Every day, more or less, I get at least two story suggestions from brilliant readers. This is (1) Incredibly awesome and (2) Incredibly frustrating. The awesome part is easy: People send in all sorts of great ideas. It’s funny, I remember when North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams was at Kansas (and I understand he still does this), he would act furious whenever a fan said to him something like: “Have you ever thought of …” It didn’t matter what followed the ellipses either. His face would go blood red, and he would stop the fan short, and he would say something like: “Anything you’ve thought of, we’ve already thought of. It’s our JOB to think of it.” I suspect Roy Williams probably HAS thought of anything anyone might suggest — he’s that obsessed. But, I don’t know: my reaction is quite the opposite. I’m constantly surprised and taken by reader ideas. I hadn’t thought of many of them.
The frustration part is easy too: I just can’t get to ALL the good ideas or MOST of the ideas or even SOME of the ideas. Every now and again, I can get to one. But that’s about it. There just aren’t enough hours … well, you know.
So: Here’s an effort to beat the frustration. I threw a few reader ideas into one blog post.
Idea sparked by Brilliant Reader Curtis …
Kansas City’s Chris Getz has a chance to do something mind-twisting this year. At the moment, Chris Getz is hitting .349 with runners in scoring position. This is in only 63 at-bats, so you can’t really take anything from it, but it’s still darned good. And it has led to this amazing little combination:
Getz has 22 hits with runners in scoring position this year.
Getz has 21 RBIs on the season.
Here’s the great thing about that stat: The more you look at it, the more it will bend your mind. Seriously: It’s like the Magic Eye of stats. Look at it once. Now, look at it again. And again. By the third or fourth time, you will ask: How is that even possible? How can a player have fewer RBIs on the season than hits with runners in scoring position?
Well, here’s how:
1. He has zero home runs in 339 plate appearances, so he has never driven himself in.
2. He has two sacrifice flies all year, which is obviously not a lot.
3. He has seven extra base hits so he is almost no threat to drive in a runner from first.
4. He has gotten hits with men on second 16 times. Best I can tell, he’s driven in those runners at most eight times. So Kansas City runners aren’t exactly helping him.
5. He has twice gotten hits with the bases loaded. He has two RBIs in those hits.
Getz is a certain kind of hitter — he hits a million infield ground balls and beats out enough of them to hit .250 and convince a manager like the Royals’ Ned Yost that he doesn’t hurt a lineup in the leadoff spot. Of course he does HURT the lineup because he doesn’t walk, and he makes a lot of outs, and he slugs .280 and he will get to the plate quite a bit more often in the No. 1 spot than he would in the No. 9 spot. But that’s a whole other conversation. The conversation here is: Can Chris Getz actually play a whole season and have fewer RBIs than hits with runners in scoring position? And has it ever happened before?
As far as if Getz can keep it up, well, he is not even having the most amazing RBI season in baseball right now. Observe the magical season Jamey Carroll is having in Los Angeles. He’s come to the plate 325 times. He’s hitting a quite respectable .288. And he has eight RBIs. As in … EIGHT. As in … LESS THAN NINE. But Jamey is coming by it honestly. He’s hitting .156 with runners in scoring position. And he actually only has seven hits in those situations.
As for the “has it happened before?” question, the answer is: Yes. Probably numerous times. The one I found: When Enzo Hernandez was a rookie, he came up 618 times. He finished the year with 12 RBIs. And believe it or not (and why would I lie) that year he had 18 hits with runners in scoring position. How do you pull off something like that — 18 hits with runners in scoring position and only 12 RBIS? Well, of course he did not hit a home run. He had eight hits with a runner on second, only three scored. He had six hits with runners on first and second, only three scored. He came up nine times with the bases loaded and did not manage even a single RBI.
As regular readers know, I don’t like RBIs as a statistic to judge players. Yes, RBIs (like pitcher wins) have some obvious value, but I think RBIs (like pitcher wins) are terribly overrated and (like pitcher wins) have been the impetus for voters to make some very suspect award choices. I like this Getz stat, though, precisely BECAUSE it reveals the RBI for what it is. It’s not an individual statistic. It’s a context statistic. It’s a team statistic. To pile up the RBIs, you need runners on base. You also need them to score.
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Idea sparked by Brilliant Reader Mike …
I’m a fan of Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams. I wrote a big piece on him last year, and I enjoy that he is bold, that he will do things other GMs won’t, and that he is never boring. The “never boring” part is a wildly underrated quality, as far as I’m concerned. I enjoy the kooky, sitcom relationship he has with Ozzie Guillen. And, though some of his individual baseball moves seem straight out of vaudeville, his teams have generally been pretty good. They won the World Series, of course, in 2005, won 90 the next year, reached the playoffs in 2008 and won 88 games in 2010. Even this year, they’re vaguely in contention. I also love that he would leave it all to run the Raiders.
So, I say this more with admiration than anything else: I love that Kenny Williams went out and acquired the two worst players in the American League so far this year.
Alex Rios is having such a staggeringly bad year that I actually have to take off my glasses and look a little closer at his numbers: (“Wait, he doesn’t REALLY have a .258 on-base percentage, does he? Is that supposed to be .298?”) Many people around baseball could not believe it when Kenny plucked Rios off waivers in 2009 and took on the $49 or so million in salary that Rios had coming. Rios was having a terrible year at the time, and the Blue Jays seemed to be stuck for life. Kenny Williams was probably the most popular man in Toronto for a little while there.
But there were a few people who though the move might not be bad for Williams. They suggested that Rios would bounce back because he was so athletic, and because he was a fine defensive outfielder. Sure enough, in 2010 Rios had a nice offensive year with 29 doubles and 21 homers and 34 stolen bases, and he played a good outfield, and all in all he probably earned his salary. Kenny Williams outfoxed everyone again!
Or … no. This year, Rios is hitting .212/.258/.307. You could add 50 points to every number in the slash and it would still be a dreadful season. His defensive numbers are down, though that could just be a small sample size. He’s been caught stealing five of 12 times, he’s among the league leaders in grounded into double plays, he can’t hit righties at all, and he’s been unplayable on the road (.169/.214/.235), but they still play him.
When Williams signed Adam Dunn for $56 million, that actually seemed like a fascinating signing. Dunn hit exactly 40 home run every year from 2005 to 2008, then he hit 38 home runs the last two years in the hitters’ dungeon of Washington. How many home runs would he hit in that homer haven of Chicago? Well … it SEEMED interesting.
Dunn is hitting .158. He’s well on his way to having the worst batting average for any player to get 502 plate appearances. Four of the five worst batting averages of the 20th Century happened before 1905 — the legendary John Gochnaur hit .185 in back-to-back seasons of 1902 and 1903. That was a different game, though:
Here are the worst batting averages since World War II (502 PA min):
1. Rob Deer, 1991, .179
2. Tom Tresh, 1968, .195
3. Carlos Pena, 2010, .196
4. Mark Reynolds, 2010, .196
5. Jim Sundberg, 1975, .199
It is interesting to me that two of the lowest averages were last season, and now Dunn is hitting .158 and Dan Uggla is hitting .193. All four of them, of course, are high-strikeout guys, as was Rob Deer. Tom Tresh was a high strikeout guy for his era. The obvious point: If you don’t put the ball in play much, you better hit the ball HARD when you do put it in play.
— In 2009, Mark Reynolds hit .423 when he actually hit the ball (that is, not counting the 223 times he struck out). That led to a respectable .260 overall average.
— In 2010, Mark Reynolds hit .344 when he actually hit the ball (not counting his 211 Ks). That SEEMS pretty good, but when you strike out that much you have almost no margin for error. You have to be superhuman when you connect. His overall average was .198.
Dunn has always struck out a lot. He has also always hit the ball hard. This year, he’s striking out much more even than usual and he’s not hitting the ball hard at all. That is leading to a spectacularly awful season. I’ve even seen Dunn tell old pal Jeff Passan that he’s thinking hard about quitting. And that’s with a ton of money on the table. I understand.
In any case, right now Dunn and Rios are fighting hard for the LVP in the American League … and even with that the White Sox are only five back in the Central Division.
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Idea sparked by Brilliant Reader David …
David was wondering who had the best years by age — that is to say who was the best player in baseball history at age 20, age 24, age 37 and so on. It’s worth a detailed look, but since the whole point here is that I don’t really have time for a detailed look. I’ll try to do it quickly — my quick and dirty opinion of the best seasons ever by age. I don’t consider this binding. If I did this again tomorrow, I might choose different players:
Age 20: Dwight Gooden, 1985
— One of the best pitching seasons in baseball history, Doc went 24-4 with a 1.58 ERA, les league in innings, strikeouts, complete games and his WHIP that year was an otherworldly .965 (which, amazingly, did not lead the league because John Tudor was awesome that season too).
Age 21: Rickey Henderson, 1980
— There are other strong contenders, obviously — Bob Feller in 1940, Rogers Hornsby in 1917, Mark Fidrych his magical year — but I’ll go with Rickey, who announced his presence as a player unlike any in baseball history by walking 117 times and stealing 100 bases as a 21-year-old.
Age 22: Ted Williams, 1941
The year Ted Williams hit .406, he also had a .553 on-base percentage. That’s 5 … 5 … 3. In some ways, that’s even more amazing than hitting .400. It was the on-base-percentage record until everyone decided that Barry Bonds was too good to pitch to in the early 2000s.
Age 23: Albert Pujols, 2003
Just another year for Albert — led league in hitting (.359), smacked 212 hits, 51 doubles and 43 homers, led league in runs scored (137). It’s might be his best year. It also might be his sixth-best year. That’s Albert.
Age 24: Mickey Mantle, 1956
Could have been Walter Johnson in 1912 when he had the 1.39 ERA and won 33 games. But I’ll go with Mantle’s Triple Crown year — .353/.464/.705 is not a bad collection of numbers. His 52 homers and 130 RBIs led the league. He also led the league in runs scored.
Age 25: Babe Ruth, 1920
Poor Walter Johnson. He gets edged out again. This was Big Train’s amazing 1.14 ERA season. But Ruth, as we all know, basically invented the home run in 1920. He hit 54 of them, which was more than every other American League team.
Age 26: Babe Ruth, 1921
I’m not going to give this to Ruth every year — I was really tempted to give this age to Robin Yount for his MVP season of 1982 — but Ruth’s 1921 season might have been the best of his career. He had a .512 on-base percentage, .846 slugging percentage, 59 homers, 171 RBIs, 177 runs scored, all at a time when just about everyone else was still trying to figure out how to hit the live ball.
Age 27: Steve Carlton, 1972 and Carl Yastrzemski, 1967.
I don’t believe in ties, but I just can’t choose. Yaz’s 1967 is one of my all-time favorite seasons. Triple Crown. Unbelievable finish. The Impossible Dream. All of that. But how can you pick against Carlton in 1972 when he won 27 games for a terrible Phillies team. Carlton threw 346 innings, completed 30 games, struck out 310, led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio, had a 1.97 ERA. Otherworldly. Both of them.
Then again, Stan Musial was 27 when he had HIS otherworldly season of 1948.
Age 28: Pedro Martinez, 2000
Several hitters probably had more value — Ruth, Hornsby, Cobb, Bonds — but I would take Pedro 2000 over just about anybody, ever. He was the most dominant pitcher I’ve ever seen. There are a thousand ways I could defend this — hitters hit .167 against him, he had a 291 ERA+ and so on — but how about I just put his strikeouts and walks: 284 and 32.
Age 29: Greg Maddux, 1995
Well, you had to know I was going to get my all-time favorite pitcher on here. The year was shortened because of the carry-over from the 1994 strike. Still, Maddux went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA. He walked 23 batters and allowed eight homers all year. He wasn’t a pitcher then. He was a wizard, right out of Harry Potter, throwing around Confundus charms.
*This Harry Potter reference brought to you by my 9-year-old daughter, who has talked of nothing else since the movie came out (though she’s not even allowed to see the movie until we read the seventh book).
Age 30: Cal Ripken 1991
It’s interesting to me that Ripken’s career, so known for consistency, was so wildly inconsistent. He never had a great year after he turned 30, and he had a couple of clunker years BEFORE he turned 30 (1987 and 1989 come to mind). But when Ripken was good, maybe only Honus Wagner was better as a shortstop. His best season was 1991, when he hit .323 with 34 homers, 46 doubles, led the league with 368 total bases and won a well-deserved Gold Glove at shortstop. He also, you may be surprised to learn, played every game.
Age 32: Bob Gibson, 1968
Even in the year of the pitcher, Gibson’s 1.12 ERA boggles the mind. Batters slugging percentage against Gibson in 1968: .236. That’s SLUGGING percentage.
Age 33: Rogers Hornsby, 1929
How about this one: Hornsby hit .380 in 1929. It was only the SEVENTH-BEST average of his career.
Age 34: Willie Mays, 1965
Mays had been coming close pretty much every year. By 1965, he had changed himself as a player — from a young whirlwind who did everything to a more stationary power-hitting force. He led the league with 52 homers. He also led the league in on-base percentage (.398) and slugging percentage (.645). He also wasn’t a bad defensive center fielder.
Age 35: Babe Ruth, 1930
I don’t want to keep giving these things to Ruth, but, well, what are you going to do? He had a .493 on-base percentage, slugged .732, led the league with 49 homers …
Age 36: Barry Bonds, 2001
Well, yeah, this is where Barry takes over. This is the year he hit 73 home runs.
Age 37: Barry Bonds, 2002
And this is the year he hit 46 homers and walked 198 times.
Age 38: Randy Johnson, 2002
It should probably be Bonds again, but Unit was ridiculously good — he went 24-5, struck out 334, led the league in ERA.
Age 39: Barry Bonds, 2004
Bonds. Yeah. This is the year he was INTENTIONALLY WALKED 120 times. He hit .362 with 45 homers in the limited number of times he was actually able to swing the bat. His on-base percentage was an absurd .609 — the man got on base more than 60% of the time, for crying out loud. I understand why people were so enraged by Bonds and his PED use. He kind of turned baseball into a joke, sort of like the young Superman punting the football in the movie.
Age 40: Phil Niekro, 1979
Is there anything in any other sport quite like the knuckleball? It isn’t just that Niekro threw 342 innings this year, led the league in walks and homers allowed, went a comical 21-20. It’s that Niekro pitched another EIGHT SEASONS after this.
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Idea sparked by Brilliant Reader Rich …
I’m always on the lookout for terrible intentional walks because I think ALL intentional walks are terrible. I would love to be the Carrie Nation of the intentional walk. In any case, Rich found a beauty …
On Tuesday, the Rockies were playing the Braves and they were leading the game 7-2 when Ian Stewart came up with a man on third and two outs. I’m going to repeat the situation: Man on third base … two outs … Braves trailing by FIVE RUNS. If there was an intentional walk chart, then this situation would be on the there with the phrase: “You’re joking, right?”
Here’s the wonderful kicker: Ian Stewart is hitting .143 this year.
Yes, the Braves intentionally walked him.
Legendary. Absolutely legendary. I’m proud and happy to say that this completely blew up on the Braves — a walk followed, then a three-run triple, then another walk, then a hit-by-pitch. But to me that’s not enough. I’m not saying that intentionally walking Ian Stewart in that situation — in ANY situation, but especially in that one — should lead to jail time. But at least community service.