Friday, November 20, 2009

Johnny Mize, 1938 St. Louis Cardinals

Remember Miguel Dilone (he of the fifty swipes and zero triples)? Well, Mize was, in a number of ways, the anti-Dilone. Certain differences between Dilone (800 games, 530 hits, .265/.315/.333) and The Big Cat, version 1.0 (1884 games, 2011 hits, .312/.397/.562) are obvious. Mize's Hall of Fame status is one indicator. Dilone sucking is another. The least obvious difference between them, however, relates to their triple:stolen base ratio. While Dilone became the only player to go 50/0, Mize explored the opposite idea - that a triple hitter needn't steal. In '38, Mize became the only player to hit 15+ triples (16) and steal zero bases. These 16 triples were part of a three year output (43 triples between 1938 and 1940) that seem especially puzzling, considering Mize's 28 CAREER stolen bases. It seems like Mize was only hitting triples to buff up his crazy strong .562 career slugging average. "If a double's good, then a triple..."

15+ triples, 0 stolen bases

John Wathan, 1982 Kansas City Royals

The one-time fourth overall draft pick (come to think of it, it's unlikely he'd be drafted fourth overall more than once...) was supposed to anchor the Royals powerhouses of the '70s and '80s. Surprisingly, KC managed to win a crown in spite of, not because of, the efforts of Mr. Wathan. 1982, though his most productive season in some respects, was also Wathan's nadir, as he became the only man to steal 35 or more bases (36) and ground into 25 or more double plays (26). I'm not sure how many sharply-hit balls to the second baseman it took to accomplish this absurd feat, but the singularity of the accomplishment certainly shows up in his bizarre .270/.343/.328 slash line. Aren't speedsters (even speedy catchers?) supposed to prevent GIDPs?

35+ stolen bases, 25+ ground into double plays

Rich Rodas, 1983 Los Angeles Dodgers

Never heard of Rich Rodas? Think of his career as a microcosm of Scott Williamson's record-setting season. Rodas only lasted two partial seasons in the bigs in a career that spanned a total of 9.2 innings. So what's so special about his '83 season? Think of it as Rodas making the most of the 4.2 innings available to him. If you wanted to set a record in half a game, you could try to strike everyone out (nearly impossible) or give up a hundred runs (you'd get pulled). Rodas slyly combined an attainable record with a strong performance, however, becoming the first player ever to throw five wild pitches in under five innings pitched. How hard is that? Juan Guzman holds the modern record for wild pitches in a season (26 in 1993). In 1932, Washington's Alvin Crowder threw 327 innings WITHOUT a wild pitch! Rodas seized his opportunity, delivering an ERA-WHIP split (1.93/1.500) that is among the most ridiculous in history. Who says there are no heroes left?

5+ wild pitches, 5- innings pitched

Eddie Lake, 1947 Detroit Tigers

"Sparky" Lake seems to have been a pretty decent middle infielder for the Red Sox and Tigers throughout the 1940s, though it's fair to say he had some holes in his game. First of all, he was caught stealing 46% of the time. Though that sucks quite hard, Lake only attempted 97 steals throughout his career, so the damage isn't crippling. Another limitation of Lake's was that, despite owning a phenomenal eye and great patience at the plate, he managed to find a way NOT to get on base. Case in point, Lake became the only player in history in 1947 to draw 120 or more walks but have an on-base percentage under .350 (.343, to be exact). Wow. Despite hitting 12 home runs in an era where slugging shortstops were rare, Lake was one crappy hitter, batting .211 and, interestingly, having a lower slugging average (.322) than OBP. Like Juan Samuel's '84 season, Lake sure produced a strange mishmash of stats.

120+ walks, .350- on-base percentage

Sandy Koufax, 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers

Look, I love Koufax. He was the only real Jewish icon in baseball between Hank Greenberg and Ryan Braun (don't give me that Mike Epstein stuff) and, for history-minded members of the tribe - like self - that's of no little import. Therefore, it is with some reluctance that I discuss Sandy's shortcomings. His short career length and the fact he spent all of his dominating years in an extreme pitcher's park are unfortunate realities and they give baseball people reluctance to finger Koufax as the greatest southpaw ever. Moreover, before moving to LA, Koufax had three unexceptional years in Brooklyn, in which he set, to my knowledge, just one record. In his rookie season, Sandy set a record by becoming the only player in history to strike out in every single at-bat (minimum 10 plate appearances). Yep, one of the greatest strikeout pitchers ever was, at first, a strikeout batter. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 0 for 12, all strikeouts, with a perfect -100 OPS+. Obviously, this doesn't mean too much because Koufax was a pitcher, but it's funny to think that he actually improved his hitting over time, retiring with a hearty .097 average.

10+ at bats, 100% k rate

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spook Jacobs, 1954 Philadelphia Athletics

If you ever wanted to challenge a St. Louis Brown in a contest for sheer mediocrity, a Philadelphia Athletic would be your best bet. To that end, Robert Forrest "Spook" Vandergrift Jacobs is a fitting challenger to Wally Gerber (if you need any more proof of this serendipitous relationship, consider that Gerber's nickname was 'Spook'). Jacobs had a much less successful (if you could call it that) career than Gerber, premiering as a rookie at the age of 28 and playing just three seasons before retiring in 1956. In his one full season, however, Jacobs found some moderate success and a large dose of record-setting failure. To the good, Jacobs finished fourth in the AL in stolen bases (tearing up the pea patch with 17 swipes) and came sixth in the league in AB per SO, whiffing every 23.091 times at bat. To the bad, Jacobs became the only man to collect fewer than 145 total bases on 130 or more hits. The fact Jacobs came sixth in the league in singles, while only stroking 12 extra base hits (11 2b, 1 3b) helps to explain this anomaly, as Jacob picked up only 144 TB on 131 hits. Why light hitting should damn Jacobs, in spite of a 60:22 strikeouts-to-walk ratio and an acceptable 72 OPS+, remains a mystery. Maybe he didn't have that crappy Ken Williams around to make him look good.

145- total bases, 130+ hits

Frank Fernandez, 1969 New York Yankees

Before Billy Beane's 'Moneyball' model made us all revisit the significance of Rob Deer, the Yankees' Frank Fernandez - the heir apparent to Elston Howard - was going all "three true outcomes" on us. Prior to Fernandez' 1969 season, no player had accumulated 65 or more walks in under 300 plate appearances. Fernandez did just that, though, chalking up 65 BBs in just 298 trips to the plate, ending up with an eye-popping slash line of .223/.399/.415. You'd think this productivity would get Fernandez sufficient chances to play, but big Frank was shipped off to Oakland the next year and, by 1972, his career had finished after only 285 games. By today's standards, Fernandez was remarkably productive and, given his career 162 game averages (22 HR, 66 RBI, .199/.350/.395), he seems like something of a lost opportunity.

65+ walks, 300- plate appearances