Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 31, 2021.

DJ Stewart was a first round pick in 2015. (Wikipedia).

Stellar Stewart: Demetrius Jerome “D.J.” Stewart, presently of the Baltimore Orioles, has always had power. It’s just that little else accompanies it. Over the past week, however, he’s put it all together, going 4-for-9 with a dinger, 4 RBI, 5 walks and 3 runs scored. Stewart has smashed 25 home runs in 497 career at-bats, but he needs to get his strikeouts (156) under control and his average (.215) up a bit.

In the fast lane: Nationals outfielder Lane Thomas hit .111 in 36 at-bats for the Cardinals last year and began 2021 with a .107 mark in 48 trips to the plate. But a trade to the Nationals—in exchange for struggling starter Jon Lester—has changed his fortunes. In 42 ABs with his new club, he’s hitting .310. In his rookie season, 2018, he slashed .316/.409/.684.

Chargois chugging along: Rays reliever J.T. Chargois has had a great 2021 campaign, but since July, he’s been lights-out. In 20 1/3 innings, he’s allowed just 4 earned runs for a 1.77 ERA. Since being traded from the Mariners on July 29, his mark is 0.71 in 12 games. His number is 2.32 in 43 games on the year.

Diamond in the rough: Though he was a third round pick in 2014, Chris Ellis has never been much of a prospect. In 2017, while pitching in the Cardinals system, he was 7-12 with a 5.29 ERA in 30 games (22 starts). But the 28-year-old rookie turned heads with his first and only appearance with the Rays this season, striking out 7 and earning the win in a 4 inning relief appearance against Baltimore on August 17. Now an Oriole himself, he surrendered just 1 run in 4 2/3 innings yesterday.

Worth the wait: On August 26, Ervin Santana recorded his 150th career win. He had been sitting at 149 since September 23, 2017.

Even 150 wins is tough these days: The 150-win club isn’t particularly exclusive, with 266 total members. The next-closest active pitcher? Johnny Cueto, with 135 victories.

Another call for Khalil? Outfielder Khalil Lee, a former top prospect acquired by the Mets in February, had just 1 hit in 18 at-bats in his first try with New York. But it might be worth giving him another shot—with Triple A Syracuse this year, his on-base percentage is .442, the 4th-best mark in the International League (it will always be the International League to me!).

Hat tip to a former Met (prospect): And guess who’s leading the Interna …okay, okay … Triple-A East in home runs? Former Mets third base prospect Aderlin Rodriguez, who played in their system from 2009 to 2015. Playing in the Tigers chain, he has 25 dingers this year, as well as a .304 average, with Toledo. Should he reach the majors, which he has yet to do, it will have been a long, winding path that took him through five big league systems and over to Japan.

Rob Deer hit .220 with 230 home runs in his career. (Wikipedia).

It’s a modern trend: Before 2010, only three players had ever had 20 or more home runs in a season in which they batted .200 or worse: Rob Deer (1991, 25 HR, .179 BA), Ruben Rivera (1999, 23, .195) and Mark McGwire (2001, 29, .187). From 2010 on, it’s happened 12 times—by Mark Reynolds twice.

Pettitte was a workhorse: Andy Pettitte has had trouble gaining traction on the Hall of Fame ballot. But say what you will about him, he was a workhorse, tossing 175 or more innings fourteen times. No active pitcher has done that, with Justin Verlander the closest at 13 instances. Only five pitchers who debuted after 1990 managed it that many times—Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, C.C. Sabathia, Mike Mussina and, most surprisingly, Livan Hernandez.

Relief pitchers can’t hit—oh, wait: On July 19, 1955, Tigers relief pitcher Babe Birrer clobbered two home runs against the Baltimore Orioles. Both were three run shots, giving him 6 RBI on the day. They represented 2 of his 7 career hits and all 6 of his ribbies. A few years later, in 1958, he hit .571 (4-for-7).

Ryan Madson owns two World Series rings. (Wikipedia).

Not easy to guess: Mariano Rivera holds the record for most postseason appearances, with 96. It makes sense—he pitched during the Yankees’ glory years, when they were making the playoffs time and again. Who pitched the second-most games in playoff history? It was Ryan Madson, with 57 (mostly for the Phillies) from 2003 to 2018.

No 300 game winners: No pitcher who debuted in the 1990s won 300 games—Mike Mussina, who arrived in 1991, came the closest with 270. Likewise, the 1950s did not produce any future 300 game winners. 1959 debut Jim Kaat was the closest, with 283 victories. The ‘70s were devoid of such hurlers, as well, with 287-game winner Bert Blyleven, who debuted in 1970, narrowly missing the mark.

Who needs strikeouts: The last pitcher to win at least 20 games in a season with less than 100 strikeouts was Bill Gullickson in 1991. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers that year, he went 20-9 with just 91 Ks. It’s actually rarer for a pitcher to lose 20 games without 100 Ks—since 1950, that’s happened just six times, with the most recent instance being Mike Maroth in 2003 (21 L, 87 K). Twenty-plus victories and fewer than 100 Ks has happened 14 times since 1950.

How’d he win so many? In 1929, the Negro league New York Lincoln Giants’ Connie Rector led the league in earned runs, home runs allowed and hit by pitches. He surrendered more hits than innings pitched and walked more batters than he struck out. He also went 18-1, leading the league in victories and winning percentage. He accounted for nearly half his team’s 40 wins.

That’s a lot of games: The single-season professional record for most games played, as far as we know, belongs to William Devereaux. Playing for the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks in 1904, he appeared in 228. In 777 at-bats, he collected 180 hits for a .232 average.

Not X-actly easy:  Major league baseball has never had a player with a surname beginning with the letter X, and it looks like they won’t for a while. There are no active minor leaguers with such a name.

Aroldis Chapman saves 300th game.

Aroldis Chapman‘s 300th save ties him with Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter and Jason Isringhausen for 29th all-time. (Wikipedia).

In this whirlwind season of milestones, with Miguel Cabrera walloping his 500th home run and nearing 3,000 hits, with Max Scherzer nearing 3,000 Ks and Jon Lester drawing closer and closer to 200 wins, a pretty incredible feat slipped by and I didn’t even note it.

On August 26, fireballing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman earned his 300th career save.

Against the Athletics that night, with less than 9,000 fans in attendance, Chapman faced four batters and, after a few hiccups, managed to sit the necessary three of them down to preserve a 7-6 victory.

Number nine hitter Elvis Andrus flew out to start the bottom of the ninth inning, then Mark Canha whiffed. How apropos, Chapman K-ing someone in this historic game. Starling Marte singled, then stole second. It became a little dicey, as Matt Olson, a Most Valuable Player candidate, was the next man up. No worries, he grounded out to second base.

The crowd thundered uproariously at Chapman’s majestic feat—in his dreams that night, I imagine—as he joined a club of now 31 men, headed by the likes of Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

It was a milestone that Chapman seemed almost destined to reach from the day he defected from Cuba in 2009. As far as defections go, it was pretty bland. Playing in the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands, he walked out the front door of his team’s hotel into a waiting car—and away he went.

Hardly an unknown, he had wowed the baseball world during his years under communist rule and fetched a pretty penny once major league teams came knocking. The Reds inked him to a contract worth more than $30 million; his bonuses alone totaled more than $10 million.

And from there, it was gravy. Before even playing a professional game, Baseball America ranked him the sport’s 22nd-best prospect going into the 2010 season. The Reds sent him straight to Triple A—as a starter—and he responded by striking out 125 batters in 95 2/3 innings. By year’s end, he was in the majors as a reliever, striking out 19 batters in 13 1/3 frames.

Going into 2011, Baseball America elevated him to #7 on their top prospects list—ahead of Manny Machado, Chris Sale, Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado and fellow future star finisher Craig Kimbrel.  

With Francisco Cordero holding down the closer’s job, Chapman made 54 relief appearances in 2011, surrendering just 24 hits and striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings. That K rate would be his lowest total until 2017.

On April 11, he threw a pitch of 106 miles per hour. Aroldis Chapman had arrived.

Seizing the closing role in 2012, Chapman embarked on a—dare I say—legendary run that lasted until 2016. Saving 181 games, he had a 1.84 ERA and 217 ERA+ in those five years. In 313 2/3 innings, he allowed just 168 hits—and had 546 strikeouts. That’s 15.7 per nine innings. In 2014 alone, he averaged nearly two per frame. He was an All-Star each year from 2012 to 2015; in 2012, he finished 8th in Cy Young voting and earned MVP support.

2015 was his final season with Cincinnati. On December 28, they traded him to the Yankees for infielder Eric Jagielo (never reached the majors), pitcher Caleb Cotham (7.40 ERA with the Reds), pitcher Rookie Davis (8.63 ERA with the Reds) and utilityman Tony Renda (.183 average with the Reds).

Cincinnati has been around since the dawn of major league baseball; that still has to be one of the worst trades they ever made.

He wasn’t long for New York, spending about half a season there before being shipped to the Cubs on July 25 to help in Chicago’s playoff push and eventual World Series run. And boy did he help—in 28 regular season games, he had a 1.01 ERA and 418 ERA+, then he had 22 Ks in 15 2/3 postseason innings.

The Yankees re-signed Chapman on December 15, 2016, thereby recouping their losses from the trade to Chicago (with infielder Gleyber Torres to show for it, as well, as he was part of the initial deal).

Since rejoining New York, Chapman has stepped down from superhuman to merely superb. Admittedly, his numbers have taken a dip.

But it’s kind of like a fire dropping from 10,000 degrees to 8,000 degrees—it’s still really freakin’ hot.

From 2017 to 2020, he posted a 2.64 ERA and a 168 ERA+, making two more All-Star teams and averaging over 14 strikeouts per nine innings.

Even this year, with his walk rate double what it was in 2020 and his ERA sitting at 3.77, his numbers are still downright killer. 15.1 K/9 IP. 6.3 H/9 IP. Through May 21—that’s 18 games—he hadn’t allowed a single run. He was stung by three particularly abhorrent appearances, two of which he surrendered 4 and 3 runs, respectively, without recording a single out. Since his last bad showing on July 6, his ERA is 1.88. Remove those three appearances, in which he allowed a combined 11 earned runs in 1/3 of an inning, and his season mark is 1.48.

And it is his hot pitching, not just for most of this year but for his whole career, that has gotten Chapman to the 300 save mark.

He joins a club that now has 31 members—one less than the 3,000 hit club, just three more than the 500 home run club, and seven more than the 300 win club.

But it’s not as illustrious as it sounds. The evolution of the game was such that the conditions for 300-save closers to even exist didn’t begin coalescing until the late 1970s and early 1980s.

So, once every season or two, a new member is added. Kenley Jansen joined in 2019, Craig Kimbrel in 2018, Fernando Rodney in 2017.

While the other clubs are represented by only the very best, Chapman’s less distinguished group contains among the legends and the greats some goods, some decents, a couple mediocres.

Yes, Chapman now stands among Rivera and Hoffman, Fingers and Gossage and Sutter, Wilhelm and Eckersley and Smith. But right there with him, as well, are Jason Isringhausen and Jose Mesa, Todd Jones and his former teammate, Francisco Cordero.

But Chapman is no Isringhausen.

When all is said and done, his face might be carved into a plaque hanging in Cooperstown. He has a way to go—it’s hard to get behind someone with less than 600 career innings pitched—but if he keeps throwing gas and closing games and K-ing batters at rates we might never see again, who knows.

Chapman, that flamethrowing kid who walked out of a hotel into superstardom, might one day, after he retires, get to hear his name called once more.

Not to the mound, but to the Hall of Fame.

***

Chapman might be the last man to reach 300 saves for a few years. Mark Melancon is the next closest at 239, but he is 36 and coming off a decent but underwhelming 2017-2020 run. Joakim Soria (229) and Greg Holland (219) haven’t managed a 20 save season since 2015 and 2017, respectively, so their chances are slim. Edwin Diaz is fourth-closest at 167, and though he’s just 27, he’s been wildly inconsistent since his breakout 2018 campaign. Who knows what the future holds for him.

The next closest are Zach Britton (154 saves), Alex Colome (147), John Axford (144), Wade Davis (141), David Robertson (137) and Sergio Romo (135).