On paper, Jason Arnold had a very good minor league career.
The second round draft pick began with a 7-2 mark and a 1.66 ERA, while averaging more than 10 strikeouts per 9 frames, in his first campaign (2001); he was 13-4, 2.61 with a 8.9 K/9 IP ratio his sophomore year. His record fell to 7-9 in 2003, though his ERA was a solid 3.69, with a similar tale the next year: 2-5, but with a 3.61 mark.
Two-thousand-and-five illustrated his downfall: In his first, and only, full season at Triple A, he was 0-4 with a 6.39 ERA in 47 relief appearances. He averaged less than a hit allowed per inning and posted a solid K/9, but too many balls left the yard — he surrendered 14 dingers in 62 innings (that’d be 45 in a 200-inning campaign).
Abbreviated though it was, just 12 games, 2006 was a rebound season, as Arnold posted a 1.90 mark with a 11.0 K/9 in 23.2 innings. It wasn’t enough to save his career, however, and he was out of the game after that. His record and ERA outside of Triple A: 24-11, 2.29. In Triple A: 5-15, 4.79. He never made the majors.
Colin Dixon was taken in the same round as future notable names Brian Giles and Mark Grudzielanek, but did not achieve similar success. His minor league career was one of few highlights, however his 1994 campaign stands out. Having never before hit more than 4 home runs in a season, he walloped 19 dingers with 79 RBI for the unaffiliated San Bernardino Spirit that year. That convinced the Rockies to sign him, though he lasted just one season in their system before being let go. He later became a financial planner and baseball coach.
Brad Cresse had a stunning initial professional campaign, 2005, posting a .312/.398/.600 slash line in 63 games between two teams; His 18 home runs were a career high, and his 66 RBI were his second-highest mark. Though a step down, his sophomore year was anything but a slump — he walloped 39 doubles with 14 home home runs in 118 games. Not bad for a catcher!
But two statistical points truly stand out: He had almost no speed on the base paths and he only rarely drew walks. In 539 games over seven seasons, he stole just one base; in 2,123 plate appearances, he drew just 172 walks. To put it in perspective, Mark McGwire hit home runs more frequently than Cresse managed a base on balls.
Shaw still impressing: Red Sox first baseman Travis Shaw returned to the majors after a couple months away on August 17 and on the 23rd, walloped a grand slam. He’s kept the parade going by hitting a solo shot the next day and a double yesterday. Despite his recent hot streak, his season batting average is still below .200.
Phillips is just grand: You wouldn’t it know it by looking at his line over the past 30 days, but Rays outfielder Brett Phillips has had one heck of a month. In 41 at-bats, he’s had just 9 hits for a .220 average—but 5 of those knocks left the yard and 2 of them were doubles. That gives him a .634 slugging percentage. And about those dingers? Three were grand slams, two of which came two games in a row. He added 15 RBI and 12 runs to his ledger and now has 10 home runs on the year.
Keep going, Alex: Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia has allowed just one run over his past 20 appearances going back to late May. No one has scored on him since July 30. He has a 2.40 ERA in 28 games on the year.
Doing what he Wantz: Andrew Wantz, a relief pitcher for the Angels, debuted on July 4. Since then, he’s made 7 appearances and has at least one strikeout in each of them—for a total of 17 in 9 2/3 innings. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he averaged 18.4 K/9 IP in the minors in 2018.
In the Loup: The Mets swoon makes it hard to see the positive in anything, but it is difficult to ignore the incredible performance of relief pitcher Aaron Loup. He has made 50 appearances this year, with a tiny ERA of 1.06 and a superhuman ERA+ of 378. Loup has always been a good pitcher, but this season is his best yet. That’s refreshing, a pitcher having his career year with the Mets, not the season or two after he escapes New York (ahem, Scott Atchison).
One is enough: Barring any of the hurlers make another appearance, the Mets are on pace to have eleven pitchers toss just a single game this year. That would be the most ever, beating the previous record of nine set by the Baltimore Orioles—the old Baltimore Orioles—back in 1886.
He’s still playing? Every once in a while, I see a name on an active roster that I haven’t thought about in a while and it makes me think, he’s still playing? Such is the case with Tigers starter Drew Hutchison, who debuted with Toronto way back in 2012 and has yet to stick anywhere. He won 13 games for the Blue Jays in 2015, but had a 5.57 ERA; this year, with Detroit, he’s made 2 starts without a victory.
Put me in, coach! Utilityman Bill Collins appeared in parts of five seasons for four teams in the 1880s and 1890s—and played just one game in four of them. In 1891, the Ireland native caught his big break when he appeared in two games for the Cleveland Spiders.
Happens to Hall of Famers, too: Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings did something similar. As manager of the Tigers after his playing days were over, he would occasionally insert himself into the lineup. He played a single game for Detroit in 1907, 1910, 1912 and 1918; he did it twice in 1909. When he did it in 1918, he was 49 years old.
Nick, too: Pitcher Nick Altrock holds the record for most seasons with just a single appearance, with eight. Much like Jennings, he would make occasional showings on the field after joining the Washington Senators coaching staff. He first did it in 1912 at age 35; his last appearance, as a pitcher at least, was in 1924 at 47 (he also hit a triple in that game). He then played in the outfield once in 1929, pinch hit in 1931 and did so again in 1933 at age 56.
Forty and you’re gone: Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo cranked 47 home runs in 2016 and was out of the majors after 2019. It’s actually not super rare, a man hitting 40-plus homers in his fourth-to-last campaign. But only twice has a player hit 40 or more home runs one season, just to play his last the next: In 2016, the Brewers Chris Carter had 41 home runs and 94 RBI; with the Yankees in 2017, he hit .201 with 8 dingers and that was it. In 1946, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg belted 44 homers for Detroit; though he hit 25 with Pittsburgh the next year, 1947 was his final campaign.
Born at sea: Multiple countries have had just one representative play major league baseball: Belgium had Brian Lesher, Peru has Jesus Luzardo, Greece had Al Campanis. But only one player, that we are aware of, doesn’t have a country of origin. That’s Al Porray, who is listed as “born at sea,” on the Atlantic Ocean, in 1888. The starting pitcher made three appearances for the Buffalo Buffeds of the Federal League in 1914.
More autograph reminiscing: Most baseball players sign relatively fast through the mail. Less than one hundred days is the norm, I’d say. But some, well, they drag their feet—in 2013, I received former Athletics outfielder Jeremy Giambi in 2,423 days … that’s more than six-and-a-half years! But 1990s relief pitcher Kevin Campbell even beat that, taking over seven years to return my card. Brandon Wood, the slugging former Angels prospect, took four-and-a-half years. I didn’t receive many big names that year, because I was mostly sending to retired former minor leaguers. But I did get current Red Sox star J.D. Martinez, back when he was a lowly no-name with Houston. (Also, speaking of former minor leaguers, my other website, MiLB Addresses, is a database of addresses for those guys—and every one has had a success reported from it).
You might be more familiar with Cromer’s brothers, Tripp and D.T., both of whom reached the major leagues. However, Brandon had a strong baseball pedigree in his own right, being taken as a supplemental pick by the Blue Jays in the 1st round of the 1992 amateur draft. His 1994 season stands out for a negative reason — in 80 games and 259 at-bats in Single A, he hit just .135. That’s with a ‘1’. Astonishingly, the Blue Jays moved him up a level the next year anyway, where his averaged improved over 100 points to a still meager .237. Cromer never put it all together, so — though he hit 24 home runs his first and only full year at Triple A — he never reached the majors. A fourth brother, Burke, played a couple years in the minors, as well.
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.
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.
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 relieversonce 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!
Matt Drews was the Yankees’ 1st round pick in 1993. He might be known as the guy taken between Billy Wagner and Derrek Lee, or the guy taken ahead of Torii Hunter, or perhaps the Yankees’ first round pick the year after they snagged Derek Jeter. Or perhaps, maybe, as the first of many Yankees first round duds in a long line that lasted nearly 15 years. Drews had promise, going 15-7 with a 2.27 ERA in Single A in 1995, but he contracted Steve Blass Syndrome and went 1-14, 5.56 the year after that, then 9-13, 5.59 after that, then 5-17, 6.57 after that, then 2-14, 8.27 after that. Apparently, his big league clubs had faith in his ability through it all, as he spent 5 of his 7 seasons at Triple A.