Max Scherzer joins the 3,000 K club.

Scherzer is the third pitcher since 2019 to reach 3,000 Ks—Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia did it that year. (Wikipedia).

Max Scherzer has joined the immortals.

When Scherzer got the Padres Eric Hosmer swinging in the fifth inning yesterday, he became just the 19th pitcher with 3,000 or more career strikeouts.

And he did it quickly, in just 14 seasons.

Having developed into one of the game’s best strikeout pitchers as he entered his prime in his late 20s, he hasn’t averaged less than 10 Ks per nine innings pitched since 2012, when he was with Detroit.

Since then, he has won three strikeout titles—in 2016, 2017 and 2018—and K-ed 200-plus batters nine times and 250 or more five times—including 300 with Washington in 2018. He has thrice led the league in K/9 IP ratio and is fifth all-time in that category, with a career 10.73 mark. Because he has excellent control, having walked 70 batters in a season just once, the hurler has paced the loop in K/BB ratio four times, as well.

And his control is impeccable. He has never led the league in BB/9 IP, however he has placed in the top ten five times. He is third in the National League this year. He was second in 2015.

To say, then, that Scherzer is merely a strikeout pitcher is an insult to his body of work. He’s an artist, an expert, a workhorse and a winner. And what a winner he is. In this age of low victory totals, he’s led the league in that category four times, with as many as 21 in a season. At the doorstep of 200 with 189 for his career, he is nearing another impressive milestone, one only two active pitchers have reached. He has just 97 losses; that’s a career .661 winning percentage.

And a workhorse? Well, that might be an understatement. He’s led the league in games started, innings pitched and batters faced twice, each. Three times he has paced the loop in complete games and twice in shutouts.

But all those pitches, all those innings don’t affect his performance. They don’t hurt his ability to nibble the corners. To keep men off base. To throw with precision, pitch after pitch.

In 2,519 1/3 innings—the fifth-highest total among active hurlers—he’s surrendered just 2,053 hits, or a mere 7.3 per nine frames. He’s led the league in that category three times. And, since he doesn’t walk anyone, he’s paced the loop in WHIP five times, as well. His 1.082 mark is 15th-best ever. Better than Juan Marichal. Better than Sandy Koufax.

And fans, writers and baseball intelligentsia recognize his dominance. Selected to eight All-Star teams, he has won three Cy Young Awards—in 2013, 2016 and 2017—and finished second and third in voting once each. He finished fifth twice. In MVP balloting, usually dedicated to the very best hitters, he placed tenth three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018.

Between his Cy Young campaigns of 2013 and 2016, there was 2015, a magical year in itself. In addition to striking out 276 batters and posting a 2.79 ERA, he led the league with four complete games and three shutouts.

Scherzer’s black and grey ink are 57 and 202, respectively. The average Hall of Famer’s are 50 and 185. (Wikipedia).

Two of which were no-hitters. And both nearly perfect.

On June 20, facing the Pirates, Scherzer went 8 2/3 innings without allowing a man on base. To that point, he had 10 strikeouts. Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen had K-ed twice.

Just one out shy of perfection, with the crowd on its feet, Scherzer … plunked pinch hitter Jose Tabata. The next batter, Josh Harrison, flied out. So close. A no-hitter is quite the consolation prize.

Incredibly, he was coming off a one-hit, one-walk 16-strikeout shutout against Milwaukee on June 14 in which he was perfect through the first six innings. In his following start, he was perfect through his first five.

A few months later, in his last start of the season, he made history again in a performance that was greater than his near-perfect game.

Facing Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey at the rest of the New York Mets, Scherzer walked not a soul as Mets batsmen went hitless. In fact, he himself didn’t allow any baserunners. The only man to reach was gifted his chance by way of a sixth inning throwing error by third baseman Yunel Escobar.

And he struck out 17 Mets, including, at one point, nine in a row. Shortstop Ruben Tejada and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis whiffed three times each. Three other men K-ed twice.

He wasn’t able carry the dominance of that game into the postseason; Washington missed it, winning just 83 games on the year.

But the playoffs haven’t been elusive for Scherzer in his 14 seasons—he’s pitched in them seven times. In his first series, with Detroit back in 2011, he tossed 7 1/3 innings, K-ed 7 batters, posted a 1.23 ERA and won a game. In 2012, he made his first World Series appearance. It wasn’t his best performance—in 6 1/3 innings, he allowed 3  earned runs on 7 hits and a walk. He walked away with the no-decision, but the Tigers lost the series.

Skip to nearly a decade later, in 2019, with Washington. Scherzer won a game in the NLDS and NLCS, throwing seven innings of scoreless, one-hit, 11-strikeout ball in the latter.

Propelled to the Fall Classic for the first time in franchise history, Washington had Scherzer take the mound twice against Houston in that nail-biting, seven-game series. Starting Game One, he went five innings, allowed two earned runs and struck out seven Astros for the win. He didn’t pitch in Games Two through Six. But he was called upon to seal the deal in Game Seven.

Scherzer is 7-5 with a 3.38 ERA in 22 postseason appearances. (Wikipedia).

By Scherzer’s standards, it was a rough outing. Granted, he again surrendered just two earned runs, but he also allowed seven hits and four walks in five innings of work. He left the game with the Nationals trailing, 2-0. The uninspiring Patrick Corbin took over and tossed 3 scoreless innings. Daniel Hudson didn’t allow a run his inning, either. The Nationals offense came alive in the seventh with two home runs. They beat Houston, 6-2 and won the World Series in seven games.

Scherzer got his ring, icing on the cake of what has become a legendary career.

But he wasn’t always a shoo-in for greatness. Though he was the Diamondbacks’ first round pick in 2006—taken in the same round as Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum—his big league career began a little … disappointingly. Despite a 151 ERA+ his first season, 2008, he was 0-4 in 56 innings. The next year, he again posted a losing record of 9-11, with a 4.12 ERA. In 2010, he was solid but not spectacular at 12-11, 3.50 and in 2011, despite winning 15 games, he had a mediocre campaign with a 4.43 ERA and 93 ERA+. By then, he was already 27 years old.

That, however, was the old Scherzer. In 2013, everything clicked and he hasn’t looked back since. In those nine years, he’s gone 137-55 with a 2.80 ERA and 150 ERA+. In 1,714 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 2,174 batters (over 11 per nine innings) and posted a tiny WHIP of 0.982.

That is the Scherzer history will remember. That is the Scherzer who will get into Cooperstown. That is the Scherzer who reached 3,000 strikeouts.

And became immortal.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 6, 2021.

Vogelbach hit just .208 in his All-Star 2019 campaign. (Wikipedia).

Dan is Vogel-back: Big Daniel Vogelbach never quite established himself at the major league level, despite hitting 30 home runs with Seattle in 2019 and making the All-Star squad that year. Now in a reserve role with Milwaukee, the slugger returned with a bang after missing all of July and August due to injury—in just his fourth game back, he clobbered a pinch hit, walk-off grand slam off Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes last night.

The new Kemp: He’s no Matt, yet, but Athletics outfielder Tony Kemp is getting there. Over the past month, he’s hit a solid .291 with a .371 on-base percentage, adding 3 doubles and a couple home runs for good measure. It’s been an up-and-down year for the former 5th round draft pick, who began the campaign with a .208 mark through mid-May, then was into the .290s by late June, and is down to .259 now.

Better than nothing: When you’re the 45-93 Diamondbacks, you have to take what you can get—and hurler Taylor Widener is worth taking. Since August 7, the righthander has a 2.57 ERA with 22 Ks and just 13 hits allowed in 21 innings. Not one to go deep into games, he pitched exactly 5 innings four starts in a row, from August 7 to August 27.

Salvador’s *this* close: After another dinger last night, Royals catcher Salvador Perez now sits at 41 on the season and is just two away from tying the season record for most dingers by a catcher with 43. He is firing on all cylinders right now, hitting .353 with 6 home runs and 16 RBI since August 27.

Every time you get your hopes up: Sunday, September 5: the Mets wallop the Nationals, 13-6; Javier Baez goes 4-for-4, Kevin Pillar smacks a grand slam, life is good. Monday, September 6: Mets face Nats starter Patrick Corbin, owner of a 6.26 ERA and 33 home runs surrendered this year. Mets are leading, closer Edwin Diaz blows the save, Mets lose 4-3. That’s the essence of being a Mets fan.

When he was with the Mets, J.J. was such a … well, you know. (Wikipedia).

This is also how the Mets do: J.J. Putz’s career ERA before joining New York: 3.07. His ERA with New York: 5.22. His ERA after leaving New York: 2.81.

No love for Durham: Jacque Jones and Armando Benitez both earned a vote for the Hall of Fame in 2014, but not Ray Durham. He had 2,000-plus hits, 1,249 runs scored, two All-Star selections and excellent power-speed skills (his 225.4 power-speed number is 69th all-time). The BBWAA writers are a mystery.

Naval Academy representation: For nearly a century, the only man from the United States Naval Academy to play major league baseball was pitcher Nemo Gaines, who spent four games with the Washington Senators in 1921. In 2015, two alumni joined the ranks, with pitcher Mitch Harris spending a season with St. Louis and hurler Oliver Drake debuting with Baltimore. Drake, though injured, is still playing.

Besting a Hall of Famer: Fifteen-year major league veteran Jose Hernandez won’t oft be mentioned in the same breath as any Hall of Famers, however he did break one Cooperstowner’s record: In the 1997-98 Puerto Rican League (now known as the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League), he clobbered 20 dingers, breaking the league’s single-season mark for most home runs by a native Puerto Rican. It was previously held by Orlando Cepeda.

Props to Bob: Bob Thurman, who played for the Reds from 1955 to 1959, holds the Puerto Rican League’s career home run record with 120.

Pete Rose, the prequel: The top 24 vote-getters in the initial Hall of Fame election in 1936 have been inducted into Cooperstown—and so have numbers 26 and 27. Former Yankees first baseman Hal Chase, who spent 15 years in the big leagues, finished 25th in the balloting with 4.9 percent of the vote and has yet to be enshrined. But it makes sense—he was de facto banned from baseball for gambling and such shenanigans.

Another olde stadium: Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field are major league baseball’s two oldest stadiums, opening in 1912 and 1914, respectively. But which is number three? Dodger Stadium is now a geriatric 59 years old, having opened in 1962.

Speed demons: Among those who debuted 1900 or after, the only players who were primarily pitchers with 20 or more career steals are Christy Mathewson, Chief Bender, Jack Coombs, Ray Caldwell, Johnny Lush and Doc White.

Who really discovered Mantle? Yankees scout Tom Greenwade is credited with signing the legendary Mickey Mantle, but Johnny Sturm, who played for the club in 1941, actually discovered the slugger. While managing the minor league Joplin Miners in the late ‘40s, he witnessed the young Mantle playing for a local semi-pro team and gave him a tryout. At his instigation, the Yankees sent area scout Greenwade to check the ballplayer out and, well, the rest, they say, is history.

Lou Gehrig was a decent ballplayer. (Wikipedia).

Is there anything Lou couldn’t do? The only player with five seasons of 400-plus total bases is Lou Gehrig, who led the league four times in that category and finished with 5,060 for his career. That’s 20th-best all-time.

Good at hitting home runs, not driving runs home: The player with the fewest RBI in a season with 20 or more home runs is catcher Chris Hoiles, who clocked 20 dingers and had just 40 RBI for Baltimore in 1992. A couple seasons earlier in 1990, the Yankees’ Kevin Maas had 21 home runs and 41 RBI and as recently as 2016, the Yanks’ Gary Sanchez clobbered 20 homers with 42 RBI. Thus far in 2021, the Giants’ Brandon Belt has 21 home runs and just 42 RBI.

The value of forums and message boards: It seems a majority of online baseball discussion has meandered to websites like Reddit and Twitter, but there is still great value in forums like Baseball-Fever.com. Social media and such frivolities is too-in-the-moment; after a day or two, posts, thoughts and discussions are shoved down the memory hole, never to be seen again. With forums, you can track discussions and watch as they develop. There is more permanence to them.

A curious club—600 PAs, 20 BB, 20 K in the same season.

A question popped into my head—which players had 20 or fewer walks and strikeouts in a season of 600 or more plate appearances? My gut said Juan Pierre; my gut was wrong.

It’s happened 13 times by 11 men, and those who did it range from the obscure and unknown to Hall of Famers and those with decent Cooperstown cases.

The first to do it was Charles Comiskey, who before he became the Hall of Fame owner of the White Sox, was a middling first baseman who played mostly for the Browns in the 19th century. In 1889, he had 609 plate appearances, but walked and struck out just 19 times each. It was a decent campaign, as he hit .286 with 105 runs scored and 102 RBI in 137 games.

Comiskey was the first man to join the club; he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939. (Wikipedia).

Centerfielder Steve Brodie did it next, in 1894, when he hit .366 with 210 hits, 134 runs, 113 RBI, 18 walks and 8 strikeouts in 628 PAs. He whiffed once every 71.6 at-bats, but that rate didn’t even top the league—it was 6th, far behind Jack Doyle’s 142.3 AB/K (he struck out 3 times in 427 at-bats).

And that sexy batting average? Not so sexy after all. It wasn’t even among the top ten. Five players hit .400 or better that year, with Hugh Duffy pacing the loop with a .440 mark.

Hughie Jennings, a Hall of Famer, had just 19 walks and 11 strikeouts in 602 plate appearances in 1896. That season, he hit .401—which was second in the league—and led the NL with 51 hit by pitches. Not surprisingly, that is a league record.

In 9,745 plate appearances, Cross struck out just 217 times. (Wikipedia).

21-year veteran Lave Cross, who finished with over 2,600 hits and nearly 1,400 RBI, stepped to the plate 639 times in 1904, drawing just 13 walks and striking out 9 times. At 38, he was the oldest among those who accomplished the feat and the first man from the American League to do it. Unlike Brodie, his 67.4 AB/K led the league; he paced the loop twice more in that category and his 41.9 mark ranks 6th-best all-time.

*Random aside: I think a legitimate Hall of Fame case could be made for Cross, or maybe I’m a fool—he peaked at 0.4% in BBWAA balloting.

The feat didn’t happen again until 1920, when two players managed it. In 666 PAs, the Dodgers’ Ivy Olson had 20 BBs and 19 Ks, but he wasn’t getting on base with all those plate appearances he had to spare. He batted just .254 with a 68 OPS+.

Stuffy McInnis, owner of four World Series rings, over 2,400 hits and a .307 career average, also did it that year (624 PA, 18 BB, 19 K) and again in 1924 (611 PA, 15 BB, 6 K). Like Cross, he was notoriously difficult to strikeout, with his 96.8 AB/K ratio leading the league in 1924; he ranked in the top ten 14 times and his career 31.2 mark is 20th all-time. In 1925, he struck out just once in 175 plate appearances.*

*For context, the player with the most plate appearances with just one strikeout in 2021 is Andy Burns, with 15.

Woody Jensen was also a repeat offender, doing so in 1935 and 1936. The former season, he had 14 walks and 15 strikeouts in 657 plate appearances; the next, he led the league with 731 plate appearances and 696 at-bats, but walked and struck out 16 and 19 times, respectively. In 1938, he walked just once in 129 plate appearances. (That sounds like a rarity, just one walk in so many PAs, but Reed Johnson accomplished a similar rate as recently as 2014, when he had but a single BB in 201 trips to the plate).

Nine-time All-Star and 1940 MVP Frank McCormick, who few have ever heard of despite all his accolades, did it in 1938. He had 671 plate appearances and a league-leading 209 hits, while walking 18 times and striking out 17. The feat is an interesting novelty, but his career was more than that: He was All-Star each year from 1938 to 1946 and owns a World Series ring (1940); nevertheless, he’s been relegated to the dustbin of history.

So has Emil Verban, who in 1945 had 635 plate appearances, 19 walks and 15 strikeouts. Though he played seven seasons and had 400-plus plate appearances in five of them, he never struck out more than 18 times in a campaign. In 343 at-bats in 1949, he Ked just twice.

Don Mueller was an All-Star when he did it in 1955. In addition to his 19 walks and 12 strikeouts in 640 plate appearances, he batted .306—but had a measly 90 OPS+. He led the league in AB/K rate five times and is 25th all-time in that category.

Like McCormick, Power is an oft-forgotten All-Star. He made 6 teams and won 7 Gold Gloves. (Wikipedia).

Most recently—and it happened 63 years ago—Vic Power performed the feat, hitting .312 with 20 walks, 14 strikeouts and a league-leading 10 triples in 620 PAs between the Athletics and Indians in 1958.

Since Power, no player has gotten particularly close to matching the parameters set forth since. Expanding the BB and K limits to 25 adds just a couple more instances, with the most recent being Bobby Richardson in 1963 (668 PA, 25 BB, 22 K).

Even moving the goalposts to 30 each adds just a few more names, with the most recent occurrence still nearly forty years ago, in 1983. That year, Bill Buckner had 665 plate appearances, 25 walks and 30 strikeouts. He met those parameters five times.

I kept expanding the limits until I could fit my initial guess, Juan Pierre, into them. It took a little while. The list moved into the 21st century when I put them at 35, but just barely—in 2002, Paul Lo Duca had 632 PAs, 34 walks and 31 Ks. He’s the most recent to achieve those numbers.

How about 40? Success! In 2006 and 2007, Pierre had fewer than 40 walks and strikeouts and more than 600 plate appearances both seasons. In fact, he had more than 700 PAs each campaign, with 750 and 729, respectively.

Andrelton Simmons, in case you were wondering, was the last man with 50 or fewer walks and strikeouts in a 600-plus PA campaign, when he had 35 and 44, respectively, in exactly 600 plate appearances in 2018.

Unless there is a radical shift in the way the game is played, the 600-20-20 club might have added its last member in Power those many years ago. In this age of free swingers and 200-strikeout seasons, I cannot foresee a player reaching those numbers again.

But, as with all things in baseball—hey, you never know.

Clay Buchholz was as good as Walter Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Sometimes.

Clay Buchholz never lived up to the high expectations set for him. (Wikipedia).

A quick glance at Clay Buchholz’s career stats and you see that, eh, he wasn’t bad. Ninety wins, a couple All-Star selections, a 13-year career. The kind of run to tell the grandkids about.

He was supposed to be better than that, though. He was supposed to be a superstar, an ace, a legend. And if you take a closer look—sometimes, he pitched like one.

Selected by the Red Sox 42nd overall out of Angelina College in Texas in 2005, the right-hander tore through Boston’s system and was in the majors by 2007. His ERAs his first three years in the minors were 2.61, 2.42 and 2.44, respectively. He had 171 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings between two stops—including Triple-A Pawtucket—in 2007.

This kid was good.

And Baseball America thought so, too. They ranked him the 51st-best prospect in the sport going into 2007.

Making his big league debut on August 17, 2007, Buchholz went 6 innings against the Angels, allowing 8 hits and 3 earned runs. Despite winning the game, it was not a stellar start for the top prospect.

Perhaps he wouldn’t live up to the hype …

…never judge a book by its cover.

Facing Baltimore in his next showing, September 1, he silenced the bats of Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada and the rest of that (admittedly mediocre) team, allowing no hits and just three walks to become the first pitcher to toss a no-no in his second career start since the White Sox Wilson Alvarez did it (also against Baltimore) in 1991.

He also had nine strikeouts in that game. Shades of Walter Johnson, anyone?

Then he earned another win in relief on September 6, not surrendering a run, and on September 19, his final appearance of the season, he allowed just one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.

In his first big league stint, Buchholz went 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 303 ERA+. He became the first starting pitcher to post an ERA+ that high in his first season (min. 20 IP) since the Orioles’ Bob Milacki in 1988. It’s only happened three times since 1950 (Cisco Carlos was the other, in 1967) and 11 times, ever, if you include available Negro league data. The last time a National Leaguer did it was in 1907.

Yeah, it’s a rare feat.

The folks at Baseball America were impressed. They ranked him #4 on their top 100 prospects list going into 2008. It’s hard to illustrate how elite that ranking is. He was placed on a pedestal higher than Clayton Kershaw (#7), Joey Votto (#44) and Max Scherzer (#66). Derek Jeter was once ranked #4. So was Chipper Jones.

And Baseball Prospectus liked him even more. They put him at number 2.

But even the best can let us down.

In 2008, he fell to 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA; in 76 innings, he allowed 93 hits. Whether it was pressure to perform or issues with mechanics or lingering health problems—he’d experienced shoulder fatigue the year before—he left the baseball world wondering, what the heck happened?

Buchholz’s 2.33 ERA was second in the American League in 2010. (Wikipedia).

But the old Buchholz was still there. In the minors that year, he had a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts, averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He just didn’t show up on the big league stage.

2009 was an improvement, but it was like when your stocks tank and they’re working they’re way back up. Yes, it’s better than before, but still not where you want to be. In 16 starts, he was 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA. Once again, he performed like a future superstar in the minors, going 7-2 with a 2.36 mark in 99 innings.

He just needed to translate that to the majors.

In 2010, it looked like he finally arrived. Making 28 starts for Boston, Buchholz went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and 187 ERA+. In 173 2/3 innings, he surrendered only 9 home runs. He was an All-Star. He earned Cy Young support. He was the first Sox pitcher to have a full season ERA that low or ERA+ that high since Pedro Martinez, and was just the third since 1944 to accomplish the feat. Babe Ruth did it. So did Cy Young and Smoky Joe Wood.

Buchholz was back, baby.

Or not. In 2011, he made just 14 starts and had a 3.48 ERA; his number in April was 5.33. In 2012, he was 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA. That year, he carried an ERA over nine into early May and a mark of 6.58 into June.

Superstardom was put on hold.

Briefly, once again, it seemed. Beginning 2013 with a 1.01 ERA through May 1, the resurgent hurler was 9-0 with a mark of 1.71 through June 8 … just to suffer a neck strain and miss the rest of the month, July, August, and early September. He returned to make four starts to finish the year and didn’t skip a beat—he lost just one game, on September 21, and was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 237 ERA+ in 16 games on the season.

Greg Maddux had an ERA+ of 230 or greater twice, in 1994 and 1995. (Wikipedia).

The only other Red Sox starting pitcher with an ERA+ over 230 in a season of 15 games or more was Pedro Martinez, who did it in 1999 and 2000. Excluding Negro leaguers, it has only happened 13 times in the history of the game. The club includes Walter Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson and Christy Mathewson.

Buchholz was back, baby. For real this time.

And again … or not. He was 8-11 with a 5.34 mark in 2014 and that began his spiral into mediocrity. From 2014 to 2017, he was 23-29 with a 4.73 ERA in 430 1/3 innings. On December 20, 2016, Boston gave up on him and traded him to the Phillies for a minor leaguer of no consequence,  Josh Tobias.

After a poor two game stint with Philadelphia in 2017, he was given his walking papers after the season and joined the Royals, who ditched him in May 2018 before he could play a game. The Diamondbacks picked him up less than a week later, put him in their rotation and — oh yeah! Clay Buchholz was back, baby!

In 16 starts with them, he was 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA and 209 ERA+. Sure, it was a stunted campaign, but it was an unbelievable one—besides Buchholz, no Diamondbacks starter who played at least half a season has ever posted an ERA that low or an ERA+ that high. Not Randy Johnson. Not Curt Schilling.

You know what happened next. He was granted free agency the following season. The Blue Jays signed him. He went 2-5 with a 6.56 ERA in 12 starts.

There would be no next time. Buchholz rode his last rodeo in Toronto to conclude an underwhelming career. He finished with six seasons with ERAs over 4.50 and three of 6 or higher.

For half his career, or thereabouts, he was awful.

For a third of it, however, he was legendary. Between his 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2018 seasons, Buchholz tossed 403 innings and surrendered just 92 runs for a 2.05 ERA. He was 39-11, a winning percentage of .780. His lowest ERA+ was 187.

Here is a list of nine illustrious baseball names: Pedro Martinez, Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Bill Foster, Lefty Grove.  Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers, or Hall of Fame-quality players all.

What do they have in common? They’re the only other starting pitchers with four or more seasons with an ERA+ of 180 or greater.

Buchholz is number ten.

Remove those Hall of Fame-level years from his ledger, and his career numbers look like this:

51 wins, 58 losses, 4.81 ERA.

Buchholz might be the best worst pitcher ever.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 1, 2021.

Leody’s ready for launch: Rangers outfielder Leody Taveras hasn’t had what you’d call a good season, or a decent one, or even a bad one. In fact, it’s been downright awful, with the 22-year-old hitting .099 in 71 at-bats. But he’s making his hits counts: He’s walloped a home run in each of the past two games and his last three knocks were for extra bases.

Not a big diel: Nationals outfielder Yadiel Hernandez was batting .314 as recently as August 6, but over the past month his mark is just .266. But even then, he’s produced: In 25 games, he has 3 homers, 9 RBI, 10 runs scored and 9 walks. The slugger had 33 home runs and 90 RBI at Triple-A in 2019, so greater numbers might be ahead.

Yadiel Hernandez debuted with Washington in 2020. (Wikipedia).

Triple-A awaits: Twins starter Griffin Jax had a 7.00 ERA in 5 August starts; his mark over his last two was 13.97. In 53 2/3 innings this year, he’s surrendered 16 home runs. Perhaps a little more time on the farm is what he needs.

Brewers churn out one more: The Brewers have a knack for churning out great young (or, at least, rookie) relievers. In the past few seasons, they’ve had Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, to name a few. Well, add Jake Cousins to the list. The rookie righthander has 36 strikeouts and a 0.78 ERA in 22 appearances so far this year. In the past week, he’s Ked 9 batters in 3 1/3 innings.

Ray is #1: With his stellar 10-strikeout performance on August 30, Blue Jays starter Robbie Ray now holds the all-time number 1 spot for strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio. His mark is currently 11.177. He’s trailed closely by Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, so the lead could fluctuate on a daily or weekly basis.

A new record is imminent: In this day and age of batters striking out like madmen, a pitcher is bound to set the record for most strikeouts in a game soon. The current mark of 20 is held by four men and was most recently achieved by Max Scherzer on May 11, 2016.

Speaking of strikeouts: This season, teams are averaging one strikeout per inning, or 9 per game. In 2010, it was just 7.1 per 9 frames. In 2000: 6.5. In 1990: 5.7. How much higher will it go?

Flash from the past: The Angels have a young hurler named Packy Naughton. Does that name not sound like it belongs to someone who played in 1890? Right next to Doggie Miller, Pretzels Getzien and Jocko Halligan. Another anachronistic name was that of Red Patterson, who played for the Dodgers in 2014. He was the first Red to debut since Red Witt in 1957.

Jeff Kent has been on the Hall of Fame ballot eight times and has never earned more than 32.4% of the vote. (Wikipedia).

Big milestones, no Hall: Only two second basemen have at least 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 1,000 RBI: Jeff Kent and Robinson Cano. Both have Hall of Fame numbers, but there’s a good chance neither will get the call.

Maybe there’s a chance: With the Mets winning again last night, their magic number to overtake the Braves is 37. Baseball-Reference says they now have a 2.4% chance of making the playoffs. Jose Martinez and Jose Peraza are rehabbing and bound to be back. Noah Syndergaard is getting close. In fact, James McCann, Tomas Nido and a whole slew of players are due to return in the first week of September. Tug, is that you?  … you gotta believe …

Couldn’t bring it home: The only players with more than twenty stolen bases and fewer than twenty runs scored in a season are Donell Nixon (1987, 21 SB, 17 R), Harry Pattee (1908, 24, 19) and Chippy McGarr (1888, 25, 17). It’s quite an impressive feat, since speedy guys, it seems, usually score more.

A double’s better than nothing: The record for most doubles in a season with no other extra base hits was set by Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins in 1907. He had 29 doubles and not one triple or home run. The career record is 17, set by Jon Lieber, Lynn McGlothen and Clem Koshorek. Lieber and McGlothen were pitchers, Koshorek an infielder.

Bill Dammann wasn’t long for the majors, but he won 20-plus games in the minors a couple times. (Wikipedia).

Three’s all I need: Who had the most triples in a season without any other extra base hits? You have to go back in time for these guys, but in 1871, John McMullin managed 5 three-base hits without another EXBH. In 1914, George Twombly did the same thing. The career record is 6, held by Bill Dammann. Most incredibly, Dammann was a pitcher.

Now home runs: Most home runs in a season without a double or triple? Six. It’s actually happened seven times, most recently by Carlos Zambrano in 2006. Babe Ruth did it, too. As of this writing, Royals outfielder Edward Olivares has 5 dingers without an extra base hit this year, so he might join the club or break the record.  The career record is 4 and is owned by two current guys who, more than likely, will hit another EXBH eventually: The Indians’ Daniel Johnson and the Cardinals’ Justin Williams.

Ultimate singles hitters: And finally, which player had the most hits in a season without an extra base hit? Old time catcher Bill Holbert had 50 in 1879, all of which were singles; the year before, just 2 of his 32 knocks went for extra bases. He slugged .232 for his career. A few years later, in 1890, another catcher named Herman Pitz had 47 hits—all singles. That was his only year in the big leagues, so he owns the record for most career hits without an extra base hit.

Happy birthday, Chuck: Chuck Tompkins, born in 1889, was born on this day. He pitched a single game for the Reds in 1912. He owns both a career 0.00 ERA and 1.000 batting average.

Wagnon dies: Dwayne Wagnon, who pitched a couple years in the Reds system in the early 2000s, died August 21. He had a 2.88 ERA in 20 games in the low minors.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 30, 2021.

Miguel Cabrera’s run for 3,000 has been as protracted as his run for 500 homers. (Wikipedia).

Miguel Cabrera 3,000 hit watch: With a single yesterday, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is just 39 hits away from 3,000 for his career. It’s not out of the question he could get there this season. Assuming he manages no more hits in August, he would need to have his best month since late 2014 to reach the milestone.

Swing and a miss: Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard has struck out 57 times in 135 at-bats this season—that would translate to 253 in a 600 at-bat campaign. And that’s not even the worst rate among players with 100 or more ABs. Mariners outfielder Taylor Trammell has 75 Ks in 156 of them—meaning he strikes out nearly half the time.

You go, Tsutsugo: Yoshi Tsutsugo has played for three teams this season. With the Rays, he hit .167 in 78 at-bats and with the Dodgers, .120 in 25 at-bats. But things are looking up with team number three. Since joining the Pirates on August 16, he’s batted .333 with 9 hits, 6 runs and 11 RBI. Five of his nine knocks were dingers. Three of his 4 hits this past week left the yard.

The strikeout meme is getting old: Strikeout pitchers were cool once, but not anymore, now that they’re everywhere. The Indians’ Trevor Stephan, as mediocre as they come, had 9 Ks in his past 4 2/3 innings. He has a 4.50 ERA and 101 ERA+ on the year.

Hard to keep ‘em straight: There are three Luis Garcias active in the majors as we speak. The Cardinals Luis Garcia, a veteran relief pitcher, hasn’t allowed an earned run in 19 innings. The Astros Luis Garcia, a young hurler, is 10-6 with a 3.21 ERA this year.  The Nationals Luis Garcia, a top prospect infielder, is hitting .208 in 40 games. A Luis Garcia also played in 1999, and another appeared in 2002.

It seems like just yesterday we celebrated Cal McVey turning a century old. But it was actually almost a century ago. (Wikipedia).

Happy birthday, (really) old guy: Cal McVey, one of the top stars in the old National Association, turns 172 today. Happy birthday, Cal! (He was born in 1849).

A splendid day: It’s also Ted Williams’ birthday. A veritable legend, Williams made 19 All-Star Games; the last man to make that many was Cal Ripken Jr., who retired in 2001. The active player with the most is Miguel Cabrera, with 11.

THAT’S how you pronounce it? Have you ever pronounced a ballplayers surname one way your entire life, just to realize you’ve been saying it wrong the whole time? I recently found out former closer Troy Percival’s surname is pronounced PURR-siv-ull, emphasis on the Purr. I always pronounced it Purr-siv-ALL. Huh.

I’m going to be petty: The Mets have a pitcher named Tylor Megill. No, you don’t pronounce it like “Tyler,” you dummy, it’s “Ty-LOR.” Some clever parents there, weren’t they? This modern trend of slightly altering common names with ridiculous spellings or pronunciations is worse than the one of boys names all ending with “-den” (Aiden, Brayden, etc.). If you’re going to get creative, get creative. Think of something new, or at least combine some words cleverly. I’m going to name my child Albalog, after this blog.

Ramon’s rough year: In 1998, the Devil Rays let pitcher Ramon Tatis take the mound 22 times—despite his atrocious 13.89 ERA. With the fourth-best mark in the league, the club had solid pitching, and the bullpen was especially good—so they had other options. Tatis later posted a 10.72 ERA for the Triple A Columbus Clippers and a 54.00 mark for Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters in 2000, then a 15.43 ERA for the Mexican League’s Tecolotes in 2003.

Some teams never learn: In 2002, the Devil Rays trotted Jesus Colome out there 32 times … despite his 8.27 ERA. In 2007, Jon Switzer’s 8.05 mark didn’t stop them from using him 21 times, nor did Dana Eveland’s ERA of 9.00 dissuade the Rays from giving him 33 appearances in 2016.

It still happens to this day: The 2021 Cardinals feature star pitcher Tyler Webb (22 G, 13.22 ERA) and the Rockies have Yency Almonte (39 G, 8.36 ERA).

The $64,000 question: Who holds the record for most appearances in a season with an ERA over 8? Believe it or not, it’s happened three times and twice in one year. In 1999, the Marlins Vic Darensbourg and Colorado’s Mike DeJean each pitched 56 games and had marks of 8.83 and 8.41, respectively. In 1995, Bryan Hickerson—who spent part of the year with the Rockies (there seems to be a trend here)—had an 8.57 ERA in as many games.

Tyler Olson is one of only three pitchers with 20 or more innings and a 0.00 ERA in the same year, as well. (Wikipedia).

Enough high-ERA talk: Let’s talk low ERAs. The best mark in a season among pitchers with 20-plus appearances is … 0. In 2017, the Indians’ Tyler Olson didn’t allow a single run in 30 games … then he had a 4.66 ERA in 82 appearances between 2018 and 2019 and hasn’t pitched in the majors since. Earl Moore, a solid Dead Ball Era pitcher, holds the season mark for most innings with an ERA of 0.00, tossing 26 scoreless frames for the Phillies in 1908. He was 163-154 with a 2.78 ERA overall.

The Hall hasn’t called yet, either: From 1904 to 1919 – the span of his career – outfielder Sherry Magee appeared in more games, had more plate appearances, more at-bats, more runs, more doubles, more triples, more RBI, more total bases, more extra base hits and was on base more than anyone in the National League. Second behind him in all those categories? Honus Wagner. Now THAT is impressive.

Greatest fielding pitcher ever? Per Baseball-Reference.com, reliever Luis Vizcaino, who appeared in 543 games from 1999 to 2009, is the only qualifying pitcher with a career of 10 seasons or more to never commit an error. (To qualify, a hurler needs 500+ innings pitched).

Lamenting that deal: You know, I didn’t think the Athletics’ Matt Olson would’ve kept up his hot hitting all year long. In my fantasy league, I traded him with catcher Jacob Stallings and infielder Joshua Fuentes for first baseman Pavin Smith and starting pitchers Zach Eflin and Mike Minor. I’m also 11th out of 20 teams.

He died: I’ve said I don’t want to make this a death blog, so I’m adamant about only announcing the deaths of the most famous players in the game. Also Wang Kuang-hui, who played a few years in Taiwan’s major league, died today.

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.

Hey, you don’t belong there! The unexpected members of two elite clubs.

Willie Mays led the league in stolen bases four times and home runs thrice. (Wikipedia).

In baseball, a player can get by with just one standout offensive skill. Dave Kingman hit lots of home runs … and didn’t do much else. Juan Pierre stole a lot of bases … and that was about it.

So when a man combines multiple talents into one package, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Power-speed guys aren’t necessarily hard to come by. There have been 431 instances of a player hitting at least 20 home runs and stealing at least 20 bases in a season, and quite a few men have racked up substantial career totals in both categories. Though later known primarily as a slugger, Barry Bonds was the best at doing it, stealing 514 bags to complement his 762 home runs.

In fact, many players remembered as home run hitters were multi-skilled athletes, with the likes of Hank Aaron stealing 240 bases, Willie Mays swiping 338 and Sammy Sosa pilfering 234.

Frank Robinson. Gary Sheffield. Reggie Jackson. All speedsters at one point in their careers.

But to manage a truly substantial total of each statistic, that’s difficult. Only eight players have reached 300 home runs and 300 steals, for example. Try to name them.

Let’s start with the easy ones: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez (696 HR, 329 SB) and Willie Mays (660 HR, 338 SB) did it. But then it gets a little more challenging. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson (438 HR, 314 SB) got there, and so did future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran (435 HR, 312 SB).

Bobby Bonds, Barry’s dad, had 332 home runs and 461 steals, and is one of just two members with more swipes than dingers. Okay, so it’s getting tougher.

Now for the last two. If anyone illustrates why being a member of an illustrious group is not a surefire indicator of Hall of Fame worthiness, it is them.

Steve Finley only had one 20-20 season. (Wikipedia).

Steve Finley was a speedster early in his career, swiping 136 bases before ever hitting 10 home runs in a season. From 1996 to the end of his career, he found his power stroke and pulled off six 25 home run campaigns to just one 20-steal season.

Three hundred home runs was never a given, even after he became a slugger, and he only got there by dragging his career into his 40s and smacking 7 homers over his final two campaigns. He finished with 304 home runs and 320 steals.

*An argument for Cooperstown could reasonably be made for Steve Finley, and his being a member of the 300-300 club would be a major part of it. For most it would be tenuous at best, though those with a “big Hall” mentality might be swayed.

And then there’s Reggie Sanders. Never a star and a name largely forgotten today, he had less than 1,700 hits, made just one All-Star team, and received nary a vote in his one try on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Granted, he rattled off nearly 15 seasons of impressive consistency.

Though he hit 30-plus home runs and stole 30 or more bases just twice each, he crawled his way into the 300-300 club by hitting no less than 11 home runs and swiping no fewer than 14 bags per season from 1992 to 2005. He had four 20-20 seasons but, interestingly, never led the league in power-speed number.

More so than career HR-SB clubs, those of the single season variety get a bit more attention. The 40-40 club is known for its rarity, having been established by Jose Canseco in 1988 and since joined by Barry Bonds (1996, 42 HR, 40 SB), Alex Rodriguez (1998, 42, 46) and Alfonso Soriano (2006, 46, 41).

The 30-30 club has 41 members; it is to power and speed what 50 dingers is to home runs. It’s the hallmark of an excellent season. (40-40, then, could be considered analogous to a 60 home run campaign).

Then there’s the 50-20 club. It’s as rare as its 40-40 counterpart but receives no press.

It has four members:

In 1955, Willie Mays smashed 51 home runs and totaled 382 bases to lead the league in both categories. He added 24 stolen bases—one of his lowest totals at that point in his career—and finished fourth in Most Valuable Player voting.

From 1997 to 1999, Ken Griffey Jr. was the yearly home run champion. In 1997, he socked 56 and in 1998, he walloped the same amount—and swiped exactly 20 bases.  Welcome aboard, Ken. Like Mays, he was fourth in MVP balloting, one year after winning the award. He nearly joined the 50-20 club again in 1999, falling just two home runs short.

And in 2007—how can anyone forget this historic campaign?—Alex Rodriguez launched 54 dingers and stole 24 bases, pacing the loop in home runs, runs scored (143), RBI (156), slugging (.645), OPS (1.067), OPS+ (176) and total bases (376) to bring the MVP home. In one of the most sparkling careers in big league history, it was perhaps Rodriguez’s greatest showing.

And that should be all of ‘em—hold on, 1-2-3- … we’re missing one here.

Oh, wait a minute, who let this guy in?

In 1996, Brady Anderson joined the fraternity when he hit 50 home runs and stole 21 bases in one of the most unexpected seasons ever. Give credit where it is due, Anderson had a great year. A career year. About a quarter of the home runs he hit in his 15 seasons were mashed in ’96 alone.

But it wasn’t a season for the ages. Mays, Griffey, Rodriguez—their campaigns were for the record books. Anderson’s, well, hey, he joined the 50 home run club and stole a bunch of bases. That’s cool.

While the other members led the league in at least one major category, Anderson paced the loop in … hit by pitches.

While the other guys scored and drove in at least 120 runs, Anderson’s totals were 117 and 110, respectively, a bit more pedestrian.

Rodriguez and Griffey each won a Silver Slugger. Mays and Griffey each finished fourth in MVP voting; Rodriguez won the dang thing.

Anderson finished ninth.

For three of the four men, the feat was a cherry on top of a Hall of Fame-quality career. For Anderson, it was an interesting historical footnote.

But that’s the way it goes. Unless a club is itself a marker of greatness—500 home runs, 3,000 hits, 300 wins—it often, if not usually, has at least one member that’s a head scratcher, one that does not quite belong. Even the 40-40 club has Soriano, who, though excellent, was no Bonds, or Rodriguez, or even Canseco.

Baseball, ain’t it grand. It allows a man to rank among a pantheon of greats—even when he, himself, is but a mere mortal.

Miguel Cabrera smashes his 500th home run.

Cabrera is the 28th member of the 500 home club. (Wikipedia).

He kept us waiting a little bit. In quick succession, a matter of a few games, he hit home runs 495, 496, 497 and 498. About a week later, 499 left the yard.

 500 was one swing away. One swing and Miguel Cabrera would join an elite club, whose membership numbers less than thirty, whose ranks include names like Aaron and Mays.

A game passed, then another, then another. It was August 11 that his last dinger soared over the fence. By August 18, his bat had gone cold. In the past week, he’d had just two hits.

Each day that passed without another homer intensified the anticipation tenfold. Each day without another homer was a letdown, adding to the crush of disappointment.

His bat woke up on August 19. Cabrera went 2-for-5 against the Angels that day, driving four runs in. But just as quickly as it had been jolted to alertness, it fell back asleep.

0-for 5 on the 20th. 0-for-3 on the 21st.

Then 1-for-5—with a home run—on the 22nd.

Steven Matz has allowed just two hits against Cabrera—both home runs. (Wikipedia).

After a ten-day span that felt like ten years, Cabrera finally clobbered number 500, a sixth inning solo shot off Blue Jays hurler Steven Matz, his first hit in 13 at-bats.

Twenty-seven sluggers had done it before him, and none since David Ortiz in 2015.

But the trek to 500 wasn’t easy. Not just the jump from 499 to 500, either—it took a while for Cabrera to get to the magic number at all.

One of the game’s premier stars early in his career, he debuted with the Marlins in 2003 and lit up the stage in 2004, earning his first of 11 All-Star selections. From that point through 2014, he averaged 34 home runs and 119 RBI per season. He won the Triple Crown in 2012. He took home two MVPs and five Silver Sluggers. Only twice he drove in less than 110 runs, and never less than 100; only twice he had less than 30 homers, and never less than 25.

By the end of his age-25 season, he had 175 home runs. Just triple that and he’d be at 500 by his mid-30s, with a few years to add to his total. At the end of his career’s first decade—he wasn’t even 30 yet—he already had more than 300 dingers. 321, to be exact. Just double that and he’d be up there with Griffey and Thome, and not even 40 years old.

Cabrera spent five years with the Marlins. (Wikipedia).

One of the game’s most reliable players during that 11-year stretch, Cabrera played no less than 148 games in any given season, averaging 157. But in 2015, he hurt his calf, played just 111 games, and slugged 18 home runs.

Sure, he was still an All-Star and he led the league in batting average, but it was a portent of worries to come.

A confluence of two distressing issues, one involving health and the other a sudden decline in power, contributed to Cabrera’s downfall. The latter started in 2014, when his slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from the year before. The prior season, he had led the loop with a .636 mark; the next, it was .524.

But the problem went from inconvenient to concerning in 2017, when the number fell to .399. It hasn’t reached .450 since.

Then there’s health. Cabrera has had problems with his calf, his groin, his hamstring. In 2018, he missed most of the year after undergoing surgery to repair a bad biceps.

And as his power was failing and his body was falling apart, time kept marching forward. He kept getting older. More than anything else, it seems, age drags a player down hardest.  On April 18, 2021, he turned 38.

Cabrera’s ascension to the 500 home run club went from a no-brainer to a maybe.

In 2017, he hit 16 home runs to put him at 462—a good 2018, a Cabrera-esque 2018, would get him there. He hit 38 home runs as recently as 2016, a one-off rebound campaign.

He hit three home runs in 2018. 465 for his career; 35 away. A good 2019 would get him there. He’d hit 35 home runs five times in his career. It could be done.

He hit 12 home runs in 2019. 477 for his career. 23 away. Did he even have 23 left in the tank? Was he finished?

He hit 10 home runs in 2020. 487 for his career. 13 away. His contract was up after 2023; would the Tigers keep him that long?

His batting average declined each year from 2018 to 2020, from .299 to .250. As late as July 27 this year, it was in the .230s. Cabrera hadn’t just lost the ability to hit home runs, he couldn’t hit anymore, period.

It wasn’t only his power that suffered. About halfway through his career, he had over 1,800 base hits. At this point, he might be looking at 3,500 had he not faltered; he just recently passed 2,950.

But one swing made us forget all that.

When that 500th moonshot finally thundered off Cabrera’s bat on August 22, 2021, those struggles to get there, the questions and concerns and worries all went away.

Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers legend, the best player in Marlins history, now stands among the elite.

History won’t care how long it took him to join the club. The ghosts of Babe Ruth and Mel Ott don’t tut-tut because Cabrera took a winding path to their fraternity.

All that matters is he’s in the fraternity, today, now, in this moment—and forever.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 22, 2021.

Max Scherzer is making his case for the Hall of Fame with each start. (Wikipedia).

Scherzer K watch: Dodgers starter Max Scherzer struck out 8 Mets yesterday, bringing his career total to 2,962. He’s just 38 Ks away from 3,000.

More on White: Dodgers hurler Mitch White earns another mention today. Talk about being oblivious—I knew he tossed 7 1/3 solid innings a few days ago, but I didn’t realize it was a relief appearance. He became the first pitcher to throw that many frames in relief since Ed Roebuck in 1960. Check out this article for more on the feat.

Ibanez is mashing: Andy Ibanez, the Rangers Cuban infielder, has 10 hits in his past 21 at-bats, after batting just .091 in his prior 10 games. He’s been a bright spot of late on that middling 43-80 team, but perhaps it should come as no surprise. He hit 20 home runs at Triple A in 2019 and batted .352 in 27 games there this year.

Jeffers’ power is there, but not his speed. He’s never stolen a base in pro ball. (Wikipedia).

Better than Stanton: Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers has 11 home runs in 184 at-bats this season, a rate of one every 16.7 at-bats—that’s a better clip than Giancarlo Stanton. The former second rounder won’t scare any pitchers with his batting average, but his slugging is a different story. He has 5 home runs, 3 doubles and 13 RBI in just 50 at-bats this past month.

Making up for that debut: Reliever Phil Bickford is doing his part to keep the injury-ravaged Dodgers in the playoff chase. In the past month, he has a 0.71 ERA in 14 appearances, striking out 16 batters in 12 2/3 innings. On the year, his mark with L.A. is 1.96. But his success wasn’t a forgone conclusion. He arrived on the big league scene in 2020, making a single relief appearance for the Brewers. In one inning, he allowed 4 earned runs on 4 hits, 2 hit batsmen and a wild pitch. And it looked like more of the same for 2021—he surrendered 2 runs in his single-inning initial appearance—but a move to the Dodgers in early May changed his fortunes.

Rays recall Mazza: Chris Mazza was summoned by the Rays again; he has a 5.57 ERA in 11 games for the club this year. The hurler didn’t make his major league debut until 2019, when he was 29, but has pitched each year since. Ever wonder what makes someone not big league worthy for years and years and years, just to suddenly be good enough to appear at the level every season? It’s like Erik Kratz—he didn’t debut until he was 30, then he rattled off an 11-year career.

Not #1: In 2019, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. were two of the three youngest players in the major leagues. But neither was number one. Can you name who was? It was the Blue Jays’ 19-year-old pitcher Elvis Luciano, who jumped straight from rookie ball—having never played above that level—to the majors. For one seven-game stretch in April and May he had a 0.84 ERA, but he had a 5.35 ERA in 25 appearances overall … and now he’s back in the minors, at Double A.

That’s wild: Facing the Red Sox in the 9th inning of his most recent appearance on July 22, Yankees reliever Brooks Kriske tied the post-1800s major league record with four wild pitches in a single frame. It’s an embarrassing, but not unheard of, feat: The Twins’ RA Dickey did it against the Mariners on August 17, 2008, the Phillies Ryan Madson did it against Arizona on July 25, 2006 and the Mariners Kevin Gregg did it against the Angels on July 25, 2004. In the previous century, it happened only twice—Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Walter Johnson did it in 1979 and 1914, respectively.

Three-in-a-row: What’s worse—four wild pitches in the same inning, or three to the same batter in the same inning? The Padres’ Trevor Cahill managed the latter against Avisail Garcia of the White Sox in the bottom of the 4th on May 13, 2017.  

The catcher’s mitt is right there: On June 25, 2017, Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino tossed four wild pitches in a span of three outs against the Dodgers. Earlier in the game, Dodgers starter Brandon McCarthy threw three wild pitches in one inning and in the 3rd, Rockies starter Tyler Anderson added one of his own.

Dan Haren finished his career 153-131 with a 3.75 ERA. (Wikipedia).

Mr. Consistent: From 2005 to 2015, that’s 11 years, Dan Haren won no less than 10 games, made no fewer than 30 starts, tossed no less than 169 2/3 innings and had no fewer than 132 strikeouts in a season. He averaged 33 starts, 13 wins, 209 innings and 176 strikeouts per year.

Hall of Fame birthday: Three Hall of Famers were born on this day. Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski came into this world in 1939, while 3,000 hit club-member Paul Molitor joined us in 1956. Nineteenth-century manager Ned Hanlon, who won five pennants, was born in 1857.

Time to reanalyze Franco? With Lee Smith’s election to the Hall of Fame in 2019, it might be time to reanalyze the case for John Franco. At the time of his retirement, he was third all-time in saves—behind only Smith and Trevor Hoffman—and his 424 still rank fifth on the list. Only Craig Kimbrel, himself potentially headed to Cooperstown, currently threatens his position.

That’s all he’ll be remembered for: Hey Mets fans, remember when Luis Castillo dropped the ball?

That’s an improvement: Bryan Evans, a minor league pitcher from 2008 to 2019, was pretty lackluster during the first few years of his career. From 2008 to 2010, he was just 13-22 and his ERA never dropped below 4.00. Then he exploded in 2011, going 8-2 with a 1.99 ERA. Talk about an improvement! According to the experts at Baseball-Fever.com, the only major league pitcher to start his career with three straight seasons with ERAs above 4 (min. 40 IP each season), and then have an ERA below 2 in his fourth campaign, is Hall of Fame closer Rich “Goose” Gossage.

Hainline dies: Former Gonzaga star outfielder Jeff Hainline, who hit .370 with 21 home runs in 1984, died August 12 at 56. He was later drafted by the Rangers and spent a year in their system, but batted just .103 in 29 at-bats. His brother, Bill Hainline, also played for Gonzaga.