John Littlefield – 1981 Topps

June 19, 2011

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!

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