Sunday, December 13, 2009

Juan Samuel, 1984 Philadelphia Phillies

Speaking of bizarre seasons for leadoff hitters, Samuel's 1984 season can be seen in one of two ways: (1) one of the great all-around seasons of the 1980s, or (2) one of the decade's strangest melanges of power-hitter and leadoff-hitter tendencies. Samuel was a slugger in a speedster's body, an intriguing mix of good and bad skills who, by 1987, had shown he was never going to become the next Honus Wagner. He did have one hell of an '84 season, though, becoming the only man in history to steal 50 bases and strike out 160 or more times. Further cultivating this schizophrenic skill set, Samuel hit 15 home runs and walked just 28 times (very Jose Hernandez), while also stroking 19 triples at the top of the Phil's lineup (a la Jimmy Rollins). Very strange.

50+ stolen bases, 160+ strikeouts

Orel Hershiser, 2000 Los Angeles Dodgers

It was supposed to be a feel-good story. Hershiser, after a five year absence, returns to the team he won the 1988 Cy Young and World Series MVP for (oh, and he also finished that season with 59 consecutive shutout innings). So what does Bulldog accomplish in his return to the Dodger Blue? He becomes the only man in history to hit 10 or more (11, in his case) batters in under 50 innings pitched. To that end, he became the only man to plunk ten or more in under 25 innings pitched(!), accumulating just 24.2 IP. Sadly, the LA legend finished his career in 2000 with a 1-5 record and an abominable 13.14 ERA.

10+ batters hit, 50- innings pitched

Mark McGwire, 2000 and 2001 St. Louis Cardinals

Mr. Andro started to look pretty damn tired in 2000, just two years removed from his record-setting* 1998 season, which he followed by another monster year* in which he jacked 65 home runs* (see what I'm doing with the asterisks here? Eh!?!?). In 2000, McGwire was 36 years old and, for one reason or another, was only playing half-time. Because Big Mac was still a man mountain, he was able to produce some epic power numbers in just 89 games. How epic? Try a .746 slugging percentage, the second-best of his career. McGwire's limited play and one-dimensional game also led to a pair of very strange (and less praise-worthy) individual achievements. In hitting 32 home runs in only 321 plate appearances, McGwire became the first player to reach 30 taters while failing to collect 200 total bases (he ended up with 176). The fact McGwire only mustered 8 non-homer extra base hits (all doubles), explains all. While McGwire's 176 total bases were unimpressive for someone with so many home runs, they were hugely impressive for someone with fewer than 75 total hits. In a twist that might lend some respect to Mark's 2000 season, McGwire became the only player in history to accumulate 175 or more total bases while rapping out fewer than 75 hits (he had 72). Does this redeem McGwire? Well, consider it in context...

Big Mac's 2001 season was like his 2000 campaign, but in mono. McGwire's body was failing him. The red-haired goliath was creaking, snapping, and popping every time he shambled up to the plate. Still, McGwire had some pop and the Cardinals let him play another half season. Continuing his descent into Billy Ashley-hood, McGwire set another two records in 2001, similar to those he set a year earlier. Riffing on a theme, McGwire was a one-dimensional savant, becoming the first player to ever hit 25 or more home runs with 5 or fewer doubles (he finished with 29 homers, 4 doubles, and 0 triples). Such a performance was a testament to the fact that McGwire wasn't simply slow (even Cecil Fielder was more amenable to doubles). No, McGwire was a broken man, racking up a .187/.316/.492 slash line, mainly on the strength of his home runs and 56 walks. Yep, McGwire looked tired, whiffing 118 times (32.4% of the time) and playing hideous defense. Still, he showed some power, setting a record that was similar to his 2000 TB/H milestone. In 2001, he was the first player to accumulate 135 or more (147, in his case) total bases with fewer than 60 hits (56). McGwire was still massive and, if you put the ball on his bat, he could take it yard. Still, it was clear the end was nigh and, after the 2001 campaign, McGwire retired, ready to take his rightful place in Cooperstown.

[Enter Jose Canseco]
[March 2005: Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball]
[January 2007: 23.5% HOF support]
[January 2008: 23.6% HOF support]
[2005-2009: McGwire avoids media; becomes Bobby Crosby's hitting coach]
[2009: Signs on with Cardinals as hitting coach]
"I regret having lived in the Steroid Era"

30+ home runs, 200- total bases
175+ total bases, 75- hits
25+ home runs, 5- doubles
135+ total bases, 60- hits

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Roger Clemens, 2001 New York Yankees

Note: This stupidly angry post may not be suitable for children, the elderly, or members of the Roger Clemens legal defense team.

Inflated record (20-3) pitching for the richest, most mercenary teams in baseball? Check. Acting like a whiny, prissy, cry-baby bitch-cakes douche? Check. So what's so strange about this season? Well, I'm glad you asked. This was the year the "Rocket" became the first 20 game winner to not throw a single complete game. Combine Roger's porcelain arm with his 3.51 ERA and it looks like he could challenge Vuckovich and Colon for the worst Cy Young-winning season in history. Bastard.

Special 2001 Cy Young Supplement:
Roger Clemens, 5.4 WAR (87% Cy Young share, 17% MVP share)
Mike Mussina: 6.5 WAR (1% Cy Young share, 0% MVP share)

20+ wins, 0 complete games

Mike Schmidt, 1973 Philadelphia Phillies

We think of the Steroid Era as the defining period of the Three True Outcome slugger. Considering the generally balanced period (the '70s), the Vet's place as one of the great hitter's parks, and Schmidt's well-documented hatred of the strikeout, it's surprising that Schmidt's the one player to collect more than 135 strikeouts and fewer than 75 hits in a season. Though 18 of Schmidt's 72 hits in 1973 left the park, the fact that he struck out 136 times and batted only .196 suggests that the greatest third sacker of all time just wasn't ready for The Show in '73.

135+ strikeouts, 75- hits

Chris Hoiles, 1992 Baltimore Orioles

Remember when, on August 14, 1998, Chris Hoiles became the ninth player ever to hit two grand slams in one game? No? Remember his "ultimate grand slam" (down by three, two out, bottom of the ninth) on May 17, 1996? No? Really? Dude, it was even a 3-2 count...Still no? Clearly you've never visited the Eastern Michigan University Hall of Fame.

Unfairly forgotten due to the brevity of his career and the fact he played in an American League stacked with decent-to-excellent hitters - Tettleton, Pudge, Steinbach, Brian Harper, etc - Chris "The Tractor Mechanic" Hoiles (seriously, that was his nickname. So bad) does have a peculiar record-setting achievement to his name. Homers mean ribbies not always. Hoiles is the only player in history to hit 20 or more jacks, along with 40 or fewer RBIs in the same season. Hitting exactly 20 HR in '92, Hoiles also collected exactly 40 RBIs, showing what a statistical outlier, a lame Orioles' lineup, and 10 doubles will get you.

20+ HR, 40- RBI

Tony Fossas, 1992 Boston Red Sox

Tony "The Mechanic" Fossas [no relation to Chris "Tractor Mechanic" Hoiles] has long been held out as the worst situational pitcher cliche. An undistinguished "lefty specialist" who somehow managed to worm his way into over 500 games despite a merely decent ERA (3.90), Fossas is the only pitcher in history to appear in 60 or more games in a season and fail to reach 30 innings pitched. To be exact, Fossas pitched in exactly 60 games and accumulated just 29.2 innings, despite a sparkling 2.43 ERA. One suspects Fossas' (and all lefty specialists') place on the roster was something of a false economy, though, given the southpaw's ugly 1.517 WHIP.

60+ games pitched, 30- innings pitched

Andres Galarraga, 1994 Colorado Rockies

You couldn't talk about statistical anomalies without talking about the Blake Street Bandbox, right? It's true that Coors Field pumped up power numbers by 25%, turned Vinny Castilla and Preston Wilson into RBI champs, and made Kaz Matsui look worth a damn, but there are some things it couldn't hide. For instance, Galarraga showed it couldn't give you a batting eye, as he became the only man in history to accumulate 30 or more home runs and 20 or fewer walks in the same season. You might have been able to blame the Big Cat's low walk totals on the strike-shortened season, but you'll notice that, while his HR (31) and BB (19) totals look a little sparse, his strikouts (93) would be impressive for even a full season of play.

30+ home runs, 20- walks

Omar Daal, 1995 Los Angeles Dodgers

Omar Daal's not remembered for much. He was the second best, and least known, starter on the '99 D-Backs and...well, that's about it. In '95, however, he permanently etched some sort of name for himself. That year, Daal became the only man to pitch in 20 or more times without getting to start or finish the game. The Dodger's nervousness in letting Daal pitch in any sort of key situation in any of his 28 appearances makes some sense, given his egregious 7.20 ERA. But...but...but...he went 4-0!

20 games, 0 games started, 0 games finished

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Zoilo Versalles, 1967 Minnesota Twins

Poor Johnny Mize. First he's compared to Miguel Dilone and now Zoilo Versalles, a man who did what Mize never could - win a Most Valuable Player Award (the result of an embarrassing 1965 vote that saw Versalles perservere over his more worthy teammate Tony Oliva). The mighty are known to fall from grace, though. Versalles saw his career quickly disintegrate after winning the the MVP. While he turned in a merely-bad 1966, Zoilo completely fell apart in '67, while the cache of his recent MVP kept him in the lineup full time. As a result, Versalles became the only player to ever score 60 or more runs with an on-base percentage of under .250. The fact Versalles could accumulate 63 runs (if only incidentally) with a slash line of .200/.249/,282 was more a testament to Mangers Sam Mele and Cal Ermer's willingness to give him 626 plate appearances than anything else. Mercifully, Versalles was traded to the Dodgers the next year, and bounced around between the Padres, Indians, Senators, and Braves before retiring after the 1971 season.

60+ runs, .250- on-base percentage

Johnny Murphy, 1943 New York Yankees

Johnny Murphy's '43 season makes it seem like the New Yawk native could squeeze blood from a diamond if he put his mind to it. While Pollet was dominating the shit out of the NL, Murphy was finding a way to rack up his own Nintendo-like stats in his limited opportunities. Murphy, who had a 1.088 WHIP in '43, was clearly a good pitcher, though his 1.399 WHIP and 116 ERA+ between 1932 and 1942 indicate he wasn't "great" by any measurement. Who needs greatness, though? Everything just fell into place in '43, as Murphy went 12-4 and racked up 8 saves in only 68 innings, becoming the only player to ever win 12 or more games in 70 or fewer innings. This isn't to say that his season was the equivalent of going 36-12 in 204 innings (clearly that would be more impressive). Still, whether you ascribe it to skill, luck, or both, wringing 12 wins out of 68 innings almost makes you want to believe in the cliche about some pitchers "knowing how to win." Almost, but not quite.

12+ wins, 70- innings pitched

Jack Heidemann, 1970 Cleveland Indians

A year after Fernandez' spent a half-season impersonating Nick Swisher, Jack Heidemann set out to show off his best Neifi Perez. Now, nobody expected Heidemann, a light-hitting shortstop from Brenham, Texas, to set the world aflame with his bat. One would think, however, that the 1967 first-round draft pick might at least hit LIKE A SHORTSTOP. Rather, Heidemann seemed bent on trying to prove that he too could be a slugger, leading the league in sacrifice flies (a stat normally reserved for sluggers). It should be noted, however, that these sacrifice flies, which presumably netted Heidemann 10 RBI, were accumulated by a man who only collected 37 RBI all season! Heidemann, in turn, became the first player in history to collect 10 or more sac flies and have fewer than 40 RBI. This, of course, begs the questions: (1) How the hell did Heidemann get more sac flies than teammates Vada Pinson and Graig Nettles and (2) What was manager Alvin Dark smoking?

10+ sacrifice flies, 40- runs batted in

Mike Myers, 1997 Detroit Tigers

While Frank Williams showed that one could pitch 85+ games without losing, Myers proved the rather less-inspiring lesson that one could pitch in 85+ games without winning. In 1997, playing on the least-bad of a string of bad Tigers teams, Myers earned his place in history by pitching in a league-leading 88 games and going 0-4 with a 1.547 WHIP. Myers, a "lefty specialist" in the mould of the dreaded Tony Fossas (whose oeuvre we've already explored) pitched for 13 seasons, spanning 883 games but only 541.2 innings. Ugh. To make matters worse, Myers was once traded for Jack Cust (who's actually, y'know, productive) and made over $10 million throughout his career. Does MLB know something about this southpaw with the career 4.29 ERA that I don't?

85+ games, 0 wins

Frank Williams, 1987 Cincinnati Reds

Frank Williams' 1987 was bad-ass. Following a series of productive seasons, Williams was traded from the Giants before the '87 season for Eddie Milner (whose career was all but over by that time). The Reds likely didn't know that Williams was about to turn in a phenomenal year that would result in the righty becoming the only player in history to pitch in 85 or more games without incurring a loss. Williams' 4-0 record, 2.30 ERA, and 105.2 IP, all in relief, showed enormous talent that, under different circumstances, could have made Williams the NL's answer to Tom Henke. It was not meant to be, however, as Williams was out of the big leagues completely by 1990. Moving to Victoria, BC to explore his aboriginal roots, Williams fell into alcohol and substance abuse, dying as a street person in January, 2009.

85+ games, 0 losses

Eddie Robinson, 1955 New York Yankees

If I had to describe journeyman slugger Eddie Robinson to someone, I'd say he's like Wally Gerber, but with power. Then I'd explain Gerber. For some reason it just seems easier that way. A multiple-time MVP candidate and All Star, Robinson played first base for 13 seasons with a variety of teams, most notably the the Indians and White Sox. So how is this Paris, Texas native, who reached 20 home runs four times and 100 runs batted in thrice, similar to Gerber? Well, he's not. Robinson's 1955 season, however, showed a truly Gerber-like antipathy for total bases, as Eddie became the only player to ever hit 15 or more home runs (he had 16) while collecting 90 or fewer total bases (finishing with 85). That is one tricky feat. Robinson plugged 16 home runs in 215 plate appearances, but was otherwise Alex Cole without the speed, gaining just one (one!!!) extra base hit that wasn't a homer. In turn, Robinson finished with a .208/.358/.491 slash line that, if a few of those home runs died on the warning track, could have looked really, really ugly.

15+ home runs, 90- total bases

Stu Flythe, 1936 Philadelphia Athletics

I had no idea what a "flythe" was until recently. Intuitively, it sounds like a bird. The speckled flythe. How would I know that it was a Durham-born NC State pitching product who lasted all of one season with a miserable Athletics team? It certainly didn't resemble a ballplayer. Flythe became the only pitcher to throw 15 or more (16) wild pitches in under forty innings (39.1), tossing pitches into the dirt, the stands, and the backstop on his way to accumulating a comical 13.04 ERA and 2.797 WHIP. On the plus side, Flythe posted batting numbers (.579 OPS) that put Hal Lanier to shame. I do apologize to the family of Mr. Flythe, but that's the only sheen I can give to this ridiculous career.

15+ wild pitches, 40- innings pitched

Art Shamsky, 1966 Cincinnati Reds

How fitting to bookend this installment of Fun With Baseball Stats with another Jewish baseball icon. Before Art Shamsky became famous for being a marginally-important member of the '69 Miracle Mets, he was a marginally-successful outfielder on the Cincinnati Reds. Certainly, if he were never traded to the Mets for Bob Johnson, Shamsky's main claim to fame might have been his status as the 'sixties version of Eddie Robinson. In '66, Shamsky outdid Robinson's penthouse-or-outhouse performance in '55, becoming the only player to hit 20 or more home runs while collecting 125 or fewer total bases. Really, Shamsky's output just looks as if Robinson's season had been allowed to continue for another month, as Shamsky spanked 21 home runs and 47 ribbies in 271 at-bats, collecting just 122 total bases on 5 doubles and 0 triples. I'm guessing that, if you told Reds Manager Don Heffner in '66 that Shamsky would become an icon three years later on the World Champion Mets, he would have replied "There's no way! I know talent and he's a bum. By the way, did you see how I scored Milt Pappas for Frank Robinson? There's no way I'll come to regret that."

20+ home runs, 125- total bases

Bill Terry, 1934 New York Giants

Continuing our exploration of historically light hitters, we come to someone who actually was a very good hitter, Hall of Fame catcher "Memphis" Bill Terry. In a career spanning over 1700 games, 2193 hits, and a lifetime batting average of .341, Terry was a splendid hitter whose accomplishments are perhaps not adequately celebrated today. All deference aside, how slow was Memphis Bill? I mean, c'mon. Reportedly a strapping 6'1 and 200 pounds, Terry didn't have to drag some Cecil Fielder-like frame around the diamond. So why is it that Terry, in 1934, became the only player to hit 165+ singles while not stealing a single base. Terry somehow managed to combine the batting average of Ichiro (.354) with the singles-hitting ability of Juan Pierre (169) and the speed of...ummmm...Billy Butler (or, really, anyone with an 'ample' frame). Now, this isn't to say Terry didn't have an excellent year (he did) or that it isn't excusable for a 35 year-old catcher to go a season without stealing a base (it is). I suppose I'm just surprised that, as Player-Manager of the 93-60 Giants, Terry never game himself the green light. "Ready Bill? Yes. Sure? Uh huh. Okay, on the count of three..."

165+ singles, 0 stolen bases

Wally Gerber, 1926 St. Louis Browns

Wally Gerber's success in Major League baseball is a mystery to me. In 1923, Gerber came fourth in AL MVP voting after having racked up 1 home run, 62 ribbies, and a .281/.342/.339 slash line. For some reason, that put him just behind Babe Ruth, Eddie Collins, and Harry Heilmann in voting, and ahead of Cleveland's Joe Sewell (109 RBI, .935 OPS) and teammate Ken Williams (29 HR, 1.062 OPS), who finished 15th. Three years after his first flirtation with the MVP, Gerber came 23rd in MVP voting in what many sensible people would call a truly awful season. It may be that I'm missing something in retrospect, but usually I don't think of a shortstop from a 62-92 team, who has 8 double, 37 runs scored, and 0 stolen bases as MVP material. The icing on the cake was that Gerber became the only player in history to collect 110+ hits (111) and fewer than 120 total bases (119). How hard is that? Well, it required Gerber to get all of 8 extra-base hits in 473 plate appearances. In what may be history's least amazing twist of fate, perennial MVP candidate Gerber was out of baseball by 1930.

110+ hits, 120- total bases