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Tuesday, August 6, 2002
Useless information department

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

There aren't many teams like the '78 Yankees out there.

We learned that a few days ago on this very same web site, when our buddy, Alan Schwarz, unfurled some sensational research on how tough it is to come from more than 4½ games out heading into August and still finish first.

Now Useless Information steps up to examine the one area he didn't explore -- the wild-card races. And here's what we found:

There aren't many teams like the 2001 Cardinals out there, either.

Last year's Cardinals were six games back in the wild-card race entering August and still wound up in the playoffs. But in the seven years of wild-card free-for-alls, they're the only wild-card team that has been more than 4½ back on Aug. 1. And that wouldn't seem like good news for teams like the Astros and Mets.

Here's the breakdown of where the 14 wild-card teams since 1995 stood as they plowed into August.

  • In first place or wild-card lead: 9 of 14 (64 percent).
  • Within 1 game of wild-card lead: 1 of 14 ('99 Red Sox, ½ out).
  • Within 1½-2 games of wild-card lead: 1 of 14 ('96 Dodgers, 2).
  • Within 2½-3½ games of wild-card lead: 1 of 14 (2001 A's, 3½).
  • Within 4-4½ games of wild-card lead: 1 of 14 ('96 Orioles, 4½).
  • More than 4½ behind: 1 of 14 (2001 Cardinals, 6).

    So only two of those 14 teams (14 percent) came from more than 3½ back And just three (21 percent) came from more than two games behind.

    It's also a mess if you're a team chasing more than a couple of teams. Only the '96 Orioles (behind three teams) and 2001 Cardinals (behind four) had to climb over more than two teams in the final two months.

    So the moral of the story is: There's not as much "wild" in those wild cards as you might think.

    Useless competitive-balance info ...
    With all this talk about competitive balance sweeping the land, loyal reader David Hallstrom decided to come up with a formula to determine which periods had the most competitive balance and which had the least.

    So he averaged how many games each first-place team since 1901 had finished out of first place the season before. In other words, if the same teams won and/or contended every year, the number was lower. And if different teams won and/or contended every year, the number was higher.

    After all that, he found that the average first-place team had finished 7.3 games out the previous year. So we divided the decades into three groups.

    Least competitive balance
    1971-1980: 4.23 GB
    1901-1910: 4.53 GB
    1921-1930: 5.78 GB
    1951-1960: 5.93 GB

    Average competitive balance
    2001: 6.76 GB
    1991-2000: 7.57 GB
    1931-1940: 7.85 GB
    1941-1950: 8.15 GB

    Most competitive balance
    1911-1920: 11.38 GB
    1981-1990: 9.03 GB
    1961-1970: 8.96 GB

    Fascinatingly, that would make the last dozen years essentially typical of the competitive balance we've seen in this sport over the last century. (Don't tell Bud.)

    And one other finding: the three-division set-up in some ways has made the problem seem worse than it is.

    Had baseball kept the old two-division system and no wild card these last eight seasons, the Yankees would have missed the playoffs in four of them -- 2000, 1997, 1996 and 1995.

    In 1995 and 1997, there would have been no wild card for them to win. In 2000 and 1996, the Indians would have won the AL East.

    We don't need to run any spreadsheets to know that teams that don't make the postseason have a worse chance of winning the World Series. So we remind you again that the Yankees of 1996-2001 didn't dominate the regular season. They just dominated in October.

    More useless info ...
    Derek Lowe's Cy Young campaign sure wasn't hurt by his start last weekend in Texas (seven shutout innings), not when you consider the number of runs scored by the Rangers in three consecutive games: 17, then 19, then 0.

    Derek Lowe
    Starting pitcher
    Boston Red Sox
    Profile
    2002 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM IP W-L BB SO ERA
    22 152.0 15-5 36 92 2.13

    The Rangers had just become only the second team since 1953 and fourth since 1939 to score 17 runs or more in two straight games. They were the only one of those teams to get shut out in their next game.

    Lowe, meanwhile, became only the fifth pitcher since 1955 to start a game in which his team allowed no runs to a team that had scored at least 19 runs the game before. We've uncovered the others, with the help of the Elias Sports Bureau and Retrosheet:

    May 19, 1977: Phil Niekro vs. Cubs (23 in previous game)
    July 29, 1973: Al Fitzmorris vs. Angels (19 in previous game)
    Aug. 8, 1971: Phil Niekro vs. Mets ( 20 in previous game)
    April 24, 1955: Alex Kellner vs. White Sox (29 in previous game)

  • Oh, and one more note from that game: The Red Sox were only the fifth team in the last 60 years to win a game by at least 12 runs the day after losing to the same team by 12 or more. The others, courtesy of Elias:

    2000 Cardinals (lost 13-1 to Pirates May 19, won 19-4 May 20).
    1988 Tigers (lost 16-1 to Red Sox Aug. 13, won 18-6 Aug. 14).
    1987 Yankees (lost 13-1 to Royals April 10, won 15-2 April 11).
    1979 Yankees (lost 16-1 to Mariners July 11, won 14-2 April 12).

  • But the Red Sox and Rangers weren't the only teams trading blowouts last week. The Mets played back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday in which they lost to the Astros, 16-3, then beat them, 10-0, the next day. The New York Post's Joel Sherman reports it was only the second time in Mets history they'd lost a game by 10 or more and then won by 10 or more the next day.

    The other time was in their first season, when Casey Stengel's original Amazin's also lost a 16-3 game to the Astros on June 22, then won, 13-2, the next day, behind Jay (8-19) Hook.

  • Officially, Ellis Burks set a record Saturday by hitting his first career homer at Safeco Park, the 41st ballpark in which he'd homered. Unofficially, what's the big deal? Burks had actually already homered there -- last October, in the Cleveland-Seattle Division Series.

  • Curt Schilling is 18-4, but had he won his last start in Montreal, he would have been 16 games over .500 for the second straight year. And if he can finish at 16 over or above, he'll place himself in astonishing company.

    Since 1950, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one pitcher has had back-to-back seasons in which he was 16 games over .500 or better: Mr. Sanford Koufax (26-8 and 27-9 in the final two seasons of his career, 1965-66).

  • We have a new leader in the clubhouse in the Cheapest Save of the 2000s sweepstakes. When Willie Banks saved Boston's dramatic 22-4 win over the Devil Rays on July 23, he deposed Todd Erdos, then a Padre, who saved a 16-1 game on Aug. 22, 2000.

    But somebody really has some work to do to beat the two cheapest saves of the '90s -- Stan Belinda nailing down a 22-3 game for the Reds on Sept. 4, 1999, and Ed Vosberg closing out a 26-7 win for Texas on April 19, 1996.

  • That 22-4 game was memorable for more than Willie Banks. It became part of maybe the most incomprehensible doubleheader ever played. Over a period of close to 11 hours that day, in a ridiculous, rain-delayed day-nighter, the Red Sox outscored the Devil Rays, 26-zippo. And then, after going almost 11 hours without a run, the Rays (who, by the way, had lost 10 in a row to the Red Sox at the time) scored five in the ninth inning of Game 2 and won, 5-4.

    Because baseball doesn't consider day-night doubleheaders to be "official" doubleheaders, we can't tell you with 100 percent certainty that that's never happened. But trust us: There's no way that ever happened.

    Elias tells us that no team had scored 26 unanswered runs against anybody since the 1995 Orioles ended their season with five straight shutouts (in which they scored 34 runs in a row). But it took them five days to score the first 26, not one day.

    And the Red Sox hadn't scored 26 unanswered runs since 1954. That did happen in a July 11 doubleheader, but they swept that one, against the A's, by a combined score of 29-1.

    The Red Sox team record was 28 runs in a row, set in their historic back-to-back 20-4 and 29-4 wipeouts of the St. Louis Browns on June 7-8, 1950. But obviously, they didn't lose either of those games, either.

  • Here's one more "first" Alfonso Soriano is chasing: He's almost certain to become the first second baseman in history to join the 30-30-30 Club (Homers, Steals, Doubles). The closest calls, according to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia:

    Player Year HR 2B SB
    Juan Samuel 1987 28 37 35
    Joe Morgan 1976 27 30 60
    Joe Morgan 1973 26 35 67
    Ryne Sandberg 1985 26 31 54
    Roberto Alomar 1999 24 40 37

  • Todd Ritchie has officially appeared on the radar screen of our pal, Brian (Last 20-Game Loser of the 20th Century) Kingman. Ritchie lost his 15th of the year Saturday. In 1980, on the way to 20 losses, Kingman only had 11 losses at this stage -- and didn't lose his 15th until Aug. 29. But since there's no way the White Sox will let Ritchie lose 20 after trading three pitchers for him, the real contender Kingman needs to watch is Mike Hampton (5-13).

  • Hampton got off the hook for his 14th loss last week, when the already-legendary Jack Cust hit a game-tying two-run homer in the ninth. But that was Cust's only hit in his first 10 at-bats. He struck out in all nine of the others (plus two walks).

    Alas, they weren't the first 10 at-bats of his career, because he went 0 for 2 (with no strikeouts) in a call-up last year. But Elias' Rob Tracy reports that Cust became only the second active player to pack a homer and at least seven punchouts into the first 10 at-bats of his big-league career.

    The other: equally legendary slugger Dustin Hermanson (homered in his first at-bat, in 1997, then whiffed in seven of his next nine). So that makes Cust the only active position player who can make that claim.

  • But the best Mike Hampton note of them all is this: In a July 22 game against Arizona, Hampton (now hitting .362 for the year) did something no pitcher had done in almost 30 years. He attempted to steal two bases in the same game (stealing the first time, getting thrown out the second).

    Last pitcher to try that, according to Elias: Dick Ruthven, on July 16, 1974. In that 1974 game, Ruthven singled in the fifth inning, stole second and then bolted for third -- unsuccessfully -- after being picked off. At least both of Hampton's SB attempts were pure steals.

    Jared Sandberg
    Third baseman
    Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    Profile
    2002 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM AB R HR RBI AVG
    63 214 36 13 37 .234

  • Jared Sandberg leads the Devil Rays in homers, with 13. Six of the nine guys in the Yankees' lineup have hit more than that. But Devil Rays media-relations genius Rick Vaughn reports that if Sandberg does in fact wind up leading the Rays in homers, he'll be the first player to start the season in the minor leagues and still lead his team in home runs since Tony Clark.

    Clark spotted the 1996 Tigers two months and still led that team with 27. He passed a stellar cast that included Bobby Higginson, Melvin Nieves and (for two-thirds of the year) Cecil Fielder.

  • More good stuff from the Devil Rays: Randy Winn is on a pace to get 201 hits and 70 extra-base hits. Our man, Rick Vaughn, also reports that only two switch-hitters in history got 200 hits and 70 extra-base hits in the same season -- Ruben Sierra (203, 74 for the 1991 Rangers) and good old Ripper Collins (200, 87 for the 1934 Cardinals).

  • But, as you might have noticed, Randy Winn has been about the only positive note it's been possible to work up on those Devil Rays. They recently finished up a 13-game losing streak on the road -- in the same year they had a 15-game losing streak no matter where they were playing. And Elias reports that only three other teams could make that claim since the beginning of the expansion (and 162-game) era in 1961:

    1988 Orioles: 21-game losing streak (April 4-28), 13-game road losing streak (April 8-28).
    1963 Mets: 15-game losing streak (June 28-July 14), 22-game road losing streak (June 16-July 28).
    1961 Phillies: 23-game losing streak (July 29-Aug. 20), 17-game road losing streak (Aug. 2-20).

    What separates the Devil Rays from that pack, obviously, is that their two streaks didn't overlap. The 15-gamer was April 25-May 10. The 13-game road losing streak was June 21-July 21. It's been that kind of year.

  • On back-to-back days last week, the Giants and Dodgers lost for the first time all year in games they led after eight innings. Elias' Santo Labombarda reports that leaves just one team that's undefeated this year when it leads after eight -- the A's. Through Monday, they were 56-0.

  • Saturday in Philadelphia, Shawn Green and Mike Lieberthal both hit two home runs. In between Lieberthal's multihomer games, dating back to June 3, 2000, Green had 13 of them. On the other hand, Lieberthal led Green in major knee surgeries, 1-0.

  • True fact: Sammy Sosa has hit more home runs just over the last five years (276) than 38 Hall of Fame outfielders hit in their careers.

  • Pedro Martinez Note of the Week: The amazing Pedro won 78 of his first 100 decisions after joining the Red Sox. And according to Elias, that's the best record by any pitcher ever in his first 100 decisions with a team. He broke a record that had merely withstood challenges by every single pitcher in baseball for the last 105 years. The top five all-time:

    Pedro Martinez, Red Sox 78-22 (1998-2002)
    Bill Hoffer, Orioles 76-24 (1895-1897)
    Cy Young, Red Sox 75-25 (1901-1903)
    Whitey Ford, Yankees 74-26 (1950-1956)
    Dwight Gooden, Mets 74-26 (1984-1988)

  • In Philadelphia, the Phillies keep hearing that their second-place finish last year was misleading, but it's a funny thing. ... The only difference between this year and last year is the way it started.

    Starting with their game of May 24, last year's Phillies were one game over .500. And what was the record of this year's Phillies since May 24? One game over .500, through Monday. (Records before May 24: 20-27 this year, 27-17 last year.)

  • Meanwhile, what's the difference between the 2002 Braves and the 2001 Mariners? Same answer: The way their seasons started.

    The Braves have won 53 of their last 70 games -- a streak that hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the start of the Mariners' season last year. But that's only because the Braves took a month to get warmed up. How many of their first 70 games did those Mariners win last year? Exactly 53.

  • But the Braves did do something those Mariners never did -- go 22 straight series without losing a series. It was the longest streak by any team since the '98 Yankees went 24 series in a row without losing one. And it was the longest streak by an NL team, according to Elias, since the 1970 Reds were starting up their Big Red Machine era by also going 24 straight.

  • Phillies p.r. whiz Larry Shenk reports that the newest voice of baseball to enter the Hall of Fame, Harry Kalas, has called the first game played in four different stadiums -- the Astrodome, the Vet, Stade Olympique and Enron Field. The Phillies' record in those games: 4-0.

  • More Harry Kalas trivia, courtesy of ESPN Phillies kung-pomaniac Judson Burch: On the day Kalas was inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Phillies won, 7-1. The year of Kalas' first Phillies broadcast: 1971. Four years earlier, on the night after Kalas' longtime partner, Richie Ashburn, died in New York, the Phillies beat the Mets, 1-0. Ashburn's number: No. 1.

  • Rodrigo Lopez made news last week by becoming the first rookie to win six games in a month since Hideo Nomo did it in 1995. But the big story in Baltimore was that Lopez won twice as many games in July as the rest of the Orioles' starters combined.

  • Scott Rolen spent seven seasons with the Phillies and never once played on an ESPN Sunday night game. On his first Sunday as a Cardinal, of course, they played in the ESPN game.

  • How amazing is baseball? Since the great Jim Deshaies set his most glorious record (next to most pickoff throws in a season) 16 years ago by striking out the first eight hitters in a game, only two starting pitchers had even fanned the first six batters in a game until Monday. Then, incredibly, two guys did it on the same day:

    The list, since Deshaies, courtesy of Elias:

    Pitcher Date Opponent
    Brandon Duckworth 8/5/02 L.A.
    Randy Johnson 8/5/02 NYM
    Bartolo Colon 7/26/00 Tor.
    Frank Viola 4/8/87 Oak.

  • Despite his first home loss in (gulp) 25 starts over the weekend, Barry Zito still has the best career record at home of any pitcher in baseball (22-6, .786). Ah, but which pitchers have the worst records at home? Glad you asked:

    1. Jason Johnson, Pirates-Rays-Orioles (10-22, .313)
    2. Jimmy Anderson, Pirates (13-24, .351)
    3. Glendon Rusch, Royals-Mets-Brewers (17-31, .354)
    4. Ryan Rupe, Devil Rays (12-21, .364)

    By the way, if they return to the big leagues, Dennis Springer (11-21, .344) and Bryan Rekar (10-22, .313) will also make this list. There's incentive for them, huh?

  • From our Strikeouts Are Overrated Dept.: In back-to-back starts against the Braves, the Phillies' Randy Wolf struck out 10 in the first game and lost, then whiffed none in his next start and won. In honor of that, here are all the starting pitchers this year who won a game in which they struck out nobody:

    National League
    Randy Wolf, July 26 vs. Atl., 6 1/3 IP, 1 ER, 0 K
    Tom Glavine, July 23 at Fla., 5 2/3 IP, 3 ER, 0 K
    Jason Simontacchi, June 4 at Cin., 6 1/3 IP, 1 ER, 0 K
    Jon Lieber, April 14 at Pit., 5 IP, 1 ER, 0 K
    Kirk Rueter, June 4 at SD, 6 IP, 1 ER, 0 K
    Kevin Brown, May 11 at Fla, 7 IP, 0 ER, 0 K

    American League
    Sunny Kim, July 2 vs. Tor., 6 IP, 3 ER, 0 K
    Pete Walker, July 30 at KC, 5 IP, 3 ER, 0 K
    Scott Erickson, April 23 vs. Bos., 6 IP, 5 ER, 0 K
    Rodrigo Lopez, April 24 vs. Bos., 5 1/3 IP, 2 ER, 0 K
    Brad Radke, May 8 vs. KC, 9 IP, 1 ER, 0 K
    Eric Milton, May 15 at KC, 6 1/3 IP, 5 ER, 0 K
    Brad Lohse, June 1 vs. Ana., 7 IP, 1 ER, 0 K
    Danys Baez, April 10 vs. Min., 5 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 0 K
    Seth Greisinger, May 7 at Ana., 7 IP 0 ER, 0 K
    Jeff Suppan, May 25 vs. Tex., 6 1/3, 3 ER, 0 K
    John Halama, July 25 vs. Tex., 5 IP, 2 ER, 0 K

  • Finally, in case you missed it, long-awaited (at least by us) Useless Information history occurred July 20 at Coors Field -- when, for the first time in the big leagues, a Jayson (Durocher) faced a Stark (Dennis). So far, it's advantage Stark, who doubled off the first Jayson he saw. Can't get much more useless than that, friends.

    The Sultan's Corner
  • If you were looking for one measly stat in which Barry Bonds isn't the dominant home run hitter of his time, it took the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent, to find one:

    Bonds has hit only one home run on his birthday (July 24). It came in 1989, off Tim Crews (Dodgers), in Pittsburgh.

  • Which means Barry has missed the biggest home run trend of 2002 -- the Birthday Homer Explosion. Here are all the men who have homered on their birthday this year, courtesy of the Sultan:

    Carlos Delgado, June 25
    Nomar Garciaparra (3), July 23
    Jose Hernandez (2), July 14
    Torii Hunter, July 18
    Andruw Jones, April 23
    Jacque Jones, April 25
    Alex Rodriguez (2), July 27
    Scott Rolen, April 4
    Miguel Tejada, May 25
    Frank Thomas, May 27
    Randy Winn, June 9
    Kevin Young, June 16

  • The coolest of those birthday home run parties was celebrated by A-Rod, who hit a walkoff grand slam on his birthday. And if you're wondering if anyone had ever done that before, the answer is: Nada.

  • Finally, our favorite home run feat of the week occurred Sunday, when the Mets' Ty Wiggington hit his first career home run. And, of course, when he'd finished crossing home plate, the score was (what else?) tied. He was the first Ty to tie a game with his first career homer, according to the Sultan, since Ty Tyson, in 1926.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.