Friday, June 10, 2011
This morning at Hall of Very Good (and it may well have appeared in dozens of other places as well, but I happened to notice it on HOVG's Twitter feed), it was noted that by holding the Reds to a run on three hits in the Cubs' 4-1 win on Wednesday night, Ryan Dempster took over sole possession of second place on the all-time wins list among pitchers born in Canada, with 107. (Fergie Jenkins, of course, has a firm hold on first, at 284; Dempster surpassed the surprisingly-similar-to-him Kirk McCaskill.)
While that's just not a terribly impressive number (even if you care about pitcher "wins," as I do not) no matter how many your countrymen have managed, there's something pretty interesting about that. Canada is actually the fourth most prolific non-US country at producing baseball players, with 233 -- one more than Puerto Rico, 27 fewer than Venezuela, nearly three hundred fewer than the Dominican Republic. (By contrast, California has had 1,985.) It's just interesting that of all those Canadians, more than half (119) of whom have made pitching appearances in the bigs, (a) Dempster is your #2 in a big mainstream stat like wins, and (b) that number is as low as 107.
Anyway, I want to do justice to some of the many other countries that have produced MLB players, but considerably fewer of them than Canada has. Here are some statistical leaders for players born in some other countries (* = min. 1000 IP or PA; click on the country name to see Baseball-Reference's full list from that country):
England, Home Runs: Tom Brown, 64
Outfielder Brown, born in Liverpool, is one of (a surprisingly high, to me) 35 players to have originated in the same place our nation did. All but seven of them debuted in 1927 or earlier, most, like Brown, around or before the turn of the century.
Brown played in parts of 17 seasons in the various major leagues of his day, from 1882 to 1898, and by virtue of playing six more seasons than any other Brit, is actually the national leader in all offensive counting stats. His 1954 hits, 138 triples and 657 steals all sound a lot more impressive than his 64 homers (second in homers, and in most other categories, is Ty Cobb contemporary Hobe Ferris, with 40). His .265/.336/.361 career line was good for a perfectly average 100 OPS+. For whatever it's worth from that time period, he compiled 13 Baseball-Reference WAR.
Mexico, On-Base Percentage*: Erubiel Durazo, .381
If you were a stats nerd like ten years ago, Durazo's name probably means a lot to you. The Diamondbacks' hesitance to stick the saber-friendly (walks, homers and no defense, which is exactly the kind of player we loved at the time) Durazo in the lineup full-time, not entirely unlike what the Mariners did to Edgar Martinez a decade or so earlier, launched a kind of "Free Erubiel Durazo!" campaign on the internet and such. When he finally did escape Arizona for the A's, his absolutely ideal club, in 2003, he was very good, putting up a .289/.384/.475 line (125 OPS+) in two full seasons, but those were his only two full seasons--he was injured and ineffective in 2005, and was never seen in the majors again.
Second in OBP (with well over twice as many plate appearances) is Bobby Avila, 1950s second baseman, at .359; with 27.1 WAR, Avila is far and away Mexico's most valuable position player, more than ten wins ahead of Vinny Castilla. I probably don't need to tell you that Fernando Valenzuela is the best overall, at 38.2 WAR.
Sweden, Complete Games: Eric Erickson, 42
Four players born in Sweden have made the majors, which itself is kind of shocking. Not that baseball is popular (or even known, really) over there, but it's a country of a bit over nine million, and you'd think at some point that somebody's parents would be living there on business when their son was born, and later moved back to the states to raise him to become a ballplayer, or something. But, no -- just four of them, and none to have debuted since 1916.
And even better, Erickson is the only one to have appeared in more than one single game. The other three combined for seven plate appearances, one hit, one run, one RBI, 13 innings pitched, 18 runs (!), 13 earned, and three homers allowed. Check out Charlie Hallstrom's MLB career!
Erickson himself was a decent pitcher over parts of seven seasons, between 1914 and 1922, for the Giants, Tigers, and Senators. He had his best year in 1921, going 8-10, 3.62 (114 ERA+) in 179 innings for Washington across 32 games, 22 of them starts.
Panama, ERA*: Mariano Rivera, 2.22 (through Wednesday)
47 Panamanians, one that'll be really worth remembering. He'll likely pass the great Juan Berenguer later this year for the country's lead in innings pitched (currently at 1173.2 to Señor Smoke's 1205.1), he passed Berenguer in strikeouts in 2009 (and still has 334 fewer walks), and even holds the national record in wins, with 75 to Berenguer's 67 (the latter is still "ahead" in losses, 62-56). Rivera has the two other qualifying pitchers by quite a bit in ERA, though, 1.68 better than Berenguer's 3.90 and more than twice better than Bruce Chen's 4.59.
Germany, Batting Average*: Fritz Mollwitz, .241
Germany's 27 players have not done the homeland proud. Only one player has accumulated 3.5 or more WAR, and that was the jingoistically-nicknamed Pretzels Getzien, who put up 17.5 as a mediocre pitcher from 1884 to 1892.
Mollwitz is one of only four players (Getzien among them) to accumulate 1000 PA in the majors, one of two of them to be named Fritz, and the only one to debut after the turn of the last century. From 1913-1919, Mollwitz "hit" .241/.278/.294 (72 OPS+), while predominantly playing first base, leading to a career that produced 4.2 career wins below replacement. The nation's "best" player, Bill Kuehne, "hit" .232/.258/.337 (81 OPS+) from 1883-1892, but did provide some defensive value as mostly a third baseman, so ended up with 3.4 WAR.
Very young Twins prospect Max Kepler-Rozycki has a chance to set all kinds of German MLB records.
Jamaica, Caught Stealing: two-way tie, 98
There have been four players born in Jamaica, but you've heard of three of them. One, Justin Masterson, is the sole holder of all of the country's pitching records, with Devon White and Chili Davis dividing up all the hitting records among themselves (the other, Rolando Roomes, played 170 games between 1988 and 1990). All four were born in Kingston.
Davis and White were hugely different players (the former an all-offense corner outfielder, the latter an almost-all-defense center fielder), but both wound up having been thrown out attempting to steal 98 times. Davis managed it in just 240 attempts, though, while White took 444 attempts to get there. Davis ends up ahead of White in virtually every offensive area other than steals, but White's tremendous defensive value gives him the slight edge in WAR, 41.3 to 37.2.
Finland, ERA: John Michaelson, 10.13
Pony trekking or camping, or just watching TV -- there's no time for baseball in beautiful Finland! Michaelson is the only MLB player in history to be born among the Finnish fjords; he appeared in two games for the White Sox in 1921. After a perfect two-thirds on August 28, he came back on August 30 and gave up three runs on four hits and a walk (with his only career strikeout) in two innings, leading to that career ERA of 10.13.
Both games were lost by the White Sox, but Michaelson did not factor in; alas, ninety years later, Finland is still looking for its first decision (and plate appearance, base hit and every offensive category). Someday!