on the mound. It’s hard to hit, man. It really is.”
No wonder his teammates remain seriously grateful this is everyone else’s problem, not theirs.
“It’s just unbelievable, just to see how he owns that mound and how he understands, `Nobody is going to hit me,’” said Todd Frazier. “He’s determined. He’s not scared of nothing. He’ll come inside if he feels like you’re crowding the plate, back you off a little bit and then come back over, and guys are stepping in the bucket because they don’t want to get hit.”
He then paused for a moment, trying to find a way to sum up what those happy feet of left-handed hitters can look like after Chapman has just pushed them off the plate at like 102 mph.
“It’s like quicksand or something,” he said, finally.
Hey, of course it is, because when you’re facing the one and only Aroldis Chapman, even the ground beneath your quivering feet can’t help but feel a little quicker than normal.
Seriously. That's the truth.
OK, it isn't quite the truth. The truth is that the pitchers who have shown up on the mound when West has umpired home plate this season have a 4.45 ERA.
But the fact that you can actually research this sort of thing, in this day and age, is proof that (A) we can, now, officially, look up everything and (B) stat-a-holics like us have never been happier to be alive.
Most people don't pay much attention to umpire stats. Not unless they pitch for a living. Or they're hopeless analytics analysts. Or they've been known to place a wager or two. But umpire stats have actually been around for almost a decade now. And this just in:
So after poring through a bunch of fun and fascinating umpire databases, here come 10 Astounding Umpire Facts you're guaranteed to be sharing with your closest friends on a bar stool near you:
1. There's no place like home for veteran umpire Gerry Davis. We know this because oddsshark.com's umpire page tells us that home teams have gone 20-3 this season when Davis has been behind the plate. Yep, 20-3. That's even a better winning percentage than Clayton Kershaw. Or Mike Krzyzewski.
2. And at the other end of that road, literally, there's Mike DiMuro. Road teams have gone 17-6 when he's worked the plate. Maybe he just has a sympathetic place in his heart for suitcases.
3. But suppose we look beyond only this season. We found more enjoyable home/road data, spanning the past eight seasons, at cleanuphitter.com. It told us that home teams have outscored road teams by an incredible 1.51 runs per game (5.36 to 3.85) during the 143 games in which Mike Muchlinski had the plate assignment over those eight seasons. That’s nearly a full run higher than the average gap of .53 runs per game (4.80 to 4.27). Among all other active umps who worked 200-plus games in that span, only Mike Everitt even had a home-team edge of more than one run per game (5.06-4.00).
4. And it was interesting to see that Mike DiMuro's home/road balance wasn't just a one-year phenomenon. Over the past eight seasons, there has been almost no difference between the road team's average score (4.56) and the home team's average score (4.54) when he had the plate. Only Hunter Wendelstedt worked at least 200 games over that span and wound up with more runs by the road team (4.51 per game) than the home team (4.44). So the roar of the crowd obviously didn't sway those two guys even a little.
5. If you're pitching and Kerwin Danley is behind the dish, there's a smile on your face as wide as, well, Danley's strike zone. Pitchers working during Danley’s plate assignments have a 2.80 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP this season, according to Baseball Prospectus' umpire page. Both those numbers rank No. 1 for pitcher-friendliness, among all regular umpires.
6. Your top three lowest ERAs among regular umpires: Danley 2.80, Ed Hickox 2.84, Bob Davidson 2.93. And the top three in best WHIP: Danley 1.10, Tony Randazzo 1.12, virtual tie between Hickox and Brian O'Nora 1.13. They figure to be on a lot of pitchers' Christmas card lists.
7. Meanwhile, the Coors Field of umpires -- aka, the plate ump who has inflated the most ERAs this year -- is Chris Conroy, proud owner of a Hector Noesi-esque 4.87 ERA. The top three ERAs on that leaderboard, among regular umpires, according to Baseball Prospectus: Conroy 4.87, Jerry Layne 4.79, Chris Segal 4.60.
8. Another fun number worth checking out is which umpires have the biggest gaps between strikeouts per game and walks per game. The top three pitchers' umps in 2014, by that standard, according to oddsshark.com, are Brian Gorman (12.57 more K's than BBs), Tim Welke (12.24) and Brian O'Nora (11.31). Gorman averages 17.9 strikeouts per game in back of the plate, the most of any umpire who has worked there at least 20 times this year.
9. And who has the smallest gaps between whiffs and walks? The top three hitters' umps this season, using the same standard, are Segal (only 7.27 more K's than BBs per game), Brian Knight (7.41) and Jeff Kellogg (7.52). Segal (13.0 per game) had the lowest strikeout rate of any ump with 20 or more plate assignments. Knight has the highest walk rate (7.17 per game).
10. And, finally, there's everybody’s favorite umpire stat -- ejections. Sadly, they aren't want they used to be, here in the post-replay era. But if you somehow get yourself mixed up in one of those umpire-ejection fantasy leagues -- and we don't recommend it -- you need to know which men in blue have the quickest thumbs. And that answer, according to the ejection-fantasy-league numbers at portal.closecallsports.com, is Bill Miller with seven (including one in spring training), Dan Bellino six (all while working the plate) and Toby Basner with six (five as a plate ump, one from first base).
Now just for the record, Joe West has racked up only two ejections all season -- not one of them since his May 11 boot of his good friend, Ron Gardenhire. Which only serves as more spectacular evidence that perception and reality can often be two different things when it comes to your favorite members of the umpires' union.
And we now even have the numbers to prove it.
So who would those juggernauts be? Thanks for asking. Here they come:
The Royal power outage
The good news is, we know now that the Royals are going to outhomer Nelson Cruz this season. There were times a couple of months ago we weren’t so sure.
But the bad news is, the Royals are still on pace to hit a mere 99.8 home runs this season. So maybe they finish with 100 homers. Maybe they don't. But if they don't, you should know that playoff teams that fail to hit 100 home runs are almost as rare as a day without a Kardashian headline.
Ready for the complete list of American League teams to reach the postseason without hitting 100 home runs in a 162-game season? Here goes:
• Amos Otis' 1978 Royals – 98
• Freddie Patek’s 1976 Royals – 65
That’s the entire list. And perhaps you’ll notice a common theme there -- by which we mean "Royalty."
This is obviously either a Royals thing or a Royals/Kauffman Stadium thing, because the last American League team to appear in the postseason without A) playing in Kansas City or B) hitting 100 homers in a full season was Nellie Fox's 1959 Chicago White Sox, and that is the only AL team to fit those criteria since Roy Cullenbine’s 1945 Tigers.
Will these Royals join that club? Well, if it means anything, they've actually outhomered the Angels (22-18) since the All-Star break and outhomered all but three teams in the American League during their sizzling August. But is this what they really are? Amos Otis and Freddie Patek eagerly await the answer to that question!
And one more thing: One additional amazing Royals note, passed along by Grantland’s Rany Jazayerli: Twice this year, the Royals have fallen seven games behind in the AL Central and twice made up all seven games of that gap to take undisputed possession of first place. Only one other team in history has ever roared from at least seven games behind to occupy first place all by itself two different times in the same season: Dustan Mohr’s 2003 Twins (who caught -- who else? -- the Royals).
OBP-less in Seattle
Then there are the Mariners, one of the most offensively challenged contenders of modern times.
If the postseason had started Wednesday, they'd have been playing in it as the second wild-card team in the AL. But if you've watched them swing the bats this year, we're betting it definitely wouldn't come as a shock to hear that teams like this almost never show up on anybody's TV screen in October.
Here are just some of their offensive claims to "fame":
• Their .302 team on-base percentage entering Wednesday would be the third lowest by any team in postseason history. The only AL team with a lower OBP on that list -- Jiggs Donahue’s 1906 White Sox (.301) -- played in the dead ball era. And the only NL team in this exclusive club -- Julian Javier's 1968 Cardinals (.298) -- did it in a season in which the major league OBP was under .300 (.299). Amazing.
• The Mariners were also on pace to score just 643 runs this season. The last AL team to score that few runs, over a full season, and reach the postseason: Skeeter Webb’s 1945 Tigers (633, in a 154-game season).
• But let's get away from the raw numbers and consider where the Mariners rank in their league. They're dead last in OPS (.677), and how many teams in history have ever finished last in their league in OPS and made it to the postseason? Exactly one, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Todd Hollandsworth's 1996 Dodgers (.701). Which means, obviously, that no AL team has ever done that.
• Finally, the Mariners also ranked last in the league in on-base percentage. Elias reports that just one AL team in history has ever done that and gotten to the postseason: Steve Balboni's 1985 Royals (.313).
Then again, that Royals team went on to win the World Series. So just because the Mariners might be trying to do this the hard way doesn't mean they're not allowed to dream. Right?
Viva la differential in the Bronx
But we sure can’t overlook the Yankees. They're trying to take a route to the postseason that we're pretty sure Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey and even Scott Brosius would have probably had a hard time comprehending.
The 1927 Yankees once scored 376 more runs than they allowed. The 1936 Yankees scored 334 more runs than they allowed. The 1998 Yankees scored 309 runs more than they allowed.
The 2014 Yankees on the other hand? They've given up 40 more runs than they've scored. And if you're thinking you haven't seen a lot of teams with a minus-40 run differential playing October baseball, uh, good thinking.
According to Elias, exactly one team in history has ever had a run differential that out of whack and reached the postseason. That would be Ryan Klesko's 2005 Padres (minus-42). So no AL team has ever done this.
And, just for the record, the worst run differential by any Yankees team that played in the postseason was plus-57, by the 2000 team. Hmmm. Mr. Steinbrenner, Mr. Torre and Mr. Berra, your thoughts?
In other news
• The Rangers may not be heading for October, but they're heading for one of the most incredible achievements in pitching history. They're last in the American League in ERA -- but they're first in the league in shutouts (or at least tied with the Rays for first, anyway). So how many teams have ever led their league in shutouts (or tied for the lead) in a season in which they also had the worst ERA in their league? None, of course, according to Elias.
• The Rockies stopped dreaming of contending many weeks ago, but they've never stopped finding new starting pitchers to send to the mound. They're already up to 15 different pitchers who have started a game this season, from Christian Friedrich to Jair Jurrjens to Yohan Flande. And if they can find three more, they can tie the record for most starters trotted out there by any team in the division play era. That prestigious mark of 18 is shared by Rich Loiselle’s 1996 Pirates and Jason Grimsley’s 1993 Indians.
• And one more classic feat by a last-place team: The Red Sox might be last in the AL in runs scored, but they still have the league leader in RBIs, David Ortiz, which understandably prompted loyal reader Rick Malwitz to ask: Is that unprecedented? And the answer, according to Elias, is: not quite -- but almost. The only other team ever to pull that off? Wally Berger’s 1935 Boston Braves. Big Papi had knocked in nearly 20 percent of the Red Sox’s runs this season (92 of 480), but what Berger did in 1935 was even more incredible. He drove in 22.6 percent of the runs scored (130 of 575) by a team that lost 103 games. And that, friends, is a lot of Bergers to go.