Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 17, 2021.

When all is said and done, Guerrero might put his Hall of Fame dad to shame. (Wikipedia).

Guerrero Triple Crown watch: The chances of him winning it are slim, but the Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is in Triple Crown territory. He leads the American League in home runs (45) and batting average (.317) and is just 9 RBI behind the leader, Salvador Perez, with 103. Oh, yeah, he also leads the league in runs (116), hits (173), on-base percentage (.406), slugging (.611), OPS (1.017), OPS+ (173) and total bases (333).

This is why I’m just a baseball fan: It’s a good thing I’m not in anyone’s front office. When the Phillies signed starter Zack Wheeler to a deal that will net him as much as $26 million per year, I thought they must be absolutely crazy. He was good with the Mets, disappointing, mostly, but good. Hey, that’s why they’re the experts: Since joining Philadelphia, he is 17-11 with a 2.87 ERA and 146 ERA+ in 40 starts; in 226 1/3 innings, he has struck out 278 batters. He made the All-Star team this season and is leading the league with 225 Ks.

RBI Ramos: Never mind Diamondbacks rookie Henry Ramos’ anemic .222 average over the past week, he is still doing his part. In 5 games, he has 6 RBI and 3 runs scored, with 2 of his 4 hits going for extra bases, including his first career home run off Seattle’s Marco Gonzales on September 10. The 29-year-old was excellent at Triple-A Reno this year, posting a .371/.439/.582 line with 12 home runs and 57 RBI in 75 games. The 47-99 Diamondbacks have had little to be excited about this year. Ramos gives them something.

Dug out a few triples: Giants outfielder Steven Duggar has been a helpful member of the club this year, hitting .267 with 8 home runs and 34 RBI in 247 at-bats. In the past couple weeks, he hasn’t done anything too exciting, except manage a trio of triples, including 2 in one game. That’s only been done five times this season; in 2019, there were eleven occurrences. It’s not a feat for superstars, either. The other names with a couple three-baggers in a game this season include Edmundo Sosa, Brandon Marsh, Victor Reyes and Luis Arraez.

Sulser began his career in the Indians system but debuted with the Rays. (Wikipedia).

A long time coming: Orioles relief pitcher Cole Sulser didn’t make his major league debut until 2019, when he was 29. In that seven-game cup of coffee, he didn’t allow a single run in 7 1/3 innings, while striking out 9 batters. Quite a prelude of things to come. This year, the 2013 25th round draft pick has a 2.98 ERA, 157 ERA+ and 11.1 K/9 IP ratio in 54 games. He is the pillar of Baltimore’s bullpen, with his ERA the only one among the main relievers under 4. Since August 31, his mark is 1.93.

Another one helping the Jays: Blue Jays journeyman relief pitcher Trevor Richards is already with his third big league team this season, having begun the year with Tampa Bay before being traded to Milwaukee, who then sent him to Toronto in July. It looks like he might have finally found a home. Since arriving in Canada, the hurler has made 25 relief appearances, posting a 3.04 ERA and 146 ERA+; in 26 2/3 innings, he has 33 strikeouts and batters have hit .143 against him. Since late August, he has a 1.93 ERA and Toronto is 7-1 in the games in which he’s pitched.

Woe unto us Mets fans: As late as July 9, New York was 5 games up in the National League East, not quite running away with the division, but holding their own. By August 6, they had squandered sole possession of first place, and by August 21, they were 6.5 games back. Sure, star pitcher Jacob DeGrom got hurt, but to collapse so bodaciously requires a team effort. Here’s how some of their formerly excellent players have performed since they fell into second place on August 7. Taijuan Walker: 0-3 W-L, 5.40 ERA, 10 HR in 35 IP; Tylor Megill: 2-4 W-L, 6.47 ERA, 11 HR in 40 1/3 IP; Miguel Castro: 16 G, 4.60 ERA; Trevor May: 17 G, 5.40 ERA, 1 BSV; Jeurys Familia: 2 L, 3 BSV; Dominic Smith: .157 BA, 21 K in 70 AB. Starters, relievers, batsmen … hey, at least they’re all getting in on it.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 14, 2021.

Perez ties record: The Royals Salvador Perez clobbered his 43rd home run of the season tonight, tying Javy Lopez’s 18-year-old record for most home runs in a campaign by a catcher. Perez had sat on number 42 since September 8.

Braun spent his entire career with the Brewers. (Wikipedia).

Ryan Braun retires: Milwaukee Brewers legend Ryan Braun has retired after 14 seasons. The 2007 Rookie of the Year winner made six All-Star teams, won five Silver Sluggers and took home the 2011 National League MVP. He finishes with a .296/.358/.532 line, 352 home runs, 216 stolen bases and a 134 OPS+.

Silence of the Lamb: Call me optimistic, but new Blue Jays third baseman Jake Lamb has been quietly effective since joining the club on September 3, despite his .167 batting average. In seven games since September 6, the 2017 All-Star has managed 5 walks, 5 runs, 5 RBI, 2 sacrifice flies, a hit by pitch and a .360 on-base percentage. Sounds like he’s mastered small ball, since nothing else has worked for him. He’s still batting just .206 on the year.

Urias on the rise: Speaking of small ball, check out what the Orioles’ Ramon Urias has accomplished in the past month. He’s clobbered just 2 home runs and had 6 doubles, but he’s managed 11 runs, 12 RBI and a .391 on-base percentage on the backs of 21 hits and 11 walks. Quite a rebound for a man who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk in mid-May due to his anemic play.

Lopez still crushing it: Some time ago, I complimented White Sox hurler Reynaldo Lopez on his excellent campaign, but said that as it was a small sample size, it might not last. Well, he’s proven me wrong. He still holds a 2.05 ERA and 163 ERA+ on the year and has a 2.63 mark over the past month.

Don’t underestimate Floro: Marlins reliever Dylan Floro doesn’t get all the headlines, but he is an effective pitcher. Since June 19, he has a 1.93 ERA in 28 appearances; his mark is 2.89 this season and it was 2.59 in 25 games last year. In 2018, he had an ERA of 2.25. Quietly, Floro has become one of baseball’s more reliable relievers.

Stick a fork in ‘em: Well, my bipolar view of the 2021 Mets has drifted into the pessimistic, yet again. They lost a heartbreaker tonight, 7-6 in 11 innings. What a let down. But that’s just one game. What also doesn’t bode well for the club is the returns of all those players supposedly coming back from injuries keep getting pushed back. Potentially helpful cogs remain unusable. ‘Til next year.

Then again… While they haven’t activated all their hurt players, they did activate catcher Tomas Nido and reliever Jake Reed. Every little bit counts. I’m still not very hopeful.

That’s a lot of Ks: From July 8 to August 20, 2017, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge had at least one strikeout in every game he played. That’s 37 games … and a record. Pitcher Bill Stoneman also Ked at least once in that many consecutive games, from April 30, 1971 to April 21, 1972.

That’s even worse: For nine-straight games in 2016, Judge had at least two strikeouts; Michael A. Taylor, the Royals outfielder, matched that this year and Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard did it in 2019.

Not the good kind of hat trick: Let’s keep going. The most consecutive games with three or more strikeouts? Five, by Jorge Soler, from August 12 to August 17, 2020. He struck out 15 times in 19 at-bats during that stretch. He’s the only player to manage such a long streak.

Reese didn’t start coaching with the Angels until he was 71. (Wikipedia).

Ryan, Carew and … Reese? The first two individuals to have their numbers retired by the Angels were Nolan Ryan (#30) and Rod Carew (#29). The third man isn’t so well-known—it was Jimmie Reese (#50), who coached for the club for 22 years, right up until his death at 92 in 1994.

Welcome back, Chuck: In 1940, first baseman-turned-actor Chuck Connors broke his finger after just four professional games and didn’t play for nearly two full seasons; in 1941, he was placed on the voluntarily retired list. In 1942, he mounted a comeback that eventually led to a brief, 67-game major league career.

Played in the wrong era: Gary Jones spent eight seasons in the minor leagues, including two full campaigns at Triple-A. He led the league in bases on balls five times and fashioned an excellent .437 on-base percentage, but never earned a call to the major leagues as a player. He later ascended to that level as a first and third base coach for the Athletics and Cubs, respectively.

Nichols tried his hand at managing. He had an 80-88 record. (Wikipedia).

Happy birthday, Kid: Hall of Fame pitcher Kid Nichols was born on this day. Playing from 1890 to 1901 and from 1904 to 1906, the hurler won 362 games to just 208 losses while completing 532 games. He also batted .226 with 16 home runs and 278 RBI.

I’m new, too: On October 6, 1908, hurlers Andy O’Connor of the New York Highlanders and Doc McMahon of the Boston Red Sox both started the first and only games of their careers. That is the only time in big league history that both starting pitchers made their only career appearance at the same time.  

Worth the read: I would recommend the book The Innocent Man by John Grisham (2006), which details the case of former minor leaguer Ron Williamson. Following his playing career, Williamson became addicted to drugs and alcohol and suffered from mental illness. He was cited in a woman’s death and was sentenced to death himself, but after 11 years, his sentence was overturned due to new DNA evidence.

Finally got around to it: What are the odds. I just recently said it was strange that, despite knowing that former Braves catcher Hal King passed away some time ago, SABR and the baseball intelligentsia hadn’t been able to find anything to confirm it, nor had they updated their records. Well, it’s not on Baseball-Reference.com yet, but according to their most recent newsletter, they finally received the confirmation they were looking for.

Grinder passes away: Scott Grinder, who umpired in the National League in the 1980s, passed away on September 11.

He’s a future star! Just look at his first season! (Or, maybe not.)—pt. 2.

In a continuation of a piece I wrote a few days ago, let’s look at some more 21st century ballplayers who burst onto the stage in their first full seasons, only to flame out not long after.

It’s a plight that often affects relief pitchers.

Brayan Villarreal was the Tigers best reliever in 2012. (Wikipedia).

Former Tigers reliever Brayan Villarreal began his professional career as a starting pitcher and, in the early going, had some success. At Single A in 2009, he had 118 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings to complement a 2.87 ERA; the next year, he Ked 136 batters in 129 1/3 frames.

But the wheels fell off when he reached Triple A in 2011, as his ERA rocketed to 5.05 and his K/9 ratio fell to 5.5. When he earned a big league promotion—and, despite his poor showing, he did get the call that year—Detroit placed him in the bullpen and he struggled again, posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 games.

The script flipped in 2012, however, and Villarreal became the Tigers’ most lights-out reliever. In 50 appearances, he posted a 2.63 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings and he allowed just 38 hits; his ERA+ was 162, even better than that of Justin Verlander. No other relief pitcher on the club with at least 20 appearances had an ERA under 3.50. Only one, Joaquin Benoit, had more strikeouts.

But control issues hampered him. He averaged 4.6 walks per nine innings in 2012. And the scourge followed him into the next season—not even a midseason trade to the Red Sox, an enormous deal that involved the likes of Jake Peavy, Avisail Garcia, Jose Iglesias and Frankie Montas, could save him. Between the two clubs, he made just 8 appearances and lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He surrendered 10 earned runs on 9 walks and 8 hits, for an ERA of 20.77. And that was it for Villarreal.

*In an improbable twist, the only other Brayan in big league history, catcher Brayan Pena, played at the same time as Villarreal. Even more unlikely—they were teammates in 2013, and fate so aligned it that Brayan the catcher caught Brayan the pitcher just once, on April 17.

Despite a great rookie season, Zach Braddock lasted just two years in the majors. (Wikipedia).

Two seasons earlier, the Brewers’ Zach Braddock came out of nowhere to help anchor that struggling team’s bullpen. Like Villarreal, he was a strikeout ace in the minors and that skill followed him to the big league stage.

Debuting at 22 years old, he appeared in 46 games in 2010 and posted a 2.94 ERA, while striking out 41 batters in 33 2/3 innings. Overshadowed by star closer John Axford and fellow reliever Kameron Loe, Braddock’s performance was largely unsung.

But he, too, walked too many batters, averaging 5.1 free passes per nine innings. They haunted him into 2011, as he surrendered 11 in 17 1/3 innings, helping elevate his ERA to 7.25. Though he was signed by a couple big league clubs and bounced around indy ball for a few years, he never pitched in the majors again.

After an underwhelming, hitless cup of coffee in 2003, Athletics shortstop Bobby Crosby burst onto the scene the next season, slugging 22 home runs with 64 RBI, 34 doubles and 130 hits. Beating out names like Zack Greinke and Alex Rios, he won the American Rookie of the Year.

Poised for a repeat performance in 2004, Crosby slashed .276/.346/.456—all better numbers than the prior year—but played only 84 games.

Bobby Crosby spent eight years in the big leagues. (Wikipedia).

Though he spent five more seasons in the majors, Crosby never reclaimed his glory and hit just .229 with 31 home runs in 501 games the rest of the way. But, perhaps it’s not too surprising, after all. Even in his rookie campaign, he batted just .239.

To a degree, Crosby just followed in his father’s footsteps. The elder Crosby, Ed, was also a shortstop who arrived with a bang—well, relatively—and left with a whimper. In his first campaign, 1970, he hit .253 in 38 games as a 21-year-old for the Cardinals. Returning to the minors for 1971, he resurfaced with St. Louis in 1972 and spent five more seasons in the majors, hitting only .215. Ed Crosby was the consummate defense-first shortstop—in 677 career at-bats, he didn’t hit a single home run and stole only 1 base.

In Bobby’s defense, he—like his father—was primarily defense-minded. Though he committed his share of errors, as many as 19 in a season, his .971 fielding percentage at shortstop ranks among the best all-time.

But that doesn’t make fans forget his breakout 2004 campaign.

While most players fade away soon after their stars fall, others trudge along for years, trying to right themselves and regain respectability. Sometimes it works, but for many of them, they just become every day, painful reminders of what could have been.  

Studs and duds: August 14 – August 20

The week of August 14 to August 20 saw many hot performances from the likes of Freddie Freeman, Luke Voit, Max Fried and Nestor Cortes. Were any of them good enough to earn their man the title of Stud? Let’s see …

Freddie Freeman is leading the league with 90 runs and 235 total bases. (Wikipedia).

Offensive stud: Freddie Freeman (1B, Braves). Freeman narrowly edges Max Muncy, going 14-for-26 with 3 home runs, 7 RBI and 8 runs scored in the past week. His slash line of .538/.600/1.038 and OPS of 1.638 are a big reason the Braves are surging right now—they’re now 10 games over .500 and 4 games up in the National League East. For Freeman’s part, his run brings his season average to .300—not too shabby, considering it was in the .220s in June.

Honorable mention: Max Muncy (IF, Dodgers; .318/.423/1.045 BA/OBP/SLG, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 8 R).

Offensive dud: Gavin Lux (IF, Dodgers). Now we’re just piling on. He’s held this title for four straight days. It doesn’t help that Los Angeles isn’t playing him, but that’s part of the reason he’s still here. His performance (0-for-6, 2 E) was so anemic, the Dodgers are afraid to put him on the field.

Dishonorable mention: Anthony Santander (OF, Orioles; 1-for-20, 10 K).

Pitching stud: Max Fried (SP, Braves). All the Braves stars are cranking right now. Like Freeman above, Fried started out the season poorly, posting a 6.55 ERA through his first five starts and into July, his ERA was 4.71. But that’s all in the past now: Last night, Fried tossed a complete game shutout and has allowed just 1 run and no walks over his past 15 innings. When Fried pitches, the Braves win—since 2019, he’s 35-13, a .729 winning percentage. Last year, he didn’t lose a single start, going 7-0 and finishing 5th in Cy Young voting.

Jorge Lopez should get used to wearing that minor league uniform again. (Wikipedia).

Honorable mention: Walker Buehler (SP, Dodgers; 2-0 W-L, 14 2/3 IP, 18 K, 3 BB).

Pitching dud: Jorge Lopez (SP, Orioles). Lopez holds an 18.56 ERA over the past week, so it’ll be difficult for him to shed this title. In 5 2/3 innings, he surrendered 11 runs on 13 hits and 4 walks—but on the bright side (?) only two of those hits were home runs. Since late July, his ERA is 8.84.

Dishonorable mention: Adam Ottavino (RP, Red Sox; 1 1/3 IP, 3 BB, 2 WP, 1 HBP, 6.75 ERA).