Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Annual Playoff Trivia Article, 2019 Edition

With the conclusion of all the Game 162s, it’s time for the 2019 edition of my Playoff Trivia article. Without further ado, let’s get into things:

After two straight years of drops following the pretty historic highs of 2015 and 2016, both the median and average drought of teams going into the playoffs rebounded slightly in 2019.

On the AL side of things, Cleveland, the team with the longest current drought, missing out hurt the overall numbers. But Tampa Bay, a team who has never won in 22 seasons, taking over for last year’s champ Boston helped mitigate some of the decreases that would result, and new AL Central champ Minnesota doesn’t have too shabby a drought of their own, last winning in 1991.

The NL side also returns three teams from last year, with all of them gaining one year in their drought counts. The swaps here are St. Louis, who last won in 2011, taking over for Colorado, who hasn’t ever won in 27 seasons; and Washington, who hasn’t won in 51 seasons, taking over for the Cubs, who won in 2016. That latter one is the other big reason Cleveland missing out didn’t drop the overall numbers too badly.

In fact, the NL Wild Card Game participants, the Brewers and Nationals, are currently tied for the third-longest active drought in baseball (with the Padres), as none of them has won a World Series since being founded in 1969. Only the Indians (last win in 1948) and Rangers (no wins, founded in 1961) have longer ones. However, no one else playing in October this year even falls in the top ten.

Astros: 2018
Cardinals: 2011
Yankees: 2009
Rays: Never (founded in 1998)
Braves: 1995
Twins: 1991
Athletics: 1989
Dodgers: 1988
Brewers/Nationals: Never (founded in 1969)

My yearly Sporcle Quiz updating the Best Active Players without a World Series will be coming after the season. 62 players will be included, although one of them played exclusively in foreign leagues (Erick Aybar) and two others retired during the season (Troy Tulowitzki and Ichiro Suzuki), although my official wording on the quiz is “players must have been active at some point during 2019”, so all three count.

If you want to know who the other players are, I’ll include a full list of names at the bottom. But to avoid spoilers, I’ll just list the number of players on each of team who qualified this year up here:

Zero: Athletics
One: Cardinals, Rays, Twins
Three: Astros, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers
Four: Yankees
Eight: Nationals

So not counting Tulo for the Yankees, a full half of teams in the playoffs have 3 title-less players on the roster. On the extremes, we have Oakland, who is mostly loaded with young talent and consequently has no one appearing in Baseball-Reference’s Top 100 active players, and Washington, who has a good mix of key stars who haven’t won and role players with long histories in the league

2018 denied us even one expansion team in the World Series, let alone the second-ever all-expansion series. This year, four of the ten teams headed to the postseason are expansions, and they’re even evenly distributed, with the Astros, Rays, Brewers, and Nationals carrying the banner.

The biggest issue is that three of the four are Wild Card teams. In the NL, the Wild Card slot is guaranteed to give us an expansion team, so there’s roughly a 1 in 4 chance the NL rep is not an original team. The Astros bring those odds up a lot on the other side, and if the Rays beat Oakland, the winner of an Astros-Rays Division Series gives a 50/50 shot of an AL Expansion Pennant. But if you figure it’s 1-4 for the Astros and 1-8 for the Rays right now, our overall odds of the Second All-Expansion Series are roughly 3 in 32, or 9.375%.

Speaking of the Astros, Rays, Nationals, and Brewers, if you want to see a unique World Series matchup this postseason, you need to start rooting for one of those four teams. The Twins, Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, A’s, and Braves just have too long and storied histories, but more on that in a second.

The Nationals have still never played in a World Series, meaning that anyone they face will make for a new match. Same goes for the Brewers, who have made a World Series, but it was back in 1982 when they were an AL team. There’s a chance they meet up with the Cardinals, who they faced that year (and have faced in the postseason since), but it won’t be in the World Series.

The Rays have actually won a pennant in their own league, but they squared off against the not-playoff-bound Phillies in 2008, so that rematch can’t happen. The Astros have also won a pennant since they switched (as well as one before then), although they could potentially have a rematch against the Dodgers. Every other combination would be new, however (and, like the Brewers, they have long postseason histories from their pre-league-swap days, although in this case, it’s against both the Cardinals and Braves, with some pre-2017 faceoffs against eventual 2017 World Series foes the Dodgers thrown in).

If, however, you’d prefer a series with a little more history behind it, every past World Series featuring a combination that could happen again in 2019 is listed below. Interestingly, the Twins have three pennants since moving to Minnesota, and each one has resulted in a different World Series matchup against one of this year’s NL Division winners. In contrast, you have the Yankees, who have faced off against the three NL Division winners a combined twenty times.

1 time
Athletics-Braves (1914)
Astros-Dodgers (2017)
Twins-Cardinals (1987)
Twins-Dodgers (1965)
Twins-Braves (1991)

2 times
Athletics-Cardinals (1930, 1931)
Athletics-Dodgers (1974, 1988)

More than 2 times
Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
Yankees-Cardinals (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943, 1964)
Yankees-Dodgers (eleven times, most recently 1981)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Appreciating Yuli Gurriel’s Surprising Season, and Reflecting on What Might Have Been

Note: This is also up at The Crawfish Boxes, but I also wanted to post it here directly, since it's something of a spiritual successor to this piece I wrote a few years ago about Hiroki Kuroda.

There have been a lot of things to appreciate this year for the Astros, between Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole dueling for Cy Young, Yordan Álvarez waltzing to the Rookie of the Year, Alex Bregman’s late charge for MVP, the acquisition or Zack Greinke, solid seasons from Jose Altuve and George Springer in spite of injuries… you get the point. But I want to go over the most surprising season of all (and in case you doubted it, it was even the winner of Wednesday’s StroPoll).

Because let’s be honest, nobody foresaw Yuli Gurriel hitting 30 homers this year. After all, this year marked his age 35 season, and in two and a half years in the majors, he hadn’t even reached 20 homers, let alone 30. And sure, that home run total is partly due to the suspect baseballs, which have led to league-wide home run surges. But even within that context, Yuli has stood out; his 134 wRC+, for instance, is both a career-high, and 52nd in the league.

And when you combine that with his age, it makes things even more impressive. For instance, only 38 hitters in history have had 30-homer years in their age 35 season (and there are quite a few other notable Astros on that list, including Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and Carlos Beltran).

On top of that, Yuli has played a harder defensive slate than most of the names in that group, with 42 games coming at third base (his primary position back when he was in Cuba) and another 4 at second; if you take out everyone who played over three-quarters of their games at first/DH/left field/right field, the group shrinks down to just nine: Yuli, Cy Williams, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Steve Finley, Mike Schmidt, Joe DiMaggio, and Curtis Granderson. It’s not all Hall of Famers or anything, but that’s still a pretty solid list.

His season holds up outside of homers, too. At 3.4 WAR (Fangraphs), Yuli is tied for 117th all-time among 35 year olds. And that 134 wRC+ is tied for 66th all-time for players his age. Being this good this late into his career is impressive, and while not every name right around him is a Hall of Famer, a decent number are, since one of the ways to still be pretty good in your mid-30s is to have been really good before then. Since he got a late start, only defecting from Cuba in 2016 at the age of 31, we’ll never get to know if Yuli could have been that had he started earlier.

In the absence of that, though, I decided to take a look back at his pre-Majors career to get a fuller sense of the scope of his career. Baseball-Reference has pretty robust foreign league stats, after all. If we can’t know for sure how he would have done in the Majors from Day 1, maybe we can at least contextualize it better to estimate.

So let’s just start with the basics. Prior to coming over to the Astros, Yuli Gurriel played 15 seasons in the Cuban National Series (plus another half season with the Yokohama BayStars in Japan), debuting with the Gallos de Sancti Spiritus in the 2001-02 season (the Cuban leagues avoid the summer months) at the age of just 17. He played third base for almost the entirety of that (with just short stints at second base and center field to mix things up), and provided some major offense from a difficult fielding position.

Prior to signing with the Astros, Yuli hit 250 homers, with 239 of those coming in Cuba. And Cuba has never had the home run totals that MLB has, between the lower-scoring environment and shorter, 96-game season; the league leader is usually in the twenties or thirties. In racking up those 239 homers up, Yuli finished in the top ten eight different times. Once, he led the league (the 2013-14 season, his first of three with the other team he played for, Industriales de La Habana), and four other times, he finished third. And if you multiply his total by 1.5 in an attempt to put it on a scale closer to the Majors (96 times 1.5 would get you 144 games), it’s closer to 360, or an average of 24 per year.

His rate stats hold up similarly; Yuli won the batting title once in Cuba, and finished top ten five times total. That batting title came in 2015-16 when he won the triple-slash triple crown, hitting an astounding .500/.589/.874. He won a second slugging title before that in 2013-14, when he posted a .566 mark, and finished in the top ten nine times in total.

Of course, again, it’s hard to compare this directly to MLB, since it’s a totally different run scoring environment. But you can roughly estimate OPS+ if you know the league averages, and that gives us a little more context of how he stood in comparison to the rest of the league. It’s not the more advanced, park-controlled version we’re used to, but it’s good enough in cases like this. And when we compare Gurriel to his league he still looks pretty darn special.

In 2001, at the age of 17, rookie Yuli posted a 97 OPS+ in nearly 400 plate appearances. He would raise that to 121 OPS+ the next year, then post a 144 OPS+ or better every year after that with the exception of his age 21 season. That incredible 2015-16 season saw him reach an absurd 293 mark, but even outside of that, he had another season at 184, three more above 170, and four more in the 160-169 range. Even his brief sojourn to Japan saw him hit 43% above the league average.

(Yuli's stats, with my calculations of league rates and OPS+ added; sets of single asterisks indicate top ten finishes in home runs and triple slash stats, double asterisks indicate league leader)

Of course, the big question is how this all would have translated to MLB. No other foreign league is equal in talent with the majors, but they all differ in how close they are. I’ve seen estimates that place Japan at slightly above AAA, Mexico just below AAA, and Korea at High A, but I’ve not found anything estimating Cuba’s relative level.

Clearly, things wouldn’t have been a 1:1 translation. After all, you can count on one hand the number of 17 year olds who have gotten notable playing time over the last century. There’s no way Yuli would hit at a league-average level over 400 plate appearances like he did in Cuba.

But at the same time, Yordan also played in Cuba overlapping with Yuli. In 2013-14, Yordan debuted at the age of 16 for Las Tunas. He would play half a season that year and the next, with OPS+s of 48 and 112. That’s not exactly a comprehensive study or anything, but just going off of that, it seems like Yuli could have been a fixture in the majors by age 22 or 23, back in 2006 or 2007. It feels weird to imagine Gurriel coming up as a contemporary of Justin Verlander, Hanley Ramirez, Hunter Pence, Ryan Zimmerman, or Dustin Pedroia, but that’s where that would have but him.

And clearly, not everyone can be Yordan, but you don’t need to keep a 182 OPS+ to play in the majors. Especially not if you’re playing third or second base, where Yuli would have still been at the time. Zimmerman and Pedroia, for instance, could regularly rack up 4-6 WAR seasons at those positions with OPS+s in the 115-140 and strong defense.

Would that have been manageable for Gurriel? That’s something like a 45 point hit to what he was doing in Cuba; I have no sense if that’s too harsh or not, but he’s still comfortably above average even it it’s not a stiff enough penalty. And it’s hard to know how good Yuli’s defense would have been at his peak, but even the pessimistic reading of this scenario is that he could have easily stuck as a starter in the majors in his early 20s, and likely picked up a few All-Star selections later in his career. At best, maybe he could have even been a version of Hanley who didn’t completely give up on defense after a few years.

Even if we didn’t get to see him in his real prime, it’s good that we get to see this year, which has been incredible in its own way. Few and far between are the players who have age-35 seasons this good, lifelong MLB stars or later-year transplants. Yuli has been integral to the success of this year’s Astros, and it’s as good a time as any to appreciate the totality of his career.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Much Less Overdue Link Round-Up

Only two articles this time, after the massive one from last week. First, I looked at Jose Altuve's performance since coming off the Injured List. He's kept up his power surge from early in the season, but his contact skills have returned as well!

Then, I recapped today's loss to the A's. I've been on a really rough roll the last two months or so as far as the Astros' record in games that I recap, but despite that, I still somehow apparently have a winning record on the year at 12-11.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

An Overdue Link Round-Up

It's been a while since my last post linking to all of my recent writing across different sites, so let's take care of that!

Over at The Crawfish Boxes, I had pre-trade deadline features on the relief pitcher market generally and Felipe Vazquez specifically. I also contributed a series preview for the Cardinals-Astros meet-up.

And the newest feature over there is a piece looking at the Astros' chances at finishing the year with the best record in the majors, comparing their remaining schedule strength against the Dodgers, Yankees, and Twins. As a bonus, I even explained why they're favorites to set another franchise win record this year.

I also did three game recaps along the way, including a loss to the A'sa loss to the Indians, and a win over the Mariners.

If you haven't been following my posts here, I did a piece Hall of Fame weekend suggesting that other teams should follow the Mariners' lead in lobbying for Edgar Martinez, and even suggested a name for each team. And following the Astros acquiring Zack Greinke, I looked at his chances of reaching 3000 strikeouts, and the history of 3000 K teammates.

And lastly, in non-baseball news, over at Out of Left Field, I did a piece suggesting some possible (albeit unlikely) future Disney live action remakes.

Phew, that was a lot; I've been productive lately!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, and a History of 3000 Strikeout Teammates

If you’ve seen any of Justin Verlander’s starts this year, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen him making some bit of strikeout history or other; he’s been climbing up the leaderboard since joining Houston, passing famous aces and various milestones almost nightly. When he came to Houston back in September 2017, JV stood at 2373 Ks, in 46th place all-time. Now, just under two years later, he’s climbed all the way to 18th, and at 2902, he should pass the historic 3000 mark sometime in early 2020.

But now, he’s not alone on the team in that regard. With the acquisition of Zack Greinke at the deadline, the Astros now have both the second- and fourth-highest active strikeout totals in their rotation (and, given that this is CC Sabathia’s final year, they’ll of course automatically take over first and third next season). And both are under contract through the 2021 season, meaning this duo should be here for a while.

Greinke is one year Verlander’s junior (well, eight months, but they fall on opposite sides of the June 30th line that’s usually used to determine a the season-age for a player), and at 2570, is even closer to 3000 strikeouts than Verlander was when he arrived back in 2017. Get ready to see a lot of the same names Justin passed coming up again (in the coming weeks, you can look forward to Bob Feller at 2581, Warren Spahn at 2583, Tom Glavine at 2607, and Chuck Finley at 2610). But it also raised a few interesting questions for me: how soon could Greinke reach 3000 strikeouts? And how often are there two 3000 strikeout pitchers on the same team?

Let’s tackle those in order. First, I don’t feel it’s too presumptuous to say that Greinke will get to 3000 strikeouts, and the only active pitchers who I think have a better chance to make it right now are the two ahead of him, Verlander and Max Scherzer (who’s currently at 2638). Greinke is basically a guarantee to reach 2600 this season, and is under contract for at least two more full years to get him even closer.

Basically, as long as you can stay productive or get close enough to 3000 that you can crawl over the line in a season or two while your arm doesn’t fall off, you can keep finding opportunities to get the rest of the way there. There’s a reason that nobody has retired with a strikeout total in the 2900s (something that isn’t true for any other hundreds before it), or that the largest gap between any two consecutive retired players on the all-time list (outside of the top five) is Jim Bunning (2855) and John Smoltz (3084). People generally want to get the rest of the way once they’re that close

And even below the 2900 range, outside of Mike Mussina, the only players who have retired in even the 2600-2900 range are the ones who saw their strikeout ability drop substantially in their final years. Sometimes it was due to injuries limiting their innings, sometimes it was their K/9 rate dropping rapidly, sometimes it was both, but neither seems to apply to Zack yet. I suppose that Greinke could finish in that range and decide to walk away like Mussina did, but I’d want to hear that from him before calling it at all likely.

As for when it will happen, just going by some back of the envelope calculations, there’s a decent chance he pulls it off before his current contract ends. As mentioned, he currently sits at 2570, and has 135 on the year. If he can pull out 60 more (just to use round numbers), that would put him more or less in line with his 2018 total (199) and leave him at 2630. At that point, he would just need to average 185 for the next two seasons, which is very much something Zack can manage. It’s looking like 2019 will be his third straight season topping that total, and perhaps even more impressively, 2019 will mark the tenth time in the last twelve years where he would top 180 strikeouts. We’ll have to see how he fares in Houston, of course (maybe Brent Strom can even help him kick things up yet another notch), but reaching 3000 by the end of 2021 looks at least doable, although it will likely come down to the wire and definitely depend a little on luck.

And of course, by the time that he reaches it, Verlander will have crossed it about a year and a half earlier, which will put the Astros in rare company. In the course of Major League history, only 17 different pitchers have reached the 3000 K plateau, which means teams with multiple 3000 strikeout guys are even rarer. You can probably think of a few examples; Greg Maddux and John Smoltz on the ‘90s Braves, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling on the Diamondbacks, and so on. But not all of them had 3000 strikeouts yet when pitching in those duos, which would be the case if Greinke reaches it by 2021. How often has that happened?

I decided to chart out every 3000 K club member (plus likely next three in Verlander, Scherzer, and Greinke) by team over the years, as well as when they finally crossed the mark, to answer that question. Here’s as much trivia on 3000 strikeout teammates as I could find:

Sunday, July 21, 2019

One Hall of Fame Candidate Each Team Could Lobby For

This Sunday marks the 2019 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where (among others) Edgar Martinez will finally be getting his long-deserved induction. What makes his case especially interesting is that his team, the Mariners, played an unusually large role in helping to sway some of the more stubborn voters. This type of campaigning isn’t completely new (just look at Rich Lederer and Bert Blyleven a decade ago for one notable example, or any number of Veterans Committee selections who have had some connections in the voters), but it is unusual for certain teams to be the ones doing so rather than individuals.

And honestly? I kind of like it. Maybe one day, when teams are regularly pushing for bad players to be elected, it’ll be more frustrating than anything. But in this day and age, where there’s instead a huge backlog of notable candidates getting insufficient Hall of Fame attention? In truth, more teams should be doing that.

So let’s help them out! Here’s one candidate I think each team could take up to advocate for their Hall of Fame selection:

The Easy Matches, BBWAA Edition:

Colorado Rockies-There will be plenty of time to work on the Todd Helton lobby, but right now, Larry Walker is in his tenth year and desperately needs some votes whipped in his favor. The Rockies have kept Walker’s number mostly out of use since he retired, so they clearly like him. Help him out here, Colorado!

San Francisco Giants-After years of waiting (I guess for the Hall of Fame to induct him?), the Giants went ahead and retired Barry Bonds’s number anyway. Starting to push for his Hall election would be a next step.

Houston Astros-I think Lance Berkman wouldn’t be a bad Hall selection, but he’s not an especially pressing case and he’s now fallen off the writers ballot. Meanwhile, Billy Wagner is still on the ballot (entering his fifth of ten chances), and now that Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, and Trevor Hoffman have gone in over the past two years, Wagner is probably the best closer not in Cooperstown.

Atlanta Braves-Andruw Jones might be the best fielding outfielder of all-time, hit 434 home runs, and is in danger of falling off the ballot in his third attempt this winter. His strong connection with Atlanta could help, especially since his ‘90s co-stars Chipper Jones, Bobby Cox, and The Big Three are now all accounted for

The Easy Matches, Veterans Committee Edition:
Detroit Tigers-Now that Alan Trammell and Jack Morris are in, the obvious next step is to advocate for their long-time teammate Lou Whitaker, who is more than deserving.

Chicago White Sox-An early star of integration, Minnie Minoso has come to be a regular appearance on Veterans Committee ballots and Hall of Fame snub lists. The White Sox love him, and have retired his number, so maybe it helps him out one day the way it seemingly did Harold Baines this year.

Kansas City Royals, New York Mets-I have a feeling that one or both of these two might have to take up Carlos Beltran, but they have a few years until he hits the ballot. Or maybe Beltran does better than I’m expecting and goes in quickly. Who knows. In the meantime though, I think Bret Saberhagen is a deserving modern starter who fits the “high peak” Hall profile. And Keith Hernandez is the type of “doubles-and-fielding” star who gets overlooked, especially at positions like first base, plus the Mets already have his #17 out of circulation.

Toronto Blue Jays-I think either Dave Stieb or John Olerud works here. I don’t think that Stieb is as good as Saberhagen, or that Olerud is as good as Hernandez, but both have similar cases to those two, and I think they’re still good enough for Cooperstown.

Minnesota Twins-I guess they could try and push for Johan Santana (see above) when he finally hits the Veterans Committee ballot, but maybe they would be better served gearing up for Joe Mauer in a few years. I also foresee that one being a bit of a struggle.

Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles-Both teams are a little leaner in their options, but Bobby Grich is a strong second base option who split his career fairly evenly with both teams, so either could take up his case convincingly.

Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers-For both of these AL West teams, you could argue for either a slugging steroid era first baseman (Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro) or an expansion era third baseman, since the position has been pretty overlooked (Sal Bando, Buddy Bell).

Cincinnati Reds-The Reds finally retired Pete Rose’s number a few years ago after holding off for decades following his ban from the game. Maybe the next step is petitioning Cooperstown to finally electing him? Failing that, I could see them pushing for Dave Concepción, although I’m less sold on his Hall case.

The More Complicated Ones, BBWAA Edition:

Cleveland Indians-I’d like to see the Indians take up the case for Kenny Lofton when he hits the Veterans Committee ballot in a few years, but realistically, their primary focus would probably be Omar Vizquel until he’s no longer on the BBWAA’s ballot.

New York Yankees-Similarly, I think the Yankees could do good things for the cases of guys like Thurman Munson or Graig Nettles, but the main focus would probably be Andy Pettitte while he’s on the Writers’ Ballot. I do think Pettitte is a better Hall choice than Vizquel, though, so I mind this a little less.

Boston Red Sox-Manny Ramirez and Roger Clemens are both still on the ballot, but neither has a great relationship with the Red Sox, to my knowledge. The uncontroversial option would probably be to take up the VC case for long-time Red Sock Dwight Evans.

St. Louis Cardinals-Scott Rolen is still on the ballot, and I think he’s more closely associated with the Cardinals than his other teams. As a fan of both Rolen and the Cardinals, I’d love to see this happen, but his short tenure with the team might hurt him. If not Rolen, then among VC options, they could try with the unfairly-one-and-done Jim Edmonds, or put real effort behind finally pushing Ted Simmons or Ken Boyer over the line.

Philadelphia Philles-Both Rolen and Curt Schilling are on the ballot, and spent a plurality of their careers in Philly, but I don’t think either left the city on great terms? So maybe there’s too many hard feelings here. I’m not a Philadelphia native though, so maybe I’m interpreting things wrong. I guess they could just start gearing up for Chase Utley in 2024 instead.

Arizona Diamondbacks-Similar to Rolen and St. Louis, maybe Arizona takes up Schilling’s case instead. His shorter time in Phoenix means more in the context of a younger team, if nothing else, especially given his role on the 2001 champions.

Miami Marlins
-The Marlins don’t have a ton of great options, because, well, you know. But it would be both kind of funny and actually interesting if they took up Gary Sheffield’s case while he was on the ballot. Sheffield was kind of a mercenary during his career, but the Florida native played more games in Miami than anywhere else, joined the team in their debut season, and was on their first championship team in 1997. I always kind of wondered if he would have stuck around longer (or at least liked the option to do so) had Marlins ownership been a little less wildly cynical.

Chicago Cubs-Sammy Sosa seems like the obvious choice, but Cubs ownership still doesn’t like to acknowledge him for whatever reason. So failing that, I guess they could go in for Rick Reuschel?

Seattle Mariners­­-I can’t think of any good options here, but since they started this idea and got Edgar inducted, I’ll give them a pass for the time being.

Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals-The Nationals don’t really acknowledge the Montreal years, so they have under two decades to work with. The Rays will probably get their first good candidates in a few years when Evan Longoria retires.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers-I could see them pushing for Dave Parker and Orel Hershiser or Fernando Valenzuela. They’re all kind of stretches, but they’re Veteran Committee ballot regulars, and neither team has a stronger candidate.

Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres
-I’m totally at a loss for these two right now. I guess starting building your casebooks for Christian Yelich and Manny Machado?

Weekly Review

This week, I did a couple of summaries for the Angels series, including Monday's loss and Wednesday's big win. The latter marked my first recap of a win in over a month!

I also contributed to The Crawfish Boxes' Trade Deadline preview, where we each picked our ideal and most likely trade targets.

And in case you missed it on this site, here was my two-part series looking at managers, retired numbers, and which managers might get their numbers retired.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Which Active Managers Could Get Their Numbers Retired? Part Two

In part one, I looked at what it generally takes for a manager to get their number retired by a team. Now that we have a framework established, we can pretty easily go through each team’s manager and see which ones measure up. Of course, in some cases, the manager is relatively new, so I also threw in a few other recent managers for some teams who seem to fit at least one of the major criteria. There’s a lot to get through here, so let’s get to it:

Red Sox-It's still way too early to say for sophomore manager Alex Cora. Obviously, winning a title in your first season is a pretty good start, but the last guy did that too, and he was let go after five years with a .533 record. Cora definitely seems better than that, of course, but it's still going to be an uphill battle.

On the subject of recent managers, while he was technically three managers ago (already???), he's still active with some pretty good credentials: I'm speaking, of course, about Terry Francona. He didn't even make it to a decade in Boston, which might seem a little short, but it was actually the second-longest managerial tenure the team has ever seen (and the longest excluding player-managers). Two World Series, including the one that broke The Curse, should be more than enough to smooth over whatever anger ownership felt towards him when he retires (also, like Cora and John Farrell, Francona won a World Series in his first year with the team. That means every manager since the curse ended except Bobby Valentine did that. I don’t know that it means anything, but it’s weird that it’s happened three times now). They might wait for him to make the Hall first (which he seems like a lock for), and we'll get to his Indians number later, but I expect #47 to get retired shortly after Francona hangs it up for good.

Orioles-Brandon Hyde was just hired this past offseason, and it’s too early to call whether he’ll still be in place by the end of the Orioles’ present rebuilding, let alone anything beyond that. His predecessor Buck Showalter had the second-longest Orioles tenure ever, and is second in team history on wins (both behind Earl Weaver), but it’s hard to see him getting a number retired given the lack of pennants.

Blue Jays-Charlie Montoyo is another first-year manager, so again, it’s probably not worth getting too into. I got into it last time, but their interesting manager in recent history is Cito Gaston, who won two World Series managing the Blue Jays from 1989 to 1997 (then came back for a second, less successful fun from 2008 to 2010). He’s also the all-time winningest Blue Jays manager. I’m not sure why they haven’t retired his number yet, but they did add him to their “Level of Excellence” that seemed like their twist on retired numbers right up until they actually started to retire numbers as well. So we’ll see how that goes in the next few years, I suppose. I still think they’ll eventually retire his number, unless they’re leaving retired numbers to Hall of Famers exclusively (Gaston might not make the Hall, but I haven’t looked at his case too hard yet either way to be 100% sure of that gut reaction).

Rays-Kevin Cash is only four games above .500 at the moment and had a tough first three years, but the Rays have looked like a strong team since last year, so maybe he’s on the upswing. If he brings the Rays their first World Series, he’ll likely also take over their franchise win record, so that would make him a strong contender.

Joe Maddon is also interesting, as the current franchise win leader and the guy who brought Tampa their first pennant. If Cash actually wins a World Series, it takes a lot of the luster off of Maddon’s achievement. Conversely, if Maddon makes the Hall (which still seems pretty feasible), the Rays may honor him for getting his start there. I can see it going either way.

Yankees-Aaron Boone, again, seems like he’s off to a decent start, but just winning a World Series doesn’t seem to be enough for the Yankees, so he has a tougher hill to climb than just about anyone else. His predecessor Joe Girardi managed the team for a decade, but his lone title probably isn’t enough for their standards. Maybe it could happen if the owners decide they like him more in retrospect, like with Billy Martin.

Friday, July 12, 2019

What Does it Take for a Manager to get Their Number Retired?

Earlier this season, manager AJ Hinch moved into the Astros’ franchise top three in all-time wins with the team, passing Art Howe with his 393rd win in Houston. Inspired by that, I wondered if Hinch is the best manager in Astros history. Looking into it and asking around, the answer was… a pretty resounding yes. After moving into third place already this year, he’s already four wins shy of tying Larry Dierker (435) for second place. Barring anything unforeseen, he should pass Bill Virdon’s 544 wins sometime next year. And of course, no other Astros manager has won a World Series, only one other one has a pennant (Phil Garner in 2005), only Virdon has managed the team for more seasons (8 to 5), and the only manager with a winning percentage higher than his .583 mark is Salty Parker, who went undefeated in one game in 1972 in between Harry Walker and Hall of Famer Leo Durocher (who I hadn’t even realized managed the Astros for just under 200 games).

So, uh… yeah. Glad I could answer that question. But I wanted to dig into the topic a little more. So, in typical me fashion, I decided to look at it from the perspective of retired numbers: which current managers have a shot at getting their numbers retired by a team? (It may not seem like it, but this is probably a more interesting question than making the Hall of Fame, to be honest, since the standards are more ambiguous.)

That of course brings up the question of “what does it take to get your number retired as a manager?” The easiest thing to do would be to look at managers who already have their numbers retired, but that can be something of a difficult question given the number of people with a retired number who served as both a player and a manager. Would players like Dierker (#49) or Red Schoendienst (#2, Cardinals) have gotten their numbers retired if they didn’t also have notable playing careers with their teams? Or even further, is their honor entirely due to their playing days, with managerial achievements serving just as icing on the cake? And this isn’t even getting into old-time player-managers where the two components are even more intertwined, like Bill Terry (#3, Giants).

You kind of have to play it by ear a little bit, but there are some trends you start to notice:

1) Win multiple World Series titles.
This is the surest route. 23 managers have won more than one World Series, and 9 of them have gotten their number retired.* Which doesn’t sound great, until you consider all the complicating factors. Two manages on that list are still active (Bruce Bochy and Terry Francona, both of whom have pretty compelling cases). A number of other notable ones never wore uniform numbers, including Joe McCarthy (most World Series wins as a manager) and Connie Mack (most wins). That accounts for another six managers. Now to be fair, John McGraw never wore a number either, and that didn’t stop the Giants from adding him to their retired number section, but the Giants are not the norm in that regard.

* That list includes: Casey Stengel (#37, Yankees and Mets), Walter Alston (#24, Dodgers), Joe Torre (#6, Yankees), Sparky Anderson (#10, Reds; #11, Tigers), Tony La Russa (#10, Cardinals), Tom Kelly (#10, Twins), Tom Lasorda (#2, Dodgers), Danny Murtaugh (#40, Pirates), and John McGraw (see above). All of them won multiple World Series with those teams specifically except for Stengel and the Mets, and Anderson and the Tigers, but we’ll come back to that.

The remaining six managers are interesting exceptions to use as case studies:

-Cito Gaston had two titles for Toronto and was added to their Level of Excellence, which seemed like their version of retired numbers until they suddenly retired Roberto Alomar’s #12 in 2011. Who knows if they honor him again one day, but he’s far and away their most successful manager.

-Bucky Harris’s biggest success came with the Washington Senators (their only World Series, two of their three pennants, eighteen seasons total), who no longer exist. His other World Series title came with the 1947 Yankees, but he only helmed them one other season before new ownership decided to replace him with Casey Stengel, and it’s gonna take a lot more than one title in two seasons to stand out among Yankees managers.

-Ralph Houk had quick success as the Yankees’ manager, winning the 1961 and ‘62 World Series as well as the 1963 pennant, but then moved into the front office. He returned to a second, longer managerial stint with them to much less success (only finishing above fourth place once in eight seasons) before becoming the first of many managers to leave under the new Steinbrenner administration (and his nine years after that with Detroit and Boston, which saw him finish with a losing record, did little to remind anyone of those early titles).

-Bill McKechnie’s success was spread out: he won one World Series with the Pirates (1925), one pennant with the Cardinals (1928), and a Series and another pennant with the Reds (1939-40). Cincinnati might make sense as an option, except that his #1 was later retired in honor of a different manager (Fred Hutchinson, who’s successful stint was brought to an early end by cancer).

-Billy Southworth was the manager of the Cardinals during their early 1940s dynasty, winning three straight pennants and the ‘42 and ‘44 World Series. He left after his seventh season with the team for the Boston Braves, where he was okay (1 pennant and a still-winning record over six years), but his reputation was probably hurt by the fact that the team continued fine without him, winning the World Series again in their first year without him. He was sort of forgotten for a while after that, only getting elected to the Hall relatively recently back in 2008.

-Dick Williams, like Southworth, left a dynasty team mid-run, leaving the A’s after a spat with owner Charlie Finley. In three seasons in Oakland, Williams had three playoff appearances as well as the 1971 and ‘72 World Series, but his successor immediately continued with another title in 1973. Williams also brought pennants to Boston (1967) and San Diego (1984), but never managed anywhere for more than five seasons (his Expos stint was five exactly, but they, again, no longer exist). His overall success got him elected to the Hall, and he did well considering he worked mostly for expansion teams and the Yawkey-owned Red Sox, which put him at a disadvantage. But his spat with Finley, his short overall stint in Oakland, and the team’s immediate success without him all probably hurt his reputation at the place where he was most successful.

So, to try and draw summaries from them: don’t tick off the owner, don’t get shown up by a successor, and make sure that your team is both willing to retire manager numbers and continues to exist. Also, the Yankees seem to be a little stricter than other teams.