Sep 18

Let’s Go Streaking

This New York Mets longest winning streak of the season is four games, which they’ve accomplished on three separate occasions. This surprises me since the Mets are hovering near .500 (73-80, but being outscored by just six runs their Pythagorean record is closer to that of a 76-77 team), and it seems almost impossible to not rattle off a fairly respectable win streak at some point in 162-game schedule. An average winning streak this season is 6.3 wins. Wouldn’t they just luck into one? They played both the Rangers and in the NL East. Nope. Four games. But, that doesn’t even make them particularly special or all that interesting since the White Sox, Twins, and Pirates have also never won more than four games in a row this season (the Pirates somehow achieving this while being 81-70 and in possession of the second wild card spot) and the Diamondbacks having won no more than three games in a row all season (having done so five different times).

This post isn’t about the Mets, though. Not really. If so, peripherally then.

Looking back over the years, through the Mets existence, I noticed that in the two years they won the World Series they led the Majors in that year’s longest winning streak, both at 11 games, so I began wondering if being the best at winning successive games meant all that much for predicting postseason success. There’s logic to it. To make the postseason a team has to win a fair number of games (not every team goes 82-80 like the 2005 Padres or 82-79 like the 1973 Mets and makes the playoffs); teams that win a lot are probably pretty good, and good teams beat up on weaker teams from time to time, stringing together wins; and good teams are probably more likely to win the World Series.

Maybe it’s not a well-constructed syllogism, but it made sense to me. I then decided to limit my search, beginning in 1969 when MLB added the Padres, Expos, Royals, and Seattle Pilots (soon to be the Milwaukee Brewers one year later) and brought the total number of teams to 24, making it more relevant to modern times. I don’t know if it’s easier or more difficult to maintain a winning streak when you only play against seven other teams, but I figured an eight-team division didn’t mean all that much for a modern 30-team league. I could have started in 1962 when there were 20 teams, but 1969 was the year of Woodstock, Apollo 11, and the Miracle Mets. Also, 1969 brought us Slaughterhouse-Five, The Godfather (book), and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so that’s where I started.

After all of that, can we schedule the Angels, Nationals, or Royals—there’s a three-way tie between these three for the season’s longest winning streak at 10 games—for a championship parade?

The short answer to that question is no. As with all things Mets, leading the Majors in the longest winning streak and winning the World Series is uncommon and has happened just five times in the last 44 years there has actually been a postseason (nothing to see here, 1994; move along please). The last time a team led the league in consecutive wins and won the Series was in 1991 when the Twins won 15 in a row and beat the Braves in a Series that made legends of Jack Morris and Kirby Puckett. That’s a span of 21 postseasons without the team with the longest winning streak winning the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Here are the five teams that have done this trick:

Season Team Winning Streak
1969 Mets 11
1971 Pirates 11
1975 Reds 10 (Tied with Red Sox)
1986 Mets 11 (Tied with Red Sox)
1991 Twins 15

Hooray! Win Series and Longest Winning Streak

I found it rather amazing that both the 1975 Reds and the 1986 Mets won 108 games, yet each finished with a rather modest winning streak considering.1 Both teams led the league in wins that year, and those were the only two years where a team finished first in all three categories: team wins, longest winning streak, and Series champ. In fact, the team that finished with the best record in the Majors had the longest winning streak only seven times. The last two were the Mariners in 2001 that won 116 games and had a 15-game streak and the 2002 A’s that were tied with the Yankees with 103 wins and won 20 games in a row. Just take a moment to think about those numbers. The Mariners won 116 games and the A’s won 20 in a row. Since 1969, a team has won 15+ consecutive games just five times, and it happened in back-to-back-to-back years with the Braves in 2000, Mariners, and A’s.

Below are the teams that won the most games and finished with the longest winning streak:

Season Team Record Winning Streak
1975 Reds 108-54 10 (Tied with Red Sox)
1977 Royals 102-60 16
1986 Mets 108-54 11 (Tied with Red Sox)
1988 A’s 104-58 14
1992 Braves 98-64 13
2001 Mariners 116-46 15
2002 A’s 103-59 20

MLB Win Leader and Longest Winning Streak

If you wanted to place a bet for one of the current contenders to win the Series based on something as silly as this you’d probably want to put a few dollars on the Tigers who have the third longest streak this season at eight games. In the last 44 postseasons, the champion has finished the season with the second longest streak seven times and the third longest streak seven times. That means of the 88 teams to play in the World Series since 1969, 19 of them, or about 22%, have finished in the top three.

If you’re wondering what are the chances we’ll perhaps see the Nationals play either the Angels or Royals in the Series, bringing together the co-leaders for longest winning streaks, based on this highly scientific method, then you probably won’t be all that surprised to learn that it’s happened twice: 1975 with the Reds and the Red Sox and 1986 with the Mets and the Red Sox. Of course, those two series might have the two most memorable plays in postseason history with Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 home run and the whole Bill Buckner / Mookie Wilson grounder between the legs thing, so if we should happen to see some combination of these three teams, then we can expect something historic (perhaps a Bryce Harper and Mike Trout epic home run derby that sets the stage for a decade of postseason meetings).

There have been two occurrences where the top two teams met in the Series, 1971 with the Orioles and Pirates and 1998 with the Padres and Yankees, with the number two teams (a tie, naturally) meeting twice as well: 1979 with the Orioles and Pirates again and 1995 with the Indians and the Braves.

All in all, we’re more likely to see one of these three teams reach the World Series and lose than win. The team with the longest winning streak has lost the Series nine times, with the Rangers managing to do this in both 2010 and ‘11. The last NL team to do this was the Rockies in 2007 and then the Padres in 1998.

Summary

None of this really surprised me. I didn’t really expect there to be any correlation between a team that happened to catch lightening in a bottle and rattle off a long winning streak and marching through the postseason unopposed. I’d imagine there’s a correlation with quantity of smaller winning streaks (in the 5-7 range) throughout a season that one long winning streak, but I didn’t dig that deeply into it.

I also didn’t look into the shortest winning streak for an eventual champion was, but that would certainly be worth investigating as well.

  1. Modest, here, should be taken in context. Winning 10+ in a row is a difficult thing to do, and since 1969 it’s happened 141 times, or about 3 times each season. In contrast, a team has won 108+ games just six times during that time. Winning that many games is absurd, the mark of a great team, and wouldn’t you just naturally assume a few lengthy winning streaks?

Sep 12

Chris Davis Suspension and the Orioles Chances

Consider me skeptical that the loss of Chris Davis for 25 games is all that debilitating of a blow to the Orioles postseason chances. Sure his 26 home runs from the left side provide a nice complement to the right-handed bomb hitting machine otherwise known as Nelson Cruz, and with Steve Pearce having a career year hitting behind Davis, it gave opposing managers an interesting dilemma in late game matchups. Do you bring in a righty? Now a lefty? Pearce has been a nightmare to left-handers this year, so we better not leave him in now. You could just see Buck Showalter grin, just a little, filling out the lineup card.

Now? Well, the lineup leans a little more right, and if Friday’s makeup game against the Yankees is any indication of Showalter’s thinking then the O’s will feature four straight right-handed batters, with lefties such as Nick Markakis at the top of the order and the possibility of Ryan Flaherty at the bottom. If Jonathan Schoop, another righty, the lineup gets skewed even more so. Davis would have provided a nice contrast, but Pearce will do just fine playing first, and Davis’ line of .196/.300/.404 wasn’t exactly the stuff of legends like when he was last year’s darling.

Where it truly hurts is at third where Davis had been playing regularly of late. Showalter has the advantage of having both Flaherty and Kelly Johnson to play there now, which won’t hurt the club all that much in clinching the East. They’re up 10 with 17 to play and have the opportunity to eliminate the Yankees this weekend (the O’s won Game 1 of their Friday double-header on a walk off two run double by Jimmy Paredes). The photo below, taken about 20 minutes after the game, did not happen:

photoESPN Names Orioles Losers Despite Win (Wacky ESPN)

When it comes right down to it, however, clinching the East hasn’t been a legitimate worry since early August when Toronto lost six of seven (two to Baltimore) and the O’s found themselves up five. Showalter has these Orioles firmly believing in a “one game at a time” mentality, but it’s nearing time the team will clinch the franchise’s first East crown since 1997, sip a little champagne, and ready for whoever comes out of the Central division’s meat grinder.

This could have been the weekend for that, and this 10-game home stand will certainly provide the Baltimore fans a legitimate reason to cheer. Dark clouds have dotted the Baltimore sports scene this week, but things were all sunshine and blue skies for the Star-Spangled Spectacular. Tall ships are in the harbor, President Obama is expected to be in town, and if everyone was celebrating the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore the O’s were going to win this season’s war against the Yankees. The Davis suspension puts a damper on things, the looming gray cloud in the ALDS distance.

Davis may have been struggling, but it’s not as though Johnson has been worlds better with his .210/.292/.353 line with six home runs. Flaherty filled in nicely for J.J. Hardy, and he’s certainly a guy you can trust in the field, but his batting line of .219/.278/.347 somehow makes Johnson look all the more appealing. To be fair, Flaherty has been hitting the ball much better of late, going 8-for-18 in last four games with a 4-for-5 against Boston on Wednesday, but how long is that going to last? Still, Showalter has options, and I don’t see the impact of losing Davis hurting all that much overall. The team is 14-4 without him on the season, and the much ballyhooed “Next Man Up” philosophy seems very real for this club. They’ve withstood the loss of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado and Hardy playing with back issues this season that has sapped him of his power. The team will be fine.

What’s the best case scenario for the O’s, however? They have losing records against both the Royals (3-4) and the Tigers (1-5), but wouldn’t you rather avoid the Tigers and their right-handed dominant starting pitching? You certainly would hate to face the never ending stream of power arms the Royals can throw your way in late-inning situations, but if you’re tending to feature right-handed bats, the opportunity to bypass Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez (close to returning apparently) and either Rick Porcello or Justin Verlander.1 Oh, who am I kidding? There’s no way I want any piece of James Shields, Yordano Ventura (how much will he have left in the tank, though), and Danny Duffy when he returns. Duffy absolutely dominated the O’s in an outing in May, going seven innings while allowing just two hits. Once it gets to the seventh, you’re seeing a steady diet of 96-97 mph heaters. No thanks. Not in a five-game series.

I’d rather take my chances against the Tigers and their rotation of Cy Young winners.2

So, yes, Orioles fans the suspension really sucks, and maybe it just seems unfair that the universe is piling on. At least this time, you can feel okay for cheering for a player when he returns, or at least the rest of us won’t cringe because of it.

  1. It just feels weird to write that and be 100% sincere.
  2. Feels even weirder to write that.

Sep 11

Welcome Back, Crawford

There was a time when Carl Crawford was considered vital to a team’s championship hopes, when the Boston Red Sox thought it was a fantastic idea to sign him to a seven-year 142 million dollar contract. That didn’t end well obviously. Crawford called his time in Boston “a scar that I think will never go away,” and Boston moved on pretty quickly without him, winning the World Series the year after trading him.

In fact, it’s difficult to mention Crawford, whether in print or on television, without also mentioning the eight-player trade that sent him along with Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to Los Angeles in August of 2012. Even with plenty of baseball still to be played, this sure felt like Crawford’s legacy, for good or for bad, as Boston extricated itself from 250 million in future salary commitments to the one team in baseball insane enough to absorb the cost. The Dodgers true goal, it was understood, was to add Gonzalez. He was the perfect player for their team and would be a big draw at the gate. Crawford? If he played, if he could get healthy, Crawford would make the occasional start on a team with an already crowded outfield and whose top prospect, Joc Pederson, was also an outfielder. Certainly, the Dodgers weren’t going to keep all of these outfielders? Why? My God, was there no limit to what the new Dodger ownership group was willing to spend?

Let the trade rumors begin.

Certainly here’s yet another cautionary tale in signing soon to be 30-year olds to long-term, big money contracts. Since, by his admission, Crawford chased the cash and signed with the Red Sox, the now 33-year old has battled a constant stream of injuries ranging from hamstring strains, ankle sprains, to Tommy John surgery. He’s played in just 367 of a possible 630 games, or about 58% of possible games, and for that coin toss he’s made a little over 200 thousand and change per game played.

In Boston, that kind of no-show was discussed daily by a passionate media, one that Crawford labeled as “the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.” In Los Angeles, he has become largely forgotten with Puig mania, the brilliance of Clayton Kershaw, and the effervescent Magic Johnson still stealing headlines. If ever there’s a better place to sit, catch some rays, and be lost amongst the stars, it’s out in LA. Tired of yet another Dodger no-hitter? Well, here’s a healthy Matt Kemp, and, oh by the way, will the Dodgers now be able to trade the former NL MVP, or should they trade him, and just how much will it cost? What? Puig just flipped a bat so spectacularly on a warning-track can of corn that it lives as an endless stream of animated gifs? Oh, that silly Puig.

Lost in all of this is that Crawford is healthy again and is producing. Maybe he’s no longer the 50+ stolen bases, triple-hitting machine from his youth, but he’s back from a month and a half long stint on the disabled list, or what has become something of his annual June break, and since the beginning of August he’s hit .320/.358/.400 with a pair of home runs and nine stolen bases. He went 4-for-4 in Wednesday night’s game and has gone 9-for-12 in his last three.  Of those home runs, one was a two-run shot to just left of centerfield against the Nationals Tyler Clippard that tied the game up in extra innings. Not fully appreciated in that clip is just how difficult it was to hit that ball, hidden in the shadows while staring into the sun. Chavez Ravine can be murder mid-day to batters.

Well, no one ever said Crawford wasn’t talented . . . just brittle.

The Dodgers currently lead the Giants by 2 ½ games in the West and are percentage points behind the Nationals for the NL’s best record, two games back in the loss column. If they have hopes of holding off the one and overtaking the other they’re going to need every offensive weapon at their disposal. Since August, the Nationals own the best record in the NL at 24-14 and the Giants are 21-15 but leading in runs scored in that timeframe. The Dodgers have held court by going 21-16, but there are reasons for concern.

Puig has just one home run since the Fourth of July, and in those 48 games since he’s hit .269/.363/.411 with 12 RBIs. David Schoenfield on ESPN goes into Puig’s hitting woes in much greater detail, but needless to say, for a team with title or bust aspirations, the Dodgers are going to need every available bat. Dee Gordon has an OBP of just .281 since the beginning of August, making his otherworldly speed a threat but not the game-changer it has been. Hanley Ramirez is working his way back from an oblique strain and has hit just four home runs since June 1st. Oh, and the team has been giving at-bats to Darwin Barney of late. Not many, to be sure, as he makes an occasional spot start or pinch hits, and surprisingly, his OBP with the Dodgers is .391, up from his career of .291, but you get the sense that you know how this is going to end, and the fewer at-bats he sees the better.

On the flip side, Kemp has battled his own litany of injuries, most notably a balky ankle, but he’s put in a solid year at the plate, hitting 19 home runs (five in August) while playing a respectable centerfield. Adrian Gonzalez has provided another professional season at the plate, hitting 22 home runs while driving in 100. Since August he’s hit .325/.377/.561 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. Heck, even former Met Justin Turner is killing the ball this season, hitting .327/.394/.454 overall and .372/.449/.500 with two home runs since August. Turner won’t see the field much with Ramirez back, but he provided a solid presence at the plate while Ramirez was recovering on the DL.

Then there’s Crawford. After struggling through April, Crawford turned May into his own “Welcome Back” party, hitting .333/.358/.513 through the month, turning on pitches with four home runs hit to right. Then he sprained his ankle, was placed on the 15-day disabled list, and 43 days later he was back to playing catch up. Since his return, however, he’s seen his slash line climb from a season low of .230/.267/.342 to its current .276/.315/.387. His seven home runs on the season are the most since 2011 with Boston and perhaps more importantly, in a sign that his wheels haven’t abandoned him, he has 22 stolen bases (out of 28 attempts), which are the most since his final season in Tampa.

Most promising of all is the work he’s done on fastballs since his return. Up through April, Crawford was hitting a miserable .121 against fastballs, which was something of a problem when pitchers were throwing him the pitch 74% of the time. In May, Crawford began hitting .340 against pitches considered hard (as per BrooksBaseball.net), with the overall percentage of pitches seen to 72.5%. Since August? He’s hit .294 while seeing the pitch now 68.3% of the time. Pitchers are taking notice, adjusting accordingly, and Crawford is still successful. Since August, on pitches considered breaking balls he’s hit an even .500. See curve; hit curve; run around the bases really fast.

With such a small lead in the West, and with six games remaining against the Giants, the Dodgers need everyone to contribute. Even a run or two helps (as pointed out in my previous post on how successful the Dodgers have been when scoring only a run or two), and Crawford’s return to a productive outfielder gives them an edge. The team has 238 million reasons to want to win the West, set their rotation, and play to their overall depth than end up in the crapshoot that is a one game play in.

For Crawford, now back to “[having] that feel, that free-spirit feel,” if his performance in last season’s playoffs is any indication, the more games the better since he and the Dodgers are going to be dangerous when they get there.1

  1. Quotes for the post were taken from this Obnoxious Boston Fan article.

Sep 09

Dodgers Dangerous When Scoring Little

With about three weeks to go in the season, the race for home field advantage in the NL is about as settled as the Nationals closer situation. On any given day, the best record either resides in Los Angeles or in DC, but here comes St. Louis or how about the hard-charging San Francisco squad? The one thing I know for certain is that the Mets will not win all of their remaining games to finish near Sandy Alderson’s prediction of 90 wins for the season and muscle their way into one of the wild card spots.

Consider me a realist.

If the best record does come down to just a game or two, we may see sunny Hollywood warm our television sets this October, and if the Dodgers do manage to lead the Senior circuit in wins it might be because of their amazing ability to win games where they’ve scored just one or two runs. Currently, on the season, the Dodgers are 13-32 in games where they’ve scored two or fewer runs (with a league low four shutouts, a bit of quick math has LA at 13-28 when scoring one or two), and though that doesn’t sound like a particularly impressive record, their .289 winning percentage in such games is the seventh best in the last twenty years and the best in MLB since Toronto’s .319 in 2007.

First, I’ll explain why exactly I chose two runs as my demarcation as opposed to one or three or…you get the idea. Currently, teams average around 4.1 runs per game, so a low scoring game would naturally fall below the average. A starter allowing three earned runs in 6+ innings is considered a quality start, not an exceptional one, so I didn’t consider a record when scoring three or fewer to be all that interesting. Mostly, though, scoring two or fewer runs and winning is a difficult thing to accomplish and it seemed interesting.

Here are the top 10 dating back to 1995:

Season Team W-L Win %
2002 Atlanta 14-28 .333
2004 St. Louis 10-21 .323
2007 Toronto 15-32 .319
2001 Seattle 8-18 .308
2005 Chicago White Sox 15-34 .306
1996 San Diego 13-31 .295
2014 Los Angeles Dodgers 13-32 .289
2013 Oakland 14-35 .286
2006 St. Louis 11-28 .282
2006 San Diego 14-36 .280

Top Seasons by W % When Scoring 2 or Fewer Runs

I could probably remove both the 2004 St. Louis and 2001 Seattle teams from the list since both were well below the median of 44 for teams scoring two or fewer, but it won’t particularly matter for our fun, and, honestly, why should they be penalized for being better than my arbitrarily picked scoring threshold? That being the case, the current Dodger team sits a slight tick above median, so no peculiarities in sample size.

How remarkable is their record in these games? Over the last twenty years, the median winning percentage for a team scoring two or fewer is a miniscule .124, which works out to somewhere in the vicinity of 5-6 wins per 44 games. I use median since I’m eliminating the outliers, but honestly the average is .129, the same 5-6 win range, so we’d expect an average team to have a record around 6-38. So, if the Dodgers and Giants battle for the West (and the battle for home field advantage) ends up being decided by just a game or two, a few extra wins (or seven) might just end up being the reason why.

Of course, the one glaring weakness in an assessment such as this is that I’m assuming that all teams are treated equal. Wouldn’t it be natural to assume a better team would win more games where they score only one or two runs (and how many times would we expect the better teams to even score only one or two runs)? For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve classified teams either at or above .500 and those below .500. It’s simple, and I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary to break teams further into tiers.1

Separating teams as either winners or losers does make a difference. The median winning percentage for a team that finished the year at or above .500 is .150 with the median games played at 40. Sub .500 teams win at around .105 with the median games played at 47. So, not surprisingly, bad teams score two or fewer runs more often than good teams and lose those games more often.

Under those circumstances, we’d expect your typical team to go 7-37 (6.6 wins) in those 44 games with the Dodgers playing just north of two deviations above median. What they’re doing, while not exactly earth shattering, is still pretty impressive considering what we’d expect from the typical Major League team.

If you’re looking for an updated table that reflects the above .500 clubs I’m sorry to disappoint you. The table would look exactly like the one listed above since every one of those clubs finished above .500. In fact, the only team to crack the top 20 with a sub .500 record would be the 1998 Orioles (79-83) who won those low score games 26% of the time. After the O’s, the next sub .500 team is the 2010 Dodgers (80-82) at 24.

How are these Dodgers so successful in low scoring games?

Having the greatest pitcher on the planet starting for you certainly helps as Clayton Kershaw has gone 5-2 in these sort of games.2 Zack Greinke has suffered to a record of 0-5 in these games with the Dodgers scoring two or fewer in eight of his starts with two shutouts while Hyun-jin Ryu is 3-4. Also, the Dodgers pitching staff is really good with the team ranked fourth in the Majors with a 3.28 ERA. The starters have been phenomenal, leading the Majors in ERA at 3.12 and FIP, first in WHIP at 1.14, and second to the Rays in total strikeouts at 811. The bullpen has been fairly pedestrian in terms of runs allowed, ranking 18th in ERA at 3.65, but they’ve blown just 12 saves, fourth fewest.

Other than that, what’s there to say? The team has an innate ability to work to the score? Somehow they’ve mastered close and whenever situations? They pitch well, play in a pitcher’s park, and play in a division with similar clubs.

Speaking of those divisional foes, the Dodgers have the most games where they’ve scored two or less against San Diego, where they’ve gone 5-4 in those games. Against San Francisco they’re 1-5. Their record against other NL contenders of note is 1-3 vs. St. Louis and 0-2 against Washington.

In case you were wondering, here are the top 10 in such games for this season.

Team W-L Win %
Dodgers 13-32 .289
Angels 8-26 .235
Marlins 9-34 .209
Rays 11-43 .204
Cardinals 9-39 .188

Top 5 W % When Scoring 2 or Fewer Runs for 2014

And, considering that postseason games tend to be lower scoring games3, it might be a good idea to look at the top contenders for a postseason berth and see how they’ve performed in these games.

Team W-L Win %
Dodgers 13-32 .289
Angels 8-26 .235
Royals 10-41 .196
Cardinals 9-39 .188
Orioles 8-35 .186
Indians 8-37 .178
Pirates 7-38 .156
Braves 8-44 .154
Mariners 7-44 .137
Tigers 6-37 .140
Athletics 4-34 .105
Nationals 4-38 .095
Brewers 4-43 .085
Giants 4-45 .082

Playoff Contenders W % When Scoring 2 or Fewer Runs for 2014

There doesn’t seem to be a discernible skill in winning these types of games. The Athletics are 4-34 this season but had one of the best seasons of the last 20 years in 2013 when they went 14-35. Although, then again, the Atlanta Braves appear quite a few times above the .150 line where we’d expect good teams to win, and the late 90s early aught Mets come in around 17 and 19, proving there was a little miracle happening then.

So, to be thorough, here are the top five teams over the last two decades:

Team W-L Win %
Braves 154-702 .180
Dodgers 175-813 .177
Padres 174-881 .165
Giants 146-755 .162
Angles 121-644 .158

Top 5 W % When Scoring 2 or Fewer Runs since 1995

  1. I could. I could go back through the last 20 years and find the average winning percentage of playoff bound teams, etc., etc., but this is supposed to be goofy fun, and honestly, what’s the point?
  2. If you needed another reason to believe he’s the greatest going, doesn’t that sort of stat say it all? When he’s had to dominate because the Dodgers haven’t scored many runs, he does.
  3. This is absolutely true by the way. Since 1994 (just kidding, a little lockout joke) 1995, Major League teams score about 4.77 runs per game, with the average 4.7 and the median 4.77, while in the postseason those numbers drop to an average of 4.2 and a median of 4. The average is significantly higher because there a few 23-7 and 19-8 scores in there. Anyway, that works out to somewhere between a 10.6 to 16.1 percent drop in scoring. None of this explains what teams score vice what we’d expect them to score based on their seasonal performance, but that’s another post, hopefully coming soon.

Sep 06

Record Shutouts? Another 2014 Fail.

Much has been made this season about the record pace of shutouts and the overall trend of diminished offense coupled with increased strikeouts. The last two decades have been ugly in terms of at-bats ending in a whiff as every year since 1995 is listed in the Top 20 for total strikeouts, K/AB, and K/PA. In fact, the years from 2014 through 2008 are ranked one to seven in highest percentage of K/AB and K/PA. ’14 has sort of hit its nadir with at-bats ending in a strikeout 22.5% of the time.

Have all those patient at-bats, waiting for the right pitch to hit, led to more runs? Before answering that, have all those patient at-bats led to more walks, which in turn by conventional wisdom (it is a television commentator staple to say that walks always come back to bite a pitcher) lead to more runs?

The short answer is no, not really. 2014 is near the bottom for BB/PA, with batters walking just 7.69% of the time, currently ranked 92nd of all seasons since 19141. 2013 was ranked 83rd and 2012 was 81st. In fact, the 1990s showed pretty well in terms of walks per plate appearance (2000 was 6th, ’99 was 10th, and ’95-96 were 16th and 17th respectively), but nowadays batters have the same old approach but pitchers are winning more battles. As you might expect, runs per game are down to the lowest they’ve been since 1981. Removing the Dead-ball era from our returns, 2014 is the 22nd worst season for runs per game with teams scoring a paltry 4.10 runs per, only slightly up from 2013 when it was 4.17.

Is this the year, then? Are we finally going to supplant the dead-ball era season of 1915 as the dead-ballsiest season ever? Will, with just the right sort of San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays ineptitude (both tied with being shut out 17 times this season) 2014 go down as the best of the worst?

No, damnit.

Currently, there have been 297 shutouts this season, and at the present rate of one shutout every seven games (7.05% of the time) and with 323 games remaining, give or take a play-in game or two, 2014 will likely finish 9th or 10th all-time with around 315. That will, however, give the years from 2010-14 a firm lock on the top 12 spots, which is just the sort of negativity that writers across our good nation love to gripe about.

Just for goofs, here’s the current top 15 seasons for shutouts (with total games2 and SHO/G):

Season Games Shutouts SHO/G
1915 3728 359 9.63
1972 3718 357 9.60
1914 3758 357 9.50
1968 3250 339 10.43
2013 4862 331 6.81
2010 4860 329 6.77
1976 3878 325 8.38
2011 4858 323 6.65
1971 3876 315 8.13
2012 4860 310 6.38
1978 4204 305 7.25
1969 3892 300 7.71
1992 4212 298 7.08
2014 3886 297 7.05
1973 4212 293 7.54

Top 15 Shutouts in a Season

And, if you’re wondering what teams have been shut out the most and fewest time this season, I have that very thing for you too.

Team Times Shut out Rank
San Diego Padres 17 1 (tie)
Tampa Bay Rays
Seattle Mariners 15 3
Boston Red Sox 13 4 (tie)
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Houston Astros
Philadelphia Phillies
San Francisco Giants
Chicago White Sox 7 23 (tie)
Kansas City Royals
New York Yankees
Pittsburgh Pirates
Cleveland Indians 6 27 (tie)
Miami Marlins
Los Angeles Dodgers 4 29
Los Angeles Angels 3 30

Top (Worst/Best) Teams by Shutouts

  1. All stats here gathered using baseball-reference.com Team Finder tool
  2. Halve the number for individual games played. Since there are two teams, and two opportunities for a shutout, the number just looks huge.

Sep 06

Rafael Soriano Struggles Again

On Friday night Rafael Soriano blew another save, and by all accounts Nationals manager Matt Williams has seen enough. In the postgame press conference, Williams said, “We’ll address it, yeah. We need to address it.” If you’ve listened to Williams at all this year, a staunch supporter of his veterans in all situations, this is akin to saying Soriano will soon join Terrance in the bleachers to keep the crowd energized.

Much has been already said about Soriano’s 6.98 ERA since the All Star break, but that’s just a number. A low number, really, if you consider just how awful Soriano has looked in all but a handful of his outings. We can play magic with arbitrary timeframes, but if we select July 28 as our starting date in a game against Miami when Soriano surrendered a three-run lead that was about as bad as an outing could be, Soriano has allowed 14 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, equating to an 8.22 ERA. In those 17 games, he’s allowed 22 hits, five walks, and struck out 15, which comes more from the quantity of batters faced than the quality of pitches made. Batters are hitting .328/.387/.537 in that time with an absurdly high .380 average on balls in play. Is that luck? The only unlucky part of that statistic is that line drives weren’t hit directly into upraised mitts. There was one time I was afraid for Adam LaRoche’s life when a liner off of Travis Snider’s bat nearly decapitated him.

These aren’t Texas leaguers or seeing-eye grounders. These are baseballs screaming through the field like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

I don’t know if Soriano is through as a closer. Baseball history is littered with successful closers who suddenly lost whatever it was that made them unique and special. For the rarity of Mariano Rivera, there are dozens of closers such as Bobby Thigpen or Jim Johnson whose stuff just went away seemingly overnight. Eric Gagne won the Cy Young in 2003 (no, seriously, it’s true) and then had but one good year left in the tank. Perhaps it’s the physical toll of gearing up for 15-20 pitches a night or the psychological toll of having the game come down to your arm night after night after night. Francisco Rodriquez was K-Rod, then he wasn’t, then he reinvented himself, but no one would claim that he’s the same guy that pitched so brilliantly in his burgeoning flower of youth.

I do know that Soriano’s arm now looks dead. There’s no life in his fastball, and his slider sort of spins lazily to the plate. If he threw mid to high 90s he could get away with just one usable pitch, but when you regularly hit 91 and have been living middle of the plate and up you’re going to get pasted.

Before the All Star break, Soriano had the numbers to back up the chatter about his possible inclusion on the NL squad. He had a WHIP of .811, allowing just 19 hits and 11 walks in 37 innings while striking out 36. He had 22 saves with an ERA of 0.97 (FIP of 2.42). Batters were hitting just .153/.222/.226 with a BABIP of .207 (indicating that he was more than just a little lucky and would regress). But if you take a look at his zone profile from BrooksBaseball.net, you can see a pitcher begging to be hit hard:

soriano_preAllStarSoriano Zone Profile pre-All Star Break

That image represents the pre-All Star break Soriano. Notice that there’s an awful lot of red in the middle of the plate.

soriano_postAllStarSoriano Zone Profile post-All Star Break

He still throws mainly middle of the plate, though now he’s been throwing more up and in (a lot of those are him overthrowing).

In the press conference, Williams went on to say:

We’re certainly going to have to take a hard look at it, Williams said. It’s not an easy decision. None of them are. But we want to be able to close those games out. Sori understands that, he’s been around the block.

Do the Nats have viable options in house? Tyler Clippard has been a popular name to add to the mix, but he hasn’t exactly shined in his few chances to close. In fact, he’s blown three saves just since the middle of August, all on game-tying home runs where he left a pitch hanging like ripe fruit in the middle of the plate. He was lights out in the eighth inning, so perhaps Williams should do the right thing and leave Clippard just where he is. Matt Thornton is a possibility since he has the upper 90s fastball that can just humiliate a batter, but he’s the one competent left-hander Williams has in the pen. Eventually, in the playoffs, the Nats will need to get past Adrian Gonzalez or Freddie Freeman.

Drew Storen is a more viable option, but I still have flashbacks to his attempt to close out the Marlins on July 30.

Williams has to do something, and it sounds as though he knows it too. I say this with the utmost confidence and despair that if Soriano closes games for the Nats come postseason time the Nats will not make it to the World Series. I’d love to see him find his inner Keith Foulke and gut his team with diminishing stuff to a Series title, but at this point, with a month left to play, it’s hard to bank title hopes on an act of God.

The players are saying the right things, backing their guy. You’d expect nothing less. These are men accustomed to success, to always being able to rely on ability and hard work to get through the inevitable ups and downs of the season. Sometimes, though, even when you really dig deep, there’s just nothing there.

The Nats have a seven game lead, which should be plenty to hold off the Braves, barring a 2007 Mets or 2011 Braves like collapse. After living through the 2007 season, suffering through every one of those losses and smarting still with every Cole Hamels quip, I can never quite say it’s time to celebrate. Good enough for the East was fine when the team was struggling through injuries, but with this lineup, and those starters, the Nats should be laser-focused on winning the first title in franchise history.

We can only hope they’re not the best for eight innings at a time.

Aug 31

Mountaineers, Mettle, and Stickum

Games like Saturday’s WVU opener are called moral victories.  Mettle was tested.  Lessons were learned.  Even if that moral victory seemed more like a Pyrrhic one as WVU starters dropped to the Georgia Dome turf like they’d eaten a bad platter of Chick-fil-A grilled nuggets, they hung with the Nick Saban led Tide in a game WVU entered as 26 ½ point underdogs.  They lost by 10?  Hey, they gave Alabama a spirited fight!

Ugh.  Moral victories still feel like losses the day after, and maybe they were underdogs entering the game, but someone forgot to tell WVU and Clint Trickett because the senior quarterback looked confident throughout.  He moved the ball around, found open receivers, and finished 29-of-45 with 365 yards passing and a touchdown.  Trickett guided Dana Holgorsen’s high-octane offense against an Alabama defense unprepared for the frenzied pace, and if the opening drive set a tone for this game, it proved that when WVU moves down the field it really moves.  It also set a tone of coming up short, of opportunities lost, and with one, or two, or four fewer drops maybe the moral victory is a real one instead.

In consecutive drives in the third quarter Mountaineer receivers dropped passes that either would have extended the drive or, in the case of Shelton Gibson, given Holgorsen a decision on a fourth and short a long field goal.  Early In the fourth, Elijah Wellman came within inches of bringing WVU within three but Trickett missed the wide-open fullback and the ball glanced off Wellman’s fingertips.  Even Daryl Worley’s interception of Alabama quarterback Blake Sims came with a “what if,” as a holding penalty on the play cost the Mountaineers the chance to start inside Alabama’s 35.

On Sunday morning the narrative became how Alabama dodged a bullet, how the team and newly crowned Tide quarterback Sims overcame the plucky team from Morgantown, and how the playoff system almost received its first test.  During the broadcast announcers Dave Pasch and Brian Griese focused more on the relationship between Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin than the team giving Alabama a lesson in confidence and fearlessness.  WVU wasn’t a team just happy to be there on the big stage.  They were a team with the self-assurance that they belonged there on a weekly basis.

Of course, when you win three of the last five national championships, the story is your story unless someone steals the headlines.  Unfortunately, the story of the Mountaineers was one of a 4-8 squad from 2013-14, as ABC reminded us on a regular basis.  They were the team that had struggled in its transition to the Big 12, going 6-12 in conference play since joining for the 2012-13 season.  Maybe, Pasch and Griese would tell us, this year WVU would make for a tougher opponent, as though they were the Butterbean to the Evander Holyfield’s of the FBS world, the opponent who put up just enough fight to be entertaining.  Unfortunately for WVU, a few too many dropped passes cost them the knockout blow.

In the end, WVU had no answers for the combination of a 240-pound wrecking ball made human Derrick Henry and speedster T.J. YeldonAmari Cooper caught everything in sight while Sims evaded pressure and made the plays he needed to.

Did WVU belong on this big stage?  More importantly, have the Mountaineers made us believe that they’re ready to take up residence on the stage for good?  I don’t know what the rest of the season will bring, if Oklahoma, Baylor, and Kansas State are for real for real, but on Saturday afternoon the lights of the Georgia Dome reflected just as bright off the Mountaineers white helmets as they did for Alabama.

Aug 29

Can I Get an Average Starter Please?

When I noticed that the Mariners had recalled Erasmo Ramirez to pitch Wednesday against the Rangers, I realized that Jordan Zimmermann would be facing the likely AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez tonight.  With a trip to Los Angeles right after the Seattle series, there’s a remote chance that Zimmermann would also pitch against the likely NL Cy Young winner as well.  That Clayton Kershaw is schedule to pitch next Tuesday night against Doug Fister1 didn’t make me stop wondering how often a pitcher has started against both Cy Young winners during the same season and how did the poor sap fair?

Limiting my search from 2013 through 1997 (the first year of interleague play) I quickly found out that a pitcher starting against both Cy Young winners was uncommon but not exactly rare.  In the past 17 years, there have been exactly 24 times when a pitcher started against both award winners (with an additional six in 2003 when a starter appeared in a game featuring either Roy Halladay or closer Eric Gagne).  Filed under crummy luck, Jarrod Washburn, Livan Hernandez, and Ryan Dempster have each had it happen during two different seasons, but both Washburn and Hernandez pulled off the trick in 2003 with Gagne and Halladay.  In 2012, we had the only occurrence during this time when both eventual Cy winners started against one another when R.A. Dickey tossed a complete game 1-hitter against David Price and the Rays.  Price lasted just five innings that game, allowing seven earned.

Below is a table with the years and number of times it’s happened:

 

Season Occurrences Pitchers
2013 0 N/A
2012 3 CC Sabathia

Chien-Ming Wang

Cole Hamels

2011 1 Jered Weaver
2010 3 Carl Pavano

Mat Latos

Tim Wakefield

2009 1 Russ Ortiz
2008 2 Cha-Seung Baek

Livan Hernandez

2007 1 Edwin Jackson
2006 2 James Shields

Jarrod Washburn

2005 0 N/A
2004 0 N/A
2003 6 Adam Bernero

Darrell May

Jarrod Washburn

Jeff D’Amico

Livan Hernandez

Mark Buehrle

2002 2 Kirk Rueter

Rodrigo Lopez

2001 1 Ryan Dempster
2000 3 Javier Vazquez

Kent Bottenfield

Matt Perisho

1999 4 Mike Thurman

Ryan Dempster

1998 1 Brian Meadows
1997 0 N/A

Occurrences Pitcher Faced Both Cy Young Winners

Not surprisingly, the record when facing both award representatives isn’t all that encouraging.  I didn’t include 2003 since the starters didn’t really face off against Gagne and since closers shouldn’t win the Cy Young because, well, they’re closers.  I’ll just pretend that year never happened.  It was a different time then, and Gagne saved 55 games with 137 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings.

For all non-Gagne closed seasons, the starters were a combined 10-25 with 14 no decisions.  Collectively, their ERA was 4.17 while they allowed 299 hits in 304 2/3 innings.

Out of all the starters listed above, Mike Thurman faired the best.  He went 2-0 in 1999 against both Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, scattering 10 hits across 14 1/3 innings while allowing just two earned runs.  That year, Johnson and Martinez had a combined record of 40-13 with 677 strikeouts between them.  Defeating just one of them is impressive enough (Johnson was in the midst of winning four Cy Young awards in a row and 1999 was definitely the least impressive of those seasons.  Of course, if you consider a 17-9 record and 364 strikeouts unimpressive then I have nothing else for you), but to defeat both of them in the same season deserves a mention in Cooperstown right next to their plaques.2

Nobody actually pitched against both pitchers in back-to-back starts.  Chien-Ming Wang and Cole Hamels in 2012 and Russ Ortiz in 2009 faced off against each in two of three starts.  Jered Weaver in 2011 had the pleasure of pitching against Kershaw in back-to-back starts, going 1-0 with a no decision.

Good luck to Zimmermann if he should be fortunate enough to pitch against both in the Nats next two series.  He’s going to need it.

  1. Whatever.  Last Sunday Hernandez wasn’t supposed to pitch against the Nationals at all.
  2. That neither has been enshrined yet is only a formality.  If the voters decide that Johnson and Martinez shouldn’t be first ballot Hall of Famers, I’m through with baseball for good.

Aug 27

Jordan Zimmermann and Consistency

Jordan Zimmermann is about as flashy as a pair of BluBlocker sunglasses.1 If not for his regular appearances starting for the Nationals every fifth day, you’d be hard pressed to know he was there at all. He doesn’t bring with him the ongoing drama of Stephen Strasburg and whether he is or isn’t an ace or should or shouldn’t lead the staff. He doesn’t put up gaudy statistics like Kershaw or have the big strikeout rate that excites all the numbers geeks like me. He just shows up, puts in work, and gives his team a chance to win every fifth day.

He’s so steady he’s delightfully boring.

If there’s a way to quietly win 19 games in a season, Zimmermann accomplished the feat in 2013 by posting a 19-9 record that largely went unnoticed. While wins are a poor indicator of pitching performance, big numbers still draw oohs and aahs from the masses like muscles on a beach, but despite tying Adam Wainwright for the NL lead (second in the Majors behind Max Scherzer’s 21), Zimmermann finished seventh in the NL Cy Young voting behind a closer in Craig Kimbrel and Matt Harvey, a guy whose last game was on August 24 because he tore his ulnar collateral ligament.2 How did industry experts view Zimmermann coming into the season? Well, if this ESPN prediction column is any indication, he had less of a chance of winning the Cy in 2014 than Julio Teheran or Tim Lincecum. Hey, I get it, everybody loves “The Freak,” but the 5’11” whirling dervish is a long ways removed from the pitcher who dominated the NL from 2008-11. Baseball Prospectus predicted Zimmermann would finish 10th, behind Nats teammates Strasburg and Doug Fister.

How’s that for respect?

This year Zimmermann won’t win out against Kershaw, even if he produces another month like he had in June, but Zimmermann should finish top five. What keeps him out of the discussion for one of the top three spots is that he just hasn’t thrown enough innings. He’s thrown just six more innings than Kershaw in five additional starts, and he’s averaged just 89 pitches per start, which continues a trend of low 90s pitch counts dating back to 2011. In Zimmerman’s 26 starts in 2014, he’s topped 100 pitches just seven times, gone 95+ an additional four, reached 90+ an additional six. Some of that is efficiency of course: he had one start against St. Louis where he threw 76 pitches across 8 innings of work, but when you average a shade over six innings a start, it’s difficult to be considered elite.

Consistency Is Key

The beauty of Zimmermann is that it’s almost a given in what you’re going to receive from the righty on a nightly basis. Home or away, month in and month out, he’s essentially the same pitcher. Take a look at these home and away splits for his career:

Home/Away ERA FIP WHIP AVG wOBA
Home 3.24 3.45 1.17 .246 .297
Away 3.40 3.27 1.16 .249 .303

Zimmermann Home/Away Splits

Of course, I could find other statistics such as K/9, higher on the road, or HR/9, lower at home, that would attempt to prove the contrary opinion, but the point is that here’s a guy who delivers mid 90s fastballs with the same regularity and results on the road as he does at home, against right handers or left handers.

How about those same numbers broken out by month:

Monthly ERA FIP WHIP AVG wOBA
Mar/April 2.76 3.15 1.07 .232 .277
May 4.32 3.65 1.29 .274 .322
June 1.72 2.80 0.96 .208 .247
July 4.09 3.22 1.24 .269 .327
August 3.47 3.56 1.22 .253 .313
Sept/Oct 3.97 4.20 1.26 .251 .327

Zimmermann Monthly Splits

Short of Zimmermann really loving to pitch in June, he allows base runners at essentially the same rate and his wOBA holds steady around the average of .320. Over the last four years, the NL average FIP for starters has been between 3.82 and 3.97 and (except for June of course) Zimmermann never strays too far from that range.

For his career, look at the results from his three primary pitches against lefties and righties:

Pitch Left BAA Right BAA Left Whiff Right Whiff Left Strike Right Strike
Fourseam .264 .262 14.63% 17.51% 27.41% 26.61%
Slider .225 .244 28.31% 29.90% 26.86% 33.99%
Curve .206 .224 23.56% 25.91% 32.24% 26.01%

Zimmermann Career Pitch Results

Other than a desire to throw his slider more to righties and his curveball more to lefties (which from the results above, makes a lot of sense) he isn’t extreme in his results and outcomes to either side of the plate. If we’re to discuss differences, we could look to how he approaches either side, working the outer third to righties with a tendency to attack low and away, while attacking away from the belt up to lefties, but nobody said he pitched exactly the same—just that he achieved similar results.

Keeping the discussion going with the amazing consistency of J-Zimm, take a look at few statistics over the years:

Season fWAR bWAR ERA ERA+ WHIP
2011 3.2 2.8 3.18 120 1.15
2012 3.4 4.7 2.94 136 1.17
2013 3.6 3.7 3.25 116 1.09
2014 3.8 3.5 2.93 128 1.13

Zimmermann Seasonal Statistics

If there’s a case to be made for a career year, 2012 would be the one to choose, but he’s about as steady as they come. To look at his seasons in the context of his contemporaries in terms of fWAR, since 2011 the average season delivered by a qualified starter is 2.7 with the median coming in at precisely 2.5. Zimmermann is well above those figures, but all of his seasons save the current one fall within the middle 50% that ranges from 1.5 to 3.5. In contrast, neither Kershaw nor Felix Hernandez has one single season that doesn’t exceed that range, which isn’t arguing that Zimmermann doesn’t match up with the elite but there’s the game’s greats and then there’s the games really, consistently goods.

Of the other pitchers who existed in that world of pretty good with at least three or four seasons either between or just outside that middle 50, Lance Lynn would be a solid comparable as he’s recorded seasons between 2.8 and 3.4 with Rick Porcello providing another reasonable comparison. This is the company Zimmermann keeps, with a floor of Kyle Lohse at his best and a ceiling of Zack Greinke (non-2009 variety that is) when things go right. That’s on a per season basis, year after year after year.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Zimmermann is so consistent that it took until his fifth month of the season before he had a game where he walked more than two batters, and he’s walked precisely two batters just five times this season. In fact, prior to the three walk game against Arizona on August 18, Zimmermann had gone 34 straight starts with two or fewer walks allowed, which was the longest active streak in baseball at the time. He’s allowed just 24 walks, good for fifth in the Majors for qualified starters, and his 1.35 BB/9 is sixth in the Majors.

Those games where he just loses his mojo and walks the bases loaded? They’re not happening with this guy. One of the few times I can recall where Zimmermann actually lost his composure on the mound happened against the Mets in mid-August. After a few Nats errors allowed two Mets runners in the seventh, Zimmermann plunked Juan Lagares, forcing Matt Williams to bring in Drew Storen.

Summary

Maybe I’m the only one. Maybe it’s just me that over the years hasn’t fully appreciated the work Zimmermann has put in, but I don’t think so. In many ways, he’s the forgotten man on the Nats staff, but for those of us who have watched this team this year, along with Fister, Zimmermann has been the most consistent of the Nats starters.

Matt Williams gets paid to decide who will start a Game 1 when the postseason comes around, but he might want to make Zimmermann the guy.

smith_jzimm

Don’t mess with Zimmermann.

pence_jzimm

Hit a home run? Zimmermann’s revenge.

  1. For your sake, I’m going to end this before I compare Stephen Strasburg to a pair of Oliver Peoples and Tanner Roark to a pair of Maui Jims. Thank me later.
  2. This isn’t an indictment on Harvey either or his finish in the voting. He was amazing in ’13 before his injury. Let me just say this unequivocally: Harvey does no wrong in my eyes and should be treated like gold.

Aug 25

The Daringer Family: a History Told Through Baseball

In terms of baseball families, the Daringers never gained the notoriety of the Alomars, Boones, or Molinas, but the histories of brothers Howard, Cliff, and Rolla Daringer and cousin Paul Derringer are fascinating. In truth, the Daringers probably mean a whole lot more to the good people of Hayden, Indiana and to me than they do to you. Up until a week ago, they didn’t mean all that much to me either. Such is the century-long intermingling of personal histories and bloodlines that men who existed solely in black and white now have their names carved upon the dark brown branches of a family tree.

Oh, it’s not my family tree exactly, but the Daringer’s history is now my history . . . more or less. So, in the words of Colin Meloy and The Decemberists, “But, I remember you / And I will relate to you / How our histories interweave.”

The Daringers are the distant relatives of my brother-in-law’s wife, and more specifically, on her mother’s side, the three brothers are the children of her fourth great grandfather’s brother’s daughter while Paul Derringer was fourth cousins with the three brothers, having the same third great grandfather. Believe me, this is far easier to understand as a chart than it is written out, but read it aloud and consider it an oral history. Howard, Cliff, and Rolla were three of ten children of Lorenzo Dow Daringer1and Margaret Carr, with Howard being born in 1883, Cliff in 1885, and Rolla in 1888. Paul Derringer was born in Springfield, Kentucky in 1906, and for all the ballplayers born in that wonderful year, Paul had the third highest bWAR, which is of course meaningless but nevertheless there you are.

Howard Daringer

Moving from least “major league” service time to most, Howard spent the entirety of his professional career bouncing around the B-Level Three-Eye League between 1907 and 1920 with a break from 1918-1919 to presumably attend to other worldly matters. As an outfielder, he was a career .279/.279/.164 hitter for those seasons where the statistics still exist and if you can believe in the validity of such things, but he was by all accounts a good player who topped out with eight home runs in 1913 for the Dubuque Hustlers, placing second on the team. Howard joined brother Rolla on many of those teams, playing alongside his younger sibling from 1910-1913 with Dubuque, on the same Peoria Distillers team in 1914, and for the Bloomington Bloomers in 1916. He played alongside Cliff for the Dubuque-Freeport Commons in 1915. Howard never saw action in one of the major leagues like his brothers, but he certainly was an accomplished player that had a long, productive career.

And, in case you’re wondering, the Three-Eye League produced quite a bit of extraordinary talent in its time. Howard and Rolla played alongside future Hall of Famer Red Faber on the 1910 Dubuque squad, and though I can’t confirm if they played at the same time, Howard and Mordecai Brown were on the same 1920 Terre Haute Browns. Before moving along to brother Rolla, I’d like to first take a moment to explain what exactly the nature of the minor league system in the 1900s via Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract:

The minor leagues as they existed a hundred years ago were something more like today’s Mexican League, or perhaps a Japanese baseball league, except that rather than operating in another country in a foreign language, they operated in the hinterlands of the United States. They were independent. My experience has been that it is difficult to get people to internalize this concept to the point that they can stop coloring their understanding of what happened then with notions about “minor league” baseball.

The point, then, is that these men weren’t toiling away in the minors, hoping fervently to make it back to the big leagues. They were playing professional baseball in a well-established league that just so happened to not be either NL or AL. To continue, here’s one more quote from James: “But the difference between the majors and the minors was a difference in degree, a difference in calibre—not an inequality of status. The Baltimore team was just as important to the Baltimore fans then as it is today.”

Ok, well now that that’s cleared up.

Rolla Daringer

Rolla spent the least amount of time in one of the actual major leagues, playing parts of two seasons from 1914-15 as a shortstop with the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, the Cardinals alternated between seasons of awful and mediocre, finishing in sixth or worse (out of eight teams) 14 times from 1902-19, with 1914 being the one winning season in that 18 year window. The St. Louis Browns (later to become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954) in the American League were often thought of as an embarrassment during that time, but the Cardinals had a lower winning percentage (.409 to .430) than their city rivals, and it wasn’t until 1926 until the team went on to win their first World Series being named the Cardinals (the franchise had tied one Series in 1885 and won another in 1886 when they were the Browns of the American Association), but Rolla’s Cardinals were not those Cardinals.

The history of old-timer ballplayers is like walking through Cooperstown and hearing the faint echoes of bats cracking at every turn. In 1914, Rolla Daringer made his debut against the Philadelphia Phillies and promptly struck out. On the mound for the Phillies that day was none other than Pete “Grover Cleveland” Alexander. Bill James places Alexander third in his rankings for pitchers all-time. In 1914, Alexander went 27-15 with a 2.38 ERA and threw a whopping 355 innings.

Along with Alexander, Rolla also shared the field with another future Hall of Famer, Miller Huggins (then manager and second baseman). In his next and final game of that season, Rolla finished 2-for-3 against the Chicago Cubs Larry Cheney. On that day, Rolla played against future Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan and the very good Heinie Zimmerman and Frank Schulte. These weren’t exactly the Cubs that so thoroughly dominated the early 1900s, those of Tinkers, Evers, Chance, and “Three Finger” Brown, but the 1914 version still finished two games above .500.

Hooray!

Rolla played in just 10 more games for the Cardinals in 1915, and the left-handed batting utility infielder had his troubles with another lefty, Hippo Vaughn. Perhaps the coolest thing about Rolla’s experience in the big leagues is that he hit against King Lear and went 0-for-3.2  If it’s any solace to Rolla, which being deceased some forty years now it’s doubtful, 1915 was also the debut of Rogers Hornsby at shortstop. Their paths never crossed, not on the Major League diamond anyway, as Rolla’s last game was on April 23rd and Hornsby didn’t debut until September 10th. Hornsby would soon go on to become arguably the greatest second baseman in baseball history, and by all accounts, Hornsby being the thorny personality that he was, perhaps it was a good thing they never met. Still. Small world we live in. Rolla never made it back to the big leagues, settling instead with the Bloomington Bloomers during the 1916-17 seasons before enlisting in 1918 for service during World War I.

Cliff Daringer

Cliff played but one season, in 1914, but his history is just as rich as his brother Rolla’s. In fact, Cliff played his one season with the Kansas City Packers of the Federal League, a renegade league established to challenge the NL and AL as another major league. That it didn’t succeed is in no small part due to the outbreak of war in 1914 and a world-wide recession that affected all sectors of business, but the Federal League hired away legitimate players at higher salaries than their more established brethren. All in all, five future Hall of Famers made stints in the Federal League: Joe Tinker, Edd Roush, Eddie Plank, Mordecai Brown, and Chief Bender. Roush was the only one of that group that was in the flower of his youth, playing his first full professional season at the age of 21 with the Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1914 (he played nine games with the Chicago White Sox in ’13), so if there’s one thing to take from this is that the Federal League did employ quality ballplayers.

Chicago_Examiner_Vol_14_no_41 (2)

Chicago Examiner, April 12, 1914 – Federal League Managers

In his one season, Cliff batted .263/.322/.288, driving in 16 while swiping nine bags. In his debut, Cliff went 2-for-2 against the Hoosier’s George Kaiserling. If you’re wondering, Roush went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. For the season, Cliff had 10 multi-hit games and five games with 2 RBIs. Cliff also happened to appear in the first game ever played at Weegham Park against the Tinker led Chicago Whales. You’d probably best recognize Weegham Park by its current name of Wrigley Field. In that game, Cliff started at shortstop and went 0-for-3 at the plate, but he did have five assists in the field without an error. The Whales won that game 9-1 as catcher Art Wilson hit two home runs and drove in three.

The Federal league folded after 1915, though it seems like Cliff had lost interest in playing professional baseball after his one season. He certainly was good enough to continue playing, but he was 29 in his rookie season, so perhaps he decided to make his fortune elsewhere. He married Alice Feeney in 1914, and by 1917 he was living in Sacramento where he remained until his death in 1971. Though the Federal League lasted but two years, it certainly affected baseball in other ways. Once more, here’s Bill James:

But while the Federal League did not survive, it changed everything. The Federal League sent salaries sky-rocketing. The salary rocket forced the breakup of the best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Athletics, whose players were sold off. The salaries forced Jack Dunn, owner/manager of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, to put his 19-year-old star pitcher, Babe Ruth, up for sale (otherwise Ruth would have spent several years, perhaps even a decade, in Baltimore.)

Not that it mattered after the fact, but here’s another bit of information about the Federal League I found fascinating. According to Zack Hample in The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches, in 1914, the ball was probably juiced:

The Federal League played the first of its two major league seasons and used the Victor ball. The American League hit 148 home runs, the National League 267, and the Federal League 295—so people suspected that the Victor ball (which was made by a company owned by Spalding) was extra lively. …Later in the [1916] season, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss disassembled a Victor ball and discovered that it had a two-ounce rubber core. (This was twice the legal limit, but because the Federal League had folded a year earlier, nothing could be done about it.)

Paul Derringer

Paul Derringer enjoyed the most success out of all the men, winning 223 career games and making the All Star game six times. He also came in third and fourth for the NL MVP award in 1939 and 1940. I won’t go too much into Derringer’s personal demons during his life (there’s a great article here if you care to read), but Derringer was the staff ace on the Cincinnati Reds teams in 1939-40 that won the NL pennant and he won one World Series title in ’40 against the Detroit Tigers, and he won Game 7 in that series against Bobo Newsom.

While Cliff played in the first game ever in what would become Wrigley, Derringer pitched in the first night game ever in Major League history on May 24, 1935. He won that game 2-1 against the Philadelphia Phillies and starter Joe Bowman. Derringer pitched a complete game, allowing one earned run on six hits while striking out three. As was typical of the man nicknamed the “Control King,” at least on the diamond, he didn’t allow a single walk, and for his career he only walked 761 in 3,645 innings. That comes out to a 1.9 BB/9, and for pitchers that have thrown more than 3,000 career innings Derringer ranks 18th all time, just behind Lew Burdette and tied with David Wells.

The Curious Case of Hayden

Before concluding this trip down memory lane, I’d like to make note that Hayden, IN was something of a professional hotbed in the early 20th century. According to the Jennings County, IN Historical Society, no fewer than eight men from Hayden went on to play professional baseball: Mike Simon; Ray Ryan; Howard, Cliff, and Rolla Daringer; Walter More; Forrest More; George More; and Arnold Marshall. Simon, who was a rookie on the 1909 Pittsburgh team that won the World Series against the Tigers and Ty Cobb, and Rolla Daringer were the only two to play in either the AL or NL.

Simon was a backup catcher that played on a team with future Hall inductees Vic Willis, Honus Wagner, and Fred Clarke, and he played against future Hall of Famers Cobb and Sam Crawford. If there was such a thing as MVP in 1909, Simon likely would have played against the AL’s recipient in Cobb and with the NL’s in Wagner.

Simon also played on the 1916 Bloomington squad that employed Rolla and Howard, and he played on the same 1906 Peoria team as Howard.

Summary

Certainly there is more to these men’s lives that what is recounted briefly here. There were marriages and children, joys and sorrows, and plenty of baseball. Always, it seemed, there was baseball with the Daringers. This was in no way meant to be a full recounting of their stories, but here in brief was just an introduction. I hope to add more. There without a doubt will be more with additional research, chance newspaper clippings, a photo from somewhere or a relation confirmed.

I look forward to learning more.

  1. Lorenzo served in the 6th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War and was wounded three times: once at Peachtree Creek, Georgia; once at Stones River, Tennessee; and finally at Simpson Ridge, Tennessee. Lorenzo died in 1892, and Margaret passed in 1940.
  2. How did I not know Lear played professional baseball?  Only my favorite Shakespeare play, and here he was in America in 1915.

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