Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 21, 2021.

Jacob deGrom’s injury woes, I fear, are just beginning. (Wikipedia).

Told you so: I recently did a piece predicting the downfall of Mets ace Jacob deGrom. He has all the makings of a pitcher who will decline soon and fall fast. Well, guess who just got transferred to the 60-day injured list with right forearm tightness? You guessed it: Jacob deGrom.

Not making it easy: Cardinals pitcher Jon Lester started the season just 7 wins away from 200 for his career. It’s been a tough road to the milestone, as he’s gone just 4-6 with a 5.46 ERA in 20 starts this year, putting him still 3 wins away. When (if?) he gets there, he’ll join Justin Verlander (226) and Zack Greinke (219) as the only two active pitchers with 200 or more victories. Max Scherzer is 15 away.

Maybe it’s not so bad: Ervin Santana has been one win away from 150 … since 2017!

Power on hold: Brewers outfielder Tyrone Taylor doesn’t hit for a high average and he strikes out a lot, but he is a nice player to have around. In the past month, he’s slugged .523 and on the year, he has 10 home runs in just 212 at-bats. Before 2019, his debut season, he was more of a speedster than a slugger, having never hit more than 9 homers in a minor league campaign, while stealing as many as 23 bags. But the Taylor power surge is on hold, for the time being at least, as he’s heading to the injured list with an oblique injury. He might be out a month.

Vesia’s turning heads: Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia impressed no one in his 2020 cup of coffee with the Marlins, posting an 18.69 ERA in 4 1/3 innings. That’s all water under the bridge now. In 28 innings this season, he’s struck out 37 batters and allowed just 9 hits, to the tune of a 2.57 ERA. Over the past month, he has a 0.71 ERA in 12 games; the Dodgers won 8 of those in which he appeared.

Gardner’s got it: Outfielder Brett Gardner hasn’t been too effective this year and has largely been a disappointment since his resurgent 2019, but he’s managed a tidy 5-for-18 line with 4 walks and just 2 strikeouts in his past few games. Every little bit helps as the Yankees vie for the wild card and, perhaps, first place in the AL East.

Watching White: As reported yesterday, pitcher Mitch White was demoted to the minor leagues to make roster space for Victor Gonzalez. Let’s see how long it takes for the Dodgers to regret that decision—he owns a 2.25 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 24 Triple A innings this year. He might be back sooner than we think.

Despite his struggles, Aroldis Chapman is still one of the top closers in the game. (Wikipedia).

Milestone watch: Struggling Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is just one save away from 300. Only two other active hurlers have that many: Craig Kimbrel (371) and Kenley Jansen (338).

A nifty feat: Relievers Jake McGee and Andrew Miller each recently passed 600 career relief appearances. It’s an especially positive achievement for Miller—after being one of the game’s top relief pitchers from 2013 to 2017, he hasn’t had much to celebrate since. His ERA during his peak: 1.82. Since: 4.26.

K kings: Kyle Gibson and Craig Kimbrel each recently passed 1,000 career strikeouts. Kimbrel averages nearly 15 strikeouts per nine innings pitched; Gibson … half that. If Kimbrel pitched as many innings as Nolan Ryan, he’d have nearly 9,000 for his career!

Other milestones: Carlos Carrasco recently started his 200th career game, while Kenley Jansen recorded his 500th game finished. And, yeah, they keep track of these things: Max Scherzer faced his 10,000th batter.

I remember: Remember when Astros reliever Ken Giles punched himself in the face? And remember when Indians closer Chris Perez vomited on the mound?

Heath Hembree hopes to regain his footing in New York. (Wikipedia).

Mets claim Hembree: Now they’re getting desperate. The Mets claimed relief pitcher Heath Hembree off waivers from the Reds. Five years ago, this would have been a decent move, but the pitcher has a 6.38 ERA in 45 appearances this season, and, worse still, his mark was 9.00 in 22 games in 2020. Hembree was once a solid hurler, posting a 3.25 ERA and 138 ERA+ for the Red Sox from 2015 to 2017, but the Mets have a knack for signing relievers once their best seasons are past—see Dellin Betances, Trevor Hildenberger and Jacob Barnes this year as examples. The silver lining: Hembree’s been a strikeout ace, K-ing 68 batters in 42 1/3 innings—that’s 14.5 per 9 frames—in 2021.

A weird claim to fame: In 1993, Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Erik Plantenberg made 20 appearances—and threw only 9 2/3 innings. In fact, he holds the record for most games in a season with less than 10 frames tossed. He also holds the dubious record of having the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio of any post World War II pitcher (min. 20 appearances). He walked 12 batters and struck out only 3, for a K/BB ratio of 0.25. Before him, the last hurler to have a mark that bad was Walt Masterson in 1939. If you go back to 1927, you’ll find Ted Wingfield, who had 27 walks … to just 1 strikeout … in 74 2/3 innings!

Not a modern invention: From 1947 to 1952, there existed a minor league team in Enterprise, Ala. nicknamed the Boll Weevils. Actually, multiple clubs have shared that nickname: Kannapolis, N.C., Dothan, Ala., Temple, Texas and Graceville, Fla. each fielded a team so named. And you thought weird team nicknames were a product of the modern age (don’t get me started on the one from Canon City, Colorado).

They don’t sign like they used to: For the autograph collectors out there, let’s go back in time. In 2009, I received through-the-mail autographs from names like Billy Wagner, Adam Wainwright and Joey Votto. Granted, Votto might have been a secretarial signature, but the point remains the same: Nowadays, you can barely get anyone—let alone stars like that!

Max Muncy’s 2019 was pretty unusual (introducing the Muncy Ratio).

Max Muncy, the father of the Muncy Ratio. (Wikipedia).

Slugging infielder Max Muncy doesn’t match up with some of the names who have done it, but in 2019 he achieved a thrice-in-a-decade feat.

That year, he had 122 hits and crossed the plate 101 times, an astonishing hit-to-run ratio of 1.21, which was accomplished by only two other players in the 2010s (minimum 100 hits).

In 2011, Curtis Granderson scored 136 runs on 153 hits and in 2017, Aaron Judge scored 128 runs on 154 hits. Since 1950, the Muncy Ratio, as we’ll call it, happened just 25 times, and only 46 times since 1900.

But, historically, it isn’t rare. In the small ball, high-steal, often wonky days of  19th century baseball, it happened 114 times. Ross Barnes did it first in 1873, when he had 125 runs on just 138 hits, then he did it again in 1876, with 126 runs and 138 hits.

In 1884 Billy Hamilton, the renowned speedster, had 198 runs on 225 hits, and Hall of Famer King Kelly nearly hit the magic ratio of 1:1 in 1885, scoring 124 runs on 126 hits.

If a Hall of Famer couldn’t do it, some lesser names could. Emmett Seery—whose claim to fame still hasn’t been established nearly a century-and-a-half later—scored 104 runs and had the same number of hits for the long-since forgotten Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1887.

Honestly, if we were discussing this feat in the 1800s, no one would be impressed. Eight men scored more runs than had hits between 1884 and 1890 alone. George Gore did it twice. Seery’s accomplishment is unique, sure, but the Muncy Ratio—the very reason for this article!—eh, it’d be nothing to write home about about.

Harry Stovey achieved the Ratio more than anybody. (Wikipedia).

Harry Stovey managed it eight times, including four years in a row. Bid McPhee, a Hall of Famer, and George Gore—who should be in the Hall if you ask the right folks—did it five times each. Even Tom BrownTom who??—did it four times.

Then the 20th century dawned. The Ratio, which was achieved eight times from 1895 to 1899, didn’t occur again until 1911—it happened four times that decade, and Donie Bush owns two of its instances.

It saw a resurgence in the high-flying 1920s and 1930s, occurring 15 times. Of course Babe Ruth accomplished it, three times in fact, but so did Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell, twice, each. In 1930, Max Bishop, known for being a walks machine, was the first player to score more runs than have hits in a season since 1890. That year, he trotted home 117 times on just 111 hits. He was also the last player to manage a hit-to-run ratio of less than one-to-one.

As offenses came down to earth, the mark again became a rarity. Only two men did it in the 1940s, none in the 1950s, two in the 1960s and one in the 1970s, with Jim Wynn the only man to do it that decade. He also achieved it in 1969.

Rickey Henderson and Eric Davis tried to bring the trend back in the 1980s and it worked, sort of. Both did it twice, and Henderson did it five times overall.

As the game became offensive again in the 1990s, it saw an uptick in the hit-run phenomenon. It was achieved six times by four players in that ten-year span.

Then 2000s Barry Bonds happened. With hurlers pitching around him at record rates, he was getting on base with superhuman frequency—and, with guys like Jeff Kent batting behind him, scoring a lot. He accomplished the feat four times in a five year span, but still doesn’t own the most impressive season of those who did it that decade: In 2000, Jeff Bagwell led the league with 152 runs scored on just 183 hits.

While nearly all the players who reach the Ratio rank as very good-to-great and have or had All-Star potential, sometimes a total outlier crops up and joins the club. In 2005, David Dellucci did just that, scoring 97 runs on just 109 hits. It was one of only two seasons in which he had 100-plus knocks.

And here we are today. Max Muncy was the last player to reach the ratio he established, and though he’s managed it just once, he’s gotten close in other years, as well. In 2018, he had a hit-to-run ratio of 1.41-to-1. This year, he’s at 1.31. And last year, had he played a full season, he would have bested the Muncy Ratio with a mark of 1.08.

Fernando Tatis, Jr. is on the verge of qualifying for the Muncy Ratio. (Wikipedia).

There are a few factors that allow for the phenomenon to unfold. Drawing walks is key—58 of those who achieved it had on-base percentages of .400 or better when they did. Speed helps, too, especially for those who hit a lot of singles or don’t have a good eye at the plate. Sixty-nine of the players who achieved the Muncy Ratio had stolen at least 40 bases.

Home runs contribute. By dint of what they are they achieve a H:R ratio of 1:1 each time they’re hit. And triples, they’re not quite home runs, but they get a player as close to scoring as possible without going all around the bases. Sixty-two of those who managed the Ratio had 10 or more when they did it.

And most importantly, batters need other solid hitters in the lineup to drive them in—a triple is only a run scored if someone else pokes one into the outfield or himself hits a big fly. Otherwise, it’s a wasted opportunity.

Sure, it’s a novelty, the Muncy Ratio. But those who achieve it, in the 21st century at least, are in fairly rare territory. And though the club’s membership might expand by two this year, with Fernando Tatis, Jr. (98 H, 83 R) and Joey Gallo (81 H, 70 R) right at its doorstep, do recall—

It’s a group neither Willie Mays, nor Joe DiMaggio, nor Frank Robinson, nor Hank Aaron, nor Ken Griffey, Jr., nor Lou Brock, nor Ty Cobb ever managed to joined.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 19, 2021.

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t started more than 30 games since 2015. (Wikipedia)

Kershaw’s greatness is past: Clayton Kershaw remains one of the greatest pitchers of the past fifty years—but Kershaw the superhuman is no more. Granted, pound for pound he’s still among the best in the game, when he pitches. But he hasn’t tossed more than 180 innings in a season since 2015 and has averaged just 138 innings in the six succeeding campaigns. To be among the best, a player has to play. And Kershaw hasn’t done enough of that in recent years.

Chirinos is killing it: Catcher Robinson Chirinos, a career .232 batter, is hitting the cover off the ball. Over the past week, he’s slashed .471/.591/.824 with 3 doubles and a home run. On the year, he has a stellar 166 OPS+.

Giving Zavala some love, too: Catcher Seby Zavala isn’t a household name, and his 2021 season likely won’t make him one, but give credit where credit is due. Over the past month, he’s hit 4 home runs with 13 RBI and scored 12 runs on just 11 hits. The White Sox other catching options, Zack Collins and Yasmani Grandal, have disappointed—but Zavala is cranking along.

Littell is making a name for himself: Reliever Zack Littell is one of the reasons the Giants’ pitching staff is among the best in the league. He has a 2.74 ERA in 44 appearances this year, and didn’t allow a run, while striking out 10 batters, in a recent 6 game, 8 2/3 inning stretch. Two years ago, with Minnesota, he had a 2.68 ERA in 29 games.

Head-ing for greatness? Maybe not, but Rays reliever Louis Head has been an unsung hero on that first place club. In 19 appearances this year, he has a 2.49 ERA; this past month, he’s averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Fargas designated for assignment: Johneshwy Fargas, who the Mets let walk earlier this year, has been DFA’d by the Cubs. Here’s hoping a return to New York is imminent—he hit .286 in his brief showing with the Mets and has stolen 50-plus bags in the minors twice. He could be an asset.

Parra reaches 1, 500 games played: While Joey Votto was stealing the spotlight with his 2,000th career hit, Nationals outfielder Gerardo Parra recently reached 1,500 games played. Cesar Hernandez passed 1,000 this past week, as well.

Milestones galore: Bryce Harper recently blasted his 250th home run, Jose Ramirez eclipsed 500 RBI, Marcus Semien knocked his 200th double, Elvis Andrus reached 50 triples, Freddie Freeman drew his 100th intentional walk (and J.D. Martinez reached 50), Nolan Arenado and Jean Segura passed 5,000 plate appearances and Yadier Molina reached 3,000 total bases.

Jumbo Diaz averaged more than a strikeout per inning for his career. (Wikipedia)

Jumbo earned the nickname: Remember Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz? At the end of 2013, he weighed an astonishing 348 pounds! He managed to drop nearly 70 pounds for 2014, quite an impressive feat. But still, during his time in the majors, he had a listed playing weight of 315.

Moye is a cautionary tale: I’m sure few people remember him, but Andy Moye is a cautionary tale for players drafted by big league clubs. The starting pitcher was taken by the New York Mets in the 11th round of the 2006 draft, but did not sign a contract. Bad choice. His stock fell so much that the next time he was drafted, 2009, it was in the 50th round — the very last round in the draft. He was the seventh to last player taken overall. Ouch. He forged a four-year pro career, but never advanced beyond Double-A.

Garritano dies: I don’t want this to become a death blog, but the baseball fraternity lost another member just a couple weeks ago.  Catcher Arnie Garritano never played professionally, but was drafted by the Tigers in 1983. He died August 8 at 57 years old.

He can mash, but does he ever score? Players with 10-plus homers and fewer than 20 runs scored.

I recently did a piece on batters with seasons of 10 or more home runs and fewer than 20 RBI. Just eight guys have done it, with designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion the most recent in 2020.

That got me thinking – how many players have hit 10-plus dingers and scored fewer than 20 runs in a season? Would the list be as exclusive as the other one?

Catcher Ernie Lombardi was the first player to have fewer than 20 runs in a season with 10-plus homers. (Wikipedia)

Spoiler alert: It’s not. Thirty-two men have accomplished the feat, with notoriously slow-footed Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi the first to do it. In 1943, the backstop hit .305 with 10 home runs, 51 RBI … and just 19 runs scored. Which makes sense, I guess. When a player is too slow to even leg out doubles (he had 30 or more just once in 17 seasons), then it is reasonable to assume he won’t be sprinting himself past home plate much, either.

The next man to manage the feat was … well … Lombardi. In 1946, he had 12 home runs and 19 runs scored, with just 4 of his 69 hits going for doubles.

Since then, the feat has been generational. It did not happen again until 1953, but that year, three players – including Ted Williams – did it. Then nearly a decade passed before it happened again, in 1962. Then in 1964 and 1969, it happened twice each year.

Catcher Bob Tillman achieved the mark in 1969 and 1970, becoming just the second player to do it twice – with no one managing it more than once since. In addition, he was the only man to do it in the 1970s.

In fact, for a while it was a once-in-a-decade rarity. Outfielder Oscar Gamble did it with the Yankees in 1984, then it didn’t occur again until outfielder Shane Spencer had 10 home runs and 18 runs scored in 1998, also for the Bronx Bombers.

It happened four times in the 2000s, but the feat is disproportionately a product of the 2010s and beyond. Nearly half of its instances occurred after 2010, with it happening four times each in 2019 and 2020.

And three of the four occurrences in 2020 were parts just atrocious seasons. Gary Sanchez batted .147 in 49 games, while Encarnacion hit .157 and Rougned Odor managed a knock in one of every six at-bats, posting a .167 mark. The year before, Jung Ho Kang joined the ranks with a .169 mark and in 2014, Zach Walters batted .181.

True, the feat happens more in seasons of low average and poor performance, but a few batters bucked that trend. When Williams did it, he batted .407 in 37 games, while Spencer hit .373 in 27 games.

Frank Thomas is in the club, too. (Wikipedia)

While seasons with 10-plus homers and fewer than 20 RBI have mostly been accomplished by no-names, membership in the > 10 HR, < 20 R club is more inclusive. For every Manny Jimenez, there is a Frank Thomas; for every Mike Jacobs, there is a Gary Sanchez.

And if a player is a member of the HR/RBI club, then he’ll likely be a member of the HR/R club, as well. Six of the eight names in the former populate the latter – Walters, Curt Casali, David Ross, Todd Greene, Adam Duvall and Encarnacion – with corner infielders Wayne Gross and Randy Ruiz the only exceptions. Casali was the closest to achieving the improbable, as nearly all his runs came off home runs when he did it in 2015. He had 10 dingers and 13 runs scored, meaning just 3 came from sources other than the longball.*

*the record for most runs in a season in which all were scored on home runs is 3, which has happened 16 times, most recently by Matt Davidson in 2020.

Below is a list of all the players who have accomplished the feat.

The luckless peasant smote the immortal king

Dave Cheadle was a first round draft pick by the New York Yankees in 1970; in 1973, having been traded with others to the Braves for pitcher Pat Dobson, he reached the majors for a cup of coffee.

It did not go well — the 21-year-old made two relief appearances, tossed two innings, and allowed two hits. Fairly harmless, so far, but he also allowed three walks, two of which were intentional, balked once and surrendered a home run.

His career ERA was 18.00.

But there were six outs in those two innings. And one of those outs was a king, one of the greatest of all-time, a holder of a record today perhaps unattainable. This king was immortal, or so it seemed. He spent 24 years in the majors and three more in the minors. Then he managed for three more still.

This king had 4,256 career hits. He scored over 2,100 runs and walked over 1,500 times and he rarely struck out — in nearly 16,000 plate appearances, he whiffed just 1,143 times. That’s once every 14 stops at the dish.

Pete Rose whiffed against the unlikeliest of foes. (Wikipedia)

So this baseball royalty, Pete Rose, should have handled this baseball peon, Dave Cheadle, handily when they met on September 16, 1973, in what was Cheadle’s debut inning. The pitcher already sat down the first batter he faced, Andy Kosco, on a grounder to third. But he was the number nine hitter.

Up stepped Rose. Rose had over 1,000 extra-base hits in his career, and he holds the all-time record for singles. But neither a single, a double, a triple or a home run thundered off his bat. Rose was hit by over 100 pitches in his career, but he did not step into one this time. He had a .375 on-base percentage and knew how to draw a walk — but earn a pass to first he didn’t do here.

Cheadle, whose poor control helped end his professional career prematurely, who was disappointingly middling in the minors, who allowed nearly a hit per inning at that level and more than once walked more batters than he struck out in a season … struck out Pete Rose.

The hit king humbled, Cheadle would pitch just one more major league game after that, and K just one more batter. He spent a few more seasons on the farm, performing poorly, never posting a winning record.

Pete Rose walked away from that game only halfway through his big league career; little did he realize, Cheadle was halfway through his, as well.

A feat for the little guy

Zach Walters hit 10 home runs and just 17 RBI in 2014.

The joy of baseball is that even when you’re not looking for them, you can stumble upon random statistical anomalies just about anywhere. While perusing the stats of former pinch hitter and utilityman Zach Walters, I noticed he hit 10 home runs and had just 17 RBI in 2014.

Walters’ career was largely inconsequential – he played for three teams from 2013 to 2016 and hit .176 in 170 career at-bats – but that feat was not. In fact, just eight players have ever hit at least 10 home runs and had fewer than 20 RBI in a season.

It is a relatively recent phenomenon – the Orioles’ Wayne Gross first achieved it in 1985, when he had 11 dingers and just 18 RBI, but it didn’t happen again until 2002, when catcher Todd Greene had 10 home runs and 19 RBI.

Since then, it has occurred once every few years, with catcher David Ross doing it in 2003 (10 HR, 19 RBI), first baseman Randy Ruiz doing it in 2009 (10 HR, 17 RBI), Walters doing it in 2014, catcher Curt Casali doing it in 2015 (10 HR, 18 RBI), outfielder Adam Duvall doing it in 2019 (10 HR, 19 RBI) and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion doing it in 2020 (10 HR, 19 RBI).

The feat is a popular one among high-strikeout, low-average, low-walk batsmen, with only Ruiz hitting better than .270 in the year he did it. He batted .313. Indeed, it is a feat for the little guy, as only a couple of the names could be considered stars (loosely or otherwise), while most of the others were flashes in the pan or career bench players.