Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 29, 2021

Max Scherzer began his transformation from a decent hurler to a Hall of Famer with Detroit. (Wikipedia).

Scherzer 3,000 K watch: With 10 strikeouts on the 26th, Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer put himself just 28 away from 3,000 for his career. He also needs just 12 for 200 on the year; when he reaches that milestone, he will have done it eight times in his career. Upon eclipsing 3,000 Ks, he will all but seal his chances for Cooperstown. But even if he suffers a catastrophic, career-ending injury in his next start …

Scherzer’s a sure lock: With his statistics (187 W, 2,972 K, 3.17 ERA, 65.4 WAR, 10.7 K/9) being what they are, one can comfortably say Max Scherzer is a future Hall of Famer right now, at this point in his career. Maybe not a first ballot guy, maybe he’d have to wait until the veteran’s committee put him in, but he ranks among the best of this generation, and in this era of high-strikeout pitchers, Scherzer has been among the best the longest.

Can Cabrera collect ‘em all? As the world turned its attention to Miguel Cabrera’s chase for 500 home runs, his quest for 3,000 hits took a backseat. But right now, he’s only 40 away with two games left to play in August. He had 37 hits in a month as recently as September/October 2016 and 41 hits in May 2014. He’ll have to perform as well as he did in his prime, but Cabrera could, feasibly, reach the fabled hits milestone this year.

Ibanez rocks: Royals rookie second baseman Andy Ibanez just recently concluded an eleven-game hitting streak in which he hit .488 with 6 doubles and 2 home runs. Over the past week, he’s hit .458 and raised his season average to .260, up from .200 on August 14. He recently got a boo-boo, however, and is currently day-to-day.

Mercadoubt: Oscar Mercado, a 26-year-old outfielder for Cleveland, made waves as a rookie in 2019 when he hit 19 home runs with 54 RBI and 15 stolen bases, to earn some Rookie of the Year support. Since then, he’s hit just .194 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI in 82 games, casting doubt on whether he’ll ever live up to his first-year promise.

Abreu had a 20.25 ERA in 2 games with New York in 2020. (Wikipedia).

Just one bad game: Yankees reliever Albert Abreu had a 1.88 ERA and .091 OBA through his first 14 1/3 innings of the season, then on July 29, he surrendered 3 dingers and 6 earned runs without getting an out, raising his 2021 mark all the way to 5.65. Since then, he has a 2.51 ERA, again in 14 1/3 innings—but still carries a 4.08 ERA overall.

The same ol’ Nolin: Prior to 2021, Nationals hurler Sean Nolin hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2015; he missed all of 2016 and 2017 and then bounced around the minors, indy ball, even the Mexican Pacific Winter League and Japan. In his first three stints from 2013 to 2015, he had a 6.89 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. The time away didn’t help: Since returning to the majors, he’s posted a 6.57 mark in 3 starts. His last outing was decent, however, as he allowed just 2 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Mets on August 28.

Mets could do it: The Mets defeated the Nationals handily this afternoon, 9-4, and have now won two-in-a-row, they’re longest winning streak since … who knows how long, my memory isn’t that good (it was actually August 10-12). Baseball Reference says they still have a 0.4% chance of making the postseason. They’re facing some weak teams over the final stretch of the season, so what if …

It’s been a while: The last time a rookie pitcher had 5 or more shutouts was in 1983, when Orioles hurler Mike Boddicker had exactly that many and led the league. The last time a rookie even had three shutouts in a campaign was 1995, when Hideo Nomo did it for the Dodgers; he also led the league. And when did a rookie last lead the league in shutouts at all? 2019. The Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara had two.

Complete games are a rarity, too: Boddicker and the Rangers’ Mike Smithson were the last rookie hurlers with 10-plus complete games in a season, achieving the feat in 1983. In an indictment on today’s game, the last rookie pitcher to complete even five games in a season was the Dodgers’ Ismael Valdez in 1995; even worse, J.A. Happ was the last rookie to manage 3 CGs, doing so in 2009.

Rarer than no-hitters? Since 2019, only eight pitchers have thrown more than one shutout in a season. There’s been that many no-hitters this year alone.

Got ‘em all in one year: Shortstop/outfielder Eric Yelding spent five years in the major leagues in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, playing for Astros and Cubs. He stole 89 bases in his career—in 1990 with Houston, he swiped 64 of them.

Willy kept going: Speaking of speedsters with short careers, Willy Taveras—who stole 68 bags for the Rockies in 2008—was playing independent ball for the Sugar Land Skeeters as recently at 2019. Who knew. He last played in the majors in 2010.

A home for the washed-up: That 2019 Skeeters team featured myriad players who you thought were long since retired. James Loney, who last played in the majors in 2016, spent time with them, as did Mitch Talbot (2011), Denis Phipps (2012), Daniel Schlereth (2012), Josh Prince (2013), Felipe Paulino (2014), Cesar Cabral (2015), Dallas Beeler (2015), Matt West (2015), Ryan Jackson (2015), Rico Noel (2015) and Cody Stanley (2015), among others.

With the minor league August Browns in 1886, Suck hit .091 in 88 at-bats. (Wikipedia).

How many did he have to hit? Moe Hill spent 15 years in professional baseball, including nine seasons in the Twins system. From 1971 to 1978, he played for the Single A Wisconsin Rapids Twins—which, in itself, was an impressive feat, since by his last season with them, he was 31 and almost a full decade older than the average man in the Midwest League. Even more amazingly: He won four home run titles in a row, from 1974 to 1977. Despite hitting 267 career home runs, he peaked at Double A and never earned a big league call.

He lived up to the name: Tony Suck, a utilityman in 1883 and 1884, hit .151/.205/.161 in 205 career at-bats, for an OPS+ of 24. He was born Charles Anthony Zuck—shoulda kept the original name.

 No camping under that one: Remember when Braves pitcher Rick Camp, then a .060 hitter, hit an 18th-inning, game-tying home run … at 3 in the morning?  

Studs and duds: August 22 – August 28

Salvador Perez has already topped his previous high of 27 home runs. (Wikipedia).

Salvador Perez’s power barrage continues and Sandy Alcantara shows he might be breaking out as one of the game’s top young stars.

Offensive stud: Salvador Perez (C, Royals). Perez keeps cranking in what has been a historic season for the star catcher, as he hit another home run last night to bring him to 5 in the past week, 11 in August and 37 on the year. The slugger—more a slugger now than any time in his career—also has 12 RBI and 5 walks, giving him a .382 on-base percentage over the past seven days.

This power surge has been accompanied by a rise in production in other departments, as well.  He has already set career highs in runs scored (62, previous high: 57) and RBI (92, 80), and is on pace to best his previous mark in walks (not a great accomplishment, as he still might not break 30 for the year). His career slugging mark has jumped 11 points because of this season alone.

Honorable mention: Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals; .387 BA, 4 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI).

Offensive dud: Jose Barrero (IF, Reds). Barrero reclaims his title, going 0-for-6 with 4 strikeouts and an error in a rough showing. The speedy middle infielder is young and still working out the kinks, but his future might be brighter than his recent performance suggests: Baseball America ranked him the number 79 prospect going into 2021, and the 23-year-old has hit over .300 in the minors this year. And that’s where the Reds just sent him, back to Triple A to get him some more conditioning.

Dishonorable mention: Aristides Aquino (OF, Reds; 0-for-11, 7 K).

Shows how bad the Marlins are: In his All-Star 2019 season, Sandy Alcantara led the league with 14 losses. (Wikipedia).

Pitching stud: Sandy Alcantara (SP, Marlins). If the Marlins have any reason to believe brighter days are ahead, Alcantara is it. The hurler tossed 14 innings his past two starts, posting a 1.93 ERA while allowing just 3 runs and 3 walks, and striking out 23 batters.  There’s something about that number 3. Outside of a terrible 10 run game on August 6, he hasn’t allowed more than 2 runs in an appearance since July 27, and has a 1.24 mark since that rough outing.

Still only 25 years old, Alcantara already has an All-Star selection under his belt and owns a career 118 ERA+—and he has yet to reach his prime. The Marlins acquired him with three other decent names in a deal with St. Louis, surrendering only outfielder Marcell Ozuna to get them. Ozuna had two ho-hum seasons with the Cardinals; Alcantara is making the transaction look like a steal for Miami.

Honorable mention: Adam Wainwright (SP, Cardinals; 2-0 W-L, 15 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB).

Pitching dud: Daniel Bard (RP, Rockies). Bard returned to the majors last year after not pitching there since 2013, and in that stunted campaign with Colorado, he did pretty well. In 23 appearances, he posted a 3.65 ERA and 143 ERA+—shades of his glory days with Boston, when he had a 2.88 mark in 192 games from 2009 to 2011. He had an All-Star worthy 2010, posting a 1.93 ERA and 227 ERA+ in 73 games.

Well, this year, things have not been so sunny. His season-long struggles, which saw his ERA hover into the mid-4s as recently as August 16, culminated in an atrocious line of 1 2/3 innings pitched and 8 earned runs allowed—that’s an ERA of 43.20—over the past week. He blew a save, lost two games and saw his season ERA rise nearly a point, to 5.61. Over his last four appearances, he surrendered less than 2 earned runs just once and didn’t manage a single out in his last go-round against the Dodgers on August 28. It was nice having you back, Daniel, I hope you enjoyed your stay—because it won’t be too much longer.

Dishonorable mention: Jake Petricka (RP, Angels; 1 IP, 5 ER, 1 L, 1 BSV, 45.00 ERA).

Random autograph of the day: Jason Arnold

On paper, Jason Arnold had a very good minor league career.

The second round draft pick began with a 7-2 mark and a 1.66 ERA, while averaging more than 10 strikeouts per 9 frames, in his first campaign (2001); he was 13-4, 2.61 with a 8.9 K/9 IP ratio his sophomore year. His record fell to 7-9 in 2003, though his ERA was a solid 3.69, with a similar tale the next year: 2-5, but with a 3.61 mark.

Two-thousand-and-five illustrated his downfall: In his first, and only, full season at Triple A, he was 0-4 with a 6.39 ERA in 47 relief appearances. He averaged less than a hit allowed per inning and posted a solid K/9, but too many balls left the yard — he surrendered 14 dingers in 62 innings (that’d be 45 in a 200-inning campaign).

Abbreviated though it was, just 12 games, 2006 was a rebound season, as Arnold posted a 1.90 mark with a 11.0 K/9 in 23.2 innings. It wasn’t enough to save his career, however, and he was out of the game after that. His record and ERA outside of Triple A: 24-11, 2.29. In Triple A: 5-15, 4.79. He never made the majors.

Worst trades in Mets history, #6: Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano

Imagine Scott Kazmir in the Mets rotation in 2006, instead of Steve Trachsel or Pedro Martinez. They could’ve won the World Series that year! (Wikipedia).

Mets fans the world over rue this most terrible of trades, in which New York sent 20-year-old top prospect starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for perpetually mediocre hurler Victor Zambrano.

To this day, those in Mets-dom don’t understand the team’s convoluted thinking when they made that fateful transaction. Kazmir was a kid with a world of promise and upside that they were just giving away for a pitcher who had a 4.47 career ERA prior to the deal.

Sure, Zambrano had experienced some success in the minor leagues while pitching in Tampa Bay’s system. Before everyone was a strikeout pitcher, he was K-ing people with ease—he averaged more than a strikeout per inning in each of his first four professional seasons, and even in his first try in the majors, he did the same. With the Devil Rays in 2001, he struck out 58 batters in 51 innings in relief.

Key word there: Relief.

To that point, he had been nothing but a reliever, starting no more than 4 games in a professional season. Things took a turn for the worst when he shifted to the rotation.

Hits weren’t an issue, nor were home runs, but wildness killed him. In 114 innings in 2002, he surrendered 68 walks, threw 10 wild pitches and hit 5 batsmen. And the next year, he tossed 188 1/3 innings and led the league with 106 walks, 15 wild pitches and 20 HBP.

Between 2002 and 2003, his K/BB ratio was just 1.18.

Tampa Bay gave him one more shot in 2004, but by the trading deadline, had had enough. On July 30, they shipped him to New York with 29-year-old rookie hurler Bartolome Fortunato (himself wracked with control issues) for Kazmir and righty Jose Diaz (who was no major loss).

Zambrano had pitched 128 innings and walked a league-leading 96 batters at the time of the deal. No, he didn’t just lead the American League in bases on balls at the time of the trade, he paced the loop for the entire season, despite spending the second half of it in the NL. He also had 15 hit batters and a refreshingly low (lol) 5 wild pitches before his departure.

He pitched just one full season in New York, 2005, and for his part, managed to get his control under … uh … control, kind of. In 166 1/3 innings, he surrendered just 77 walks, but still clobbered 15 batters, which was second in the National League behind Jeff Weaver. And his 8 wild pitches were eighth in the league. To add insult to injury, he committed three errors, which were fourth-most among pitchers.

Hey, look guys, it’s Victor Zambrano! Boooo! Hiss!! (Wikipedia).

Dammit Zambrano, couldn’t you do anything right?

In 2006, he tortured Mets fans with only 5 mediocre starts before a bum elbow that eventually needed Tommy John surgery took him out of commission for the rest of the year. And Mets fans breathed a sigh of relief.

He was non-tendered following the campaign and granted free agency, but somehow fooled the Blue Jays into signing him for 2007. He had a 10.97 ERA with them before being let go. The Pirates signed him, but thought better of it and sold him to Baltimore, who threw him at the wall to help make their 4th-place, 69-93 season even worse, and it worked. He posted a 9.49 ERA in 12 1/3 innings there to finish out 2007, giving him a 10.17 mark for the year. In 23 innings, he allowed 22 walks to just 16 strikeouts.

Colorado signed him for 2008, but he was released without appearing in a game; the Yankees picked him up, but they, too, granted him free agency before he donned a big league uniform, because he performed too poorly in the minors (2-7, 7.17 ERA between 4 teams) for their liking.

And that is how all this comes full circle: Way back in 1993, Zambrano signed as an infielder by none other than the Yanks. He didn’t even play beyond rookie ball before they cut him loose—the first time—because his performance was so lackluster. So he converted to pitching.

And because New York tossed him aside, the ball started rolling, the gears were set into motion and here we are now, nearly 30 years later, writing an article about a terrible Mets trade involving Zambrano the failed infielder-turned-pitcher.

Isn’t that called, like, the butterfly effect or something?

For his part, Bartolome Fortunato, the other piece the Mets received, spent parts of two seasons with New York and had a 27.00 ERA in his last one.

As for Kazmir—did I say he was a top prospect? Now, that doesn’t do him justice. He was among the very, very best prospects three years in a row. Going into 2003, Baseball America ranked him number 11 in all the land, ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Zack Greinke. In 2004, he fell a spot to number 12, but was still ahead of Greinke, Cole Hamels and Adam Wainwright. And in 2005, he was rated at number 7—among the top ten percent of the very best prospects in the minor leagues—and he was still only 21 years old.

So, of course, it would make sense to trade him for such mediocrity that had flunked out of the minor leagues once already.

And though Kazmir never became a superstar—he didn’t even earn a Cy Young vote—he did rattle off a streak of four solid seasons from 2005 to 2008 in which he averaged 11 wins, 172 innings and 186 strikeouts per year, while posting a 3.51 ERA and 127 ERA+. In those few seasons, he made a couple All-Star Games and led the league in strikeouts in 2007, with 239.

He stumbled from 2009 to 2011 and didn’t play in the majors at all in 2012. Upon his return in 2013, however, he managed a run of three campaigns in which he averaged 11 wins, 177 innings and a 3.54 ERA per year; in 2015, he went 15-9 and earned his third All-Star selection.

The injury bug bit after 2016 and he pitched only briefly in the minors the next year, and not at all in 2018 or 2019.

But the desire to play was still there. After briefly appearing for the Eastern Reyes del Tigre of the independent Constellation Energy League in 2020, Kazmir mounted a major league comeback attempt and signed with San Francisco in February 2021. On May 22, he returned to a big league mound, tossing four innings, and surrendering just one run, against the Dodgers.

While Zambrano flamed out just a few years after joining New York, Kazmir went on to win 108 games and become the strikeout pitcher Zambrano was meant to be.

Kazmir has lost 97 games in his career. The Mets lost a whole lot more.

Article from the archives—Adrian Beltre: What 1,000 runs scored means for Rangers third baseman

On April 14, 2011, Adrian Beltre—a future Hall of Famer who was anything but a sure thing at that point—scored his 1,000th career run. It’s not a huge feat, as mentioned in this article, but I decided to memorialize it with some prose anyway. Usually I wouldn’t post something like this, because really all it does is announce something (that happened 10 years ago), but there were enough fun facts and trivial information throughout that I thought you’d enjoy reading it.

***

Adrian Beltre turned it on in his 30s after slashing just .271/.327/.459 in his teens and 20s. (Wikipedia).

Just the other day, on April 14, Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre scored his 1,000th career run. Oh, you didn’t hear about it? Well, that’s to be expected—the feat wasn’t particularly well-publicized and run milestones don’t seem to garner much attention anyway.

What, then, makes the 33-year-old Beltre’s 1,000th crossing of home plate meaningful, or worth noting, or so valuable that one should put metaphorical quill to parchment and expound upon the landmark?

First, it’s a pretty impressive feat, even if it’s not particularly rare—he joins a club with 29 other active members and over 300 members overall. The active crew is riddled with greats like Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki—that’s a pretty good fraternity to be in.

Most importantly, however, it signals that the Dominican third sacker could be quietly putting together a Hall of Fame career.

Third basemen with 1,000 runs, 2,000 hits and 300 home runs are a pretty rare breed—only four have posted those numbers since 1980, with Beltre and Cooperstown shoo-in Chipper Jones amongst the flock. Compare that to first basemen: In that span, more than twice as many initial sackers have posted those types of numbers. Clearly, third sackers with even decent power and hit-ability—by first base’s standards, at least—are hard to come by.

And Adrian Beltre is one of them, placing him in an elite group.

Of course, that is not to say that if Beltre were to retire today he would be a Hall of Famer—sure, among his positional peers he is in a supreme cabal, but to the untrained eye, he is still only decent.

Since third basemen don’t often reach the “milestone” numbers like 500 home runs and 3,000 hits with regularity, they are often underappreciated and even considered inferior to players at other positions on the diamond. They are somewhere between the historically uber-defensive shortstop and second base positions and the uber-offensive first base and right field positions. Being caught in that in-between segment of the baseball spectrum is one of the reasons why third base is an underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame.

And that’s why Beltre needs to keep adding to his career totals and accolades before he can rightfully claim a spot in Cooperstown.

Yes, he has three Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers, but a couple more of each wouldn’t hurt. Sure, he’s been an All-Star twice and, though All-Star appearances aren’t always a huge indicator of a Hall of Fame career—Robin Yount was only selected to three and Bert Blyleven to two—it wouldn’t hurt for him to tack on a couple more to his resume, lest he toil on the ballot for over a decade as 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Blyleven did.

And while accolades are nice, they don’t mean nearly as much if statistics aren’t there to back them up. Yes, 2,000 hits and 300 home runs are good—fantastic, even, for third basemen—but they don’t jump out at voters and the layperson. Fellow hot corner specialist Gary Gaetti had over 2,200 knocks and 360 longballs to boot and, though he is fondly remembered, no one is clamoring for his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Because of the position he mans, it is hard to say what Beltre needs to do to gain Cooperstown membership. Mike Schmidt earned election after hitting 548 home runs and playing great defense, yet Ron Santo entered the Hall, albeit after a long wait, with 342 dingers and defense that was only slightly above average, according to Defensive WAR. It’s a variable position with variable “rules” for induction.

Instead, let’s look at what he is on pace to achieve, according to famed Sabermatrician Bill James’ projection system called the “Favorite Toy,” and see if those numbers are enough to earn him the most prestigious call in all of baseball.

Chipper Jones finished with 468 home runs and 2,726 hits. (Wikipedia).

Using the tool, we find that Beltre is projected to hit 403 home runs and finish with 2,765 hits. He’s heading towards nearly 1,500 RBI and over 1,300 runs. Now those are Hall of Fame numbers and notably, they are not digits constructed from fantasy—they are what he is on pace to achieve per the extrapolation system.

In the history of the game ever, only four third basemen have hit over 400 home runs. Only three have collected at least 2,700 hits. Yet not one has combined such power numbers with those hit totals—something Beltre is statistically projected to do.

Chipper might be the first to join that club—he stands only 80 hits away from 2,700 and he already has over 450 moonshots—but Beltre, being half of that guild of two, would be a no-doubter for the Hall if he reached those numbers.

Now, that’s not saying he has to reach those marks to be a Hall of Famer. He could as easily collect 2,400 hits and whack 350 home runs and one day earn election, but he’d have to wait a few years, just as Ron Santo did. (Coincidentally, Beltre is most statistically similar to Santo through age 32, according to Baseball-Reference.com).

However Beltre’s career turns out, it’s hard to believe I’m talking about his blooming Hall of Fame prospects. To think: This was a guy people thought was washed up in 2005!

***

Beltre went on to score a lot more than 1,000 runs in his career and beat the projections set forth in the article handily. He is the only third baseman, and just one of 11 players, to finish with over 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. Having done so, he ranks among names like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 28, 2021.

Michael Chavis has hit just .220 since his 2020. (Wikipedia).

Chavis chugging along: Former Red Sox first rounder Michael Chavis hit 18 home runs with 58 RBI his first year, 2019, but hasn’t done much since. It seems a change of scenery has helped him get going, however: Since joining the Pirates on August 23, he is hitting .381 with a .619 slugging percentage. Included in that was a 4-for-5 showing on August 26.

Get Otto here: Rangers rookie pitcher Glenn Otto had a killer debut against Houston yesterday, tossing 5 scoreless innings with 7 strikeouts, just 2 hits and no walks allowed … then the Rangers killed the vibe by losing 5-4 anyway. The hurler had been traded to Texas in the deal that sent outfielder Joey Gallo to the Yankees and was 9-4 with a 3.20 ERA and 12.6 K/9 on the farm this year. In 2019, he went 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

Struggling Jose: Jose Iglesias, the Angels shortstop, was a top prospect a decade ago, an All-Star in 2015, and is thoroughly struggling right now. Through July 26, he was hitting .285, but has a paltry .179/.240/.284 line over the past month. If there is a silver lining in this rough patch, it’s that he’s shown decent extra base skill when he makes contact, with 7 of his 17 hits going for doubles; he’s also scored 15 times.

Gilbert’s still going strong: Diamondback’s starter Tyler Gilbert has tossed just 22 2/3 innings this year and has surrendered 6 earned runs in his past 10. But he didn’t allow a single one in his first 12 2/3 frames—including his no-hitter on August 14—and so his season ERA is still just 2.38 despite his middling recent starts.

Chris Heston’s ERA after 2015, the year he tossed a no-no: 13.91. (Wikipedia).

On Gilbert’s no-no: The only no-hitter in my memory than I would have expected less than Gilbert’s was Bud Smith’s on September 3, 2001. Smith, a rookie, was in just his 11th career start when he blanked Tony Gwynn, Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko and the rest of the Padres. He pitched just 11 more games in 2002, and that was it for his career. Giants pitcher Chris Heston’s no-no against the Mets on June 9, 2015, also came out of nowhere. Playing in his first full season, he surrendered 5 or more earned runs in 4 of his 6 starts prior to his big game.

Reconsidering Votto: I’ve never been big on Joey Votto’s Hall of Fame chances, but only two other active players have at least 300 home runs, 2,000 hits and 1,000 runs scored in their careers: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Ninety-four men total have reached all three marks and 50 are in Cooperstown. If it’s not a perfect measure of greatness, it at least helps recognize those who qualify for the Hall of Very Good—guys like Raul Ibanez, Carlos Lee and Don Baylor.

You had your chance: The Mets demoted catcher Chance Sisco to Triple A to make room for backup catcher Tomas Nido. The way the latter has performed offensively this year, the move doesn’t offer much of an improvement, but he has thrown out 53% of baserunners trying to steal. Sisco was 1-for-4 in his short time with New York.

Sacrificed himself to second: Did you know Robinson Cano once bunted himself a double? The feat has actually happened quite a few times.

Still waiting for the first: The only three teams that have never had a man win the Most Valuable Player honor while wearing their uniform are the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays. They’ve been around since 1962, 1998 and 1998, respectively.

Rockies makes sense: The only three teams who have never featured a Cy Young Award winner are the Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies and Florida/Miami Marlins. Named the Washington Senators then, the Rangers have been around since 1962, while Colorado and Miami’s first year was 1993. Dodgers pitchers have won twelve CYAs. Clayton Kershaw was the most recent, in 2014.

George Brett was no match for the Phillies in the 1980 Fall Classic. (Wikipedia).

Rockies, Marlins again? There’s a trend here: The Rockies and Marlins also have never won their division, and the Pirates haven’t won theirs either, at least since moving to the NL Central in 1994.

Gotta go back 40 years: The last time a World Series featured two teams who had never previously won a championship was in 1980. That year, the 91-71 Phillies, featuring 48-home run hitter Mike Schmidt and 24-game winner Steve Carlton, faced off against the 97-65 Royals, who were powered by George Brett’s .390 average and Willie Wilson’s 230 hits. Philadelphia won, 4 games to 2.

Nice hitting! Get on the mound: In 2001, former Pirates pitcher John Van Benschoten led NCAA Division I hitters in home runs and slugging percentage, while batting .440. Baseball America called him the country’s top power hitter. So when the Pirates took him 8th overall in the 2001 draft, what did they do? Convert him to pitching, of course. In the minors he had a career 3.84 ERA; in 26 big league games (19 starts), he went 2-13 with a mark of 9.20.

No thanks, affiliated ranks: Centerfielder Jay Davis spent eight campaign in the affiliated ranks, from 1989 to 1996, and never hit more than 5 home runs in a season. In 1997, he joined the independent Texas-Louisiana League and smashed 15, starting a run in which he walloped twenty or more dingers in seven of his final nine campaigns—none of which came in affiliated ball. Most of them were over in Korea; he has one of the longest, if not the longest, careers of any foreigner to play over there. He finished with 241 long flies in his professional career. Side note: In 1997, he pitched a single inning and struck out the side.

Football was more his game: 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams spent four seasons as an outfielder in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. He never played above A ball and hit just .211 for his career, but he did steal as many as 17 bases in a season. He later rushed for over 10,000 yards and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame (Canton, if it ever happens, still awaits).

It pays to study: Sean Holub, ever heard of him? He was a 40th round draft pick by the Brewers in 1992 and spent just 2 games in rookie ball. Oh yeah, he also went to Johns Hopkins University and is now the head of trading at Alight Capital Management in New York City. Baseball didn’t pay off for him, but his education did. (He also had his own baseball card, despite his super short career).

Studs and duds: August 21 – August 27

Salvador Perez has 188 home runs in his ten-year career. (Wikipedia).

Salvador Perez and Joe Musgrove played like Hall of Famers this past week; Trevor Story and Lou Trivino … didn’t.

Offensive stud: Salvador Perez (C, Royals). At this point, Salvador, the Hall of Fame has you on their watch list. With 4 home runs in the past week, Perez sits at 36 on the season—and is all but a shoo-in for breaking the nearly twenty-year-old record of 42 dingers in a campaign by a catcher, set by the Atlanta Braves’ Javy Lopez in 2003. With his knock last night, a grand slam (his second in two games), he broke Ivan Rodriguez’s 22-year-old American League mark of 35, set in 1999 with Texas. The seven-time All-Star also has 10 RBI, a .704 slugging percentage and a 1.059 OPS over the past seven days. He might not be ready for Cooperstown, yet, but he’s building a case.

Honorable mention: Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals; .419 BA; 13 H, 9 RBI, 8 R, 2 SB).

Offensive dud: Trevor Story (SS, Rockies). I don’t like this story, Trevor. Mired in an 0-for-17 slump since August 21, Story has cooled off enormously since rattling off an 11-game hitting streak in late July and early August. With 108 strikeouts in 411 at-bats on the year, his free-swinging ways might not be an issue when he’s making contact—but when things go cold, they become a problem. He has 6 Ks over the past week, equivalent to more than 200 in a 600 at-bat season, which is actually only slightly worse than his career pace of 189 per 162 games. Twice an All-Star, Story is in the middle of his prime, so this slump is likely an aberration. But with free-swingers, you never know.

Dishonorable mention: Aristides Aquino (OF, Reds; 0-for-13, 8 K).

Joe Musgrove leads the league with two shutouts this year. (Wikipedia).

Pitching stud: Joe Musgrove (SP, Padres). Musgrove, formerly a first round compensation pick who Baseball America once ranked a top-100 prospect, never really lived up to the hype. Until this year. After flopping with Houston and Pittsburgh, he found a new home with San Diego and has been nothing short of excellent: In 25 starts, he has 9 wins, a 2.85 ERA, a 133 ERA+, a 0.991 WHIP and a 10.3 K/9 rate. His past two starts, especially his stunning performance last night, helped improve each of those numbers. Tossing a 3-hit, 2-walk complete game shutout against the Angels yesterday, Musgrove is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in his past 15 frames; he’s allowed just 6 hits and 4 walks, and just one of those hits left the yard.

Honorable mention: Max Scherzer (SP, Dodgers; 2-0 W-L, 12 2/3 IP, 18 K, 2 BB, 7 H, 0.71 ERA).

Pitching dud: Lou Trivino (RP, Athletics). The bright side: Trivino’s season ERA is still just 2.55 and his ERA+ is still 160. He’s averaged less than 7 hits allowed per 9 innings and he still ranks among American League leaders in saves. The downside: Since August 21, Trivino has blown 2 saves and taken the loss in 3 straight appearances. Opposing hitters have slashed .462/.533/1.000 against him and his ERA is 23.14. Presently, his 7 losses on the season rank third on the team and are 5 more than any other relief pitcher. His recent struggles aren’t unprecedented, as just in 2019, his ERA was 5.25 in 61 games. And they are especially unwelcome in Oakland right now, as there are vying for the postseason. Just remember the bright side, just remember the bright side …

Dishonorable mention: Genesis Cabrera (RP, Cardinals; 2 L, 2 BSV, 2 IP, 10 H, 9 R).

Random autograph of the day: Colin Dixon

Colin Dixon was taken in the same round as future notable names Brian Giles and Mark Grudzielanek, but did not achieve similar success. His minor league career was one of few highlights, however his 1994 campaign stands out. Having never before hit more than 4 home runs in a season, he walloped 19 dingers with 79 RBI for the unaffiliated San Bernardino Spirit that year. That convinced the Rockies to sign him, though he lasted just one season in their system before being let go. He later became a financial planner and baseball coach. 

Darren O’Day is the best relief pitcher of all time. (And, a bunch of other guys were really good, too).

Closers get all the love. They get all the glory. Coming in to finish out a tight game in the bottom of the ninth, all eyes on them, they’re the ones who make the headlines the next day.

But you gotta give credit to the hurlers who got them there to begin with.

That’s the relievers. The setup guys. The long men. In between the starting pitcher and the finisher is the man in the middle, for whom they bestow little recognition or accolade.

Some make All-Star Games. None have won a Cy Young Award.

And it is those pitchers that we’ll be discussing today—the best relievers in the game, not the best closers.

Technically, yes, closing pitchers are relief pitchers, but modern baseball has cast a clear delineation between the two. Nowadays calling a closer a reliever because they both pitch in relief is the same as calling a reliever a starter because they’re both pitchers.

They serve distinctly different roles.

*Even when a reliever serves as an opener, he is still largely acting in the role of a relief pitcher: Tossing one or two innings before surrendering the ball.

For the sake of this piece, to qualify as a reliever rather than a closer, no more than 10 percent of a pitcher’s appearances resulted in a save and 80 percent of his games, at least, had to be in relief. And a pitcher could not have been a team’s primary closer more than two or three seasons. To whittle it down further, I limited it to hurlers with over 500 appearances.

That leaves us with 42 guys.

Among the worst were John Grabow, Shawn Camp and Boone Logan. Grabow and Logan were lefties—ah, what a blessing it is to be sinistral in baseball. While more capable right-handed pitchers around you get cast off, you keep getting job after job after job …

John Grabow somehow lasted nearly a decade in the majors. (Wikipedia).

Grabow made 506 appearances from 2003 to 2011, posting a 4.31 ERA and 99 ERA+, while averaging more than a hit allowed per inning and more than 4 walks per 9. Camp pitched from 2004 to 2014, appearing in 541 games and posting a 4.41 mark; he averaged only 6.1 K/9 IP and allowed nearly 100 more hits than innings pitched. Logan pitched in 635 games from 2006 to 2018, finishing with a 4.50 ERA. His saving grace was his strikeout ability—he averaged nearly 10 per 9 frames, and he did have some good seasons … but a bunch of clunkers, too. Respectively, their Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference, were 1.9, 2.0 and 2.3.

They don’t belong here.

But Jared Hughes, he was pretty good. The quirky hurler with all the goofy headshots spent ten seasons in the majors, until 2020, posting a 2.96 ERA and 138 ERA+ in 542 games. Between 2014 and 2018, pitching for Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, he had a 2.41 mark in 345 games—and just 9 saves.

Yeah, that’s the kind of guy I’m talking about.

So is submarining Chad Bradford, who during the high-flying 1990s and 2000s, made 561 appearances and posted a 3.26 ERA and 138 ERA+. In his second-to-last campaign, his numbers were 2.12 and 211, respectively. Total saves: 11. Ooh yeah, Chad, you were better than people give you credit for. If they credit you at all.

Pedro Strop was solid, too, posting a 2.61 ERA from 2014 to 2018. From 2002 to 2005, Damaso Marte had a 2.78 ERA and 166 ERA+. Bob Howry had a good run and so did Jason Frasor.

But let’s kick it up a notch. He of the funky motion, Pat Neshek, defied the odds and made two All-Star Games in a career that spanned from 2006 to 2019. After a rocky start in which he missed all of 2009 and had an ERA of 4.40 from 2008 to 2011, he cranked it into high gear and had a 2.64 ERA the rest of the way. In 544 career games, his mark was 2.82; he had just 12 saves.

Starters get credit for the win. Closers seal the win. These are the guys who keep the games winnable.

Injuries cut Jesse Crain’s career to just ten seasons. (Wikipedia).

For 10 seasons, Jesse Crain, who spent most of his career with the Twins, was among the best at doing just that. He began his career with a 2.00 mark in 22 games in 2004 and ended it with a 0.74 ERA and an All-Star selection in 38 games in 2013; he was only getting better, too, improving his ERA each year from 2010 onward; his mark from 2011 to 2013 was 2.10 with a 205 ERA+ in 156 games. A bum shoulder ruined him. He had 4 total saves.

But those 4 saves aren’t even the fewest of the qualifying relief pitchers here. Rather, Ray King, a solid hurler from 1999 to 2008, converted only 2 in 593 games. He wasn’t bad—his career ERA+ was 126—but his services were more valuable as a left-handed specialist rather than a stopper.

We’re not talking solid here, however. We’re talking the best.

Tony Watson, currently of the Giants after beginning 2021 with the Angels, has had a fairly rough go of it this year, to the tune of a 3.77 ERA. That’s almost a full point higher than his career mark of 2.87. From 2013 to 2020, he posted a 2.65 ERA and 149 ERA+ for three teams; his performance earned him an All-Star selection in 2014 and some save opportunities in 2016 and 2017. But because he had no more than 15 in a season—and he has just 32 for his career—Watson earns a mention here.

Only four qualifying relievers have a career WAR of 13 or better—Jeff Nelson, Joe Smith and Steve Reed are three of them.

And it is hard to deny, for the roles they were called upon to fill, they were among the best.

Without Nelson, the Yankees might not have won four World Series. Without Nelson, they might not have gone deep into the playoffs, at all.

The hurler spent 15 years in the majors, five-and-a-half in New York. He made 331 appearances with the Yanks in the regular season, but it is in the postseason where he shined. In 55 October games, he had a 2.65 ERA, averaging more than a strikeout per inning. In 13 of the series he pitched for New York, he didn’t allow a single run; in the Fall Classic, his career mark was 1.69.

Mariano Rivera made the papers. Nelson made the right pitches.

Smith, technically, is still going, but he missed all of 2020 and is having a poor 2021. No matter. From 2007 to 2019, the hurler appeared in 782 games. He was the consummate middle man, finishing only 161 of them and saving just 30. But he also had a 2.98 ERA and a 136 ERA+; he and Reed are the only two pitchers with 800 or more total appearances and ERA+s of greater than 130.

And Steve Reed, he tossed 833 games in his career—more than half with the Rockies!—with marks of 3.63 and 132, respectively. The former number seems a little elevated, but recall, he pitched in the thin Denver air during the 1990s and 2000s, when balls were flying all over the place. Reed owns the most WAR among anyone on this list at 17.8.

But he took more than 830 games to get there.

Including his stunted campaigns, O’Day has had an ERA+ of 200 or more six times. (Wikipedia).

Making over 200 fewer appearances, current Yankees hurler Darren O’Day has just 0.4 less WAR at 17.4. Beginning his career in 2008, O’Day has been nothing but dominant. In his second campaign, he had a 1.84 ERA in 68 games between the Mets and Rangers, and from then until 2015, he posted a mark of 2.07 and a 206 ERA+, averaging more than a strikeout per inning and allowing just 286 hits in 400 1/3 frames. Home runs against him are a rarity, and so are walks, as he allows 0.9 and 2.5 per 9 innings, on average.   

Since 2016, health issues have hampered him, but effectiveness issues have not—he’s averaged 11.3 K/9 IP over the past six years.

He is head and shoulders above anyone else on the list. Neshek had the second-best ERA and ERA+ at 2.82 and 146, respectively. O’Day’s are 2.53 and 171. In WHIP (1.023), K/BB ratio (3.77) and, heck, wild pitches (3), no pitcher bests him.

All that, and he has just 21 saves.

If ever relief pitchers—not closers, not relievers who spent a few years closing, but relievers who spent their whole careers in a non-closing role—begin to make the Hall of Fame, O’Day better be at the front of the line.

You think I’m joking? Dennis Eckersley became a reliever in 1987 and a closer in 1988; in 695 games between those two roles, he had 16.8 WAR. That’s 0.0242 WAR per appearance. Trevor Hoffman averaged 0.0271 WAR per game. Rollie Fingers, 0.0265.

O’Day has averaged 0.0283 WAR per appearance—that’s a rate more than 15 percent higher than Eckersley; it’s better than two other Hall of Fame closers.

Few truly great pure relief pitchers exist today, and they’ve been almost just as rare throughout baseball history. Chad Bradford was good and Jesse Crain, he was great.

But Darren O’Day, well, they don’t get better than him.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 27, 2021.

About those Guardians: I didn’t want to opine about the Cleveland Indians’ name change, because everyone was opining about the Cleveland Indians’ name change. But I’ll say this: Could they have picked any more bland and milquetoast a moniker than Guardians? It inspires absolutely nothing—not fear, nor intimidation; it’s not even remotely assertive. It’s not take-charge or motivating. The Guardians. Bleh.

Edmundo Sosa is among the league leaders in defensive WAR and hit by pitches. (Wikipedia).

Edmundo’s breaking out: Cardinals infielder Edmundo Sosa isn’t a well-known name, but the 25-year-old might be soon. Over the past week, he’s 4-for-11 with a home run, 3 RBI and 3 runs scored and since the beginning of this month, he’s batting .350. Sosa had a couple cups of coffee for St. Louis in 2018 and 2019, but didn’t play in the majors at all last year. He began his professional career in the Cardinals system in 2013 at just 17 years old.

Miller time: Owen Miller, a rookie infielder for Cleveland, was hitting just .107 on August 2nd. Though his mark is still an anemic .175, the former third round pick managed to scratch out 11 runs, 10 RBI and 3 home runs over the past month. Even when things are looking awful, you can find something nice to say.

mAkin due with what he has: Orioles’ starting pitcher Keegan Akin’s season has been just like Baltimore’s: Awful. In 19 games (12 starts), he’s 1-8 with a 7.26 ERA; he has allowed 91 hits in 70 2/3 innings. But every dog has his day: The hurler tossed a 7 inning, 3 hit, 6 strikeout gem against the Angels yesterday for his first win of the year. And if you think his ERA is bad, get this—the Orioles have 16 pitchers with marks that are even worse.

You might do well here: Welcome to the majors, Austin Warren. The Angels reliever made his debut on July 29 and has a 1.69 ERA in 11 games since. In his most recent outing, August 24 against Baltimore, all three of his outs were strikeouts. Unfortunately, he was placed on the disabled list today for undisclosed reasons.

It all worked out in the end: How often does it happen that all the prospects in a substantial trade end up working out—if not with the team they were sent to, but at some point down the line? On December 19, 2010, the Royals traded pitcher Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers for pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar, the latter four of whom were all young and unproven. Cain spent seven years with Kansas City, earning an All-Star selection and performing as one of the best defenders in the game; Jeffress had a 2.89 ERA in 377 appearances from 2013 to 2020; Odorizzi went on to win 68 games and was an All-Star in 2019; and Escobar averaged 158 games played and 22 steals per year from 2011 to 2017. For their parts, Greinke went 25-9 in 49 starts with Milwaukee and Betancourt played 152 games for the Brewers in 2012, slugging 13 home runs with 27 doubles and 68 RBI.

Mike Myers was a LOOGY, a Left-handed One-Out GuY—he was primarily used to face left-handed batters. (Wikipedia).

Quick pitch: Quick! Name the only pitchers to appear in 800 or more games and throw less than 600 innings! They were lefties Mike Myers (883 G, 541 2/3 IP) and Javier Lopez (839 G, 533 1/3 IP).

The goal is to hit the ball: In the 1950s, the most strikeouts a batter had in a season was 138, by Jim Lemon in 1956. In the ‘60s, the high mark was 187, by Bobby Bonds in 1969. With 189 whiffs in 1970, Bonds also paced 1970s hitters in that category. Rob Deer had the highest total in the 1980s, with 186 in 1987. Folks were swingin’ and missin’ less in the ‘90s, with Cecil Fielder leading the pack at 182 in 1990. Then things took off—Mark Reynolds struck out over 200 times twice in the 2000s, in 2008 (204 Ks) and 2009 (223 Ks), and 190-plus strikeouts happened five more times, as well. In the 2010s, there were eleven 200-K seasons, with Adam Dunn leading the pack with 222 in 2012. There were 12 campaigns of 190 to 199 strikeouts.

Jackie was a leader: In his sole year in the Negro leagues, 1945, Jackie Robinson paced the loop with 13 doubles, 4 home runs, a .449 on-base percentage and 72 total bases.

Toad Ramsey had 499 strikeouts in 1886, but it didn’t even lead the league (Matt Kilroy, with 513 Ks, did). (Wikipedia).

Oh those crazy ‘80s: Talk about one year wonders—in 1884, pitcher Billy Taylor went 43-16 with a 2.10 ERA in 523 innings. To that point, he’d never won more than 4 games in a season; he played three more years and won just one game in each. Even crazier is Bill Sweeney’s 1884. He led the Union Association, a major league that lasted one campaign, with 40 wins, 62 games, 60 starts, 58 complete games, 538 innings pitched and 2,270 batters faced (Royals reliever Greg Holland has been around since 2010 and has yet to face his 2,270th batter). And that was it. He never played in the majors again.

Winning’s easy, and it isn’t: Toad Ramsey, who pitched from 1885 to 1890, holds the record for most wins in a single season by a pitcher who finished with a career losing record. In 1886, he went 38-27 in 67 starts for the Louisville Colonels, and the next year, he had 37 wins. (And after that, he went 8-30). He finished with a record of 113-124.

More than a country singer: Remember when country music singer Garth Brooks spent spring training with the Padres? And with the Pirates? He also spent ST time with the Mets and Royals.

That’s discouraging: Minor league infielder Tim Barker spent 10 seasons playing professionally, from 1989 to 1998. Six years in a row—1993 to 1998—were at Triple A, but he never received a call to the majors.