Monthly Archives: January 2014

Baseball 101 – Carlton Fisk

The 1973 Red Sox had a record of 89-73. They finished second to the Orioles. But, it was the beginning of my fandom with the Sox. Carlton Fisk and Dwight Evans became mainstays in the Sox lineup and Luis Tiant and Bill Lee would be the same in the starting rotation.

In 1973 the highest paid player on the Red Sox was Carl Yastrzemski at $166,667.00. Hard to believe that the major league minimum salary is now $500,000, not mention the fact that Clayton Kershaw just signed a deal that pays him a tad north of $30 million per year. Baseball has come a long way. The players make more and the owners have billions in revenue. But, back in 1973, salary arbitration and the explosion of salaries was still just a glint in Marvin Miller’s eye.

Lets talk Carlton Fisk for a bit.

fisk_carlton

He is most famous for his 1975 World Series, game 6, walk off homer in the bottom of the twelfth inning at 12:33 a.m. I know my daughter has probably not seen it, so here it is.

Carlton Fisk was born the day after Christmas 1947 in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Fisk though grew up across the state line in Charlestown, New Hampshire. When Fisk was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, his plaque originally stated that he was raised in Vermont. Fisk made them change the plaque to New Hampshire. I think that’s a funny and interesting little tidbit. Fisk wanted no confusion about where his affiliations lay. A resident of either of those states would not want to be confused with a resident of the other.

Fisk was the second of four boys – Calvin, Conrad and Cedric. He also had two sisters – Janet and June. I always wonder how parents go about naming their kids. I’m guessing since his father was named Cecil, they figured to continue with the “C” tradition. I don’t know where the “J” affiliation came from since his mother’s name was Leona.

As a youngster Carlton was a chubby fellow, thus, he was penned with the nickname Pudge. Funny how nicknames stick over the years. Fisk was forever after known as Pudge. I wonder if he grandkids call him Pudge. Grandpa Pudge? Grandpudge? Grandpudgie? Despite his chubby demeanor, Fisk was a great athlete. He played baseball and basketball. In his senior year in the New Hampshire Class M semifinals, the 6’2″ Fisk, playing against players as tall as 6’10” and 6’8″, scored 42 points and hauled in 39 rebounds. Yeah, that’s right, 39 rebounds. Incredible.

Fisk went off to UNH in 1965 on a basketball scholarship. Fisk’s older brother, Calvin, was the captain of the UNH soccer team. Yet, Calvin was a good enough athlete to be drafted by the Orioles. Unfortunately, he was also drafted into the army and went to Vietnam. By the time he returned to the states at the age of 25, the Orioles decided Calvin was too old to start a career as a professional ball player.

Carlton played baseball and basketball at UNH and was drafted by the Red Sox in 1967. I can’t even imagine an athlete these days playing two sports. I’m sure some do it but most guys with aspirations of a professional career do not play two sports. There is too much money at stake to not give your best sport all of your time. I don’t know if that is sad or not. I don’t expect some computer programmer to only do that part time and something else for another part of the year.

Fisk started the 1972 season as the third string catcher for the Red Sox. The starting catcher that year, Duane Josephson, got hurt in just the third game of the season. The backup, Bob Montgomery, took over, but after teams stole bases wily nily on Montgomery, the Sox replaced him with Fisk. Kind of like a Wally Pip story. For those of you who don’t know, Wally Pip was the starting firstbaseman for the Yankees. One day in 1925, as the story goes, he came to a game and complained of a headache. The manager told him to take the day off, “We’ll try that kid Gehrig.” Gehrig went on from that game to set the consecutive game streak of 2,130 (this was eventually broken by Cal Ripken, Jr.).

As a rookie, Fisk made the All-Star team and batted .293 with 22 homers. Quite a debut. In the history of the game, only six catchers hit more then 20 homers in their debut season.

  1. Mike Piazza, 24 years old, 35 HR in 1993, ROY
  2. Rudy York, 23 years old, 35 HR in 1937
  3. Earl Williams, 22 years old, 33 HR in 1971, ROY
  4. Mat Nokes, 23 years old, 32 HR in 1987
  5. Wilin Rosario, 23 years old, 28 HR in 2012
  6. Carlton Fisk, 24 years old, 22 HR in 1972, ROY

1973 was a tough year for Pudge. He slumped badly in the second half of the season and ended up only hitting .246/.309/.441 but still slugging 26 homers. In 1974, Pudge tore knee ligaments while protecting the plate during a game in Cleveland on June 28th. He would not return until June 23rd of the 1975 season. In 79 games that year, Fisk hit .331/.395/.529 with 10 homers and was a catalyst for the Red Sox World Series run and his eventually arm flapping immortality.

Fisk would probably have spent his entire career, like Yaz with the Sox but for one of the biggest blunders of all time. The general manager of the Red Sox, Haywood Sullivan, forgot to mail Fisk his 1981 year contract by the required date. This made Fisk a free agent. The Sox offered Fisk a $2 million contract with some incentives. The White Sox, seeking to make a splash, offered Fisk $3.5 million. It was a tough call for Fisk, but the Sox made it easier by trading away Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson to the Angels that winter. Fisk went with the White Sox and ended up playing for them for thirteen years, two more then he played with the Red Sox. Fisk would end up catching 2,226 games behind the plate. A record for catchers.

The Sox retired Fisk’s number, 27, in 2000. There was some controversy over that. For some time, the Sox had said that they would only retire a player’s number if that player was in the Hall, spent at least 10 years with the team, and finished his career in Boston. Later in 2000, Fisk would fit the first two criteria, but not the third. The Red Sox allegedly “fixed” that by hiring Fisk as a special assistant in 2000. Most importantly though, Fisk went into the Hall of Fame in 2000. He wore a Red Sox cap.

Baseball 101 – When I became a Red Sox fan …

I moved to Durham, New Hampshire from Bowie, Maryland in 1970. I was seven at the time and a fan of the Orioles. As I’ve said earlier, that was a good time to be an O’s fan. I don’t recall when I became a Sox fan, but I did some looking back at the Red Sox teams in the early 70s to try to figure out when I would have started to follow the Sox.

The O’s lost the World Series in 1971 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. If I recall correctly, that was probably the time I stepped away from the Orioles and began to follow the Sox. It was okay timing because the O’s had a down year in 1972, finishing in third place at 80-74. The Sox finished second, a half game behind the Tigers at 85-70. Here is the odd thing about the 1972 season. The Tigers finished first with an 86-70 record. They played one more game than the Red Sox. How is that possible, you ask?

Well, 1972 was the year of the first baseball strike. I am sure that also helped in pushing me toward my new team – it was a convenient breaking point. The 1972 strike was not a long strike – it lasted a mere thirteen days. But it was an important strike for the newly formed MLB players association. Unlike other unions, where a strike vote is often just seen as posturing or a formality while negotiations continue, for the baseball players of that time a strike vote was a big deal; it was their first ever vote to strike and they did not take it lightly. The years of one sided salary negotiations had stuck in the minds of the players and when they finally had a chance to fight for themselves they rose up. The impasse was over the minor issue of how much money the owners were to provide to a pension fund for ball players. When the players held firm the owners pretty quickly caved. Looking back on it now, you have to think the owners were crazy. It is this 1972 strike that led to the introduction of “salary arbitration” in 1974. And, that is what really shook up the game and led to the rise in player salaries.

Anyway, baseball cancelled the games missed during the player strike. The strike erased the first week and a half of the season, which meant that some teams would have played more than others during that time frame. Baseball owners, because they wanted to punish the players and not pay them for missed games, decided not to make up the lost games. That is how the Sox ended up playing one fewer game than the Tigers in 1972 and were not given a chance to tie the Tigers by making up the one game difference. I’m sure that outraged me and helped push me over to my new hometown team.

Additionally, my best friend moved to Rhode Island from Laurel, Maryland by that time. His beloved Senators decamped from Washington to Arlington, Texas and became the newly minted Texas Rangers. Most likely, we both embraced the Sox around this time. I recall that he still followed the Rangers in conjunction with the Sox but he mainly became a Sox fan.

To put 1972 in some historical perspective, here is some of the stuff that I recall happening:

  • Nixon visited China
  • George Wallace was shot and paralyzed
  • the Watergate scandal erupted
  • the summer Olympics and the Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes
  • Fischer beats Spassky in the world chess championship
  • the first video game I can remember, Pong, was released; and,
  • Roberto Clemente died in plane crash

There is other stuff that happened that year (the Godfather was released and the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress but was never ratified by the states to name two), but I honestly doubt, as a nine year old, I cared about or noticed any thing other than the biggies listed above. All those events I have a memory of happening.

The Red Sox of 1972 had these players: Carlton Fisk, Rico Petrocelli, Yaz, Tommy Harper, Reggie Smith, Rick Miller, Juan Beniquez, Dwight Evans, Cecil Cooper, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant, Ray Culp, Roger Moret and Bill Lee. And, I have memories of all of them. So, this must have been the beginning of my Red Sox fandom.  I’m also pretty sure that Dwight Evans becoming my favorite player probably had something to do with the fact that his arrival as a rookie to the Sox and my arrival as a Sox fan coincided.

Next post we’ll talk about the 1973 Red Sox.

500 Home Runs

In the history of baseball, twenty-five players have hit at least 500 Home Runs. At age 38, David Ortiz sits at 431 career home runs as we look forward to the start of the 2014 season.  What kind of chance does he have of joining the 500 homer club?

Here are the nineteen players to hit 70 or more home runs from age 38 to the end of their careers:

Rk Player HR Age
1 Barry Bonds 149 38-42
2 Darrell Evans 136 38-42
3 Hank Aaron 116 38-42
4 Carlton Fisk 109 38-45
5 Dave Winfield 108 38-43
6 Ted Williams 103 38-41
7 Carl Yastrzemski 86 38-43
8 Reggie Jackson 85 38-41
9 Raul Ibanez 84 38-41
10 Craig Biggio 81 38-41
11 Rafael Palmeiro 79 38-40
12 Steve Finley 77 38-42
13 Graig Nettles 77 38-43
14 Stan Musial 77 38-42
15 Edgar Martinez 74 38-41
16 Willie Stargell 74 38-42
17 Frank Thomas 73 38-40
18 Willie Mays 73 38-42
19 Jim Thome 71 38-41
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/27/2014.

Looking at this group of players, I’d say that Bill James is probably right when he suggests that Ortiz’s odds of hitting 500 home runs stands at about 50%. Most of the above listed guys did well in their age 38 seasons and then dropped off a bit in their age 39 season. Then most held on for another two or three seasons (ages 40-42), hitting a half dozen or so home runs each of those last two or three years. You’ll notice that eight of the nineteen were done after their age 41 season – Thome, Thomas, Martinez, Palmeiro, Biggio, Jackson and Williams (Raul Ibanez is the eighth but he is still active). Ortiz reminds me most of Thome, Thomas and Martinez. If a true comparison, then Ortiz will just get over the 500 homer barrier. Pushing his name into serious Hall of Fame consideration – a topic for another post.

Owing to some comments Ortiz made recently about wanting an extension from the Sox, there has been a lot of back and forth on talk radio about the wisdom of giving Ortiz a contract extension. “He’s a big guy, they lose it suddenly,” say the doubters. “He was other worldly in the Series, pay him his money,” say the believers.

Right now he is in the last year of a two year, 29 million dollar deal. His 2013 WAR (4.4) suggests that he was worth about 21 million to the Sox last year. Even if Ortiz drops off in 2014 to his 2012 numbers – 23 homers in 90 games played, still a WAR of 3.1 and worth about 12 million dollars, the Sox are, in essence, playing with house money this year and arguably next.

I think Ortiz stands a decent chance of hitting 20-25 homers each of the next two season. Is that worth giving him another year on his deal now, keeping him happy and keeping the fan base happy? I think so. When you consider his position in Red Sox lore and his importance to Sox fans, it would make sense to give him a one year extension.

Plus, left handed power does not just fall from the sky. The number of left handers in the majors last year to hit 25 or more home runs numbered … eleven. That’s it … eleven … David Ortiz and ten others. A left handed power bat should not be taken lightly, especially by the Sox since they really have no other big power source (lefty or righty) coming up through the minors. Ortiz, since joining the Sox, has never slugged under .500 and has slugged under .550 only twice. Only two Sox minor leaguers slugged over .500 last year – 5’9″ Mookie Betts and 5’8″ Sean Coyle, both second basemen and both slated in 2014 for the Sox AA team in Portland, Maine.

Okay, so there does not appear to be anyone from inside the organization to replace Ortiz. Who are the notable free agents after this year?

  • Torii Hunter
  • Alfonso Soriano
  • Paul Konerko
  • Victor Martinez
  • Adam Dunn
  • Michael Cuddyer
  • Jonny Gomes
  • Corey Hart
  • Mike Morse
  • Jason Kubel
  • Hanley Ramirez
  • Chris Young
  • Colby Rasmus

Do any of these guys scream out to you? The only guy I would want over a 39 year old Ortiz would be Hanley Ramirez. Do Colby Rasmus or Victor Martinez or Michael Cuddyer strike fear into a Yankee fan the way Ortiz does? I don’t think so. This list only makes the decision that much easier.

Give Ortiz another year. Sign him through 2015.

A little bit about Xander

I like Stephen Drew.

I liked him during the playoffs when he wasn’t hitting but seemed to get to every ball hit his way.

I liked him during the season as well, even when he started off slowly. Recall he was only hitting .154/.267/.250 at the end of April. Though many people said he was a below average shortstop, the stats say otherwise. Of all starting shortstops with more than 100 games at the position here is a chart of those players ranked by WAR:

Rk Player WAR/pos Age Tm G 2B HR SB CS BA OBP SLG
1 Andrelton Simmons 6.7 23 ATL 157 27 17 6 5 .248 .296 .396
2 Troy Tulowitzki 5.3 28 COL 126 27 25 1 0 .312 .391 .540
3 Elvis Andrus 4.2 24 TEX 156 17 4 42 8 .271 .328 .331
4 Jean Segura 3.9 23 MIL 146 20 12 44 13 .294 .329 .423
5 J.J. Hardy 3.7 30 BAL 159 27 25 2 1 .263 .306 .433
6 Ian Desmond 3.7 27 WSN 158 38 20 21 6 .280 .331 .453
7 Yunel Escobar 3.3 30 TBR 153 27 9 4 4 .256 .332 .366
8 Jhonny Peralta 3.3 31 DET 107 30 11 3 3 .303 .358 .457
9 Stephen Drew 3.1 30 BOS 124 29 13 6 0 .253 .333 .443
10 Alexei Ramirez 2.6 31 CHW 158 39 6 30 9 .284 .313 .380
11 Brandon Crawford 2.4 26 SFG 149 24 9 1 2 .248 .311 .363
12 Jed Lowrie 2.3 29 OAK 154 45 15 1 0 .290 .344 .446
13 Pedro Florimon 2.1 26 MIN 134 17 9 15 6 .221 .281 .330
14 Erick Aybar 1.7 29 LAA 138 33 6 12 7 .271 .301 .382
15 Zack Cozart 1.6 27 CIN 151 30 12 0 0 .254 .284 .381
16 Didi Gregorius 1.4 23 ARI 103 16 7 0 2 .252 .332 .373
17 Asdrubal Cabrera 1.2 27 CLE 136 35 14 9 3 .242 .299 .402
18 Clint Barmes 1.1 34 PIT 108 15 5 0 0 .211 .249 .309
19 Brendan Ryan 0.4 31 TOT 104 12 4 4 2 .197 .255 .273
20 Alcides Escobar 0.3 26 KCR 158 20 4 22 0 .234 .259 .300
21 Jimmy Rollins 0.2 34 PHI 160 36 6 22 6 .252 .318 .348
22 Pete Kozma -0.2 25 STL 143 20 1 3 1 .217 .275 .273
23 Starlin Castro -0.6 23 CHC 161 34 10 9 6 .245 .284 .347
24 Adeiny Hechavarria -2.1 24 MIA 148 14 3 11 10 .227 .267 .298
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/24/2014.

Stephen Drew was not the top shortstop, but he was in the top 10 and one of the top 5 shortstops in the AL.  Despite all the snarkiness he endured from the Boston media, he was a reliable defender at a premium position and an offensively productive player for the Sox. I bet you didn’t know that with 2 outs and runners in scoring positon Drew hit .311/.382/.639. I don’t know about clutch hitting, but Drew performed best with two outs. Here is another interesting tidbit – a chart ranking the 2013 Red Sox players with the highest slugging percentage with 2 outs and RISP:

Rk I Player SLG PA 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Stephen Drew .639 68 5 3 3 32 .311 .382 .639 1.022
2 Jonny Gomes .500 45 4 0 1 14 .306 .444 .500 .944
3 Shane Victorino .488 48 2 1 1 18 .317 .417 .488 .904
4 Mike Napoli .444 88 4 0 4 28 .222 .364 .444 .808
5 David Ortiz .429 77 4 0 2 20 .250 .455 .429 .883
6 Daniel Nava .417 72 1 0 3 23 .250 .375 .417 .792
7 Jose Iglesias .389 38 2 0 0 11 .333 .368 .389 .757
8 Mike Carp .385 27 3 0 0 8 .269 .296 .385 .681
9 Dustin Pedroia .380 80 5 0 1 25 .268 .350 .380 .730
10 Jarrod Saltalamacchia .367 67 5 0 0 18 .283 .358 .367 .725
11 Jacoby Ellsbury .293 66 3 1 0 14 .207 .292 .293 .585
12 Will Middlebrooks .238 48 2 0 1 11 .119 .229 .238 .467
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/24/2014.

Bet you would not have guessed that. The Sox, though, clearly noticed the value of Drew to the team since they never seemed to entertain any thought of pulling him from the starting lineup during the playoffs or even when he was mired in a slump.

With all that said, I love Xander Bogaerts even more then Stephen Drew and I’d prefer that he be the starting shortstop in 2014. It would seem that the Sox feel similarly because they’ve really not taken much of an interest in resigning Drew, despite their protestations otherwise. The Sox seem to be saying “Well, if you can’t find a job anywhere else we’ll take you back for a year.” I wouldn’t be averse to this arrangement, but I’d only want to see Drew back if it came at the expense of Will Middlebrooks’ playing time.  I don’t imagine, though, that Drew will want to move off shortstop.

So, what to make do Xander? Here’s an off the wall comparison for you. Xander and Mystery Player (by the way, I love this game). Both players made end of the year MLB debuts at age 20. Both were shortstops in the minor leagues. Like Xander, there were concerns that Mystery Player would have to move to third. Here are their minor league stats:

Xander Bogaerts

  • Age 17, Rookie Ball, 280 PA, .314/.396/.423, 7 2B, 3 HR
  • Age 18, A Ball, 296 PA, .260/.324/.509, 14 2Bs, 16 HR
  • Age 19, A+-AA, 532 PA, .307/.373/.523, 37 2B, 20 HR
  • Age 20, AA-AAA, .297/.388/.477, 23 2Bs, 15 HR
  • Age 20, MLB, 50 PA, .250/.320/.364, 2 2Bs, 1 HR

Mystery Player

  • Age 17, Rookie Ball, 270 PA, .264/.331/.301, 7 2Bs, 0 HR
  • Age 18, A-AA, 495 PA, .286/.337/.410, 28 2Bs, 8 HR
  • Age 19, AA, 611 PA, .276/.367/.492, 28 2Bs, 25 HR
  • Age 20, AAA, 507 PA, .288/.383/.535, 31 2B, 23 HR
  • Age 20, MLB, 40 PA, .128/.150/.278, 0 2B, 0 HR

Now, I’m not saying that these minor league numbers match up or that you can even compare minor league numbers from era to era, but there are some interesting similarities, no? I think Mystery Player was a tad more advanced, having spent his entire 19 year old season at AA and his entire 20 year old season at AAA. But, there is something here.

Have you figured out the Mystery Player? Here’s a hint, this shortstop made his MLB debut in 1981. Answer – Cal Ripken, Jr.

Wouldn’t that be a nice comparison!

Grady “Microfracture” Sizemore Signs With Sox

Partially buried by the hoopla over the Masahiro Tanaka signing was the Red Sox inking of Grady Sizemore to a one year deal. Media reports suggest that the deal is for a base salary of $750,000 and includes additional incentives that could earn Sizemore up to $6 million if reached. Since it is a Major League Deal, Sizemore gets his money regardless of whether he makes the team or not.

Like the Yankees’ deal with former O’s second sacker Brian Roberts, this is a long shot deal for the Sox. As everyone says, it’s low risk with a chance of high reward. I guess it’s low risk if you have no expectation of success and don’t mind just tossing away three quarters of a million dollars. The difference between the Red Sox/Sizemore deal and the Yankees/Roberts deal are that the Sox have a young prospect able to man center if this Sizemore thing goes south, the Bronx Bombers have only Roberts and a subpar group of backup players. The Sox have a viable backup plan (heck, I’d even call Sizemore more of backup plan B with Bradley as the likely real plan and some form of outfield platoon with Victorino as backup plan A), the Yankees don’t have much of a plan should their Roberts’ experiment fail – see below.

Roberts was a special player from 2005 (his age 27 season) to 2009. In those years he averaged 150 games per year with WAR totals of 7.3, 3.3, 4.2, 5.2, and 3.0. Since then, however, his yearly game totals have been 59, 39, 17, and 77. Despite a higher game participation last year his slash line was unimpressive – .249/.312/.392 with an OPS+ of 89. And, he’s no spring chicken as he enters his age 36 season. Here are the Yankee backups ready to take over when the likely Roberts’ DL stints confront the Yankees:

  1. Eduardo Nunez, 336 ABs, .260/.307/.372 with an OPS+ of 86 in 2013 and a WAR of -1.5. This shows you how desperate the Yankees were last year, they had to give Nunez 336 ABs.
  2. Brendan Ryan, starting shortstop for Seattle from 2009-2013 until traded to Yankees at the end of the 2013 campaign; known for his defensive skills above all else. Career line – .237/.299/.320 with an OPS+ of 72 and a 2013 WAR of 0.5.
  3. Scott Sizemore, (6 ABs all of last year and none the year before; another injury reclamation project – see Eric Chavez for what the Yankees might be hoping for despite the fact that Sizemore has none of Chavez’s track record).

The Yankees, despite forking over nearly half a billion dollars in free agent money this winter, will have to man second base with a replacement level player at best should Roberts go down. Heck, I’m not even sure Roberts is above replacement level himself.

The Red Sox flyer on Grady Sizemore is much more defensible, even if unlikely to pan out. The Sox have a young Jackie Bradley, Jr. ready to go in center and the returning core of Victorino, Gomes, Nava and Carp. Sizemore adds some depth to this core and, in the unlikely event Sizemore defies the odds and stays healthy, would most likely lead to the Sox moving Gomes, Nava or Carp. I guess another benefit and long shot hope for the Sox is that Sizemore increases their outfield depth. A worry for the Sox since their AAA outfield depth is wanting.

In AAA the Sox have:

  • Bryce Brentz (.264/.312/.475 in 326 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • Alex Hassan (.321/.431/.460 in 187 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • JC Linares (.200/.294/.267 in 45 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • Justin Henry (.210/.294/.286 in 357 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • Shannon Wilkerson (.237/.318/.338 in 465 ABs at AAA in 2013).

Nothing overly impactful here.*

*You might be asking where is Ryan Kalish? After cervical fusion surgery (which sounds nasty – Kalish had a disc removed from his neck, replaced with bone taken from somewhere else in his body (god knows how that works) and then a metal plate was fused to the new bone), he was non-tendered by the Sox and then signed by Theo and Co.

It is hard to say what to expect of Sizemore in 2014. Microfracture surgery has only been around since the ’80s. It is a minimally invasive surgery that sometimes accompanies other attempts to repair knee cartilage. The surgery results in creating fibrocartilage repair tissue which, from my reading, is different and not quite as resilient as the cartilage one would find in a normal knee. It’s better then nothing but not quite as good as the original stuff. I’m sure that’s just the way a doctor would describe it! Sizemore has had two of these surgeries, one in 2010 and the other in 2012. In between, he had another knee surgery, surgery for a sports hernia and then back surgery. Can we agree Sizemore is an injury risk? The more I write the less sanguine I am of a successful Sizemore stint with the Red Sox.

There have been no studies to date analyzing the success of microfracture surgery on MLB players. The founder of the procedure, a well known surgeon, Richard Steadman, undertook a study of NFL players who underwent the procedure. Of the 25 players evaluated, 76% were able to return to play for an average of 4.6 seasons. Another report by a different group of doctors studied 24 NBA players and reported that 58% of those players returned to play for more than one season. These players, however, exhibited a marked decline in performance after the surgery. I am not sure how comparable these sports are. Think of these NBA players as a guideline though:

  • Successful return – Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Kenyon Martin, Zach Randolph and Amar’e Stoudemire (yes and no)
  • Less then successful return – Tracy McGrady, Ron Harper, Brian Grant, Chris Webber, Allan Houston, Penny Hardaway.
  • Not a successful return or no return at all – Jamal Mashburn, Terrell Brandon, Greg Oden

Other baseball players who have undergone the procedure include Victor Martinez and most recently Derek Holland. Martinez seems to be okay, but I would say that his game is different then Sizemore’s. Despite his injuries, let us see if we can glean anything from Sizemore’s stats over the last few years.

Year Age Tm Lg G AB 2B HR SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2008 25 CLE AL 157 634 39 33 38 .268 .374 .502 .876 133
2009 26 CLE AL 106 436 20 18 13 .248 .343 .445 .788 110
2010 27 CLE AL 33 128 6 0 4 .211 .271 .289 .560 58
2011 28 CLE AL 71 268 21 10 0 .224 .285 .422 .706 96
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/23/2014.

It might be the injuries, but the decline in OBP is troubling. I don’t know how missing all of 2012 and 2013 will effect him, but it gives me serious pause.  ESPN’s Gordon Edes suggests that Sizemore’s signing has “brought in at least a semblance of competition …” That’s pretty generous in my book. It’s not my million, but I don’t think Jackie Bradley Jr. should be overly concerned.

The World Series Trophy on Tour

Koji and Junichi took the World Series Trophy to Japan and met with the new US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. Here they are looking super-psyched:

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What I found most interesting though were the other people who showed up for the event but that many US papers did not include in their coverage. Beside Wally the Green Monster, others present were Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player to play in the US (he played for the Yankees), Hideki Matsui, 2009 World Series MVP and former Yankee, and Seiji Ozawa, conductor and former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Koji and Junichi also met with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who got a signed Red Sox jersey.

The Red Sox have done a pretty good job pressing their team image into the minds of Japanese fans. The Sox just started up a Japanese Twitter page called RedSox_JP, signed numerous Japanese ball players in the past decade, and have established a Red Sox – Japan Youth Baseball Exchange. This past summer some young Japanese ball players visited Boston and stayed for ten days with families in Boston; it is sponsored by Funai Electric and the Red Sox Foundation.  My connection is tenuous but still something. The exchange program is coupled with the Little League baseball league my son played in and I coached – Hill House Boston. We moved on from Little League just as it was starting up but it certainly seems like a fun way to get to visit and learn about Japan.

The timing of this trophy trip made me wonder if the Sox might actually have more then a cursory interest in Masahiro Tanaka. That thought lasted about three seconds. Then the newswire erupted. ESPN reported that the Yankees signed Tanaka to a seven year, $155 million dollar deal.  Wow! I guess all that talk about the Yankees trying to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold was a bunch of hooey.

The Yankees just got markedly better with this signing as Tanaka compares favorably with Yu Darvish, another NPB import. Here are the stats for the two pitchers for their last three years in Japan:

  1. Yu Darvish, 616 IP, 45-19, 1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 665 Ks
  2. Masahiro Tanaka, 611 1/3 IP, 53-9, 1.44 ERA , 0.94 WHIP, 593 Ks

This looks pretty similar to me. I would not be surprised to see Tanaka excel like Darvish has with the Rangers the last two years. Here is a quick reminder of Darvish’s first two seasons in the majors, at about the same age Tanaka will be:

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP
2012 25 TEX 16 9 3.90 29 0 191.1 156 89 83 14 89 221 112 1.280
2013 26 TEX 13 9 2.83 32 0 209.2 145 68 66 26 80 277 145 1.073
2 Yrs 29 18 3.34 61 0 401.0 301 157 149 40 169 498 127 1.172
162 Game Avg. 16 10 3.34 34 0 224 168 88 83 22 94 278 127 1.172
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

While the Yankees lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson this off-season, the additions of McCann, Ellsbury and Tanaka will put the Yankees right back in the running. Well, that might be a bit overblown. They still have holes at second (Brian Roberts – a walking M*A*S*H Unit) and third (Kelly Johnson – a 31 year old with some pop but low OBP), and until Jeter proves he can manage short I find the Yankees suspect there as well. Their pitching is much better with this signing and it makes them much younger. They go from having the oldest pitching staff in the AL to probably somewhere in the middle and their league average ERA will most definitely improve. Their offense, though, has not improved enough, in my opinion, owing mostly to the loss of Cano. They were below the league average in runs per game (4.01 v. 4.33 league average v. 5.27 for the Red Sox), second to last in home runs and third to last in OPS+ while fielding the oldest team in the majors. I think McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran about equal out the loss of Cano and Granderson.

Quite honestly, I don’t see things getting a whole lot better for the Yankees without some serious input from Jeter and Teixeira. Those guys need to return to form. I find that unlikely with regards to Jeter (39) but possible for Teixeira (33). Perhaps the Yankees hope Teixeira will be like another switch hitting first baseman – Baltimore Oriole legend Eddie Murray. Murray, though, was a perennial work horse, never really missing any games for injury until he was 40. Teixeira can not really be compared to Murray.

After a little research, I found that Teixeira compares pretty favorably to Orlando Cepeda. This should be worrisome for Yankees fans, as Cepeda was a shell of himself after his year 32 season; he was a Hall of Fame player before then but knee injuries curtailed his career thereafter. Teixeira does not have knee issues, but I’ve always seen him as a balky back kinda guy who can end up on the DL one morning after a bad night’s sleep. No science to support me here, just gut instinct. I like Teixeira but I would be worried about him if I were a Yankee fan.

Yankees fans, though, are happy today; it’s like Christmas day all over again! They are back in the hunt with the signing of Tanaka. Yet, caution is warranted. The Yankees are far from out of the woods. I still don’t see them making the playoffs unless a lot of things go right on the health front. With an aging team that is not something I’d want to take with me on a trip to Vegas.

Baseball 101 – Brooks Robinson

Whenever I played in the field, I would pretend I was Brooks Robinson and in little league I played third base because of Brooks Robinson. I loved Brooks Robinson.

1969 was really the beginning of baseball fever for me. That year, the O’s won 109 games, but lost to the underdog Mets 4-1. The 69 Mets were known as the “Miracle Mets” for 1969 was the Mets first winning season in franchise history (if you recall they were a part of the 1961 expansion draft). I remember being heartbroken. An interesting historical tidbit about this series. It had the famous “shoe polish” incident.

In game 5, the O’s were down three games to one in the series but ahead 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Cleon Jones of the Mets came to bat. Dave McNally was pitching for the O’s and bounced a pitch that came very close to hitting Jones on the foot and then bounced into the Mets’ dugout. The Mets’ manager, Gil Hodges, came out with the ball and argued to the umpire that the ball hit Jones on the foot and showed the umpire a black mark of shoe polish. The umpire awarded Jones first base. Go to 7:42 of this video to see the play. Eventual World Series MVP Donn Clendenon then came to the plate and BOOM, hit a home run to cut the lead to 3-2. The Mets would go on to win 5-3 and take the Series four games to one.

Interestingly, many years later in interviews with some Mets players from that team the shoe polish incident got some new life. In 1986, the year the Mets beat the Red Sox for their second World Series, Ron Swoboda, who played right field for the Mets in 1969, said that when the ball came bouncing into the dugout it hit an open bag of balls and out tumbled several batting and infield practice balls. Swoboda said you could not tell which was the game ball and that Gil Hodges quickly picked up a ball with a black streak on it and walked out to the homeplate umpire. If that’s true, it’s pretty quick thinking by Hodges. Later, in 2009, another player, pitcher Jerry Koosman, relayed that when the ball bounced into the dugout, Hodges told Koosman to rub the ball on his shoe. Koosman did and then Hodges went out to show the umpire the black mark. Fact or fiction?

Going into 1970 there were big expectations for the O’s because they had much of the same 1969 team that won 109 games. The O’s lived up to the expectations and won 108 games, taking their division by a comfortable margin of 15 games. In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds won 102 games and also comfortably took their division by 14 1/2 games. Both teams swept their League Championships series 3-0. The World Series was a good match up.

This 1970’s Reds team was the first year of what was nicknamed the Big Red Machine. The Big Red Machine cruised from 1970-1976 winning four National League pennants and two World Series titles. They averaged 98 wins per season. It was this team that took down the Sox in 1975. The Reds were stacked with Hall of Famers and near great players, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster, Ken Griffey, Sr. and Cesar Geronimo (I loved his name). They were managed by first year manager Sparky Anderson.

Anderson would go down as one of the greatest managers of all-time, retiring in 1995 after managing for 26 years. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000 – he went in wearing a Reds cap, despite having only managed for nine years in Cincinnati – he would manage the Detroit Tigers for seventeen years winning one more World Seriest title in 1984 (that Tigers team started the season 9-0 and went 35-5 over the first 40 games of the season). As a manager, Anderson won the sixth most games in baseball history, 2194 wins against 1834 losses. Here are the top five:

  1. Connie Mack, 3731-3948 (1894-1950)
  2. John McGraw, 2763-1948 (1899-1932)
  3. Tony LaRussa, 2728-2365 (1979-2011)
  4. Bobby Cox, 2504-2001 (1978-2010)
  5. Joe Torre, 2326-1997 (1977-2010)

LaRussa, Cox, and Torre were just elected this year to the Hall of Fame and will be inducted this summer. Pretty interesting that three of the winningest managers of all-time are going into the Hall together and that I lived through their managing careers. Sparky Anderson is just behind those guys.

Anderson passed away in 2010. He was a fiery manager on the field when he was younger but seemed to mellow a bit with age, as do most of us. Despite all his managerial success, he seemed like a pretty humble guy.  At his induction speech into the Hall he said there were two kind of managers:

“One, it ain’t very smart. He gets bad players, loses games and gets fired. There was somebody like me that was a genius. I got good players, stayed out of the way, let ’em win a lot, and then just hung around for 26 years.”

Anderson had these things to say about Brooks Robinson and his defensive performance in the 1970 World Series:

“He can throw his glove out there and it will start ten double plays by itself.”

“I’m beginning to see Brooks Robinson in my sleep. If I dropped a paper plate, he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.”

Some announcers, owing to Robinson’s defensive performance in the series, nicknamed him “The Houdini of the Hot Corner.” Lee May, who Brooks robbed with his most famous defensive play of the Series, said, “Very nice play, where do they plug in Mr. Hoover in.” The reference, for those too young to remember, is to the Hoover vacuum cleaner.

Many called the 1970 World Series the “Brooks Robinson Series.” He just seemed to make play after play, shutting down any Reds’ threat. Not only did he dominate defensively, he also hit .429 with 2 homers. Here is a clip of some of the plays Robinson made during the 1970 series. I have a vivid memory watching the series and re-enacting these plays in my backyard. The O’s would win the Series 4-1. I was hooked.

Robinson got into the Hall of Fame not on the power of his bat but on his defensive wizardry. He won sixteen consecutive gold glove awards, won the MVP in 1964, and made fifteen straight all-star teams. Like Jim Palmer, he was an Orioles broadcaster for a while. To show how much he was Mr. Oriole (until Cal Ripken, Jr. came along), when they closed down Memorial Stadium (the Orioles now play in Camden Yards) they asked Brooks Robinson and another Baltimore great, Johnny Unitas (he played for the Baltimore Colts and is considered one of the greatest football players of all time) to throw out the closing day first pitch. Brooks threw out a baseball, Unitas tossed a football.