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Monday, August 22, 2011
Braves' bullpen tag team untouchable

Strike One -- Brave New Bullpen World Dept.

Rivera and Nelson … Percival and K-Rod … Dibble and Myers … Lidge and Wagner.

We present those names as evidence that we've seen our share of dominating bullpen tag teams through the years. But you know what we've never seen?

Domination like this:

Jonny Venters

Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

Three Strikes is here to make the case that we've never run across ANY bullpen tag team as unhittable and as untouchable as the Braves' two game-shrinkers have been so far in 2011.

Just eyeball their stat lines for a second and try to comprehend that this is happening in the major leagues, not on your PlayStation. It's amazing:

Insane as those numbers may look from afar, they only get more insane as you look closer. Here's what we mean:

• Want to guess how many bullpen teammates in the 42-year history of the modern save rule have had ERAs that low, with hit rates and strikeout rates that good, in the same season? That would be NONE -- not among relievers who worked at least 60 innings in a season, anyway. Unreal.

• But even if we zap hits and strikeouts right out of this equation and just look at ERAs, we can only find one set of teammates in modern bullpen history who have ERAs this low in the same year. That would be Dennis Eckersley (0.61) and Gene Nelson (1.57) of the 1990 A's. Just for the record, there were two other duos -- Eric Gagne (1.20) and Paul Quantrill (1.75) of the 2003 Dodgers and Joaquin Benoit (1.34) and Rafael Soriano (1.73) of the 2010 Rays -- that barely missed this cut. But that's it -- in the last four decades.

• If you've really paid attention, though, you know Kimbrel and Venters aren't the only occupants of that Braves bullpen with miniscule ERAs. There's a THIRD guy in that 'pen -- Mr. Eric O'Flaherty, ladies and gentlemen -- with a 1.27 ERA. That's "only" in 56 2/3 innings. But nevertheless, even if we lower the innings threshold to that level, there still has never been any modern bullpen that featured THREE relievers with ERAs that microscopic (and at least 55 innings pitched apiece). Ever.

• Hang on, though. There's more. Kimbrel last gave up a run on June 11. That was 30 2/3 consecutive shutout innings ago. Venters last allowed a run on June 29. That was 21 2/3 innings worth of donuts ago. So how often do you see two members of the same bullpen fire up that many consecutive zeroes? Just about never. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other bullpen teammates since 1969 to run off streaks like this at the same time were Joe Nathan (29 innings) and J.C. Romero (23) of the 2004 Twins. So there have never been any others in the National League -- at any stretch of any season -- since bullpen usage even remotely resembled the current bullpen usage. Whoa.

So is it safe to say nobody would want to find themselves trailing this team in the late innings when this October rolls around? Uh, just a little safer than throwing money into the stock market. Don't you think?

Strike Two -- In-And-Out Dept.

We knew colds and stomach viruses were catching. We never knew inside-the-park fever was catching. But apparently, it is -- if the events of this weekend tell us anything.

There were three inside-the-park homers in two days -- and two of them were part of innings that should have been sponsored by In-N-Out Burger. The highlights:

• Last time there were three inside-the-park home runs hit in any two-day span: July 1-2, 1999, by J.D. Drew on July 1 and Carl Everett and Scott Rolen on July 2.

• Astros rookie Jose Altuve led off the bottom of the first inning Saturday with an inside-the-parker. And here's his great claim to fame, courtesy of Elias: He's the first player whose first career homer was an inside-the-park special to lead off the first inning since Richie Ashburn did that against the Giants' Thornton Lee on May 29, 1948.

• Also on Saturday, the Dodgers did something that has never been done. They hit an inside-the-parker (by Trent Oeltjen) and an outside-the-park homer (by Aaron Miles) in the 12th inning. And that's the latest in any game any team had ever gone the in-and-out home run route in the same inning. According to the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR home run historian David Vincent, only two other teams ever hit inside-the-park and outside-the-park home runs in the same extra inning. But both of those happened in the 10th inning. They were the 1966 Dodgers (Jim Lefebvre, Al Ferrara) on June 7 and the 1996 Yankees (Cecil Fielder, Derek Jeter) on Aug. 2.

• Oh, and one more thing. The Dodgers managed to do that Saturday and still LOSE (by allowing two runs in the 12th and one in the 13th). Hard to do, gang.

• Then came Sunday, when Curtis Granderson thumped an inside-the-parker in Minnesota. And that helped provide us with all sorts of spectacular notes. First off, it gave Granderson three career inside-the-park homers, tying him with Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins, David DeJesus, Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu for the most among active players.

• It was also Granderson's 35th homer. According to Elias, the last Yankees player to hit an inside-the-park home run in a season of 35 home runs or more was Mickey Mantle, who hit 52 in 1961 and whose 25th that year forgot to leave the yard.

• If Granderson leads the league at the end of the season, he will be the first home run champ to mix in an inside-the-parker since, well, last year -- when Jose Bautista did it. But even Bautista's 54 home runs (and Mantle's) weren't the most in a season that featured at least one inside-the-park shot, according to the Sultan. Sammy Sosa hit one on the way to 64 homers in 2001, and someone named Babe Ruth had an insider on the way to 60 in 1927.

• Finally, after Granderson had finished circling the bases Sunday, Mark Teixeira stepped up and hit an outside-the-park homer. The Sultan reports that was the 11th time in Yankees history they'd gone back-to-back with an inner and an outer -- but just the third since 1932. The other two:

Aug. 7, 1953: Mantle (inside), Yogi Berra (outside)
Sept. 8, 1960: Roger Maris (inside), Hector Lopez (outside)

Strike Three -- Useless Info Dept.

In other news …

• One more on Venters: He has become the third reliever in this millennium to run off two scoreless streaks of 20-plus innings in the same season. The other two: Nathan in 2004 and Gagne in 2003.

• Who said Miguel Cairo would never hit two home runs in a game? He finally did it for the first time Aug. 13, at 37 years, 101 days. That prompted loyal reader Evan Jones to ask: Is Cairo the oldest player ever to have his first multihomer game? And the answer, according to the Sultan, is: no -- but it's close. The only two players in history who were older at the time of their first multihomer game: Randy Velarde (38 years, 263 days) and Dave Bergman (38 years, 66 days).

Mark Reynolds

• He may be with the Orioles now, but Mark Reynolds keeps on whiffin'. He's on pace to strike out 193 times this year. So, as loyal reader Jim Cumbie observes, he looks like a lock to A) break the Orioles' franchise record (160, by Mickey Tettleton) and B) still set a career LOW in strikeouts. Think anybody has ever done that in the same year?

• Great work by in uncovering this astounding tidbit: Brandon Morrow has piled up 132 2/3 innings this season without getting a single hitter to ground into a double play. How many pitchers since 1900 have done that? Not a one, of course. The previous record-holder: Russ Springer, with 96 2/3 in 1996.

• Finally, in case you were wondering -- and of course, you were! -- when A.J. Burnett inflated his ERA for the season to 4.96 over the weekend, he put himself in prime position to have the two worst back-to-back seasons by any Yankees starter in history. Burnett had a 5.26 ERA last year. So he's well on his way to blowing out the current record-holder, Andy Hawkins (4.80 in 1989, 5.37 in 1990). Just another item for the Yankees' ever-expanding history museum.