Saturday, August 23, 2014
On May 4, Ohio State was suffering its worst ever loss in the eighteen-year history of Bill Davis Stadium, trailing Iowa 17-2. Only once had OSU lost a home game by a larger margin than the fifteen that they would wind up losing the game by--and that was in 1899. On two other occasions OSU had lost a home game by fifteen runs (to add insult to injury, both were against Michigan, in 1934 and 1989).
The music choice on the PA was unintentionally appropriate. Although ostensibly an upbeat song by an Ohio band, Walk the Moon’s “Anna Sun” features the infectious chorus:
What do you know? This house is falling apart
What can I say? This house is falling apart
We got no money, but we got heart
We’re gonna rattle this ghost town
This house is falling apart
I found it quite apropos for the moment, because the house that is the OSU baseball program is falling apart under the direction of Coach Greg Beals, and the historic home beatdown was the nadir of the season.
Or was it? Beals’ tactics present any number of other crazy stupid baserunning events that encapsulate a program being run by a coach with the mind of a junior high coach more concerned with winning games than teaching kids how to actually play baseball. At least in that case, outlandish baserunning can produce victories, whereas at the collegiate level it simply produces embarrassment. (Search hashtag #BealsBall if you are interested in an account of these--the 2014 highlight was a batter who hit a home run being called out for passing the runner at first.)
I usually am not this cynical about OSU sports; I am a true believer, a fan who tends towards homerism. Baseball is a little tougher on this front for me, though, since I can’t just turn off my analytical approach to the game just because the uniforms are scarlet and gray. But my sarcasm is aimed at squarely at the professional coaches, not at the student-athletes on partial scholarships who bust their tail for the greater glory of The Ohio State University.
The Buckeyes got off to a pretty solid start to the season, going 8-6 before playing their first home game; while that record does not sound particularly impressive, it included wins over Auburn, Oklahoma, and Oregon, with three of the losses coming in the final stretch of four games in Oregon (three against the Ducks and one against the Beavers). OSU then won its first five home games to fatten the record for 13-6 before Big Ten play opened.
OSU’s first Big Ten series was scheduled to be played at East Lansing, but it was moved to Columbus on account of weather and the Bucks took two of three from the Spartans. Defending champs Indiana came in the next weekend and unceremoniously swept the series, and a trip to Lincoln the following weekend resulted in a Cornhusker sweep on three one-run wins, the latter two walkoffs including a three-run ninth inning implosion in the middle game. When Ohio lost the first game of its next home series against Penn State, the seven-game conference losing streak was the first for the program since 1987.
1987 was a year that came up repeatedly in 2014. While the Bucks won the final two games from PSU and two of three at Purdue and hosting Iowa (the debacle described to open this post notwithstanding), they closed the conference campaign by losing two of three at Ann Arbor and hosting Northwestern. The end result was a 10-14 Big Ten record, OSU’s worst since 1987. And while all this was going on in Big Ten play, OSU was not exactly tearing it up in mid-week games, going 7-6 in such games (including taking two of three in a weekend series from Murray State). OSU was just 5-12 on the road (.294), the program’s worst showing since 1972 (3-14).
In my season preview post, I made a grievous error, stating that the top six finishers in the conference qualified for the Big Ten tournament. I was mistaken--the field was expanded to eight this year in preparation for the thirteen-team Big Ten of 2015. It was a fortuitous change, since otherwise the seventh-seeded Bucks would have been on the outside looking in. It was little matter, though, as one-run losses to Nebraska and Illinois ended OSU’s season.
The final tally was a 30-28 (.517) record, seventh among Big Ten teams. OSU was also seventh in the conference in EW% (.545) and PW% (.523); Indiana led in all three with figures of .746, .803, .733. OSU averaged 4.79 runs to a conference average of 4.87, while the Buckeyes allowed just 4.36 runs per game versus an average of 4.66 (although in comparing these figures it’s worth considering that Bill Davis Stadium is a fairly strong pitcher’s park). OSU’s offense was pretty much in line with the Big Ten average not only in terms of output but shape as well, with a .267 batting average, .103 walk/AB ratio, and .096 isolated power compared to averages of .271, .101, and .089. It seems difficult to believe that OSU actually had a greater than average power output, but power is significantly down in college baseball, and the Big Ten, never a strong power league (talent and weather likely being contributing factors), is no exception.
Offensively, OSU had a couple bright spots, but they were outweighed by disappointments or puzzling coaching decisions. At catcher, Aaron Gretz was one of the team’s more productive hitters, creating 6.3 runs per game on the strength of a team-high .156 W/AB ratio, but got only 129 PA to 102 to his backup Conor Sabanosh. To be fair, Sabanosh created 5.7 RG himself and also had a good walk rate, but hit for less power than Gretz. Beals has never been willing to let Gretz run with the catching duties despite him appearing to be an adequate defender and consistently outperforming the other catcher with whom he competes for playing time.
First baseman Zach Ratcliff was a disappointment in his sophomore season, failing to show the power he had as a freshman by hitting just 2 longballs in 99 AB and turning in the least effective overall performance of any OSU hitter (.232/.262/.313). 1B/DH Josh Dezse enjoyed a bounceback season, although his injuries prevented him from returning to the Buckeye bullpen as expected. Still, his 5.5 RG and 5 homers were an offensive bright spot and he improved as the season went on.
OSU’s other infield positions were subject to some interesting coaching decisions. Sophomore Troy Kuhn started the year at second base and led the team with 6 home runs and was second with 6.3 RG and +9 RAA. Third base was manned in the early part of the season by sophomore Jacob Bosiokovic, who was expected to be a key offensive contributor and power source, but hit just one homer and turned in a perfectly average 5.0 RG. Shortstop was supposed to be the province of sophomore Craig Nennig, but an early season injury left him sideline and opened the door for sophomore Nick Sergakis, who provided a needed jolt to the offense and became the leadoff hitter despite a team-low .053 W/AB. His overall line of 5.4 RG was a definite upgrade for the middle infield. But when Nennig returned from injury, Beals shuffled the infield to get Nennig back on the field. While Nennig is a superior fielder, he has yet to show any indication of being a productive hitter (.231/.331/.256 in 146 PA was a steup up from his debut campaign). This shifted Sergakis to second and Kuhn to third, leaving Bosiokovic to come off the bench and eventually get a look in left field.
Bosiokovic’s chance in left field came because senior Tim Wetzel failed to reverse his junior year offensive collapse, struggling to a .223/.284/.285 line in 185 PA. Also getting significant playing time in both left and center were a pair of freshman, Ronnie Dawson and Troy Montgomery. Dawson emerged as OSU’s offensive star, a .337/.385/.454 (7.0 RG, +12 RAA) hitter with flair and a certain fan favorite. Montgomery’s debut was less captivating (.235/.297/.353). And in right field, junior Pat Porter caught the Wetzel junior curse, tumbling to a .229/.311/.329 line after being penciled in as a reliable #3 hitter. The only other Buck to get significant plate appearances was sophomore Ryan Leffer, who had a solid offensive line (.303/.355/.343) while earning time at third base and DH.
OSU’s pitching staff wound up with a surprising ace, as freshman Tanner Tully was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year with a team-high 93 innings with +14 RAA and team-low 2.22 ERA and .7 W/9. While Tully’s 3.20 eRA and 5.1 KG suggest that he is a strong regression candidate, performance-wise he was the clear leader of the OSU staff. Junior Ryan Riga started the year as #1, but struggled through injuries and was not particularly effective (4.85 RA and 6.01 eRA over 68 innings and 11 starts). Senior Greg Greve turned in the best season of his career, winning a team-high seven games and contributing 12 RAA over 85 innings. The two most common mid-week starters were sophomore Jake Post and freshman Zach Farmer. Post was inconsistent but showed flashes of being an effective starter when filling in for Riga in the weekend rotation (+1 RAA but a 5.17 eRA). Farmer pitched solidly (4.01 RA over 49 innings) but was diagnosed with leukemia and will miss the 2015 campaign, although all indications are that his prognosis is good which of course is paramount.
OSU’s bullpen took a big step back from 2013, largely due to Trace Dempsey’s regression from stud closer to wild and ineffective (-7 RAA and 4.9 W/9). Freshman Travis Lakins was the bright spot of OSU’s pen, pitching himself into a starting job for 2015 with +12 RAA (second only to Tully) and a team-leading 9.0 K/9. Senior Tyler Giannonatti moved into higher leverage innings and responded well with +3 RAA over 33 innings.
The rest of OSU’s reserve pitchers were hit hard by injuries (particularly to promising freshman reliever Adam Niemeyer) and none logged enough innings to really evaluate their potential to help the team in 2015. As the season wore on, freshman Curtiss Irving got more work, but a 6.66 eRA with 5.7 W and 5.2 K per nine over nineteen frames means the jury is still out. Of the others, it’s worth noting that freshman Shea Murray had the lowest RAA on the team (-8), on the basis of getting lit up for six walks and nine runs in just 2 1/3 innings.
2014 was not an encouraging year for the program. While Beals recruiting efforts continue to draw praise, after four seasons there has yet to be any tangible on-field results. Beals four-year record is 124-105 (.541), the worst four-year stretch for the program since 1987-1990 (117-111, .513), and that period featured an upward trajectory as Beals’ predecessor Bob Todd took command of the program (you will note that 1987 came up multiple times as a low point for the program). In 1991, the Buckeyes exploded onto the national scene by going 52-13, coming within a game of reaching the College World Series and finishing as high as #13 in the national polls. Beals’ four-year Big Ten record of 49-47 (.510) is the worst since 1986-89 (40-48, .455).
At some point, Beals’ recruits need to start producing on the field, and the direction they are given needs to improve. OSU’s baserunning is an atrocity. It is impossible for me to convey just how embarrassing the team-wide effort to give away outs is, and it has only gotten worse as #BealsBall has become the culture of the program. As a proud alumnus, it is infuriating that the university has discarded great men like Jim Tressel, Jon Waters, and Gordon Gee, as well as a promising coach in Mark Osiecki while athletic director Gene Smith is allowed to retain his job and retains the services of Beals. OSU baseball is a program that has demonstrated the ability to dominate the Big Ten, exhibit national relevance, draw fans to the park, and even occasionally turn a profit for the athletic department, a rarity in northern baseball. The powers that be would be wise to keep that in mind before allowing Beals to make all that a distant memory.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
On Thursday, twenty-five year old right-handed pitcher Drew Rucinski made his major debut in relief for the Angels against the Rangers. His performance was not memorable, as he came on in the ninth inning with a 15-4 lead, and allowed 4 hits and 2 runs while recording a strikeout. It was also a short stay in the majors for Rucinski, who was optioned back to AA two days later. My interest in Rucinski stems from the fact that he pitched at Ohio State, and is at least the 53rd former Buckeye to play in the majors as well as the fourth this season (Nick Swisher, Eric Fryer, and fellow Angel farmhand JB Shuck).
Rucinski’s road to the majors has been interesting, both as an amateur and a professional. He came to OSU from Oklahoma, an oddity for a program that generally draws on Ohio and adjacent states for all its talent. He spent his first two seasons in the bullpen, including a 2009 sophomore campaign in which he did yeoman work in middle relief for a staff that really only had three reliable pitchers: ace Alex Wimmers, closer Jake Hale, and Rucinski. That team won OSU’s first regular season Big Ten title in eight years and finished second at the Tallahassee regional.
Wimmers was a dominant pitcher at OSU, arguably the best in program history, and a first round pick of Minnesota, but has seen his career bog down first with control issues and then with injuries; he’s still in high-A in his age 25 season. Hale was a 27th round pick from Arizona, stuck in the minors for two seasons, and currently is pitching in the Atlantic League. Had you told me that the first (and quite possibly only) of OSU’s big three who would reach the majors would be Rucinski, I would have been surprised.
It wouldn’t have been the first time I underestimated Rucinski. He moved into OSU’s rotation for his junior season, a move I was all for, but when he was slated to be the ace in his senior season I expressed skepticism that he was up the typical standards of an OSU #1 pitcher. Rucinski pitched very well, though, leading to someone calling me out in the comments for having been wrong (I was thrilled to have been wrong!)
Rucinski was not drafted, but did sign with Cleveland as a free agent and spent 2011 in their system. He was subsequently released and pitching in the Frontier League before being signed by the Angels mid-season 2013. Last year he pitched well in five starts at high-A Inland Empire, and this year had a 2.35 ERA and 85 K/28 W in 95 innings at AA Arkansas. At the risk of underestimating him again, his prospect status is marginal, but it’s great to see that his perseverance paid off with a cup of coffee, and hopefully much more.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
The American Association was the first association of clubs to seriously challenge the National League as another major league. Previous organizations, like the International Association, were based on a fundamentally different notion of how to organize professional baseball teams. While everyone who is reading this knows that the NL survives today and the AA does not (unless you give much weight to its eventual shotgun merger with the NL), the AA certainly made its mark on the game. It lives on most obviously through the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals.
As the AA was organized in 1881, the National League fielded eight teams in Buffalo, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Providence, Troy, and Worcester. That left major cities like Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis out of luck. While independent clubs were still in existence and of high quality (although not in the numbers they once had been, particularly in the east), there was an opening available for a rival league to enter the fray.
William Hulbert’s decision to start the NL was a consequence of his attempt to wrest the power in baseball from the eastern clubs to his own Chicago team, and the NL generally took on a midwestern feel. When the New York and Philadelphia clubs refused to make their final road trip of the 1876 campaign, they were expelled from the league. Neither city would get another NL team for some time; although some sources claim that this is because Hulbert held a grudge, others dismiss this theory and point out that neither city had a strong independent club worthy of admission to the NL. Regardless, two major eastern cities were without NL teams.
Cincinnati was dropped after 1880 because they allowed alcohol to be sold in their park. The NL also generally insisted on a fifty cent admission fee. The combination of high ticket price and no booze encouraged a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, but it also forsook a great number of potential customers.
In October of 1881 backers of the newly formed independent Cincinnati team (sportswriter O.P. Caylor and Justus Thorner) met in Pittsburgh with Denny McKnight, an area businessman who had managed (in the financial sense) the Allegheny club a few years earlier.
The group decided to sent telegrams to other team, inviting them to a second meeting. This meeting, held on November 2 in Cincinnati was a success and brought together six clubs (Again, I am using the modern [City Name] [Nickname] format even if it is not exactly applicable. In the case of “Pittsburgh” and “Philadelphia”, it is closer to flat-out balderdash): the Brooklyn Atlantics, the Cincinnati Reds, the Louisville Eclipse, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, and the St. Louis Browns. McKnight was named president.
The AA allowed twenty five cent admission, Sunday baseball, and alcohol sales. Critics of the league and NL snobs derided it as the “beer and whiskey league”, because in addition to allowing sales, most of the teams were in some way backed by beer money. Before the season could start, the AA had to adjust on the fly as the Atlantics withdrew in March due to financial problems. The AA had also attempted to attract the New York Metropolitans, a strong independent club, but they were courted by the NL as well and decided to wait the situation out.
Raiding National League rosters was not a priority for AA clubs, and the NL did not initially react to the new circuit with hostility, just indifference. Some NL and AA teams even met in pre-season exhibitions. NL players were not a necessity for AA teams; several of them had been independent teams and already had a base of talent. However, two backup, unreserved infielders from Detroit became the center of controversy. Dasher Troy signed with Philadelphia and Sam Wise signed with Cincinnati. Troy backed out, claiming that he was not aware of the AA’s intentions to play on Sunday when he signed, and went back to the Wolverines. Wise wound up signing with Boston, which infuriated the AA, and the association decided to drop its policy of honoring the NL blacklist.
The playing rules of the AA were largely similar to those of the NL. The AA did not fine pitchers for hitting batters, used the Mahn ball, and continued the use of courtesy runners. The association decided to determine its standings by winning percentage rather than total wins. Beginning in July, the association itself employed the umpires rather than the teams, a move that seemed downright prescient in light of the NL’s Higham scandal.
The first AA game was played in Cincinnati on May 2; Allegheny defeated the Reds 10-9. Louisville pitcher Tony Mullane worked ambidextrously in a July 18 game against Baltimore, the first to do so in a major league game (while doubtful, Mullane’s handsomeness is credited with starting the custom of Lady’s Day at the ballpark). Mullane added the AA’s first no-hitter to his accomplishments on September 11, winning 2-0 at Cincinnati. His teammate Guy Hecker tossed his own no-no eight days later, 3-1 at Allegheny.
The Athletics got to the early lead, but Cincinnati was 20-10 at the end of June and rolled home from there, going 35-15 the rest of the way. Their final margin over the Athletics was 11.5 games. After the season, they met the NL pennant winners from Chicago in a two game engagement. The homestanding Reds took the first game 4-0 on October 6, but they were defeated 2-0 in Chicago the next day. Some histories claim that the series was stopped when Denny McKnight threatened to expel Cincinnati, but the more credible explanation is that both teams had other engagements to attend to (in the White Stockings’ case, their series with Providence) and that it was never intended as a championship series.
Even though the pennant race was anti-climactic, Sunday ball, alcohol, and quarter admission proved a winning combination for the AA. The Association, which boasted a combined population in its markets around half a million greater than the NL, outdrew the league despite having two less teams (with obvious caveats regarding attendance figures). All six AA teams claimed to be in the black.
Relatively flush with success, the AA teams made runs at NL talent. Detroit’s star catcher Charlie Bennett accepted a $100 advance from the Alleghenys in August, but then refused to sign in October as expected. Pud Galvin and Ed Williamson also were said to have backed out of AA deals. The club sued Bennett, but the court ruled that there was no valid contract. Regardless of the outcome of any particular skirmish, it was now clear that there were two major leagues.
Cincinnati was clearly the class of the league, leading in both runs scored and allowed with an impressive EW%. Louisville looked like a contender on paper but not on the field, and Philadelphia was the opposite. The league was pretty well-balanced except for Cincinnati on top and, unsurprisingly, the last-minute replacement team in Baltimore on the other end of the spectrum.
In 1882, the AA hit .244/.271/.312 for a .105 SEC, 5.21 runs and 23.66 outs per game. The AA scored .2 runs less per game, with a batting average seven points lower, the same OBA, and a thirty point deficiency in SLG. As you can see, the major difference in offense between the two circuits was power, with more of it in the NL.
This incarnation of the Reds was founded in 1881 by Caylor to play a weekend series in St. Louis against the Browns. Apparently, it was a successful gate attraction and illustrated the desire for high-quality baseball in non-League cities. While this is the franchise that carries on today, it is not the same club as the original Red Stockings or the two or three different incarnations of Cincinnati NL teams between 1876-1880. In my experience, many fans of the modern day Reds think that their team is a direct descendant of the 1869 juggernaut--they are wrong, and they don't like to be told that they are wrong.
Every regular player on the team had previous major league experience with the exception of Bid McPhee; Joe Sommer is considered a rookie for my purposes as well, but he had 88 PA for the 1880 Reds. Snyder (BSN), Stearns (DET), Carpenter (WOR), White (DET), and McCormick (WOR) had all played in the NL in 1881. Fulmer had not played in the league since 1880 (BUF), Macullar since 1879 (SYR), and Wheeler was another 1880 Red. None of the other five clubs had such a wealth of established talent, so it can’t be considered much of a surprise that Cincinnati won the pennant.
Prior to playing the two games with Chicago, the Reds had played their in-state NL counterpart from Cleveland at home, but had won just one out of three, and the win came when Dave Rowe, an outfielder by trade, pitched for Cleveland.
Reserve first baseman Henry Luff was apparently fined $5 for making a catch one-handed, and quit the team in response.
The Athletics had played in the Eastern Championship Association in 1881, and were picked to join the AA over another Philadelphia club, a new outfit being organized by sporting goods magnate Al Reach and Horace Phillips. The AA went with the more established club, backed by Bill Sharsig, a theatre producer (thanks to Richard Hershberger for sharing his research on the potential membership of the Philadelphias).
Athletics regulars with NL experience (last team and year) were: Dorgan (WOR, 1880), Latham (LOU, 1877), Lou Say (CIN, 1880), and Sam Weaver (MIL, 1878). All others plus Dorgan were rookies. Say’s younger brother Jimmy was a reserve shortstop.
The Eclipse was made up of players who had already been together over the preceding seasons. Only two of the regulars had any NL experience: Denny Mack (BUF, 1880) and Tony Mullane (DET, 1881). Only Mack is not considered a rookie by my standard. It is noteworthy then that he was the team’s least valuable regular in terms of WAR.
Louisville may have had the most balanced combination of good-hitting pitchers yet seen. Mullane and 1B/P Guy Hecker each hit at 110 ARG or better. Among teams using two pitchers, there are none from 1876 until this point that had two pitchers each hit at such a high level. I’m not saying that they are the best hitting combination (as, say, Jim Whitney plus a marginal hitter would still create more runs than Mullane/Hecker), just that they both were solid contributors at the plate.
This is one of the more blatant contemporary recastings of a team name as this team was the “Allegheny” club and a lot of people still spelled the name of the city in which they played “Pittsburg”. Just so you know.
Regulars with NL experience: Taylor (CLE, 1881), Strief (CLE, 1879), Leary (DET, 1881 but still a rookie), Mansell (CIN, 1880), Swartwood (BUF, 1881 but still a rookie), and Salisbury (TRO, 1879).
John Peters may have been the biggest “name” player in the association, at least based on previous NL exploits. I suppose that one could make an argument for Will White, but Peters was one of the better players in the first few seasons of the senior circuit.
After St. Louis dropped out of the NL during the 1877-78 offseason, independent teams billing themselves as the Browns continued to play in the city. This particular incarnation was backed by Chris Von der Ahe, a German immigrant who had succeeded in the beer business. He is one of the most interesting characters in nineteenth century baseball, and I will not be able to do him justice. He was prone to saying silly-sounding things, but what would you expect from someone speaking his non-native tongue? He was also criticized as lacking baseball knowledge (he supposedly boasted that his club’s infield was the largest in the country). Whether that particular one is true or not, one needn’t understand the nuances of the game on the field to succeed as a team owner. My point is that he gets a bad rap from some circles--he was a self-made man who was heavily involved in the operation of a successful major league and within a few years his team would be the AA's greatest dynasty.
In The Ball Clubs, Dewey and Accoella described him as “A German immigrant with a comic strip accent, a comic book physiognomy, and comic wardrobe of diamond stickpins, checkered pants, and spats.” That gives you a decent summary of the common view of the man. For more balanced accounts, read some of the entries on him at This Game of Games, and go there if you want to know anything else about the 19th century game in St. Louis.
Browns regulars with NL experience were: Sullivan (BUF, 1881), Bill Gleason (STL, 1877 but still a rookie), Ned Cuthbert (CIN, 1877 and the manager), and Seward (NYN, 1876). According to Cliff Blau's article on this team, regulars Schappert and Walkera nd reserves Smiley and Fusselback were signed away from the Athletics and Atlantics, while Charlie Comiskey was signed from a Dubuque club, and Harry McCaffery was signed away from an area independent club in June. Jack Gleason missed April with injuries sustained during his off-season job as a fireman.
The Orioles, a late replacement for Brooklyn, were easily the least seasoned team in the AA, at least in terms of NL experience. Just three regulars had played in the NL: Henry Myers (PRO, 1881 and the manager of the Baltimores), Waitt (CHN, 1877), and Nichols (WOR, 1880). Only Nichols fails to qualify under my standard as a rookie, and one source claimed that Myers was the only player with NL experience on the opening day roster. Not surprisingly, the team was overmatched finishing in the cellar by 14.5 games. The pitching duo of Landis and Nichols was particularly bad, coming up 1-2 in the cellar in WAA (although this may also reflect heavily on the fielding in this day and age). Landis had been released by the Athletics after losing to Baltimore on May 4.
Twice (against Cincinnati in June and St. Louis in July) opposing catchers purposefully dropped Oriole third strikes with the bases loaded to turn triple plays. A June 28 game against the Reds set a still-standing record for the most runs scored in extra innings, as each club scored four in the tenth before Cincinnati won it with seven in the eleventh.
Most secondary sources claim that the Von der Horst family owned the team. Apparently they used baseball as the drawing card for their other interests--surrounding real estate that included an entertainment complex complete with restaurant, concert grounds, and dance hall.
However, Cliff Blau's research indicates that the Von der Horsts did not come to own the team until 1883 or 1884. There were rumors that this team would be replaced in the AA by a new AA club representing Baltimore and Washington, but in the end, this team withdrew from the circuit and was replaced by a new Baltimore entry. Blau's article was a source for some of the other information in this post.
Leaders and trailers:
1. Pete Browning, LOU (.378)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (.342)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.329)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (.156)
ON BASE AVERAGE
1. Pete Browning, LOU (.430)
2. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.370)
3. Hick Carpenter, CIN (.360)
Trailer: Chappy Lane, PIT (.196)
1. Pete Browning, LOU (.510)
2. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.489)
3. Billy Taylor, PIT (.452)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (.172)
1. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.225)
2. Pete Browning, LOU (.222)
3. Billy Taylor, PIT (.194)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.043)
Trailing non-pitcher: Bill Smiley, STL (.047)
1. Pete Browning, LOU (78)
2. Ed Swartwood, PIT (77)
3. Hick Carpenter, CIN (72)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (66)
5. Mike Mansell, PIT (64)
1. Pete Browning, LOU (238)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (180)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (179)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (152)
5. Jack O’Brien, PHA (149)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (48)
1. Pete Browning, LOU (+4.5)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (+3.4)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (+3.2)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (+2.4)
5. Chicken Wolf, LOU (+1.7)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (-2.0)
1. Pete Browning, LOU (+5.8)
2. Hick Carpenter, CIN (+4.9)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (+4.4)
4. Joe Sommer, CIN (+3.8)
5. Pop Snyder, CIN (+3.1)
Trailer: Charlie Waitt, BAL (-.8)
1. Denny Driscoll, PIT (61)
2. Will White, CIN (65)
3. Harry McCormick, CIN (76)
4. Sam Weaver, PHA (83)
5. Tony Mullane, LOU (83)
Trailer: Tricky Nichols, BAL (162)
1. Will White, CIN (+4.7)
2. Denny Driscoll, PIT (+2.2)
3. Tony Mullane, LOU (+2.1)
4. Sam Weaver, PHA (+1.7)
5. Harry McCormick, CIN (+1.5)
Trailer: Doc Landis, BAL (-2.5)
1. Will White, CIN (+6.3)
2. Tony Mullane, LOU (+4.7)
3. Sam Weaver, PHA (+2.7)
4. Guy Hecker, LOU (+2.4)
5. Denny Driscoll, PIT (+2.1)
Trailer: Doc Landis, BAL (-2.7)
My all-star team:
C: Pop Snyder, CIN
1B: Guy Hecker, LOU
2B: Pete Browning, LOU
3B: Hick Carpenter, CIN
SS: Chick Fulmer, CIN
LF: Joe Sommer, CIN
CF: Oscar Walker, STL
RF: Ed Swartwood, PIT
P: Will White, CIN
P: Tony Mullane, LOU
MVP: 2B Pete Browning, LOU
Rookie Hitter: 2B Pete Browning, LOU
Rookie Pitcher: Tony Mullane, LOU
These choices were all pretty straightforward. The only position where I did not end up going with the highest WAR was center, where Walker was +1.6 with 6 FR and John Reccius was +1.8 with -3 FR.
Monday, June 09, 2014
As of midnight on June 9, this is how Yahoo! renders the NL wildcard standings:
WAS and ATL at 32-29 are somehow half a game ahead of 33-30 MIA, although if you were to look at the NL East standings on Yahoo!, they are all listed as tied (yes, I realize that W% is what really defines standings, not GB, but there is no dispute that by the rules of GB, those teams are tied).
It gets even more ridiculous, though, when you see that 33-31 LA and STL are tied with MIA. Obviously, they are .5 game behind MIA.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Saturday night I was at the Reds game against the Cardinals. On the big scoreboard they displayed BA/OPS/HR/RBI and on the ribbon boards they displayed BA/HR/RBI/OBA/SLG/R (I didn’t write this down, so I might be off a little on the categories, but I think the preceding is a pretty fair representation). In any event, there was a group of four people sitting in the row in front of me. It appeared to be a father, two adult daughters, and one of the daughter’s boyfriend/husband.
Late in the game, the gentleman asked the group what “OPS” was. The boyfriend said something to the effect of "It’s a stat that’s supposed to tell you how good of a hitter a player is", but didn't seem to know any details. This being 2014, he got out his phone and looked it up. It appeared that this took him to the Wikipedia page, which after explaining that OPS is the sum of OBA and SLG , says it can also be computed in one equation as follows:
OPS = (AB*(H + W + HB) + TB*(AB + W + HB + SF))/(AB*(AB + W + HB + SF))
He proceeded to show this to the rest of the group, and the reaction appeared to be "wow, that’s really complicated". It wasn’t "that stat must be bunk because it’s complicated", but seemed to be more of a “I’m not interested in learning more about this because it’s too complicated”.
In observing this I started thinking about what I might have said was I somehow involved in this conversation. Would I have thrown OPS (a metric about which I have written negative things about more times than I can count) under the bus by agreeing that it was too complicated, all the while concealing the fact that my preferred metrics might appear to be even more complicated to a layperson? Would I have said that the equation above was more complex than it needed to be, because it could be written as the equivalent and decomposed (H + W + HB)/(AB + W + HB + SF) + TB/AB--hand-waiving away the fact that the more complex version provides insight into how events are actually weighted by OPS? Would I, not wishing to contribute to any anti-sabermetric sentiment but also with no desire to teach a saber 101 course, have offered a lame defense of OPS?
Of course, I wasn’t involved in this conversation, and certainly wasn’t going to insert myself into it, so this was all hypothetical. But I think the thought exercise is worthwhile to consider for those who do have an interest in what I’ll call for lack of a better term sabermetric evangelization. I am not one of them, but if you are interested in getting more casual fans interested in sabermetrics, you should consider whether you could explain the metrics that you are advocating if asked to do so. I would draw a distinction between a metric that is complex in order to achieve precision or theoretical considerations, and one that has properties that defy explanation. If you think you could explain why total bases are weighted by plate appearances and times on base are weighted by at bats, then by all means, go ahead and point people to the Wikipedia page for OPS. Good luck.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
1882 would be a very eventful year for baseball, but that was belied by the NL’s lack of pre-season franchise changes; this was be the first season in which all league members returned. For the first time, the NL had a serious rival operating in a similar fashion to itself, the American Association. Also significantly, William Hulbert died on April 10, leaving the league without its founder and president. Arthur Soden of Boston was his successor.
There were no significant rule changes. Players were required to account for their own bats and uniforms when they were on the road, and were also obligated to purchase at least two uniform sets. In one of the final actions of Hulbert’s tenure, reacting in response to a supposed AA plan, the league adopted a uniform color-coding scheme in which each position would wear a different color uniform (there is some disagreement in the secondary sources about this, and I’d like to believe that’s because it never really happened). Pitchers wore baby blue, catchers scarlet, first baseman scarlet and white, second baseman orange and black, third baseman blue and white, shortstops maroon, left fielders white, center fielders red and black, and right fielders gray. The ridiculousness of this should be obvious, and it was quickly quashed if it ever had existed at all (there are varying reports in the secondary sources about whether players actually took the field dressed like clowns or not).
Arthur Irwin, the Providence shortstop, is said to have been the first to use a padded glove, and his teammate Paul Hines has been cited as the first player to wear sunglasses. As with other such firsts, these are potentially dubious in their accuracy. Cap Anson was called out during a May 5 game for walking back to the base after a foul ball instead of running; this minor rule was done away with after the season. On May 25, Curry Foley of Buffalo became the first major leaguer to hit for the cycle in a 20-1 rout of Cleveland. On August 17, Providence defeated Detroit 1-0 in eighteen innings on Hoss Radbourn’s home run; it would be the longest major league shutout until 1967. Chicago’s brilliant Larry Corcoran no-hit Boston 5-0 on September 20 to become the first author of multiple no-nos.
Umpire Dick Higham, employed by Detroit (umpires in this time were employed by teams and went on road trips with them) purportedly wrote a gambler a letter telling him how to bet on a May 30 Wolverine game against Providence. He was subsequently dropped by Detroit and umpired for Troy on June 20-22, but then was called to a hearing on June 24 in Detroit. Higham claimed that he was innocent, but nonetheless was removed. He is the only umpire ever explicitly expelled for dishonesty.
The pennant race turned into a two team affair. Two-time defending champ Chicago put up some impressive performances (exemplified by a 35-4 thumping of Cleveland in late July), but Providence had the lead by three games with sixteen to play. The White Stockings went on a 15-1 tear to take the pennant by three games.
However, controversy abounded. The final three scheduled White Stocking games at Buffalo were moved to Chicago for financial reasons. This was objected to by Providence, and the Grays wanted a special series after the regular season to determine the pennant. Chicago assented, although it is unclear whether this was ever actually regarded as championship series.
By the time it ended, there were no such questions. Chicago played the first three games of the nine game series with players out of position (and Abner Dalrymple and Joe Quest on the bench) and fell behind 3-0. They wound up winning the series 5-4 with a 19-7 win in the ninth game, played at Fort Wayne long after general interest had been exhausted.
Entering the offseason, the National League would be looking for two new members and dealing with the realization that they finally had a rival worthy of their respect.
Chicago was even better in EW% than their actual record, but game scores like 35-4 will do that for you. The standings wound up playing out in the exact order of EW%, except for the third place tie between Boston and Buffalo. It was also another fairly balanced year for the league as only Worcester was dreadful and no one ran away and hid.
In 1882, the league hit .251/.271/.342 for a .130 SEC, 5.41 runs and 24.33 outs per game.
The White Stockings returned the entire regular lineup from their 1881 pennant winner, although there were minor shuffles in the lineup; second baseman Joe Quest was benched, Tom Burns slid from short to second, King Kelly came in from right to play short, and Hugh Nicol came off the bench to take over right. However, for the late season pennant push, Anson reinstalled Quest and benched Nicol. Neither man hit much; Quest was pretty much at replacement level in his 167 PA.
Al Spalding decided that he wanted an anonymous official scorer who would therefore be free from the various pressures inherent to the job. He hired a woman named Elisa Green Williams, who did the job in secret for many years.
According to an anecdote in Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract, the term “Charley horse” originated when the Chicago players attended a racetrack one day and witnessed a horse named Charley break down. The next day, when George Gore pulled up lame on a stolen base attempt, two and two came together. Do I buy it? No, but anecdotes that combine horse racing and baseball are hard to come by.
The Grays also displayed a great deal of lineup stability; considering that Chicago and Providence had run 1-2 in the previous two seasons, it seemed to be wise policy. The only changes were Harry Wright as the new manager after his long stint in Boston, and his brother George coming out of retirement for his swan song at age 35. Wright was only a shadow of his former self, with a pitiful 35 ARG.
In an attempt to stimulate attendance, the Grays and their opponents paraded through the streets of the city before games.
The Reds replaced departed manager Harry Wright with longtime infielder John Morrill. There were no wholesale shits on the infield, only rookie Sam Wise (4 PA for Detroit in 1881) replacing Ross Barnes at shortstop (how that came about is a story for the AA section). Perhaps Morrill’s own experience of being yanked around the infield (he had played every position on a regular basis for at least one season except short) influenced him to keep the infield intact.
Pat Deasley, a reserve in 1881, became the full-time catcher as Pop Smith moved to Cincinnati of the AA. Pete Hotaling of Worcester took over center field, rookie Ed Rowen inherited right field, and Bobby Mathews was brought in as Grasshopper Jim’s #2 after pitching for the Grays in 1881. Whitney, always a fine hitter, paced the team in BA, OBA, SLG, RG, and WAA. His 61 runs created were only four off the team lead of Morrill and Joe Hornung, who made 70 and 90 more outs respectively.
The Bisons shuffled their lineup a bit, moving players back to their more natural positions. Jim O’Rourke went from third to center, Deacon White from left to third, and Hardy Richardson from center to second. Blondie Purcell took the full-time job in left field after amassing 205 PA in 1881 between Buffalo and Cleveland. He would be fined $10 for cutting a wet ball in an attempt to make the umpire put a new one into play. Pud Galvin complained that he could not throw his curve properly with a wet ball.
Rookie #2 pitcher Hugh Daily was called One Arm because, well, he had one arm.
The Blues had two rookies (catcher Fatty Briody (4 PA for Troy in 1880) and third baseman Mike Muldoon) in their lineup. Left fielder Dude Esterbrook has not played in the league since 1880 (Buffalo) and center fielder John Richmond was brought in from Boston.
In the aforementioned 35-4 shellacking at the hands of the champion White Stockings, reserve outfielder Dave Rowe was in the box, and gave up 29 hits and 7 walks.
The Wolverines were at the center of the relatively limited player battles between the NL and the AA; again, this topic will be expounded upon in the AA entry, but backup infielders Dasher Troy (11 games in 1881) and Sam Wise (1 game) were not reserved after the 1881 season and signed with AA clubs. Eventually, Troy returned to Detroit and was the regular second baseman, while Wise wound up with Boston. Catcher Charlie Bennett was a major point of contention as well, but that was for an 1883 contract.
Rookie Joe Farrell was the third baseman, while Mike McGeary was imported from Cleveland to play short.
The Trojans featured two regular rookies, shortstop Fred Pfeffer and pitcher Jim Egan. John Smith started the year as the first baseman but later wound up in Worcester. Buck Ewing played third primarily (44 games), but also caught 25 games. Roger Connor as a center fielder seems interesting, but he actually spent more time at first (43 G) than he did in the outfield (24). Outside of Pete Gillespie and Chief Roseman, the outfield situation was quite murky.
The team finished only 19.5 games back, but it probably seemed a lot worse. They suffered through a sixteen game losing streak, lost money to the point where they had to be subsidized, and were eventually kicked to the curb, a casualty of the skirmish with the AA and good old-fashioned financial problems.
The Brown Stockings finished 18.5 games behind Troy. The team featured two rookie outfielders, Tom O’Brien and Jackie Hayes. Left fielder Jim Clinton had not played in the National League since 1876 (with Louisville). An interesting transaction apparently resulted in Frank Mountain being loaned to Philadelphia of the AA for about a month beginning around the end of May.
The team drew just 11,000 fans for the entire season, around 260 a game. In an attempt to boost attendance, the team pioneered the single admission doubleheader. The roster was overhauled in an attempt to remove “rowdiness and dissension”, and franchise pitcher Lee Richmond was hampered by a sore arm. Despite this, he was one of just two regulars to hit better than the league average (first baseman Harry Stovey was the other).
In September, the NL voted to drop Troy and Worcester, perhaps fearful of the AA’s upper hand in attendance and entry into large cities long ignored by the NL, or just plain tired of having weak sisters in the circuit. Worcester apparently threatened to resign at this point, which would have caused all their games to be struck from the standings. This was confusion was another catalyst in some of the Chicago/Providence pennant controversy, but Worcester played 84 games, so apparently it wound up being an idle threat.
The departure of Troy and Worcester essentially marked the end of an era in which a very small city (relatively, of course) could field a "major league" team, with the exception of the future chaotic three league seasons.
Leaders and trailers:
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.368)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (.362)
3. Roger Connor, TRO (.330)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (.158)
ON BASE AVERAGE
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.403)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (.397)
3. Jim Whitney, BSN (.382)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (.174)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.547)
2. Roger Connor, TRO (.530)
3. Jim Whitney, BSN (.510)
Trailer: George Wright, PRO (.189)
Doc Bushong’s BA was .004 lower than Wright’s, his OBA .006. I’m not sure that I’m aware of a superstar who ended his career in a sorrier state than George Wright did, essentially as the worst regular in the league or close to it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one; I just can’t think of one. This was a rapidly evolving and improving game.
1. Jim Whitney, BSN (.283)
2. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.239)
3. Roger Connor, TRO (.238)
Trailer: George Wright, POR (.049)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (90)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (84)
3. Roger Connor, TRO (79)
4. George Gore, CHN (77)
5. Paul Hines, PRO (75)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (197)
2. Jim Whitney, BSN (190)
3. Cap Anson, CHN (184)
4. Roger Connor, TRO (166)
5. Joe Start, PRO (163)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (34)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (+3.9)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (+3.4)
3. Paul Hines, PRO (+3.0)
4. Roger Connor, TRO (+2.8)
5. Jim Whitney, BSN (+2.8)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, PRO (-2.6)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (+4.8)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (+4.4)
3. Jim Whitney, BSN (+4.3)
4. Jack Glasscock, CLE (+4.3)
5. Cap Anson, CHN (+4.2)
Trailer: Doc Bushong, WOR (-1.0)
1. Larry Corcoran, CHN (68)
2. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (75)
3. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (84)
4. Jim McCormick, CLE (86)
5. Stump Wiedman, DET (86)
Trailer: Fred Corey, WOR (139)
1. Larry Corcoran, CHN (+3.0)
2. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (+2.7)
3. Jim McCormick, CLE (+2.3)
4. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (+2.0)
5. Stump Wiedman, DET (+1.5)
Trailer: George Derby, DET (-2.6)
1. Jim Whitney, BSN (+5.0)
2. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (+3.9)
3. Larry Corcoran, CHN (+3.5)
4. Jim McCormick, CLE (+3.2)
5. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (+3.1)
Trailer: George Derby, DET (-2.5)
My all-star team:
C: Charlie Bennett, DET
1B: Dan Brouthers, BUF
2B: Fred Dunlap, CLE
3B: Ed Williamson, CHN
SS: Jack Glasscock, CLE
LF: Joe Hornung, BSN
CF: Paul Hines, PRO
RF: Curry Foley, BUF
P: Jim Whitney, BSN
P: Hoss Radbourn, PRO
MVP: SS Jack Glasscock, CLE
Rookie Hitter: 3B Mike Muldoon, CLE
Rookie Pitcher: One Arm Daily, BUF
I went with Joe Hornung over a close group in left field that included Dalrymple, York, and Wood on the strength of his +12 Fielding Runs (ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Palmer & Gillette).
The right field crop is very weak; Curry Foley at 2.2 WAR wouldn’t be in the top four in left or the top three in center. Actually, I would pick the two runner-up centerfielders (Gore and Connor, with the caveat that Connor was playing first more than the outfield) over Hornung or Curry. However, my principle has been to pick guys who actually played the position for the “all-star team”, not players at comparable positions who were actually more valuable. This is especially problematic in the early years of the NL as right field was still much-used as a place to hide a butcher or a change pitcher.
The rookie crop this year was very weak as well. In past seasons, there had always been rookies with a legitimate claim to being the all-star at their position. This season, Mike Muldoon was solid (2.2 WAR), but hardly star-caliber. Of course, there were only eight regular rookie hitters to choose from, and just two pitchers, each of whom ranked below replacement level. It is easy to speculate that the cause of this was the demand for players caused by six new major league teams. This would not have nearly the impact it would today, as several of the AA teams were already respectable independent clubs, but certainly talent was not as available as it had been.
Finally, my choice of Jack Glasscock as MVP is predicated on his 24 Fielding Runs. On offense and position, I had him .5 WAR behind Dan Brouthers. So all I have to do is believe that he was around 5 runs better in the field relative to his position than Brouthers. Given Glasscock’s reputation and his perennial good standing in FR, I am more than willing to believe it.