Hey, you don’t belong there! The unexpected members of two elite clubs.

Willie Mays led the league in stolen bases four times and home runs thrice. (Wikipedia).

In baseball, a player can get by with just one standout offensive skill. Dave Kingman hit lots of home runs … and didn’t do much else. Juan Pierre stole a lot of bases … and that was about it.

So when a man combines multiple talents into one package, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Power-speed guys aren’t necessarily hard to come by. There have been 431 instances of a player hitting at least 20 home runs and stealing at least 20 bases in a season, and quite a few men have racked up substantial career totals in both categories. Though later known primarily as a slugger, Barry Bonds was the best at doing it, stealing 514 bags to complement his 762 home runs.

In fact, many players remembered as home run hitters were multi-skilled athletes, with the likes of Hank Aaron stealing 240 bases, Willie Mays swiping 338 and Sammy Sosa pilfering 234.

Frank Robinson. Gary Sheffield. Reggie Jackson. All speedsters at one point in their careers.

But to manage a truly substantial total of each statistic, that’s difficult. Only eight players have reached 300 home runs and 300 steals, for example. Try to name them.

Let’s start with the easy ones: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez (696 HR, 329 SB) and Willie Mays (660 HR, 338 SB) did it. But then it gets a little more challenging. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson (438 HR, 314 SB) got there, and so did future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran (435 HR, 312 SB).

Bobby Bonds, Barry’s dad, had 332 home runs and 461 steals, and is one of just two members with more swipes than dingers. Okay, so it’s getting tougher.

Now for the last two. If anyone illustrates why being a member of an illustrious group is not a surefire indicator of Hall of Fame worthiness, it is them.

Steve Finley only had one 20-20 season. (Wikipedia).

Steve Finley was a speedster early in his career, swiping 136 bases before ever hitting 10 home runs in a season. From 1996 to the end of his career, he found his power stroke and pulled off six 25 home run campaigns to just one 20-steal season.

Three hundred home runs was never a given, even after he became a slugger, and he only got there by dragging his career into his 40s and smacking 7 homers over his final two campaigns. He finished with 304 home runs and 320 steals.

*An argument for Cooperstown could reasonably be made for Steve Finley, and his being a member of the 300-300 club would be a major part of it. For most it would be tenuous at best, though those with a “big Hall” mentality might be swayed.

And then there’s Reggie Sanders. Never a star and a name largely forgotten today, he had less than 1,700 hits, made just one All-Star team, and received nary a vote in his one try on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Granted, he rattled off nearly 15 seasons of impressive consistency.

Though he hit 30-plus home runs and stole 30 or more bases just twice each, he crawled his way into the 300-300 club by hitting no less than 11 home runs and swiping no fewer than 14 bags per season from 1992 to 2005. He had four 20-20 seasons but, interestingly, never led the league in power-speed number.

More so than career HR-SB clubs, those of the single season variety get a bit more attention. The 40-40 club is known for its rarity, having been established by Jose Canseco in 1988 and since joined by Barry Bonds (1996, 42 HR, 40 SB), Alex Rodriguez (1998, 42, 46) and Alfonso Soriano (2006, 46, 41).

The 30-30 club has 41 members; it is to power and speed what 50 dingers is to home runs. It’s the hallmark of an excellent season. (40-40, then, could be considered analogous to a 60 home run campaign).

Then there’s the 50-20 club. It’s as rare as its 40-40 counterpart but receives no press.

It has four members:

In 1955, Willie Mays smashed 51 home runs and totaled 382 bases to lead the league in both categories. He added 24 stolen bases—one of his lowest totals at that point in his career—and finished fourth in Most Valuable Player voting.

From 1997 to 1999, Ken Griffey Jr. was the yearly home run champion. In 1997, he socked 56 and in 1998, he walloped the same amount—and swiped exactly 20 bases.  Welcome aboard, Ken. Like Mays, he was fourth in MVP balloting, one year after winning the award. He nearly joined the 50-20 club again in 1999, falling just two home runs short.

And in 2007—how can anyone forget this historic campaign?—Alex Rodriguez launched 54 dingers and stole 24 bases, pacing the loop in home runs, runs scored (143), RBI (156), slugging (.645), OPS (1.067), OPS+ (176) and total bases (376) to bring the MVP home. In one of the most sparkling careers in big league history, it was perhaps Rodriguez’s greatest showing.

And that should be all of ‘em—hold on, 1-2-3- … we’re missing one here.

Oh, wait a minute, who let this guy in?

In 1996, Brady Anderson joined the fraternity when he hit 50 home runs and stole 21 bases in one of the most unexpected seasons ever. Give credit where it is due, Anderson had a great year. A career year. About a quarter of the home runs he hit in his 15 seasons were mashed in ’96 alone.

But it wasn’t a season for the ages. Mays, Griffey, Rodriguez—their campaigns were for the record books. Anderson’s, well, hey, he joined the 50 home run club and stole a bunch of bases. That’s cool.

While the other members led the league in at least one major category, Anderson paced the loop in … hit by pitches.

While the other guys scored and drove in at least 120 runs, Anderson’s totals were 117 and 110, respectively, a bit more pedestrian.

Rodriguez and Griffey each won a Silver Slugger. Mays and Griffey each finished fourth in MVP voting; Rodriguez won the dang thing.

Anderson finished ninth.

For three of the four men, the feat was a cherry on top of a Hall of Fame-quality career. For Anderson, it was an interesting historical footnote.

But that’s the way it goes. Unless a club is itself a marker of greatness—500 home runs, 3,000 hits, 300 wins—it often, if not usually, has at least one member that’s a head scratcher, one that does not quite belong. Even the 40-40 club has Soriano, who, though excellent, was no Bonds, or Rodriguez, or even Canseco.

Baseball, ain’t it grand. It allows a man to rank among a pantheon of greats—even when he, himself, is but a mere mortal.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 26, 2021.

The Mayor of Ding Dong City. (Wikipedia).

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.

Hughie Jennings was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945. (Wikipedia).

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.

Mark Trumbo hit 218 home runs in his career. (Wikipedia).

Counting is tough: Hey Mets fans, remember when Benny Agbayani forgot the number of outs?

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).

Studs and duds: August 19 – August 25

Whit Merrifield leads the American League in stolen bases since he debuted in 2016. (Wikipedia).

Offensive stud: Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals). Merrifield has been cranking this past week, hitting .364 with 7 runs scored, 8 RBI and 3 stolen bases in 33 at-bats. Though he’s not much of slugger, he clobbered a grand slam last night against the Astros and is slugging .576 since August 19. An All-Star for the second time this season, Merrifield has compiled his share of black ink in a short, six-year career. He’s leading the league in games, at-bats and stolen bases this year and led each category twice before. He has also led the league in hits twice and triples once—not bad for a guy who didn’t debut until he was 27.

Honorable mention: Ty France (3B Mariners; .423 BA, .923 SLG, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R).

Offensive dud: Jose Barrero (SS, Reds). Having jumped from Single A to the majors in 2020, Barrero struggled in his first big league go-round by batting .194 in 24 games. Take two hasn’t been much better, as the 23-year-old has just 2 hits in 9 at-bats this year. Over the past week, he’s gone 0-for-5 with 2 strikeouts and an error, but there is good news: He batted .303/.378/.532 in the minors this year, including a .305/.389/.584 line in 40 games at Triple A. Barrero was formerly Jose Garcia, but changed his name in May in honor of his mother, who passed away.

Dishonorable mention: Isan Diaz (2B, Marlins; 1-for-14, 8 K).

Robbie Ray averaged 209 strikeouts per year from 2016 to 2019, with a high of 235 in 2019. (Wikipedia).

Pitching stud: Robbie Ray (SP, Blue Jays). Ray is leading the American League with 192 strikeouts this season, and is second in the majors behind Zack Wheeler’s 204. And if his last two starts are any indication, it is easy to see why. On August 20, he Ked 11 Tigers in 8 innings, then, on August 25, he added 14 more strikeouts to his ledger in 7 innings against the White Sox. That’s 25 Ks in 15 innings, to go along with a 1.20 ERA and just 1 walk allowed over the past week. After starting his season with a 3.81 mark through May, Ray has been lights-out since—from June 1 on, he is 7-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 16 starts. In 100 1/3 innings, he has 132 Ks to just 25 walks and 73 hits allowed. He’s in the running for the Cy Young Award according to ESPN’s Cy Predictor. It’ll be hard to ignore him if he keeps pitching like this.

Honorable mention: Walker Buehler (SP, Dodgers; 2-0 W-L, 14 1/3 IP, 16 K, 1 BB, 1.26 ERA, .173 OBA).

Pitching dud: Noe Ramirez (RP, Diamondbacks). The issue with guys who are struggling is teams find it difficult to play them, so it is hard for them to recover and pull themselves away from this inglorious dishonor. And so it goes for Noe Ramirez, who—for the third straight day—is the Pitching Dud. Nothing has changed about his line from days past, but, at the same time, no one has performed any worse. Upon seeing he was named Dud of the Week yet again, I can only assume he responded with one thing: Oh noe.

Dishonorable mention: Jake Petricka (RP, Angels; 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 ER, 1 BSV, 54.00 ERA).

Fly-by-nighters: Relievers who had one great season, part three—Jim Austin.

Jim Austin pitched three seasons, posting a 3.06 ERA in 83 games. (Wikipedia).

You’ve probably never heard of Jim Austin or, if you have, he’s a memory deep in the back of your mind, a name you vaguely recall but are not sure where from.

That’s reasonable. He spent just three seasons in the majors in the early 1990s, playing for the Brewers—a team bouncing between mediocrity, excellence, and being downright awful—from 1991 to 1993.

His first season, he pitched just five games, walking 11 batters in 8 2/3 innings. His last, he threw just 33 frames, posting a 3.82 ERA. A fair mark, but not one to turn any heads.

In the minors, back when he was a Padres farmhand, he was a decent pitcher, but gave San Diego no reason to expedite him to the majors. In his first professional season, 1986, he had a 2.26 ERA. The next year, he threw 20 wild pitches.

Traded to Milwaukee in February 1989, he flubbed his first year in their system, but tore up Double A in 1990, going 11-3 with a 2.44 ERA. At Triple A in 1991, his mark was 2.45 in 44 innings. On Independence Day he made his debut; a couple weeks later, he was back in the minors.

The 1992 Brewers featured a few excellent performances by relievers who otherwise underwhelmed in their careers. Mike Fetters had a 1.87 ERA in 50 games; he had a career mark of 3.86.  Darren Holmes had a 2.55 mark in 41 games; for his career, he had a 4.25 ERA.

Austin did his part, too. In 58 1/3 innings over 47 games, he went 5-2 with a 1.85 ERA, allowing just 38 hits. Behind Cal Eldred’s 1.79, his ERA was the best on the team. He rarely surrendered the longball, just 0.3 per nine innings.

It was the type of season that any team hoping to compete would ask for. Every cog who could perform to that level, no matter how unknown, would be fostered and utilized, because individual success breeds a successful whole.

Austin helped the Brewers win 92 games that year.

But his WHIP, that’s walks and hits allowed per inning pitched, was alarmingly high at 1.200. Though he allowed just 5.9 hits per nine innings, he also walked about that many. In fact, he had more walks than strikeouts, 32 to 30.

An issue though that might’ve been, the Brewers put him in their bullpen for 1993 and, after a rough patch early on, he finished the season with a 2.45 ERA over his final 29 games. The baseball encyclopedias, nevertheless, show his mark rose nearly two points over the year before.

But whatever momentum Austin had, it was forced to a halt by that killer of so many major league careers, an arm injury. He pitched his final game for the Brewers on July 20, 1993.

And didn’t play at all in 1994. He pitched three innings in the Indians system in 1995, allowing four earned runs. He made 10 appearances in the Red Sox system in 1996 and had a 9.00 ERA.

After spending 1997 in Mexico and Taiwan—where he did well, with a 3.04 mark in 77 innings—his professional career was over.

He’s an interesting bit of trivia, Jim Austin is. Who owns the shortest career of any pitcher with an ERA below 2 in his second season, minimum 40 games pitched?

Someone might guess 1870s star Jim Devlin, who won 72 games in three seasons before being banned for gambling. But he spent a few years as a first baseman before taking the mound.

Jim Austin, that’s the answer.

Maybe you’ll remember him now.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 25, 2021.

Just needed a year away: Mariners pitcher Chris Flexen disappointed with the Mets from 2017 to 2019, going 3-11 with an 8.07 ERA. In 68 innings, he allowed 91 hits and 54 walks, while striking out just 49 batters. After a year in Korea in which he went 8-4 with a 3.01 ERA and 10.2 K/9 IP in 21 starts, he returned to the majors this year and is a whole new man. With Seattle, he is 11-5 with a 3.54 mark in 24 starts. (I’m also aware I could have worked a “Flexen/Flexin’” pun in there somewhere).

Baseball America ranked Jorge Alfaro the 41st-best prospect going into 2017. (Wikipedia).

Take what you can get: Marlins fans have little to celebrate this year; catcher Jorge Alfaro included. Until recently. Over the past month, he’s hitting .284 with 7 doubles and 10  RBI, bringing his season average up over 20 points from .214 on July 23. It’s about time he starts paying off—the Marlins traded All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies for him.

Name checks out: Rays reliever Shawn Armstrong hasn’t had much to brag about this year, posting an 8.55 ERA during his time with the Orioles and a 7.20 ERA overall. Since being purchased by Tampa Bay, however, his fortunes have changed: In 3 appearances this past week—his first since early June—the hurler has tossed 5 innings, Ked 8 batters and posted a 1.80 ERA. Through mid-May, he had a season ERA over 10.

Garcia’s got it: Cardinals relief pitcher Luis Garcia, who is one of those guys you don’t realize has been around nearly a decade, is pitching just as well now as he ever did. Like Armstrong, his campaign started off poorly—not making his season debut until July 9, he had an ERA over 10 through his first 5 games. Since July 28, he hasn’t allowed a single run in 15 1/3 innings, surrendering just 1 walk and 7 hits. Hitters have batted an anemic .135/.151/.173 during that stretch. He had an All-Star quality campaign in 2017, when he posted a 2.66 ERA and 163 ERA+ in 66 appearances for Philadelphia.

Rookie of the Week? Over the past seven days, Royals rookie third baseman Emmanuel Rivera has slashed .353/.450/.588 with 5 runs. It’s a tidy line for the 25-year-old, who also slugged his first career home run, a solo shot off Cubs pitcher Zach Davies. Rivera was drafted by Kansas City in 2015 and had a good year with Single A Lexington in 2017, hitting 12 home runs, 27 doubles and driving 72 runs home.

Bernie Williams lasted two years on the Hall of Fame ballot. (Wikipedia).

Bernie better than we thought: For seven years, Bernie Williams was incredible. From 1995 to 2002, he slashed .321/.406/.531, while averaging 24 home runs, 102 RBI and 105 runs scored per campaign. From 1993 to 2006, he averaged 156 hits, 20 home runs and 92 runs scored per season, while batting an even .300; he had double digit home runs each year and reached 100 runs and RBI eight and five times, respectively. He was no slouch in the postseason, hitting 22 home runs with 80 RBI in 465 at-bats; he batted .321 in 162 ALCS ABs, winning the Series MVP in 1996. It’s unlikely he’ll be elected any time soon, but Williams wouldn’t hurt the Hall of Fame if he got in.

Off to a great start: Relief pitcher Indigo Diaz was drafted by the Braves in the 27th round in 2019 and is in his first full professional season this year. He’s already making a name for himself. In 40 innings over 29 appearances, he has allowed just 16 hits and struck out 77 batters—that’s 17.3 per nine innings. He averaged exactly 2 per frame at Single A; in 11 games at Double A, he has a 0.00 ERA. His mark is 0.68 overall.

Give him a call: With Rhode Island College this year, pitcher Shaun Gamelin struck out 42 batters in 18 2/3 innings—that’s more than 20 per nine frames — then he went to play summer ball with the New England Collegiate League’s Ocean State Waves … and had 32 Ks in 15 innings. In case you’re counting, that’s 74 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings overall, or 19.8 per nine frames, or more than two per inning, on average. In 2020, he had 7 strikeouts in 3 innings and in 2019, 64 strikeouts in 37 innings between two teams. The 5’ 9” hurler never played for baseball powerhouses—his schools, Rhode Island College and Fitchburg State University have produced just one major leaguer (Jim Siwy) between them—and he went undrafted, but a big league club better give him a call. I think they’re missing out.

Welcome to the century club: George Elder, an outfielder who spent 41 games with the St. Louis Browns in 1949, turned 100 on March 10. He’s not even the oldest living former big leaguer—Eddie Robinson, who played from 1942 to 1957, was born a few months earlier and will be turning 101 in December.

The fading ‘40s: Just ten men who played in the 1940s are still alive: Eddie Robinson (debuted in 1942), Chris Haughey (1943), Eddie Basinski (1944), Tommy Brown (1944), Curt Simmons (1947), Carl Erskine (1948), Larry Miggins (1948), Cloyd Boyer (1949), George Elder (1949) and Bobby Shantz (1949). Some are so obscure, they might have already passed away and the news just never reached the public.

Just four remain: The St. Louis Browns, the precursors to the Baltimore Orioles, have just four living representatives: George Elder, Billy Hunter, Ed Mickelson and Frank Saucier. The youngest, Hunter, was born in 1928.

Let’s just call him by his nickname, Salty. (Wikipedia).

Saltala—what? Ever wonder what former catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s last name actually means? It’s Italian for “jump over” (salta) “the thicket” (la macchia). La macchia also translates to “the spot.” At 14 characters, his surname is the longest ever; fifteen men had surnames of 13 characters—relatively modern names like Todd Hollandsworth, Tim Spooneybarger and John Van Benschoten among them.

Noe what that means: There’s been two Noes in big league history, pitcher Noe Ramirez and catcher Noe Munoz. It’s not a common name, but it derives from one. Its root is noach—whence Noah arises—which is Hebrew and means rest or comfort.

Not a one at-bat wonder: Speaking of Noe Munoz—he spent just two years in affiliated baseball, playing in the Dodgers system in 1994 and 1995, and had just one big league at-bat. He went hitless. Returning to the Mexican League, he played another 19 years there, giving him a career total of 25 seasons. He played until he was 46.

You got the wrong guy: Joe Torre played professionally on-and-off from 2012 to 2020. Oh, not that one. This Joe Torre, an infielder, played 28 games over four seasons in some obscure independent leagues—the Pacific Association, the Pecos League and the one-off Yinzer Baseball Academy—and hit just .152 … just a bit short of his namesake. And who can forget reliever Mike Piazza, no relation to the Hall of Fame catcher, who played in the minors from 2009 to 2014.

Desperate times: With coronavirus upending the baseball world in 2020—seasons were shortened and, frequently, cancelled—a bunch of new independent circuits cropped up to give guys a place to play and leagues for established teams to join. Among them were the Liberation League (which featured teams like the California Dogecoin), the City of Champions Cup (with teams like the Nerd Herd), the All-American Baseball Challenge, the Constellation Energy League and the aforementioned Yinzer Baseball Academy.

Studs and duds: August 18 – August 24

Offensive stud: Ty France (3B, Mariners). France retains his title after adding another hit to his ledger yesterday and extending what is now a seven-game hitting streak. During the past week, he’s hit .400 with 4 home runs, 7 RBI and 7 runs scored, while slugging .833. He hammered out two 3 hit performances in a row, on August 19 and August 20 against Houston and Texas, respectively. He’s had 3-plus hits 11 times this season.

Honorable mention: Tyler Naquin (CF, Reds; .500/.542/1.273, 4 HR, 4 RBI, 9 R). He’s riding a 13-game hitting streak.

Palacios batted .330 his first pro season. (Wikipedia).

Offensive dud: Jahmai Jones (2B, Orioles). After hitting .429 in a 3-game cup of coffee last season, Jones returned to the big leagues with a thud this year to the tune of an 0-for-4 performance with 3 strikeouts and an error his first game back. The middle infielder, the Angels’ second round pick in 2015, is in his first season in the Orioles system after being traded to Baltimore in February for pitcher Alex Cobb. Though he has speed on the basepaths, he’s not much of hitter, sporting a .257 average over six minor league campaigns.

Dishonorable mention: Josh Palacios (OF, Blue Jays; 0-for-4, 4 K).

Pitching stud: Charlie Morton (SP, Braves). Morton’s line has been pretty middling his past couple starts—in 11 innings, he has a 4.91 ERA, and he took a loss. But he also struck out 18 batters, close to two per frame, on average, allowed just one walk and batters hit .214 against him. And despite his recent elevated ERA, his mark is still just 3.17 since the start of June. Morton, who leads the National League in games started, has struck out 173 batters and surrendered just 112 hits in 145 innings this year.

Flexen had an 8.07 ERA from 2017 to 2019. After a year in Korea, it’s down to 3.54 this year. (Wikipedia).

Honorable mention: Chris Flexen (SP; Mariners; 2-0, 13 2/3 IP, 1.32 ERA, .204 OBA). A few more Ks and he would’ve been the stud.

Dishonorable mention: Noe Ramirez (RP, Diamondbacks). Ramirez retains his title after allowing 3 earned runs on 4 walks and 2 hits over his past three appearances. Opposing hitters managed a .462 on-base percentage, .556 slugging and 1.017 OPS against him; Garrett Hampson, hitting .240 with a .384 slugging mark, clobbered a home run off him. In his most recent showing, he threw less than half his pitches for strikes. Arizona lost each of the games in which he pitched—no surprise.

Dishonorable mention: Alex Colome (RP, Twins; 1 G, 1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 18.00 ERA, 1 BSV).

Article from the archives: Lastings Milledge—From Mets top prospect to wash-up in Japan.

Lastings Milledge was a top prospect in the New York Mets system who spent 433 underwhelming games in the major leagues. In an attempt to resuscitate his career, he signed to play in Japan following the 2011 season. This article is from that time.

***

Milledge batted .257 in two years with New York. (Wikipedia).

How many times have New York Mets fans heard this one before? “He’s a can’t-miss top prospect.”

Or this: “He’s a true five-tool player.”

Or how about, “Expect to see him in the starting lineup for a long time.”

Such anti-prophetic words are often spewed by sources in the know or blogosphere pundits throughout the whole of Mets nation. And such words so very often end up being completely untrue.

Such is the case of Lastings Darnell Milledge, who but a half-decade ago went from being the Mets star outfielder of the future to an arrogant kid with a ‘tude who strikes out too much, walks too little and who cannot quite handle that breaking pitch.

Oh, how highly touted he was! Baseball America ranked him the 86th-best prospect in all of baseball before the 2004 season, when the 19-year-old young man had just seven professional games under his belt.

Then, after hitting home runs like Piazza and stealing bases like Cedeno and hitting for average like Olerud that year, his stock soared higher and he was ranked the 11th-greatest blue chip in all the land for 2005—a mighty honor for one who was not yet legally able to drink!

And it just kept getting better for the baseball wunderkind, who had legs like a gazelle and arms like Paul Bunyan and eyes like a hawk. He hit for average, and oh, how he hit! He walloped home runs, and oh, how they flew! He stole base after base after base, and oh! Not even the greatest of diamond thieves could manage the thefts he managed on an almost daily basis!

Lastings Milledge was a true five-tool player, a consummate superstar in the making. After an incredible, even superhuman 2005, Baseball America named the future Willie Mays the ninth—yes, the ninth—best prospect anywhere in the nation, from sea to shining sea.

He had accomplished all his amazing feats year after year playing at levels beyond his age. It’s not often a youngster of such incredible skill graces the presence of Double-A, and it is even rarer for a 21-year-old kid—yes, a kid—to start a season at Triple-A, the highest level of professional baseball below the major leagues.

And yet, that is exactly what Milledge did in 2006. This phenom was, after all, one of the best players in the minor leagues—Baseball America said so. He was, after all, compared to major leaguers like Adam Dunn and the Mets’ own David Wright, when both players were veritable superstars themselves.

His impending superstardom, however, would not be so easily reached.

Milledge’s best season was with Washington in 2008. He had 14 home runs and 24 steals. (Wikipedia).

He began the season at Triple-A and, to the complete shock of those following him, had hiccups along the way. It’s OK, we all thought—even the mighty Ruth wavered now and then—he is after all (gulp) human.

Lastings Milledge—merely human? Perish the thought! This lad was the Mets saving grace, it was he who would lead them to World Series victory after World Series victory, toppling the Yankees and Red Sox and whoever the American League would so foolishly throw in their way.

And yet his batting average was merely normal, his power just pedestrian and, perhaps a new eye prescription was needed, but it seemed as if, by the looks of things, he had lost a step, or a half a step, or just an eighth of a step on the basepaths.

But lo, it couldn’t be!

He was the ninth best player in the minor leagues! The trek to glory and fame and unrelenting stardom would not be interrupted by this, this mere aberration of a minor league performance!

And so, on May 30, 2006, the boy they called Lastings arrived at the major league stage.

And he tanked.

Oh, how glorious his first six games had been—the boy-man among man-boys hit .316, including a home run that tied a match against those most hated of foes, the San Francisco Giants.

After his heroic feat, the lad merely answered the call that had beckoned so many budding stars in the past. He had made his mark on the major leagues, and the ballpark denizens loudly, joyfully acknowledged their new favorite player, this new face of a most wonderful of chapters in Mets history.

He merely wished to acknowledge those who acknowledged him, he only desired to extend his hand to the mortals whom he held captive, entranced. It was a truly humanitarian gesture, those high-fives he delivered to the men, women and children in the front row, this god among men interacting with those of such a lower caste than he.

But while the fans wanted his hand, the Giants manager—and some of the press—wanted his head. How could such a thing be? But it was so.

Apparently, the youngster in his eagerness to please those for whom he played, had broken one or two or many unwritten baseball rules. He had exhibited a purported arrogance, a supposed hubris, and the Giants manager did not take kindly to it. At all.

Perhaps it was the fallout from his incident against the Giants that spelled his doom, or perhaps he was called up too soon, but Lastings Milledge never quite performed as well as he did for the Mets in those first six games.

No, from then on, the initiate from Florida hit a meager .231 with an on-base percentage of only .305 and a slugging percentage of .359. The hero, the quick and powerful and everything wonderful hero, had fallen, but not completely.

2007 was a whole new year. The mighty Milledge had taken some knocks during his first sojourn in the majors, and his minor league record was standard, but he was still Lastings Milledge—the kid who just last season was the ninth best prospect in all of baseball.

Ever considered a comeback? Milledge is still only 36. (Wikipedia).

Such an incredible talent does not just fade away. It may dim, ever so slightly, but it should return to normal.

Milledge had an offseason to work out the kinks from the previous year. He ironed out the wrinkles, he became acclimated with major league culture, he was ready to take on the big show once and for all. He had to have been—he was Lastings Milledge, after all, right?

Wrong. His statistics were merely pedestrian once again, and even the loving throngs who supported this rising star grew impatient with he who was to deliver so much as he delivered so little.

He flew and slugged his way through the minors, and nothing could get in his way. The restless masses wanted immediate results from this young fellow at the major league level, but he couldn’t deliver. Everything, now, was getting in his way. He was only 22, but his ship, it seemed, had sailed.

Milledge was a brightly-lit bulb, burning too hot for his own good. His tungsten core ripped and tore and so his bulb was no more. He ebbed and dimmed and flickered out, and made the New York faithful shout:

“Lastings Milledge, go away. We want not you here to stay.”

And so, the superstar in the making-turned-pedestrian ballplayer-turned-disappointment was traded away, never again to wear a New York Mets uniform.

He bounced around the major and minor leagues in the seasons to follow, playing most recently for the Chicago White Sox in 2011.

And oh, how the mighty have fallen. The giants have crumbled. The colossuses have tumbled.

Lastings Milledge, he who was to be a cog in the New York Mets outfield for years and years—a name fathers’ children years from now would recognize and revere and remember so fondly—was cast aside by all of Major League Baseball following the 2011 season.

No reasonable offer to play was presented to him. No one on this side of the Pacific Ocean wanted his services.

And so, the former ninth-best prospect in all of baseball, the former speedster who could hit for power and average is now in Japan, just another major league castoff, looking to reclaim what once was and trying anew to become what could have been.

***

In 2012, his first season in Japan, Milledge batted .300; by the time he left in 2015, his mark had fallen each year to a low of .220. He concluded his 15-year professional career in 2017 with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers, still just 32 years old.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 24, 2021.

Travis Shaw was drafted by the Red Sox in 2008 and 2011. (Wikipedia).

Welcome back, Travis: You might not remember, but current Red Sox infielder Travis Shaw once had back-to-back 30-home run seasons with the Brewers in 2017 and 2018. Since then, he’s hit just .191 with 20 dingers in 195 games—but the old Travis might be back. Last night, he slugged a grand slam in just his third game with the Red Sox. It was his first home run since May 25.

Seby watch: Maybe I dig White Sox catcher Seby Zavala because he has such a cool name. Or perhaps it’s because he’s been such a blessing for the White Sox, despite his low batting average. He’s still among the team’s best sluggers over the past month, clobbering 5 home runs with 14 RBI and 13 runs scored. He hit 20 or more home runs twice in the minor leagues.

Don’t discount Ahmed: Despite slugging 19 home runs in 2019, Diamondbacks’ shortstop Nick Ahmed has never done much with the bat—he has a .236 career average, a .221 mark this year and a .205 average over the past month. But Ahmed is a throwback to the days of the defense-first shortstop, when guys like Mark Belanger (.228 career hitter) and Ed Brinkman (.224) could put together 15 or 20 year careers. In eight seasons, Ahmed has two Gold Gloves and his .978 fielding percentage is 23rd-best all-time. And about that offense—he has 8 doubles over the past month, the same as phenom Wander Franco and more than fellow shortstops Brandon Crawford and Jean Segura.

Alexander the Decent: Tigers pitcher Tyler Alexander has been nothing short of decent this year, which isn’t quite a ringing endorsement—however, his past few outings show promise. In his last start on August 20, he went 7 1/3 innings and surrendered just one run; two starts before that, he didn’t let a single runner score over 5 1/3 frames. Though he hasn’t put it altogether yet, he has the tools to be an effective hurler down the line. He averaged only 1.5 walks per nine innings in the minors, and his rate in the big leagues isn’t much worse at 1.8. He averaged nearly a strikeout per frame with the Tigers last year, and nearly 10 K/9 IP at Triple A in 2019. Keep an eye on Alexander.

Deolis back from the dead: Athletics hurler Deolis Guerra is only 32, yet he’s been playing professionally since 2006; he signed his first contract with the Mets in July 2005. He was traded to the Twins with three others for starter Johan Santana in 2008 and is the only member of that trade who’s still playing. He didn’t make his big league debut until 2015 and has variously had season ERAs of 4.68, 6.48, 8.59 and 54.00 since then. But things are looking up. With Oakland this year, he has a mark of 3.71 and, despite averaging just 7.6 per nine innings for his career, he has averaged more than a K per inning since July 1.

Cleveland Indians-era Francisco Lindor might’ve helped get New York track. The current version, not so much. (Wikipedia).

It’s too late: The Mets recently activated star infielders Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez off the disabled list. Slugging utilityman Jose Martinez, who was supposed to help the club off the bench but has missed the whole year to injury, is on a rehab assignment. In the past few games, first baseman Pete Alonso and outfielder Brandon Nimmo are surging. But, I fear, it’s too late for New York, formerly in first place and now under .500, to make a playoff push. Maybe next year.

How’s he still got a job? ERA+ is a weighted measure of a pitcher’s performance that takes things like park factors into account. A mark of 100 is considered average. Tommy Milone, who recently signed with Cincinnati, has posted a mark over 75 only once since 2015.

Homegrown, not store bought: Fans often complain that the Yankees “bought” all their World Series rings in the 1990s and 2000s, that all they did was open their checkbooks and pay whatever they needed to get the best free agents. Well, they didn’t shy away from bringing help on board as needed, but do recall: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez—well-nigh the core of those teams—were all either drafted or initially signed by New York. Not plucked off the free agent market.

Swing and a miss, voters: What do Tim Salmon (299 career home runs), Mark Reynolds (298 HR) and Pat Burrell (292 HR) have in common? They have the most home runs of anyone from the All-Star Game era to never make a team. Salmon was a Rookie of the Year, won a Silver Slugger and once finished seventh in MVP voting, so he’s particularly egregious. Burrell and Reynolds’ best seasons received MVP votes, as well.

Other All Star snubs: Orlando Cabrera owns the most hits of anyone (from the All-Star era) never selected to an All-Star game, with 2,055. Jose Cardenal has the most stolen bases (329), Tony Phillips played the most games (2,161) and Barney McCosky has the best average (.312; min. 3000 PA). For pitchers, Mike Torrez has the most wins (185) and innings (3,043), Gene Garber has the most saves (218), Bobby Witt has the most strikeouts (1,955), Mike Timlin has the most appearances (1,058) and Ron Perranoski has the best ERA (2.79; min. 1,000 IP).

Not a party at this 1,999: Oof, he was that close to reaching a big career milestone. Ian Kinsler finished his career after 2019 with 1,999 hits, just one shy of the tidy 2,000 hit mark. Hall of Fame third baseman Jimmy Collins, who played at the turn of the century, also finished with that many.

Sam Rice batted .322 in 20 seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1963. (Wikipedia).

He had no idea: Another Hall of Famer, outfielder Sam Rice, finished at 2,987 hits, just 13 shy of the big three-zero-zero-zero. This is what he said later on: “The truth of the matter is I did not even know how many hits I had. A couple of years after I quit, Clark Griffith told me about it, and asked me if I’d care to have a comeback with the Senators and pick up those 13 hits. But I was out of shape and didn’t want to go through all that would have been necessary to make the effort. Nowadays, with radio and television announcers spouting records every time a player comes to bat, I would have known about my hits and probably would have stayed to make 3,000 of them.”

Didn’t see clearly: Pitcher Joe Cleary made one career appearance, with the Washington Senators in 1945. Something must have been in his eyes that day, since he couldn’t find the plate and threw a wild pitch. And surrendered 3 walks. And 5 hits. And 7 earned runs. All in one-third of an inning. That gave him a career ERA of 189.00.

What a way to go: In his final season, 1929, Negro leaguer Pythias Russ batted .369 in 64 games for the Chicago American Giants. On August 9, 1930, he died from tuberculosis at just 26 years old.

It’s a big club: According to Baseball Reference, 22,504 players have donned a big league uniform. Per Stathead, 8,897 of them—including pitchers—have hit at least one home run. Over 7,000 have hit two or more, and more than 4,000 have hit at least 10.

Studs and duds: August 17 – August 23

Ty France began his career with San Diego in 2019. (Wikipedia).

This is one of the few times France is a winner.

Offensive stud: Ty France (IF, Mariners). Just a couple days after ending a five-game hitting streak, France started another. This one, so far, is up to six games, giving the slugger a .393 batting average over the past week. Among his 11 hits, he’s tallied 4 home runs and a double; he’s driven 8 runs home and scored 7 himself. In recent months, France has been surging, batting .361 in August, .319 in July and .319 since his season reached its low-point on May 13, when his batting mark dropped to .213. He didn’t make the All-Star team, but it’s been an All-Star recovery for the 26-year-old who was drafted by the Padres way down in the 34th round in 2015. By 2019, he was hitting .399 with 27 home runs at Triple A.

Honorable mention: Christian Yelich (OF, Brewers; .360 BA, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, 1 grand slam).

Offensive dud: Gavin Lux (IF, Dodgers). This is getting boring, Gavin. Can’t you do anything to get yourself out of here? I’m trying to find a reason not to do this to you, but why shouldn’t I put you here when the Dodgers think you’re so bad, they can’t even find a reason to put you on the field?

Dishonorable mention: Rodolfo Castro (IF, Pirates; 1-for-9, 3 K, 1 E).

Pitching stud: Logan Webb (SP, Giant). Webb is back on top again. The 24-year-old tossed 13 1/3 innings over the past seven days, allowing just 3 earned runs for a 2.03 ERA. He had 15 strikeouts to just 2 walks and held batters to a middling .280 on-base percentage. Through his seventh start on May 5, he was 1-3 with a 5.34 ERA; since then, he’s gone 6-0 with a 1.63 ERA. In 66 1/3 frames, he’s Ked 72 batters and they’ve hit just .198 against him. Typically, the script is flipped for Webb—he usually gets off to hot starts before eventually slumping. In 2019, he had a 3.52 ERA in his first three starts, but posted a 6.29 mark the rest of the way. In 2020, he had a 2.81 ERA in his first four appearances and a 6.57 mark over his final nine.

Honorable mention: Vladimir Gutierrez (SP, Reds; 1 W, 2.03 ERA, 15 K, 2 BB, 13 1/3 IP) … a near-identical line to Webb, but Gutierrez also took a loss.

Ramirez was selected off waivers by the Diamondbacks on May 22. (Wikipedia).

Pitching dud: Noe Ramirez (RP, Diamondbacks). On August 20, Ramirez returned to the majors after nearly a month away and it hasn’t been pretty. In 2 1/3 innings over 3 appearances, he’s allowed 4 walks, 2 hits and 3 earned runs for an 11.57 ERA. On August 21, he blew a save. It sullies what once was a decent season, as his ERA was 2.95 as late as July 20. Not anymore—it’s up to 3.92, which is more in line with his career mark of 4.16. Prior to 2021, the Angels traded Ramirez to the Reds for closer Raisel Iglesias, who this year has 27 saves, a league-leading 46 games finished and a K/9 ratio of nearly 14. Cincinnati released Ramirez before the season even began. You can tell who got the better of that deal (especially since Los Angeles later re-signed Ramirez!).

Dishonorable mention: Alex Colome (RP, Twins; 1 G, 1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 18.00 ERA, 1 BSV).

Worst trades in Mets history, #5: Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens for Adam Bostick and Jason Vargas

Lindstrom had 37 saves between 2009 and 2010. (Wikipedia).

Relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom never spent a day in a Mets uniform, so it is fitting that he was involved in a deal for someone who, likewise, never spent a day in a Mets uniform.

On November 20, 2006, the flame-throwing right-hander was sent with pitcher Henry Owens to the Florida Marlins for pitchers Adams Bostick and Jason Vargas.

Red flags surrounded Bostick everywhere. Save for a brief stint with the GCL Marlins in 2001, he had never averaged less than four walks per nine innings in a season. He didn’t surrender many home runs, but he gave up his share of hits—and his ERAs reflected it. He had a 4.91 mark in 2003 and a 4.26 mark in 2001.

Okay, that’s not terrible. Plus, he struck out a lot of batters, K-ing 163 in 114 innings in 2004, alone. To say he didn’t have potential would be an insult to his work—he did, on paper, have skills that could get him to the major leagues.

Except … all his success was in the low-minors. His one trial at Triple A in the Marlins system, in 2006, was underwhelming. He had a 4.67 ERA in 9 starts.

But Triple A is right where the Mets placed him in 2007 and—in typical Mets fashion—he struggled mightily. In 21 games, 20 of which he started, Bostick posted a 5.66 ERA. In 97 innings, he allowed 20 home runs—so much for keeping those to a minimum—and maintained his undesirable walk rate.

Sent to the Arizona Fall League after the season to straighten himself out, he posted a 2.74 ERA in 6 starts, then a 2.77 mark in 3 starts in the Dominican Winter League.

Triple A proved to be too much again, however, as he had a 6.04 ERA in 44 2/3 innings in 2008. Shifted to the bullpen for 2009, he performed well, lowering his ERA to 3.05 and averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings between two clubs.

But it was for naught. The Mets let him walk following the season. He latched on with an independent league team, had a 10.80 ERA in 2010, and his career was over.

Vargas won 86 games away from New York. (Wikipedia).

The deal initiated Vargas’ first tour with New York. Like Bostick, he struggled at Triple A in 2007, with a 4.97 ERA in 24 starts, but still managed a brief stint with the big club. In 10 1/3 innings over two starts, he allowed 14 earned runs on 17 hits and a couple walks for a 12.19 ERA.

But like Bostick, the warning signs were there. In Triple A the year before, he had a 7.43 ERA in 13 appearances. Granted, he came to New York with a higher pedigree—he was a 2nd round pick in 2004 and had ERAs of 2.09 and 2.50 his first two pro campaigns, respectively—but at the time of the trade, he had never done much at the major league level. In 116 2/3 innings with Florida between 2005 and 2006, he had a 5.25 ERA.

On December 11, 2008, the Mets sent him to the Mariners in another clunker of a deal that netted New York relievers J.J. Putz and Sean Green, as well as outfielder Jeremy Reed—failures all.

After bouncing around the American league from 2009 to 2017 as a decent innings-eater, he returned to the Big Apple in 2018 and picked up right where he left off. In his first year back, he was 7-9 with a 5.66 ERA.

Lindstrom, who never pitched above Double A in the Mets system, became a serviceable relief pitcher for nearly a decade. Debuting in the majors in 2007 and armed with a triple-digit fastball, he averaged 68 games per year and posted an ERA of 3.11—and an ERA+ of 140—over his first two seasons. In 2010, with Colorado, he had 23 saves and from 2011 to 2013, he had a 2.95 ERA and 147 ERA+ in 185 games between four clubs. All told, he spent eight years in the big leagues, making 469 appearances.

Owens wasn’t long for the major leagues and is lucky he got there at all—by age 26, he still hadn’t pitched above A ball. He debuted with New York, making a single appearance in 2006.

He shined in his lone year with the Marlins, 2007, allowing no runs in his first seven games and posting a 0.79 ERA in his last 12; in 22 appearances total, he had a 1.96 ERA. A bum shoulder required surgery partway through the year and Owens never played in the majors again.

Between them, Lindstrom and Owens made 491 relief appearances after leaving the Mets, posting a combined ERA of 3.56.

New York received two starts and a 12.19 ERA in return.