So-So So

For a while, it seemed like every team was signing a Japanese player. As with any player moving to a foreign land, it’s an adjustment. Some were good, others were spectacular failures.

Then there’s So Taguchi.

Unlike some imports, he started out in the minors and that seemed to be the plan as he started in New Haven. However, any big plans the Cards had for him didn’t come to fruition. He was never more than a 4th outfielder – a spare part.

That was to be expected. Again, unlike some imports he was in decline in Japan and was merely a useful player, not a superstar. He was humble and worked hard, and he was a favorite in the organization and among fans.

But the question is, here’s a 32-year old player starting in AA. Would that development time be better spent on younger players? At age 32, Taguchi was Taguchi. He never had a WAR over 1.0; never had an OPS+ of over 100.You expect imports from Japan to be hyped as stars – that wasn’t the vibe with Taguchi. Could a AA roster spot be better spent on a 22-year old that has a chance to be more than a 4th outfielder?

Finding and grooming talent is still a huge, nebulous ordeal. You don’t know how players will react to bus rides from Beloit to Bowling Green, eating on $10 a day and sleeping multiple to a room. You don’t know if or when a prospect will blow out an arm, or totally lose his swing, or flail at the sliders on the outside corner that no one in high school could locate. You don’t know about how the 19-year old phenom will interact to the older, more cynical players.

Baseball is a hard enough game even without these developmental questions. Taguchi was no mystery. He did what was logically expected. But prospecting is a risk /reward continuum. Become safe, and you fall behind. Become reckless, and you fall behind.

This Could Be Me, As A Player

First thing – I have been silent thanks to a great weekend. No, really, it was great.

Second, I will be posting my updated want list and late this week post the sign up sheet for the Spring Cleaning.

Third, I now have a part-time job at Target. No, I’m not spending my earning on blasters. Yet.

As for Gallego, I may have been weird, or realistic, but in dreaming of playing baseball for $$ as a kid I always thought I’d be more of a middle infielder than anything. I knew I didn’t have power but I thought with smarts and versatility I could carve out a niche. At least when I dreamt about it.

Of course, that was in the 70’s and 80’s where you had 15 position players, usually, so there was plenty of room for a utility infielder or two on the roster. So I identified with the Junior Kennedys, Dave Rosellos, Scott Fletchers, and yes, Mike Gallegos of the world.

For the most part, Gallego was a guy who could play multiple positions, bunt and keep things steady by giving everyone a day off or two. Just as long as he wasn’t the regular, he was valuable.

Gallego, though, DID become the ‘regular’ shortstop in 1989 and the ‘regular’ second baseman in 1990, and had predictably so-so results.

In 1991, he really was the regular 2B for the A’s (126 games started) and somehow had a great offensive season, hitting 12 home runs and had a 4.3 WAR. (With those 12 homers, did he find the leftover juice in the locker room?? Hmmm…)

The Yanks made him a millionaire after that season, and in 1992 he didn’t do much, but he had another great year in 1993 as a plug-in at 2B, SS and 3B. After that, it was a steady decline into coaching.

Yeah, I know, most kids want to be the stars – Ripken, Boggs, Bench, Morgan. But baseball needs Gallego’s as well. And you know, why can’t you dream about that too?

Why Did The Duncan / LaRussa Kool-Aid Wear Off After One Year?

SPRING CLEANING UPDATE: I’ve decided to become an Expos team collector, because I’m ornery, and think that Montreal should still have a team. That means no Expos non-doubles will be in the mix. But any Expos doubles will go with the Nats or in the grab bags.

You’ll also get some ‘sets’ – which is just the doubles of a particular set, plus the minis and inserts. The team sets will have the parallels and relics. And the grab bags will have non team specific good stuff plus the triples, etc. that I have.

And now…

A lot has been written about the ‘magic’ that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan have performed on starting pitchers in St. Louis (and somewhat in Oakland). Usually, it’s a short-term reclamation project that doesn’t last that long. Pitchers that aren’t projects tend to break down (Matt Morris, Mark Mulder, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter), but most every pitcher breaks down somehow over time. And not every pitcher takes to it (Mike Maroth for one, Kent Mercker for another). And it’s usually short term or only stays in St. Louis (Pat Hentgen, Kent Bottenfeld, Jeff Suppan).

But it isn’t just for vets.

Case in point – Simontacchi.

He was a 21st round draft pick in 1996, and typical of 21st round draft picks, when you go 3-7, 6.97 in the Midwest League you get released. He was.

After his release, he pitched in the Frontier League in 1998. The Pirates picked him up in 1999 to fill a Class A roster. He did that, and was released again after the season. But all was not lost – he was one of the pitchers for Italy in the 2000 Olympics. After the games he signed with the Twins and went to AAA (his first time at that level) in 2001.

The numbers looked bad (7-13, 5.84), but he pitched in Edmonton. The team was awful and those seven wins led the club. Also, his K/W ration was fabulous (83K / 23 BB). So the Cardinals signed him and sent him to AAA, where he probably had no idea at the onset of the season that he’d be in the bigs. But a 5-1, 2.34 slate, coupled with a staff in shambles (Woody Williams, Garrett Stephenson injured – Josh Pearce, Bud Smith, Travis Smith found wanting – and they even had to use Mike Timlin and Mike Crudale as emergency starters) led the Cards to call up Simontacchi.

He came up on May 4, and then the Cards were scuffling at 13-16. Simontacchi pitched an outstanding game, beating the Braves 3-2, allowing just five hits and a walk.

From there, the Cards took off, cruising to a 97-65 record and winning the NL Central by 13. But they lost the NLCS to the Giants. Simontacchi wasn’t lights out all of the time, but he stabilized the rotation during the first part of the year.

The next year, Simontacchi demonstrated why a W-L record by itself is one of the worst gauges of a pitchers’ value. He was 9-5, but had a 5.56 ERA, a 1.536 WHIP and a -1.2 WAR. Whatever Duncan and LaRussa did for him wore off, and he was quite hittable.

He was more down than up in 2004, and kicked around everywhere until 2007 when he all of a sudden resurfaced with the Nationals. Again, he showed a knack of winning, somehow, going 6-7 with a 6.37 ERA in 13 starts before crashing out in Florida on July 15th. Giving up three dingers and five runs in 4 1/3 innings was the last straw even for the 2007 Nationals, who ran through 26 pitchers in a 73-89 season.

Whatever potion Duncan and LaRussa cook up is potent, but it may be short lived and side effects may include your arm falling off. And once you pass outside the domain of the mad wizards, the effect will wear off.

Speculation?

Oh, if only card prices were published daily like the stock market prices, and archived for easy retrieval.

I wonder what the asking price for this card would have been in April, 1994?

As you remember, Rhodes hit three home runs on Opening Day in 1994, in Wrigley. Sure that wasn’t going to last, but at the end of April he was hitting .313 with a .996 OPS.

By the end of May, he was down to .249 with a .765 OPS.

He wound up at .234 with a .705 OPS and just a 0.4 WAR, having lost the starting center field job in the process in favor of Glenallen Hill. Now, an outfield of Derrick May, Hill and Sammy Sosa would probably cause the pitchers to sue the outfield for non-support on defense.

If you throw April out, Rhodes hit .201 with an OBP and SLG under .300.

Rhodes had an outstanding career in Japan afterwards, but here he is best known for that one game, and then the abject disappointment the Cubs had from May onward in 1994, all because of him.

I’m sure the speculative card collectors were buying up any Rhodes cards they could in April and by June they were unloading them. A price chart no doubt looked like the tulip bubble.

But had they done their homework, they probably would have realized that Rhodes wasn’t someone to really get excited about.

A. Rhodes had 259 at bats already in the big leagues. While not a huge sample size, there was enough of a record to see that his April would probably be anomalous.

B. Up until 1993, Rhodes hit just 14 home runs in the minor leagues after starting in rookie ball in 1986. In 1993, Rhodes hit 30 home runs in the American Association after being released by Houston. Regression to the mean was likely.

C. In 1993, while Rhodes was blasting home runs, he was involved in a three-way trade between the Yankees, Royals and Cubs. Rhodes, John Habyan and Paul Assenmacher were the principals involved. Of those, Rhodes was the only one who was a minor leaguer and he stayed a minor leaguer until September call-ups.

D. 1993 was Rhodes’ fourth year in AAA. That could explain his batting surge more than anything.

E. In 1993, Rhodes was in AAA while Kevin Roberson was called up after Candy Maldonado was deemed a failure. Maldonado was traded to Cleveland for Glenallen Hill. Meanwhile Roberson stayed up and Rhodes stayed on the farm.

Sure, it’s all hindsight. But Rhodes is why I never worry about April stats. The stats all come out in the wash in the long run.

 

Spring Cleaning Coming Together!

Hey, I have the rules of Spring Cleaning ready to go. I’ve given some of my friends a preferred chance at some of their favorite teams or sets of doubles. But every team has some choice nuggets…like the above!

(Look for the Spring Cleaning post over the weekend – and if you got the early email make your choices now – thanks to several of you who have already claimed teams, etc.

I just turned on the Twins game and saw Liriano give up six to the Royals in the fourth. So I went through my box and found a Royals card to change the voodoo. And why not a card from a set that would have worked for a smaller, more premium set but not one of 432 cards.

And not for players like Rusty Meacham.

Rusty Meacham belongs in base sets. I read someone lamenting that with the emphasis on rookies in the base Topps the subs and middle relievers are either relegated to Update or forgotten altogether. That’s a shame. I also know that sets like Heritage should be a bit more picky about players. The more premium the set, the more that the checklists are limited. A set like Flair would cost a LOT of money to collect one-by-one in the day and you’d probably have a box full of doubles of guys like Andres Berumen.

Looking at the Flair Checklist – I can’t see people wanting to spend premium dollars for a pack that contains a Jason Bates, Mike Oquist or Dave Mlicki unless they were a team collector. I got this on the secondary market, I believe (or got it from someone who got it on the secondary market), which yes you can find some Flairs seeded in with the 1989 Topps in those assortments at Target.

Meacham had an interesting story. He was a 33rd round draft pick by the Tigers in 1987 and not signed until 1988 as a JUCO draft-and-follow. He was a side-arming righty (as you can see on the card) that blazed through the Tiger system and had a good 1991 in Toledo. He struggled a bit in the majors but there was potential.

Then the Tigers put him on waivers. That, I don’t get. You have a 23-year old pitcher whose worst full-season minor league ERA was in AA in 1990 – and it was 3.13 (with a 15-9 record). Your staff had guys like Tanana, Gullickson, Gleaton, Terrell, Cerutti, Paul Gibson, Petry and Jeff Kaiser. I mean, why waive a 23-year old with promise?

The Roayls actually made some good baseball decisions in the 90’s and they snapped Meacham up quickly. The Tigers fell to 6th in the AL East with the worst ERA in the AL – thanks to guys like Terrell, Eric King, Les Lancaster, Scott Aldred, Buddy Groom and Kevin Ritz with ERAs over 5.

Rusty had a good year for KC: 10-4, 2 saves, 2.74 ERA, 1.9 WAR, 15 holds, and 31% of his 55 inherited runners scored.I think the Tigers would have rather had that than whatever Dan Gaekler or Kurt Knudsen gave them.

But then, the injury bugaboo hit him. Relief pitchers that throw over 100 innings in a season do have a history of breaking down more often than not – and Meacham had elbow problems which caused him to miss a lot of 1993 and then become less effective as time wore on. His 1992 promise was not filled, but Meacham has continued in pro ball, being a pitcher and pitching coach in the minors and independent ball. In fact, he threw 2 innings LAST YEAR!

 

Was Chris James Pulling Our Leg?

First, I’m almost ready to start updating lists here and beginning the Spring Cleaning. I have bindered up the sets and cards I want to keep and now will sort the others into teams, doubles and sets. Yes, for some of my larger sets with multiples I’m going to send out a grab bag there as well. So if you’re behind on a set, just ask for it. You’ll get it. Heh.

Second, I’ve enjoyed writing for Bad Wax. Some of the readers over there, though, have said they do not like it when I dabble in poetry or other frivolities. I tell you what, if Dan Quisenberry wrote poetry then poetry is OK by me. Besides, poets get more chicks than neanderthal douches. But haters, they gonna hate.

Now, on to our main feature…

Studio, I think, was rather star-crossed. It was a good idea for perhaps an insert but maybe not for huge sets. Then it got kinda out of control (but yet, I’m trying to collect the “Credit Card Set” from Studio. Go figure…) with the poses and stuff. Early on, though, it was just pretty simple head shots or portraits.

The back wasn’t filled with the usual stats (which would have been a turn-off for me) but facts – much like you would find in the media guide. The back of this set had headings of PERSONAL, CAREER, and HOBBIES & INTERESTS. It’s funny that this card does not mention that James’ brother was Craig James, the famed SMU running back who was in the backfield with Eric Dickerson and later has become a football analyst on TV.

James was a journeyman’s journeyman. He was not drafted but signed with the Phillies in 1981 as a free agent. Usually, that’s a ticket for a season of rookie ball, extended spring training, and then a pink slip. But James started to hit, and was in AA by 1983 and AAA by 1984. In 1987, he received ROY votes and had a 10-year major-league career. Mostly he was a fourth outfielder / DH / pinch hitter type but he had a few seasons as a regular.

In this card, his personal and career seemed normal, but then we get to Hobbies & Interests.

Most of it is sadly predictable and generic. He likes hunting, country music, Coach (the TV show), the Cowboys and the Rockets.

But there are two things that stand out.

He likes hunting…cows. Cows? I didn’t know that the East Texas woods were full of wild, feral bovines.

That can’t be much of a sport. Cows in a field just kind of stand around, mooing and chewing.

But then, we get a note that his hero is…

Richard Nixon.

NIXON?

Nixon did some good things, but he did many bad things. Unless you like your government unaccountable and corrupt, then you have to admit that Nixon shouldn’t be anyone’s hero.

James, of course, may be playing people for a fool. But it wouldn’t surprise me that a Dick Nixon fan would like hunting cows.

 

I Think I Found Out Why The Royals Have Stunk For A Long Time…

One-eyed players with an eye-patch probably will have trouble hitting, or fielding (you know, depth perception).

Now, to find out about the Pirates…

Fleer Ultra – We’re Trying Too Hard

Fancy fonts, goofy pictures – Fleer Ultra was trying to wedge themselves between Upper Deck and Stadium Club.

It didn’t quite work.

Now, yes, it’s fun to see Larkin having fun. Lord knows 1997 was another disappointment for Barry with yet another injury and a sub-standard ballclub.

It would be really nice to see Larkin enshrined in the HOF. I think writers are too high and mighty up in themselves ‘protecting the gates of Cooperstown’ from…what exactly? The best players in the league? As far as I’m concerned, if you didn’t gamble on baseball, throw games, or bribe umpires, then there’s no reason not to be considered and voted in if worthy.

Larkin is 7th in career WAR for shortstops over 1000 games. Bill Dahlen is third. Let’s hope Larkin doesn’t have the wait Dahlen had (and still has)…

So Upper Deck Thought They Could Have Gotten Away With It?

This card is part of Smed’s Spring Cleaning. I added more cards to the kitty today from sets that I don’t think I’ll complete in the near future. There may be some gems (not rare, of course, but cards you don’t see much of) in there, along with a bunch of UD Collector’s Choices and stuff and things.

The late, unlamented 2010 Upper Deck set I think would have looked good if it was licensed. It’s sad that a once mighty company that shook up the baseball card world was reduced to skullduggery, though. They weren’t supposed to use any licensed logos or uniforms, as I recall, yet almost every card had a partial uniform and or hat that was easily identifiable.

No wonder they were sued and had to scuttle their plans for any other sets, and the ‘second wave’ of the 2010 set.

I’d love to see a competitor to Topps as long as both card companies don’t go hog wild with sets that really can’t be completed by the average collector in a year. I’d also like to somehow make it so pack searchers are publicly ridiculed. I’m going to start a part-time job at a Target on Tuesday while I look for a full-time one in my career. Perhaps I’ll find a pack searcher and put him in the stocks so we can throw tomatoes at him.

 

 

“No, Harry! Don’t Lean Out So Far…”

Ah, Scott Servais. How did he make bank and become a regular for the Cubs?

Step 1. Be a backup catcher that shows power in the Astrodome.

Step 2. Be available in mid-season 1995 when the Cubs realize Rick Wilkins was a one-hit wonder. (OPS+ 150 to 83 in one season. Oops…)

Step 3. Hit like Rick Wilkins, 1993, right after you are traded. (OPS+ 144 and 12 home runs in 52 games)

Step 4. Profit

As a Cubs fan in recovery (just starting my Step 4 inventory, where I have revealed the roots of my resentment towards Jeff Blauser…) far be it from me to criticize the Cubs off the cuff.

No, there’s data involved.

Shock of the world, the Cubs and their fan base overrate the value of their players. How confident were they in Servais?

Well, here were the backups after he became a regular in 1996.

Tyler Houston, Brian Dorsett, Mike Hubbard, Sandy Martinez.

They really didn’t leave themselves much choice, did they. But of course, those 52 games in 1995 were the REAL Servais, much like 1993 was the REAL Wilkins.

Really, though, since Gabby Hartnett, the catching of the Cubs hasn’t been good at all.

Yes, Geovany Soto had a great 2010 and 2008, but there was 2009 where he was a replacement player (0.0 WAR). What will 2011 bring?

But the other regulars?

Michael Barrett – I told you about his defense (but still love the punch!)

Damian Miller

Joe Girardi

Benito Santiago

Servais

Wilkins

Girardi

Damon Berryhill

Jody Davis

Tim Blackwell (!!)

Barry Foote

Dave Rader

George Mitterwald

Steve Swisher

Randy Hundley (career ruined by Durocher, but he was overrated)

Chris Cannizzaro (regular in 1971, if you could call it that – Hundley got hurt and six catchers total started for the Cubs – none more than 61 games.)

Between Hundley and Hartnett, it was a train wreck. Players like Joe Garagiola, Hobie Landrith and Harry Chiti were regulars for a year. Clyde McCollugh had potential but was up and down and in the war. Dick Bertell hit .302 in 1962 in part-time duty but he was just a singles hitting catcher – and he stopped hitting singles.

Players like Miller, Berryhill, Davis and Girardi weren’t AWFUL. But they weren’t the paragon of catching greatness. Yet you’d think that talking to some Cubs fans, especially when they compared to the catcher they had NOW. (Man, if Servais was just Jody Davis…when they said that I about had an seizure.)

As for the picture on this card, I sought out when it was. I thought it would be easy to pinpoint, since it was at Wrigley and Servais was traded in late June.

Well, the first series Servais played as a Cub was at home against…St. Louis! There were two later games he played in at home against St. Louis but this looks like a late June shot thanks to the sun.

The first game’s box score shows that John Mabry playing first for the Cards. That ain’t Mabry.

The second game’s box score had Mabry play until the 8th at first when he was replaced by Darnell Coles in a double switch.

In game three and four, Mabry was the sole first baseman. So it should be relatively easy to find this play.

And it is.

Cubs down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Tom Henke on the mound. With one out, Servais hits a grounder between short and second that Tripp Cromer bobbles and allows Servais to reach on an error.

Scott Bullett up with one out. Henke deals the 0-1 pitch and Bullett POPS IT UP! You can just hear Harry. “Aw…geeez. What kind of swing was that….” And then he drooled over Stoney.

So there you go. Coles and Servais are immortalized on cardboard thanks to Scott Bullett’s ineptitude against Tom Henke.