Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Thursday: Joe Smarza

So, this week, fate played a funny joke on The Common Man. When he spun up the randomizer, he found himself face to face with Joe Smaza, an outfielder who got a two-game cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1946. Smaza batted five times, getting a single hit and scoring two runs. Because there is no play-by-play or boxscore data available from Retrosheet, we don't know about either of his appearances. From his minor league record, Smarza looks like a slap-hitting outfielder in the Scott Podsednik mode, who might have been able to hold down a 5th outfield job if he had the chance.

The Sox in those years weren't all that exciting either. In 1947, Chicago was in the third year of a seven year run of finishing under .500. Jimmie Dykes, their long-time manager, was fired some time between the 20th and 22nd of May when the team was 10-20, and was replaced by former ace and future Hall-of-Famer Ted Lyons (for whom the team went 64-60), who became player-manager but only pitched 5 games that year (going 1-4 with 5 CG and a 2.32 ERA). Smarza's teammates, aside from Lyons, would have included SS Luke Appling (still going strong at age 40), 1B Joe Kuhel (who was about to hang it up at 40), OF Wally Moses (who, at 35, was settling into the decline phase of his career), 1B Hal Trosky (who made an abortive attempt to come back after WWII), Ed Lopat (who would become an ace of the Yankees staff during their five year championship run from 1949-1953), and Bill Dickey's little brother George (who pretty clearly didn't inheret the talent in that family).

And that's all we know about Joe Smarza's baseball career. Eventually, Joe hung it up and returned to his native Michigan. He died in 1979 at the age of 56. Presumably, he had people who loved him and whose lives he touched. But the trail is cold. Sometimes, randomness hits dead ends. Of the '46 Sox, only Ralph Hodgin, Dave Philley, and Tom Jordan are still alive.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Today, as you undoubtedly already know, has been Memorial Day, and if you have served or are serving as a soldier, sailor, marine, Force guy, The Common Man thanks you for your sacrifice. The following entry is offered in the spirit of the day, at the end of the day, because now The Boy is finally asleep.

Understandably, when Memorial Day rolls around every year, baseball fans think of the Ted Williamses, Cecil Travises, and Bob Fellers, stars who saw combat in World War II and risked their lives for the United States and their fellow soldiers. These men are genuine heroes, and any amount of praise and attention they get will not be enough. That said, their heroism and service tends to overshadow the contributions of other ballplayers in other wars both because of the epic nature of the larger struggle and their legendary status as players. Here are a few of those players:

John Titus (OF, 1903-1913, Spanish-American War)

Titus was one of the best hitters on a decent string of Philadelphia Phillies teams in the early 20th century. Playing the outfield corners, Titus hit .282/.373/.385 in the Deadball Era, good for a 127 OPS+. At the time, Titus was probably one of the 15 most valuable hitters in the league. His mustache (he was supposedly the last man in the league to sport a handlebar mustache) was in the top five all by itself. Titus was considered a veteran of the Spanish-American War in 1898, in which the United States gained control of Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

Gabby Street (C, 1904-1905, 1908-1912, 1931, Spanish-American War, World War I)

Street was Walter Johnson's personal catcher for four years in Washington. While doing little to distinguish himself as a player, he famously caught a ball dropped from the Washington Monument as a publicity stunt (people have always been easy to impress) and appeared as a pinch hitter at the ripe age of 48. Street also managed the Gas House Cardinals for three and two-thirds seasons from 1930-1933, finishing with two pennants and a World Championship and a .563 winning percentage in the National League.

Sammy Strang (IF, 1896, 1900-1908, Spanish-American War, World War I)

Strang was a minor star for the Giants and the Dodgers in the first decade of the 20th century. After a solid rookie year for the Giants in 1901, he jumped to the new Chicago White Sox, but jumped back to the National League before the end of the season. Released by the Chicago Orphans, he signed as a free agent with Brooklyn, before becoming John McGraw's supersub from 1905 through 1907. He led the National League with a .423 OBP in 1906 and managed a career OPS+ of 113. Bill James estimates that Strang was the smallest player of the 1900s, weighing in at around 120 pounds. Despite his leprechan-like size, Strang served as an infantry captain in World War I.

Eddie Grant (3B, 1905, 1907-1915, World War I)

Grant was a defense-first 3B for the Phillies, Reds, and Giants, back before 3B primarily became an offensive position. Grant was a relatively light hitter, posting an OBP above .300 in just four of his nine full seasons, and a SLG above .300 just three times.
(not to disparage our fine fighting men, but Grant could easily have been included in our discussion of ugly players a few weeks back)

Grant was Harvard-educated, and would go on to practice law after his playing career finished. Grant became the first former major leaguer to enlist in the Army after the war broke out in 1917 (though Hank Gowdy joined before the war started), became a Captain in the 307th infantry regiment, and was sent to France. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the last Allied push of the war, Grant's company was sent forward to help rescue a "lost" battalion behind German lines. Grant's commanding officer was killed and Grant became the new C.O. Soon thereafter, Grant was also struck by mortar shells and was killed instantly. He was the first former major leaguer killed in wartime action. The Giants memorialized Eddie with a monument in deep centerfield, and placed a wreath there every Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. Sadly, the Grant memorial was destroyed by careless fans who pillaged the Polo Grounds following New York's final home game in 1957.

Al Bumbry (CF, 1972-1985, Vietnam War)

Bumbry was drafted in the 11th round in the 1968 amateur draft. In 1973, he won the Rookie of the Year award when he hit .337/.398/.500 and led the American League in triples for the AL East champion Orioles. From 1969 through 1971, however, Bumbry was drafted and serving as a platoon leader in Vietnam, where he won a Bronze Star. Despite the late start to his career, Bumbry played 13 years for the Orioles and one for the Padres, and hit .281/.343/.378 for his career (104 OPS+), with 254 SB while playing a pretty decent centerfield. He never really approached the heights that that first season suggested, but Bumbry was a very good player for a long time, and a war hero to boot.

Garry Maddox (CF, 1972-1986, Vietnam War)

As good as Bumbry was, Maddox seemed to consistently do him one better. In '68, Maddox was drafted in the 2nd round by the Giants, but was drafted by Uncle Sam and sent to Vietnam from 1969-1970. While Maddox became known primarily for his exceptional defense, a close second was his excellent and bushy beard, which helped Philadelphia fans differentiate him from Greg Luzinski. Indeed, the beard was and is iconic, but also necessary. While in Vietnam, exposure to chemicals made his skin extremely sensitive, and he used the beard to protect himself. For his career, Maddox hit .285/.320/.413 (100 OPS+) for the Giants and Phillies while providing the best defense in the National League.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Random Thursday: Eddie and Johnny O'Brien

As The Common Man wandered, blindfolded, through the baseballreference-verse, this week he stumbled upon the O’Brien brothers on the list of Seattle University products who played in the majors. Indeed, Eddie and Johnny O’Brien, identical twins, are the sole Seattle U Redhawks to make the majors.

Johnny and Eddie were both born on December 11, 1930 in South Amboy, New Jersey. There they excelled athletically and earned scholarships to Seattle U, where they played baseball but really excelled on the basketball court. Johnny was an All-American, the first player to score 1000 points in a season, and the two led the Redhawks to victory over the (then) undefeated Harlem Globetrotters. They caught the eye of Branch Rickey, then the general manager of the Pirates. Rickey signed the two brothers for $40,000 in 1953 (whether this was 40K a piece or as a package deal is unclear, but the brothers, who had been business majors, surely got a good deal).

This made the brothers bonus babies, and according to MLB rule, they stayed on the Pirates’ roster for all of 1953. The bonus rule had been implemented in 1947 to keep the Yankees from stockpiling all the great minor league talent. Essentially, if you signed an amateur for more than $4,000, that player had to stay on your major league roster for two seasons. It’s how the Dodgers acquired Sandy Koufax, the Senators coaxed Harmon Killebrew out of Idaho, and the Tigers tamed Al Kaline. Thus did the O’Brien twins arrive at spring training in ’53, just 22 years old and assured of a job in the major leagues.

Eddie played 89 games that year, all of them at SS, and couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag (.238/.289/.280, 50 OPS+). Johnny also played 89 games, almost entirely at 2B, and hit a slightly better .247/.309/.330 (67 OPS+). While Johnny appears to be slightly above average defensively for a second baseman, Eddie is below adequate at short, which kind of makes sense, if you think about it (since they’re identical). The brothers will both take 1954 off to serve in the military (the Korean War is on), but will return in ’55. Eddie is just as bad that year (almost exactly as bad, in fact) but Johnny has his best year, playing more than half the time, getting 304 plate appearances, and providing adequate offense (.299/.346/.378, 94 OPS+) and is right around average defensively.

From afar, it’s hard to tell exactly what Rickey was expecting out of his identical keystone combo. The Common Man hasn’t found college stats from 1952, so it’s hard to tell exactly how impressive the O’Briens looked. But if The Common Man were to guess, he’d say that Rickey saw two young men who were interested in baseball, and who had tremendous athletic talent, even if their baseball skills were rough. Figuring their innate athleticism may blossom, and seeing a great publicity opportunity (an identical twin double play combination), Rickey figured to roll the dice. The Bucs are in the middle of a nine year run of finishing under .500, and a three year streak in which they’ll lose at least 100 games. What do they have to lose? Alas, the experiment was not successful.

The next year, Johnny fell off a cliff and only managed 114 plate appearances because of a microscopic .173/.209/.183 batting line that was good for just an 8 OPS+ (this has to be one of the biggest drop-offs in history, doesn’t it?). With his brother not playing well enough to justify a spot in the lineup (and thus no “identical double-play combo” appeal), Eddie only gets 58 plate appearances that year and continues to underwhelm. Trying to hang on, Eddie and Johnny switch to pitching. Once again, Johnny outperforms his brother, turning 8 effective appearances in ’56 into a mop-up gig in ’57. And on one terrific September day against the Cubs, Eddie pitches a six-hit complete game (with 8 Ks) to win the opening game of a double-header. In the nightcap, Johnny relieves in the 6th inning and gives up three runs in one inning of work, and gets hung with the loss.

In 1958, the brothers are split up and quickly make their way out of the league. Johnny goes into politics and becomes the King County Commissioner, then becomes the head of security at the Kingdome. Eddie heads back to the University of Seattle, where he serves as athletic director from ’58-’68. In 1969, Eddie is hired as the bullpen coach for the fledgling Seattle Pilots, and becomes one of Jim Bouton’s central antagonists in Ball Four, described as a “gold-plated pain in the ass.” To the best of The Common Man’s knowledge, both brothers are alive and well and living in Seattle today. They remain one of nine sets of twins to play in the majors, and one of two (the other Jose and Ozzie Canseco) to play together. They are the first and only twins to turn a double play…which is something, I guess.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Whole Old Ballgame

On his excellent site, Way Back and Gone, tHeMARksMiTh wrote earlier today about Terry Larkin, an early hurler in the National League who was forced out of the game by an arm injury after tossing more than 1500 innings in three seasons. Larkin descended into alcoholism, violence, and depression very quickly as his career ended, shooting his wife and attempting suicide three times (finally succeeding in 1894). Larkin’s post-baseball life is a tragedy, and he seems to have been a decent player. Mark writes,
“Debuting for the New York Mutuals in 1876, Terry Larkin threw a complete game in his only appearance of the season. Over the course of the next three seasons, Larkin would be one of the best pitchers in the National League and extremely consistent. He notched seasons of 29, 29, and 31 wins. His ERA's over that time were 2.14, 2.24, and 2.44. All of those seem very impressive, but his ERA+'s in those years were 114, 108, and 106 (a little above average). As for the type of pitcher that he was, he didn't strike out a lot of guys, not topping 2.9 K/9 (not all that uncommon), but he was very accurate with BB/9's below 1 and as low as 0.4.”

This is not meant as a criticism of Mark, but more of a commentary of how we (as baseball historians) look at the first years of our professional game. The Common Man has spent a lot of time in the last couple months within that world, looking at early American Association teams, the 1878 Louisville Grays scandal, and finishing Bryan Di Salvatore’s excellent biography of John Montgomery Ward (review still forthcoming, dammit). And the more he looks at it, the more he thinks we need to not be talking about the traditional statistics we use to evaluate 19th century baseball. For as much noise as nostalgists make about being able to plop old Alex Cartwright down in 2009 and he’d recognize his game, baseball in the 1870s and 1880s was very different from the game today. Pitchers originally threw underhand, and were required to throw the ball where the batter requested it. Balls caught on a single bounce were considered an out. Indeed, until 1878, foul balls caught on a bounce were outs. Walks were awarded after nine balls, then eight, seven, six, five, and finally four in 1889. Amazingly, Salvatore writes, "From 1876 through 1890...if a batter had two strikes on him, and didn't swing at the next 'fair' pitch, the umpire did not call him out. Instead, he gave him a 'freebie,' merely calling out a warning: 'good ball.'" In 1887, four strikes were required to strike a batter out. The pitching mound was far closer, and were required to throw from a box. According to Salvetore, "During Ward's pitching career, he and other hurlers had great leeway--twenty-four to thirty-six square feet of leeway--to accommodate whatever preliminaries to throwing the ball they felt most effective. Pitchers spun and threw, ran toward the plate like a cricket bowler, or pitched while moving sideways [think of a running Mitch Williams, I guess].” Runners could be soaked (or hit) with the ball to record an out. And with no gloves to speak of, the high error totals (and low strikeout totals), batters who were fast (thus putting additional pressure on the fielders) and who made solid regular contact would be significantly undervalued (since a baserunner’s a baserunner, whether he gets on via a single or an E-6) by traditional analysis. Likewise, concepts like “earned” run average have less meaning when about half of the runs scored are “unearned.”

So Mark’s insinuation that Larkin was a little above average, and a control freak who struck out few doesn’t really hold water when we compare him to his peers. For instance, in 1877, there were five pitchers (in a six team league) who threw more than 300 innings (Larkin, Tommy Bond, Jim Devlin, Tricky Nichols, and George Bradley). Looking at R/9, BB/9, and K/9, Larkin finishes fourth across the board in all categories. In '78, there were six pitchers who fit the same criteria (again, in a six team league): Larkin, Bond, John Montgomery Ward, The Only Nolan, Sam Weaver, and Will White. Larkin finished fifth, second, and fifth, respectively. And in '79, when the National League expanded to eight teams, there were eight pitchers with more than 300 IP. Larkin, White, Ward, Bond, Bradley, Pud Galvin, Jim McCormick, and Harry McCormick. Larkin finished fourth, third, and fifth.

Above all, The Common Man would argue we should look at R/9 to determine the quality of a starter from this period. Again, walks are few and far between, to the point where 10 walks (spread across 500 innings) represents a massive difference in ranking. Likewise, with such low K rates, only the outliers like Ward or Tommy Bond really have any significance. Regardless, Larkin finishes in the middle of the pack pretty consistently. He’s clearly better than each team’s second pitchers, but nowhere near one of the top hurlers of his day. Decidedly middle-of-the-road.

Ward, meanwhile, after finishing his pitching career in 1883, became one of the National League’s preeminent shortstops until 1891 (when he moved to 2B for three seasons). Despite a lifetime 92 OPS+, and a career batting mark of .275, Ward was universally hailed as one of baseball’s great superstars. Ward wasn’t terrible with the bat, necessarily, but lacked power (he only topped twenty doubles once in his 17 year career, once topped 10 triples, and never hit more than 7 homers). Instead, Ward beat out a ton of infield hits, and presumably forced a good number of errors. His stolen base totals are very high, leading the league twice (with 111 in 1887 and 88 in 1892). In his final season, despite an OPS+ of just 49, Ward scores 100 runs in 136 games, 143 hits, and just 34 walks. That high run total was presumably inflated significantly by the number of extra times Ward found himself on first. Likewise, his value on defense, where he was above average throughout his career, and excellent at his peak, significantly influences how he should be perceived.

The Common Man finds this frustrating about the early game, how it is constantly described in batting average, ERA, strikeouts, and stolen bases. And maybe that’s because it’s not as sexy to study the era that has little relevance to how many homers Joe Mauer is projected to hit this year or what Phil Hughes’ performance would look like if he shifted to the bullpen. Or maybe that’s because, even with evocative books like Salvatore’s painting a remarkable picture of the age, we still have a lot of holes in the data. But The Common Man would really like more ways to look at the 19th century, to truly appreciate those players whose careers have gone largely unnoticed or have been relatively maligned. The Common Man cares because, while it may not be the same exact game, it’s where our sport comes from.

If you have any useful 19th Century resources, shoot them this way.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Random Thursday: June 13, 1995, Baltimore vs. Cleveland

Do you remember back before the season, everyone was a bit abuzz over Mike Mussina. Lar at wezenball had a post up. Jason at It's About the Money Stupid, Shyster was weighing in. There was a general desire to assess and dissect the man’s career, to decide his place among the games’ elites. Even The Common Man himself weighed in concluding that “it's not a stretch to say that the majority of Mussina's problems in New York were caused by the disappointing defense playing behind him, rather than the attrition of his ability.”

But lest we forget, all was not wine and roses for Mussina in Baltimore. For instance, in this week’s randomation, we find a June 13, 1995 contest between Mussina’s Orioles and the eventual AL Champion Cleveland Indians, who won 100 games in just 144 contests. In that strike-shortened year, the Orioles got great work out of Mussina, who went all 19-9, 3.29, 2.0 BB/9, 3.16 K/BB, and 1.069 WHIP on the American League in 221.2 innings (Randy Johnson won the Cy Young that year, but Mussina inexplicably finished 5th, behind Jose Mesa (who got two first place votes (raise your hand if you’re the idiot who voted for him…)), Tim Wakefield, and David Cone). However, his Orioles finished 71-73, good for 3rd place in the AL East.

This game is notable for a number of reasons. First off, it’s a terrible rout. The Indians touched up Mussina for a three run homer (by 3B(!) Jim Thome) and a solo shot (Albert Belle). He left after 5.2 innings, having given up 6 runs. His replacements weren’t much better. Jamie Moyer relieved and gave up three straight singles to Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Paul Sorrento before giving way to Alan Mills. Mills got out of the 6th without further damage, but couldn’t record an out in the 7th. He gave way to Jesse Orosco, who allowed a couple of sac flies. By the end of the 7th, the Indians had an 11-0 lead, which they would hold. El Presidente, Dennis Martinez, pitched the shutout for Cleveland.

But an 11-0 drubbing is only so interesting. Great players have bad games. It's just the way of the world. More interesting here is the composition of the lineups and teams themselves. While these teams were qualitatively very different (and the Orioles were worse almost across the board that year), the career values of the two squads is incredibly interesting. Take a look at who played in this game:

Mussina--270 career wins
Moyer--249 career wins (and counting)
Martinez—245 career wins
Orosco—1252 games pitched (MLB record)
Doug Jones—303 career saves
Thome—547 HR (14th all time, and counting)
Belle—381 HR
Ramirez—533 HR (19th all time, and counting)
Eddie Murray—3255 H (12th all time), 504 HR, 1917 RBI (9th all time)
Omar Vizquel—2670 hits (and counting), 11 Gold Gloves
Kenny Lofton—2428 hits, 622 SB
Tony Pena—4 Gold Gloves
Rafael Palmeiro—3020 hits, 569 HR (10th all time), 1835 RBI (14th all time)
Harold Baines—2866 hits, 384 HR
And, of course,
Cal Ripken—3184 H (14th all time), 431 HR, 2630 consecutive games (ML Record), 2 Gold Gloves, 2 time AL MVP

And that’s not even counting three-time all stars Carlos Baerga and Brady Anderson.
Not appearing in that contest were Kevin Brown (211 wins), Dave Winfield (3110 H, 465 HR), Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, Brian Giles, and Jeromy Burnitz.

These rosters were filled with players who either had had tremendous careers, or had tremendous careers ahead of them. In all, the pitchers in this game won 959 games, lost 725, saved 470, appeared in 4445, and threw 14403.7 innings. The hitters totaled 34771 hits, 4717 homers, 18,488 RBI, and 18561 R. In all, to The Common Man, that seems awfully prolific. In the post war era, this has got to be one of the most amazing accumulations of talent on one ball field, doesn’t it? The Common Man wonders if there’s a way to check that out without devoting the next six months of his life to the project. Class, any ideas?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Funny Business

Every day from here to there,
funny things are everywhere.

--Dr. Seuss

Manny Ramirez exited, stage left (pursued by a bear?), last week, banished for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance. Naturally, the next day A-Rod makes his 2009 debut and hits the first pitch he sees for a three-run homerun. A-Rod, at this point, is a complete cartoon character and is seen as the ultimate villain in major league baseball today. If he could grow a mustache to twirl, he'd be perfect.

At the same time, given that he is almost universally reviled in the media right now, perhaps that can take some of the pressure off of what must be a simultaneously wonderful and horrifying life. Without worrying about pleasing everybody (because he seemingly can't please anybody), maybe A-Rod finally finds some peace. Sweet, oblivious peace.

Not that it should really matter to the Yankees, mind you. Last year, Rodriguez went through a nasty divorce and ugly tabloid rumors, and still had his best overall season since 2000.

Speaking of steroids and obliviousness, enjoy this clip of John Kruk saying that Manny Ramirez should be kicked off the Dodgers (Krukie goes off about a minute in). Meanwhile, has John Kruk ever addressed the rampant steroid use that was apparently a bedrock of his 1993 Phillies?

Meanwhile, Ramirez's replacement, Juan Pierre, has been making the most of his newfound playing time. Pierre has been a huge disappointment for the Dodgers since signing with them in 2007, and a feather in the cap of bloggers and pundits who chuckled and chided the Dodgers when they saw the 5 year, $45 million price tag he came with. But in the four games since Manny's departure, Pierre has gone 9-for-16, with a couple walks, a couple doubles, a couple stolen bases (though also a couple caught stealing), four runs scored, and four RBI. Yesterday, he scored or drove in 4 of Los Angeles' 5 runs in a 7-5 extra-inning loss to the Giants.

Pierre's hot streak comes at exactly the right time for him and the Dodgers. If Pierre can prove capable over the next fifty games, he and the Dodgers might just be able to sucker a contender with deep pockets to give up something of value for Pierre, especially if they view him as an option in centerfield. The White Sox and Yankees have already demonstrated unhappiness with their CF situation, and Pierre seems like just the kind of mistake they might make, if they're desperate in July.

As hot as Pierre's been, however, Zack Greinke's been hotter. Greinke lost his first game of the year on Saturday, proving that he is human. Indeed, all you have to do to beat Zack Greinke is hold the Royals to zero runs. Then, when he goes eight innings (for his 4th complete game), and gives up a single run (raising his ERA from 0.40 to 0.51), you can still hold your head high, after he retires 21 of the final 23 guys you send up against him. Yikes.

Also, Joe Saunders (who pitched the shutout that beat Greinke), you're pretty awesome with your 5-1 record and 2.66 ERA.

Finally, The Common Man has kept his pinko, leftist politics out of his blog for a while now, after discovering that far more readers were interested in baseball than in the other eclectic collection of topics The Common Man bounced within. So please indulge him for a moment as he expresses some admiration for this country's new President. Barack Obama, is there nothing he can't do?:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Random Thursday: Craig House

Tired of Manny-gate? The Common Man is too (though one of the more interesting takes on it is up on Circling the Bases). And the only cure for that is to fire up the old randomizer.

This week, the wheel of destiny landed on Craig House, who spent two terrible months with the Colorado Rockies in 2000. Just 22, House had a power arm that resulted (to that point) in well over a strikeout and far less than a hit per inning in the minors. Unfortunately, House needed this to compensate for an abysmal walk rate. With the Rockies, House was horrible. In 16 appearances (across 13.2 innings), House gave up 13 hits (3 of them homers), struck out just 8, and allowed 18(!) walks (and 2 HBP). Though his record was just 1-1, his ERA was 7.24. It was a bad August and September to be Craig House. And it's not like he could blame it on the thin air. In Denver, opponents batted .250/.419/.344, but away from home, they really lit him up. Essentially, he turned every player he faced into Barry Bonds, allowing a .294/.538/.765 batting line to his opponents.

The next year, House found himself back in the minors and generally out of favor. Though he would maintain the high strikeout rate, House was never able to overcome his lack of control, nor his AAAA tag. He probably didn't deserve a callup, but to be so close for so long was undoubtedly frustrating. He bounced around a lot after the Rockies were done with him. They traded him to the Mets in 2002, as part of a three-team deal in which the Mets acquired Jeromy Burnitz from the Brewers. He made the rounds on the waiver wire too, and was at various times in the Dodgers, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, and Rangers organizations. House finally retired in 2005, at the age of 27, after four embarrassing appearances for Oklahoma City.

So what is interesting about House? He career was short and brutal, after all. But he is one of just 47 major leaguers to have been born in Japan. The biggest names are well known, of course. Ichiro, Matsuzaka, Nomo, Matsui, Sasaki. But there are seven names on that list that look out of place. One is House. Another is Jeff McCurry. And so does Steve Chitren. And Jim Bowie, Stephen Randolph, Keith McDonald. With respect to Chitren, who got into 64 games in two seasons, McCurry, who got into 111 games over five years, and Randolph, who pitched in 109 over three years, Dave Roberts is both the best player and the biggest name of the bunch. In addition to several years as a starting centerflider, Roberts has made a place for himself in the history books too, with his steal in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.

But other than that, it's a pretty terrible group.

By and large, The Common Man imagines that these seven players are the sons of American servicemen, citizens born overseas. And one piece of circumstantial evidence bears this out. Of the seven players, six of them were drafted out of college, and the other as a 20 year old. This suggests that most of the players were relative unknowns to professional scouts, who didn't see them enough to recommend them out of high school. Also, strangely, all of them were drafted after 1990, though The Common Man doesn't know what to make of that.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Manny Being Someone Else

Dwight Schrute may be the most amusing character on television today (though Michael Scott does give him a run for his money. Militantly productive, anti-social, paranoid, ambitious, and authoritarian, Rainn Wilson's Schrute is the ultimate terrible coworker. But for all the headaches he creates for his higher-ups with his sexism and his power plays and his sycophantism, Schrute is tolerated at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company for one reason: he is an excellent salesman. He brings the same single-minded, rabid enthusiasm to his job that he has in the rest of his life. And because of that he is successful.

Manny Ramirez is Dwight Schrute.

Manny's behavior has already gotten him run out of one city, where his performance (though still excellent) was not enough to compensate for the headaches he created. However, since his trade to the Dodgers, now a full half-season ago, Manny's performance has compensated for a lot. In 341 plate appearances, Manny has hit an amazing .385/.493/.718 with 23 homers and 71 RBI, despite being 37 years old. That will cover up a lot of setting the office on fire:

Monday, May 4, 2009

When Something Bad Is Actually Good...

Do you want to have your mind blown? The Twins are counting on Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla to provide passable offense up the middle, in their quest to take home their 5th division title since 2002 (though just their first since 2006). By and large, neither have done anything at the plate. Nick Punto, as he did in 2007 (when he "hit" .210/.291/.271), is walking and striking out at a prodigious rate while doing a terrible job of putting the bat on the ball. He's second on the team in pitches per plate appearance (4.05) though (and is leading it in embarrassing shirts). And his line drive percentage is an acceptable 19%. So even though, going into tonight's game against Detroit, Punto's at .224/.338/.239, chances are he'll be ok and that his poor start is due to some bad luck (his BABIP is just .268, despite the decent LD%).

Casilla, on the other hand, has been wretched in every aspect, not even showing a modicum of plate discipline. Going into tonight's game, Casilla was at .160/.232/.200. His line drive percentage is at just 8% this year, and has a corresponding .197 average on balls in play. Casilla's career LD% hovers around 12 (he'll likely always be dependent on bunt and IF singles), so his performance thusfar is much much more disappointing than usual.

While that's unbelievably bad, here's the mind-blowing part: Before tonight's game, against left-handed pitchers this year the dreadful duo are just 1/36 against lefties. Clearly something is wrong here. Punto is 0/16 with two walks. Casilla is 1/20 with a sacrifice bunt. Just so we're clear, after a full month of baseball, Punto's line against LHP is .000/.111/.000 and Casilla's is .050/.050/.111.

The good news in all of this, is that none of this performance is sustainable. Casilla will either hit more or lose his job. Neither of them can possibly be this bad against LHP over the full season. The singles will eventually start to drop for Punto. Meanwhile, among the Twins other hitters, none is a significant risk for regression (aside from Joe Mauer, who (going out on a limb here) probably won't hit .700/.727/1.200 for the rest of the year). Morneau may not have a .963 OPS for the rest of the year, and Jose Morales won't continue to hit .300, but Morales's regression will be covered by Mauer's presence and Morneau's slide should be adequately covered by a regression toward the mean (in a good way) by Casilla, Punto, Crede, and maybe Gomez.

The pitching, too, is a good bet to improve. Unless he's really, really hurt, Scott Baker is not going to continue to have a 9.15 ERA. Liriano is not going to stay at 6.04. And Slowey's not a good bet to stay at 5.17. Yes, the bullpen is still a mess. But once Crain comes back and the Twins learn to trust one or more of their minor league relievers (as Aaron pointed out today, Anthony Slama's struck out 20 in 11 innings at AA), they can jettison Ayala (please God, please).

This leaves the Twins in surprisingly good position to win the division with a strong final five months. It's a recipe that's worked before, and seems primed to happen again. Perhaps The Common Man's initial thoughts, of a .500 year, were too pessimistic...

The bad news tonight is that Jerry White was injured in the game today when he took a liner off the ankle in the first base coaching box.

Somebody, and The Common Man can't remember who for the life of him (help him out, readers), has been all over this lately. And he's right; it's amazing more people haven't been killed on the diamond with all the wicked googlies flying around the old ballyard. That said, there certainly seems to be a rash of on-the-field scariness lately, with Mike Coolbaugh's death last year and the scary Jose Martinez incident (where he took a comeback liner off the noggin).