News, Notes and Quotes (September 28, 2004)

The New Dave Kingman

I was reading a game recap of Los Angeles’ 7-4 win over San Francisco the other day when I saw Dodgers second baseman Alex Cora described as “light-hitting.” Cora hit a solo homer in the game, his second home run in two days, giving him 10 long balls in 396 at-bats on the year. While those power numbers aren’t going to make anyone forget about Barry Bonds, 10 homers for a platoon middle infielder playing half his games in Dodger Stadium seemed pretty good to me.

Then I looked at his other stats and noticed that Cora has 10 homers and four triples this year, but has managed just nine doubles. This struck me as odd, so I did a little digging. Cora should go over 400 at-bats in the final week of the season, and if he can do so without hitting his 10th double of the year, he’d join a pretty exclusive group.

Here’s the complete list of players since 1900 who have accumulated at least 400 at-bats in a season, hit at least 10 home runs, and failed to reach double-digits in doubles:

HITTER                   YEAR       2B       AB       HR
Tom Haller               1965        4      422       16   
Jimmie Hall              1967        8      401       16   
Curt Blefary             1968        8      451       15   
John Bateman             1963        8      404       10   
Charlie Neal             1958        9      473       22   
Gus Zernial              1955        9      413       30   
Darrell Evans            1988        9      437       22   
Willard Marshall         1942        9      401       11   
Jim Sundberg             1986        9      429       12   
Willie Kirkland          1962        9      419       21   
Dave Kingman             1982        9      535       37   
Frank Thomas             1963        9      420       15

Cora would slide right in there, making it a nine-way tie for fifth place all-time with the likes of Dave Kingman, Jim Sundberg, Darrell Evans and the original version of Frank Thomas. Kingman’s 1982 season is my favorite from that group, as he was the only player to get over 500 at-bats and hit a league-leading 37 homers, but managed a measly nine doubles.

The notable thing about Cora’s potential placement on that list is that he’d be the only guy to make it on there while hitting higher than .260. In fact, while Cora is currently sporting a .270 batting average, six of the 12 guys already on the list hit below .220 and five hit .210 or lower. And in case you’re curious, Cora hit four homers and 24 doubles last year and came into this season with 17 career homers and 73 career doubles.

The New Les Straker

Minnesota’s search for a #3 starter has seemingly gone on since Opening Day, as Johan Santana and Brad Radke have been two of the top pitchers in baseball and the rest of the rotation, filled with names like Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Terry Mulholland, Seth Greisinger and Matt Guerrier, has been shaky at best and downright awful at worst.

Of late, Silva has separated himself from the rest of the pack with an outstanding September, going 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA in five starts this month to improve his season totals to 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA. At no point has Silva been dominant, even during this current stretch, but he’s been quietly effective for much of the year. His ERA in the first five months of the season ranged from 3.76 to 5.48, so it’s not as if the Twins have a new stud pitcher, but simply finding someone who might be able to beat a team in the playoffs is a lot more than they could have expected to find a few months ago.

Silva, who came over along with Nick Punto in an offseason trade with the Phillies for Eric Milton, has had a very strange season, throwing 197 innings despite not being all that effective. Never a strikeout pitcher, Silva’s strikeout rate has now dropped to the point that it is nearly non-existent; with 74 strikeouts, he has whiffed just 3.38 batters per nine innings to rank dead last among the 40 American League pitchers who qualify for the ERA title.

Silva’s 21 home runs allowed aren’t bad for a guy not missing any bats, and the other reasons for his relative success are easy to spot: he has walked just 34 batters all year, forcing hitters to put the ball in play, and he has kept the ball on the ground when they do put it in play, inducing 1.59 ground balls for every fly ball hit against him. Because of the Twins’ shaky middle infield defense, Silva has allowed a lofty .303 batting average on balls in play, which ranks 33rd among the 40 AL ERA qualifiers. However, he’s an example of how a pitcher can be successful despite a lot of flaws.

Even without striking anyone out or having great defense played behind him, Silva has gotten the job done because he’s limited the walks, done a decent job keeping the ball in the ballpark, and gotten a ton of timely double plays in key spots. Whether or not that adds up to someone you want on the mound against the Yankees or Red Sox in October is debatable, but when the alternative is Lohse and his 5.31 ERA or Mulholland and his so-called “rubber arm” that was last consistently effective when the “read my lips” Bush was in office, Silva looks pretty good.

Interestingly, Silva has a chance to go past 200 innings pitched and win his 15th game of the season in his final start of the year. If he can do both those things without suddenly turning into a strikeout pitcher, he could move into the top 10 for fewest strikeouts in a 15-win/200-inning season during the last 30 years.

Here’s what the list looks like right now:

PITCHER                  YEAR       SO       IP        W
Bob Stanley              1979       56    216.2       16   
Jack Billingham          1978       59    201.2       15   
Bill Lee                 1979       59    222.0       16   
Jeff Ballard             1989       62    215.1       18   
Lary Sorensen            1979       63    235.1       15   
Dock Ellis               1976       65    211.2       17   
Andy Hawkins             1985       69    228.2       18   
Bob Forsch               1982       69    233.0       15   
Jim Perry                1974       71    252.0       17   
Gary Nolan               1975       74    211.0       15   
Rick Honeycutt           1983       74    213.2       16

Limiting the pool to the post-strike era, a span of soon-to-be 11 seasons, Silva would actually shoot to the very top of the list. In fact, only one post-strike pitcher has had 15 wins and 200 innings in a season without striking out at least 100 batters — Omar Olivares, who went 15-11 with a 4.16 ERA in 205.2 innings for the A’s and Angels in 1999 and struck out just 85 hitters. Coincidentally, Silva’s current ERA is also 4.16.

Quote of the Week

From John Kruk‘s most recent ESPN.com column, in which he hands out his season-ending awards, called “Krukkies”:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

No, not the American League MVP or National League MVP. I’m just talking about the most valuable player in the game today.

This year, I’m giving it to Chone Figgins of the Angels. Where would this team be without him? I can tell you one place they wouldn’t be — in the hunt for a playoff spot. There is no better utility guy in the game today. Chone has played every position except first base and catcher. Oh, sure, he hasn’t pitched yet. But he probably would if they ask him. Now there are plenty of guys out there who can fill in at a few slots, but none of them is a switch-hitter with a .288 average, 15 triples and 31 steals.

Think of what the Angels have gone through this year with injuries. At one time or another, they lost Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad, had to give Vlad Guerrero some time at DH because of his problems, and now Adam Kennedy is done for the year. Every time an injury happened, Chone stepped in and kept them on track.

I know about Bonds and Pujols and all those guys. But they show up to the ballpark every day knowing they’re going to play and where they’re going to hit in the order. Not Chone. He has to take a few grounders all over the field, and then find some time to hit. If you think that doesn’t sound like a big deal, imagine going to work every day and not knowing what your boss will have you do that day — but you have to be prepared for all of it.

If there’s a more valuable player in the league, then I’d like to meet him.

I’m fairly certain there’s no need for me to comment, so I won’t.

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