Friday, November 14, 2014

The 2014 Kyle Davies Award

The CYA were just announced the other day and that is the good news side of the coin. But for every Yin there is a Yang. The CYA celebrate the best pitchers of 2014. This award celebrates the worst. Call that negative if you want and it probably is. But, ultimately, baseball is about failure. All baseball players fail. The best batters fail 60% of the time. The best pitchers fail at least 40% of the time. Some fail more spectacularly than others. That's where I come in.
First, why Kyle Davies? Well...just ask a Royals fan next time you find one. I don't want to beat up Mr. Davies because he's probably a great guy and is still toiling in the minors trying to work his way back to MLB. As such, I root for him. But I had to have a symbol of what I am shooting for and Mr. Davies qualifies as such.
My method for compiling this list starts with rWAR. I have a preference for the way calculates pitching WAR over the way does. This is strictly personal. But I did not want to rely solely on rWAR. But it was a starting point. I did a search for all starting pitchers with 22 or more starts with a negative rWAR. That rWAR was turned into points. If a pitcher finished with an rWAR of -2.3, then he got 23 points. If i was -0.9 rWAR, then it was 9 points.
But then I took the bottom five of the following categories: ERA+, OPS+ against, FIP, IP per start, Quality Start percentage, Game Score Average and walks per strikeout. The worst stat in each garnered five points, the next to last, four points and so on down to one point for fifth worst. Then I simply added up all the points and the guy with the most won the award. I will list the best worst five with the highest point totals.
So here we go:
5. Franklin Morales. It's no fun pitching half of your starts at Coors Field. Morales did not have a Rocky Mountain High. Well...he did if you look at his stats. A 5.37 ERA to go along with a 5.42 FIP will help  you rack up the points. His WHIP over 1.6 wasn't pretty either. In the age of the pitcher, Morales did not get the memo.
3 and 4. Clay Buchholz and Kevin Correia. With all the goop Buchholz puts in his hair and on his arms, it's hard to watch the guy pitch. For Red Sox fans, it was even harder. His peripherals were not all that bad, but man, he went from a stud in 2013 to a really poor 2014. Kevin Correia is a pitcher only the Twins could covet.
2. Justin Masterson: For Indian and Cardinal fans, they know all about Masterson's struggles. When a sinkerball pitcher loses his sink, his pitches get whacked like a bad wrestler. For those looking for an example of a trade deadline deal gone bad, just look at Masterson. Never has a pitcher gotten in a fan base's dander faster than Masterson in St. Louis.
1. Our winner! Edwin Jackson! Theo Epstein will never stop hearing about this signing. Jackson has a .298 winning percentage for his two years with the Cubs with a 5.58 ERA. His ERA topped six in 2014 and his WHIP was over 1.6. He had the lowest ERA+ for all pitchers and his -2.3 rWAR is simply indicative of a guy that did not provide Cubs fans with a whole lot to cheer about (except when the manager came to get him).
So there it is, Edwin Jackson is our 2014 Kyle Davies Award winner. I really expected Ricky Nolasco to be on this list.
We have to have a relief pitcher edition. For this, I went just by rWAR. And your top bottom five are:
5. Rex Brothers: Cool name. But perhaps another victim of Coors.
4. Craig Breslow: A hero from the 2013 season tanked in 2014.
3. Ronald Belisario: The Windy City got windier with the catcalls.
2. Ernesto Frieri: His pitching did not fool anyone in 2014. Lost the closing job twice.
1. Our winner! Jim Johnson: His season was legendarily bad for Johnson. From 101 saves for the 2012 and 2013 Orioles, Johnson finished 2014 with a 1.950 WHIP. That's really, really bad.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jack Nabors: the anti-Clayton Kershaw

Last season, when I came up with my first Kyle Davies and Dan Meyer Award winners for 2013, a comment accused me of focusing too much on the negative. It was a fair enough comment since the awards go to the worst players in a particular baseball season. There is just something that fascinates me about players that do not succeed in such a spectacular fashion. The world focuses so much on success, that perhaps I am drawn to the opposite. Poor Jack Nabors pitched for three years in Major League Baseball. He was about as much on the opposite side of success as you can get. He was the anti-Clayton Kershaw.
For example, Nabors, who played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1915 to April of 1917, pitched on the worst teams in MLB history. The team he joined in 1915 were just a season away from losing the 1914 World Series and had won it three times in the four years prior to that. But Connie Mack had a problem. The team was going broke despite the success and the purging of his best players would not be repeated until the Florida Marlins did the same thing after their World Series win. He got rid of everybody.
Thus, when Jack Nabors showed up in 1915, the A's were the fourteenth worst team in baseball history with a 43-109 record. Then Jack Nabors played his only full season in the NaborsMajors in 1916 on THE worst team in baseball history. The 1916 Athletics won only 36 games and had 117 losses. That .235 team winning percentage was the worst ever in the modern era of baseball. Even the 1962 Mets were better.
The 1916 Athletics came in dead last in OPS by the batters and dead last in ERA from the pitching. They also made over 300 errors and came in dead last in fielding percentage. They were a really bad team. Connie Mack's team went 11-32 in one-run games and were blown out in 39 of their games. In the two full months of June and July, the team won five games. Not five games in each month--five games total.
Into this atmosphere walked one Herman Jackson Nabors. Some scout must have found him in an obscure D League called the Georgia - Alabama League that had only begun a couple of years earlier where Jack Nabors was twirling at the age of 27 against much younger players. He was 12-1 for the Talladega Tigers and Newnan Cowetas when Mack paid Newnan $500 to purchase Nabors.
According to, 1915 was Nabors' first minor league year. Research has shown that not to be the case. A guy doesn't usually show up at the age of 27 in the minors. The trouble is, the trail is cold. The 1910 U.S. Census shows Herman Nabors living with his father, James Crow Nabors (I know, right?), a farmer in Montevallo, Alabama. Next to Herman (Jack) was his information including his occupation and that was listed as a baseball pitcher with his employer being listed as the Southern League.
The Southern League wasn't called that back then. It was then called the Southern Association and I looked at the rosters of all the teams in that league from 1909 - 1914 and did not find any pitcher with a name anywhere close to Nabors. Often times, players used aliases so as to get their pay and not have to worry about taxes. It was a very common practice. If you look at many names from any minor league team from that time period and you find no birthplace, no birthdate and a question mark in B-R's database on even the player's name.
Anyway, you can get the idea that from his census record, he was pitching for a living somewhere until he shows up on the 1915 D-League under his own name. In other words, my research could not find him anywhere.
That research fail happens often when looking for Herman Jackson Nabors. We know his birthdate as November 19, 1887 and we know he died on October 29, 1923 at the age of 35. We even have his tombstone shown below.
Nabors ts
But that tombstone leads to another question. He is listed as Sergeant Jack Nabors and that he served in World War 1 and perhaps that led to his early death. But I could not find an enlistment record or any military record for Herman Jackson Nabors or Jack Nabors or Herman Nabors or H.J. Nabors. Tombstones don't lie though.
The Nabors family can trace their roots back to an interesting guy named Abraham Neighbours who settled in Pennsylvania prior to 1690. According to the story, he was a French Huguenot. He was among many who were driven out of his adopted Pennsylvania home by Indians and fled south to Virginia. Virginia was not keen on Huguenots either so he kept going further south. According to research found, the man lived until he was 114 years old and his wife was still alive at 105 and they were married for over 80 years!
One record said that Abraham served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, but that has to be impossible as he would have been in his 90s! That perhaps was his son, Abraham Jr.
Anyway, forgive my little side trip, I get lost in these details. Back to 1915 and Jack Nabors.
Nabors made his MLB debut on August 9, 1915 against the Chicago White Sox at Shibe Park. He pitched a complete game even though he allowed twenty base runners. But only five of his eight runs allowed were earned. He lost the game. He started five days later against the Yankees and got clobbered and did not make it to the end of the fifth inning and lost again.
He didn't pitch again for ten days and then it was in relief and he did not pitch well there either. He was better in his next start against the St. Louis Browns, but he still lost a 5-3 game in a complete game effort. You can see where this is going.
Nabors pitched six more times that season including three more starts. He lost twice more and finished his first season at 0-5. That was just a prelude to 1916, where it would get worse.
To get an indication of how bad the 1916 Athletics were, Jack Nabors was their opening day starter. His mound opponent was another Herman--George Herman "Babe" Ruth. Nabors would pitch four innings without giving up a run. He was relieved by Bullet Joe Bush who gave up two unearned runs and lost the game, 2-1. Babe Ruth got the first of his 23 wins in 1916 and Bush (un)earned his first loss in a 24-loss season. The A's season was off to a resounding thud.
Nabors would lose his next start against the Yankees for his sixth straight MLB loss even though he pitched reasonably well. The final score was 4-2. But then a strange thing happened!
On April 22, 1916, Jack Nabors beat the Boston Red Sox in a complete game gem that his team won, 6-2. Both runs were unearned. His fielders were awful. Jack Nabors was 1-1 for 1916 with a 1.42 ERA! It was the pinnacle of his career. It was all downhill from there.
After that win, Jack Nabors toiled the entire rest of the season and never won another game. In fact, he lost nineteen games in a row, to this day a single season record. But just so you don't think it was all his fault, check out the losses:
7-6, 16-2 (okay, those two were clunkers), 3-1, 4-3, 3-2, 5-0, 6-4, 3-2, 7-3, 7-2, 3-2, 3-0, 9-0, 4-3, 3-1, 2-0, 2-0, 9-1 and 4-1. If I have done my math correctly, his team scored 32 runs in those 19 straight losses, were shut out five times and scored two runs or less in 14 of the 19 losses.
Nabors' final record that season of 1-20 and  with its .048 winning percentage is the single worst winning percentage for any pitcher in a season with more than 20 starts. Nabors 3.47 ERA was not all that bad (82 ERA+) when you consider that 28 of the 110 runs he allowed that season were unearned. He finished eleven of his 30 starts.
Nabors would pitch twice more for the A's in relief in 1917 until he was traded on April 29 to Indianapolis of the American Association along with $5,000 for the 37 year old Cy Falkenberg. That was a heck of a deal for Indianapolis as it was Falkenberg's last year in the Majors.
Nabors would pitch dutifully for the Indians in 1917 and also that same year with the Denver Bears in the Western League. He would go 9-18 for those two clubs so things did not improve much for him. He would pitch three more starts for the Sioux City Indians in 1918 and lost all three before hanging it up for good or until the war came along.
Jack Nabors made 37 starts in the Major Leagues to go with fifteen relief appearances. His overall record of 1-25 complete record sets the standard for all pitchers with at least 20 starts in a career with his .038 winning percentage. Only Joe Harris (1905-1907) and Mike Thompson (1971-1975) come close. Joe Harris had a 3-30 record in his career. He could commiserate.
Nabors had an unfortunate career, but he did pitch in the Major Leagues against the likes of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. He would die way too young, but his spectacular lack of success in Major League Baseball will live on forever.

Monday, November 10, 2014

25 most important people in baseball announced

Graham Womack has long been one of my favorite writers. To me, a great writer makes you think and Womack's projects usually do just that. A while back, he created a poll to consider the 25 most important people in baseball history. He included a ballot online which anyone was able to go and vote. While this led to 262 votes, it's possible that a percentage of those who voted would not have the perspective to view baseball history as a whole. No matter. There were enough voting who did. I participated and I'll let you decide where in that category I fit!
What it got correct
The list began with Babe Ruth at Number One and Jackie Robinson at Number Two. I think that's just perfect and as it should be. The list also included Branch Rickey, Marvin Miller, Hank Aaron, Dr. Frank Jobe, writer Harry Chadwick and others deserving recognition to be there.
Where it erred
In my judgement, Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy did not belong on the list. Cy Young has long been overstated. I thought Ted Williams and Willie Mays were too high on the list. The top 25 did not include pioneer owners that opened up the West Coast, other owners such as Ted Turner and George Steinbrenner who brought huge money into the game via connection to cable television and bravado. I also think that Hideo Nomo is overlooked because he opened the door for the flood of Japanese players that began to stream onto this continent to play. Once again, Larry Doby is overlooked.
But the project was indeed useful and fruitful and thought provoking. So Graham Womack succeeded greatly in promoting, implementing and then writing about the idea and results. It's well worth the read and the time. I highly recommend you check it out.