Thursday, April 30, 2009

Random Thursday: Ben Harris

At 3:30 this afternoon, The Common Man received a call from The Boy's daycare asking me to come and pick him up. It seems that purveyors of childcare do not want two-and-a-half year olds with a 102.7 fever around their other kids, no matter how full of good humor they may be. So The Common Man packed up his stuff, picked up The Uncommon Wife, and drove to get his virus-addled progeny. Now, The Common Man isn't stupid enough to think that his boy has the pandemic-that's-not-really-a-pandemic that's not sweeping our country. However, a fever of almost 103 is nothing to, ahem, sneeze at, and so The Common Man is naturally concerned.

So much so that he almost forgot to write tonight, though The Boy has been asleep since 8:30 or so.

But perhaps that's fitting, since the baseball community has largely forgotten about the Federal League, the subject of this weeks' offering to the Janus, the Roman god of chaos and randomness. Actually, that's not entirely accurate, fortune's wheel landed on Ben Harris this week, a disappointing reliever for the Kansas City Packers of the FL in 1914 and 1915. But The Common Man had trouble finding, really, anything of value to say about Harris, whose 7-7 record hid an ugly 4.09 ERA, 25% worse than the league average, and the mediocre club for which he played.

The Federal League declared itself a rival to the major league system in 1914, when it refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Big Leagues' reserve clauses and attempted to sign away many of the Majors' biggest stars. And indeed, in many respects, the Federal League succeeded in its goals. Big names bolted from its rival. Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Three Finger Brown, Joe Tinker, Ed Konetchy and more jumped to the new league. They smartly stayed away from the MLB's traditional power base in the Northeast (especially in the first season), only going head-to-head with the Majors in cities that could potentially support another team: St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and Chicago. The rest of the league was spread out around the West, in old, abandoned American Association and 19th Century NL towns (Indianapolis, Kansas City, Baltimore, and Buffalo).

Bill James, in his New Historical Baseball Abstract, writes, "The Federal League was a well-organized, well-financed, well-thought-out effort to construct a new league. I am inclined to believe that, had the Federal League been born at any other time, it might have well have [sic] become established." In particular, the league had to deal with overall uncertainty over brewing war in Europe, and baseball was suffering the effects of consumer uncertainty then just as it may be now.

In addition, the Federal League, like any third league, created inherent challenges for itself. It caused huge salary increases across the leagues, and down into the minor leagues as well. James argues that "the salaries forced Jack Dunn, owner/manager of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, to put his 19-year-old star pitcher, Babe Ruth, up for sale (otherwise Ruth would have spent several years, perhaps even a decade in Baltimore). What's more, subsequent research has made it clear that the Federal League's quality of play was incredibly low for a major league. Marginal major league talents, and past-their-prime pickups like Three Finger Brown thrived in the new league, dominating their inexperienced and untalented competition. What league organizers wanted, like the Players' League wanted in 1889, was to get the biggest stars from the majors. Instead, the leagues held onto the best of the best, letting 30-something veterans like Plank and Bender try for one last big payday in the FL.

And so, when the Major Leagues offered to buy out the FL owners to get rid of this new nuisance, Federal League owners didn't have a promising enough outlook to rebuff the offer. Instead, strong owners in Chicago and St. Louis were allowed to buy the Cubs and Browns respectively and the rest (save the Baltimore Terrapins owner, who refused to settle without being given a Major League team to operate from Baltimore) were bought out and their players distributed.

The Federal League, 95 years later, has left us with two enduring legacies. The first, thankfully, is Wrigley Field. Initially built to house the Chicago Whales, owner Charles Weeghman moved his new Cubs team into the stadium after being allowed to purchase it. Weeghman only owned the team for five years before it was sold to the good people of the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company.

The second legacy is much more of a mixed bag and stems from the anti-trust lawsuit filed by the Terrapins owner in 1916. Eventually, the case ended up before the Supreme Court in 1922, when the Court ruled that baseball was not considered Interstate Commerce, and in essence condoned the league's monopoly status, and has been used by Major League Baseball resist inquiry and interference, and baseball has jealously guarded its status ever since.

For further reading, check out Roberth Peyton Figgins' new book, The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs: The History of an Outlaw Major League, 1914-1915, or the late John Brittain's excellent article in the 2007 Hardball Times Annual that's around here somewhere but The Common Man can't find it for the life of him.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not Crazy About Cuddyer

Longtime friend of the blog Bill, on his strong new blog The Daily Something, does a pretty nifty job of parsing out the Twins outfield/DH logjam.

For The Common Man’s money (of which there is precious little), the best alignments in the near future involve Denard Span/Carlos Gomez/Michael Cuddyer/Jason Kubel vs. RHP and Span/Gomez/Cuddyer/Joe Mauer vs. LHP with Mike Redmond or Jose Morales behind the plate. This would allow Mauer to rest his back until he proves he’s durable enough to be behind the plate every day. Delmon Young should be back in the minors learning either a) how to keep from hitting grounder after grounder to shortstop, b) how to play in the outfield, c) how to convey that he’s making a least a modicum of effort, or, ideally, d) all three.

Anyway, in the course of his examination, Bill throws out that Cuddyer “hits righties well enough to justify playing every day for most clubs.” It’s an argument The Common Man has heard time and again with the Twins, that they have five everyday outfielders, all of whom deserve to start and who could, in all probability, start elsewhere. In particular, a lot of Twins fans were hoping Cuddyer, the oldest and most expensive of the quintet, would have been dealt to start elsewhere. But is Cuddyer really that valuable? How many teams could actually use him?

Michael Cuddyer wasn’t healthy last year, so that’s a bad season on which to judge. That said, his career has contained exactly one year of very good hitting, 2007, when he hit .284/.362/.504 and had an OPS+ of 124. Other than that, he’s almost exactly an average hitter in his career. And since moving to RF, he’s been about five runs below average a year on defense. He has value, sure, but not as much as you’d think, given how Twins fans have built him up over the past three years.

So who might be interested in a slightly used Cuddyer? Could most clubs actually use an average hitter (not an average corner OF bat) to play a corner or DH spot? What if he makes $8 million a year? The answer, unsurprisingly is “no.” Here’s the breakdown, team by team:

AL East
Blue Jays

Adam Lind, Alexis Rios, and Travis Snider are just fine, thank you.

OriolesLF Felix Pie
Yeah, Cuddyer’s a better option than Pie at this point, and likely always will be. But I like Pie; he’s young and cheap and still has room to grow. A slight nod to Cuddyer here, though his contract makes it close.

The Rays have a plethora of corner men, and are unlikely to make use of Cuddyer.

Red Sox
No thanks, the Sox will stick with Jason Bay and JD Drew

The only way Cuddyer makes sense is if Damon moves back to center, weakening the Yankee defense further. And I don’tsee that happening, do you?

AL Central

The Indians could probably use Cuddyer, as LF Ben Francisco seems more like a tweener bat in a bopper’s position. Then again, Matt LaPorta may be ready any day.

If he’s healthy and has his head on straight, RF Jose Guillen is a better bet than Cuddyer. Even for the money, I might rather have Guillen for $12 million than Cuddyer for $8 million (but probably not). In any case, the Royals aren’t about to add to their payroll commitments.

LF Carlos Guillen, DH Marcus Thames
Carlos Guillen has been an adventure in LF, and Marcus Thames is no one’s idea of a good hitter, so maybe a Cuddyer in LF and Guillen at DH would make sense for a team that isn’t shy about handing out money to risky players (see Willis, Dontrelle), especially since it would save Guillen some wear and tear.

White Sox
Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye, and Jim Thome aren’t going anywhere.

AL West

DH Juan Rivera-Like Cuddyer, Rivera was last really productive in 2006. A lot really depends on whether or not Rivera is healthy, and his current 309/345/418 line suggests that he is. At $3.25 million, he’s cheaper than Cuddyer, and probably more valuable.

RF Travis Buck
Buck probably would be a better option against RHP, but Cuddyer is clearly a better overall hitter.

LF Endy Chavez, DH Ken Griffey Jr.
Chavez may be off to a hot start, but he’s way over his head. There’s no way he maintains a .400 OBP. And Griffey has looked done for most of the season. Wladamir Balentien should probably be manning one of the spots, but Cuddyer would be an upgrade at the other.

Even with Josh Hamilton going down, Texas has an abundance of outfielders.

NL East

LF Garret Anderson, RF Jeff Francoeur
Anderson’s on the DL and Francoeur is what he is, an out machine with some power. I’d take Cuddyer any day.
Price plays a huge role here. Cuddyer wouldn’t supplant either Hermida or Cody Ross.

LF David Murphy/Fernando Tatis
For all their spending, the Mets could definitely use a LF. Murphy and Tatis are adequate offensively, but have made their pitchers miserable with their creative interpretation of Left Field.

The Nats sure do suck. And perhaps they could use Cuddyer. But with one outfielder (Lastings Milledge) banished to the minors, and another (Elijah Dukes) seemingly indifferent to everything and everyone, the Nationals are inundated with corner OFers who should already be playing.

Signing Raul Ibanez was probably a mistake, but he’s still a better option than Cuddyer.

NL Central

Cuddyer can’t match the youth, potential, and affordability of Hunter Pence, or the offensive production of Carlos Lee.

Corey Hart and Ryan Braun are both younger and better.

Colby Rasmus is the future, and Ryan Ludwick seems to be for real. Rick Ankiel has great power and more upside than Cuddy, and Chris Duncan is far cheaper.

Despite the slow start, Milton Bradley is still a better player than Cuddyer. And so is Alfonso Soriano.

RF Brandon Moss
OK, you got me.

LF Chris Dickerson

NL West

Upton and Jackson are too young and talented to be supplanted by Cuddyer.

Manny is twice the hitter Cuddyer is, and Andre Ethier already swings a better bat and still has room for improvement.

Randy Winn is older than Cuddyer, and has less power, but he’s also got a lot more speed, has good range, and gets on base at a better clip.

Money’s tight in San Diego, and they aren’t moving Brian Giles out to bring in Cuddy.

Brad Hawpe is pretty much a statue in RF, but his offense far outstrips Cuddyer and he’s cheaper.

So, for those of you keeping track, The Common Man counts eight teams (Reds, Pirates, Mets, Braves, Mariners, A’s, Orioles, and Tigers) for whom Cuddyer could step in, with his contract and his performance, and be an asset over what is currently in house. There’s one maybe in the group, the Indians, though that depends on how they proceed with LaPorta. That’s less than a third of the teams in the league. That's not to say, mind you, that Cuddyer isn't valuable. In fact, he is a deserving starter on the Twins, and probably their 5th best hitter. And if Cuddyer continues to flail away in 2009 (currently .216/.298/.311), he's going to play his way out of a job, and eventually The Common Man and other Twins fans are going to have to put up with another season of Delmon Young’s adventures in the outfield. I’m not sure there’s a more depressing thought in all of baseball.

Back tomorrow with some Federal League randomness.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Winning Ugly

The Common Man watched the Twins get bullied around by the Rays' Jeff Niemann, who seems to have cornered the market on ugly this year. Indeed, The Common Man wants to go so far as to call Niemann the ugliest player in the game today. He's no Don Mossi, mind you, but at 6'9", Niemann already just appears huge. Every part of him seems just slightly stretched out, including his face. His face seems to have been pulled, like very pale taffy (dude, you pitch in Tampa, get a freaking tan), becoming overly thin and long. And it's bumpy, like bread dough left unrolled and unshaped on the kitchen counter. His nose is almost a perfect triangle, jutting down from the middle of his forehead and hanging over his upper lip as though it were the old RF upper deck in Tiger Stadium. He is, by far, the gawkiest looking player in the game today, and The Common Man defies you to find uglier in the game today (in fact, he'd love it if you did).

After all, the ugly players from each decade were always The Common Man's favorite part of the Bill James Historical Abstracts. James (and his research assistants) combed through thousands of photos to find the ugliest of the ugly. Some of his favorites:

Grasshopper Jim Whitney was a decent starter at the dawn of the National League, finishing 191-204, but also displaying a lot of ability with the bat. James quotes a reporter who wrote that Whitney had "a head about the size of a wart with thge forehead slanting at an angle of 45 degrees."

Pete Vuckovich won the AL Cy Young in 1981 in the fourth year of a five year run of pretty goodness, which culminated (1982) in the Brewers' only trip to the World Series. And he managed to do all that while hiding his apparent Romulan Origins.

Fred Tenney played 17 years for the Boston Beaneaters/Doves and the New York Giants, and was the regular first baseman for the Giants in 1908 when Fred Merkle forgot to touch second base. The Common Man has plans to read Cait Murphy's Crazy '08, but is afraid he'll have to look at more pictures of Tenney's sketchy accountant mustache and haircut. If the 1908 season ever gets made into a movie, who plays Tenney? Is Steve Buscemi a given?

But The Common Man's favorite ugly player, by far, is Joe Martina, a minor league star who spent 1924 and won a World Series with the Senators, who must have sent him down because they couldn't bear to look at him anymore. This withered, smiling hobgoblin you see above was just 34 years old, and would (inexplicably) live another 28 years. How is this possible when he was clearly suffering from the advanced stages of "oh my God, is that a corpse?" in the mid-1920s?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Weekend of Learning

This weekend was basically cancelled by extreme raininess, so The Common Man stayed inside, watched Twins games, caught random innings of other contests, thoroughly enjoyed watching Wall-E (perhaps the single sweetest movie of all time) with The Uncommon Wife and The Boy. Even stuck inside, The Common Man learned a lot:

- Whoever writes headlines for is either an idiot or has a hell of a sense of humor. The Common Man was mortified to read, on the MLB front page, that "Joe Mauer goes to rehab," until he clicked through to be reminded that Man Muscles had started his rehab assignment in Fort Myers.

- Speaking of ESPN, The Common Man didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the Vikings selected Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin (who failed a drug test at the NFL Combine) in the first round, and one commentator broke down the selection saying, "On the field...Harvin will have one-on-one opportunities. The off the field becomes, can the lockerroom handle that. Is there enough leadership there to say, 'a) don't ever fail a drug test that you know is coming...'" Just so we're's still ok to fail the drug tests you don't know are coming, right?

- Last week, the Twins got swept in a doubleheader in Boston, getting drubbed in both games. It should come as no surprise that the Twins play fewer doubleheaders than most teams in the league; after all, they spend half their time in the Dome. But despite their indoor digs, the Twins have played a surprising number of twinbills at home since the stadium opened in 1982. In total, 9 double headers have been played at the dome, and the Twins have gone 10-8 overall.

The first doubledip was on August 1, 1983, in which the Twins earned a split against the then-California Angels. Mike Witt gave up 6 runs but still got a complete game in the opener, easily beating Brad Havens, who went 2 innings and gave up five runs in his final game of the season (in which he'd gone 5-8 with an 8.18 ERA). In the nightcap, Rick Lysander threw a shutout for the Twins, who touched up Angels rookie Steve Brown for 5 runs in 4+ innings.

After a three year absence, the Twins played three such doubleheaders in 20 days, on August 12, 14, and 31. Both the 12th and the 14th were part of a strange five-game series with the Oakland A's, which lasted just three days. On the 12th, the Twins swept the A's behind Bert Blyleven's complete game and Mark Salas's two-run homer in the first contest, and Tom Brunansky's 8th inning game-winning solo homer in the second. On the 14th, the Twins dropped both games, first to a combined Don Sutton and Steve Ontiveros shutout, and then in Mark Portugal's major league debut. On the 31st, the Twins swept the Red Sox, again behind Blyleven's complete game (and a 9th inning comeback capped by Ron Washington's game-winning single). In the second game, Portugal pitched his second game of the year, going 5.1 innings before giving way to Pete Filson and Ron Davis (who, as always, made life interesting by giving up a two-run homer in the 9th to cut the lead to one).

The reasons for all these doubleheaders are unclear. Perhaps it's weather-related (seriously, a violent storm could prevent a visitor from flying in to the cities or a tornado warning (a majority of these series seem to take place in late-summer) could have forced the cancellation of a contest. Or perhaps there was some malfunction with the Dome itself, like a loss of internal air pressure (the Dome is held up by an artificially high pressure that pops your ears when you enter the stadium and that can literally blow you out if the doors are opened). Whatever the reason, the Oakland A's seem to have something to do with it. Of the nine doubleheaders, the Twins played the Athletics in five of them, twice in '85, once each in 1990, and 1996, and 2001. In these contests, the Twins and A's have split, each going 5-5.

In the most recent contest, the Twins and Royals split the twinbill. The Royals touched Matt Garza for 8 runs in 5 innings in the opener, but Scott Baker dominated in the nightcap, throwing 8 perfect innings before walking John Buck to lead off the 9th. Two batters later, pinch hitter (and Twin-killer) Mike Sweeney singled and Baker finished with a one-hit shutout, having faced just 29 hitters, and striking out 9.

So, The Common Man doesn't know what to make of all this. It's just a weird anomoly that seems to come up every few years in the Metrodome (though that will change next year, when the Twins will undoubtedly have to play two a lot more often). I mean, did the Astrodome have this problem???

- Fantasy owners who have started Joaquim Soria for the past week-and-a-half probably have cause for legal action against Trey Hillman. Seriously Trey, throw the nerds a bone here.

- Jacoby Ellsbury is awesome!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Random (still) Thursday: June 19, 1990, Houston vs. LA

Tonight, The Common Man almost violated his sacred vow, even though it's not even a week old. But it is still Thursday dammit, and opine he will about random baseball-ness. After work, The Common Man went out with colleagues, his first post-work bash, and almost slipped away into drunken anonymity. But he didn't. He stuck it out. He came back.

Indeed, The Common Man could have slipped away, conveniently forgetting about his writing obligations and becoming a blip in the memory...much like this week's foray into random's extensive library. For whatever reason, this week The Common Man was shuttled to a June 19, 1990 contest between the Astros and the Dodgers, where former Icon Fernando Valenzuela outdueled an almost-done Mike Scott.

Indeed, the game itself has essentially been lost to history. Nobody cares about a random contest in 1990 between two also-rans. Let's see, interesting notes from the boxscore... Eric Yelding was still batting leadoff and playing short for the 'Stros, and Craig Biggio was still catching (and batting 3rd and stealing two bases!). Glenn Wilson (ugh) was the cleanup hitter. The Dodgers' lineup was pretty non-descript, except that Tim Crews (who would later die in a boating accident with Steve Olin (who also perished) and Bobby Ojeda) pitched an inning of scoreless relief.

But really, the game mostly is remarkable for its pithcers, two icons of the 1980s, both of whom were in their last run of success with their clubs. Scott had been a 2nd round draft choice of the Mets in 1976, and debuted with the club in '79. After a few seasons of mixed results, Scott was sent to the Astros for 4th outfielder Danny Heep. In Houston, Scott would perfect his split-finger fastball and, between 1985 and 1989, become one of the great pitchers in the National League. He won 86 games in those 5 seasons, peaking in 1986 with an 18-10 record and a 2.22 ERA in more than 275 IP. He also struck out 306 batters that year. But injuries took their toll. By 1990, Scott was a league average pitcher, posting a 9-13 record with a 98 ERA+, and in 1991 he threw his final two games before retiring.

Valenzuela, of course, was not just an icon but a phenomenon when he burston the scene with the Dodgers in 1981 (though he debuted in 1980). Fernando-mania has been well documented, but only really lasted until 1986. By 1987, Fernando too had become a league average starter, worn down from overuse and injuries. In 1990, Fernando was barely hanging on, suffering through his second below-average season in three. Following the season, he was released by the Dodgers and signed with the Angels, for whom he pitched two games. Afte a stint in the minors, unlike Scott, Fernando managed to work his way back, winning 13 games for the Padres in 1996, but was never the same pitcher as he was in the early 80s.

Scott and Fernando were linked in many ways, aside from this random game in 1990, toward the end of their effectiveness. Both were known, essentially, for one dominant pitch. Scott had his splitter, which he learned in 1984 from Roger Craig (according to Bill James and Rob Neyer's Guide to Pitchers. The book goes on to say that, "Immediately, he became one of the better pitchers in the league.
During the successful part of Scott’s career, and particularly in 1986, everybody who faced Scott was convinced that his best pitch was, rather than a Splitter, an illegal pitch that achieved by scuffing the ball. The Mets were especially adamant about this, but Scott was never caught in the act." Indeed, replays show that Scott was damn near unhittable through those years, and the break on his splitter was incredible, perhaps unnaturally so.

Valenzuela's screwball, meanwhile, was a pitch that become legendary for its own natural goodness. Diving down and away from right-handed batters, the pitch made Fernando tougher on them than he was on lefties (who, frankly, he was also pretty good against). Fernando apparently learned the pitch from Bobby Castillo in the late 70s in the Dodgers' system, but ended up having much more success with it than his greatly mustachioed colleague. But the screwball wears down an arm, and only extensive rest and recuperation would put life back into Fernando's left arm.

The two were also linked by their performances in 1990 and 1991. Suffering from disappointing seasons in 1990, both stuck out just two performances in '91 before being shown the door. Scott's exit was permanent, and Valenzuela was finished as an effective pitcher for five or six years before his Padres comeback.

In the game in question, Valenzuela outdueled Scott, going seven strong innings and striking out 7. His only mistake came in the 7th, when he allowed a homer to light-hitting Casey Candaele. Scott gave up five runs in six innings, but didn't pitch poorly. In the fourth inning, two errors and a fielders choice (on which no out was recorded) were bunched together, and four unearned runs came home. Then again, it's not clear he pitched well, as Scott allowed a homer to Eddie Murray in the 5th and only struck out one in the game, perhaps a sign that his shoulder would never be right again. Unlike The Common Man, who, despite a headache tomorrow morning, will be right as rain by noon and three Diet Cokes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not Keepers

Break up the band! The streak is over!

No, seriously...

Everyone is so bent out of shape over the Marlins' hot start. Indeed, so hot has Florida been that has named them the #1 team in baseball in their Power Rankings. Well, The Common Man is not fooled. Before the season started, The Common Man had them pegged as a .500 squad, and this streak they've been on (until last night, when they were squelched 8-0 by the intimidating arm of Ross Ohlendorf (and his career 5.96 ERA).

Sure, as his good friend Bill has pointed out, they've earned their success (though Bill puts the kabosh on that pretty fast. They lead the National League in scoring, and are third in runs allowed, per game. The much bally-hooed (and completely unsustainable) start by Emilio Bonafacio (.321/.345/.434), the resurgence of Jeremy Hermida (.300/.451/.600), the rise of C John Baker (.333/.421/.545), and the hot start of Jorge Cantu (.368/.442/.605)are driving the engine, while the bullpen has shined in supporting what has mostly been a good 4 man rotation thusfar.

But come on, Marlin fans. Can you really put any faith in a team that lost to Livan Hernandez? That couldn't figure out Ross Ohlendorf? That has bolstered their record by beating Washington six times? Is that really an accomplishment? At this point, it's like beating up Milhouse after he thinks his parents have died. They've lost all hope, are numb, and welcome the beating so that maybe, just maybe, they will feel something.

At this point, The Common Man is forced to admit that it's likely the Fish will end up above .500. Their rotation is fairly solid, and perhaps they have found a decent mix of retreads in their bullpen (which the aforementioned Nationals are drooling over). Hermida's probably a good player, and Uggla is going to get better, as will Cameron Maybin (he has to, or he'll be replaced by someone who is). And Hanley Ramirez has yet to get on track. But every other hitter is likely to regress severely and the Fish will eventually be forced soon to give Andrew Miller his turn every fifth day (and as they have found out for the last year or so, that's bound to get ugly). And by the end of the season, that #1 finish after week two is going to look awfully silly (especially after Uggla and Cantu are unloaded at midseason).

Then again, maybe The Common Man won't complain. It beats the hell out of everyone talking Yankees and Red Sox.

Seeking Second Cys

Lar, at Wezen-ball, had an interesting exercise going today, looking to find seasons where hall of famers swept the major post-season awards. Lar identified three seasons, all pre-1967 (which is when the writers began awarding the Cy Young in each league), where three Hall of Famers dominated the categories. But that didn't seem fair. After all, the writers only had hit on three awards those years, rather than the four from '67 on. The Common Man was responding on this topic in the comments section of Lar's piece, extrapolating on his idea, and wouldn't you know, it turned into a post in its own right:

I like this exercise a lot, Lar. Going back to your data, I looked at those '57, '59, and '66 seasons where HOFers swept the awards, and thought about awarding a second Cy Young and seeing what would happen.

1957: I gotta think the AL award goes to Jim Bunning, who led the league in IP, tied for the lead in Wins, 2nd in strikeouts, and 3rd in ERA in his first big season. That would give you a clean sweep.

1959: This year probably comes down to one of three guys in the NL. Warren Spahn led the league in IP (292), tied for the lead in wins, and finished 3rd in ERA. But Sad Sam Jones also pitched 270 innings that year, winning the same number, and won the ERA crown outright while finishing 2nd in strikeouts. Finally, Elroy Face won 18 games out of the bullpen, against just 1 loss, and finished 7th in the MVP race. So it's not clear that you'd get a sweep there.

1966: This is, by far, the most interesting (to me anyway), as the AL winner almost certainly would have been Jimmie Kaat of the Twins. Kittie threw 304 innings in 41 starts that year (both led the league), and won 25 games (five more than runner-up Denny McLain). He also was 6th in the AL in ERA. Gary Peters, of the White Sox, finished with an ERA under 2.00, but only won 12 games and pitched a third fewer innings. On its surface, this doesn't seem to get you your sweep; but I've got to wonder if having a Cy Young award in his cabinet would have put Kaat over the top with the voters.

Thoughts? Feel free to vote in the poll at the right.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Random Thursday: 1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings

This vow is what you get from The Common Man: No matter how crazy things get, we will always have Thursdays. The Common Man likes Thursdays and never really know what he's going to talk about from week to week. So that sticks around. The Common Man will do what he can with the rest. In the meantime, you should definitely be checking out friend of the blog, frequent commenter, occasional guest poster, and all-around-good-guy Bill, who has started his own site, The Daily Something. In particular, The Common Man recommends you find out why Jackie Robinson = The Pledge of Allegiance.

Lady Luck suspiciously landed on another 19th century team this week, perhaps her way of telling The Common Man he needs to finally finish Bryan Di Salvatore's vivid and excellent biography of John Montgomery Ward and get a review up. Anyway, this week's randomness crash-landed on the 1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings of the oft-forgotten American Association. 1882 marked the first season for the appropriately-acronymed AA (as it was considered the "beer and whiskey league" since the National League was prudishly dry), and the Reds were the class of it. Cincy won the league crown going away, with a 55-25 record and an 11.5 game lead over the second place Philadelphia team by the end of it. The Cincinnati squad was comprised of leftover players from the National League's Cincinnati Reds (who had folded in 1880), as well as a few players who jumped directly from the NL (most notably Pop Snyder). They also came up with second baseman Bid McPhee, who was a 22 year old rookie to Major League ball, and who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career.

The American Association itself was formed by owners who were rebuffed by William Hulbert and his powerful and insular National League, owners who wanted a taste of the big league life and noticed plenty of cities where the NL was absent. Indeed, the National League, in 1882, was ensconced in Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit, but also had clubs in Buffalo, Providence (R.I.), Troy (N.Y.), and Worschester. Sensing an opportunity, the AA owners moved into recently vacated Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Baltimore, and promptly began outdrawing the NL clubs.

Also, as Di Salvatore writes, the NL had not positioned itself to properly appeal to the masses:
"League magnates had embarked on a deliberate course to woo the 'respectable' middle class--most notably by instituting the $.50 grandstand fee, refusing to play Sunday games [usually the only day working class fans would have off from work]..., and banning alcohol sales. The League, then--by effectively excluding much of the working class--severely circumscribed the potential size of its daily gate."

This was another disadvantage the AA sought to exploit. Their admission was half that of the Nationals, and they recouped their expenses by selling beer in the stands, and adding Sunday games to the schedule.

Feeling the pinch, the NL chose to directly compete with their new rivals. When the AA moved into Columbus, OH and New York City, the NL countered by moving Worchester to Philadelphia (where they would become first the Quakers, then the Phillies) and Troy to New York (where they would eventually become the Giants). By promoting a better brand of baseball (the teams in the AA were still of relatively poor quality; terrible players from the NL could be above average, or even stars in the AA), the NL managed to hold its own until the two leagues declared peace in late 1883.

The AA promised to steer clear of the NL in the future, swelling dramatically into Toledo, Richmond, Brooklyn, Washington, and Indianapolis for a season before contracting back down to 8 teams until 1890, when everything started to unravel. The renegade Players League, led by the aforementioned John Montgomery Ward, formed in response to the reserve clause and essentially picked apart the AA in an attempt to compete with the stronger NL. Faced with this new threat, the AA rebuffed a peace offering from Ward and sided with the NL. Smelling blood in the water, according to Di Salvatore,
"Not only did the PL begin raiding the Association roster with waning reluctance--eventually picking up thirty or so of its players--but the NL dumped two of its own least viable franchises, Washington and Indianapolis, and successfully wooed two fo the Association's most powerful franchises, Brooklyn and Cincinnati, to its camp. The disheartened Association made the best of a bad situation...and gathered up a hatful of embarrassing new franchises in second-tier cities such as Toledo, Rochester, and Syracuse."

The Players League folded after just one season, but the American Association was too financially weak to continue. After an embarrassing 1891 season during which two teams folded (including the Milwaukee Brewers after just 36 games), the AA gave up. The four strongest teams, Louisville, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Washington were absorbed by the NL (now 12 teams), and the rest of the teams disbanded.

The American Association's existence was relatively long as far as startup challenges go. It outlasted the Players League, the Union League, and the Federal League, all of whom challenged the Major League structure. But the AA had significant advantages. The NL may have been a big league, but it still was not thinking like a business. It was wasteful and did not take advantage of opportunities to solidify its fan base and broaden its appeal. And the NL was the only real game in town at the time, whereas other startups have had to contend with two other competitor leagues. Its quick peace with the NL in 1883 was formed on the promise that the two leagues would stop raiding each others' rosters and competing for talent. This left the NL with a talent advantage it would continue to exploit throughout the AA's advantage. And when faced with an opportunity to join forces with the players and get the talent influx that may have saved it, the AA refused and stood with the NL. And because of this, it eventually crumbled and faded into sepia-toned memory, memories that too may soon crumble away into nothing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

You wouldn't like me...

So freaking angry:

With Brendan Harris on third and no one out (Harris had doubled and taken third on a wild pitch) Sean Camp makes Delmon Young, Joe Crede, and Nick Punto look silly, striking out all three of them. Seriously, you can't put one freaking ball in play? With a two-run lead, the infield is playing back. Just tap the freaking ball somewhere. That run has to score! What the hell is wrong with you? Just stop. Stop playing baseball. Turn in your damn uniforms. Pick up your last paycheck on the way out the door. The Common Man doesn't blame Punto quite as much (though that third strike you took was right down the middle); after Young and Crede's utter failure, his options were extremely limited. But not a single one of you can even PUT THE BAT ON THE GODDAM BALL? WHAT FREAKING GOOD ARE YOU? You are not helping. Just go home.

And while you're at it, take Ron Gardenhire and his baffling pitcher usage with you. Kevin Slowey, as astute reader Bill pointed out in an email tonight, had given up 11 hits through 5 innings. It was clear he didn't have it this time around. Yet Gardy brought him out to start the 6th. A single, an Overbay homer, a groundout, and a walk later, Slowey gave way to Matt Guerrier, clinging to a two run lead. Meanwhile, the Twins maddening use and non-use of Joe Nathan continues. After 8 games, Nathan has gotten into just two games, only one of which was a save situation and the other designed to just get him some work. Meanwhile, Gardy refuses to use his ace reliever to keep the game close or to hold onto a slim lead in the 8th. And tonight it came back to bite him, as Luis Ayala delivered yet another in a ridiculously poor string of performances. Nathan was relegated to the bench as Ayala surrendered a double to Rod Barajas and a homer to Travis Snider, giving the Jays the two-run lead they would never surrender. At this point, the fact that Gardenhire keeps running Ayala out day after day after day (Ayala's gotten into 5 of the 8 game thusfar) seems to indicate that the Twins' manager wants to punish Twins fans for something. Ayala's gone 5 innings, giving up 10 hits and four runs. He's pitched poorly in three of the five games, only showing any kind of effectiveness in games where the Twins are way behind. As the shiny new veteran toy, perhaps Gardenhire and GM Bill Smith couldn't help but give Ayala the job of trying to ruin the Twins season, like so many dead-weight veterans before him.

And The Common Man is still angry and sad about the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart. The Common Man has nothing really to add to the chorus of laments for young talent lost. Adenhart was a promising young pitcher, and had a long and hopefully productive life ahead of him when he and his friends were killed by a drunk driver. In trying to make sense of the senseless, The Common Man can't help but feel that Adenhart is a reminder of our own mortality, that no matter how high we climb, nothing is guaranteed, that nothing has been promised to us, and that what we say and do always matter because they may be the last things we say or do.

And speaking of sudden and shocking ends, the twin deaths of Phillies broadcasting legend Harry Kalas and '70s pitching phenom and icon Mark Fidrych came out of nowhere today to sadden the baseball community further. Two great characters who were responsible for creating thousands of fans today passed away in manners most befitting the way in which they lived. Kalas collapsed in his broadcast booth today, preparing for the Phillies/Nationals game. Counting post-season games, this would have been somewhere around the 6900th game of Kalas' major league broadcasting career. Since, for so many, that's where Kalas lived, it's both sad and satisfying that he went to rest there. As perfectly serene and calm as Kalas' end seems, Fidrych's death was just as odd and quirky, but no less appropriate. Like The Bird himself, who stomped around the mound, talked to baseballs, and entertained fans with his wild hair and endless tics, Fidrych's end was quick and, frankly, crazy. While the death itself was undoubtedly horrible (and The Common Man prays it was quick), perhaps there was no other way for a man of The Bird's eccentricities to go out than "crushed by a dump truck." If nothing else, it adds to the legend. And their sad ends remind us of why we loved them so much in the first place. God bless boys.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Random Thursday: 1876 Louisville Grays

First, The Common Man is sorry to have been away. He’s trying as the new job ramps up to balance everything. Don’t write him off just yet, as he’ll strike a balance yet. But he was bound and determined not to miss his beloved randomness. And for his efforts, The Common Man was rewarded by the new format over at It’s…um…interesting. The sheer volume of information available there has increased dramatically and both that volume and the new look are going to take some getting used to. The Common Man is pretty sure he’s going to like it eventually, but it will be a while before he’s completely comfortable.

Meanwhile, the Random function is still active and available and sent The Common Man hurtling back to the 19th century and the 1876 Louisville Grays team page. Astute baseball historians’ ears just pricked up for three reasons. One, 1876 is of course the first year of the NL’s existence. That year, the Grays finished 30-36, landing in the second division, 22 games behind the NL Champion Chicago White Stockings. Two, the Grays of the 1870s were notorious for throwing ballgames. They actually got started in 1876, as George Bechtel attempted to conspire with Louisville ace Jim Devlin to throw a game for $100. Devlin showed his manager the telegram and Bechtel became the first player permanently banned from the league. And, ironically, three is Devlin himself, who conspired with his teammates in 1877 to throw the pennant race. Devlin and team captain and 1876 home run champ George Hall led the effort in ’77, allegedly inspired by poor pay and harsh mistreatment by their team’s owner.

Jim Baker, in the Bill James New Historical Baseball Abstract, wrote, “with a quarter of the season to go (fifteen games), the Grays needed to win only half their remaining games to clinch the flag…. With the pennant seemingly assured, the Grays began dropping games due to a variety of ‘bonehead’ plays; strikeouts, pick-offs, and costly errors abounded…. At the conclusion of the season a Louisville paper, the Courier Journal, made accusations that the team had gone in the tank. The primary culprit was alleged to be Jim Devlin, who was now, according to some reports, sporting a variety of fancy jewelry.”

At the time he was banned, at age 28, Devlin was considered one of the top pitchers in the league. He had led the NL in games pitched, innings, and complete games (127 out of 129). He also won 30 and 35 games those seasons (though he led the league each year with 35 and 25 losses respectively). By all accounts, he was the Grays. Hall had an excellent OPS+ of 133, but the Louisville nine didn’t feature any other hitters who were significantly above average. In fact, three of their players finished with an OPS+ in the 70s (that said, the team did finish with the highest fielding percentage and fewest errors in the league, a significant accomplishment given that the league averaged almost 11.8 per game).

With Devlin, Hall, SS Bill Craver (71 OPS+, but probably the second or third best defensive SS in the league behind Davy Force and perhaps John Peters), and reserve Al Nichols all banned from the game, the Grays folded after the season. Six of their position players were 25 or under. Hall was only 28. So was Devlin. Assuming Devlin’s arm could have held up for a couple more years, the Grays could have built the league’s first dynasty, before the White Stockings’ great run of the 1880s. It would be another fifteen years before Louisville would get another National League franchise (which would never finish higher than ninth in a twelve team league).

Devlin pleaded his case repeatedly to the National League owners, trying to get reinstated. He wrote to Hall of Famer and league paragon Harry Wright, “I Can assure you Harry that I was not Treated right and if Ever I can see you to tell you the Case you will say I am not to blame I am living from hand to mouth all winter I have not got a Stich of Clothing or has my wife and Child…. The Louisville People have made me what I am to day a Beggar. [sic]” Devlin died in 1884 in Philadelphia, working as a cop but still mostly broke, from consumption complicated by severe alcoholism. From what The Common Man read, it’s not clear whether Devlin’s accusations against his former owner, the league president, and the people of Louisville are at all justified. Ball players tended to make more than average wage-earners at that point, and Devlin was clearly a star. And he likely could have jumped to a minor league club at a much higher salary if he was being underpaid by the Grays. The Common Man hasn’t gotten to it yet, but those wanting more info on 19th century baseball, Devlin, and the 1877 scandal in general should probably check out William A. Cook’s boringly titled, The Louisville Grays Scandal of 1877: The Taint of Gambling at the Dawn of the National League. An exerpt is here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Joba Project

At various places around teh interwebz today and yesterday, you probably have heard about Wallace Mathews being dumb. These people, who are flaying Matthews and his argument alive as The Common Man types this, are entirely right. Matthews is either a cynical writer making a disingenuous argument solely designed to generate buzz, an idiot, or both. The Common Man’s favorite part of Matthews’ column comes when he laments, “Greater baseball minds than mine have analyzed this situation at great length and determined that Joba for the first six innings every five days is better than Joba out of the bullpen five times a week."

As The Common Man has noted elsewhere, this is hilarious. If Chamberlain pitched five times a week, he would end up with somewhere around 135 appearances. This is obviously not an ideal usage pattern for a 23 year old coming off an arm injury. But again, that’s painfully obvious, and no right-thinking GM (let alone sportswriter) would actually advocate something so ridiculous.

So The Common Man refuses to use his lunch hour to continue excoriating Matthews. Instead, he wants to indulge the man’s fantasy. Indeed, if by some miracle Joba was able to pitch 135 games with little to no additional risk to his long-term health, wouldn’t this be an incredibly efficient use of his talents? Wouldn’t this usage pattern, in which Chamberlain pitches a high number of innings in extremely high-leverage situations, make it worth the Yankees while to scrap their plans to put Joba in the rotation? And if, against all logic, Joba managed to survive a season in this role, what would his stats look like? The Common Man thought it would be fun to do a small extrapolation.

In a little more than a season at the big league level, Joba Chamberlain has appeared in 61 games, and started 12 of them. Since he won’t be used in a starting role, we’ll scrap his stats from those games. After all, we want a realistic approximation of how Chamberlain would throw on a day-to-day (-to-day-to-day-to-day) basis. His stats in relief are eye-popping. In 49 appearances, Job has thrown 59 innings, given up 39 hits, 20 walks, 2 homers, and 10 earned runs. Batters have “hit” .185/.259/.261 off of him, and struck out 78 times.

Amazingly, on one or two days rest, Joba has been even more dominant, pitching 34.7 innings (in 28 appearances), giving up 18 hits, 2 runs, 6 BB, and striking out 45. But since we want to keep this relatively uncomplicated (this is a quick and dirty look at something that would never ever happen, after all), let’s just take his overall numbers. Just be aware that, to maintain the pace necessary to pitch 135 times, Joba would be limited to 1-2 days rest much of the time (and zero days rest as well).

OK, so in 49 games, Joba has thrown 59 innings, or 1.2 IP/appearance. If he kept up a similar pace, Joba would have approximately 162 innings pitched by the end of the season (hey, he’d qualify for the ERA title!). Assuming his hits/9, BB/9, HR/9, and K/9 stayed constant (though that’s obviously not likely, given how often he’d be pitching), here’s an approximation of what Joba’s pitching line might look like:


How many games would Joba win in this scenario? Could he win 20? And what would the result be on the ERAs of the Yankees’ other staff members? Presumably, having Joba around as a dominant security blanket would allow them to throw fewer innings, meaning they’d get into less trouble at the end of their outings. If this were possible, wouldn’t this be the perfect deployment for a pitcher of Joba’s dominant abilities? Perhaps some enterprising whipper-snapper could look into the effect that noted workhorses Mike Marshall, Kent Tekulve, and others had on their team’s performance, both directly and indirectly.

The Common Man would be legitimately excited by this prospect. Of course, reality would set in around mid-May when, after enduring 2-3 weeks of decreased effectiveness, the Yankees shut down Joba with a sore elbow, which would turn into a torn ligament as he rehabs it. But still, The Common Man can dream, can’t he? Or at least, Wallace Matthews can.

Random Thursday: 2006 Boston Red Sox

Talk about random. This week's punch of the old randomizer brought up a page with almost nothing on it, the 2006 Franchise Pitching Stats and Depth Charts page for the 2006 Boston Red Sox. Looking back, especially in light of their World Championship a year later, it's easy to forget 2006. As this page shows (indeed, it shows little else), the Sox were decidedly mediocre in 2006. Their Pythagorean record a measly 81-81 (go ahead, salivate Pirates fans), and their overall record was 86-76. In fact, 2006 is the only year in GM Theo Epstein's impressive run at Boston's helm (since 2003), that the Sox finished with fewer than 95 wins.

So what happened in 2006? As many of you undoubtedly remember, following the 2005 season there was trouble over Epstein's contract. As an October 31 deadline crept closer, internal bickering became public fodder (thanks to Dan Shaughnessy), and the team was thrown into chaos. Apparently unsure he wanted to put up with the drama, Epstein snuck out that night (reportedly in a gorilla suit, using the Halloween holiday to his advantage) without a new contract. Indeed, Halloween couldn't have gotten any scarier for Sox fans.

In Epstein's absence, Jed Hoyer and Ben Charington were promoted to co-General Managers, and tried to keep the ship afloat. They traded Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez (and change) to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Guillermo Mota. The used Edgar Renteria to pry Andy Marte away from the Braves (then considered a coup). They sent Doug Mirabelli to the Padres for Mark Loretta. And they signed Rudy Seanez, JT Snow, and Julian Tavarez. So it's hard to say that the Sox cooled their heels while their front office situation shook itself out, but it's clear that the timing of the decision proved troublesome for the Red Sox, a team in transition.

Indeed, just before Epstein walked away, the team's starting 1B (Millar), 3B (Mueller), and CF (Damon) all filed for free agency. They filled 3B by default in acquiring Lowell (whose presence almost killed the trade from Boston's end). But they opened up SS by dealing away Renteria. And the team's pitching staff (even with Beckett) seemed to lack the front-end talent that would allow it to keep up with the Yankees. And by the time Epstein came back on January 19th, the Sox had already missed out on Damon, Mueller, Millar, Billy Wagner, BJ Ryan, Paul Konerko, Brian Giles, Tom Gordon, Paul Byrd, Bob Wickman, Trevor Hoffman, AJ Burnett, Roberto Hernandez, Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton, and Todd Jones, all of whom would have to be considered the top of that year's free agent class. In fact, the only significant free agents to sign after Epstein return were Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, Bengie Molina, and Jeff Weaver (three of whom played positions at which the Sox were already set and one of whom wouldn't have been good enough to crack an already flawed rotation).

With the available talent dwindling, Epstein moved to plug holes, signing Alex Gonzalez to play SS, and trading Marte, Mota, and C Kelly Shoppach to the Indians for Coco Crisp, David Riske, and Josh Bard. Then they dealt starter Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for Wily Mo Pena (in a deal that still doesn't make much sense). The fact that Epstein quickly moved players like Mota and Marte out suggests that his moves were somewhat panicked, focused on short-term fixes to undo some of the damage caused by an inactive and inattentive winter. Like getting your cabin in livable condition after leaving it fallow all winter (or three winters, as The Common Man found out last year).

And the results were predictable. Gonzalez flopped at short. Crisp underwhelmed in center. Wily Mo turned out to be an ill-conceived get. Riske was quickly dealt for a lefty arm in the pen. Bard was unloaded when Epstein decided he wanted his old backup back. In all, it was a lost year for the Sox, who would of course bounce back to win it all the next year (following some off-season brilliance by Epstein). Meanwhile, 2006 serves a a warning of the perils of a leadership vacuum, and of the importance of having a strong plan in place going into the offseason. As the new season looms, it will be interesting to see just whose off-season leadership has served them best.