Archive for the ‘oddities’ Category

Andy Sonnanstine and Other unDesignated Hitters

May 18, 2009

Not a lot of traffic here on the weekends, I’ve noticed. And I get that — why would you waste your time reading junk on the internet if you can’t be pretending to work while you do it? So if you’ve been away for a couple days, check out Saturday’s rant about official scorers and fielding percentage and Sunday’s slightly-less-than-thrilling conclusion to the All-Metrodome Team.

So how about this game, huh? Joe Maddon intends to start regular third baseman Evan Longoria at DH and Ben Zobrist at 3B, but on the lineup card he turns in, both were listed at 3B. Once Zobrist has played in the field, then, the Rays have forfeited their designated hitter, and instead of having the best player on the team (and probably in the AL) batting in their #3 spot, that spot is populated by their pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine. You’d think that would be kind of a disadvantage, wouldn’t you?

Aber nein! Sonnanstine (4-for-10 in his career with two walks coming into the game) was a better hitter than he was a pitcher yesterday, going 1-for-3 with his first career double and second RBI to help get himself a 7-5 “win” despite giving up five earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. Longoria did get into the game as part of a double-switch when Sonnanstine came out, and walked in his only PA. (As an aside, is he allowed to do that? Since he was listed on the initial lineup card, hasn’t he already been “used”? Well, anyway.)

If I’m at a game and keeping score, I’ll often do certain things habitually. If Justin Morneau is getting the start at DH that day, I’ll have written “Morneau – 1B” before I’ve even thought about it. So why shouldn’t it happen to a manager (or whoever transcribed for him) too?

I happened to be present for the last AL game in which a pitcher batted more than once, between the Twins and White Sox in 2007 at the Cell. In that game, Mike Redmond was catching and Joe Mauer was the DH. Redmond was hurt in the bottom of the first, and the Twins weren’t carrying a third catcher, so Mauer had to suit up and catch the rest of the game, requiring Matt Garza (now a teammate of Sonnanstine! Coincidence??) to bat for himself. Garza didn’t help himself out the way Sonnanstine did, but he pitched much better (as Garza is wont to do), and Morneau hit three homers, and the Twins won a very fun 12-0 laugher with one hitter tied behind their backs.

But why stop there? Let’s look at…

AL Pitchers with 2 or More PA in the Designated Hitter Era!!

It’s happened eleven times (a query requiring just one PA comes up with 76 results, but most of them were huge blowouts, and several were actual hitters who came into the game only to pitch in said blowouts, so we’ll stick with the guys who got to stay in the lineup for a while). Assorted facts:

  • With the Rays’ win yesterday, the 11 teams that have done this have a record of 7-4. It’s an odd game.
  • Including Sonnanstine, the group is a combined 3-for-28 (.107) with 8 strikeouts, no walks, and, perhaps most surprisingly, only one sacrifice (by Garza). Sonnanstine’s double was the first extra-base hit by anyone in this group.
  • I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that seven of the eleven happened in the first four years of the DH rule (1973-76), when one assumes that managers were still just coming to grips with the intricacies of this crazy new world in which they were living. The first two instances both involved closers (Lindy McDaniel and Tom Murphy) hitting for themselves to finish out extra-inning games. In both, the managers had used a player at DH that they later moved to shortstop, forfeiting the DH. Again, it took them a while for some managers to really get the hang of this DH thing. (Bob Boone has no such excuse, however; the exact same thing happened in 1995, with the Royals’ Chris Stynes moving from DH to 2B in a game that ultimately went 16 innings.)
  • Here’s my favorite one: October 2, 1974. It’s the last day of the season, and Rangers manager Billy Martin forgoes the DH entirely in order to let future Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins hit for himself. Jenkins — a career .163 hitter — does quite well for himself, going 1-for-2…and his one hit, coming in the sixth, breaks up the no-hitter of the Twins’ Jim Hughes! Jenkins comes around to score, helping himself on the way to a 3-2 comeback win, Jenkins’ 25th of the year. The game is the last one another future Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew, would play with the Twins. (Here’s the source for all that info.)
  • George’s brother Ken Brett did it twice, and went a combined 0-for-6. It actually wasn’t a terrible idea, though; with a 94 OPS+ and 10 HR in 373 PA across a career spent largely pre-DH or in the National League, the other Brett was almost certainly a better hitter than many of the DHes the Twins have used in the last few years, a list that has included Jason Tyner, Jeff Cirillo and Luis Rodriguez.
  • It happened only once in the 1980’s, right here. It appears to be the same situation as the one with Garza, Redmond and Mauer; one catcher, Ron Hassey, was DHing when the acting catcher, Ron Karkovice, was injured fielding a bunt, and there were no more Rons catchers on the bench. Pitcher Bill Dawley had to lead off the next inning, contributing the first of his two groundouts.
  • And finally, one that Joe Maddon can feel better about: July 22, 1999. Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove has Alex Ramirez in right field and Manny Ramirez at DH, then changes his mind and flips the two (because ManRam told Hargrove he wanted to play RF, which I think says a lot about both Manny and Hargrove). Only he has a bunch of different lineup cards now, and the umpire is given the wrong one. When Manny takes the field while listed as the DH on the official card, they’ve forfeited the DH, so pitcher Charles Nagy goes 0-for-2 with a strikeout batting 7th. The team loses 4-3 to the Jays; is this the one time where the manager’s mistake really made a difference (negatively, so not counting Fergie)? Alex playing in the field instead of Manny and hitting instead of Nagy certainly could have led to another run or two.

So what have we learned? Well, Mike Hargrove is (and Billy Martin was) kind of ridiculous, but we knew that. Fergie Jenkins was awesome? Knew that, too. I guess the only takeaway point is this: AL teams that forfeit their designated hitters play .636 baseball (11 games across 37 seasons is a meaningful sample, right?). You’re welcome!

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There Goes the Only Reason to Pay Attention to the Nationals

May 14, 2009

A few words [on/tangentially related to/somehow inspired by] Ryan Zimmerman’s just-ended 30-game hitting streak:

  • Not naming names (or linking links) here, but I can’t stand it when my fellow sabermetrically-inclined folk say that they’re bored by, or otherwise downplay, events like hitting streaks and no-hitters. Look, they’re really just oddities, not statistically meaningful. I get all that, and I bet most non-statheads would too, on most levels. But if you can’t get at least a little excited about or intrigued by this sort of thing, you’re giving credence to the tired old refrain that we’re all just misplaced accountants who don’t really like to “watch the games.” To each her own and all that, but if you can’t bring yourself to appreciate the human interest angles of little stories like this, totally fine, but please do the rest of us a favor and shut the hell up about it. It’s not like there aren’t other things to talk about.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, David Pinto has been all over the streak these last few days, with pithy little tidbits like this and this (along with a bunch of other, more news-y updates). My favorite part is this, explaining why the league-wide “hit average” going up eight points has led to a hugely increased frequency of long hit streaks:

    So the probability of a player getting a hit in a four at bat game prior to 1996 was 0.646. In the later period, that’s up to 0.66. That doesn’t seem like much, but remember, we’re talking about long streaks here, so we’re multiplying. The chance of a player hitting in the next 29 games goes from .00000314 to .00000584, nearly double. Now, figure that over all possible players playing at least 29 batting games, and you can see how batting streaks would have increased.

  • I’d really like to be good with numbers.
  • There have been 199 hitting streaks of at least 20 games since 1980, by my count, which is probably six or seven times as many as I would’ve guessed. Zim’s is just the fifteenth in that span, however, to last as long as 30 games. Of those fifteen, Zim’s is the eighth to have ended at exactly 30 games. Kind of weird, right?
  • I just remembered that I was at one of those streak-snapping 31st games, Sandy Alomar’s at the Metrodome in July of 1997. That’s one of the least enjoyable notable games to be present for, since of course you’re really there hoping he does get a hit (even when he’s on the other team…especially when your own team sucks).
  • Of the fifteen thirty-plus-gamers, only three — Hal Morris, Vladimir Guerrero, and George Brett — had career batting averages of over .300 through the year of their streak, though four more of them were over .290. Zimmerman’s career average sits at .288 (though, interestingly, he’s never had a full season end that high). Anyway, they’re all over the map. Eric Davis had the lowest career average at the time of his streak, at .269.
  • A more common thread connecting the 30-game-streak club is that they’re all free swingers; you don’t get a hit a day by walking a whole lot. None of the fifteen had ever walked 80 times in a year as of the season in which he had his streak (Vlad, Brett, and Luis Gonzalez did it in seasons coming after their streaks…but all with the aid of more than 20 intentional passes), and for most of them, even 70 walks was a pipe dream. Benito Santiago, for instance, hit .300 with a .324 on-base percentage (16 walks) in his “streak year” of 1987. Rollins, Guerrero, Morris, Alomar Jr., and Nomar have very little to talk about with the likes of Jack Cust and Adam Dunn at hitters’ cocktail parties.
  • The best performance during a 30-game streak, predictably, was by the great George Brett; in the middle of his .390 season of 1980, Brett hit .467/.504/.746 (1.250 OPS) while hitting in 30 straight games from July 18 to August 18. Paul Molitor deserves a mention, too: he’s had the longest streak in this time frame, a 39-gamer in 1987, and posted a 1.178 OPS throughout.
  • The “worst” performance during a 30-game streak, also predictably, was turned in by Jerome Walton. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1989, his only decent year with the bat, and hit in 30 straight from July 21 to August 20, putting up an .801 OPS that wasn’t all that much better than his year-long .721 line. Dishonorable mention goes to Willy Taveras, he of the 74 career OPS+, who hit in 30 straight games while still managing only an .830 OPS (though that was a good sight better than his putrid year-long .672).
  • In one of his posts on the subject, Pinto wondered whether this year’s Nationals were the worst team ever to have a hitter with a streak this long, and the answer, since 1980, is…well, probably. Vlad’s 1999 Expos lost 94 games; at 11-21 entering today, the Nationals would have to play .438 ball the rest of the way (57-73) to lose only 94 games. Not a terribly lofty goal, but I don’t see it happening, do you? [Edit: Benito’s ’87 Pads lost 97. So the Nats will have some fairly stiff competition for that title, actually, but I still have faith in them.]
  • The stat report I set up to look at all these streaks, if you’re interested, is here.

DL Question

April 26, 2009

So yesterday, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Chien-Ming Wang was placed on the disabled list. But what might surprise some people (and certainly surprised me) is the supposed cause: “weakness in the adductor muscles in both hips.”

So which is crazy: (a) that alleged injury, (b) me, or (c) emphatically both? First of all, “weakness” isn’t really an injury by itself, is it? And also…what the what? There has been no indication that Wang’s hips were bothering him. We’ve been hearing for a week that he was DL-bound, but it was his foot, or a tired arm, or something — never the hips.

So my question is: what’s to stop a team (aside from the team doctors’ Hippocratic Oath, I suppose) from making up an injury to free up a roster spot? If you’ve got a guy who is struggling or who you just don’t need right now, but you can’t send him down without risking losing him to the waiver wire, is there any reason you can’t just say “he’s got…uh…Transient Developmental Aversion Disorder With Itching! Yeah, that’s the ticket!” and put him on the DL?

From my persual of the Official Rules and everything else I can find, there’s nothing to suggest that a team can’t do this. And with the gentlemen’s club of GMs and such being what it is, it’s hard for me to imagine one GM calling another’s bluff and having a supposedly “injured” guy tested or something anyway.

So: (1) what do you think the odds are that the problem is really in Wang’s hips, and not in his head or, well, his innate baseball talent? And (2) why don’t teams do this all the time–essentially send a guy down who can’t be sent down, under the guise of some dubious injury? Or (3) do they do it all the time, and we’re just too naive to notice?

I know, this is all very conspiratorial of me. It seems very, very likely that something very real is wrong with Wang, and it may well be his hips. But I’m serious about the question–is there anything to stop a team from doing this, and if not, why don’t they?

"It’s about living the dream, bro"

April 25, 2009

This piece by ESPN.com’s Mike Fish, like everything else about Lenny Dykstra, just fascinates me. Nails comes off as nothing but a small-time crook who is in way over his head, but more than that, he seems to maintain this incredible arrogance and sense of entitlement throughout, despite proving time and again that he really can’t handle what he’s gotten himself into.

I’ve always thought that the most dangerous (presumably) well-meaning person in the world is a star professional athlete of a certain intelligence level — well above, say, Operation Shutdown, but not nearly as smart as Ron Darling or Brian Bannister or Jim Bouton or Harold Reynolds — who gets a lot of attention and a lot of microphones in his face and has a certain predisposition toward self-aggrandization. (Let me be clear about Reynolds: I think he’s a genius as a communicator, and probably in a number of other ways. It’s just that at some point he — like Joe Morgan, another legitimately smart guy — made a very conscious decision not to learn anything new about baseball.)

The two poster boys for this middle range, to me, are former World Series teammates Curt Schilling and, now, Dykstra. Both are pretty smart guys…for baseball players. And that, with their personalities and the attention they received during their career, is a problem. These two guys pretty much embody the reason the phrase “knows just enough to be dangerous” exists.

Pro athletes, as a general rule, have an ingrown sense that they’re better than most people. In many ways this is justified, and in every other way it’s simply thrust upon them. If you spend five or ten or twenty years being told that and/or treated as though you’re better than everybody else, who can blame you for coming to believe it?

So what happens when you notice that not only are you, being a pro athlete, better than most people, but you’re smarter and better educated than most other pro athletes, and that (if only because of what you actually do on the diamond) people around you with microphones and tape recorders seem to want to hear what you have to say?

Well, then you get Schilling, who is under the misimpression that it’s a good idea for him to give forceful and loud opinions about complicated and controversial things he doesn’t take the time to understand. And, I think, you get Nails. Not to say that Dykstra is a creation of society or something — it seems pretty obvious that he’s done some awful things, things no other moderately-smart pro athlete has done, and it’s not as though he doesn’t need to pay for those things. Just that it would be nice if there were some way to enjoy sports and celebrate the ones who excel at them while still leaving these individuals with some concept of their very real limitations.

Nails was a very good ballplayer, but that’s done, and it’s been done for 13 years. Now he’s just a guy, one with what appears to be roughly average human intelligence and incredibly disproportionate levels of arrogance and ambition. But when you’ve spent twelve years as a star and another bunch as a celebrated former star, how hard must it be to see that in yourself?

And on a side note (he plays a shady bit part in the article), could things get any uglier for Jim Cramer lately?

Thing One: Playing at Being a Pitcher

April 14, 2009

Note: Welcome to my new blog. I’m going to write about one thing per day–usually not nearly as long as what follows here. Some might be this long, others might just be a sentence. But I’ll do my best to have something every day. I hope you enjoy, and leave a comment.

One of my favorite things in baseball happened last night. And it’s not just that the Yankees were destroyed, though that being part of this certainly made it even sweeter. I’m talking, of course, about the rare and wonderful Pitching Appearance by a Non-Pitcher. They’re a little scary, usually pretty funny, always interesting, and often kind of stupid. What’s not to love?

For your comparative enjoyment:
Wang, real pitcher (for now): 1 IP, 6H, 8R, 8ER, 3BB, 1SO
Swisher, lovable schlubby Moneyball guy: 1 IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 1SO

Nick Swisher typically has to be content with being the world’s best and least justifiable non-starting corner OF/IF, but last night, after starting at first for the injured Mark Teixeira, he was also the best of the Yankees’ five pitchers, the only one not to surrender a run to the mighty Rays. Pretty solid performance, and against a bunch of actual hitters: Upton, Aybar, Kapler (your embarrassed strikeout victim), Pena and Burrell. (From that picture, though–click it for a closer look–how is that kind of performance even possible? He looks like he doesn’t really know what that round thing is he’s holding, but he saw a picture of this sort of thing once and thought he’d strike a pose.)

So Swish’s performance got me thinking about the history of position players pitching. What’s the best pitching performance ever by a guy who obviously wasn’t in any way a pitcher? The worst? What kind of player gets the “honor” of serving as sort of the ultimate garbage man?

Well, it turns out that just as it does with everything else that matters in the world, Baseball-Reference.com has this covered. So for this blog’s inaugural something, we’re going to look at some of the more interesting ones. We’re going to stick to the recent years, though–it’s interesting and all that Frisch travesty #347Hall of Famer George Kelly pitched five shutout relief innings in one game in 1917 and got the win, but what I’m interested in is the tendency to use position players as pitchers in embarrassing blowouts, and for that we need to stick to the era for which we have online boxscores.

So what players make usable mop-up pitchers? If you, the manager, are going to do this at all, you know you don’t want to waste another real pitcher on a game that’s already over. But then who among your 13 to 14 non-pitchers do you pick? I assume that everyone pitched at least in high school and can get the ball over the plate, more or less; beyond that, pitching effectiveness really isn’t a consideration when it’s already 15-1. So how do you pick that guy?

My thinking would be that you want to give the players a little levity at the end of a long evening (and give the fans a reason to buy more food, if you’re at home), so they’re going to tend to be your happy-go-lucky boys, your fan and clubhouse favorites. But the bigger concern is the injury risk, right? I mean, pitching is hard, and unnatural, and almost all baseball players are going to need two working arms to hit and field and such. So you want someone who can pitch just a little, who is fun and likeable, who is in good physical condition and won’t do anything careless or stupid, and at the end of the day, frankly, you want someone you can afford to lose.

All of which is what makes The Canseco Incident so memorable, and probably part of what makes Kevin Kennedy the manager so forgettable; letting Canseco come in to pitch in what was a 12-1, lost-cause game is profoundly stupid on every possible level. He’s your best hitter and highest-paid player; he’s already shown himself to be kind of a screwball; he’s injury-prone and not exactly your prototypical lithe, wiry athlete; and nobody likes him. That was one of those managerial decisions that just smells like failure; in retrospect, the season-ending injury (which took hold a month later, but which the team admitted was related to the pitching) seems like almost a foregone conclusion, and the surprising thing is that the team that watched that reeking travesty from the other side, your Boston Red Sox, saw fit to bring Kennedy on as a manager just two short years later.

For the most part, though, I think that managers have pretty much done it right. The BBREF list is littered with names like Manny Alexander, Danny Heep, Lenny Harris, and Mark Loretta (ca. 2001, before his little flirtation with stardom)–guys who, if nothing else can ever be said about them, don’t try to do more than they can with what God gave them (unlike, say, Jose frigging Canseco). Good guys. Sensible guys. Role players. Usually, expendable guys. Of course, it’s the insane exceptions to this rule that are the interesting ones, but I think it’s all worth a look.

So, the Canseco debacle aside, here are some of the most interesting hitter-pitching performances in (retrosheet-era) history:

Missed His Calling: John Cangelosi, May 3, 1988; June 22, 1995; and July 21, 1997. Cangelosi, in his day job, was a good reminder to we sabermetritcally-inclined types that man doth not live by walks alone. He couldn’t hit for average, had no power, couldn’t field, and wasn’t an efficient basestealer. His switch-hitting and career .370 OBP certainly gave him some value, but wouldn’t he have been a lot more valuable as a switch-hitting, .370 OBP-having lefty finesse artist?


Lots of guys have thrown one scoreless inning, many with something Cangelosi is notably missing (a strikeout), but Cangelosi gets the nod for throwing 4 innings (which I count as the second-most since at least 1977; Jose Oquendo got through 6, but it wasn’t pretty), in three games spanning ten seasons, and never allowing a single run, with a career total of one hit allowed (a double), two walks and a wild pitch. Some highlights:

        • He pitched two innings in the 1988 stint, virtually unprecedented among non-pitchers.
        • He pitched for three different teams, but only two managers (Jim Leyland used him with both the Pirates and Fish).
        • The batters he retired include Sammy Sosa, Franklin Stubbs, Steve Finley, Wally Joyner, and fellow (but much less successful) ersatz pitcher Todd Zeile.
        • He also threw 3.2 innings as a minor leaguer with Denver in 1991, allowing one earned run.
        • It appears that he was drafted as an outfielder, and there’s almost no biographical info about Cangelosi online, and of course those minor league appearances happened after the first of his major league ones; so, where did his pitching prowess (such as it was) come from? I’m going to guess he was tired of being shuttled up and down from the minors and started fooling with a knuckler or something.

        Larry Harlow Award for Pitching Awesomeness: John ‘F.’ Mabry, May 28, 2000; October 5, 2001. I couldn’t decide who the all-time worst was among these two, so we’ll name the award after the first and give it to the second. Harlow takes the ERA crown with a sparkling 67.50 in his two-thirds of an inning. The 1978 game in which Harlow appeared (click his name above for the boxscore) is probably the most interesting in the history of pitching non-pitchers; Harlow’s appearance came in the first two thirds of the fifth inning.

        With the O’s down 19-5 to the fledgling Jays, old Earl Weaver got so disgusted with his pitchers that he turned the damn thing over to Harlow (an otherwise nondescript outfielder in his only year as a full-time starter) less than halfway through the game. Then, two outs and five more runs later, he actually pulled Harlow mid-inning in favor of catcher Ellie Hendricks, who threw 2 1/3 brilliant innings of shutout ball, the only pitches of his career. Finally (perhaps ironically?), Earl brought in for-serious closer Don Stanhouse to shut the Jays down in the 9th for a final score of 24-10. Crazy game, and I really wish I could find a recap somewhere. More (tangentially) about Harlow here, from whence this scan was stolen.

        Mabry actually made two appearances; I love the idea that his 0.67IP of three-hit, one-walk, two-run ball for the Mariners (following up a truly epic 9-run performance by the never-boring Jose Mesa) made the Marlins think that it was a good idea to use him in the same role the following year. But that second appearance was the true gem; down 15-3 to the first-place Braves at the end of a lost year and having already run through five guys who threw pitches for a living, manager Tony Perez (Perez managed the Fish? Really?) called on supersub John Mabry to tackle the bottom of the 8th.

        Mabry’s problem was that he lacked the one skill a pitching non-pitcher must have: getting the ball over the plate where they can hit it and get you out of this godawful mess. Three of the first six batters against him walked, and the other three all singled. Mabry finally induced the seventh batter, Marcus Giles, to ground out, but by then Perez had decided we had all suffered enough, moving Mabry to left field (apparently so he had a close-up view of the destruction he had wrought) in favor of real (replacement-level) pitcher Vic Darensbourg, who allowed a Julio Franco single before coaxing a DP out of Chipper, ending the carnage. Mabry’s final line for the night and season included 5 ER in a third of an inning for a shiny 135.00 ERA, bringing his career ERA up to 63.00 (7 ER in 1 IP: 6 hits, 4 walks, 3 outs recorded).

        Other Interesting Notes:

        • A nice subset of the good candidates laid out above are former stars who are no longer terribly useful players (thus expendable), but who are still fan favorites. Nine-time All-Star Davey Concepcion did yeoman’s work as a 40 year old in 1988, and Mark Grace fared less well as a 38 year old in 2002. Grace was one of relatively few to give up a homer in his appearance (to David Ross), but he did a pretty funny and dead-on impression of eccentric teammate Mike Fetters.
        • Wade Boggs is probably the best all-around player of the last 30 years or so to make a pitching appearance, and actually made two, but both (like Concepcion and Grace) came after stardom had passed him by, in 1995 with the Yankees and ’97 with the Rays.
        • Sadly before the retrosheet era, but Stan Musial has one pitching appearance to his credit (and in his prime, 1952, age 31). He’s credited with one batter faced, no walks, no hits, and no HBP. Apparently (according to this), it was an error on the third baseman that the batter (naturally) felt should have been ruled a hit.
        • Ted Williams did it, too, pitching 2 innings and giving up a run. According to this, it happened on August 24, 1940, at the close of a 12-1 loss. Williams was just 21 years old, and had already established himself as one of the game’s best hitters. Can you imagine the reaction if Evan Longoria or Jay Bruce were sent out in that situation today? Yikes.
        • Of the four players I know of to have played every position on the diamond in one game, two fared pretty well in their turns on the mound. Cesar Tovar threw a scoreless inning with a walk and a K, and Scott Sheldon struck out the only batter he faced in 2000 (which seems like cheating–shouldn’t you have to go an inning for a stunt like that?). Meanwhile, Bert Campaneris was a bit shaky, giving up a run and three baserunners in his inning, while Shane Halter (who had previously pitched a scoreless inning with the Royals) walked the only batter he faced — Matty LeCroy, which couldn’t have been easy — on the last day of the 2000 season…but did go 4-for-5 at the plate that day.

        That’s all for now…back tomorrow with something else (and something shorter).