Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Chris Parmelee joins the
battalion of former Twins
in the Baltimore organization,
including Delmon Young,
J.J. Hardy and Steve Pearce.
When Chris Parmelee opted for free agency last month rather than accept relegation to Rochester, I suggested Baltimore was a likely landing place. And indeed, the Orioles this week announced that the 2006 first round draft pick had signed a non-roster deal with them.

The O's have had no small amount of success with Twins discards in recent seasons, and they'll see if they can replicate that with Parmelee. He's had 901 major league plate appearances and hasn't hit well enough to keep a 40-man roster job, but he has hit in the minors and seldom got a steady diet of at-bats with the Twins. There's no guarantee he'll get a steady diet of at-bats with the Orioles either, but Steve Pearce (who the Twins released out of spring training in 2012) broke through for the Birds last year after a very Parmelee-like career.


I griped at some length Monday about Rob Manfred's endorsement of the silly notion of banning drastic defensive shifts, so I should at least applaud this comment from the new commissioner: He's not interested in selling ad space on uniforms.

Hear, hear.


Hudson Boyd, a supplemental first round pick in 2012 who hasn't risen above Law A ball, will get to sit most of the first two months of the 2015 season after a second positive test for a "drug of abuse."

Wasted pick, apparently in more ways than one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hall of Fame outfields

Jesse Barfield was part of a stellar outfield in Toronto
before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1989.
My Strat-O-Matic project last week had me playing with the 1987 Toronto Blue Jays, which got me thinking about great outfields.

If you're of a certain age, you remember the George Bell-Lloyd Moseby-Jesse Barfield outfield the Jays had in the mid to late 80s. All three ran well enough to play center field and threw well enough to play right. And hit? In 1987:

  • Left fielder Bell won the MVP. He hit .308 with 47 homers and 134 RBIs.
  • Center fielder Moseby hit .282 with 26 homers and 39 steals.
  • Right fielder Barfield bopped 28 homers (a year after hitting 40) and won a Gold Glove.

They were all just 27 in 1987. They'd been good for several years, and should have been good for several more. Instead, they pretty much dropped off a cliff. All three were gone when the Jays finally broke through to win the World Series in 1992 and '93.

In 1987, I would have been pretty certain that at least one of those three would wind up in the Hall of Fame. None will. And as I played a series with what was the best season of a great outfield, I found myself wondering: Has there ever been a team with a regular outfield of three Hall of Famers?

Three possibilities came immediately to mind: The Pirates during Paul Waner's career, the Tigers during Ty Cobb's, and the Philadelphia Athletics in the mid 1920s.

The Pirates in the mid 1920s were positively swimming in Hall of Fame outfielders. Max Carey was near the end of his career, Kiki Cuyler started his there before moving on, and the brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner spent years together with the Pirates.

Carey and Cuyler were regulars on 1925 team that won the World Series, but the Waners hadn't arrived yet. In 1926 the Pirates had a bizarre in-house controversy that resulted, among other things, with Carey being traded away and manager Bill McKechnie being fired.

Losing Carey at that point probably didn't hurt, but losing McKechnie likely turned a budding dynasty into a perennial disappointment. A case in point came in 1927, when new manager Donnie Bush clashed with Cuyler and benched him. The Waners were joined in the outfield not by a third Hall of Famer, but by Clyde Bigbee, who ... was not a Hall of Famer. Cuyler was traded away, and the Pirates spent years with "just" two Hall of Fame outfielders.

Eventually they got a third HOF outfielder, Fred Lindstrom, who actually spent most of his career as a third baseman. He spent two years in the outfield, 1933 and '34, with the Waner brothers, although he played in less than 100 games the second season.

In truth, Lindstrom and Lloyd Waner were poor Hall selections. (Paul Waner was a no-doubter). But they were selected for the Hall, and the 1933-34 Pirates had an all-Cooperstown outfield.

On to Cobb. It appears Cobb spent his entire career with at least one Hall of Famer in the outfield with him. First Sam Crawford, then Harry Heilmann with the Tigers, and with the Athletics in his final two years with Al Simmons.

The question is: Did he ever matched with a third? Answer: Yes. In 1924 Cobb and Heilmann were joined by Heinie Manush as a regular outfielder. There were other seasons in which Manush was a part-timer with Cobb and Heilmann. Manush is also a marginal HOFer, but he's in.

When the Tigers dumped Cobb as manager after the 1926 season, he moved on to Philadelphia, where he joined the young Simmons. Tris Speaker joined them in 1927, but was only a part timer.

But the next year, Speaker moved on to Washington, where he returned to regular duty between two other Hall-of-Fame bound outfielders, Goose Goslin and Sam Rice.

There are a few other cases in which teams had two Hall of Fame outfielders. For example, the Cardinals for much of the 1940s had both Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. The Cubs in the 1930s had Hack Wilson and Cuyler. The Giants for a time in the 1950s had Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. But none of them had a third.

Monday, January 26, 2015

An unworkable fix to a nonexistent problem

Rob Manfred is now officially commissioner.
Sunday was Rob Manfred's first day as commissioner of baseball, and he opened the day with a notion apparently designed to make me miss Bud Selig: Banning defensive shifts.

Manfred didn't get detailed in his interview with ESPN's Karl Ravech on how this was supposed to work,  but the rationale is that runs scored have dropped the past few years as the shifts have become more commonplace, and he believes the fans want more runs.

Which they might. I don't necessarily need to see more runs, but I'm far from being representative of the masses. I would like to see more action, which is not exactly the same thing. I'd like to see fewer strikeouts and fewer walks, more balls in play and more baserunning. That might not result in more runs; it may well result in fewer runs.

I do believe this: The rise in the shifts that trouble Manfred (or, perhaps, that trouble certain people around Manfred)  and the rise in plate appearances that don't result in balls in play that concerns me, have a common cause: Sabermetrics.

Baseball's strategists know more about their game now than they did 30 or even 15 years ago because they have increasingly become open to the insights of the bookish outsiders. Those who reject analytics put themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and they increasingly fail and will continue to.

If the shifts have indeed disrupted the game's equilibrium -- which, as I'll get into shortly, is doubtful -- that equilibrium will recover. Hitters will either learn to "hit 'em where they ain't" or go the way of Jason Kubel, whose inability/unwillingness to adjust helped force him out of the game. ,

The rise in strikeouts is the more likely cause of a drop in offense. The prevailing belief of sabermetricians for decades was that strikeouts are just outs, that there was no real disadvantage to them. Indeed, because strikeouts rise with home runs and walks, a team actually benefits from having players who do all three things. I put it thusly some 20 years ago when complaining about Tom Kelly's obsession with making contact: Strikeouts are the exhaust of the power engine. You want home runs, you're going to get strikeouts as well.

That was a useful insight as long as nobody was acting on it. But last year the strikeout rate exceeded 20 percent. (It was 12.5 percent in 1980). The researchers told teams that they were too worried about hitter strikeouts; teams stopped considering that when evaluating players; strikeouts rose; and now offense is declining.

I suspect the shifts will, in time, work against the strikeouts. The shifts are employed largely against power hitters, pull hitters. If they are forced to go the other way, they'll have to cut down their swings. They'll make more contact. Hit a few balls into the vacated gaps, the defense will stop shifting,

There's no need to order fielders to stand somewhere that they know the hitter isn't going to hit the ball. The game will solve the problem, if there is a problem, itself.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Sunday Funnies

Honus Wagner claimed that one of his fondest memories of his illustrious career came in his third season.

A Giants player cracked a home run against Wagner's Pirates, and later, when Wagner crossed paths with the Giant, Honus said: "Nice hit."

The Giant replied: "Go to hell."

Why was that a highlight for Wagner? Because. the Hall of Famer recounted, "That was the first time any opponent talked to me."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

RIP, Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks in 1970, the year he hit
his 500th home run.
Ernie Banks, who died Friday, was a different kind of shortstop. He hit home runs.

There had been plenty of star shortstops before Banks, but -- with the exception of Honus Wagner, who was unique in many ways -- their offense was singles and speed. (Even Wagner, about as powerful a slugger as played in the deadball era, maxed out at 10 home runs in a season.)

Then, in the mid 50s, came Banks:

  • 44 home runs in 1955
  • 43 in 1957
  • 47 in 1958
  • 45 in 1959
  • 41 in 1960

No shortstop had hit 40 homers in a season before Banks. Until Alex Rodriguez came along, only one other shortstop -- Rico Petrocelli in 1969 -- hit 40. And Banks was doing it pretty much every year.

He didn't last at shortstop much beyond that stretch of 40 home run seasons. His knees became troublesome, he moved to first base, and the 40-something home run seasons became 20-something home run seasons. He did collect a Gold Glove as a shortstop, but the quality of his defense there is open to question, and he played more games in his career at first base than at short.

Still, one can overlook a few defensive failings in a shortstop who hits 40 dingers. He won back-to-back MVPs in 1958 and '59, even as the Cubs finished last both years.

Wrigley Field helped, beyond doubt. Banks hit 512 home runs in his illustrious career, 290 of them at home. He probably hit more 370-foot homers than anybody else in history.

But lots of men have had Wrigley as their home park over the years, and darn few hit 290 homers there.

Banks is remembered today for the relentless cheerfulness he projected, for the "Let's play two!" line with which he greeted every day, for his status as "Mr. Cub." He should be remembered as a racial pioneer -- the fans in Wrigley even today are often not hospitable to black players, even on the home team, as LaTroy Hawkins and Jacque Jones can attest. And he should be remembered as well for the uniqueness of his play.

A shortstop who hits home runs? It's a bit unusual now. It was unheard of until Ernie Banks showed up.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Baseball's version of 'Deflategate'

It has come to my attention that in the grotesquely popular spectacle/sport that is the NFL a controversy has erupted over whether a team tampered with the gameballs and garnered a competitive advantage by having said balls in sub-optimal condition.

For the baseball fan conversant with the history of the superior game, this is a big "been there, done that." And I'm not talking about spitballs, shineballs, scuffballs or any other pitcher shenanigans intended to enhance a pitch's movement. I'm talking about the ball before it's put into play.

The 1967 American League pennant race was a real doozy. Four of the 10 teams in the league -- Boston, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago -- went to the final weekend for the pennant, and the first three teams were all still in it on the final day.

White Sox manager Eddie Stanky had a gifted pitching staff and a solid set of fielders but a lineup almost completely without power. This may sound odd to modern fans, used to the Sox as a collection of defensively challenged sluggers, but it was was typical of the White Sox back then; for decades, the franchise's operating philosophy was that if you never give up a run, eventually the opposition will make a mistake and give you one.

But even by White Sox standards, the '67 squad was challenged at the plate. Stanky, a disciple of Leo Durocher, came up with an inventive, if  unethical, solution for home games. The baseballs at Comiskey Park were stored in a damp storage room -- so damp, the story goes, that the balls (dozens of them) brought out for each home game had to be wiped clean of mildew and put in fresh boxes before being delivered to the umpires.

The soggy, moisture-laden balls didn't go far when struck solidly. Since the Sox didn't strike many balls solidly, that wasn't much of an issue for them, and the power gap with the opposition was thinned.

That may have worked for the Sox at home, but Stanky didn't have control over the baseballs for their road games. The Sox went 49-33 at home with the tampered balls, 40-40 on on the road. (I'm not sure how they wound up with an extra home game, but those numbers come from Baseball Reference.) As it turned out, the Sox had a better road record than two of the contenders, but they still finished three games out of first place.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

I skipped the Twins Caravan visit to Mankato Tuesday evening. Usually I have an excuse -- I work most evenings -- but this year I was off, and I still didn't go. I've seen enough of them to last a good long while.

So I missed Terry Ryan, who came down here to talk about the need for immediate improvement. I'm sure he didn't notice my absence.

The Free Press skipped the caravan visit entirely -- Tuesday is a heavy high school sports night -- but Rhett Bollinger of was there and filed this report.


And often is heard a discouraging word department: Johan Santana has been ruled out of the winter league playoffs with "discomfort" in the front of his left shoulder. It gets increasingly difficult to imagine him ever returning to a major league mound.


Here's something to make me suspect that MLB is serious about cutting the time of games; They intend to enforce the time gap between innings, which typically last longer than the rules allow.

This will disrupt TV producers more than the players. Which is fine by me. Baseball's attitude on TV should be: You're broadcasting the game, not controlling it. (Another one I'd like to see: If TV wants to show some between-innings thing, such as singing "God Bless America," fine -- but they don't get extra time to air their ads too.)

Don't take Price's complaint seriously, He is one of the slowest working pitchers in baseball. What's he going to do with those final 30 seconds? The same thing he does before every pitch. Nothing.