Thursday, September 28, 2006

Whoa, whoa, whoa...I have a blog?

Who ever said writing is easy? (That would be Steve Martin.) Well, having ignored my more important writing for far too long, I finally bit the bullet and enrolled in a course. (I had a professor who once told me he still took writing classes because it was the only way he could force himself to actually write. I laughed. Damn.)

So that made me way more productive...and in the process also made me forget I had this little outlet to tend to. Naturally, I return with nothing to write. Postseason baseball will hopefully change that.

Incidentally, why must so many writers be nattering, pretentious twits? There's this one cocksucker unpleasant person who feels the need to go off on a neverending thesis over every tine thing. The similarities between this dude and the preppy from the Harvard bar in Good Will Hunting are striking. Why must people behave like this?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Return of the Big Hurt

Some of you may not have noticed this, but Frank Thomas is having an excellent year. He has homered in six straight games and has 10 HR & 25 RBI in his last 17 games. On the season, he's hitting .283/.396/.566 with 36 HR and 98 RBI in just 120 games. This from a guy nobody thought would stay healthy enough for 300 AB all year.

Thomas signed with Oakland in January, almost as an afterthought. Nobody else wanted him, and the A's had picked up Milton Bradley, which seemingly left no place for Thomas to play. But they decided he was worth the risk: just $500k guaranteed.

Thomas has so far earned $2.2M in incentives and appears likely to earn another $400k. All total, Thomas will make $3.1M for a year in which he posts an OPS around 1000 and drives in over 100 runs. Not too shabby for Oakland.

The odd thing is, in late May the contract looked for all the world to be a lost gamble. On May 21, Thomas was hitting .178/.300/.373 with 7 HR and 20 RBI in 118 AB. Oakland was 22-21 (.512) and were averaging 4.5 runs per game.

At that point something changed: the Big Hurt returned. Since May 22, the Big Hurt has destroyed opposing pitchers to the tune of .325/.433/.644. He's added 29 homers and 78 RBI in just 292 AB. Oakland has been a .600 team (60-40) and upped their scoring to 4.8 runs/game.

We're basically talking about the 2000 version of the Big Hurt: that year he hit .328/.436/.625 with nearly an RBI per game on a 95-win team. Man, does that sound familiar or what? Thomas finished second in the MVP voting that year in a tight race with Jason Giambi.

Thomas is 16 homers shy of 500. He's basically a lock to be the seventh playe ever with 500 homers and a .300 average. The way he's hit this year, would anyone be shocked if he made it to 600 HR?

It's silly to discuss Frank Thomas's Hall of Fame credentials. At this point, the only question is where the Big Hurt places in the pantheon of hitters.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Manager's View of Bunting

Former major league pitcher and manager Larry Dierker writes a blog (now on the links to the right) for the Houston Chronicle. It's actually quite good, as Dierker clearly still loves watching the Astros play. Yesterday, he tackled the topic of little ball. Here now, I present the thoughts of the 1998 Manager of the Year:

On bunting:
When I was pitching, I was delighted when the hitter squared to bunt -- especially if he was a decent hitter. I'll take an man on second with one out any day. And many times it worked out even better for me because the hitter either made a bad bunt and we got the force play at second, or he went back to hitting with two strikes in the count.
On bunting early:
One run is not a big deal in the first inning. But the big inning is a big deal. In 70 percent of all major league games, the winning team scores as many or more runs in one inning than the other team scores in the whole game. That suggests that it is better to play for the big inning until late in the game and that's the way I managed.
On the hit-and-run:
"If it's such an aggressive play," I said. "Why don't you use it with two outs?" The answer was that with two outs there is no incentive to avoid the double play. I rested my case.
On little ball's place in the game:
Little ball originated in the dead ball era. It was a good tactic quite often back then. It has survived for 100 years because there are still situations where it makes sense. But those situations are far fewer now.
Lots more interesting thoughts to be found there to boot. Definitely check it out.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Worst. Hitter. Ever.

I've always been fascinated by Bill Bergen, a turn-of-the-century National League catcher. In 1903, Bergen hit .227/.252/.266 in 58 games. He managed 0 home runs, just 6 extra base hits and 7 walks. Remember how bad Tony Womack was as a Yankee? It still beats this monstrosity from Bergen.

Why do I mention this? Because 1903 was Bergen's best season.

Bergen played eleven seasons, and only once did he garner less than 200 AB. In fact, he racked up 3028 AB in the majors, about as many as Vernon Wells. His career batting average of .170 is a full 40 points lower than anyone else's. Who is second? Cy Young. Yes, that Cy Young.

Bergen holds the same 40 point edge on Cy Young in OBP, and his .201 slugging percentage is 58 points lower than Dal Maxvill's, a shortstop for the Cardinals in the '60s & '70s. His OPS is 395 (seriously) which is 121 points lower than Young's and 134 points lower than Hal Lanier's. There are 77 players in history with a higher OBP than his OPS.

There's really no area of hitting that Bergen isn't the worst in. He has the lowest isolated power ever, the lowest secondary average, the fewest walks of any player with at least 3000 AB.

His offensive winning percentage is .098, handily besting Hal Lanier's second-place OWP of .200. That means that if you had a team with average pitching, average defense, and a lineup of nine Bill Bergens, they would have an .098 winning %, which works out to 16-146. Consider that the infamous 1899 Clevaland Spiders were 20-134 (.130) and they didn't have the advantage of an average pitching staff and defense.

1903 was Bergen's only year above the Mendoza Line. Amazingly, Brooklyn actually bought him from Cincinnati that offseason. It's not like they were fooled by that career year and quickly regretted it--Bergen would be their starting catcher for the next eight years.

In 1909, Bergen put up an OPS of 319, the same year that Honus Wagner paced the league with a .339 batting average. His final season, 1911, featured a line of .132/.182/154. His OPS+ (which is a ratio of his OPS v. the league's) was -4. Negative four. That's not a typo--that's statistical comedy.

Checking out Bergen's B-R page has always been great fun, until the other day when I noticed the phrase "Brother of Marty Bergen."

A brother who also played baseball? This seemed like a promising development. And at first glance, it was. Marty was also a catcher without much of a bat, though by no means as futile as Bill. More intriguing is the fact that nobody knows if he batted lefty or righty. But what really catches one's attention is this:

Final Game: October 15, 1899
Died: January 11, 1900.

What ended Marty's life at 28? The answer lies here:
Marty Bergen died in 1900 after slitting his throat with a razor. Before his suicide, he murdered his wife and two children with an ax.
Oh. Amazingly, this sort of thing wasn't all that uncommon in those days. In the New Bill James Historical Abstract (p. 87-88), James includes a partial list of baseball suicides from 1900-1925. There were 27 of them, including Marty Bergen, many of them also of the murder/suicide variety. At least Detroit pitcher Win Mercer "left a suicide note warning of the evils of women and gambling."