Saturday, March 02, 2013

Human Rain Delays

The spirit of Mike Hargrove lives on in Major League Baseball. Who are today's time wasters? I'll give you three: Jonathon Papelbon, Robinson Cano and Jose Valverde. Want to know more? Then check out my latest article for Big Leagues Magazine on e-stands now.

3000 for post number 3000

This post marks the three-thousandth post of this site. And I rarely write quick hit posts, so you have to figure an average of seven hundred words a post. So a decent estimate is that I have written two million, one hundred thousand words. Many of you have read at least a few hundred thousand of them and I am so appreciative that you stop by and read this stuff. To celebrate this milestone, let's celebrate those players who have reached 3,000 hits for their careers. There are twenty-eight of them. It would be easy enough to just list them. That would be boring. Instead, let's  give the details of each player's milestone hit (Pete Rose and Ty Cobb had another big milestone but we'll save for after the next thousand posts go by). Here we go!

Well, first, a disclaimer. With guys with a lot of hits over 3,000, I had to do some addition and subtraction to find out what year the event happened. I hope I don't get any of them wrong.

Of course we have to start with Pete Rose. If I did my calculations right, he reached hit 3,000 on May 16, 1978 in Montreal. He went three for five in the game and it was his second hit that made the mark. The hit came against Wayne Twitchell who started for the Expos. Rose doubled and scored in the first and singled to left for the milestone hit. The Reds won the game and Tom Seaver got the win. Rose made an error in the game at third base, but nobody is perfect.

Ty Cobb entered 1921 needing 144 hits to reach 3,000. He would reach the milestone in the second game of a double-header on August 19, 1921 against the Boston Red Sox. The game was played in Detroit and Cobb went three for five in the game and five for ten in the double-header. The third hit of the second game reached the milestone. The victim was Red Sox' pitcher, Elmer Myers, who was forced to pitch the entire game despite giving up ten runs on 19 hits and three walks. Like Rose, Cobb was 34 at the time. The double-header exploits lifted his average to .387. He finished the season at .389.

Sort of a weird pattern is going on here. Rose started 1978 needing 44 hits to get to 3,000. Cobb started 1921 needing 144. Hank Aaron started 1970 needing 44 hits to get to 3,000. Like Cobb, he got his milestone hit in the second game of a double-header. And like both Rose and Cobb, Aaron went three for five in the game. Aaron's happened on May 17, 1970. The big hit came in his first at bat against the Reds' Wayne Simpson in the first inning. The hit drove in a run. Unfortunately, the Braves lost both games that day in Cincinnati, the second one went fifteen innings. When Aaron got his hit, Pete Rose was watching out in right field.

A 38 year old Stan Musial entered the 1959 season needing 43 hits to get to 3,000. He was slowing down at this point and it took him until June 23, 1959 to get it done. The Cardinals were in Milwaukee to play the Braves. The hit came in his third at bat. He would go one for four in the game. He hit a single to left off of Carl Willey. Hank Aaron watched the hit from right field.

Tris Speaker entered the 1925 season in his 37th year on earth needing 39 hits to reach 3,000. He was also the manager of the Indians who finished the season in sixth place. He was in his seventh season as the player-manager. He would still finish the season batting .389 with a 1.057 OPS! He reached the 3,000 milestone on May 18, 1925 against the Washington Senators. The Senators were a great team and would end up winning the American League Pennant. The Indians won this one though, 9-6. Speaker went one for three in the game with two walks. He scored a run and drove in one.

Cap Anson finished his career before the turn of the 20th Century. We won't be able to get a game log for this one. As best I can tell, he hit his 3,000th hit sometime during the latter half of 1895. Anson was 43 at the time and still hit .335 playing for the Chicago Colts. He was also the player-manager.

Honus Wagner finished his career in 1917. We have the game logs only for his last two seasons. He reached 3,000 before that in 1914 when he entered that season needing 59 hits to reach the mark. He was 40 years old that season. According to the Sabr Baseball Biography Project:
"On June 9 he got his three-thousandth hit, doubling against Philadelphia's Erskine Mayer to become the first player to achieve that milestone in the twentieth century."
Carl Yastrzemski was 39 years old when the Red Sox played the Yankees in Fenway Park on September 12, 1979. Both teams had excellent records, but by this late in the season, the game was meaningless because both teams were double-digit games behind the front-running Orioles. The Red Sox won the game, 9-2. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Captain Carl came up with two outs and nobody on base. Jim Beattie was on the mound for the Yankees and Carl Yastrzemski hit a single to right for his 3,000th hit. His hometown fans gave him a long and huge ovation and then he left for a pinch runner waving his cap to the crowd on the way to the dugout.

For Paul Molitor's 3,000th hit, we'll again turn to the Sabr Baseball Biography Project for the story:
"On September 16, 1996, at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, Molitor singled in the first inning, the 2,999th hit of his major-league career. In the fifth inning, he hit a drive to right field off Jose Rosado and ended up on third base to become the first major leaguer to register a triple for his 3,000th hit. “I don’t know much about that young man [Rosado], but I know he did not try to avoid being the one who gave up my 3,000th hit,” Molitor said. “I know he shook off a couple of signs and threw fastballs—saying, ‘If you’re going to get it, you’re going to get it.’”53 George Brett and Molitor’s friend Robin Yount were among those on hand see him join them in the 3,000 hit club. The milestone hit came three years to the day after Winfield had collected his 3,000th hit, also for the Minnesota Twins, and the two became the first two players from the same hometown to accomplish the feat."
The 1925 Chicago White Sox were managed by Eddie Collins. He was also their regular second baseman. His double-play partner at short was Ike Davis. Heh. And he hit .346 that season at the age of 38! Collins started that season needing 48 hits to reach the 3,000 hit mark. He reached the milestone on June 2, 1925 in Detroit in a wild game against the Tigers. It was a game the Tigers would win, 16-15 and Collins went three for five in a losing effort. The second hit was the milestone hit.

Derek Jeter? Well, we all know that story. If by chance you don't, you can read about it here.

On July 18, 1970, a 39 year old Willie Mays played in a game against the Montreal Expos at Candlestick Park. He needed two hits to get to the 3,000 milestone. He went two for three to get the job done. The hit came in the sixth inning off of Bill Dillman and of course, it drove in a run.

  Eddie Murray was the Designated Hitter on July 30, 1995. He batted sixth in the lineup. Albert Belle was in front of him and Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez were behind him. Woof. That is a potent lineup. The Indians were rocking with a 41-17 record and easily beat the Twins in this game, 4-1. In the top of the sixth, Murray hit a single to right off of Mike Trombley to record hit number 3,000.

It is a real shame that Nap Lajoie finished his career on some of the worst teams ever. The 1914 Cleveland Naps were one of them. They went 51-102. LaJoie was 39 that season and was on his way out as a player. He would finish his career with two seasons in Philadelphia. Lajoie had 108 hits in 1914. His very last hit that season was his 3,000th.

Cal Ripkin Jr. was 39 years old in 2000 in the next to last year of his career. He started the 1970 season needing only nine hits to reach 3,000. Before the start of the game on April 15, 1970 against the Twins in the Hubert H. Humphrey Dome, he had only managed six and was batting .179. With 2,997 hits, Ripken would go three for five to reach the milestone. It was his third hit, a line drive single to center off of Hector Carrasco that got the job done.

On September 30, 1992, the Royals and the Angels were just playing out what was a bad year for both teams. George Brett, with the season winding down, still needed four more hits to reach 3,000. Unfortunately, the game was played in California and away from his adoring KC fans. Brett roped a double to left in the first and scored. He hit a single through the hole between first and second in the third. He hit a line drive single to center in the fifth. Then in the top of the eighth facing a long-forgotten pitcher by the name of Tim Forugno, Brett hit a line drive that the second baseman could not handle for his fourth hit. It was vintage Brett with three line drives to get to 3,000. Comically, one batter later, Brett was picked off first. That has to be the only time that has ever happened! He reached on an error in his last at bat of the game, so he reached base all five times he came to the plate.

In 1942, Hall of Fame player, Paul Waner, was playing for an awful Boston Braves team managed by Casey Stengel. He was definitely on the downside of his career and only hit .258 that season. On June 19, 1942 at home in another loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Waner went one for five. But that one hit was his 3,000th hit. You can see an image of the hit here.

Robin Yount got his 3,000th hit on September 9, 1992. Like Waner, his team lost at home and like Waner, Yount went one for five. But that one hit put him at 3,000. It was a line drive to right-center off of Jose Mesa.

Tony Gwynn got his 3,000th hit in the first inning of a game where he eventually went four for five. The hit came off of starter, Dan Smith, who could not even pitch out of the first inning. The hit was a line drive to right-center.

Dave Winfield was 41 years old in 1993 when he played for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were a bad club in 1993 but Winfield has his last decent season that year. On September 16, 1993, The Twins were down by two runs and had to face closer, Dennis Eckersley. After a Kirby Puckett lead off triple and a strikeout, Dave Winfield hit a single through the hole between third and short. Puckett scored. Winfield later scored the tying run to send the game into extra innings in a game the Twins eventually won. That perhaps might be one of the highest WPA scores we've seen on these milestone hits.

Like Winfield, Craig Biggio was 41 when he reached 3,000 hits. Unlike Winfield, it was Biggio's last season. Like Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit game, Biggio ended up with five hits in the game. The third one was the special one. After a ground out in the first inning, Biggio could not be retired the rest of the night as he went five for six. His single in the seventh off of Aaron Cook was his third hit of the game and the milestone. The hit also tied the game up in a game the Astros won in extra innings. Another high WPA milestone. The hit came at home for his home fans.

Rickey Henderson walked so many times that we'll have to forgive him that it took 23 seasons before he finally reached the magic 3,000 hit number. It happened on October 7, 2001. He was playing for the Padres at Colorado and it was the last game of the season. Henderson swung at John Thompson's first pitch and blooped a double to the right field line. He later scored the first run of the game. Henderson then took the rest of the day off.

Like Biggio, Rod Carew's 3,000th hit came in his last season in 1985. It happened on August 4 of that season in a win against his old team, the Twins. Carew only went one for five in that game. His one hit...the big hit...came as a single against Frank Viola in the bottom of the third inning. Carew had to share the spotlight that day as it was also the day that Tom Seaver won his 300th game.

Lou Brock also reached the 3,000 hit club in his last season in the big leagues. Brock's hit came against the same Chicago Cubs that traded him away to the Cardinals. Brock's milestone came in a win for the hometown fans.

Rafael Palmeiro recorded his 3,000th hit on July 15, 2005 in Seattle with a double against Joel Pineiro. I'm pretty sure that is the only 3,000th hit batter-pitcher combo that rhymes.

Wade Boggs was one of the best hitters I've ever watched in my lifetime. It is only fitting that he hit his milestone hit a week before Tony Gwynn. The two are often compared, but Gwynn was nowhere near as good a hitter as Boggs. Most know that Wade Boggs was the first player ever to have hit a home run for his 3,000th hit. The video can be found here.

Al Kaline finished his career with 3,007 hits. So it is pretty easy to figure out which one was his 3,000th. Only one other is easier. The game was September 24, 1974 in a game the Tigers lost to the Orioles in Memorial Stadium. Kaline had two hits in the game, but it was his first one, a lead off double in the top of the fourth against Dave McNally that was the milestone hit.

And finally, it just seems kind of right that Roberto Clemente finishes our list. His very last hit in the majors was his 3,000. It wasn't that he did not have more hits in him. It was just that he never got the chance as he was killed in a plane crash attempting a humanitarian airlift. His last hit was recorded on September 30, 1972 in a game against the New York Mets. The game was in Pittsburgh so his fans got to see his last hurrah. His last hit was a double off of Jon Matlack and he would later score his last run that same inning. To keep this record straight, it should be noted that those really weren't his last hits and runs scored. Clemente had four hits in the NLCS against the Reds.

There you go. There is my opus of a 3,000th post. It just might be my longest ever. Thank you again for giving me a reason to write for all these years.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Evan Longoria - Baseball's most indispensable player?

It is good to be Evan Longoria. He is 27 years old and knows that he will make millions of dollars a season until the year 2023. That has to be a pretty darned good feeling. Not only that, he plays for a team that has been competitive and in the the thick of things for every season he has been in the majors. Then again, there might be a correlation between those two facts in the last sentence. Evan Longoria might be the most indispensable player in baseball.

Longoria missed 88 games last season. Only three of them were rest days. All the 85 others were due to injury. While there is always some coincidence is such a statistic, the Tampa Bay Rays were 47-27 in the games he played and 43-45 in games he did not play. Those numbers are fairly stark--a .635 winning percentage with Longoria, .488 without him.

The average fan would probably not realize that since his first season in 2008, Evan Longoria has been the third most valuable player in baseball. The list goes like this: Pujols (34.4 fWAR), Braun (29.8 fWAR) and then Longoria (29.3 fWAR). Now consider that Pujols has played 768 games in that time. Braun has played 770 and Longoria has played 637. That's right, he has played 123 less games than Braun and 121 games less than Pujols and yet is right on their tails for the most valuable player since 2008.

If you break that down in wins per games played, Evan Longoria comes in at .046, Pujols at .044 and Braun at 0.38. There is something to be said, of course, for being able to stay healthy and Pujols and Braun have been able to stay healthier. But game for game, the only other player since 2008 that has been worth more per game is Utley at .047 wins per games played. Utley is probably on the other side of his great career. Longoria is just getting started.

The casual fan might think that Evan Longoria's great value that has been shown here today would be from his bat. But that is not the case. Longoria's wOBA and OPS are both 24th in baseball since 2008. Longoria has also been phenomenal in the field.

Since 2008, both and Fangraphs have agreed on Evan Longoria's value in the field. Fangraphs ranks his defense as saving 54.5 runs since he began his career in 2008. B-R has him at 55. According to Fangraphs, that is the fifth highest in baseball during those five seasons. Only Gardner, Guttierrez, Beltre and Utley are ahead of him.

It is that combination of batting (137 OPS+ for his career) and fielding that makes Longoria so important to his team. The Rays will have just as good a shot at the American League East as long as Evan Longoria can stay in the lineup. Because when he is in there, he just might be the most indispensable and important player there is.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 projections for Manny Machado are too conservative

The leap is way too large to consider that the Baltimore Orioles went 33-18 once Manny Machado made the leap to the Major Leagues at the age of twenty last season. One player doesn't a .647 winning percentage down that stretch make. But it makes for a nice theory. After all, the third base position went from the worst fielding position in the majors to a savings of four and a half to seven runs (depending on the site) over the last 51 games.

I don't really know what the Fans Scouting Report is on Facebook player pages. But I do know that  I love what I see there. I normally see ratings in the 60s for most players in at least a few of the categories rated there. But not for Manny Machado. His scores showed a 73 for instincts, a 72 for first step, a 62 for speed (okay, he's not fast), a 73 for hands, a 78 for the quickness of his release, an 86 for arm strength and a 72 for accuracy. Sure, Adrian Beltre beats him in all those categories (except the speed thing). But we're talking a really good third baseman here.

And yet the projections all give him anywhere for his defense from 2.3 to 7 runs above average for his fielding in 2013. Will he really flatten out that much over the course of a full season? I really don't think so. I think what you are going to see is ten runs above average making the combination of he and Hardy one of the best left sides of an infield in baseball.

The projections for his offense are even more conservative. For example, Machado finished with a .183 ISO for his 51 games in 2012. And this was for a kid that went from Double-A to the majors at a young age. The highest ISO projection has him at .173. Most have him in the .150s to .160s. I don't see it. His home run to fly ball percentage was 11.7 percent and that is a pretty healthy rate. Combine that with an unusually low line drive percentage south of 14% in 2012 and it would seem that his line drive percentage will go up leading to more doubles and triples and if his home run production stays the same, that should organically mean an ISO of at least what he did last season. I believe it will be higher.

Machado did not exactly set the world on fire with his offense in his 51 games. His triple slash line was .262/.294/.445. Yeah, that's not setting cannons off or anything. But he was twenty years old! His OPS was .739. The projections for his 2013 set his range from .698 to a high of .752. I can't see it. For one thing, his walk percentage of only 4.2% in those 51 games is deceiving compared to his plate discipline numbers. For a young kid, he only swung at 29% of pitches out of the strike zone. And his walk percentage was always at least double that in all of his minor league stops.

I understand that projection systems are by nature conservative and based on numbers plugged into the computer and what the expectation of outcomes spit out based on all factors. And I am not saying that they are all wrong because my eyes tell me that the guy just looks like a great ballplayer.  I just think Manny Machado is going to continue to grow as a major league player. He has a great manager for bringing his talent along. My prediction (I'm not smart enough to project) is that he will improve on his 2012 start to his career and will be a five WAR player in 2013. Those who project for a living go from 1.2 WARP (BP) to a high of 3.7. I think he will top that easily. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Troy Tulowitzki reclaims best shortstop title

The only thing that has kept Troy Tulowitzki from acclaim as baseball's best shortstop has been his propensity to get injured. He only played 47 games in 2012. He won Silver Slugger Awards in 2010 and 2011 as the best hitter for his shortstop position despite missing forty games in 2010 and another 19 in 2011. Despite missing those 59 games in 2010 and 2011, he was still a 6 WAR player. If he can dodge this injury thing in 2013, he has a chance to be the National League MVP. He is that good.

How good is Troy Tulowitzki when he is healthy? How about a career .373 wOBA? How about a career ISO of .212? His career triple slash line of .292/.364/.504 puts him among the best of the game, never mine his position.

He is a very patient hitter who also does not swing and miss very often. He has a 6.4% swing and miss rate for his career, but that figure has been under five for the past two seasons. He waits for a pitch he likes better than most too as his swing percentage is also among the lowest at 43.6%. He will walk between nine and ten percent of the time and only strikes out 15.7% for his career. He only struck out 9.4% of the time in his brief 2012.

His home runs per fly ball have always been in double digits for a percentage. The only flaws in his offensive game is that he hits as surprisingly high percentage of pop flies to the infield (13.4% for his career) and hits slightly more ground balls than fly balls. Well...and yeah, the injury thing.

Combine Troy Tulowitzki's offensive prowess as a shortstop with his fielding and you get a superstar. Well...that is until you get to 2012 where he was rated slightly below average in the field. That was probably a one year blip because his defensive metrics have always been excellent. It seems certain that if Tulowitzki had been able to stay healthy for the full season, he would have pulled the defensive metrics back where they usually are.

Of course, Tulowitzki will always get a bit of stink eye because he plays his home games at Coors Field. And sure, his career OPS at home is nearly a hundred points higher than his road OPS. But his road OPS is still .812 and that is pretty darned good.

Despite the fact that it has seemed like Troy Tulowitzki has been around for a long time, He is heading only into his Age 28 season, so he is just reaching his prime as a player.

Because of his injury past, it seems that projections for 2013 are conservative for him. Here are some of them with the biggest ones on top:

  • Bill James - .298/.372/.522 with 28 homers
  • Baseball Prospectus - .292/.370/.524 with 28 homers
  • Steamer - .300/.374/.540 with 23 homers
  • ZiPS - .294/.365/.535 with 23 homers

Only Bill James and Baseball Prospectus expect him to get a full playing season in. The rest have him missing games and that is fair considering his history.

But if Tulowitzki plays 155 games, he will hit over .300, hit over 30 homers and will be an MVP candidate with his combination of batting, position and fielding skills. Those projections that predict WAR give him a range of 5.5 to 6 as a projection for 2013. If he stays healthy, I don't see why that can't be pushed up to seven or seven and a half.

Troy Tulowitzki is one of the most talented players in baseball. Unfortunately, injuries have robbed us of far too much of his playing time. It would be great if he can play 155 times this season. Well...if would be great unless you were an opposing pitcher.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Coming to grips with antipathy for Jered Weaver

I need to deal with this intense dislike I have for Jered Weaver. I have not had this kind of dislike for a player since the earlier days of Chipper of the Braves and before that, Yaz of the Red Sox. The latter two I came to appreciate as--in the end--their body of work was worthy of respect and admiration. But I'm not there yet with Weaver and it is time to deal with it because he is one of the better pitchers of his generation.

Why do I dislike Weaver so intensely? Is there ever really a rhyme or reason for such feelings? It just is. Oh, I can say it is because of the way his temper boils over from time to time and has created scenes of anarchy. But I loved Clemens and he did that too. I can say it is his body language that seems to flip the bird at the world with everything he does. But so did Pedro when he was on the mound and I liked him. Maybe he suffers from memories of his brother, Jeff, who still fills my mind with nightmares.

No, there is no rational reason for hating Jered Weaver. It's just a thing that exists and looks for justification. It does not allow for a rational discourse of his pitching ability and performances. I cannot write about him fairly or with any kind of objectivity. How can I pull that off when I simply hate the guy?

But then there is his record. Since he began his career as a starter with the Angels in 2006, he has won 66.2 percent of his starts. His career ERA of 3.24 has been under 3.00 in each of the last two seasons. Those two seasons saw him go 38-13. Those are clearly some really impressive numbers.

And the way those numbers have been accumulated have been nearly as impressive. He is not a fireballing pitcher with a 95 MPH heater. He is not a ground ball savant. In fact, his ground ball to fly ball ratio of 0.70 for his career is among the lowest of his peers. And yet, only eight percent of those fly balls go over the fence and the last two seasons, his BABIPs have been insane at .250 and .241 respectively. In fact, his BABIP against has been an astounding .270 for his career. So clearly he induces a lot of useless contact.

Weaver's WHIP the last three seasons have been 1.074, 1.010 and 1.018 respectively. That is pretty darned impressive. He has improved his walk rate to only 2.1 per nine innings the last two seasons and his career strikeout to walk ratio is 3.17. All of those numbers are terrific.

Weaver has made at least 30 starts for five straight seasons, making him extremely durable despite being slight of stature with a violent throwing motion. He has earned respect for the way he has pitched no matter how much I dislike the guy.

Putting all feelings aside, there is a bit of a concern at how long he can stay as effective as he has been. His velocity has dipped a mile per hour in each of his last two seasons. You would think that violent, all-or-nothing pitching motion would catch up to him eventually. His long-term contract with the Angels seemed questionable at the time and still does due to these concerns.

But what will be will be and for right now, Jered Weaver has been a premier pitcher since he arrived on the scene for the Angels. His record speaks for itself. I acknowledge that I cannot get over my dislike for the guy. But at least admitting to how good he is will exonerate me just a little bit.

Pedro Florimon - not a star, but an improvement

The Minnesota Twins have admitted the mistakes of the past when it came to their middle infielders. One official is quoted by MLB Reports as admitting the mistake of sending away J.J. Hardy and the fiasco caused by Nishioka and Casilla. Admitting your problems is the first half of the battle, so they say. And it should be noted that the Twins' current options will not hit anywhere near where Hardy can hit. But at least for the time being, they have Pedro Florimon Jr., who can certainly field his position.

There is much to like about Florimon at short. In each of his last two seasons in the minors, he had over 350 assists in less than 125 games. And then last year with the Twins, he had 125 assists in just 42 starts. So he can go get it. In fact, in those 42 starts, he made 29 plays considered out of range.

Florimon has a great first step, lots of speed, good instincts and good strength in his throwing arm. Five of his seven errors were fielding errors and only two were throwing errors, so it's not like he is going to throw the ball all over the place. He is someone who can man the position for the first time since Hardy. His fielding will make people in Minnesota get some of the bad taste out of their mouths from Nishioka, Casilla and even Dozier.

The problem with Florimon is that there isn't much hope for him at the plate. He showed decent patience, swinging at only 44% of the pitches he saw and kept his O-swing below 30%. Those numbers did not translate into many walks. His walk rate was 6.7%. If he can get that up to over 8% like he did in his minor league career, that would be much better.

Florimon's BABIP was well below average at .274 in his 150 plate appearances. And part of that is that he hit grounders at a Jeter-inspiring rate of 2.65 for every fly ball he hit. If he is a slap and dash kind of hitter, he will always be somewhat limited by whatever his BABIP is. He has no appreciable power.

So, no, Pedro Florimon Jr. is not going to hit and be a star with the stick. But if he can field his position like I think he will, Florimon is going to be a huge improvement over the past two futile seasons.