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Three Strikes -- Off A Cliff edition

2/10/2010

Now that it's safe to put the shoulder pads and Super Bowl pools behind us, it's time for this important announcement:

It's now, officially, Useless Information season again. So here come some mesmerizing tidbits to get you warmed up for pitchers and catchers:

Strike One -- Cliff Dive Dept.

The more I ruminate on the Phillies' decision to trade away Cliff Lee, the more incomprehensible it gets. Now, even the Three Strikes History Division is weighing in with this incredible nugget:

Want to guess the last time any team ventured into the offseason and traded a starting pitcher who had just won two games in the previous World Series?

Before you burn too many brain cells on this, you should know you'd have to be in about your 20th year of collecting Social Security to remember it -- since it happened nearly eight decades ago!

The last team to do it: Those 1931 Cardinals, who swapped one future Hall of Famer (Burleigh Grimes) for another (Hack Wilson) -- in a deal precipitated mostly by Wilson's feud with grumpy new Cubs manager Rogers Hornsby.

In the 78 years since that extravaganza, only two other starting pitchers even changed teams via free agency (or any other exit ramp) in the offseason after they won two World Series games -- Jack Morris (from Twins to Blue Jays in 1991-92) and Mike Torrez (from Yankees to Red Sox in 1977-78). But that's not quite the same thing.

Now clearly, it was the threat of Lee's free agency that precipitated this trade, too. But that doesn't change this fact:

Over the past 80 years, there has never been any other team that had a pitcher who had earned his way into the Mr. October Club (or Mr. October/November Club) quite like Cliff Lee -- and then traded him for prospects. An amazing deal. An amazing gamble.

Strike Two -- Sub-Mendozas Dept.

One of my favorite offseason research projects every year is to take a look at pitchers who are so dominating, they hold both right-handed and left-handed hitters to batting averages beneath the Mendoza Line.

Here's last season's Double Mendoza group, among pitchers who faced at least 100 hitters who batted from each side:

And that's it. Just those six guys. And after digesting that list, you can now repeat after me:

Tim Byrdak? Yep, it's true. Tim Byrdak. You can look it up here.

In the meantime, here are five other pitcher who came close:

(* -- Didn't face enough hitters to qualify.)

You'll also notice there were no starting pitchers who made this list. So here come the closest calls among the rotation population:

(* -- Didn't face enough hitters to qualify.)

Finally, who's the only pitcher in baseball who has made this club in back-to-back years? Joe Nathan. That's who. And Marmol also would be in there if he'd just allowed one fewer hit last year. But that's the breaks. "Under" .200 still means "under," right?

Strike Three -- In Other News Dept.

STRIKE THREE -- IN OTHER NEWS DEPT.: And now more random factoids to check out while you avoid shoveling snow ...

• One more NFL-MLB note: Now that the Saints have crossed themselves off the list, there are still 13 NFL franchises that have never won a Super Bowl. But in the same period, there are only 11 baseball teams left that haven't won a World Series: Indians, Giants, Astros, Brewers, Mariners, Padres, Rockies Rays, Senators/Rangers, Expos/Nationals and (of course) da Cubs. The four two-team cities that haven't won either: Cleveland, San Diego, Houston and Seattle.

• One more reason Carlos Zambrano is one of a kind: Loyal reader Pete Ridges reports that the Big Z has obliterated the all-time record in this funky category: Homer-to-walk ratio by a hitter. Zambrano has hit 20 home runs in his career -- and that's 14 more home-run trots than trots down to first base after drawing ball four. So he's actually doubled the old record of seven, held by hack-a-matic '80s outfielder Alejandro Sanchez (8 career homers, 1 walk).

• The nine big-leaguers who took a hack at at least a third of the pitches they saw that didn't occupy the strike zone last year, according to FanGraphs: Bengie Molina (43.9 percent), Pablo Sandoval (41.5), A.J. Pierzynski (38.1), Alfonso Soriano (37.0), Erick Aybar (36.3), Jeff Francoeur (36.0), Jose Lopez (35.8), Adam Jones (35.3) and Clint Barmes (33.7).

• Finally, here's the most innovative offseason injury of the year: Astros minor leaguer Jose Vallejo might be out all season -- because he was trying to cook dinner. While cutting up meat, he also sliced up tendons in two fingers. Which didn't work out so well. Just one more reason we always recommend this: Send out for pizza!