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

Miguel Cabrera 3,000 hit watch: With another hit today, Cabrera is now 21 away from 3,000 for his career. The Tigers have 12 games left.

Max Scherzer 200 win watch: It’s not possible for him to reach the milestone this season, but put him on your radar for next year: He won number 190 against Cincinnati yesterday and is now just 10 away. Both the Dodgers Clayton Kershaw (184 wins) and Cardinals Adam Wainwright (183) could feasibly reach the mark in 2022, as well.

Mets victories bring no joy: New York beat Philadelphia 3-2 today on Jeff McNeil‘s decisive, tie-breaking, 7th inning home run off starter Kyle Gibson. Oh, but what joy is there in a victory as meaningless as this? For lo, we Mets fans have ridden the highs and lows of this season for these few months and can no longer take the soul crushing lows we are burdened with not just now, but year-in and year-out. I weep at the thought of another disappointing September, knowing we came this far just to lose it all in the end. The forlorn, melancholic chill of the shortening autumn days brings with it the unbearable sadness of the closing of yet another baseball season where redemption is no longer possible and even miracles can no longer save us. Yea, October for Mets fans seems a decade, a lifetime, an eternity away, the light at the end of a tunnel that only gets longer as we trek further and further into it. Why, why, why must the hands of fate wrap their icy, bony, fingers around our hearts and squeeze them until they can no longer beat, wringing us of any hope or optimism? I cry knowing the children of this year shall not see their heroes deGrom and Conforto and Stroman bring them postseason heroics. Oh, isn’t that what the Mets need now, a hero? Can’t anyone here play this game? Or do they not care for victory, just their paychecks? Give us something, anything. 1986 seems so long ago … and it was.

…alright, that was a little over the top, but these Mets, man, what a let down. Every single year it’s the same thing. A great start and they tank toward the end of the campaign. It never ends.

Here comes Kelenic: Mariners top prospect Jarred Kelenic has struggled mightily this season, carrying a .099 average through his first 111 at-bats. But it looks like the sixth-overall pick of the 2018 draft is beginning to put it all together: Since September 7, he has slashed .257/.333/.657 with 4 home runs, 9 RBI and 8 runs scored in 35 at-bats. Ranked by Baseball America as the fourth-best prospect in the game going into 2021, the 21-year-old outfielder tore up Triple-A with a .320 batting average, 9 home runs and 28 RBI in 30 games. His power-speed potential cannot be underestimated—he had 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases between three minor league stops in 2019; between the majors and minors this year, he has 21 dingers and 11 steals.

Dalbec coming into his own: Another highly regarded prospect, corner infielder Bobby Dalbec of the Red Sox, is also turning the corner. After struggling to elevate his average above the .210s for much the campaign, the slugger has slashed .324/.419/.797 with 9 home runs and 23 RBI over the past month. Now 26, he has twice been named by Baseball America as one of the game’s top-100 prospects—and he played like one last year in his big league debut, slugging .600 with a 149 OPS+ in 80 at-bats. Dalbec strikes out frequently, with 145 Ks in 389 at-batsnthis season, but he has the power that could get him to 500 career home runs one day—in 455 ABs between two minor league stops in 2018, he slugged 32 dingers.

A nice run for Lyles: Rangers pitcher Jordan Lyles, who owns a career 5.22 ERA and 82 OPS+ and who has somehow lasted 11 seasons in the major leagues despite being no better than mediocre the entire time, looks like he might finally, belatedly, be living up to his first round billing. Since August 21, he is 4-1 with a 3.73 ERA in 31 1/3 innings; he’s surrendered just 26 hits and struck out as many batters. He owns a 3-0 record and a 1.74 ERA over his last three appearances, spanning 20 2/3 frames. Better late than never—the Rockies took him as a first round, supplemental pick in 2008 after losing reliever Trever Miller to free agency. The Rangers signed him as a free agent in 2019.

Urena’s bouncing back: Tigers hurler Jose Urena has never been an All-Star, but he showed promise as a youngster in the Marlins system in the late 2010s. Between 2017 and 2018, while in his mid-20s, he tossed 343 2/3 innings and surrendered just 307 hits; he maintained a .548 winning percentage on those poor Marlins teams that went a combined 140-183. He had the best ERA among the team’s starters both years. Since then, however, he has gone 8-21 with a 5.45 mark in 203 innings; this year, now with Detroit, he is 4-8, 5.68 in 95 frames. His numbers could have been worse, but over his past 18 innings dating back to July, he has posted a 2.50 ERA with just 3 walks. His WHIP is a disastrous 1.611 this season; he got it down to 1.278 during this stretch.

Worst trades in Mets history, #9: Vance Wilson for Anderson Hernandez

This one stung my young Mets fan heart when I was a sprightly and youthful 14 years old. I liked Vance Wilson. As far as backups go, he was a decent option to spell starting catcher Mike Piazza. But, unfortunately, the cold business of baseball doesn’t take the feelings of kids into consideration.

Wilson was taken by New York in the 44th round of the 1993 amateur draft and was one of three men from that round to make the majors leagues, with the others being utility man Bry Nelson and pitcher Ed Yarnall.

Moving up a level per year, his ascension through the minor league system was steady. By 1998, he was in Triple-A. By 1999, he was in the majors for a single game; he didn’t get an at-bat. It was about the same in 2000, as well—four games, four at-bats with the big club.

Two-thousand-and-one was his chance to prove his worth. And boy did he. Though he hit just .246 in 65 Triple-A games, he batted .298 in 57 at-bats over 32 appearances behind Piazza after a mid-season promotion. Through his first 32 at-bats of the season, he carried a .406 average. Now you can see why I came to like him so much. To my young mind, this guy was good!

His arrival was especially refreshing, since his predecessor, Todd Pratt, hit just .163 before being traded to Philadelphia in late July for catcher Gary Bennett. After a few solid years in New York, Pratt had flopped. Bennett was a short-timer.

But Wilson was there to stay.

And for a few seasons, he was a reliable, if not headline-grabbing, backup. In 2002, he hit .245 in 163 at-bats, clobbering five home runs, including the first of his career, a shot off Expos pitcher Javier Vazquez on April 13. An adept fielder, he caught 49 percent of potential base stealers to lead the league.

With Piazza hurt much of the 2003 season, he was New York’s primary catcher, hitting .243 with 8 home runs in 268 at-bats. Okay, maybe starting wasn’t for him—his 75 OPS+ was the worst of his career—so the Mets put him back into a reserve role for 2004 and he responded by hitting .274 with 4 home runs and 21 RBI in 157 at-bats. Quite an impressive rebound.

The Mets thought so, too. In fact, with his stock elevated, they shipped him to Detroit for 22-year-old middle infield prospect Anderson Hernandez in January 2005.

Hernandez made the Mets’ postseason roster in 2006, but got into just two games. (Wikipedia).

If Hernandez panned out, the trade would have been a steal for New York. A backup catcher for a defensive wizard, as Hernandez was? It could have been a huge win for the Mets. But things rarely work out that way in Metsdom.

It didn’t look like he would ever play shortstop for the club, as Jose Reyes was the heir apparent for the position. But he could also play second base.

New York had a revolving door of second basemen in the early and mid-2000s, after Edgardo Alfonzo shifted to third base and, eventually, departed. Roberto Alomar, Kaz Matsui, Miguel Cairo and Jose Valentin all came and went.

Rated alongside Lastings Milledge, Mike Pelfrey and Carlos Gomez as a Mets top prospect, New York was counting on Hernandez to develop into something. But his bat never caught up to major league pitching. He had three cups of coffee with New York from 2005 to 2007, hitting .138 in 87 games.

In August 2008, he was sent to Washington as the player-to-be-named later in a deal for reliever Luis Ayala. Not surprisingly, Hernandez hit .333 with a .407 on-base percentage upon escaping New York.

A couple weeks shy of a year later, feeling sellers remorse, the Mets sent minor league infielder Greg Veloz to Washington to recoup Hernandez to help shore up that injury-ravaged 2009 squad.

With starting shortstop Jose Reyes hurt and his replacement, Alex Cora, tearing ligaments in both his thumbs and needing surgery, New York called on Hernandez to start the rest of the year. He underwhelmed to the tune of a .251 batting average. He fielded just .955 at short.

The Mets left him unprotected and Cleveland claimed him off waivers in March 2010. He spent one more year in the majors, hitting .220 in 54 games between the Indians and Astros, before being sent away for good.

Though Hernandez’s big league career was done, his professional career was not. After a couple seasons in Triple-A, he became a voyager, playing in Mexico, Japan and the Dominican Republic. As recently as 2019-20, he was still going in the Dominican Winter League.

As for Wilson, he collapsed to a .197 average in 152 at-bats for Detroit in 2006 but rebounded to a .283 mark with 5 dingers and 18 RBI in the same number of ABs the next year. Meanwhile, the Mets’ backup that season, Ramon Castro, hit .238 with an 83 OPS+.*

*Granted, Castro himself was an effective backup and I was not enthused when they traded him to the White Sox partway through 2009 for pitcher Lance Broadway, of all people. Broadway had a 6.75 ERA in 8 relief appearances for New York.

’06 proved to be Wilson’s final big league campaign. Injuries limited him to three games at Triple-A in 2007 and he missed all of 2008. He played in the Royals system in 2009—at Double-A—but was released in April 2010, before the season began. He chose to retire.

Wilson was an effective reserve who gave the Mets four solid years of service. In return, they received promise and potential that didn’t work out.

Promise and potential. That defines the Mets of the past, oh, 35 years. But when it comes to production … it rarely manifests itself into anything meaningful.

Not unlike Anderson Hernandez.

Random autograph of the day: Mike Devaney

Mike Devaney holds a special place in my heart, because he’s a former Mets prospect, and I, of course, am a Mets fan.

He showed great potential in the early going, posting a 5-0 mark with 1.95 ERA in 14 starts his first professional season, 2004, and going 10-4, 3.88, while averaging just 7 hits allowed per 9 innings, in his second campaign. In 2006, he was 12-5 with a 2.13 mark, an excellent year indeed, before slipping to 6-9, 4.85 in his fourth and final season.

It’s odd the Mets didn’t give him another campaign to redeem himself, with 2007 being his first real struggle. Sure, he was 24 in 2007, but that is far from old. One wonders if injuries did him I’m, of that I’m not sure. Either way, he was 33-18 with a 3.24 ERA overall, a great line for someone who never made the majors. 

Random autograph of the day: Kevin Mulvey

Kevin Mulvey is a former Mets prospect, a 2nd round pick later traded with others for star hurler Johan Santana.

Though he posted some decent numbers on the farm, Mulvey never pitched in a big league uniform for the Mets—and, in the long run, he barely pitched in the big leagues, at all.

New York shipped him to the Twins in February 2008, and by July 2009, he was on a major league mound. He spent 27 1/3 unsuccessful innings there, including just 1 1/3 with Minnesota, going 0-3 with a 7.90 ERA overall. The Twins shipped him to Arizona as the player to be named later in a deal for relief pitcher Jon Rauch in September 2009 and after a few more rocky appearances, he was back in the minors for good.

He ended his professional career in 2012 where it all began, in the Mets system. 

Studs and duds: September 4 – September 10

Edwin Diaz draws my ire again, while Marcus Semien is putting together an MVP argument.

Offensive stud: Marcus Semien (2B, Blue Jays). After a 2-for-4 showing last night, Semien is now 11-for-27 over the past week for a .407/.529/.926 line. He has 4 home runs, 10 RBI, 6 runs scored and 6 walks, which are especially impressive since his season on-base percentage is .344 and his career mark is .325.

Semien is in Most Valuable Player territory, as he leads the American League in Wins Above Replacement (6.5), is second in total bases (307), third in doubles (36) and fourth in home runs (38). Don’t forget the accolades: An All-Star, he was also the May Player of the Month, after he hit .368 with 8 home runs and 22 RBI.

2021 has been an excellent rebound campaign for the former shortstop, who hit just .223/.305/.374 in 53 games last season.

Honorable mention: Nelson Cruz (DH, Rays; .429 BA, .929 SLG, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 10 R).

I don’t know the result of this play, but Urshela was probably out. (Wikipedia).

Offensive dud: Gio Urshela (3B, Yankees). Urshela continued his reign of futility with an 0-for-3 performance with a strike out yesterday, making him 2-for-15 with 5 Ks and 2 errors over the past week and 4-for-36 with 11 strikeouts since his return to the field in late August. Since his batting average peaked at .303 on May 16, he’s hit just .233/.266/.370 with 64 Ks and 9 walks in 227 at-bats. Urshela is signed through 2021; with the way he’s performing, I’m not sure New York will bring him back.

Dishonorable mention: Daniel Johnson (OF, Indians; 1-for-11, 5 Ks).  

Of course it is: Houser’s nickname is “Doogy.” (Wikipedia).

Pitching stud: Adrian Houser (SP, Brewers). It’s good to see a fresh—and unexpected—face in this position every once in a while.

After pitching a complete game shutout against St. Louis on September 4, the righthander followed up with a 6-inning, 1-hit, 0-earned run performance against Cleveland yesterday. Though the latter wasn’t a perfect showing—he walked 5 batters—it elevated him to this heralded title.

Between the two appearances, he tossed 15 innings and allowed just 4 hits, while striking out 12 batters. It has been a great season for the hurler, who is 9-6 with a 3.25 mark in 25 games (23 starts) after going 1-6, 5.30 in 2020.

The former 2nd round pick was acquired from Houston with reliever Josh Hader and outfielders Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips for pitcher Mike Fiers and outfielder Carlos Gomez in 2015. Milwaukee got the better of that deal.

Honorable mention: Jose Berrios (SP, Blue Jays; 2-0 W-L, 13 1/3 IP, 15 K, 2 BB).

Pitching dud: Edwin Diaz (RP, Mets). I just got done railing against Diaz yesterday and wouldn’t you know, here he is again. After blowing a save and taking 2 losses over the past week, Diaz has proven he cannot close in New York and that his stunning 2018 with Seattle (1.96 ERA, 57 saves, 15.2 K/9) was the exception and not the norm.

Though he still strikes batters out with great frequency (12.9 K/9 this year, 17.5 K/9 last season), that ability has become nothing more than a novelty since he flunks at every other facet of his job—most importantly, saving games and ensuring victories. He’s signed through the end of 2021. It might be time to say goodbye.

Pitching dud: JT Chargois (RP, Rays; 2 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 1 L, 1 BSV).

Worst trades in Mets history, #8: Dan Wheeler for Adam Seuss

Okay, okay. What I consider “worst” is very arbitrary. If I liked a player and he got sent packing, that’s a deal that goes in my pile of worst trades.

I made a similar face when I saw how well he did when he left the Mets. (Wikipedia).

Such is the case of reliever Dan Wheeler, whom New York traded to the Astros for minor league outfielder Adam Seuss on August 27, 2004.

Granted, to that point in his career, Wheeler hadn’t done much, not even with the Mets. From 1999 to 2001, he pitched sparingly for the Devil Rays, allowing 94 hits in 71 1/3 innings for a 6.43 ERA. He spent all of 2002 in the minors, then New York took a flier on him, signing him in February 2003.

Everything about the ’03 squad was horrid, including their pitching. Five guys finished with ERAs over 10 and their 4.48 club mark was 10th in the National League. Tom Glavine, brought on the help revive the team after a 75-86 2002, went 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA. The Mets lost 95 games that year.

With such a mediocre pitching staff, ample opportunities cropped up for men to try their hand at keeping the ship from sinking any further. Wheeler was one of them. Debuting with New York on June 18 against Florida, he went 3 innings, struck out 2 batters and didn’t allow a hit or a run. Welcome aboard, Dan.

Carrying a 2.31 mark through his first 15 appearances, Wheeler looked like the cog New York needed. Until he fell apart. On July 29, he allowed 4 earned runs in 4 innings for the loss; in his next appearance, he surrendered 5 earned runs in a single frame and his season ERA skyrocketed to 4.76. Though he carried a 2.38 mark from that point forward, his season totals—marred by two horrendous games—were an underwhelming 3.71 ERA and 114 ERA+ in 35 appearances.

It was even worse in 2004. In 32 games, he gave New York a 4.80 ERA and 11.5 H/9 IP ratio. The Mets had had enough and shipped him to Houston in late August for the little-known Adam Seuss (no relation to the doctor).

Seuss spent a couple games in the Mets system, never advancing beyond Single-A. They cut him loose and he re-signed with Houston for 2005, which proved to be his final professional campaign.

Wheeler became a whole new man after joining the Astros. In 14 games in 2004, he had a 2.51 ERA, then didn’t allow a run in 5 postseason appearances. In 2005, he had an All-Star quality campaign, posting a 2.21 mark and 192 ERA+ as Houston’s best relief pitcher not named Brad Lidge. The Astros won 89 games that year, snagged the wild card and—with the hurler producing a 2.08 ERA in the NLDS and not allowing a run in the NLCS—took home the pennant. They lost in the World Series to the White Sox; Wheeler had a 13.50 ERA. As Dan went, so went Houston.

The Astros slipped to just 82 victories in 2006, but Wheeler didn’t slip at all. In 75 games, he had a 2.52 ERA and 177 ERA+. After posting a 5.07 mark through 45 appearances in 2007, he was shipped to his old home, Tampa Bay, for former Mets third baseman Ty Wigginton (himself involved in one of the team’s worst trades ever).

From 2008 to 2010, he was one of the Rays’ most reliable relief pitchers, averaging a 3.24 ERA, 68 games and 20 games finished per season. Though he tanked in the ’08 postseason (6 earned runs allowed in 8 2/3 innings) it was on the back of his solid pitching that Tampa Bay got there in the first place.

After a couple more middling seasons with Boston and Cleveland, Wheeler wrapped up his career after 2012.

His totals after leaving the Mets: 492 games, 3.54 ERA, 157 games finished, 43 saves. In the playoffs, he had a 3.38 mark in 21 appearances, averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

Ahhh, what refreshingly respectable numbers the Mets could have used in the mid- and late-2000s, when they were vying for spots in the postseason and trying to establish some level of legitimacy. Instead, they kept the likes of the always-mediocre Aaron Heilman (see here) and Scott Schoeneweis around, as well as experiments like Dae-Sung Koo. Instead, they built a core that led to miserable collapses in 2007 and 2008.

Would Wheeler alone have prevented the Mets woes of that always promising, but perpetually disappointing, era? Maybe not. One relief pitcher does not change the fortunes of an entire team, unless he’s Tug McGraw.

But hey, he would’ve done more than Adam Suess and his one hit at Single-A.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 5, 2021.

Something about those catchers: These past couple days, I’ve noted impressive runs by some otherwise unimpressive catchers—Philadelphia’s Rafael Marchan and Detroit’s Dustin Garneau, for example. Here’s one more: the Blue Jays’ Danny Jansen. In his past 14 at-bats going back to July 11, he’s hitting .500/.533/1.571 with 4 home runs, 3 doubles, 4 RBI and 4 runs scored. That’s right, each of his last 7 hits went for extra bases. He added another dinger yesterday.

Barnhart has won two Gold Gloves. (Wikipedia).

How about one more: Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart has been solid this past month, hitting .294 with a couple home runs, 4 doubles, 11 RBI and 6 runs scored. He’s no Salvador Perez, but any team would take numbers like that.

Found a Holme: Yankees reliever Clay Holmes began the year poorly with Pittsburgh, posting a 5.13 ERA through July 20. A trade to New York changed his fortunes: With his new club, he is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in 12 games; in 13 2/3 innings, he’s surrendered just 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 16 batters.

Blake’s doing great: It’s the less-known pieces that have helped the Astros to first place in the American League West, reliever Blake Taylor among them. Since July 18, he has a 2.40 ERA in 19 appearances; he hasn’t surrendered a run since August 21. Ryan Pressly is the bullpen’s All-Star, but Taylor, and guys like him, are just as valuable.

Appreciating the Mets’ little guys: Each year, the Mets seem to find at least one diamond in the rough—a guy or two who unexpectedly perform far beyond anyone’s expectations. Brandon Drury, a career .249 hitter, is batting .274 with a .476 slugging mark in 51 games. Pitcher Trevor Williams, acquired from the Cubs in the Javier Baez trade, began the season with a 5.06 ERA, but has a 0.69 mark in 13 innings so far with New York. Even reliever Aaron Loup, who had a 3.38 ERA going into the year, has stunned Metsdom with a 1.16 mark in 55 appearances. Not bad, guys.

Jayson Werth-less: Former Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth signed with the club in December 2010 for seven years and $126 million dollars and hit .263 with 109 home runs, 162 doubles and 393 RBI for the duration of the deal. In other words, each home run cost $1.156 million, each double cost $777,778 and each RBI cost $320,611.

Mr. Consistent: From 2009 to 2019, a span of 11 seasons, former outfielder Adam Jones averaged 162 hits, 25 home runs, 80 RBI and 82 runs scored per year. His season numbers never fell below 126, 15, 63 or 54, respectively.

Winning runs in the family: Former second baseman Chuck Knoblauch won four World Series rings in the 1990s—one with the Twins and three with the Yankees. His father, Ray, was also a champion. He coached Bellaire High School in Texas to four state titles.

Nomo he wasn’t: Before there were Daisuke Matsuzaka and Masahiro Tanaka, there were Hideo Nomo and Katsuhiro Maeda. Never heard of Maeda? In the wake of Nomomania, he was signed by the Yankees in 1996 after a bidding war with the Giants and White Sox. He spent five years in their system and went just 18-21 with a 4.69 ERA, peaking at Triple-A.

More to the Maeda story: After he flunked out of the minor leagues, Maeda continued his baseball journey—but initially not back in Japan. After failing to make a Nippon Professional Baseball team’s roster, he went to Taiwan, where he played in 2002, then Italy, where he spent 2003. In 2004, he signed with the Shanghai Eagles, becoming China’s first Japanese player. As recently as 2008, he was still going in the minor Shikoku-Kyūshū Island League in Japan.

Very first Marlin: He never played in the major leagues, but pitcher Clemente Nunez was the first player ever signed by the Florida Marlins. Inked to a contract on December 16, 1991, he spent five seasons in their system. Included in that run was a 12-6, 2.48 line with Single-A Brevard County in 1995. He was 29-26, 3.51 overall.

Baines was a controversial Hall of Fame pick and his numbers play that out. (Wikipedia).

Just a phantom: Bruce Dostal, a centerfielder who spent four years at Triple-A, was this close to becoming a major leaguer. On the Orioles active roster for four games in June 1994, the ballplayer was twice told by late manager Johnny Oates that he would pinch run for future Hall of Famer Harold Baines if Baines reached base … he didn’t and Dostal was soon sent packing. Despite being with the team, he does not count as a major leaguer because he never appeared in a game. Rather, he became a phantom major leaguer.

Lot of games, but not hits: Speaking of Baines, he has the third-fewest career hits of anyone who played as many games as he did (2,830) with 2,866. Only Brooks Robinson, who had 2,848 knocks, and Rusty Staub, who had 2,716, did worse.

The first youngster: Who was the youngest player in the National Association’s first year, 1871? 17-year-old Joe Battin, who appeared in a single game for the Cleveland Forest Citys. He went hitless.

Battin led the league with 98 games played in 1883, despite batting just .214. (Wikipedia).

Battin worst: Joe Battin’s name is a misnomer … he couldn’t bat well at all. In 10 seasons, he slashed just .225/.241/.281 in 480 games. He holds one of the lowest on-base percentages of anyone with at least 400 games.

No-no not enough: While playing in Japan in 2006, former Padres prospect Rick Guttormson tossed a no-hitter … and was sent down to their version of the minor leagues the next day. Nippon Professional Baseball limits how many foreign players a team can hold and his club, the Yakult Swallows, had recently brought former Mets and Devil Rays hurler Dicky Gonzalez on board. Needing to make room, they cast Guttormson aside.

A different kind of senator: In 1913, minor league first baseman Scott Lucas hit .349 in 95 games, including .462 in 34 showings with the Class-D Pekin Celestials. After a couple more seasons, the Illinois native realized baseball wasn’t for him and chose a career in politics. Serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1935 to 1939, he later became a Senator, remaining in that capacity for over a decade. From 1949 to 1951, he was the Senate Majority Leader.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 4, 2021.

Miguel Cabrera 3,000 hit watch: Last night, Miguel Cabrera recorded one hit, bringing him to 2,964 for his career and 36 away from 3,000. The Tigers have 26 games left to play.

Cruz has made 7 All-Star teams and won 4 Silver Sluggers in 17 seasons. (Wikipedia).

Not hopeful about Cruz: 41-year-old Nelson Cruz has 26 home runs on the year and 443 for his career. He’s a slugger and could feasibly reach 500 one day, but his performance with Tampa Bay casts doubt on those prospects. Since joining the club in July, he’s batting just .205 with a 90 OPS+. If his hitting doesn’t recover, I can’t imagine a team signing him next year, putting his run at history in jeopardy.

Going gone Garneau: Backup catcher Dustin Garneau doesn’t have much of a bat and his power has always been lackluster. In 400 ABs over 7 seasons, he has just 12 home runs … and 3 of them came in the past week. Last night, the Tigers backstop had 2 hits—both dingers— and added 3 RBI against Cincinnati; in his previous game, his lone hit was also a home run. Since August 22, he is hitting .333 with a .944 slugging mark.

He’s a winner: Tigers outfielder Victor Reyes was batting .183 through August 1, but has really turned it on over the past month or so. In his last 64 at-bats, the 26-year-old has 23 hits for a .359 average. Of his knocks, 4 were doubles, 3 were triples and 2 were dingers.

Hoffman coming around: Though he had a rough outing against Detroit last night (1 2/3 IP, 4 ER), Reds pitcher Jeff Hoffman still holds a 3.24 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 16 2/3 frames over the past month. He began the year well through April, but saw his ERA rise to 5.20 by July 21. His mark is 2.75 since.

Pumped for Payamps: Royals reliever Joel Payamps hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past four appearances, continuing a streak of excellent pitching that extends back to June 14. Since then, his ERA is just 1.54 in 10 appearances (he didn’t play at all in July). His ERA on the year is 2.68 in 29 appearances.

Broxton has 396 strikeouts in 905 at-bats. (Wikipedia).

Brewers scraping the bottom: The Brewers recently signed outfielder Keon Broxton and pitcher Zach Lee to minor league contracts. Broxton hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2019, when he had a .167 average in 100 games between the Mets, Orioles and Mariners. Lee last played in 2017; he has an 8.53 ERA in 12 2/3 big league innings.

And he never even led the league: Who had the most saves in the majors from 2007 to 2011? Not Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez or Jonathan Papelbon. Not even quirky player du jour Brian Wilson. It was Francisco Cordero, with 194. Number two on the list is also surprising: Jose Valverde had 191.

Not much from the land down under: Australia has produced some great relief pitchers, like Grant Balfour, Liam Hendriks and Peter Moylan. But starters … not so much. Perhaps the best was Damian Moss, who spent four years in the majors from 2001 to 2004, going 22-19 with a 4.50 ERA for four teams. His 2002 campaign was solid, as he went 12-6 with a 3.42 mark for Atlanta, finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year balloting.

Hope grows daily: With the Mets riding a seven-game winning streak, the club is now back over .500 and just 3.5 games out in the division. Their magic number is down to 32. Starting catcher James McCann—disappointment that he’s been—is off the injured list. In 1973, the Mets were 65-73 on September 4, and they made the World Series …

Perhaps I spoke too soon: Well, I wrote that before this afternoon’s game. The Mets were up 9-0, just to blow the lead against Washington with abominable fielding and poor pitching. They ended up winning, 11-9, but such performances are not becoming of a playoff team.

Lots of Mets born today: Mothers must love conceiving future Mets on September 4. Luis Lopez, Joe DePastino, Andres Gimenez, Chris Beck and—most notably—Mike Piazza, New Yorkers all, were born on this day.

Star in his own mind: Pitcher Mark Redman was an All-Star in 2006, despite going 11-10 with a 5.71 ERA on the year—but he might not be the worst selection ever. Frankie Zak, a backup shortstop, had just 160 at-bats in 87 games for Pittsburgh in 1944 … yet made the All-Star team. Shortstop Eddie Miller was originally chosen to play but was injured; because World War II travel restrictions made it difficult to bring another player in on short notice, Zak was given the nod since he was in town. The Midsummer Classic was held in Pittsburgh that year.  

.217 average; twice an MVP: Cliff Brumbaugh had a .217 batting average in his brief MLB career, spent between the Rangers and Rockies in 2001. Back before he became a historical footnote, however, he did something pretty historical: In 1995, while at the University of Delaware, he hit .442 with 32 doubles and 68 runs scored to earn Player of the Year honors. The Rangers then drafted him and placed him at Single-A Hudson Valley, with whom he batted .358 with 101 hits in 74 games to win the New York-Pennsylvania League MVP.

Brumbaugh could hit: Though his big league career fizzled, Cliff Brumbaugh was an excellent hitter … in Japan and Korea. He hit .343 with 33 home runs for the Hyundai Unicorns of the Korea Baseball Organization in 2004, then had two more years of 25-plus dingers across the (other) pond, to boot. In his final pro campaign, back in North America with the independent Edmonton Capitals, he hit .383 with 23 homers and 90 RBI in 74 games. He finished with 1,978 hits and 279 dingers in his 16-year professional career.

Malarcher played from 1916 to 1934. (Wikipedia).

A change in careers: Before Randy “Macho Man” Savage became a world-famous wrestler, he was a professional baseball player. Then known as Randy Poffo, he played in the minor leagues from 1971 to 1974 and wasn’t awful, posting an average as high as .286 in 1971. But it looks like he made the right career decision.

Malarcher wasn’t nervous: Dave Malarcher, a Negro league manager who headed the Chicago American Giants from 1926 to 1934 (save for 1930), took the helm under unusual circumstances. Future Hall of Famer Rube Foster previously led the club, but suffered a nervous breakdown partway through the year. Malarcher took over, guiding them to a 30-7 record under his tutelage and a 57-23 finish overall.

Mets acquire reliever Brad Hand. That gives me hope.

Hand has 126 career saves. (Wikipedia).

I’ve said some unsavory things about pitcher Brad Hand in the past, but now that he’s on my side, I think I like this guy.

The Mets recently claimed the three-time All-Star off waivers from the Blue Jays, with whom he struggled to the tune of a 7.27 ERA in 11 games.

But that hardly tells the tale of his whole season; beginning the year with the Nationals, he started off with a 3.59 mark and 21 saves in 41 games before being traded to Toronto for catcher Riley Adams on July 29.

Granted, 2021 has not been his year. His walk rate is double what it was last season and the highest it’s been since 2012 … when he played just a single game. After averaging 12.2 K/9 IP from 2016 t0 2020, he’s K-ing 8.2 per 9 frames in 2021.

Do recall, however, that this is a man who had a 2.70 ERA and 157 ERA+ over the preceding five seasons. And from 2017 to 2019, he was All-Star each year.

While the Mets have a habit of picking up once-excellent relief pitchers—and players in general—who are years removed from their peak, Hand, just last year, had a 2.05 ERA and averaged nearly 12 Ks per nine frames in that stunted 2020 campaign.

Even his 2021 started off rockin’. Carrying an ERA under 3 through his first 13 appearances, he then hammered out a run from May 22 to July 5 in which his mark was 1.25. Hand’s dive might be an aberration more than a sign of permanent decline.

Or, perhaps, I’m being optimistic, because I’m a Mets fan and I want to see them pull off a miracle and reach the postseason.

With Hand on board, a bundle of injured players due off the injured list and the rest of the bullpen firing on all cylinders right now* the situation is looking up for New York.

*Recent ERAs from the bullpen: Edwin Diaz: 1.13 (since July 23), Miguel Castro: 2.45 (since July 11), Trevor May: 1.29 (since August 18), Jeurys Familia: 1.74 (since August 8), Seth Lugo: 1.04 (since July 19) and Aaron Loup: 0.42 (since July 5).

They’re just one game under .500 and still within striking distance of the second Wild Card with a month left to play.

The team tanked when the pitching did in July, with the club’s ERA rising to 4.43 for the month. It fell to 4.20 in August and is just 3.00 so far in September.

And with Hand around, hopefully, it will begin to drop even lower.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 3, 2021.

Familia has spent his whole career with New York, save for a 30 game stint with Oakland in 2018. (Wikipedia).

Familia territory: Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia saved 43 games with a 1.85 ERA in 2015 and had a league-leading 51 saves in an All-Star 2016. Since then, he’s slipped to a 4.07 ERA, but his recent stretch resembles the Familia of old. He’s struck out 6 batters in his last 3 innings of work, 30 in his last 21 1/3 frames and 61 in 48 2/3 innings on the year as a whole.

Hunter’s no longer stricken: Brewers hurler Hunter Strickland was one of the game’s better relievers in the mid-2010s, but was stricken with a rapid decline in performance from 2018 to 2020. He seems to have gotten over it: Since joining Milwaukee—his third team this year—on June 14, he has a 1.30 ERA in 25 games; over the past month, that mark is 0.73 in 11 games. He’s 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA is 47 appearances overall.

Marchan marchin’ on: 22-year-old Phillies catcher Rafael Marchan has been a pleasant surprise these past few games, carrying a .333/.412/.667 line with a home run and 3 RBI since August 29. He debuted with a bang last year, going 4-for-8 with a dinger and 3 RBI in a cup of coffee with Philadelphia.

Bryan’s cruisin’ along: If the Marlins’ youngsters can coalesce at the same time, Miami might actually have a decent club in the near future. One such factor in it might be 24-year-old rookie outfielder Bryan De La Cruz, who has hit .340 in 100 at-bats with the club this year and .367/.400/.506 over the past month. He arrived with pitcher Austin Pruitt in a July 28 trade with Houston for reliever Yimi Garcia.

Milestone watch: Kevin Pillar recently played his 1,000th career game, while Anthony Rizzo eclipsed 5,000 at-bats, Josh Donaldson reached 5,000 plate appearances, Nelson Cruz scored his 1,000th run, Asdrubal Cabrera knocked his 400th double, Justin Upton collected his 1,000th RBI, Eric Hosmer and Donaldson clobbered their 500th extra base hits, Jose Abreu was clocked by his 100th pitch (and Salvador Perez by his 50th) and fearsome Freddie Freeman drew his 100th intentional walk.

Growing hopeful about the Mets: New York has won four straight games and are now just a game under .500. They’re 5 back in the Wild Card. Pete Alonso has been cranking the past month. Pitcher Carlos Carrasco might be turning a corner and Marcus Stroman is still throwing like an ace. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over …

Don’t do well in the majors: Lee Gronkiewicz, who had a 2.43 ERA and 159 saves in eight seasons on the farm pitched a single game with the Blue Jays in 2007. Bobby Korecky had a 3.10 ERA and 186 saves in 14 minor league seasons, but posted a 7.39 mark in 24 big league games over 4 seasons. Kevin Quackenbush owns a 2.19 ERA and 127 saves in the minors; he has a 4.41 mark and 87 ERA+ in the bigs. Successful minor league relief pitchers often don’t well at the major league level, or get much of a chance.

Weiss wasn’t much of a hitter, finishing with a career OPS+ of 78. (Wikipedia).

Exactly the same: 1990s shortstop and former Rockies manager Walt Weiss owns the highest career strikeout and walk totals of anyone who finished with the exact same amount (658) of each.

Sharing a name with the stars: Jimmy Stewart was one of the most famous actors of the 20th century. Jimmy Stewart—a different one—was a utilityman who spent 10 years in the majors in the 1960s and 1970s, playing for the Cubs, Reds and others. He’s not the first or only ballplayer to share names with a more famous counterpart—Mike Tyson is a notorious boxer; his baseball pairing was an infielder who played mostly for the Cardinals in the 1970s and early ‘80s. And don’t forget 1980s pitcher Bob Gibson (not to be confused with the Hall of Famer) or ‘80s Mariners outfielder Ricky Nelson (not to be confused with the more famous singer).

Hurlers can hit ‘em, too: Facing the Cubs on May 13, 1942, Braves pitcher Jim Tobin became the only pitcher in modern baseball history to hit three home runs in a single game. With a .230 career average, he was a great hitting pitcher and was often asked to pinch hit.

It was against the Mets: Former Rays pitcher Esteban Yan was the first American League pitcher since the introduction of the designated hitter rule in 1973 to homer in his first career at-bat. Facing the Mets’ Bobby Jones on June 4, 2000, he clobbered an inconsequential solo shot in a game Tampa Bay won 15-5. He also collected a hit in his only other career at-bat.

Unknown member of 60 dinger club: Wladimir Balentien was a fairly well-touted prospect in the 2000s, having set the Arizona League season record for home runs with 16 in 2003. He never found his stroke in the major leagues, but sure did when he went to Japan: In 2013, he hammered 60 big flies for the Yakult Swallows, setting a Nippon Professional Baseball record. He’s still playing over there to this day and has 494 career home runs between all levels.

Hate to say this about him, but: Roger Maris was the ultimate two-year wonder. Before his arrival with the Yankees in 1960, he slashed just .249/.329/.434 with 58 home runs and 203 RBI in 388 games. Then he set the baseball world ablaze by winning two straight MVP awards in 1960 and 1961 and, of course, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 the latter year. But after that, he was decent, but nothing to write home about: He averaged just 111 games per year over the rest of his career, slashing .259/.343/.446. He earned over 40% of the vote on the Hall of Fame ballot, but two great years does not a Hall of Fame career make … no matter how legendary one of the campaigns might have been.

Maris and Mantle combined for 115 home runs in 1961. The Kansas City Athletics had 90 as a team that year. (Wikipedia).

We’ll try our luck: Most home runs in a season without drawing an intentional walk? Roger Maris in his record-setting 61 home run, 1961 campaign. He batted in front of Mickey Mantle; pitchers preferred to try their hand with the superstar, not the legend. The career record for dingers without an IBB, among players for whom we have complete data, is 107, presently held by Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman.

Records haven’t updated: With the Society for American Baseball Research keeping an eye on things, you’d think they’d catch and verify whenever a former big leaguer passes away. However, such is not the case—it’s fairly well-known that former Braves catcher Hal King died some time ago (even they recognize that) but there has been no official confirmation or article to validate the claim, so they cannot mark him down as “deceased.” And so, he remains alive, per official records at least.