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From the Streets of Baltimore to the Sofas of Brooklyn

A bit groggy here after a long week which began with a fun ballpark trip to a Baseball Prospectus event in Baltimore — one which included Orioles president Andy MacPhail, six BP authors, and XM Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Grant Paulsen — and was capped by having stayed up past 2:00 AM on each of the past two nights watching the Dodgers and Diamondbacks battle into extra innings — a combined eight hours and 39 minutes digested via TiVo, both times after taking in Yankees games and other baseball earlier in the day.

I’ve been fairly busy on the content front as well. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but the forthcoming BP site facelift features a new author page where you can see my latest work at a glance and/or grab an RSS feed (consider this a beta version, with no warranty implied). Onto the highlight reel:

“Disastropiece Theater” examines the Astros’ 0-7 start (which ran to 0-8) and the fates of teams that started similarly badly:

Houston, we have a problem. On Monday, the Astros lost 5-0 to the Cardinals, running their 2010 record to 0-7 and marking the third time in this young season that they’ve been shut out by an opponent. To date the Astros have been outscored 42-13 — by an average of 4.1 runs per game — which comes out to a Pythagenpat winning percentage of .114.

As bad as those numbers look, this doesn’t seem terribly remarkable at first glance, particularly given that last year’s Astros opened at 1-6 while being outscored 43-16 and shut out twice. Without digging through our archives, I’d guess that I deployed the time-honored (if slightly misremembered) Apollo 13 reference in response to that mess as well. Meanwhile, last year’s Nationals got off to an 0-7 start, and the year before that, it was the Tigers plunging to an 0-7 start for the third time in seven years. Happens every spring, right?

Actually, no. Since 1901, just 25 teams have started 0-7, only five of whom have been outscored by wider margins than the current Astros; two more were outscored by the same margin… Interestingly, it’s the 1988 Orioles with the worst run differential after seven games; they’re the ones who went on to lose a mind-boggling 21 consecutive games to start the year, far outdistancing the 1997 Cubs (0-14), the 1904 Senators and the 1920 Tigers (both 0-13, though the Senators actually tied their second game).

So the Astros have their work cut out for themselves if they really want to make history. Nonetheless, this is not a good list to be on. None of the previous 24 teams which started 0-7 made the postseason, and only two, the 1980 Braves and the 1983 Astros, even cracked .500 for the year. As a group, these teams compiled a combined .380 winning percentage for their seasons, essentially the equivalent of a 62-100 season.

Beyond that, there’s an analysis of the problems specific to the ‘Stros, namely their offense, their general manager and their owner. There but for the grace of God…

• As the Astros ran their record to 0-8, I wondered (via a Prospectus One-Hopper – those are free, by the way) how many managers had run into similar fates as new Houston skipper Brad Mills. One of the three I was able to find was mighty familiar:

Moose Stubing, 1988 Angels, 0-8
This one’s close to my heart. Lawrence George “Moose” Stubing was a Bronx-born minor league masher in the 1950s and 1960s in the Pirates, Giants, Cardinals and Angels chains. In a minor league career of 1419 games, he hit .283 and slugged .474 with 192 homers, mostly at the Double-A level, with his best seasons coming in El Paso (.316/.454/.613 with 35 homers and 120 RBI in 1964 as a 25-year-old). He hit just .212/.321/.357 in 148 games at Triple-A, and went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in his cup of coffee with the 1967 California Angels. After playing, Stubing joined the Angels’ organization, serving as a scout and minor league manager from 1971 through 1985. During that tenure he spent two years (1980-1981) managing the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in my hometown, Salt Lake City. An amiable lug, he’d show up in the offseason refereeing NCAA basketball games in the Western Athletic Conference and later the PAC-10, generally drawing cheers from the crowd, a rarity for just about any ref. Stubing went on to spend six seasons (1985-1990) as the Angels’ third base coach, taking time out to assume interim manager duties at the end of 1988, after Cookie Rojas had been fired with a 75-79 record. He went 0-8 and was replaced over the winter by Doug Rader, never to get another chance to manage in the majors, thus becoming the first player ever to carry 0-fers as both a player and a manager. Stubing was still in baseball as of last year, serving as a special assistant to the general manager for the Nationals, but was relieved of his duties at the end of the year.

Somewhere I have a copy of the Referee magazine with Stubing on the cover, holding a pint of beer:

National and American League flavors for the Hit List. Speaking of the two teams I’ve spent the wee hours with:

[#5 Diamondbacks] So Much For the New Guys: With Brandon Webb nowhere in sight, a big part of the Diamondbacks’ bid for relevance hinges on Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, both acquired in the Granderson blockbuster. So far, so-so; the two have been cuffed for a combined 6.75 ERA in four starts despite an 18/6 K/BB ratio in 21.2 frames. The Snakes are 2-2 in those games despite not getting a quality start, though Jackson’s second turn is mitigated by his hitting a two-run homer amid a 13-run fourth-inning outburst.

[#7 Dodgers] Staff of the Undead: Given the choice for an opening day assignment between Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, Joe Torre opts for — wait for it — Vicente Padilla, who pitches as though suffering from a gunshot wound (4.1 6 7 7 3 2). He’s not the only retread on this pitching staff, either; Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz and Jeff Weaver have allowed 10 runs in 12.1 innings over 15 appearances thus far, with an 8/9 K/BB ratio. At least Torre deserves props for anointing knuckleballer Charlie Haeger his fifth starter; he whiffs 12 in his first turn, albeit in a losing cause, and even adds an inning of scoreless relief.

As for the two usual suspects in the AL:

[#2 Yankees] The defending champions rack up road series wins in Boston and Tampa Bay before returning home to ring in a celebration which includes a classy tribute to the departed World Series MVP, Hideki Matsui (now the Los Angeles Godzilla of Anaheim). New arrivals Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson fare well, but Javy Vazquez isn’t feeling the love; he’s booed in the Bronx, perhaps because his ERA in pinstripes dating back to the 2004 All-Star break now stands at 7.52 (101.2 innings including postseason).

[#9 Red Sox] Big Papi, Big Problems: Despite coming from behind to win on opening night, the Sox drop their season-opening series to the Yankees in Fenway, then play the patsies as the Twins open Target Field as well. Amid their slow start, concerns mount regarding David Ortiz, who starts 4-for-26 with no homers and 13 strikeouts, including two or more in five straight games. Colorful in expressing his frustration, Ortiz is at least somewhat vulnerable given the presence of Mike Lowell on the bench. PECOTA isn’t terribly concerned, forecasting a .274/.368/.514 weighted mean (a .290 True Average) for the 34-year-old slugger, but Jay-Z has beef.

• And finally, there’s the One-Hoppers version of my Jackie Robinson Day missive, which includes an addendum regarding every player wearing number 42, as gleaned from the great Vin Scully, whose Jackie Day broadcasts are worth the price of the Extra Innings package alone:

Watching Thursday night’s Dodger game, I heard Vin Scully re-tell a story — told by Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine first in his book What I Learned from Jackie Robinson and then to the New York Times‘ Dave Anderson here — in which the Dodgers played a game in Cincinnati after Robinson had received a death threat. Police sharpshooters covered the ballpark, making for a tense situation. At a team meeting, outfielder Gene Hermanski offered a suggestion for the Dodgers manager (in the book, it’s Burt Shotton, in 1947, in the Times it’s Charlie Dressen in 1951; Hermanski was on the team until June 15 of the latter year, but the date of the former is more plausible given the initial tension). “Hey, Skip, I’ve got an idea,” said Hermanski. “If we all wore 42 out there, they won’t know who to shoot.” The question introduced a bit of levity which helped ratchet down the tension; everybody, including Robinson, laughed. Read in light of that story, the act of every player wearing the number becomes one not just of unity but defiance.

Scully also re-told his Ice Skating with Jackie story, which was preserved for posterity last year in the must-bookmark Sons of Steve Garvey Vin Scully Repository. This one on racism, Bill Veeck, and the flight of major league spring training facilities to Arizona is rather appropriate given the Jackie Robinson theme as well.

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