Stolmy Weather?

Scarlet Pimpernel?

Stormy Petrels?

Well, whatever the case, when you’re 0-8, 9.20 at any level, you’re in for a storm of some sort.

And it’s never good when you get your start pushed back because the bullpen is too tired!

 

 

 

 

Let’s All Pile On Adam Dunn…

Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer and The Big Lead have recently written about Adam Dunn. And yes, let’s review:

1. He’s having an awful season.

2. His peripherals, though, are within reason for performance.

3. He did come back five days after an emergency appendectomy, which could have had long lasting issues.

4. If he was hitting home runs and batting about .250 or so, no one would give a rat’s patoot about his 100 whiffs.

It is a new era in baseball. Guys like Dunn, Jack Cust, Russ Branyan and Mark Reynolds may be on their way out. Those players aren’t aging well at all (though Reynolds is just 27 and has regained some of his mojo – OPS+ of 126) and may not be cut out for the speed, defense and pitching game that baseball is evolving back into.

(AND NO, IT AIN’T STEROIDS! There were about 43,137 other factors involved in the baseball offensive explosion, and I think the reduction in greenies have more to do with it than ‘roids.)

(All of you anti-Bonds-HOF pontificators can go soak…what he did was no better or worse than most everyone in the HOF did or would have done to be the best in the game. Gambling destroyed the game 100 times worse than steroids. Stop being so sanctimonious…that’s MY job!)

OK, with that rant done,  I think it’s luck and the appendectomy that’s messing with Dunn’s season. His BABIP (batting average for ball-in-play) is .262 this season, way down from .294 for his career. His isolated power is .143, way down from his career mark of .265.

What that says to me is that he’s hitting weaker sauce and it’s finding mitts instead of gaps or flying over fences. That also says the appendectomy may have taken its toll more than you’d think.

But what’s really amazing is:

1. He’s hitting  .019  against lefties with an OPS of  .193. Now he’s always had a problem against lefties – with an OPS of .797 instead of .931 against righties. But with his power you didn’t really want to sit him against lefties. I’d bat him around sixth or seventh. But this season? WOW! He’s 1-53 against them.

2. Ozzie has no choice to write him in the lineup. The problem with the expanded pitching staffs that shrink the bench  is that Ozzie really HAS to play Dunn. The bench guys are Castro (catcher), Vizquel (infielder), Teahen (corner guy AND a lefty to boot) and Lillibridge. He’s having a great first half, but odds are he’s going to plummet to Earth. He’s also in his age-27 year. As bad as he was in 2009, he’s that good in 2011, which means his 2010 may be what you can realistically expect from him. And that’s no Adam Dunn. That’s a 4-A players.

Oh, and Alexis Rios is also stinking up the joint as well, and so is Gordon Beckham. Juan Pierre is still Juan “Omar Moreno, Jr.” Pierre. Dunn’s not their only problem.

I would platoon Dunn with Lillibridge, for now, but that’s really not the best way to handle it on a long-term basis.

3. He’s still having a much better season than Tyler Colvin.

4. There are 16 players who qualify for the batting title that are having WORSE seasons than Dunn in OPS+. They are:

Chone Figgins, Miguel Tejada, Dan Uggla (!), Ian Desmond, Casey McGehee, Daric Barton, Rios, Pierre, Yuniesky Betancourt, Alcides Escobar, Hanley Ramirez (!), Beckham, Orlando Cabrera, Omar Infante (!), Cliff Pennington and Aaron Hill.

There are five players with lower WAR than Dunn:

Aubrey Huff, McGehee, Uggla, Chris Johnson, Raul Ibanez.

There are 19 players with lower WAR batting than Dunn:

Figgins, Uggla, Tejada, Desmond, Pierre, McGehee, Rios, Infante, Betancourt, Danny Valencia, Escobar, Alex Gonzalez, Cabrera, Barton, Hill, Carl Crawford, Pennington, Beckham, Kurt Suzuki.

Dunn’s not the worst, and he certainly has more upside the second half of the year than most of those guys.

It will be interesting to watch. I’m rooting for his next hit against a lefty. Of course, that may be in a beer league in 2018, but I can wait!

Thanks, Billy! This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things!

(This is going to be a long one, but I think you’ll like it…)

You know, it wouldn’t be a discussion with Jack Morris on the radio without him grousing about pitch counts. Oh, and Bert Blyleven throws in his disdain as well, even though he recites pitch count numbers  every 29 seconds on broadcasts.

You know, Jack and Bert, I can give you a litany of pitchers ruined by managers allowing young arms to throw foolishly high pitch counts in stress situations (lots of men on base, cold weather, short rest) or with horrible mechanics or by overusing pitches that tax the arm instead of fastball and curves.  (You know why no one uses the split-fingered fastball anymore? They saw the DL record of the SF Giants in the 80′s and 90′s.)

Yes, Jack and Bert, you threw lots of innings. But in your era you had a bigger strike zone, lineups with at least one or two automatic outs and only one or two power hitters, and managers that used relief pitchers wisely (like, when the game was on the line – even though it was the 7th and the score was tied). And because of that, when you were up 8-3, you could stay in there forever.

Oh, and Jack, when you threw 246 innings for the 1991 Twins, you threw an average of 107 pitches a game. Your arm was developed, and you had great mechanics. AND YOU WERE ALSO AN OUTLIER! You think everyone can be Randy Johnson, or Nolan Ryan, or Mickey Lolich if they built up their arm properly. No, they’re freaks of nature. All you need to do is ask Frank Tanana, or Dave Rozema, or Mark Fidrych, or…or….or….

And you suffered as well, Jack, you suffered as well. The first year there are pitch counts available at B-R (1988) you threw 161 pitches in a game on April 14, a 2-1 loss where you walked nine. The next three starts you compiled an 8.64 ERA and teams slugged .500 off of you. Ya think you’re arm was a bit weary? Ya think if you didn’t throw 161 pitches that it wouldn’t have taken you until game 160 until your ERA was under 4.

Jack, next time I hear you on the radio and talk about pitch counts, I’m going to call in. I’m going to remind you of those stats. I’m going to remind you of Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen and what Dallas Green did to them in the Mets system. I’m going to remind you of Tim Leary in Wrigley.

I’m also going to just mention the names Norris, Langford, McCatty, Keough and Kingman.

Billy Martin took over the A”s in 1980. Charlie Finley had to do something, otherwise the A’s would sell for two bits with a nickel change. The 1979 A’s were last in the league in runs scored and 13th in ERA. Only Dave Hamilton had an ERA+ of over 100.

Martin did notice that the rotation (listed above) was going to be good as soon as they had support behind them (and Norris got off the drugs and got over his arm issues). He also was damn sure he wasn’t going to give Mike Morgan, at age 19, one inning of major league time much less 13 starts, since the memories of him trying to manage David Clyde at Texas was still fresh in his mind.

Billy’s inherited bullpen was Hamilton (a journeyman lefty back for a second stint in the Finley circus), Bob Lacey (who allowed 37% of his inherited runners to score AND compiled a 5.85 ERA), Dave Heaverlo (noted for his bald head, wearing #60 before the Pirates started throwing everyone out there in spring training numbers, and compiling 11 losses and eight blown saves in 1979), veteran Jim Todd (who compiled a 1.963 WHIP and a 6.56 ERA in 81 innings) and long man Craig Minetto (who was out of organized baseball entirely in 1975 and 1976 after a short stint in the low minors for Montreal but somehow made the bigs for Oakland in 1978).

So yeah, instead of firemen, it was pyromaniacs with kindling, kerosene, and a welding torch.

But only Todd was let go from that staff. You may wonder why since now it seems that every team churns through pitchers like there’s no tomorrow in the offseason, with non-tenders, DFAs, non-roster invitees, and the like. But you must remember one thing – Finley was cheap. He wasn’t about to take on any payroll right before selling the team, and no free agent would want to go play in Oakland for Finley and Martin unless he had no other choice.

Martin turned around the A’s, big time. They went 83-79 thanks to a lot of Rickey!, Dwayne Murphy, Tony Armas, and Dave Revering, and those five stud starters.

Oakland starters completed 94 games. Langford completed 28 of his 33 starts and went 19-12 with a 3.26 ERA. The irony is that on April 10, he was knocked out of the box in his first start and didn’t make his second start until April 28. On July 20 he went 14 innings against Cleveland but it was an easy 14 (just eight hits allowed and one intentional walk).

Norris and Keough also completed also 20 or more games. McCatty completed just 11 and Kingman just 10. Slackers.But McCatty started back to back games in April against Seattle. He was knocked out in the second on April 14 and then turned around the next day and threw 8 1/3 excellent innings

All five threw over 200 innings.  They started 159 of the 162 games (Lacey, Hamilton and Minetto made the other starts, and Lacey threw a shutout in his spot start).

As for the pen, from what I guess, Martin started with Hamilton, Lacey and rookies Jeff Jones and Rick Lysander in the pen, and maybe another rookie in Mark Souza (who didn’t pitch until mid-April but may have been available). Heaverlo was waived late in the spring, the day before the season started.

And early on, all seemed normal. The A’s did complete six of their first 11 starts but they all were well pitched games. But then they had seven straight games where they used the bullpen, with the nadir being a pleasant Sunday afternoon in late April where the Twins planted 10 runs in the first on Kingman and Hamilton, then five in the third off of Souza and Lysander.

I imagine that Billy visited all of his old watering holes in Minnesota, and consumed mass quantities on the flight and said, “Screw it…I can’t trust Lacey and he’s who I trust the most. Jones is green but I like his stuff. Hamilton’s arm is a noodle, and Lysander and Souza should be back in Ogden chasing Mormon chicks.”

So he decided to use just Lacey and Jones out of the pen, and Hamilton in case of emergency. The other two guys can get meal money and pitch batting practice.

A pattern developed. CG for Langford, Keough and Norris. Short relief only for McCatty and Kingman.

It took 20 days for Lysander and Souza to appear in another game – another game where the A’s starter was knocked out early. That was the last we saw of them in Oakland.

The pen shrank to four, I suppose, as Ernie Camacho was recalled and debuted when Keough was drilled early against Kansas City. Camacho was soon back in Ogden and Alan Wirth took his spot.

Martin’s “patience” on Hamilton wore out and after he was a punching bag after McCatty was drilled against New York, he sat for 22 days. Minetto was recalled at some point and the pen grew to five as doubleheaders were looming.

Jones pitched three times in a month then of course was used three days in a row. Now, they’d make sure Jones was down in AAA getting regular work. But he stayed up there.

Lacey was the only one getting ‘regular’ work, every five days or so.

The second breaking point had to be an extra inning loss to the Angels in mid-July. Hamilton lost that, and his ERA was the APR of my credit card. Wirth faced just one batter and that was Bobby Grich, who hit the game winner. Martin had to have lost it, and sent Hamilton and Wirth back and calling up fresh meat in Rich Bordi and Mike Beard.

And he resolved to not let the bullpen, except for Lacey and maybe Jones, anywhere near a game that wasn’t out of total control, and then that it was only when McCatty or Kingman were pitching did those two get near the mound. This is a total 180 from what Tony LaRussa would have done – he probably would have finagled the roster to basically have a 20-man bullpen using options, DLs and other means. But not Billy.

Bordi pitched just once, and it was back to Utah. Martin was impressed by Beard, but like Jones, he didn’t trust rookies at all, especially 20-year old 2 1/2 seasons away from Medicine Hat (and chasing cheerleaders in Doraville, GA) and one that had a 6.40 ERA in the PCL.

After Bordi and Beard made their virgin appearance, the A’s threw 8 straight complete games, even one where Keough gave up six runs to Toronto. Lacey went nine days between stints, as did Beard. Minetto made his spot start in a double header after 10 days of rust, and true to form only Jones and Lacey came in to relieve him. That was Jones’ first appearance in 10 days and it would be 22 days before we see Minetto in a box score again.

I conjecture that Bordi was returned to Ogden, since he’s done in this narrative, joining Camacho, Lysander, Wirth and Souza as characters whose role is  already finished in this play.

On August 1, actual modern bullpen usage broke out in Cleveland. Kingman threw six innings of excellent baseball (3 hits, one walk, one run) and was done. (Was he sick?) Jones, Lacey and Beard closed it out with excellent relief work. The next game (after a rain-out, there was a DH), Keough lasted just 6 1/3 but Jones and Lacey held on.

After that spurt of activity, it was back to ‘normal’. Between game two of August 3 and August 19, Martin went to the pen once.

Once, in 14 days.

ONCE IN 14 DAYS! Holy Old Hoss Radbourn, Batman!

On a hot August night, Beard made his first appearance in 17 days, and Minetto showed up for the first time in 22. The latter lost the game after shaky performances by Lacey and Jones, who were appearing in a game for the first time in 10 days.

During that fortnight, did they even go OUT to the bullpen? What did bullpen coach George Mitterwald DO anyway?

After that long stretch, it became semi-normal again. Lacey normally went 3-4 days between appearances and the others went about a week to 10 days. Minetto made his last appearance on August 29. I don’ t think he was sent down, as Ogden was in last place so there were no playoffs there. He probably just was left on the bench to rot, much like Kenny Holtzman was when Martin managed the Yanks.

As the calendar moved to September, the A’s had another week-long stretch of complete games. Jones went 8 days between outings and then appeared in back to back games. Beard went 14 days without pitching and also then threw in back to back games.

What would the GM do NOW if you had your two best pitching prospects in the major leagues going 2 weeks between outings in the bullpen? Amazing.

On Sept. 18, McCatty was blasted by Texas and Hamilton made an appearance after 66 days of exile. Of course, Martin being Martin he put his relief ace in the game in the THIRD (Lacey). The next day, Kansas City lit up Kingman, so the bullpen quartet all made an appearance again.

By this time the Royals had totally ran away from the rest of the AL West. Martin wanted to finish over .500 and finish second, so instead of easing off the last part of the season he put the hammer down. You’d think that now all of the fuzzy cheeked kids from Ogden would show up, but no.

Remember, Charlie O Finley was cheap. Extra players on the big league roster means hotel rooms, meal money and big league salary. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sent Minetto down to SAVE on that stuff in September since Martin wasn’t going to use him anyway.

That, and Martin had already seen and discarded the best pitchers from Ogden except for Morgan. Morgan was already scarred from 1978 and 1979. The rest of Ogden’s staff outside of the bit players in the early ‘pen were dudes like Brian “Father” Abraham (2-8, 5.75, 1.803 WHIP), Randy Green (6-12, 5.87, 1.688 WHIP), Frank Harris (5-11, 5.72, 1.612 WHIP) and John Sutton (5.24 ERA and 1.848 WHIP). And those other bozos didn’t do much (Wirth’s WHIP was 1.820, which made his 6.20 ERA look decent in comparison; Lysander had a 5.05 ERA and a 1.802 WHIP). Souza and Camacho pitched halfway decent, but why call them up just for show?

Anyway, after the Royals eviscerated Kingman and Company, the A’s were 74-75. They went 9-4 to close out the year, throwing 10 complete games. Twice, Kingman came in for a relief stint. Jones pitched once, Lacey once, Beard twice, Hamilton never again.

Yes, the fifth starter pitched more in relief than the ostensible relief ace in the last 13 games.

Amongst those 10 complete games, pitched in late September when the A’s had no pennant race to deal with (I was going to say “meaningless” games but I’m afraid Billy Martin would emerge from his grave, drink in hand, and clock me one like I was a marshmallow salesman or Dave Boswell. There were no meaningless games to Martin. Even if he were trying to get fired he still wanted to win every game 42-o) were these ‘gems’.

Sept. 23 against the White Sox. Langford goes the distance in a 6-4 despite giving up 14 hits, and having three of the four runs score on him in the sixth and seventh and Leo Sutherland hit a double in the ninth with one out bringing the tying run to the plate. 14 hits! Gardenhire would have used five pitchers in the seventh…

Sept. 26 against the Brewers. Mike Norris took a 7-5 lead into the ninth. Now, Francona or Girardi or Scioscia would have used their middle men and set up men in the 7th and 8th when Milwaukee started its comeback and have the closer in the 9th put the hammer down. But Norris was out there to begin the ninth. Charlie Moore singled, but Molitor hit into a force play. However, Yount and Cooper singled to load the bases. Was anyone warming up? I doubt it, as Ben Oglivie hit a grand-slam inside the park home run. (Yes, a grand slam inside the park home run. Ben Oglivie did that.) Still, Norris is in there as Gorman Thomas takes him deep. Vic Harris fans, but John Poff (WHO??) and Jim Gantner single. STILL NORRIS IS IN THERE! Finally, Moore grounds out. Norris gets his CG, giving up 10 runs!

Oct. 2 against the White Sox. Langford struggles, giving up eight runs in the first five innings, but he still completes the game, a tidy 15-hitter, in a 9-4 loss.

The season ended Oct. 5. Guess who started it? Guess?

Langford. On two days rest after giving up 15 hits in a complete game. He doesn’t complete this one though. Because it went 15 innings. Still, it was a sight to behold.

Langford falls behind 2-0 after one inning (not shame, since the Brewers could flat out rake at the top of the order), but settles down and leads 4-2 going into the bottom of the eighth. Vic Harris pops up, but Ed Romero takes Langford deep to make it 4-3.

Ok, Billy, you’ve got a pitcher on two days rest, pitching in the 8th inning of game 162. You’ve clinched second place. You’ve clinched a winning record. AND HE JUST GAVE UP A HOME RUN TO FREAKIN’ ED ROMERO! ED ROMERO!

Romero hit eight home runs in his career, and that was his first.

Langford gets out of the inning, and the A’s still lead 4-3 going to the bottom of the ninth. It’s time for the closer, right?

No, it’s time for Langford, who gives up a tying home run to Oglivie (outside the park this time) and the game is tied.

The game’s tied at 4-4 going to the bottom of the 10th. Now, isn’t it time for Lacey, or Jones, or Beard?

Nope, Langford.

Finally, Martin puts in a reliever in the 11th. Kingman. The fifth starter. Figures. In the 12th, Beard comes in and pitches well for 3 2/3 before giving up a game winning single to Harris.

The ‘Iron Five’ did its job and the A’s finished over .500 for the first time since the dynasty days. And if it worked once, it would work again. Martin and Fowler did the same thing in 1981, but due to the strike it wasn’t as noticeable. Still, Langford, McCatty, Norris and Keough completed 56 of their 88 starts. Lacey was gone (he was mouthy about his role and Billy exiled him to Cleveland), Jones was the ‘ace’ of the pen. Tom Underwood and Bob Owchinko contributed and Martin trusted them more than the rookie squad from Ogden. Beard was up in September only, and I wonder if Martin was still sore at him for losing game 162 last year. Bo McLaughlin played the Dave Hamilton role complete with 11+ ERA. The A’s made the ALCS but were swept by the Yanks.

So why not another try? Those five were in their peak. Langford was 30 in 1982 – the rest 26 to 28. The A’s were second in the league in pitching in 1981.

They fell to 13th in 1982. All five of the “Iron Five” were basically done. McCatty had the best ERA (3.99) but only pitched 20 games. Langford and Keough gutted it out but they were mediocre to awful (Keough was 11-18, 5.72). Martin quit.

In 1983, McCatty pitched well but still only had 24 starts (he also relieved in 14 games). Norris threw 88 2/3 innings before he was hurt again and out of the majors, seemingly for good.  Kingman was bought by the Giants, and was found to be all used up. He was out of the majors after 4 2/3 bad innings in San Francisco. Keough pitched 44 innings with a 5.52 ERA before he was given to the Yanks on June 15th.

Langford had the most spectacular flameout – at age 31 he still was the ace of the staff going into 1983. He started opening day and lasted 3 2/3 before hitting the DL. Came back a month later for three starts. He threw 6 2/3 innings. TOTAL. A 16.20 ERA and and OPS against of 1.200 led him back to the DL. Back in July for 3 starts, and he actually went five innings in one! But after lasting 1 2/3 against Boston in late July he was done and struggled to return for almost two seasons.

The 1983 A’s Opening Day starter went 0-4, 12.15 and gave up 43 hits and 27 earned runs in 20 innings. He walked 10 and struck out two, none in his last five starts.

So what happened to the Iron Five?

Kingman you know about.

McCatty had 1 1/2 more seasons left in him, but he was a shadow of his 1981 self.

Keough lasted until the late 80′s but was nothing more than a fringe pitcher at best.

Norris had a lot of ink written about him thanks to his redemption from drugs, and his comeback from his arm trouble, and made it back to the A’s in 1990. But after 27 innings he was done. He didn’t pitch in the bigs from August 3, 1983 to April 11, 1990.

Langford tried to come back with all his might after missing most of 1984. He did OK in a brief stint in 1985 but after going 1-10, 7.36 he was released in mid-July. His last appearance came 10 years to the day after his first appearance.

So what does this have to do with pitch counts?

Everything!

Had Martin actually managed his resources with any long-term objectives in mind, he wouldn’t have done what he did. Yes, many teams are probably way too careful with their young arms, and 12-man staffs are the bane of the game, but it shows a lack of awareness about the game as a whole when Morris sits around bemoaning pitch counts when so many young pitchers have broken down from consistent high pitch counts in stress situations.

And all you need to say is Rick Langford, or Mike Norris, or Steve McCatty, or…

Three Wins From 200!

Not bad for a player whose career has been counted out many times before.

Let’s count:

1988 – Drafted in the 8th round out of Florida Institute of Technology. Hit .189 with 57 K’s in 54 games at Watertown in the NY-Penn League. Night Owl was unimpressed.

1989 – Playing first and third for Augusta in the Sally League and Welland back in the NY-P, he hit .216 with 35 K’s and 4 (count ‘em) walks in 102 at bats. Converted to pitcher because, well, who would want to get a real job at age 22, had success, saving his minor league career.

1993 – After being the darling of the national media following his outstanding rookie season (as a mid-season call-up he almost single-handedly stabilized the rotation for the Pirates) and winning two games in the NLCS (the Sid Bream / Francisco Cabrera series – but no one remembers Jose Lind’s error on a grounder by David Justice, which after Doug Drabek walked Bream forced Leyland to bring in Stan Belinda – if Lind fields that grounder then I bet the Pirates lose to the Blue Jays in the series…but I digress) Wakefield learns about the life as a knuckleball pitcher.

Specifically, if you lose the feel of it, you’re going to get creamed. He was 6-11, 5.61 and that was with throwing 2 straight shutouts to end the year. At Carolina in the Southern League he went 3-5, 6.99. The Pirates gave him one more chance because of his 1992 success and the two straight shutouts.

1994 – The good news was that he didn’t miss any paychecks because of the strike. The bad news was everything else about 1994. 5-15, 5.84 and more walks than strikeouts at Buffalo. He was probably lucky the majors went on strike.

1995 – The Pirates released him in spring training, and the Red Sox took a flyer on him. Six days later the Red Sox signed him. Four starts in Pawtucket, and he was called up, and it was 1992 all over again. But it took six days for a team to sign him and I can only imagine what it was like during that week for him.

1999 – The good times couldn’t last, and by 1999 he was struggling as the fifth starter (5-9, 5.86 in starts). Had he not switched to the bullpen rather seamlessly, he was probably a goner even though he went 17-8 the year before (with a relatively high ERA).

2000 – Pitchers in their mid-30′s that post a 5.48 ERA in their walk year are usually toast. Somehow, someway, the Red Sox re-signed him. At a $1.5 million pay cut, yes, but they re-signed him. Believe it or not that’s the last transaction listed on his B-R page.

2004 – A late 30′s pitcher going 12-10, 4.87 could be a contender for the Jeff Suppan / Aaron Sele mercy buy-out.

2006 – A late 30′s pitcher with a 7-11, 4.63 mark could be contender for the Carlos Silva take him out back and shoot him mercy buy-out.

2010 – A 43-year old pitcher with a -0.7 WAR should probably hone his golf game.

Yes, 10 times during his career Wakefield could have seen it all end. But he persevered and now at age 44 is pitching well and again has stabilized a rotation after the implosions of Lackey and Dice-K.

Thank God for the knuckleball, seen here in his 1993 Fleer card in all of its glory.

One last note on Tim, who makes me wish I stuck with my knuckleball back in the day.

75 major league pitchers debuted in 1992. Miguel Batista and Wakefield are the only ones who are still active (though Batista just was DFA’d if I am not mistaken).

Russ Springer’s last year was 2010. Pedro Martinez, Doug Brocail and Alan Embree made it to 2009. Bob Wickman to 2007. Pedro Astacio and Jeff Nelson to 2006, and Paul Quantril, Steve Reed, Buddy Groom and Matt Whiteside lasted until 2005. (Matt Whiteside???)

Only 25 pitchers starting in 1992 made it to 2001 – and Patttt Rapppp and Ken Bottenfeld hung ‘em up after that season.

Those who started in 1992 that didn’t pitch in the new millennium? Guys like Roger Pavlik, Steve Cooke, Jim Bullinger (yes, Virginia, he was an Opening Day Starter, and that’s why the Cubs are who we thought they were), David Nied, John Doherty, Ben Rivera, Butch Henry, and a bunch of failures and flameouts like Hilly Hathaway, Dennis Moeller, Matt Maysey, Steve Shifflett,  Todd Revenig, Kerry Woodson, Victor Cole and Mike Rackza.

Beat the odds? I think Wakefield re-defined the term.

 

 

 

So Many Questions…So Little Time

Ian Michael Bladergroen (that’s my name too…) was a 44th round draft pick in 2002 for the Mets. That’s a round normally reserved for friends and relatives of scouts, high school players that won’t sign, and draft-and-follow JC players. Bladergroen was the latter. Two fringe players (Tim Wood and Ty Taubenheim) were drafted in the same round, and every player drafted in that round DID play in the minors, but usually that’s a round that doesn’t normally produce a player with card in such a short time.

Ian was a first baseman at Lamar CC in Colorado. He was born in Atlanta, but I guess moved to Albuquerque at some point (though Topps said it was Albuquerque, CO on the card. I looked. Don’t think so…)

He was drafted in 2002 but was a draft and follow and signed in 2003 after one last season at Lamar CC. Sent to Brooklyn (where I hope he learned to eat a slice the proper way, unlike SOMEONE…) he led the Cyclones in home runs and RBI. Great, fine, but minor league baseball is littered with guys like that.

The next year, he played 72 games in Capital City (SC) in the Sally League. While he made the most starts at first, he may not have been a hot prospect. My guess is that he was in Extended Spring for a while and when Tyler Davidson was found wanting and sent back to Brooklyn Bladergroen was summoned. Or something.

He tore apart the Sally League in those 72 games, hitting .342 with 13 home runs and 74 RBI. He would have led the SAL in average, had he qualified. But that Cap City team could rake and they went 89-47. Of course, they were the oldest team in the league, and that means a lot in low Class A.

Because Topps is from NYC the big trend was still rookie and prospect cards, Bladergroen got a Heritage card and an Update card.

Yes, he got a Heritage card. Topps gave a Heritage card to a 44th round pick that had not played a game in the FSL, much less AA or AAA.

My questions are:

A. Why?

B. Why?

C. Why?

D. A two-parter:

D1: ARE YOU HIGH?

D2: WHY?

E. You can’t be serious, can you?

F. Why?

I don’t think there are any answers, really.

SPOILER ALERT : Bladergroen is out of baseball, retiring after one last go-round at York of the Atlantic League. He never made it past High A, playing in the Midwest, Carolina and California Leagues, as well as 3 seasons in the Atlantic League, including a stint with the infamous Road Warriors. He hit just .248 in high Class-A without power or speed or walks.

FACTOID #1: He had a pretty high OBP because he was a HBP machine. He was hit by a pitch 33 times in 252 high-A games.

FACTOID #2: Somehow, the Red Sox foisted Doug Mientkiewicz upon the Mets and got Bladergroen in return.

Ian Michael Bladergroen for Douglas Andrew Mientkiewicz.

Eye doctors everywhere rejoiced!

 

 

 

Pawnee’s Own…

 

There’s Baseball Lifers, And Then There’s Trader Jack…

Word out of Florida are that Jack McKeon will be hired to manage the Marlins on an interim basis. When you go 1-17 in a month, and aren’t named the Cleveland Spiders, then, yeah, you’re going to change managers.

But Trader Jack McKeon? He’d be the oldest manager that didn’t own the team he managed.

He never played in the big leagues. He was a minor league catcher that didn’t hit but must have caught the eye of baseball people.

During his playing career he played for teams representing Greenville, AL; Gloverville – Johnstown, NY; York, PA; Hutchinson, KS; Burlington – Graham, NC; Greensboro, NC; Fayetteville, NC; Missoula, MT; and Fox Cities (Appleton), WI. He hit just .210 with only 25 home runs in 10 seasons.

But at age 24, he started his managerial career in Fayetteville. After Missoula and Fox Cities (where he was a player manager), he managed in Wilson, NC; Vancouver; Dallas – Fort Worth; and Atlanta (IL) before becoming a scout for the Twins after his IL team in Atlanta finished 55-93 in 1964. Realistically, that could have been the end of the line for Jack before it began.

But the new Royals franchise hired Jack to manage their Carolina League team in 1968, representing High Point / Thomasville in NC. From there, he managed in Omaha for four seasons before becoming the Royals skipper in 1973. Finally, the big leagues.

But he lasted just 2 1/2 years in Kansas City, being fired in 1975 even though he was 50-46 at the time. He spent 1976 managing for the Braves in Richmond and then drew the short straw to manage the 1977 Oakland A’s. Somehow, Jack led that bunch of castoffs, has-beens and disgruntled goats to a 26-27 record before Finley fired him and hired Bobby Winkles. The A’s totally tanked, but in 1978 Winkles led the A’s out to an unbelievably fast start (24-15) and Finley fired HIM and hired McKeon. McKeon lasted the year (guess what, the A’s tanked because, well, wouldn’t you tank if your owner fired managers for succeeding) then went to manage Denver in 1979 and then scouted for the Padres in 1980.

He became GM of the Padres for the 1981 season and began the run-up of the good-to-great 1980′s Padres teams. He then decided to step down from the GM role and manage the Padres. There was some controversy in Padre-land during his tenure (Alan Wiggins’ dismissal, the John Birchers, McKeon accused of giving his son-in-law Greg Booker a roster spot for no damn good reason) but all-in-all he won games. He then managed the Reds to better records than they deserved in the late 1990′s, and of course took over the Marlins in 2003 and led them from a dead, dull franchise to a title in 124 games.

One bit of trivia is that Jack McKeon managed against Frank Robinson in 1977 in his last game as A’s manager that season. McKeon managed against Robinson next in 2003, setting the record for the longest time between games that managers faced each other. I probably wrote that weird, but you get the point.

He was fired in 2005 from that job, mainly because players thought he was inflexible and uncommunicative.

And yet, at age 80, the 2011 Marlins think he can help right the ship. The word is that he doesn’t like to talk to players, period. Shut up, do your job, no complaining you pussies. You’re either in the lineup, or you’re not. And if you’re not, it’s because you’re not doing your goddamn job. Suck it up and play better and then I’ll write your name on the card. And don’t you dare complain if I take you out of the game. You wouldn’t be out of the game if you got guys out. But you didn’t and now you’re in the showers.

Any man who rode the buses in the Pioneer League in the 1950′s has the right to say that to today’s players. Can you imagine what the clubhouse was like in Magic Valley, Idaho?

I post this in wonder and in awe. If McKeon indeed puts on the black and teal again and writes down a lineup for the Marlins in the next few days, that will be incredible.

But I wanted to post the lineup for McKeon’s first big league managerial game. It was April 6, 1973 and the Royals traveled to California to meet the Angels who were managed by…Bobby Winkles. (Wow, the circles are so concentric here…)

Nolan Ryan beat KC 3-2. Little did anyone know that 38 years later McKeon would still be writing lineup cards. Here was his first:

Freddie Patek SS

Cookie Rojas 2B

Amos Otis CF

John Maybery 1B

Hal McRae RF

Ed Kirkpatrick DH

Lou Piniella LF

Paul Schaal 3B

Jerry May C

Steve Busby P

McKeon also used Gail Hopkins as a pinch hitter, Carl Taylor as a backup catcher, and Bruce Dal Canton and Tom Burgmeier out of the pen.

Others of note on that team: Fran Healy, Kurt Bevacqua, Steve Hovely, Frank White (51 games!), Jim Wohlford, Buck Martinez, Paul Splittorff (RIP), Gene Garber, Doug Bird, Joe Hoerner, Ken Wright, Wayne Simpson, Steve Mingori, Mark Littell, Dick Drago and Al Fitzmorris. The team that would be the dominant team of the AL West in the late 70′s were formed and shaped by McKeon.

Oh, I forgot, some 20-year old third baseman got his first taste of big league coffee in 1973, being called up in early August due to injuries then in September when Omaha’s season ended. This third baseman did OK in AAA, hitting .281 with 8 home runs.  He started in the minors in 1974 before being called up for good on May 3 after Schaal finally showed his age and Frank White was stretched to play third base. For his first two years he wore #25 – it was tossed to him in 1973 and Richie Scheinblum wore #5 in 1974.

Yeah, Jack McKeon broke George Brett into the bigs.

The amazing name to me though Lou Piniella. The man who retired from managing the Cubs last season, and looked like he was 75 or so was managed in his PRIME by a man who may manage the Marlins this week.

Wow. Baseball is a weird, lovely game, isn’t it?

Yawn All You Want, But Do YOU Have An Effect Named After You?

My girlfriend is a baseball novice. As in, she never really paid attention to it at all. She’s a pop-culture and dance music freak, a karaoke star, and an insane hockey fan when she’s drunk, “FIIIIGHT YOU BASTARDS!”  But today watching the Twins win over the Padres, I patiently explained why leagues have different rules (no damn good reason except someone back in 1973 was an idiot and convinced other idiots to do that DH thing deal bit), why some teams don’t have names on the back of their jerseys (it’s old school and cool) and some basic nuances of the game.

A Pads pitcher committed a balk and I restrained myself from wasting five hours of her time on all of the balk rules.

Thank goodness I have refrained from discussing my fantasy teams. (To be honest, I’ve refrained from paying attention to them recently thanks to some travel, etc.) I can just imagine that her “not impressed face” would be permanent.

I think I could win her back though by explaining that even the most journeyman of journeyman players can have something named after them.  And it’s one of the most important rule of thumb in fantasy baseball.

It’s “The Littlefield Effect”

This Effect was first noticed in the first ever Rotisserie baseball season. (Maybe it was in the second, but it was prominently discussed in the first book on the subject.)

They had their draft right after the season started. In the olden days that made the most sense – you wanted to have the final rosters before you drafted and even before the days of USA Today it was possible by taking a Sporting News with a roster and diligently studying agate type. Since it was a 10-team all NL league (which was a 12-team league), there weren’t that many players orphaned (they drafted 230 of 274 active players, but they also drafted some DL guys). And as it is now, saves were a premium. Miss out on the closers, and you’re totally screwed unless you make lopsided trades or hope for NL teams trading for AL players.

Oh, and in those rules (the best), you couldn’t drop players unless they were demoted, traded to the AL, or injured, or you bid on a player incoming from the AL or one that was called up and not claimed already. So drafting was a premium. The worst thing that could happen was having a player get buried deep into a doghouse so far that the team didn’t release him or demote him just for spite.

With that lengthy prelude, the Littlefield Effect was noticed in the 1981 season.

Littlefield was a 30th round pick by the Cards who made the bigs in 1980 and pitched pretty well. He went 5-5 with 9 saves and had a 3.14 ERA. Those nine saves led St. Louis. That was a train wreck of a season – a retrenchment for St. Louis where Whitey Herzog after being hired as manager and GM pulled himself out of the managerial role to concentrate on the GM role to try and fix his team.

The pitching staff needed big time help. They had the worst ERA in the NL and didn’t have a rotation as much as a “are you healthy, ok you start” philosophy. Fourteen pitchers started games, but Littlefield wasn’t one of them. He was one of eight pitchers that recorded saves (they were last in the NL in that department as well).

Whitey’s insane trades in late 1980 sent Littlefield to the Padres. Herzog knew that Littlefield’s low strikeout rate would come to haunt him, and some team would overlook that.

So John joined the 1981 Padres, managed by Frank Howard. Oh, what a squad. They hit 32 home runs in 110 games, led by Joe Lefebvre’s eight. The staff ace was Juan Eichelberger. Wins and saves would be very hard to come by.

The Padres began the year in San Francisco on April 9 and 10. On April 9, Littlefield saved a 4-1 12-inning win. The next day, he saved a 4-2 win. On both occasions, Gary Lucas was used in tie games before Littlefield shut the door.

So, the rotiss mavens had no doubt that Littlefield was THE closer. Of course, this was the days before Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, MLB Network and bloggers galore. You had the Sporting News, but they even didn’t focus much on the Padres bullpen. But in the world of Rotiss, Littlefield’s two saves were all they needed to pounce on him, since they were before the draft.

He blew his next save opportunity, on April 12. Of course, he was gunning for the 3-inning save. That’s how they rolled then.

The next game, the Reds touched him for three runs. And by this time, Big Frank liked Gary Lucas, a lot, though Littlefield was still in the mix. He then lost two straight games at the end of April. At the end of April, he was 0-2, 2 saves, 1 blown save.

On May 22, he recorded a hold. On May 23, he blew another save. On September 12 he recorded another hold. On September 13, he blew another save. At the end of the season, he recorded two additional holds, and they were in both ends of a doubleheader. But remember, no one knew holds existed them. So big whoop-de in rotiss leagues.

Those two saves? The only saves he recorded.

Thus, the Littlefield Effect.

Basically, don’t get your panties in a wad about an extremely small sample size. As in, two games.

The poor schmuck who bid on Littlefield (for $34 dollars, BTW) had to keep him the entire year.

Ack! It’s enough to curdle yer Yoo-Hoo!

Just A Quick Note…

Hopefully soon I’ll be back to posting in a regular basis. But I’ve had things, good things, percolating. I am very optimistic about a job back in my field. I will need to relocate, but you know, at this point, that’s OK by me.

Joe Ferguson was really OK.  He always seemed to wear a batting helmet on in his cards. He looked like the dude that played in 4 softball leagues a week and treated them all to beer afterwards. But he could hit but his offensive skills weren’t valued in the 1970′s for some idiotic reason. He was the kind of player that could have an OPS+ of over 110 with only a .220 batting average.

And I’m really OK, too. I feel loved and blessed. And then, I read the posts from you knuckleheads, and I feel loved and blessed even more.

All I did was send you guys cards that I couldn’t move (and you grab baggers – more to follow). But dang, the testimonials are making me feel verklempt…

Talk amongst yourselves…

Here’s a topic: If Jeff Francouer played in the era of Bill James’ Baseball Abstract series of books, he would be more villified than Enos Cabell was.

I’ve Been Busy…

And more to follow. So posting will be rare for a while.

So while you wait, here’s Dick Pole. Commence…

PS – Attention GRAB BAGGERS from the Spring Cleaning. An email will follow. Rest assured, you’ll get yer stuff. Just maybe next week before I ship.

 

 

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