Those of you looking for the follow-up to Monday’s Gary Sheffield piece will have to wait until later this week, as I’ve got multiple out-of-towners paying me visits over the next several days. I don’t know if it’s just the August blahs, that lots of my regular readership is on vacation, or that my new toothpaste isn’t working, but I’m a bit surprised the piece didn’t get more of a response beyond a few positive words — not that I’m complain about those. Sheffield is a polarizing player, and I expected, if not a riot from Harvey’s Wallbangers Local 1982, then at least a few people who remember his Brewer days to rebut some of what I’ve said so far. Like most writers, I’m far more concerned that my words will be ignored than that they’ll be challenged, and I welcome your feedback either via email (which appears to be working again) or in the comments window.
I’ve heard from more than one person that the comments windows are slow to load, which is why they don’t see as much use as they could. If you’re having trouble, please shoot me an email or use my comment page, noting what browser and connection speed you’re using. I’m not married to the current configuration and have considered switching to a more comment-friendly system such as the Movable-Type-based blogs at all-baseball.com. But I can’t hear you if you don’t speak up.
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Chris Kahrl’s Transaction Analysis column made a regular Baseball Prospectus reader out of me several years ago, so I was tickled pink when Kahrl not only gave me my first mention in a TA column last week but also seemed to have me in mind in an another pithy comment: “…some people get silly about knuckleballers and sidearmers and scrubby scrappy middle infielders, but my weak spot is always going to be for catchers and who’s catching where.”
One baseball obsession of mine — perhaps the oldest one, at that — which Chris missed is pitchers’ hitting. Ever since Steve Carlton went long in the 1978 NLCS and the broadcast ran a graphic during his next at-bat showing that his career postseason batting average to that point was .375, I’ve been hooked. I remember being really excited when I realized that my copy of All-Pro Baseball Stars 1979, which contained stats for all batters with over 100 at-bats, included entries for J.R. Richard (.178/ 1 HR/10 RBI in 101 AB) and Phil Niekro (.225/0 HR/10 RBI in 120 AB). No, I wasn’t the most popular kid in school.
Kahrl’s BP mate Rany Jazayerli shares the pitcher-hitting bug. This week, he’s revisited a five-year-old piece and broken it into two parts (alas, both are premium pieces). The first, “Chasing Ron Herbel” examines those approaching the ineptitude of a man who went 6-for-206 in his big-league career. Current A’s starter Mark Redman is at the bottom of the barrel with his 2-for-75 lifetime performance and .027/.039/.027 line — that’s the lowest OPS in history for anybody with more than 70 plate appearances. Jazayerli reserves a special honorable mention spot for the recently-retired Mike Thurman, whose .031 average (that’s 4-for-131, with 0 RBI) is the second-lowest (behind Herbal’s .029) of any hitter with more than 100 PA.
At the other end of Jazayerli’s spectrum are those who are “Chasing Wes Ferrell”, a list that includes the Cardinals’ Jason Isringhausen, “the best-hitting closer in baseball, which is the most useless superlative you’ll read all day,” as Rany writes. Izzy’s .208/.248/.327 line wouldn’t seem to be of much use to most managers, but then most managers aren’t Tony LaRussa, a man who lies awake at night concocting schemes to bat the pitcher eighth, carry four catchers, shoehorn seven pitching changes into a single inning, and rescue puppies from mistreatment at the hands of opposing third-base coaches during the seventh-inning stretch. Mark my words, LaRussa will find a way to pinch-hit Izzy even if it costs him a ballgame, dammit!
At the top of Jazayerli’s list is the sport’s only legitimate two-way player, Brooks Kieschnick, who’s hit .300/.359/.533 in his two seasons with the Brewers while posting a 4.73 ERA. Running just behind him are two pitchers with more than a little Coors effect in them, Mike Hampton (who hit .344/.354/.516 in Colorado two years ago and spanked seven homers the year before that), and Jason Jennings, who’s actually a better hitter on the road (.260/.292/.390) than at home, better even than Rox 3B Vinny Castilla has been this year (.202/.265/.448).
Those of you further obsessed with pitcher hitting — or too light in the wallet to shell out for BP Premium — are encouraged to check out the fine work of Studes at The Hardball Times. Similarly fixated on Kieschnick, Studes takes a historical look at pitchers-as-pinch-hitters, offering up names such as Ferrell, Dode Criss, Red Lucas, Red Ruffing, and George Uhle as exemplars of this lost role. Studes also provides a handy graph based on Win Shares which clearly illustrates the overall declind of pitcher hitting. The high-water mark was in the 1910s, when pitchers averaged 78 Batting Win Shares per season, while the nadir came in the ’80s, when skinny ties, cocaine and Reaganomics reduced the annual yield to 16 Win Shares per season. Good stuff.
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Those of you who read my anti-Productive Outs screed back in May know that I’m no great fan of Buster Olney’s analytical skills. Olney did a far better job as a New York Times beat reporter covering the Yankees from 1998 through 2001, and he’s got a new book out about that period called The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty. I’m inherently suspicious of beat writers who cash in with books about the teams they covered, not because I resent anybody making a buck, but because beat writers have a tendency to lord their inner-sanctum access over the rest of us, skimping on critical analysis and shutting out new ideas while rehashing old stories and settling scores.
I haven’t bought Olney’s book yet, so I can’t say whether his fits into that mold, but I will say that I found myself thoroughly engrossed by an excerpt the Times ran this past weekend called “The Uneasy Steinbrenner-Cashman Alliance.” General Manager Brian Cashman might have the toughest job in the world, attempting to satisfy the ever-unsatisifiable Yankee owner, and Olney paints a compelling portrait of how a man might cope with such a Herculean task. Cashman perpetually appears as though he hasn’t slept in days, hasn’t exercised any muscle beyond those used for dialing a phone in weeks, and hasn’t seen the sun in months. Quite simply, he looks like a sickly 98-pound weakling, easy prey for that 800-lb gorilla of an owner.
But Cashman, who’s worked in the Yankee organization full-time since ’89, knows a thing or two about how to fight the Boss’ fire with fire. That he’s survived nearly seven seasons in the GM chair is nothing short of miraculous, and while detractors who trumpet Billy Beane and Theo Epstein as the best of the new breed like to point to the Yanks’ monetary advantage, there’s no denying that the man has a skill set which makes him uniquely suited to succeed where so many others have failed.
Oh, on the Productive Outs tip, Baseball Prospectus’ Dayn Perry noted today, “At this writing, Alex Sanchez, So Taguchi and Brandon Inge lead the majors in productive-outs percentage, the regrettable and largely useless product of idle hands and consistent decline at ESPN.com. When the answer is Alex Sanchez, are you really asking the right question?” Sic ‘em, Dawg…
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Speaking of my sidearming subject from a few months back, Carlos Gomez (a.k.a. Chad Bradford Wannabe), I’m saddened to report that I recently discovered that he’d been released by the New Jersey Jackals of the Northeast League. In our last correspondence back in May, Gomez told me that he’d made a mechanical adjustment that helped him throw harder, but that he’d hurt his knee during the Jackals’ spring training. Nevertheless he was determned to continue throwing (somewhere, Will Carroll is cringing).
I haven’t heard from him since (though I did send him an email recently), so I don’t know for sure whether the knee injury was the cause of his woes. But I know that he opened the season on the DL, and then when he came back and pitched was largely ineffective. His ERA in 11 games was 6.75, and he walked 14, hit 3 and threw 2 wild pitches in 13.1 innings, numbers which are nobody’s ticket out of indy-league ball. I had looked forward to trekking out to Jersey to watch him pitch and perhaps even meet him in person while filing an update to that BP piece. Drag city.
Carlos, if you’re reading this, here’s hoping that your arm and the rest of your body is healthy, and that you’re able to catch on with another team to chase that dream. We’re pulling for you, man.
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Combing through my site stats, I discovered that I am apparently the top Google result for the query “red sox ingame porno“. I can’t even fathom the disappointment felt by whoever ran that search when they hit my page…