The All-Time, All-Italian, All-Star Team

Assembling mythical ethnic all-star teams is one of my hobbies as a baseball researcher, though the research can be frustrating.  For example, in trying to ascertain whether Ken Boyer belonged on my All-French team, I checked his player questionnaire on file at the National Baseball Library.  Under “nationality,” Boyer had written “unknown.”  To further cloud the issue, Boyer’s big league brothers, Clete and Cloyd, had listed “German” and “Irish,” respectively, on their questionnaires.  If the players themselves don’t know their ethnic backgrounds, how am I supposed to know?

Nevertheless, I have managed to put together several hypothetical teams which could compete with any of today’s pennant contenders.  One of my favorites is the Italian-American team, as follows:

First Base: Jason Giambi displaced another former MVP on this team.   The slugger amassed 440 homers, 1441 RBI, and the 2000 AL MVP Award during his career.  He supplanted Dolf Camilli, who was the NL MVP in 1941, when he topped the league in homers and RBI.  In a 12-year career, Camilli clubbed 239 home runs and knocked in 950 runs.  Joey Votto (.313 average and the 2010 NL MVP Award) could overtake Giambi before he’s through.  An argument could be made for the Polish/Italian Paul Konerko (439 homers, .279), but he’s needed more on my Polish-American team.  Other notable first sackers of Italian descent include Zeke Bonura, who averaged .307 with 101 RBI per year over his brief time in the majors; Phil Cavarretta, who batted .293 with 1977 hits in a career that included an MVP and a batting title; Joe Pepitone, a slick fielder who hit 219 homers during his stormy big league tenure; Jim Gentile, who hit 179 round-trippers, including 46 in 1961; Steve Balboni, who said “Bye Bye” to 181 baseballs; Paul Sorrento (166 homers); and Rico Brogna (106 homers).

Second Base: Hall of Famer Craig Biggio finished his career in 2007 with 668 doubles and 291 homers among his 3060 hits, not to mention 414 steals, 1844 runs scored, and four Gold Gloves.  He replaced Tony Lazzeri of the “Murderers Row” Yankees, who batted .292 lifetime with power and speed.  Steve Sax (1949 hits) and Dick McAuliffe (197 homers) both had Italian mothers.  Other second sackers of note are Tony Cuccinello, Mickey Morandini, Frank LaPorte, Frankie Gustine, Oscar Melillo, and Alfred Pesano.  Pesano – better known as Billy Martin – was a scrapper who saved his best play for October, slugging .566 in 28 World Series games.

Third Base: Hall of Famer Ron Santo, even though he is part-Swedish, gets the vote for his 342 home runs, 1331 RBI, and five Gold Glove Awards.  Other paisanos who starred at the hot corner: the Mets’ David Wright (235 homers, .298 through 2016), whose mother is Italian; Gary Gaetti, who collected 360 homers, 1341 RBI, and four Gold Gloves; Robin Ventura, a five-time Gold Glover whose 294 dingers included 18 grand slams; Sal Bando, who swatted 242 homers and drove in 1039 runs; Doug DeCinces, who hit 237 big flies; Ken Caminiti, the 1996 NL MVP; Jeff Cirillo, who had a .296 career average; Frank Malzone, another Gold Glover, who batted .274 with 133 homers; plus Bob Aspromonte, Cookie Lavagetto, Bill Serena, and Mike Pagliarulo.

Shortstop: Phil Rizzuto’s 1994 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame guaranteed him not only a plaque in Cooperstown, but – more significantly – the shortstop job on my team.  The Scooter gets the nod over such notables as Rico Petrocelli, Rich Aurilia, Jim Fregosi, Larry Bowa, Frankie Crosetti, Mark Belanger, Tim Foli, and Bobby Valentine for this unique honor.  Rizzuto helped the Yankees into nine World Series with his slick glove and scrappy play, batting .273 lifetime and winning the 1950 AL MVP Award.  Petrocelli hit 210 homers, including 40 in 1969.  Aurilia had 186 long-balls and a .275 average.  Fregosi had 151 homers and a .265 mark, while Bowa had 2191 hits; both are half-Italian.  Crosetti collected 1006 runs and 1541 hits, while Foli had 1515 safeties.

Outfield: There is little room for dispute in the selections of Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio in center field, flanked by Rocky Colavito in left and Carl Furillo in right.  Offensively, DiMag batted .325 with 361 homers and 1537 RBI in just 13 seasons, winning three MVPs; Colavito was, until 2004, the all-time Italian home run champion, with 374 circuit clouts; and Furillo had 192 homers and a .299 average, including a batting title.  And, defensively?  Any outfield in which Joe DiMaggio has the weakest throwing arm can’t be too bad!  Other Romans roaming the outfield: Dominic and Vince DiMaggio, Jack Clark (Italian mother), Frank Demaree (born Joseph DiMaria), Tony Conigliaro, Tito Francona, Lee Mazzilli, Dan Pasqua, Ernie Orsatti, Ping Bodie (Francesco Pezzollo), Pete Incaviglia, Buttercup Dickerson, and Sam Mele, to name a few.

Catcher: Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is arguably the greatest catcher of all time, thus certainly the best of an ultra-strong field of Italian backstops.  Berra, a three-time MVP who played in 14 World Series, slammed 358 homers and drove in 1430 runs, enough to beat out fellow Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Ernie Lombardi (190 HR, .306) for this spot.  Piazza can lay claim to being the best offensive catcher of all time, with 427 homers and a .308 average on his résumé.   Other solid backups include Mike Napoli, Gene Tenace (Fiore Gino Tennaci), Johnny Romano, Gus Mancuso, Phil Masi, Jim Pagliaroni, Mike Scioscia, and Joe Girardi.  Two others deserve honorable mention, at the least: Hall of Famer Roy Campanella, an African-American whose father was Italian; and Joe Torre, the 1971 NL batting champ and MVP, who divided his major league playing time between catcher, first base, and third base.  Since we can’t identify Torre with a single position, he will serve capably as the team’s designated hitter.

Right-handed Pitcher: Mike Mussina (270 wins, 153 losses) beats out Hall of Famer John Smoltz (213-155, 3084 strikeouts, 154 saves, plus 15-4 in post-season), whose mother was Italian.  Other respectable righties include Jim Maloney (134-84), Vic Raschi (132-66), Sal “The Barber” Maglie (119-62), San Francisco’s Barry Zito (165-143 and a Cy Young Award), Ralph Branca, John Montefusco, Chris Bosio, Tom Candiotti, and Ernie Broglio.

Left-handed Pitcher: Andy Pettitte, even though he is half-Cajun, gets the starting assignment on the strength of a 256-153 record plus 19-11 in post-season.  Runners-up are Frank Viola (176-150 and the 1988 AL Cy Young Award), Johnny Antonelli (126-110), Don Mossi (101-80), and Jeff Fassero (121-124).

Relief Pitcher: Righty Rollie Fingers (341 saves) is only half-Italian, but his Hall of Fame status puts him ahead of left-handers John Franco (90-87, 424 saves, 2.89 ERA) and Dave Righetti (82-79, 252 saves, 3.46), and right-hander Dave Giusti (100-93, 145 saves).

Manager:  Billy Martin, for the first year; then we fire him and bring in Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, or Tommy Lasorda.

 

THE TEAM

 

POS. Player YRS AB R H HR RBI AVG
1B Jason Giambi 20 7267 1227 2010 440 1441 .277
2B Craig Biggio 20 10876 1844 3060 291 1175 .281
3B Ron Santo 15 8143 1138 2254 342 1331 .277
SS Phil Rizzuto 13 5816 877 1588 38 562 .273
OF Joe DiMaggio 13 6821 1390 2214 361 1537 .325
OF Rocky Colavito 14 6503 971 1730 374 1159 .266
OF Carl Furillo 15 6378 895 1910 192 1058 .299
C Yogi Berra 19 7555 1175 2150 358 1430 .285
DH Joe Torre 18 7874 996 2342 252 1185 .297

 

POS. Pitcher YRS IP W L SO ERA
RHP Mike Mussina 18 3563 270 153 2813 3.68
LHP Frank Viola 15 2836 176 150 1844 3.73
RP Rollie Fingers 17 1701 114 118 1299 2.90

 

Note: statistics are complete through 2016.

Big Leaguers on the Small Screen

(Note: The following article originally appeared as “Some Stars Have Their Act Together” in the April 15-21, 1998 issue of USA Today Baseball Weekly.  It has not been updated.)

Baseball and television have gone together since 1939 – in more ways than one.  Besides the televising of major league games, many current and former players and personalities have increased their visibility through TV.  Many (such as Joe “Mr. Coffee” DiMaggio) have appeared pitching products of one kind or another.  Others have tried their hands at acting.

Dozens of big leaguers have appeared on the small screen.  They are most often geographically-advantaged Los Angeles players, and typically portray themselves in guest star roles.  We are indebted to James Mote, whose book Everything Baseball documents baseball connections to TV and just about every other form of art and/or entertainment.

Don Drysdale, the L.A. Dodgers’ Hall of Fame pitcher, was the champion of the prime-time guest spot.  Drysdale – invariably playing himself – appeared four times on The Donna Reed Show, and once each on Leave it to Beaver, Our Man Higgins, The Flying Nun, The Joey Bishop Show, The Brady Bunch, Then Came Bronson, and The Greatest American Hero.

Leo Durocher, another Hall of Famer, ranks second to Drysdale.  Durocher surfaced in The Beverly Hillbillies, The Munsters, Mr. Ed, and two episodes The Donna Reed Show.  Durocher – at the time a Dodgers’ coach – was unsuccessful in signing either Jethro Bodine, Herman Munster, or Mister Ed for the Dodgers.

Other major league players or personalities who popped up in prime time:

Bo Belinsky – The Los Angeles Angels’ high-profile pitcher appeared in The Lloyd Bridges Show (with teammate Eddie Sadowski) and 77 Sunset Strip.

Johnny Bench – The Reds’ Hall of Fame catcher guested on an episode of Mission: Impossible.

Yogi Berra – The Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher turned up on The Phil Silvers Show, after Sergeant Bilko (Silvers) discovered that one of his men had great potential as a ballplayer.

Wade Boggs – The Red Sox’ third baseman stopped for a drink at Boston’s Cheers, only to be unceremoniously booted out of the place.  Bar patrons thought it was a practical joke played by a rival bar-owner, and didn’t believe it was really Boggs.

Jim Bouton – The former pitcher and best-selling author of Ball Four starred in a 1976 series based on that book.  Ball Four took a walk after four episodes.

Ron Cey – He and former Dodgers’ teammate Rick Monday appeared in a 1985 episode of Hardcastle & McCormick.

Chuck Connors – The former Brooklyn Dodgers’ and Chicago Cubs’ first baseman became a successful TV actor, starring in such series as The Rifleman (1958-63), Arrest and Trial (1963-64), Branded (1965-66), Cowboy in Africa (1967-68), Thrill Seekers (1973-74), The Yellow Rose (1983-84), and Werewolf (1987-88).  Incidentally, another former big leaguer – Johnny Berardino, who played with three teams between 1939-52 – made it big in daytime television.  Dropping the second “r” from his surname, Johnny starred for decades as Dr. Steve Hardy on General Hospital.

Willie Davis – The Dodgers’ outfielder teamed with Drysdale in The Flying Nun, as Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) found a moral victory in her team’s 43-1 loss.

Whitey Ford – The Yankees’ Hall of Fame pitcher appeared on two shows 27 years apart: in The Phil Silvers Show, with teammates Berra and Phil Rizzuto (plus announcer Red Barber) in 1957; and in Remington Steele with Mickey Mantle in 1984.

Joe Garagiola – The catcher-turned-announcer was in the pilot episode of Lucas Tanner, a show about a former baseball player (Tanner, played by David Hartman) who became a rural English teacher.  Other shows who featured fictional former big leaguers include Cheers (Ted Danson as Sam “Mayday” Malone, a former Boston Red Sox’ reliever tending bar); and Who’s the Boss? (Tony Danza as Tony Micelli, a former St. Louis Cardinals’ player keeping house for a wealthy widow).

Bob Gibson – The Cardinals’ Hall of Fame pitcher taught a Little Leaguer the value of good sportsmanship on Gentle Ben.

Keith Hernandez – The former Cardinals’ and Mets’ first baseman played himself on Seinfeld.  After George Costanza (Jason Alexander) was “hired” by George Steinbrenner, a parade of Yankees – including manager Buck Showalter, and players Danny Tartabull, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter – made appearances on the show.

Reggie Jackson – The Hall of Fame slugger appeared, with Angels’ teammates Brian Downing and Mike Witt, on The Jeffersons in 1985.  The episode was entitled “The Unnatural.”

Sandy Koufax – The Dodgers’ Hall of Fame pitcher surfaced on Michael Shayne and Dennis the Menace.

Jim Lefebvre – He and Dodgers’ teammate Al Ferrara portrayed island natives in a 1967 episode of Gilligan’s Island.  Covered in war-paint and headdresses, they would have escaped recognition except for the closing credits.

Willie Mays – The Giants’ Hall of Fame outfielder turned up on three episodes of The Donna Reed Show, twice joining Drysdale and Durocher.

Don Newcombe – The former Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher, accompanied by former major league umpire Art Passarella, appeared on Nichols.

Wes Parker – The Dodgers’ Gold Glove first baseman portrayed himself as the fiancé of Greg’s math teacher in a 1970 episode of The Brady Bunch.  Parker must believe in long engagements: he is still unmarried.

Steve Sax – The Dodgers’ second baseman appeared on Square Pegs and Who’s the Boss.

Vin Scully – The long-time Dodgers’ announcer guested on Michael Shayne, Karen, and The Joey Bishop Show.  He can also be heard doing a fabricated play-by-play during a 1964 episode of The Fugitive.

Larry Sherry – Appeared with fellow Dodgers’ pitcher Stan Williams in both The Tom Ewell Show and Michael Shayne.  Fellow Dodgers Koufax, Scully, and Ed Roebuck joined them on the latter program.

Duke Snider – The Brooklyn Dodgers’ Hall of Fame outfielder showed up on Father Knows Best, after Jim Anderson (Robert Young) arranged for him and his touring all-star team to play in Springfield.

Bob Uecker – Another catcher-turned-announcer, Uecker guested (with Sax and legendary manager Billy Martin) on Who’s the Boss, then starred for many years as George Owens in Mr. Belvedere.

Maury Wills – The former NL MVP appeared in an episode of Get Smart.

2016 Baseball Briefs

 

Inspired by the late Bob Davids’s annual “Baseball Briefs,” for the past two decades I have been compiling my own tidbits about each major league season.  Baseball Digest usually publishes a selection of them, as they did in the current March/April 2017 issue.  Following are the 2016 items that didn’t make the cut: 

  • Boston’s Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young Award, but didn’t get a single point in MVP voting. Only three previous Cy Young Award-winners failed to get a mention in MVP voting: Pat Hentgen (1996, AL), Roy Halladay (2003 AL), and Brandon Webb (2006, NL).
  • Two long-time managers finished the 2016 season exactly at .500 for their careers. The Athletics’ Bob Melvin has a 955-955 lifetime won-lost record, and the Mets’ Terry Collins is at 925-925.
  • Padres’ rookie Ryan Schimpf hit 20 home runs, but just 18 singles, enabling him to join sluggers Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire as the only players to have more homers (minimum 20) than singles in a season. Following are those who accomplished this feat, and those who came close, including two other 2016 players:

SMALLEST DIFFERENTIAL BETWEEN 1B & HR HIT, SEASON, 1876-2016 (Min. 20 HR)

Player                                 YEAR     1B         HR   DIFF.

Barry Bonds                          2001        49            73        -24

Mark McGwire                      1998        61            70            -9

Mark McGwire                      1999        58            65            -7

Mark McGwire                      2001        23            29            -6

Mark McGwire                      1995        35            39            -4

Ryan Schimpf                       2016       18           20         -2

Mark McGwire                      2000        32            32            0

Carlos Peña                           2009        41            39            2

Jose Bautista                        2010        56            54            2

Dave Kingman                      1973        27            24            3

Barry Bonds                          1999        37            34            3

Mark McGwire                      1997        63            58            5

David Ross                           2006        26            21            5

Ryan Howard                        2016       30           25           5

Don Mincher                        1964        29            23            6

Art Shamsky                         1966        28            21            7

Mark McGwire                      1996        59            52            7

Giancarlo Stanton 2015        34            27              7

Gary Sanchez                       2016       28           20           8

Adam Dunn                          2012        50            41              9

  • The Marlins’ José Fernandez, tragically killed in a boating accident on September 25, finished seventh in NL Cy Young Award voting with 18 points. The only other player to receive votes for a major award after his death was Lyman Bostock, who died from a gunshot wound on September 24, 1978.  Bostock received eight points in AL MVP voting that year.
  • Boston’s David Ortiz finished his career #5 on the all-time list – behind only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, and Ted Williams – for most extra-base hits per at bat. Following are the sluggers who averaged at least one long hit per eight at bats, including two other active players:

MOST EXTRA-BASE HITS PER AT BAT, 1876-2016 (Min. 800 EBH)

Player                                       AB      EBH      PCT

Babe Ruth                             8399        1356        .161

Lou Gehrig                            8001        1190        .149

Barry Bonds                          9847        1440        .146

Ted Williams                         7706        1117        .145

David Ortiz                           8640       1192       .138

Jimmie Foxx                           8134        1117        .137

Manny Ramirez                    8244        1122        .136

Mark McGwire                      6187        841         .136

Carlos Delgado                     7283        974          .134

Larry Walker                         6907        916         .133

Albert Pujols                        9138       1209       .132

Jim Thome                             8422        1089        .129

Juan Gonzalez                       6556        847         .129

Joe DiMaggio                       6821        881         .129

Lance Berkman                     6491        818         .126

Johnny Mize                         6443        809         .126

Miguel Cabrera                   7853       986        .126

Stan Musial                        10972         1377        .126

Frank Thomas                       8199        1028        .125

Todd Helton                         7962        998          .125

  • Neil Munro notes that the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury shattered the all-time record for most times in a season reaching first base on defensive interference. Roberto Kelly set the old mark of eight in 1992; Ellsbury broke that on July 19 and finished with 12 – more than any team ever had in a season (1992 Yankees, 10), and more than all other American Leaguers had combined (10) in 2016.  In fact, Ellsbury’s 12 DI is more than all but ten other major leaguers had in their careers!  Pete Rose holds the all-time mark of 29; Ellsbury is now just three behind him.
  • The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner again was among the best-hitting pitchers in the majors, ranking tops among hurlers in runs (8), home runs (3), and walks (10). He now has 14 career homers.  Other pitchers who contributed with their bats in 2016: the D’backs’ Patrick Corbin (.306 average), the Pirates’ and Blue Jays’ Francisco Liriano (homer, .286), the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta (17 hits, 2 homers, .262), and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard (3 homers, including two in one game).  But the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright was the cream of the crop, leading all pitchers in doubles (8), RBI (18), and slugging (.484).  Of his 14 hits, 11 (including his first nine) went for extra bases, including two homers; he didn’t get his first single of the year until September 5.
  • Both the Mets’ Curtis Granderson and the Cardinals’ Jedd Gyorko had 30 home runs but just 59 RBI, making them the fourth and fifth players ever to finish a season (minimum 20 homers) averaging less than two RBI per homer. Yankees’ rookie Gary Sanchez also had a low RBI:HR ratio, as shown in this chart:

LOWEST RATIO OF RBI:HOME RUNS, SEASON, 1876-2016 (Min. 20 HR)

Player                                  YEAR        HR        RBI     RATIO

Barry Bonds                          2001        73          137            1.88

Kevin Maas                          1990        21            41            1.95

Chris Duncan                        2006        22            43            1.95

Curtis Granderson             2016       30           59           1.97

Jedd Gyorko                         2016       30           59           1.97

Barry Bonds                          2003        45            90            2.00

Rob Deer                               1992        32            64            2.00

Chris Hoiles                          1992        20            40            2.00

Hanley Ramirez                     2008        33            67            2.03

Mark Reynolds                     2014        22            45            2.05

Carlton Fisk                           1984        21            43            2.05

Alfonso Soriano                   2006        46            95            2.07

Mark Bellhorn                       2002        27            56            2.07

Ron Gant                               2000        26            54            2.08

Joc Pederson                        2015        26            54            2.08

Ruben Rivera                        1999        23            48            2.09

Brad Wilkerson                    2004        32            67            2.09

Garrett Jones                         2009        21            44            2.10

Mark McGwire                      1998        70          147            2.10

Gary Sanchez                       2016       20           42           2.10 

  • In an injury-shortened season, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw had 172 strikeouts but just 11 walks, shattering the all-time single-season record (minimum 150 K’s) for highest SO:BB ratio:

BEST STRIKEOUT:WALK RATIO, SEASON (Min. 150 SO), 1893-2016

Pitcher, CLUB (LG)                          YEAR         SO          BB     SO:BB

Clayton Kershaw, LA (N)               2016       172         11           15.64

Phil Hughes, MIN (A)                         2014        186          16            11.63

Cliff Lee, SEA-TEX (A)                       2010        185          18          10.28

Curt Schilling, ARI (N)                        2002        316          33            9.58

Pedro Martinez, BOS (A)                    2000        284          32            8.88

Greg Maddux, ATL (N)                       1997        177          20            8.85

Pedro Martinez, BOS (A)                    1999        313          37            8.46

Ben Sheets, MIL (N)                            2004        264          32            8.25

Max Scherzer, WAS (N)                      2015        276          34            8.12

  • Each year, the Elias Sports Bureau lists the “top pinch-hitters” in each league – but instead of using a number of hits as the qualifier, they use a minimum of 20 at bats. This produces wacky results annually.  For example, Seattle’s Seth Smith was listed as the AL’s #3 pinch-hitter, going 6-for-28 for a paltry .214 batting average.  But Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim (6-for-9, .667) and Houston’s Tyler White (6-for-13, .462) – each with as many hits in far fewer at bats – were not listed among the leaders, essentially because they didn’t make enough outs in the pinch.  The most impressive AL pinch-hitter was Detroit’s Victor Martinez: in 11 plate appearances, he had three walks, a single, and three home runs, knocking in six runs.  Martinez led all AL pinch-hitters in homers and tied Seattle’s Dae-Hoe Lee for the lead in total bases (13) – but Lee was listed as the slugging leader, as Elias apparently thinks 13 TB in 23 AB is better than 13 TB in 8 AB.  Likewise, Elias listed Miami’s Derek Dietrich as the NL pinch-slugging leader, based on 17 total bases in 20 at bats – but Arizona’s Jake Lamb (17 total bases in 18 at bats) didn’t make the cut.
  • Bursting into the big leagues, the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez blasted 11 homers and batted .379 in August, earning the AL Player of the Month Award. Sanchez didn’t debut in the majors that month, however: he had played in two games in 2015 and one in May, 2016.  The only men to earn Player or Pitcher of the Month honors in their very first months in the majors were Marty Bystrom (September, 1980) and Yasiel Puig (June, 2013).
  • The Rangers’ Carlos Beltran moved into the all-time top ten most prolific switch-hitters, while the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins is just a few spots behind:

MOST PROLIFIC SWITCH-HITTERS, 1876-2016

Pete Rose                              4256

Eddie Murray                        3255

Frankie Frisch                       2880

Omar Vizquel                         2877

Chipper Jones                       2726

Roberto Alomar                    2724

Max Carey                             2665

George Davis                        2665

Carlos Beltran                     2617

Tim Raines                            2605

Ted Simmons                        2472

Ozzie Smith                            2460

Jimmy Rollins                     2455

Red Schoendienst                2449

Mickey Mantle                     2415

  • Before the 2016 season, some pundits – particularly in New York – were touting the Mets’ four young pitching studs, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Matt Harvey, as the greatest of all time, with the potential to match the 1971 Orioles’ feat of four 20-game winners on one team. But only Syndergaard even finished the season, going 14-9; Matz was 9-8, deGrom 7-8, and Harvey 4-10 before going down with injuries.  In other words, the rest of the Mets’ staff did better (53-40) than the big four (34-35), and the biggest winner on “the greatest staff of all time” was 43-year-old Bartolo Colon (15-8)!  Also, Michael Fulmer – whom the Mets traded to the Tigers in 2015 because they thought their pitching was so deep – finished with more wins than three of the big four (11-7), earning AL Rookie of the Year honors.
  • At age 25, Mike Trout already ranks 17th all-time in MVP Award shares (where a unanimous selection is equal to one share), with 3.96. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw, 28, ranks sixth all-time in Cy Young Award shares, also with 3.96.  Barry Bonds (9.29) and Roger Clemens (7.65) are the respective leaders.  Other active players among the MVP leaders are Albert Pujols (6.92) and Miguel Cabrera (4.67)
  • How’s this for a batting line: 591 at bats, 191 hits, 52 doubles, 44 homers, 145 RBI, and averages of .323-.404-.641? Those are the numbers amassed by Boston’s designated hitters in 2016.  David Ortiz did most of the damage, but other Red Sox DHs – most notably Hanley Ramirez – combined for even higher averages than Big Papi.
  • Against his old team, the Detroit Tigers, on May 11, the Nationals’ Max Scherzer tied the all-time record of 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning pitching appearance. He matched the mark held by Roger Clemens (4/29/1986, 9/18/1996), Kerry Wood (5/6/1998), and Randy Johnson (5/8/2001).  Perhaps more impressively, Scherzer did not walk a batter during his gem – nor did any of the other three!  So in these five games encompassing 45 innings, the hurlers had 100 strikeouts, and zero walks.
  • David Ortiz hit 38 home runs for the Red Sox. If he keeps his promise to retire, he will have broken Dave Kingman’s record for most homers in his final season; Kingman hit 35 in 1986 before being forced into retirement by owners’ collusion.  Ortiz, who hit 37 in 2015, will also have set the record for most homers (75) in his final two seasons, breaking the record of 69 set by Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg back in 1946-47 (44, 25).
  • Thomas Stripling, who made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 2016, was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1989. He is only the 38th major leaguer ever born on that holiday, joining the likes of Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez, 1988 AL Rookie of the Year Walt Weiss, and Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia.  Even more rare are the leap-day players, joined this year by the Cubs’ Gerardo Concepcion (born February 29, 1992).
  • The Yankees’ Mark Teixeira finished his career with 1862 games played and 1862 hits.
  • Reds’ reliever Tony Cingrani was the best at stopping baserunners in their tracks. Though he pitched just 63 innings, he had four pick-offs – two behind major league leader Julio Urias of the Dodgers – and base-stealers were 0-5 in steal attempts with Cingrani on the mound.
  • As usual, AL substitute batsmen were a collective study in failure, but they took it to new lows in 2016: the league used pinch-hitters on more than 1,400 occasions with an aggregate batting average of just .196.  Over the past eight seasons, AL pinch-swingers have hit .208, .206, .216, .207, .208, .208, .215, and .196, respectively.  Since pitchers rarely bat in this league, I’ll repeat my annual question: Whom are these guys hitting for which makes this such a great strategy?
  • Brandon Guyer had a total of just 345 plate appearances for the Rays and Indians – yet he was hit by 31 pitches, more than any two other AL players combined!

2017 Baseball Season Forecast

                As I said last year, making predictions is the stupidest thing a baseball columnist can do.  Being an expert on baseball’s past does not make you an authority on its future, and predictions usually make you look foolish.  Remember all those experts who said that Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games-streak record would last forever?  Or that the 2016 Mets’ pitching staff would be the greatest of all time?

                But that doesn’t stop writers from doing it.  Every spring, we see columnists’ predictions for the coming season in newspapers and magazines around the country.  I’m no exception; I’ve been making forecasts for the baseball season each year since 1972 (though only twice before in print).  Sometimes I do well; more often I don’t.  In 2014, for instance, I predicted three of the six division winners (better than most prognosticators), but each of the last two years year I got only one.  I guess I’m saying “Don’t mortgage your house to bet on my picks.”

               I did get a few things right, though.  I predicted the Mets’ starters would underperform, and I picked Corey Seager, son of two high school classmates of mine, to win NL Rookie of the Year.

                Without further ado, following is how the 2017 pennant races figure to go, according to my crystal baseball:

                NL East – The Nationals win by a safe margin over the Mets (wild card).  The Marlins, Braves, and Phillies finish far behind.

                NL Central – The Cubs repeat easily, winning well over 100 games.  The Cardinals are a distant second, followed by the Pirates, Brewers, and Reds.

                NL West – In the closest NL race, the Dodgers nip the Giants (wild card).  The Rockies, Padres, and Diamondbacks round out the standings.

                AL East – Despite the loss of David Ortiz’s big bat, the Red Sox win handily.  The real races are for second place and the wild cards: the Blue Jays and Orioles take those, with the Yankees and Rays just behind.

                AL Central – The Indians romp, with the Tigers, Royals, White Sox, and Twins watching from below.

                AL West – In the tightest AL division, the Mariners emerge on top, followed by the Astros, Rangers, Angels, and Athletics.

                Post-Season – The Cubs beat the Nats in the National League Championship Series, and the Red Sox top the Indians in the ALCS.  The Cubs become the first team in this century to win back-to-back world championships.

When Holding Out Was In

 

                We don’t hear much about baseball holdouts any more, in this age of multi-year contracts, salary arbitration, and free agency.  Until the late 1970s, “holdoutitis” (as some writers referred to it) was common at this time of the year, and could be counted on to provide grist for the media mill in an otherwise slow season.

 

                Baseball contracts are mailed out to each player during the winter, to be signed and returned to management without undue delay.  Traditionally, anyone who has not signed by March 1 is termed a “holdout” (although former Yankees’ G.M. Lee MacPhail wouldn’t use the dreaded H-word, preferring “absentee” in its stead).

 

                In the old days, the owners had all the leverage when it came to negotiations.  Under baseball’s reserve clause, a club had exclusive right to a contracted player’s services until it traded or released him.  As noted writer F. C. Lane put it in 1932, “The player is at a disadvantage in a salary wrangle with his club.  If he delays signing a contract beyond a certain date, he becomes automatically blacklisted.  He is virtually shut off from further activities in his profession.  His only real recourse is to quit the game, (but in so doing) he ‘cuts off his nose in spite of his face.’”

 

                Typically, an owner would offer a contract calling for less than he was willing to pay, permitting some room for negotiation on the player’s part (thus, a player’s “victory” at the bargaining table might not cost the owner any more than he had planned to spend in the first place).  Bill Terry, who had narrowly missed the 1931 NL batting title after “plummeting” from .401 to .349, was initially offered a 40% pay-slash by the Giants in ’32.  Likewise, Mickey Mantle was asked to take a cut after winning the 1957 AL MVP Award with 34 homers and a .365 average (his season wasn’t quite as good as his Triple Crown campaign of 1956, the Yankees’ brass reasoned).  The all-time slap in the face was delivered to Yanks’ star Joe DiMaggio, offered a pay-cut after his 56-game hit streak season of 1941.  “You ought to be happy you’re not in the army making $21 a month,” DiMag was told.

 

                Some players had their own unique ways of showing dissatisfaction with contract offers.  Deadball-era first baseman Fred Merkle would tear his pact into tiny pieces and mail the confetti back to his team without comment.  Lefty Gomez, the fun-loving Yankees’ ace of the 1930s, once returned his document with a note:  “Received batboy’s contract by mistake.  Please forward mine.”

 

                And, owners had their own special ways of responding to such insubordination.  Former Yankees’ star Tommy Henrich, in his book Five O’Clock Lightning, recalls some of the correspondence he received (invariably addressed to “My dear Henrich”).  In 1938, Jacob Ruppert wrote that “We were quite surprised to receive your letter of January 24th, returning copies of your unsigned contract … If you are as smart and as fair and sensible as you always seem to be, you will sign and return both copies of your contract to this office without further argument.”  A year later the missive was from Ed Barrow:  “Beg to advise that Colonel Ruppert fixed the 1939 salary figures for the various Yankee players just one week before he died and there is no one now living with authority to change those figures.”  On another occasion, Henrich was told simply that “Playing in the World Series is your raise.”

 

                The pioneer among baseball holdouts was said to be George Gore (although such claim is also made for Charlie Sweasy).  An outfielder with New Bedford of the International Association in 1878, Gore was sold to the National League’s Chicago White Stockings.  Gore met with Chicago manager Albert Spalding to sign a contract, but there was a slight problem:  Gore wanted $2,500, more than double Spalding’s offer of $1,200.  Spalding upped the ante to $1,500 before the two parted, saying “that’s my last offer; take it or leave it.”  Some time later the two reconvened, by which time Spalding had increased his “last offer” to $1,900.  Gore signed, thus ending baseball’s first recorded holdout.

 

                Amos Rusie took the phenomena to new heights in 1896.  At 24, Rusie already owned 197 big league victories and five NL strikeout titles, and was regarded as the biggest box-office draw in the majors.  But, he and Giants’ owner Andrew Freedman didn’t see eye-to-eye: Freedman had fined Rusie $200 for various transgressions the year before, and now was offering his ace a 20% pay-cut (from $3,000 to $2,400) to conform with a salary cap implemented for ’96.  Rusie refused to sign anything unless his fines were refunded; they weren’t and he didn’t.  Rusie sat out the entire season, and finally initiated a $5,000 lawsuit against the Giants, challenging the reserve clause.  The other NL owners pooled their funds to settle the dispute out of court, and famous Amos was back on the mound in 1897-98.  But another disagreement with the bitter Freedman led to Rusie’s skipping the 1899 and 1900 seasons.  Traded to Cincinnati for an unproven prospect named Christy Mathewson, Rusie just didn’t have it any more.  After having amassed 245 career victories by age 27, he had zero thereafter.

 

                Rusie wasn’t the first player to miss entire seasons due to contractual differences (Washington third baseman Bill Joyce had done it in protest of a 37% cut in 1893), nor would he be the last.  Mike Donlin, a .334-lifetime hitter, had a second career to fall back on: when he and the Giants couldn’t come to terms in either 1907 or 1909, Donlin spent the seasons on the vaudeville circuit with his wife, actress Mabel Hite.  The Athletics’ Frank “Home Run” Baker remained on his Maryland farm in 1915 rather than agree to Connie Mack’s offer; subsequently sold to the Yankees, he was never quite the same player.  White Sox’ pitcher Dickie Kerr sat out the 1922 season in dispute with team owner Charles Comiskey, then was blacklisted out of the game.  And spitballer Bill Doak spent the 1925 and ’26 seasons in the real estate business after failing to agree on a pact with the Dodgers.

 

                Hall of Famer Edd Roush was undoubtedly the all-time holdout king.  Like Dick Allen a half-century later, Roush had no use for Spring Training, and would time his disputes to coincide with it.  As a result, the Reds’ outfielder typically would not sign until shortly before or after the season started.  Following news-making holdouts in 1919 and ’21, Roush stretched it to new limits in 1922: it was July before he finally signed, and August 10 before he started a game.  Roush broke his personal record with the Giants in 1930, when he held out the entire season after a .324 average was rewarded by a 36% pay-cut (to $15,000).  He finally was released back to Cincinnati, where he played his last season in 1931.

 

                Rube Waddell, the Athletics’ simple-minded fireballer of the early 1900s, once refused a contract calling for a mere $1,000.  Connie Mack, in his conciliatory voice, said “Tell you what I’ll do, Rube: you promise to get in good shape and I’ll give you ten hundred.”  Waddell jumped at it.  On another occasion, Waddell balked at signing not because of money, but because he wanted his pact to include a clause forbidding roommate Ossee Schreckengost from snacking in bed.  Mack incorporated the agreement into what became known as the “Animal Cracker Contract.”

 

                Wooed by the Federal League, superstars Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford of the Tigers both skipped Spring Training in 1914.  Cobb, as usual, was holding out for more money, while Crawford sought a long-term contract, almost unheard-of back then.  Both were appeased, and Cobb went on to lead the AL in batting, Crawford in RBI.

 

                Babe Ruth was a consistent holdout, if only for appearances’ sake.  His contract signings became an annual media event, invariably occurring after Spring Training began but before it ended.  The writers would gather around Ruth and Ruppert, dressed in their Sunday-best and making appropriate predictions and remarks, and the cameras would click away as Ruth entered his flowing signature on the dotted line.  Ruth made twice as much as any other player, and both he and Ruppert enjoyed milking it for all the publicity it was worth: Ruth became the shrewd negotiator, Ruppert the generous boss.

 

                The practice of holding out peaked in the 1930s, when the Depression served as a ready-made excuse to cut salaries.  The Athletics’ Al Simmons skipped training and waited until Opening Day, 1930 to sign a three-year, $100,000 contract, then proceeded to homer in his first at bat that day and bat .365 for the season.  A year later, the Cardinals’ Chick Hafey didn’t report until after the season started, then went on to win the NL batting title.  Perhaps the strangest reason for a holdout was authored by Red Ruffing in 1937.  The Yankees’ ace waited until May to sign so he could attend the coronation of Great Britain’s George VI.

 

                One of history’s most-celebrated holdouts occurred in the spring of 1938.  Twenty-three-year-old Joe DiMaggio, who had made $15,000 as a sophomore the year before, wanted the princely sum of $40,000 for his services in ’38.  After all, he had topped the AL with 46 home runs, knocked in 167 runs, and batted .346 in leading the Yankees to their second straight world championship.  Ruppert (him again!) offered DiMag $25,000, which he claimed would make Joe the highest-salaried third-year player ever, not to mention better-paid than Giants’ pitching legend Carl Hubbell.

 

                At one point, Yanks’ business manager Ed Barrow observed that not even veteran superstar Lou Gehrig was making $40,000.  “Mr. Barrow, there is only one answer to that,” DiMaggio replied.  “Mr. Gehrig is terribly underpaid.”

 

                The holdout dragged on past Opening Day, with DiMaggio gradually reducing his demand but Ruppert not budging.  At last, on April 25, Joe D. was ready to capitulate.  In a public ceremony reminiscent of a schoolboy being stood in a corner, Ruppert handed DiMaggio the same $25,000 pact he had offered at the start.  “Here’s your contract, Joe DiMaggio,” said the colonel icily.  “Now go ahead and sign it.”  Joe did.  “Now go ahead and play ball, Joe DiMaggio.  Do your best.”  Ruppert made it clear that there was no secret bonus or agreement involved, and that DiMaggio’s contract wouldn’t kick in until he finally took the field.  And, at the end of it all, Joe thanked him!

 

                Nineteen-sixty-six was the year of the Great Joint-Holdout.  Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who had combined to pitch 44% of the Dodgers’ innings and 51% of their victories in ’65, now were combining forces to extract more money from their team.  They already were at the top of the class as far as pitchers’ salaries went: Koufax was at the $80,000-level, Drysdale a tad below that.  And, the Dodgers were willing to increase those figures to $100,000 and $85,000, respectively.

 

                But, the two hurlers wanted more, and were certain the team couldn’t risk losing them both.  They proposed the incredible sum of one million dollars, to be divided evenly over a three-year period.  And, just in case negotiations fell through, they had a movie contract to fall back on.

 

                The Dodgers were aghast, at not just the salary demand, but the negotiating tactics.  Not only were the two pitchers ganging up on them, but they had employed the services of (gasp!) a third party – Hollywood lawyer Bill Hayes – to do their bidding for them.

 

                The pair of aces finally signed separate one-year contracts on March 30, Koufax’s for an estimated $125,000 and Drysdale’s for about $110,000.  Koufax had another overpowering season, then suddenly retired due to arm problems.  Drysdale never quite overcame the lack of training, slipping to 13-16.  “As far as I’m concerned, it ruined my season,” Drysdale later said.  “It took me half a season before I could do anything at all.”

 

                Another memorable holdout took place six years later.  In 1971, 22-year-old A’s southpaw Vida Blue had electrified baseball, with 24 wins, 301 strikeouts, and a 1.82 ERA, earning the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards in his first full season.  And all at the bargain-basement salary of $14,750!  Blue’s advisors urged him to go for big bucks in ’72, and he did, demanding $92,000.  After bitter negotiations with owner Charlie Finley (much like those Finley had with young slugger Reggie Jackson two years earlier), Blue finally signed on May 2 for a package worth $63,000, less three weeks’ pay.  “Charlie Finley has soured my stomach for baseball,” declared Blue, implying racism had entered into negotiations.  “I’ve learned that baseball is a business and not a game.”  His innocence lost, Blue remained a quality pitcher for many years, but never quite regained his magic touch of 1971.

 

                Dave Johnson became the first player to hold out in two hemispheres.  Having done it with the Baltimore Orioles years earlier, Johnson tried it with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League in 1977.  The Giants bade Johnson “sayonara,” and Johnson was next seen latching on with a U.S. team.

 

                Ted Simmons added a new, far-reaching wrinkle to the holdout phenomena in 1972.  The Cardinals’ catcher refused to sign, but came to Spring Training anyway.  The team invoked the seldom-used “renewal clause,” allowing a club to automatically and unilaterally renew a player’s contract from the previous season (at up to a 20% cut) if a new one had not been signed by March 10.  Simmons played most of the season under this arrangement, finally coming to terms on July 24.  The baseball world wondered what would have happened had Simmons completed the entire season without a contract, and it would soon find out.

 

                The Padres’ Bobby Tolan broke Simmons’s record in 1974 (the same year salary arbitration was first made available to players), playing the whole season before at last signing on December 9.  Finally, pitchers Dave McNally (Expos) and Andy Messersmith (Dodgers) went the distance in 1975.  The Players’ Association filed a grievance, claiming that McNally and Messersmith were entitled to “free agent” status.  In a landmark decision on December 23, arbitrator Peter Seitz agreed.

 

                Dozens of players resolved to take advantage of the new freedom the next year.  As of mid-March, there were 160 unsigned big leaguers, including 12 Twins and 11 A’s.  The number gradually dropped as the season progressed, but 24 – including Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Don Baylor – stayed the course and became part of the sport’s first mass-market free agent reentry draft on November 4, 1976.

 

                Holdoutitis would never be the same.  And, as far as the owners were concerned, the cure was worse than the disease.

PINCH-RUNNING ON EMPTY, REDUX

A year ago, I presented a small study on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of pinch-runners, examining 1970-89 World Series play-by-play.  It indicated, based on that small sample size, that the strategy was generally not worthwhile.  Since then, with the help of young SABR member Samuel P. Anthony, I’ve expanded the study to cover the last 46 World Series (1970-2016; no Series in 1994), a total of 264 games.  This is a summary of my findings, with some repetition from the past article.

My study looked only at situations where the runner wound up scoring (isn’t that the purpose of a pinch-runner?), while also examining theoretical negative effects of the strategy: How often does a pinch-runner –- perhaps not warmed-up enough, or being over-aggressive to justify his role –- get caught stealing or otherwise retired trying to take an extra base?  And how often does the replaced player’s spot in the batting order come up again, with a weaker batter in his place?

There were 136 pinch-running substitutions in those 46 years.  Only 27 of the runners wound up scoring, or just under 20%.  I tried recreating the innings in those 27 cases, assuming that the baserunner was not replaced, and would neither have advanced nor tried to advance any more bases than the following batters (unless the evidence was persuasive to the contrary).  This is harder than it sounds; there have been a lot of cases, especially since 2000, where the answer was not cut-and-dry.  I tried to be objective, but don’t expect you to take my word for it, so here are the 27 cases:

WORLD SERIES RUNS SCORED BY PINCH-RUNNERS, 1970-2016

1971, Game 2: Baltimore’s Paul Blair ran for Frank Robinson at first base in the sixth inning with none out (rather than a strategic move, this would appear to be giving Robby, a fine baserunner, the rest of the day off; the O’s had a 10-0 lead at the time).  Elrod Hendricks singled to left, with Blair advancing to third.  Brooks Robinson singled to center, scoring Blair and sending Hendricks to second.  Davey Johnson struck out.  Mark Belanger grounded to Pirates’ second baseman Dave Cash, who stepped on second to force B. Robinson, with Belanger reaching first and Hendricks moving to third.  Jim Palmer grounded to first to end the inning.  Conclusion: Frank Robinson would have scored, even if he had stopped at second on Hendricks’s single, and at third on Brooks Robinson’s, since Hendricks ultimately wound up at third base.

1972, Game 4: Oakland’s Allen Lewis ran for Gonzalo Marquez at first base with one out in the ninth inning.  Gene Tenace singled to left, with Lewis stopping at second.  Don Mincher singled to right-center, scoring Lewis with Tenace going to third.  Angel Mangual singled through the right side of a drawn-in infield to score Tenace with the winning run.  Conclusion: Marquez would have scored, even if he stopped at third on Mincher’s hit, since another hit followed that one (but if the plodding Tenace could get to third, Marquez would have scored anyway).

1972, Game 7: Oakland’s Allen Lewis ran for Gene Tenace at second base with two out in the sixth inning.  Sal Bando doubled over Reds’ center fielder Bobby Tolan’s head, scoring Lewis.  A walk and error followed before the final out.  Conclusion: Tenace would have scored on Bando’s two-bagger.

1973, Game 2: Oakland’s Allen Lewis ran for Deron Johnson at second base with none out in the ninth inning.  Bert Campaneris struck out.  Joe Rudi grounded to third, Lewis holding second.  Sal Bando walked.  Reggie Jackson singled to right, scoring Lewis and sending Bando to third.  Gene Tenace singled to left, scoring Bando, with Jackson stopping at second.  Jesus Alou grounded out to end the inning.  Conclusion: Even if he didn’t score on Jackson’s single, Johnson would have scored on Tenace’s.

1978, Game 5: The Yankees’ Paul Blair ran for Mickey Rivers at first base with two out in the seventh inning (Denny Doyle was on third).  (Rivers was the Yankees’ fastest runner, but Blair was a better outfielder.  Manager Billy Martin liked to pinch-run prior to making a defensive replacement, to get the new player warmed up.)  Roy White singled to right, scoring Doyle, with Blair stopping at second.  Munson doubled to deep left-center, scoring Blair and White.  Reggie Jackson grounded out to end the inning.  Conclusion: Rivers would have scored easily on Munson’s double.

1979, Game 4: The Orioles’ Rick Dempsey ran for Terry Crowley at third base with one out in the eighth inning (Tim Stoddard was on first).  Al Bumbry grounded to Pirates’ shortstop Tim Foli, who tossed to second base to retire Stoddard on a force, with Bumbry reaching and Dempsey scoring.  Kiko Garcia struck out to end the inning.  Conclusion: Crowley would have scored just as Dempsey did.

Incidentally, while reviewing the 1970-89 play-by-play, I did come across one play where a pinch-runner did not score, but nevertheless may have had a profound impact on the game.  In the 1980 Series, Game Five, the Phillies’ Lonnie Smith ran for Greg Luzinski at first base with one out in the seventh inning.  Keith Moreland then reached on what was scored as an infield hit to shortstop, as the force-out attempt at second failed.  It’s likely that the lumbering Luzinski would have been forced out in that situation so, even though Smith didn’t wind up scoring, he gave the Phillies an extra out to work with.  They cashed in on it in the top of the ninth, scoring what proved to be the winning run with two out.

1981, Game 2: The Yankees’ Bobby Brown ran for Lou Piniella at first base with one out in the eighth inning.  Graig Nettles dropped a single to center, with Brown stopping at second.  Bob Watson singled to left, scoring Brown and moving Nettles to second.  On a pickoff attempt, the Dodgers’ Dave Stewart threw the ball into center field, advancing both runners a base.  Rick Cerone was intentionally walked.  Willie Randolph hit a sacrifice fly to deep right, scoring Nettles, before Goose Gossage fanned to end the inning.  Conclusion: Even if Piniella had stopped at third on Watson’s single, he would have scored on the ensuing throwing error.

1981, Game 6: The Yankees’ Aurelio Rodriguez ran for Graig Nettles at first base with one out in the sixth inning.  Rick Cerone and Larry Milbourne both walked, pushing Rodriguez to third.  Lou Piniella singled to center, scoring Rodriguez.  Two outfield line-outs followed.  Conclusion: Nettles would have scored from third on Piniella’s single.

1982, Game 7: The Cardinals’ Mike Ramsey ran for Gene Tenace at first base with one out in the sixth inning (Ozzie Smith was on third base, Lonnie Smith on second).  Keith Hernandez singled to right center, scoring both Smiths and sending Ramsey to third.  George Hendrick singled to right, scoring Ramsey, with Hernandez stopping at second.  Darrell Porter grounded to second, forcing Hendrick, while Porter reached first and Hernandez advanced to third.  Steve Braun grounded out to end the inning.  Conclusion: Even if he had stopped at second on Hernandez’s single, and at third on Hendrick’s, Tenace would have scored on the force-out.

1983, Game 4: The Phillies Bob Dernier ran for Bo Diaz at first base with one out in the ninth inning.  Ivan DeJesus then grounded to third, with Dernier advancing to second; Dernier subsequently scored on Ozzie Virgil’s single to center before the final out.  Conclusion: It’s reasonable to believe Diaz would have either been retired at second on the grounder, or held at third on the single, so credit the pinch-runner.

Incidentally, another potential advantage of using a faster runner is to stay out of a double play, with the extra out and/or baserunner enabling the team to score a run they wouldn’t have otherwise.  That may have been the case here, but I don’t see it as a factor in any of the other 27 run-scoring innings.

1985, Game 6: The Royals’ Onix Concepcion ran for Steve Balboni at first base with none out in the ninth inning (Jorge Orta was at second).  Jim Sundberg attempted to sacrifice, but Orta was forced out at third, while Sundberg reached and Concepcion advanced to second.  Both runners moved up on a passed ball by Cardinals’ catcher Darrell Porter.  Hal McRae was intentionally walked to load the bases.  Dane Iorg singled to right, scoring both Concepcion and Sundberg with the winning runs.  Conclusion: Balboni would have scored just as Concepcion did.

1986, Game 7: The Mets’ Wally Backman ran for Tim Teufel at third base with one out in the sixth inning (Keith Hernandez was at first).  Gary Carter reached when Red Sox’ right fielder Dwight Evans attempted a diving catch on his blooper; Backman scored, but Hernandez was forced out at second.  Darryl Strawberry lined out to end the inning.  Conclusion: Teufel would have scored just as Backman did.

By the way, after Chili Davis was replaced by a pinch-runner in the seventh inning of Game Seven of the 1991 World Series, his spot came up in the batting order again in the ninth –- and Gene Larkin came through with the Series-winning hit!

1995, Game 3: The Indians’ Alvaro Espinoza ran for Carlos Baerga at second base with none out in the bottom of the 11th inning.  Albert Belle was intentionally walked.  Eddie Murray then singled to center, scoring Espinoza with the winning run.  This is the one situation where I have opted to use potential runs rather than actual runs, because we have no way of knowing what would have happened after Murray’s game-ending hit.  If we assume Baerga would have stopped at third on the hit, the Indians would have had the bases loaded with none out – giving them an 86% chance of winning the game later in that inning, based on Palmer’s run expectancy tables.  Since Espinoza increased that to 100%, I am crediting him with .14 runs.

1997, Game 5: The Marlins’ Alex Arias ran for Bobby Bonilla at second base with one out in the ninth inning.  Arias moved to third on a single to right by Darren Daulton.  Moises Alou then singled to center, scoring Arias.  Conclusion: Bonilla would have advanced one base on each of the two subsequent singles, just as Arias did.

2000, Game 3: The Mets’ Joe McEwing ran for Benny Agbayani at second base with one out in the eighth inning.  McEwing advanced to third on an infield single to second by Jay Payton.  McEwing then scored standing up on a Bubba Trammell sacrifice fly to medium center field (the throw went to second base), before Kurt Abbott struck out to end the inning.  Conclusion: After seeing the video, and discussing with Anthony, we agree that Agbayani would have scored just as McEwing did.

2001, Game 4: The Diamondbacks’ Midre Cummings ran for Erubiel Durazo at third base with one out in the eighth inning of a scoreless game.  Matt Williams grounded to shortstop Derek Jeter, who attempted to throw out Cummings at home plate.  Posada dropped the ball on a bang-bang play, and Cummings was safe, with the batter reaching on the fielder’s choice; no error was charged.  Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders followed with infield outs.  Conclusion: Credit Cummings with the run.

2001, Game 7: The Diamondbacks’ Midre Cummings ran for Damian Miller at second base with one out in the ninth inning (Jay Bell was at first).  Tony Womack then scored Cummings and advanced Bell to third with a double down the right field line.  Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch, loading the bases, and Luis Gonzalez ended the game and Series with a bloop single over the drawn-in infield, scoring Bell.  Conclusion: Miller would have scored from second on the double, just as Cummings did.

It is worth noting that there was another pinch-runner earlier in this inning and, though he didn’t score, he may have affected the sequence of events.  David Delucci pinch-ran for Mark Grace at first base with none out.  Miller bunted the ball to pitcher Mariano Rivera, who tried for the force at second base, but was charged with a throwing error and both runners were safe.  One could argue that Delucci’s speed may have forced the error.  Delucci then was forced at third on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Bell.

2003, Game 4: David Delucci, now with the Yankees, ran for Jorge Posada at first base with two outs in the ninth inning (Bernie Williams was at third).  Ruben Sierra then tripled to right field, scoring both runners (Sierra, 38, was once a fast runner, but had had only nine triples over the previous ten seasons).  Aaron Boone ended the inning on a ground-out.  Conclusion: Posada would have scored on Sierra’s triple, just as Delucci did. (Anthony disagrees, thinking Posada might have stopped at third, making the hit only a double.  I say, if Sierra could make it from home to third, Posada could have scored from first.)

2004, Game 1: The Cardinals’ Jason Marquis ran for Mike Matheny at first base with one out in the eighth inning.  Roger Cedeno singled to left, moving Marquis to second.  Edgar Renteria singled to left, where Manny Ramirez committed an error, allowing Marquis to score.  Ramirez then muffed a fly ball hit by Larry Walker, allowing Cedeno to score, Renteria to reach third, and Walker to reach second.  After an intentional walk to Albert Pujols, an infield pop and strikeout ended the inning.  Conclusion: even if Matheny didn’t score on Manny’s first error, he would have scored on the second.

2008, Game 5: The Phillies’ Eric Bruntlett ran for Pat Burrell at second base with none out in the seventh.  Bruntlett advanced to third on a sharp ground-out to second baseman Akinori Iwamura (who didn’t even look to third) by Shane Victorino, then scored on Pedro Feliz’s single to center, which landed softly on the grass and lost momentum.  Carlos Ruiz and J. C. Romero then each hit into fielder’s choice plays at second base to end the inning, with Iwamura making a diving stop on Ruiz’s ball.  Conclusion: After discussing with Anthony, who watched the video, we agree that Burrell would have scored one way or another, just as Bruntlett did.

2009, Game 2: The Yankees’ Brett Gardner ran for Jerry Hairston at first base with none out in the seventh inning.  Melky Cabrera singled to right on a hit-and-run, advancing Gardner to third.  Jorge Posada singled sharply to center, scoring Gardner, and moving Cabrera to second.  After Derek Jeter struck out, Johnny Damon lined to the first baseman, who doubled up Posada after he went to second, thinking the ball was short-hopped.  Conclusion: After seeing the video, and discussing with Anthony, we agree that it is reasonable to think Hairston would have stopped at second on Cabrera’s single, and at third on Posada’s, so I am crediting Gardner with the run.

2011, Game 3: The Cardinals’ Daniel Descalso ran for David Freese at first base with one out in the eighth inning.  Yadier Molina doubled to center, scoring Descalso.  Two infield ground-outs (to first base and shortstop) followed.  Conclusion: Credit Descalso with the run, assuming Freese would have stopped at third on the double and held there on the first ground-out.

2013, Game 2: The Cardinals’ Pete Kozma ran for David Freese at second base with one out in the seventh inning (Jon Jay was at first).  Kozma and Jay then executed a double-steal.  Daniel Descalso walked on a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases.  Matt Carpenter then hit a sacrifice fly to left, followed by two Boston errors before the play was over, scoring both Kozma and Jay, and advancing Descalso to third.  Carlos Beltran then singled in Descalso before the third out.  Conclusion: Freese, even without the steal, would have reached third on the walk, and scored as the two runners behind him did.

2014, Game 2: The Royals’ Terrance Gore ran for Billy Butler at first base with none out in the sixth inning (Eric Hosmer was on second).  After a fly out, Hunter Strickland uncorked a wild pitch, advancing both runners.  Salvador Perez then doubled to score them both.  Omar Infante followed with a home run before the final two outs.  Conclusion: Butler would have advanced to second on the wild pitch just as Gore did, since Hosmer made it to third (but even if he didn’t, and stopped at third on the double, he would have scored on the homer).

2015, Game 5: The Royals’ Jarrod Dyson ran for Salvador Perez at first base with one out in the 12th inning.  Dyson stole second.  Alex Gordon then grounded to first base, advancing Dyson to third.  Christian Colon singled to left, scoring Dyson.  Paolo Orlando grounded to second, where Daniel Murphy unsuccessfully tried to force out Colon; Murphy was charged with an error and both runners were safe.  Alcides Escobar doubled to left, scoring Colon and moving Orlando to third.  Ben Zobrist was intentionally walked, and Lorenzo Cain cleared the bases with a double, before the final two outs were made.  Conclusion: Perez may have been retired at second on Gordon’s grounder, but we can’t assume a double play, and Gordon would have reached first and eventually scored on the subsequent events, just as the four batters after him did; so the Royals still would have scored five runs, though one of them may have been by Gordon rather than Perez.

2016, Game 3: The Indians’ Michael Martinez ran for Roberto Perez at first base with none out in the seventh inning.  Tyler Naquin’s sacrifice bunt advanced Martinez to second.  Martinez moved to third on a wild pitch by Cubs’ pitcher Carl Edwards.  Rajai Davis walked, putting runners at first and third with one out.  (Martinez was nearly picked off by the catcher after “ball four,” but the umpire called him safe, and the Cubs’ challenge failed.)  Coco Crisp singled to right, scoring Martinez, but Davis was thrown out trying to advance to third.  A ground-out ended the inning.  Conclusion: After seeing the video, one could definitely argue that Perez would not have advanced on the wild pitch, and would then have stopped at third on Crisp’s single.  But if so, Davis would have had to stop at second, and the Indians would have had the bases loaded and one out, projecting to 1.546 potential runs, instead of just a runner on first and two out, projecting to a mere 1.209 runs (including Martinez’s run).  So, I can’t credit the pinch-running strategy with any positive effect here.

2016, Game 7: The Cubs’ Albert Almora ran for Kyle Schwarber at first base with none out in the tenth inning.  Kris Bryant flied out deep to center, and Almora tagged and reached second after the catch.  Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked.  Ben Zobrist doubled to left, scoring Almora, and moving Rizzo to third.  Addison Russell was intentionally walked.  Miguel Montero singled to left, advancing everybody one base, before the final two outs.  Conclusion: though we can assume Schwarber wouldn’t have advanced to second on the fly-out, he would have on Rizzo’s walk, which we can’t erase, despite its being intentional.  From there, Schwarber would have scored on Zobrist’s double, just as Almora did.

It’s likely I have overlooked other factors, or that seeing all the plays on film rather than on paper might have resulted in a different conclusion somewhere.  But the sum of my conclusions is that, of those 27, there were only four instances in which I believe that the player he replaced would not have scored: the 1983 tally by Bob Dernier, the 2001 run by Cummings in Game Four, the 2009 score by Gardner, and the 2011 run by Descalso (plus the .14 of a run by Espinoza in 1995).

Yet, despite Dernier’s run, the Phillies lost, 5-4.  Despite Cummings’s run, the D’backs lost, 4-3.  The Yankees won the 2009 game, 3-1, so Gardner’s run was not the difference.  And the Cardinals already had a 14-7 lead before Descalso’s run (and won 16-7); we’re not talking strategy here.  So, out of these 136 substitutions over 46 years and 264 games of World Series play, the only one which might have made a difference in the game’s outcome was Espinoza’s in 1995.

On the negative side of the ledger, ten of the 136 pinch-runners were thrown out on the bases, costing both a baserunner and an out: seven caught stealing, two picked off, and one thrown out trying to score on a foul pop (there were ten successful steals, only two, listed above, leading to a run).

It’s impossible to prove that any of these negative outcomes cost runs or games, but we can estimate the damage.  I used Pete Palmer’s run and win probability tables to analyze the ten baserunning blunders, below, with the “expected win %” representing the team’s win probability had the runner stayed put vs. its probability after the out, and likewise with the number of expected runs:

WORLD SERIES PINCH-RUNNERS THROWN OUT ON THE BASES, 1970-2016

 

YEAR

 

G

 

INN

 

Pinch-runner

 

Outcome

Expected

Win %

Expected

Runs

Cost in Wins Cost in Runs
1972 1 9 Allen Lewis, OAK CS .849 à .823 .478 à .095 .026 .383
1972 2 6 Allen Lewis, OAK CS .779 à .763 .209 à .000 .016 .209
1972 5 9 John Odom, OAK Retired .201 à .000 .494 à .000 .201 .494
1974 2 9 H. Washington, OAK Pick-off .160 à .034 .478 à .095 .126 .383
1979 2 9 Matt Alexander, PIT CS .575 à .447 .783 à .249 .128 .534
1984 5 8 Luis Salazar, SD CS .180 à .125 .209 à .000 .055 .209
1991 6 11 Keith Mitchell, ATL CS .575 à .447 .783 à .249 .128 .534
1992 3 9 Brian Hunter, ATL CS .501 à .403 .478 à .095 .098 .383
1999 3 9 Otis Nixon, ATL CS .575 à .447 .783 à .249 .128 .534
2013 4 9 Kolten Wong, SL PO .040 à .000 .209 à .000 .040 .209

So, these ten events cost their teams a total of .946 wins and 3.87 runs –- not insignificant, but less than I would have thought.

Furthermore, the replaced player’s spot came back up in the batting order on 51 occasions; the substitutes managed only a .240-.255-.300 batting line (12-for-50 with three doubles and one walk) in those situations.  The cost of this is harder to quantify but, for those 51 events, I took the weighted average of the players who were replaced, based on their performances in those particular seasons.  It came to a .260 batting average, .350 on-base percentage, and .434 slugging percentage.  Obviously a good deal better than the marks of the replacement players, but how to translate that into runs and/or wins?  Using Bill James’s basic runs created formula, it would be roughly 6.79 runs vs. 3.80, or a loss of about 2.99 runs.  At ten runs per win, that’s .3 wins.  It’s possible that somewhere along the line, a team lost a game or even a series due to such a substitution.

So, all in all (by my estimations), pinch-runners were responsible for 4.14 extra runs, while costing their teams about 6.86 runs due to reckless baserunning and weakened batting orders, a net loss of 2.72 runs.

I would not suggest that it never makes sense to use a pinch-runner.  But I think this study offers some evidence that the strategy of using pinch-runners, overall, has negligible value at best –- much ado about nothing –- and may actually decrease a team’s chances of scoring and winning.

The 2017 Hall of Fame Election Forecast

For most baseball fans, autumn means the playoffs, awards, and winter meetings.  For me, it means it’s time for my annual Hall of Fame election forecast.  I’ve been predicting the elections for 35 years now, with an 80% success rate (57-14) in guessing who would or would not make it among candidates receiving between 65-85% of the vote.

A review of the voting process: Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) do the voting.  Late each fall, ballots are distributed to beat-writers who have been BBWAA members for ten years or more, and are active or retired no more than ten years.  The ballots, which are to be returned by the end of the year, list candidates in alphabetical order, instructing voters to choose up to ten players.  Eligible candidates include men who played in at least ten seasons in the majors, the last of which was not less than five nor more than 15 years prior to the election.  Any candidate being named on at least 75% of the ballots is elected to the Hall; anyone receiving less than 5% of the vote is dropped from further consideration.  The BBWAA honors an average of about two players per year.  The 2017 results will be announced on January 18.

More than half of the 32 players who were listed on the 2016 ballot are not on the 2017 version: Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza, who were elected; Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire, who failed in their final attempts; and 13 others (Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Mike Sweeney, David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Luis Castillo, Troy Glaus, Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Mike Lowell, and Randy Winn) who were dropped for failing to reach the 5%-cutoff.  These men collected 1,063 votes in 2016, which conceivably could be redistributed to the new and returning candidates this year.  Members of the 2017 rookie class figure to get the majority of those, yet most of the 15 returnees are likely to move up in the voting – three of them enough to earn enshrinement.

Most first-time eligibles are destined for just one try on the writers’ ballot, the consequence of receiving less than 5% of the vote.  These include Jason Varitek (193 homers), Tim Wakefield (200-180 record), Magglio Ordoñez (294 HR, .309), Edgar Renteria (2327 hits, two Gold Gloves), Matt Stairs (265 HR, including a record 24 as a pinch-hitter), Mike Cameron (278 HR, including four in one game, and three Gold Gloves), Derrek Lee (335 HR, 2005 NL batting title), Pat Burrell (292 HR), Arthur Rhodes (900 games, 87-70), Orlando Cabrera (2055 hits, two Gold Gloves), J. D. Drew (242 HR, .278), Melvin Mora (171 HR, .277), Carlos Guillen (124 HR, .285), Casey Blake (167 HR), and Freddy Sanchez (.297).  (Interestingly, Javier Vazquez, 30th on the all-time list with 2536 strikeouts, did not even make it onto the ballot.)

Here’s the way I foresee the rest of the election to shape up, with predicted percentages in parentheses (note that these predictions were made two months ago, long before the ballots went out and the results started trickling in):

Tim Raines (79) – Rock was an outstanding player whose credentials (including an 808-146 stolen base record) took a while to be appreciated by voters.  He will make it in this, his last try.

Jeff Bagwell (77) – Batted .297 with 449 homers and 1529 RBI in just 15 seasons, winning the 1994 NL MVP Award.  He’ll edge over the hump in his seventh try.

Trevor Hoffman (76) – Had a 2.87 ERA over 1035 games, and retired as the all-time saves leader (601), a mark topped by Mariano Rivera in 2011.  Personally, I don’t see how someone with just 1089 career innings can merit the Hall of Fame.  But most of the voters will disagree, sending Hoffman to the Promised Land in just his second try.

Ivan Rodriguez (60) – A newcomer on the ballot, and arguably the best all-around catcher in baseball history, Pudge collected 2844 hits – far more than any other backstop – and won 13 Gold Gloves and the 1999 AL MVP.  For some reason, accusations of PED-use have not stuck to him as they have others.

Curt Schilling (55) – His résumé is almost a dead ringer for John Smoltz’s: Schilling was 216-146 with 3116 strikeouts, a 3.46 ERA, and an 11-2 post-season record; Smoltz was 213-155 with 3084 K’s, a 3.26 ERA, and a 15-4 post-season log.  Yet Smoltz made it to Cooperstown with 83% of the vote in his first attempt in 2015, while Schilling has not come close in four tries.  Schilling had three second-place Cy Young Award finishes and a record 4.38 SO:BB ratio, and starred for three different World Series teams.

Mike Mussina (49) – Moose went 20-9 in his final season to finish at 270-153.  Since the current pitching distance was established in 1893, only 12 pitchers have more wins over .500, and just five have a higher career strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Edgar Martinez (48) – Though he didn’t become a big league regular until he was 27, the DH wound up with 2247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 homers, and a .312 average.

Roger Clemens (47) – The most-accomplished pitcher of the past century, if not any century, Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards and seven ERA crowns while going 354-184 with 4672 strikeouts.  His reputation has been skewered by well-documented accusations of steroids and HGH use, though he was acquitted of perjury on the subject.

Barry Bonds (46) – The most accomplished non-pitcher with the possible exception of Babe Ruth, Bonds won a record seven MVP Awards and set all-time marks for career homers (762, including a record 73 in 2001) and walks (2558, a record 668 of them intentional).  For good measure, he added 514 stolen bases and eight Gold Glove Awards.  But, like Clemens, accusations of his using performance enhancers in the second half of his career, along with his surly relationship with the media, will keep him out of Cooperstown for the foreseeable future.

Vlad Guerrero (45) – Batted .318 lifetime with 449 homers and the 2004 AL MVP, leading each league in total bases.  He’ll make a strong showing on his first try.

Lee Smith (37) – Lost his all-time saves record (and his only persuasive Hall of Fame argument) in 2006 to Hoffman.  This is Smith’s final try.

Fred McGriff (23) – Crime Dog had 493 home runs and 1550 RBI, winning homer titles in each league.

Jorge Posada (22) – The Yankees’ catcher in four World Series, Posada finished with 1574 games caught, 275 homers and a .273 average.  This is his first time on the ballot.

Jeff Kent (17) – Kent set the record for most career home runs by a second baseman and won the 2000 NL MVP Award.  He finished with 377 homers and a .290 average.

Larry Walker (15) – Hit 383 homers and batted .313, winning three batting titles and the 1997 NL MVP Award, though most of his damage was done a mile above sea level.

Manny Ramirez (15) – His quirky behavior and PED busts obscured the fact that Ramirez was one of the best sluggers in major league history (.585 lifetime).  He led the AL in homers, RBI, and batting in various years, and his 165 ribbies in 1999 are the most in a season by anyone since 1938.  Manny, who is on the ballot for the first time, finished with 555 homers and a .312 career average.  The only man to top him in both categories?  Babe Ruth.

Gary Sheffield (10) – An admitted steroids user who blasted 509 homers with 1676 RBI and a batting crown.

Billy Wagner (10) – Had 422 career saves and a 2.31 ERA.

Sammy Sosa (7) – Slammed 609 home runs, including three 60-homer seasons and an MVP Award, in a career also tainted by performance-enhancer accusations.

Looking ahead toward upcoming elections, in 2018 the leading newcomers will be Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johnny Damon, and Jamie Moyer.   The following year, Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, and Todd Helton will top the rookie list.  The 2019 ballot will include Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, and Adam Dunn.  Torii Hunter, Tim Hudson, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, and Barry Zito are among those who will become eligible in 2020.  And any ten-year veteran who played in 2016, but does not return next season – David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, to name three who claim to be retired – will join the 2021 ballot.