THT Mailbag: Walking Wounded

As Larry Mahnken giddily sent me an instant message to inform me that the Yankees had signed Roger Clemens, I couldn’t help but feel a bit envious. After all, I was watching my Oakland A’s trot out a starting outfield of Chris Snelling in center field, Jack Cust in left field and Danny Putnam in right field. The team’s top five outfielders are hurt, with Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley and Bobby Kielty on the disabled list, Travis Buck nursing a sore wrist and Nick Swisher‘s sore hamstring preventing him from playing the field. Just so the pitching doesn’t feel too bad for having to carry the load, starters Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza have combined for three starts. Oh yeah, and their starting designated hitter and big free agency acquisition, Mike Piazza, is also on the DL.

Which leads us right to our first question, from reader Ivan A.:

How unusual is the A’s pitching compared to their win/loss record? It just seems strange that a team could collectively pitch that well and still be 50-50. I grew up believing good pitching beats good hitting, but this doesn’t seem to apply (so far) this year. On the other hand, it is good to see that pitching seems to be better than ’06.

Despite having scored the second fewest runs in the league so far, a putrid total of 116 in 30 games, the A’s are sitting at a decent 15-15 overall, just one game behind division favorites Los Angeles. (Interestingly, Chicago, with the least runs in the league so far, are also at .500, with a 14-14 record.) Which brings us to the A’s incredible pitching and defense, which has given up a league leading 106 runs, a mere 3.57 runs per game.

What’s surprising about all this isn’t that so many A’s are injured; the A’s sign and trade for injury prone players; if Bradley, Kotsay and Loaiza didn’t have question marks, the A’s wouldn’t be able to afford them. What’s surprising is how they’ve arrived at that runs allowed number. Here’s a look at the A’s rotation, along with their projected ERAs from the THT Preseason Book.

NAME            IP    ERA    THT ERA
Dan Haren       46.1  1.75   4.09
Joe Blanton     47.1  3.61   4.56
Chad Gaudin     33.1  2.70   4.42
Joe Kennedy     29.0  2.48   4.22

Needless to say, as unlucky as the A’s have been on the injury front (and really, it hasn’t been all that much bad luck: only Swisher doesn’t have an injury history), they’ve been just as lucky on the pitching front. Add it all up, and the A’s are right around where most analysts had them in the preseason: around .500. That said, the early injuries have helped Chad Gaudin and Travis Buck come into their own as regulars, and with the returns of Bradley and Kotsay on the horizon, the luck the A’s have had in staying afloat during April may help them become a better team in the long run.

And now, onto the rest of the mailbag.

Is there a site that carries VORP? I love this stat and would like to see how players are ranked both on the Mets and throughout baseball in ’07.

Also, I have been in a long running debate over whether the Mets should trade Shawn Green and let Endy Chavez start in right field. I know this seems a specious argument right now with Green hitting well, but hear me out.

Basically, I feel Green’s skills are redundant on the Mets. Sure, he is hitting well, but he is a league average right fielder at best (I’m just making an observational comment here, so correct me if I’m wrong) who provides poor defense. If you were to compare the two in a vacuum, you would probably select Green as your right fielder, however when you take the context of the Mets team into account, I believe Endy should start. The Mets one through six hitters are excellent (slumps by David Wright and Carlos Delgado aside) and Jose Valentin is a dangerous eighth hitter. Does this team really need Green hitting seventh? Are his offensive contributions that great to this lineup that the Mets should put up with his defense?

With the exception of Mike Pelfrey, whom has a small sample size to draw from in the bigs as it is, most of the Mets pitchers are flyball pitchers. This is where starting Endy in right field would be advantageous. Sure, Carlos Beltran covers a lot of ground in center field, but even he is going to have trouble covering all the ground he will be required to cover with Moises Alou and Green flanking him. I feel Alou is still a very dangerous hitter and a better hitter than Green, and given that I would like to see Chavez start.

Sure he has failed in the past as an everyday player, but he has made great strides as a hitter under Willie Randolph’s tutelage, and he would provide vastly superior defense in right field than Green, for a flyball staff, in a park (Shea Stadium) that has a spacious outfield.

So what do you guys think? It would be really interesting to see what you could come up with. In a way it would be a follow up to something you discussed in your five questions about the Mets season preview.

- Keith H.

Dave Studeman: Keith Woolner, formerly of Baseball Prospectus created VORP, and they continue to report it in their stats section. If you’re not familiar with Baseball Prospectus, I can’t recommend a BPro subscription highly enough. While their stats section can be kind of confusing, it’s worth the time and investment if you have the inclination.

Endy Chavez is playing terrific baseball for the Mets. That game-winning drag bunt the other day was great. I used to wonder when the Endy bubble was going to burst, but it’s time to move beyond that. I agree that he would be at least as valuable as Green in right, and probably better.

Some might argue that the Mets would lose some flexibility off the bench, but Endy can always shift outfield positions late in a game. So the only thing the Mets lose is some pinch running and batting flexibility—but don’t you want your best players to play regularly?

I’m being rhetorical. Of course you do!

On the side

In reply to the mailbag question asking about Andy Pettitte being used out of the bullpen, I think is not just about the recent hyper-specialization of pitching, but isn’t there an injury issue as well?

I recall that pitching in a game situation when the pitcher is already tired causes a lot more wear and tear on the pitcher, and if this is correct then wouldn’t pitching regular bullpen sessions cause far more wear and tear to a more valuable start then simply a middle reliever?

Plus the author talked about how the starter could be removed at anytime; no offense but is there any point to inserting a tired resting starter over a rested middle man and possibly losing a starter?

I think another advantage nowadays is a middle-man working one inning or such nowadays is that for three or less batters the junk or limited pitch menu he posses can be effective because he is fully rested and isn’t known fully by the limited batters he faces.

- Joanna W.

Steve Treder: There certainly is an injury issue. But then, there’s always an injury issue with pitchers, relievers as well as starters, in every usage pattern. A “safe” injury pattern for pitchers hasn’t yet been discovered.

The situation in question here involves the use of a starter who is throwing in his regular between-starts bullpen session already. We aren’t talking about using him on a day in addition to that, or to throw a number of pitches significantly greater than he would throw in his bullpen session anyway. So this starter isn’t “tired” to any degree than he already would be when taking his normally-scheduled between-starts workout.

By all means, if this starter reported not feeling loose and normal, and/or if his bullpen catcher/pitching coach didn’t think he was throwing well, he shouldn’t be used in the game. The concept here isn’t about necessarily using this starting pitcher in relief stints, nor is it about necessarily using him instead of the team’s regular relievers. It’s about a team availing itself of a potential additional bullpen resource, as appropriate, on an occasional basis.

You guys seem like just the folks to do this, or tell me if it’s already been done.

Everyone’s seen a million “greatest fluke season” lists. Norm Cash, Brady Anderson, Adrian Beltre, etc.

I’m wondering what players have had the most fluky bad seasons. Who had a terrible season out of line with the rest of their career, then bounced back and continued their career just fine? One terrible season at the end of a long career obviously doesn’t count.

I guess Comeback Player of the Year awards are one place to start looking.

I started thinking about this while looking at Mike Lowell‘s stats, although the jury’s still out on him.

- Dan S.

Bryan Tsao: Great question, Dan. THT’s own Steve Treder has actually been working on a series about players with great careers, but puzzling bad seasons. Part three deals with players such as Carl Yastrzemski, George Scott and Ernie Banks.

Luis Gonzalez Hall call?

What would you say to Luis Gonzalez, who has 2395 hits, 334 home runs, a career .284 batting average and OBP of .368, five seasons where his OPS+ didn’t drop below 110, five All-Star performances, and was only denied an MVP by superhumans Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa; and his best comparables are Dave Parker and Bernie Williams.

And then add his postseason heroics and likable personality do you have a Hall of Famer? I think so.

- Michael W.

Steve Treder: Well, Michael, inasmuch as neither 2395 hits, nor 334 home runs, nor a career .284 batting average and OBP of .368, nor a total of five seasons where his OPS+ didn’t drop below 110, nor a total of five All-Star appearances, nor being denied an MVP due to superior seasons by other ballplayers, nor having Parker and Williams as one’s best comparables constitutes a serious Hall of Fame case, regrettably I would have to say I think not. But Gonzalez has presented a memorable career.

Dave Studeman: Without even looking up the player you’re describing, my reaction is no, those stats aren’t good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. Only five seasons with an OPS+ above 110 isn’t Hall-of-Fame caliber to me, unless the player is a defensive whiz. You didn’t mention fielding or position, so I’ll assume the player is a so-so outfielder. Five All-Star Games isn’t Hall of Fame level either. Bill Freehan was in 11, Steve Garvey in 10. Travis Fryman was in five. So was Steve Sax.

I would also point out that Dave Parker isn’t in the Hall of Fame, either, and Williams isn’t there yet.

Stranded Runners

Was looking over the box scores last night and saw the Braves beat the Marlins 5-2 on a three-run walk-off home run by Andruw Jones. Then noticed the Braves were noted as having left 25 men on base. How is that possible? If they won on a walk-off in the 9th, then no one was left on base in the 9th, and how can a team leave 25 men in eight innings? Even if you left the bases loaded every inning for 8 innings, that’s only 24 LOB. I thought Yahoo must have it wrong, but mlb.com shows the same stat. Play-by-play doesn’t indicate anywhere near that high a total, so can I assume some sort of clerical error, or is the LOB stat not as clear as it one would think?
- Nevin, Brooklyn, New York

Matthew Carruth: There are two different stats at play here, LOB and Team LOB.

LOB just indicates how many men a player left on base by making an out. Team LOB indicates how many runners were stranded at the end of an inning.

Here’s an example: The Whomevers load the bases with three consecutive walks. Player A is next up to bat and strikes out, he leaves three men on base. Player B follows next and also strikes out, again, leaving three men on base. Player C in the last batter, also striking out and leaving three men on base.

Player A LOB: 3
Player B LOB: 3
Player C LOB: 3

Total LOB: 9

Whomevers Team LOB: 3.

Joe’s Hall Hijinks

I remember when Joe DiMaggio was recognized by MLB as “The Greatest Living Player” in 1969. But it took him two years to get elected to the Hall of Fame. I wish someone would do an article about how in hell did some of these guys get in. One guy was Rabbit Maranville, who was elected in 1954.

Seven times this guy made more than 40 errors in a season. In 1914 he made 65 errors and despite him the Braves won the World Series. He averaged 38 RBIs for his career. He made over 600 errors in his career. His career OBP was .318 and his career home run total was 28. In 1954, he got more votes than Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey and Bill Terry. He must have been buying drinks for all the voters or something. Books I’ve read said he was a character and heavy drinker, so the writers probably loved the guy.

In the 1953 election he got more votes than DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg. DiMaggio didn’t get elected till 1955. Even Bill Dickey was elected ahead of DiMaggio. I wonder if it had to do with his aloof personality. He didn’t kiss up to the media and that probably hurt Joe. If Maranville got elected then Christian Guzman of the Nationals has a chance for the Hall.

- Jarvis H.

Dave Studeman: I have no idea why DiMaggio didn’t get more votes, but we (and many others) have written a plethora of articles about Hall of Fame. Really, I’m kind of sick of them, but I keep writing them anyway.

Maranville may have made a lot of errors, but he played in an era in which error rates were much higher than they are today. He also played in a relatively low-scoring era. Maranville was a tremendous fielder, the Ozzie Smith of his day. No player has more career fielding Win Shares than Maranville. And his peers recognized his contributions even when he was playing.

Take a look at his record. In 1913, his first full year in the majors, he batted only .247, with an OPS+ of 81, but still finished third in MVP voting. The next year was even more dramatic: .246, 89 OPS+, second in MVP voting. Even in his last years, in his late 30s and early 40s, he finished in the top 20 in MVP voting. That is remarkable.

Now, I don’t know much about Maranville, and I know even less about what happened with DiMaggio, but Rabbit’s Hall of Fame case is much stronger than his batting stats suggest.

Vinay Kumar: The process around HOF voting was much less defined back then. There wasn’t a ballot circulated to voters, so the five year eligibility wasn’t as strictly enforced. DiMaggio received Hall-of-Fame votes as early as 1953, despite playing the 1951 season. It’s not that voters didn’t find DiMaggio worthy of induction, it’s that some voters thought he was eligible, and most didn’t. So he got some votes in 1953 and 1954, but wasn’t voted in until 1955s election. If the voting were as clearly-structured as it is now, I think DiMaggio would definitely be a first-ballot selection.

Cheap no-hitters

Quick thought: I seem to recall a no-hitter between the Yankees and the Tigers (I think) about 10 years ago, where the home team won, but got no-hit. Maybe it was Jim Abbott? Anyway, if the home team gets no-hit, but wins, that would count for only eight innings. Technically, a team could get a walk, two stolen bases and a sacrifice fly to score a run and win 1-0. That would be 25 batters faced. But only 23 official at-bats. Am I making any sense ? I hope so.

- Christian B.

John Walsh: Your memory is pretty good. I found two “no-hitters” in the Retrosheet data (which goes back 50 years), where the team with no hits won the game. The game you mention was the Yankees vs. White Sox tilt of July 1, 1990. The White Sox won the game 4-0 (!), despite not getting a hit. Yankee pitcher Andy Hawkins gave up four walks, but the killers were three Yankees errors, all in the same inning. Here’s how the 8th went for Hawkins: pop out, pop out, error, walk, walk, error, error, pop out, four runs in, all unearned. Ouch!

In 1992, on April 4, Matt Young pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox, but dropped a 2-1 decision to the Indians. Young walked seven and, together with catcher John Flaherty (the same guy who backed up Jorge Posada last year), surrendered six stolen bases, four of them by the young Kenny Lofton.

And yes, as you note, it’s possible to throw a complete game no-hitter, while facing only 25 batters, if you lose the game. That hasn’t happened, though, at least since 1957.

Richard Barbieri: The game you’re thinking of John is the “Andy Hawkins Game.” Hawkins didn’t give up any hits but allowed four runs, most of them on a two-base, three-run error by Jim Leyritz (playing left field!). However, I think MLB has ruled you can’t pitch a no-hitter and lose (or, put another way, you have to pitch at least nine innings) so your example isn’t technically valid.

Chavez bombs

There have been a number of homerun hitters that have done well at Dodger’s stadium. Who are the top five Non-Dodger hitters and the top five Dodgers hitters to hit the most out of Dodger Stadium in the last 44 years?

- Salvadore J.

John Walsh: Here are the top 5 home run hitters in Dodger Stadium, 1962-1998, 2000-2006, for visitors and Dodgers (sorry the 1999 season is not yet available at Retrosheet):

Visitors:

+---------+------+
|  Batter | hr   |
+---------+------+
| Bonds   |   24 |
| Foster  |   23 |
| Murphy  |   22 |
| Schmidt |   22 |
| Aaron   |   22 |
+---------+------+

Dodgers:

+--------+------+
| Batter | hr   |
+--------+------+
| Cey    |  121 |
| Garvey |  117 |
| Karros |  113 |
| Piazza |   85 |
| Green  |   78 |
| Baker  |   73 |
+--------+------+

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