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.

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.

Bill Freehan, who made 11 All-Star Games, has passed away

Bill Freehan, an 11-time All-Star catcher with the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s and 1970s, has passed away at 79.

He was the premier catcher of the Second Dead Ball Era, which ran from about 1964 to 1972, and was one of the best of his generation.

The 15-year veteran slugged 200 home runs, including 20 or more in a season three times, and ranked second behind only Johnny Bench among catchers of the 1960s and 1970s in that category.

Indeed, it is difficult to think of a better backstop not named Bench from that two-decade span. Ted Simmons was excellent and so was Gene Tenace. Tim McCarver could hold his own and even Jim Sundberg was beginning to make a name for himself.

But none of them, save for Bench, matched Freehan.

The voters knew it. They selected him to 11 All-Star Games, including 10 in a row, among the most of any player not in the Hall of Fame. And the writers, they were privy to his greatness. They awarded him five Gold Gloves for his defensive acumen—and they were well-earned. He led league catchers in putouts six times and fielding percentage thrice.

At the time of his retirement, he ranked among catching greats—legends, even—in almost all statistical categories. He was just two behind Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey in home runs and was a full ten ahead of Cooperstowner Ernie Lombardi. He ranked just behind Mickey Cochrane in total hits and just ahead of Roy Campanella in walks.

But he wasn’t just great in aggregate.

There was the 1968 World Series. Freehan didn’t contribute much in the actual Fall Classic—just 2 hits and 4 walks—but his regular season propelled them to that point.

Behind Willie Horton, he was the team’s superstar. His 25 dingers tied for second on the club, as did his 24 doubles. He had 84 RBI—good for second on the team—and his .366 on-base percentage finished behind only Al Kaline’s .392.  

A few years later, Freehan helped the Tigers to the American League Championship Series. Though the 30-year-old played just 111 games that year, his presence was felt in the postseason. It was a losing effort against the Yankees, but Number 11 did his part. He slugged a home run and knocked a double. He had 3 RBI.

As the seasons passed, wearing the tools of ignorance began to take its toll. Few did it as long as he did. His offense began to slip and, despite still showing flashes of his former greatness, he retired after the 1976 season.

Cooperstown awaited.

But the voters gave him hardly a look.

Perhaps they can be forgiven. In his only year on the ballot, 1982, he was competing with 14 future Hall of Famers for votes. They included Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew. Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale ranked among them, too. And don’t forget the players who never made the Hall, like Gil Hodges, who were garnering significant support, as well. It’s easy to be crowded out in such a field.

But what cannot be forgiven is the cold shoulder the writers gave Freehan. He didn’t earn a handful of votes and another look in 1983. Rather, he appeared on just a couple ballots, less than one percent of the total, and was swept into the dustbin of history.

This catcher who made more All-Star Games than Torre, Lombardi and Simmons, Hall of Famers all, this catcher who won more Gold Gloves than Carter and Piazza and Fisk was given a couple pity votes and then shooed away.

It’s an injustice.

But one, perhaps, that might soon be corrected. The Hall of Fame has a knack for inducting individuals only after they pass away. It happened to Ron Santo. It happened to Marvin Miller, Nellie Fox and Leo Durocher.

And for the sake of all that is holy,

It’d better happen to Bill Freehan, as well.

Died too young: Bo Diaz

Bo Diaz died at just 37 years old. (Wikipedia/fair use)

He was an All-Star twice, but never a superstar. He was the first Venezuelan to start regularly at catcher, but isn’t the best Venezuelan to start at catcher. He played 13 seasons in the major leagues, but managed one hundred or more games only four times. He hit for average on occasion and had decent power, but nothing about him was stupendous.

Nevertheless, Bo Diaz proved to be a valuable backstop in the 1970s and 1980s, a consistent performer for three teams.

His professional career began in the Red Sox system in 1971 at 18 years old. After playing just one game above Single A from 1971 to 1975, he jumped to Triple A full time in 1976. Being stuck behind future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, his chances of making an impact with the big club were slim.  

Debuting with the Red Sox in 1977, he played just two games – striking out in his only at-bat – before being shipped off to the Indians in early 1978 in a pretty star-studded deal. He was sent with utility man Ted Cox, starting pitcher Mike Paxton and hurler Rick Wise, himself an All-Star who won 188 games, to Cleveland for Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley and catcher Fred Kendall, the father of future Pirates star Jason.

Diaz didn’t play much in four seasons with Cleveland, appearing in 198 games and hitting just .224 over the first three. Though it was a stunted 63-game campaign, 1981 was Diaz’s first All-Star season, with the then-28-year-old batting .313 with an excellent 156 OPS+.

With his stock up considerably, the Indians traded him to the Phillies in a three-team deal. It was a bad move for Cleveland. None of the players they received paid off, with only one – pitcher Lary Sorensen – even donning an Indians uniform.

One of the men they received in the trade was pitcher Scott Munninghoff. He spent only four games in the majors – and that was with Philly in 1980 – but holds the distinction of being one of just three pitchers to hit a triple in their first and only big league at-bats. He knocked his in 1980; the Mets’ Eric Cammack managed it in 2000 and Eduardo Rodriguez of Brewers fame did it in 1973.

But this is about Diaz.

Despite leading the league in stolen bases allowed that season, he had a career year in 1982, batting .288 with 18 home runs and 85 RBI in 144 games. He would never again replicate such numbers, but reached double digit home runs four more times. After a ho-hum 1983 regular season, he reached the World Series with the Phillies that year, contributing a .333 average in a losing effort.

Partway through 1985, he was shipped to the Reds for a handful of players, and it was with Cincinnati that he would wrap up his major league career. 1987 marked his second All-Star campaign, with Diaz hitting 15 home runs with 82 RBI and leading the league with 59 baserunners caught stealing. He slipped to .219 in 1988 and .203 in 1989. By then he was 36 years old, so he decided to retire.

Diaz spent more than a decade in the big leagues, but managed but a paucity of stolen bases, walks, and strikeouts. In 993 career games, he had nine steals – that’s one every 110 or so games. He averaged one walk every 18 plate appearances, and one strikeout every eight plate appearances.

Also, his slash lines – that’s batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage – were remarkably similar with each of the teams he played. With the Indians, he hit .254/.294/.395; with the Phillies it was .256/.308/.402 and with the Reds, it was .254/.287/.392.

And here’s an interesting tidbit lifted from the bastion of knowledge that is Wikipedia: “Díaz was part of an extremely unlikely event spanning thirteen years. On January 6, 1973, he caught for minor league pitcher Urbano Lugo, who threw a no-hitter as the Leones del Caracas defeated the Tiburones de La Guaira, 6–0. Thirteen years later, on January 24, 1986, Díaz was the catcher for another no-hitter in a 4–0 Caracas’ victory over La Guaira. This time, the pitcher was major leaguer Urbano Lugo, Jr., son of the elder Lugo.”

On November 23, 1990, he was killed while adjusting a satellite dish – it fell, crushing his head and neck. He was 37 years old. He was elected to the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2006; he was elected to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.