Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Updated: January 27, 2:25 PM ET
Senior Circuit awaits Rocket
By Jayson Stark
Useless Roger Clemens Information
How unusual is it for a pitcher to win 310 games in one league before making his debut in the other league? Well, until Roger Clemens tried on his Astros cap, the only pitcher with this many wins who then changed leagues for the first time and won at least one game in the other league was Steve Carlton.
Carlton won 319 games for the Cardinals, Phillies and Giants before signing with the White Sox in 1986. He wound up winning 10 more games in the AL with the White Sox, Indians and Twins.
Clemens does own 20 more wins than the 290 that Cy Young took with him from the National League over to that newfangled American League in 1901. But old Cy wound up winning another 221 games. We're guessing Clemens might not hang around Houston long enough to inspire any Cy countdowns.
Meanwhile, how does Clemens' league switch affect Frank Tanana? Glad you asked. When Clemens wins his first game in the NL, he'll break a "record" held by Tanana, for most American League wins by any pitcher before his first National League win. Tanana won 233 for the Angels, Red Sox, Rangers and Tigers -- then won the final seven games of his career as a Met.
If we assume that modern baseball truly began when Babe Ruth began bashing balls that had a better chance of hitting a passing Model T than of being caught, Clemens' magic number this year is 15. That's how many wins he needs to become the winningest right-handed pitcher of the modern, post-Ruthian era. Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan currently share that honor, with 324.
And if Clemens wins 20, he would pass Steve Carlton (329 wins) to become the second-winningest "modern" pitcher, behind only Warren Spahn (363). But history tells us there are better odds of the Astros finishing behind the Pirates than of Clemens winning 20 at this stage of his career.
Only two pitchers in history have collected their 300th wins, then changed teams and won 20 in a season. One is Grover Cleveland Alexander, who had won 318 when he went from the Cubs to the Cardinals in 1926 and then went 21-10 the next year. The other is Kid Nichols, who had 329 career wins when he came back from the Western League to go 21-13 for the 1904 Cardinals.
On the other hand, for all that Clemens has a chance to do by returning, we shouldn't overlook the claim to fame he's giving up. Had he stayed retired, he could have gone down as the 300-game winner with the greatest farewell season of modern times. But now he'll just have to do it all over again.
Clemens' 17 wins last year were 10 more games than any other 300-game winner since 1900 won in his final season. (Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro and Cy Young all won seven.)
|Roger Clemens wanted to make sure his new team was 100 percent focused on winning.|
Clemens' 193 strikeouts also would have been almost double the next-highest total by a modern 300-game winner in his final season (103, by Tom Seaver).
And Clemens would have been the only 300-game winner since 1900 to throw more than 200 innings in his final season. (Warren Spahn missed by 2 1/3 innings.) But not anymore.
Clemens has appeared in 26 postseason games since his arrival on the planet in 1962. If you toss out the five 1981 Division Series games the Astros never would have played in 1981 if it weren't for the strike-inspired split season, the Astros have played just 25 postseason games since their franchise arrived on the planet in 1962.
With the addition of Clemens and Andy Pettitte to Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller, the Astros now employ four of the 26 active starting pitchers with career winning percentages over .600 (and a minimum of 60 decisions). Well, you sure don't see that much -- outside of The Bronx, at least.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees actually have been able to make the same claim in three of the last four seasons. Clemens and Pettitte comprised half of that group in every case. The others were David Cone and Dwight Gooden in 2000, Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez in 2001, and Mussina and David Wells last year.
But no team besides the money-is-no-object Yankees have had four pitchers with this high a winning percentage since the 1956 Dodgers assembled five (Cal Erskine, Clem Labine, Billy Loes, Sal Maglie, Don Newcombe).
But the defection of Clemens and Pettitte produced yet another amazing note. The Yankees have never before jettisoned two pitchers who won as many games in the same season as Clemens (17) and Pettitte (21) did last season.
In fact, according to Elias, the Yankees are the first team to lose two pitchers who combined for 38 wins or more since the 1921 Red Sox, who traded Sad Sam Jones (23 wins) and Bullet Joe Bush (16) to (where else?) the Yankees.
Finally, with both Clemens and Greg Maddux (289 wins) changing teams, this will mark the first time two pitchers with that many wins have relocated in the same offseason in more than a century.
Last time it happened, according to Elias: After the 1890 season, when the late, great Players League folded -- forcing Pud Galvin (336 wins), Tim Keefe (308) and our hero, Old Hoss Radbourn (298), to return to the National League from whence they came.
Useless Hall of Fame Information
|Useless Tigers Information
Those 2003 Tigers may have run out of games to play. But their notes keep right on traveling. Loyal reader Rusty Southwick recently deluged us with more astonishing Tigers feats. Here are just some of them:
The Tigers had separate streaks in which they ran up (or down) all the following records:
1-17, 2-10, 2-21, 2-12, 1-15 and 1-16.
That comes to 9-91. In all their other games, they went 34-28. To quote Rusty Southwick, those streaks will get you every time.
If the Tigers had won all of their final 28 games of the season ... they still would have had the worst record in the major leagues.
The good news was, the Tigers won the close ones. They went 19-18 in one-run games. The bad news was ... all those other games. They were 24-101 in games decided by more than one run.
The Tigers had a winning record against one team -- San Diego (two out of three) -- but were outscored even by that team,10-9.
The Tigers almost lost as many games as the Yankees and Braves combined. It was Yankees-Braves 122, Tigers 119.
Finally, the Tigers had eight players they paid more than $2 million. One was Dmitri Young, who actually had a good year. The other seven -- Bobby Higginson, Dean Palmer, Craig Paquette, Shane Halter, Steve Sparks, Matt Anderson and Danny Patterson) -- combined to bat .216 and compile a won-loss record of 0-7.
It's time to do our annual January vent over the inexplicable zigs and zags in the Hall of Fame vote totals of a bunch of players, even though every single one of them went hitless and winless since the last election.
First, we present the players whose vote totals increased most since last year:
Ryne Sandberg plus-65
Bruce Sutter plus-35
Bert Blyleven plus-34
(Sutter has now gone from 121 votes to 197 to 215 to 238 to 266 to 301, just since 1999. So looks as if he'll make it. No pitcher who exceeded 50 percent in any Hall of Fame election has failed to get there eventually.)
But now the other side of that story -- the players who saw the most votes disappear since the last election:
Lee Smith minus-25
Steve Garvey minus-15
Dale Murphy minus-15
Last player to tumble by 25 votes in any Hall of Fame election but then rebound to get elected: Gary Carter in 1999. But it took him four years.
It's possible that Paul Molitor's greatest Hall of Fame credential isn't his 3,319 hits, or those 12 seasons in which he hit .300. It could just be his effect on one of baseball's sorriest franchises, the Brewers.
In the 17 seasons Molitor was a Brewer, they had only four losing seasons -- and in one of them (1984), Molitor was out virtually all year. In the 20 seasons the franchise has had to play without Molitor (including their year as the 1969 Seattle Pilots), they've had no winning seasons.
So the Brewers' winning percentage with him is .523 (1241-1132). Their all-time winning percentage without him: .433 (1372-1793). That comes to about 15 wins a season.
But Molitor did have other attributes. He wound up in that rarified 3,000-Hit, 500-Steal Club. The only other members: Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock.
Then there's Dennis Eckersley. He's one of only five pitchers who have had a 20-win season and a 20-save season since the dawn of the modern save rule. The others: John Smoltz, Derek Lowe, Wilbur Wood and Mudcat Grant.
Since 1900, there have only been two seasons in which a pitcher worked at least 50 innings and issued fewer than HALF a walk per nine innings. Eckersley is responsible for BOTH of them. Here's the top five, courtesy of Lee Sinins' fabulous new edition of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia:
|Most Valuable Brewer: Paul Molitor was a positive force playing in Milwaukee.|
YEAR BB/9 IP IP BB
1. Dennis Eckersley 1989 0.47 57.2 3
2. Dennis Eckersley 1990 0.49 73.1 4
3. Hal Brown 1963 0.51 141 8
4. Bill Fischer 1962 0.56 128 8
5. Tom Morgan 1958 0.57 63 4
But the Eck didn't just stop walking people once he became a closer. He ran off 10 straight seasons of fewer than 2 walks per 9 innings (the first four as at least a part-time starter, the last six as a closer). Only four other pitchers since 1900 have done that -- and you've definitely heard of them:
1. Cy Young 1895-10 16 in a row (* - 11 since 1900)
2. Robin Roberts 1951-63 13 in a row
3. Grover C Alexander 1919-29 11 in a row
T4. Christy Mathewson 1907-16 10 in a row
T4. Dennis Eckersley 1984-93 10 in a row
It may not have bothered anybody else that Joe Carter vanished off the ballot after one appearance. But it shocked us (even though we didn't vote for him). If you peruse the list of players in baseball history who had 10 seasons or more with at least 100 RBI, maybe you'll understand why:
T1. Babe Ruth 13
T1. Lou Gehrig 13
T1. Jimmie Foxx 13
4. Al Simmons 12
T5. Hank Aaron 11
T5. Barry Bonds 11
T5. Goose Goslin 11
T8. Joe Carter 10
T8. Stan Musial 10
T8. Willie Mays 10
T8. Frank Thomas 10
T8. Rafael Palmeiro 10
On the other hand, there's a classic Bill James stat known as Offensive Winning Percentage, which estimates what kind of record a team of nine Joe Carters (or nine of anyone else) would have.
As computed by Lee Sinins' encyclopedia, Carter's teams would have had an average record of 82-80 (.505) during his career, which would rank him the 216th most potent offensive force in the division-play era (minimum: 5,000 plate appearances). Among those ahead of him: Ruppert Jones (.512), Jerry Mumphrey (.548) and Von Hayes (.561).
But how accurate is that stat? Who knows? The Jim Rice Fan Club won't be happy to hear their hero ranks 101st in Offensive Winning Percentage in the division-play era (at .593). Among the players ahead of Rice: Bobby Bonilla (.595), Jason Thompson (.601) and Alvin Davis (.629).
Here's the top 10 since division play began in 1969:
1. Barry Bonds .804
2. Frank Thomas .754
3. Mark McGwire .737
4. Manny Ramirez .730
5. Edgar Martinez .726
6. Jason Giambi .725
7. Jim Thome .723
8. Willie Stargell .719
9. Jeff Bagwell .714
10. Mike Piazza .704
One final note on Offensive Winning Percentage, even though it has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame. Lee Sinins reports that Brewers rookie Enrique Cruz just finished a season in which his Offensive Winning Percentage was so small, you need the Hubble Telescope just to see it. It computed to .009, meaning a team of nine Enrique Cruzes would have gone 1-161.
Among players who had 75 plate appearances in a season since 1900, only two have had a lower OWP than that, and just one other player has ever equaled it:
Jerry Buchek, 1961 Cardinals - .005
Ed Connolly, 1931 Red Sox - .006
Enrique Cruz, 2003 Brewers - .009
Chuck Scrivener, 1977 Tigers - .009
Top 5 Useless-Info Factoids of the Week
1) A reader from San Diego who identified himself only as "Matt" wondered how unprecedented it was for the Chargers to follow the Padres' lead by losing enough games to earn the first overall pick in the draft. Well, we checked.
In the 40 years in which both baseball and football have had an amateur draft, San Diego will become the first city in history to get the No. 1 pick in each of them in the same year. Congratulations. We guess.
2) As long as we're on this timely football theme ... on their way to the NFC championship game, the Philadelphia Eagles won nine games in a row. Does it put that streak in perspective to report that the Phillies have played 1,929 consecutive games since the last time they won nine in a row (in 1991, when they actually won 13 straight)?
3) Loyal reader Barry Katz is the latest to jump on the Reggie Sanders trivia bandwagon. By signing with the Cardinals, Sanders now will be playing for his seventh team in seven years -- all in the same league (NL). And what makes that streak so sensational is that he hasn't changed teams even once in the middle of a season.
Well, the travel division of the Elias Sports Bureau reports that just one player in history can beat that record. The only player ever to play for a different team in eight straight seasons -- but play for exactly one team in each -- was the light-packing Shorty (Rent, Don't Buy) Radford. From 1885 to 1892, he wore the uniforms of the Providence Grays, Kansas City Cowboys, New York Metropolitans, Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Cleveland Spiders, Cleveland Infants, Boston Reds and Washington Senators. You can look it up.
4) Now that Warren Spahn has moved on to the big mound in the sky, you might be asking yourself: Who is the winningest living pitcher? Loyal reader Pete Ridges reports that it's Steve Carlton, with 329. But this is a distinction held by only three other men since World War I. Cy Young passed the crown to Lefty Grove in 1955. Spahn took over six years later -- and then held it for an unbelievable 42 years.
5) For a division that's less populated than any in baseball, the AL West sure produces its share of hardware. Loyal reader Madison McEntire wonders what the odds are of a division with only four teams running its streak of consecutive American League MVPs to EIGHT with Alex Rodriguez's election. The eight guys who have won:
Juan Gonzalez (Texas, 1996 and 1998), Ken Griffey, Jr. (Seattle, 1997), Ivan Rodriguez (Texas, 1999), Jason Giambi (Oakland, 2000), Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle, 2001), Miguel Tejada (Oakland, 2002), and Alex Rodriguez (Texas 2003).
Back in the old two-division system, the AL East held the old record with seven straight MVPs from 1981 through 1987.
Epilog: Useless All-Star Information
Finally, you may recall that in our last edition of the Useless Information Department, way back in November, we reported that the Red Sox had assembled three starting pitchers who had started an All-Star Game (Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe). Then we invited you all to overload our inbox by asking if anybody could find other staffs that could make that claim.
Seemed like a good idea at the time. As always, we were bombarded with email. But thanks to especially spectacular work by loyal readers Mitch Grossman, Chuck Birnham, Aneel Trivedi and Jason Barber, we've assembled this reasonably comprehensive list:
2002 Dodgers -- Terry Mulholland (1993), Kevin Brown (1992), Hideo Nomo (1995).
2001 Red Sox -- Bret Saberhagen (1987), Pedro Martinez (1999), Hideo Nomo (1995).
2001 Braves -- Greg Maddux (1994, 1997 and 1998), Tom Glavine (1991 and 1992), John Smoltz (1996).
2000 Braves -- Terry Mulholland (1993), Greg Maddux (1994, 1997 and 1998), Tom Glavine (1991 and 1992).
1999 Indians -- Dwight Gooden (1986 and 1988), Mark Langston (1993), Charles Nagy (1996).
1999 Braves (FOUR) -- Terry Mulholland (1993), Greg Maddux (1994,1997 and 1998), Tom Glavine (1991 and 1992), John Smoltz 1996.
1996-97-98 Braves -- Greg Maddux (1994, 1997 and 1998), Tom Glavine (1991 and 1992), John Smoltz (1996).
1988 Twins -- Steve Carlton (1969 and 1979), Charlie Lea (1984), Frank Viola (1988).
1979 Dodgers -- Jerry Reuss (1975), Don Sutton (1977), Andy Messersmith (1974).
1974 Red Sox -- Rick Wise (1973), Luis Tiant (1968), Juan Marichal (1965 and 1967).
1966-67 Tigers -- Bill Monbouquette (1960), Denny McLain (1966), Johnny Podres (1962).
1966 Dodgers -- Drysdale (1959), Podres (1962), Koufax (1966).
1953 Tigers -- Hal Newhouser (1947), Ned Garver (1951), Ralph Branca (1948).
1947-48 Reds -- Bucky Walters (1944), Ewell Blackwell (1947), Johnny Vander Meer (1938).
1945 Yankees -- Hank Borowy (1944), Red Ruffing (1939), Spud Chandler (1942).
1942 Yankees -- Lefty Gomez (1933), Red Ruffing (1939), Spud Chandler (1942).
1936 Cardinals -- Wild Bill Hallahan (1933), Bill Walker (1935), Dizzy Dean (1936).
Disqualified -- 1990-92 A's (because Dennis Eckersley wasn't in the rotation).
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your Useless Information to: email@example.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.