So, Kenny, What Next?by John Walsh
October 24, 2006
There's no World Series game to discuss today, let's take a few minutes to reflect on some other stuff.
Say it is So
I'm pissed at Tony La Russa. I've been watching Cardinals fourth outfielder So Taguchi closely this postseason, because he was on pace for a historic performance and I was hoping to get an article out of it. Check this out: Taguchi's first post-season at bat came in the Game 3 of the NLDS against the Padres. Taguchi led of the 8th inning as a pinch-hitter and promptly hit the ball over the fence. His next plate appearance occurred in Game 2 of the NLCS, against the Mets. Taguchi entered the game as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the 8th and led off the 9th inning. Boom, home-run off Billy Wagner to give the Cardinals the lead. Taguchi had a bad day in Game 4, where he appeared as a pinch-hitter in the 8th inning and only managed a single. In Game 6, the Cardinals' late-game weapon pinch-hit again and knocked a 2-run double (again off Wagner). So, through the NLDS and NLCS, Taguchi had this line:
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG OBP SLG OPS 4 2 4 1 0 2 4 0 1.000 1.000 2.750 3.750A little light on walks, but we'll take it. Only one other player in baseball history has managed a 1.000 BA and 1.000 OBP in the postseason with at least 4 plate appearances: Bobby Brown went 3-for-3 with a walk for the 1947 Yankees. But Brown only slugged 1.667, he couldn't come close to Taguchi in power numbers. Dusty Rhodes, the extraordinary pinch-hitter for the 1954 World Champion Giants put together a nice low-stat series that year: 4-for-6 with a walk and two home runs, for an OPS of 2.381.
But, as I say (did I say it?), La Russa likely knocked Taguchi out of the running by starting him in Game 1 of the World Series. So went 1-for-4 with a puny single, causing his postseason line to plummet to .625/.625/1.500. That would drop him below Lou Gehrig's 1928 performance (.545/.706/1.727), but still in second place all-time (ranked by OPS, 12 PA min). Somehow, I doubt he'll keep it up.
Kenny Rogers — Postseason Hero
Detroit pitcher Kenny Rogers is seriously exorcising some postseason, big-game ghosts this year Consider his pre-2006 post-season performance: 20.1 innings, 8.85 ERA, 0-3 record. But, this year, at the age of 41, Rogers is making us forget all that. Let's do a little postseason statistical comparison:
IP ERA W L pre-2006 20.1 8.85 0 3 2006 23 0.00 3 0
This kind of performance merits a comparison to some of the all-time great postseason performances. Only three pitchers have ever finished the post-season with at least 20 innings and an ERA of 0.00. Christy Mathewson threw three complete-game shutouts leading the Giants over the Athletics in the second World Series (in 1905). Waite Hoyt ran into some tough luck in 1921: he was the losing pitcher in the final game of the Yankees-Giants World Series, despite pitching nine innings and allowing only one unearned run. For the Series, he went 2-1 with an ERA of 0.00 in 27 innings. Finally, Carl Hubbell threw two complete-game shutouts (one of them went 11 innings) in the 1933 Giants 4-1 Series victory over the Senators. Matty, Hoyt and Hubbell all have plaques in Cooperstown.Of course, there have been many great postseason performances other than those three. In 1965, Sandy Koufax pitched 24 innings, gave up 13 hits, one earned run, and struck out 29 against five walks. The Dodgers (barely) beat the upstart Twins that year in seven games. More recently, John Smoltz, in 1996, went 4-1 with a 1.39 ERA in five postseason starts (38 IP).
Getting back to this post-season,
unless somebody wins three games in a row, Rogers will pitch again on
Saturday. If he can throw scoreless ball (or something close to it)
one more time, he'll join some
pretty good names of the best postseason pitching performers in
history. Who'd've ever thunk it?
The Worst of the Best (and vice versa)
You may have heard that the Cardinals' win total of 83 is the lowest ever to get to the World Series, with the sole exception of the 1973 Mets, who finished the season at just 82-79. Much was made of the Mets' uninspiring record at the time —remember, divisional play had only been around five years and, of course, it was the separation of the league into divisions that got the Mets into the playoff. There were four teams in the NL West that had a better record than the Mets that year.
On the other hand, the Mets entered the playoffs on a roll. On Sept. 1, the Mets were in fifth place in the NL East, 4.5 games back of the Cardinals and Pirates. The Amazin's went 19-8 the rest of the way to overtake the field and win the divisional flag. They beat the heavily favored Reds, who had won 19 more regular season games than the Mets, in the NLCS. Game 3 of that series featured the famous fight between Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson. In the World Series, the Mets took the Oakland A's to seven games before finally succumbing.
The Cardinals this year, of course, got into the playoffs in a very different way. They squandered nearly all of their big lead, going 11-17 in September, but managed to slip into the post-season when the Astros fell just short. Still, they easily handled the Padres, dispatched the heavily favored Mets, and now have gotten a split from the Tigers in the first two games in Detroit.
If the '73 Mets were the worst team to get to the World Series, what was the worst team to actually win the championship? The 1987 World Champion Minnesota Twins won only 85 games during the regular season. That was the ninth highest total in baseball that year. Even more damning was the fact that the Twins derived a huge advantage from their home park, the Metrodome: they were only 29-52 on the road. The Twins beat the Tigers 4-1 in the ALCS (yes, they did manage two wins in Detroit) and beat the Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series, dropping all three games in St. Louis, but winning the four games played at the Metrodome. If Bud Selig had been Commissioner then, the Cardinals would have another championship on their resume': the NL won the All-Star game in 1987, 2-0. If only it had counted!
Here's a list of the 10 worst teams to win the World Series:
+------+------+------+------+-------+ | Team | Year | W | L | Wpct | +------+------+------+------+-------+ | MIN | 1987 | 85 | 77 | 0.525 | | NYA | 2000 | 87 | 74 | 0.540 | | OAK | 1974 | 90 | 72 | 0.556 | | PHI | 1980 | 91 | 71 | 0.562 | | KCA | 1985 | 91 | 71 | 0.562 | | CIN | 1990 | 91 | 71 | 0.562 | | FLO | 2003 | 91 | 71 | 0.562 | | LAN | 1959 | 88 | 68 | 0.564 | | SLN | 1982 | 92 | 70 | 0.568 | | NYA | 1996 | 92 | 70 | 0.568 | +------+------+------+------+-------+Hmmm, two of the Yankees' recent championships make this list. If the Cardinals win the Series this year, they will move to the top of this list, of course.
What about the flip side of the coin? Which are the best teams who haven't won a league pennant or World Series? The team with the best regular season record to not win the pennant (since 1903) was the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who, you'll remember, went 116-46 but lost the ALCS to the Yankees, four games to one. The best team to not win the Series was the 1906 Cubs, who happened to be the winningest team in baseball history, period. They went 116-36 on the season, but surprised everybody, maybe even their opponents, the White Sox, by losing the Series to the "Hitless Wonders".
At least these teams made the postseason, though. A number of teams have won at least a hundred games in the regular season without tasting October baseball. Here's a list of the top 10 best teams (based on regular season winning percentage) who failed to reach the playoffs:
+------+------+------+------+-------+ | Team | Year | W | L | Wpct | +------+------+------+------+-------+ | CHN | 1909 | 104 | 49 | 0.680 | | BRO | 1942 | 104 | 50 | 0.675 | | NYA | 1954 | 103 | 51 | 0.669 | | DET | 1915 | 100 | 54 | 0.649 | | PHA | 1928 | 98 | 55 | 0.641 | | SFN | 1993 | 103 | 59 | 0.636 | | NY1 | 1908 | 98 | 56 | 0.636 | | PIT | 1908 | 98 | 56 | 0.636 | | SLN | 1941 | 97 | 56 | 0.634 | | NY1 | 1906 | 96 | 56 | 0.632 | | PIT | 1905 | 96 | 57 | 0.627 | +------+------+------+------+-------+Man, that 1909 Cubs team ran into some tough luck. Their .680 winning percentage in today's 162-game schedule corresponds to 110 wins. Unfortunately, the Pirates went 110-42 that year, coasting to the pennant by 6.5 games. In 1954 the Yankees string of pennants was briefly interrupted by the Indians, who, led by their excellent pitching staff, won an astonishing 111 games and left the Yankees eight games back. More recently, the Giants won 103 games in 1993, but ended up working on their golf swings in October when the Braves (still in the NL West back then) edged them by just one game. Since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995, the best team to miss the playoffs was the 1999 Reds, who went 96-67. The Mets won the NL Wild Card that year with 97 wins.
Only one team with a losing record has ever made the postseason: the 1981 Kansas City Royals hold that honor. It was a unique case, though: after a midseason strike of several weeks, baseball decided to split the season in two and have the winners of each half play a division series. The Royals, by dint of their 30-23 second half, got the right to lose to the Athletics 3-0 in the makeshift playoff format. The Cardinals and the Reds were pretty unhappy about the split season, though, since they each had the best overall record in their division, although neither team made the playoffs.
John Walsh dabbles in baseball analysis in his spare time. He welcomes questions and comments via e-mail.
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