Strike One -- The Life Of Brian Dept.
It doesn't seem so long ago that Brian Matusz was one of the Orioles' brightest hopes for a better tomorrow. Heck, it was only about five months ago, right? Now, though, Matusz finds himself closing in on a feat we always hesitate to describe in terminology like this:
One of the worst seasons of modern times.
With two weeks to go before he can finally put this mess in the rearview mirror, Matusz's big league stat line for the season looks like this:
1-7, with a 9.84 ERA. And a .364 opponents' batting average. And a .679 opponents' slugging percentage. And a 2.02 WHIP.
And then there's this:
Ten starts, zero quality starts. Yikes.
So where do these numbers fit in the context of modern history? Glad you asked. Here's where:
• That .679 slugging percentage? It means he's essentially turned every hitter in the entire sport into Babe Ruth (.690 career SLG). But even worse, it would go down as the highest opponent slugging percentage of ANY pitcher in the live-ball era among guys who worked at least 40 innings in a season. The current record: .673, by Edgar Gonzalez in 2004.
• That 2.02 WHIP? That would be the highest by any starting pitcher since Aaron Myette rolled up a 2.17 WHIP for the Rangers in 2002.
• That .364 average? It means Matusz has essentially transformed every hitter he's faced into Ty Cobb (.366 career average). And it would rank as the fifth-worst opponent average by any starter in the division-play era.
• Those zero quality starts? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Matusz would become just the sixth pitcher in the division-play era to make at least 10 starts in a season and not throw a quality start in any of them. The only three pitchers with more than 10 QS-free starts: Steve Trout (13 in 1988), Ron Villone (12 in 2001) and Steve Comer (11 in 1980).
• Finally, that 9.84 ERA? That would rank as the fifth highest in the live-ball era among pitchers who have thrown this many innings.
So what's the only good news here? It's that the pitcher who is No. 1 on that highest-ERA list happens to be to a fellow named Roy Halladay (10.64 in 2000). And whatever happened to him anyway? Heh-heh-heh. That's a question we recommend Brian Matusz ask himself at least six times a day all winter. And for the rest of his career.
Strike Two -- A.J.W.P. Initialization Dept.
It's really about time A.J. changed his initials to W.P., don't you think? He busted out two more wild pitches Tuesday, giving him 25 for the season -- the most in the history of the Yankees. But he has much more prestigious W.P. history in his sights now than that. Such as
• Those 25 wild pitches are already the fifth most by any pitcher in any season since 1900, and the third most in the live-ball era. The modern record is 30, by Red Ames in 1905. But the only pitchers ahead of Burnett in the live-ball era are well within reach. There's Tony Cloninger, who threw 27 in 1966. And there's Juan Guzman, who threw 25 in 1993. So with potentially three more starts, Burnett could topple all those numbers.
• But that's not all. Tuesday marked the seventh time this year A.J. has thrown at least two W.P.s in one game. Yeah, the seventh. Which means he has more multi-W.P. games this year than Jose Bautista has multihomer games, than Jorge Posada has multi-RBI games, than Pudge Rodriguez has multihit games. But that's STILL not all.
• Burnett needs just one more multi-W.P. game to tie Juan Guzman's record for most in any season in the live-ball era. Guzman threw eight in 1993. The only two other pitchers in all those years with seven were Earl Wilson in 1963 and somebody named Nolan Ryan in 1977.
So A.J.'s dance with history might not be quite as glamorous as his buddy Mariano's. But if he's located in the same sentence as Nolan Ryan, he obviously has nothing to be ashamed of.
Strike Three -- Useless Info Dept.
In other news
• Meanwhile on the Near-History Watch, we regret to report that Arizona's Henry Blanco just torpedoed his own rendezvous with history. He'd hit exactly six home runs in six different seasons heading into this year. And guess how many he'd hit this season before last weekend? Right you are. Six. That inspired loyal reader Bill Bell to ask what the record is for most seasons hitting exactly the same number of homers. Well, that record, if you toss out the zeroes and ones and twos, is seven, by long-lost slugger Slammin' Sam Wise, who hit precisely four home runs seven different times in the 1880s. Our man Henry Blanco was a mere 2½ weeks away from tying this prestigious mark -- until he went and hit No. 7 on Sunday. Oh, well.
• Another historic near-miss: Those sweet-swinging Giants were in danger of becoming the first team since the 1983 Reds to go through a whole season without anybody driving in 60 runs. But Pablo Sandoval saved them from that fate with a five-RBIs-in-three-games outburst this week. So he's at 61. Phew.
• The Mariners also had a shot at that one -- until Miguel Olivo drove in No. 60 on Tuesday. So that'll do it on the 60-RBI Watch 'til next year.
• Finally, as the Elias Sports Bureau told us this week, the Phillies just found themselves playing a team (Houston) that was 46½ games behind them in the standings for the first time in any Phillies season since Sept. 14, 1899. That day, they were 81-47 and facing the legendary Cleveland Spiders, who were 19-115 at the time. Ah, but here's the difference. That Phillies team swept that series. This Phillies team LOST this series in Houston.
So what's the last time any team lost a series to a club it led in the standings by that many games? According to Elias, it happened to the 2003 Twins (89-69) in the final series of the season, when they lost three of four to a Tigers team (40-118) that was trying to avoid joining the '62 Mets as the only teams in modern history to lose 120 times in one season.
Ah, but that Twins team had already clinched first place and had nothing to play for. So if we look just at series where both teams had something at stake, this was the first time since the 1979 Orioles (94-47) lost two of three to the Blue Jays (44-98) from Sept. 11-13. That gap: 50½ games.
How'd that happen? And how'd this happen? Easy. Baseball. Explains everything, doesn't it?