A Look at Bob Welch’s 1990 Season

Welch’s 27 wins and fairly comfortable 1990 Cy Young award, despite him quite possibly not being the best pitcher on his team, gave rise to one of the cause célèbres of sabermetrics.

If you look at Welch’s 1990 game log, you see two starts in which he did not pitch at least 5 innings. He lost both of those games. He pitched 7+ innings in 23 of his 35 starts. He allowed 7 runs, all earned, in 2 innings in a Metrodome game on July 28 (on 3 days rest). In ’90, Welch had a 2.95 ERA, allowing 78 earned runs in 238 innings (12 of the 90 runs he allowed were unearned). Throwing out that late July game in Minneapolis, his season total was 71 earned runs allowed in 236 innings, for a 2.71 ERA.

Welch was 27-6 in 35 starts. He threw shutouts in both of his complete games. He allowed more than 4 runs in 5 different games, lost 4 of those games, and got a no-decision in the fifth game. Welch had 2 games in which he was a hard-luck no-winner: he allowed 2 runs in 2 different games in April, getting a loss and a no-decision in the 2 games. My guess is that Welch “deserved” about a 21-10 season in 1990, but he was playing for the league’s best team, with a fine bullpen and a great closer having a great year.

Compare him to Dave Stewart, who went 22-11 in 1990, with a 2.56 ERA. Stew was much more erratic. He allowed 5+ runs in 6 different starts, but allowed 0 earned runs in 9 different starts. He also was more of a workhorse, pitching 267 innings, with 11 complete games; and, went into extra innings 3 times.

In 1990 Roger Clemens, who seems to be the consensus sabermetric A.L. pitcher of the year, had a 1.93 ERA in 228 1/3rd innngs, allowing 49 earned runs (10 of the 59 runs he allowed were unearned), with 4 shutouts, and 7 complete games. He went 21-6 in 31 starts. Clemens’ worst start was allowing 6 earned runs in 6 innings

But, Clemens’ 4 shutouts came after the All-Star break, and he missed most of September, not contributing while the Red Sox were in a tight race with Blue Jays for the A.L. East (Boston won 88 games in 1990, beating out Toronto by 2 games). By late July, Welch was already 15-3, had had a sub-2 ERA deep into May, and won 9 straight starts in May and June. He’d established himself quite solidly as the pitching story of the year well before Clemens made his 2nd half push. Meanwhile, the A’s were steamrolling to a 103-win season, clearly the best team in MLB, and seemingly poised to become one of the top few dynasties of the post 1936-1964 Yankees time frame.

In 1990, if you covered baseball and considered the Cy Young to be the pitchers’ equivalent of the MVP, Welch was not a hard choice on your ballot. Remember that in 1990 most people had very little access to computer-based coverage of baseball, and sabermetrics was at best a sidelight. Imagine that you were a reporter, columnist, or TV talking head somewhere in the two eastern time zones. You didn’t see the A’s often, either in person or on TV, but you knew they were really good, and most mornings, looking through the newspaper or watching ESPN, you saw that they’d won yet another game late last night. Almost every time Welch made a start he won, and put up a solid line score to show that he deserved the win. The few times you watched him pitch, it was the same story. At the end of the year, looking down the stat lines, you saw Welch had put up the most wins since 1968, pretty much had the numbers to back up the 27 wins, had a great backstory (alcoholism, his duel with Reggie Jackson in the 1978 World Series, a decade as a fine Dodgers pitcher, a turbulent 1989 in which he became a father, lost his mother, and had his new home in the Marina district of San Francisco damaged in the Loma Prieta quake), and, for the 1990 season anyway, seemed to be the best pitcher on a surging dynasty. Did you have enough good reasons to go against all that and vote for Clemens or Stewart instead of Welch?

Welch got 107 points on the Cy Young ballot, to Clemens’ 77 and Stewart’s 43 (Dennis Eckersley got just 2 points, compared to Bobby Thigpen’s 20).

Published in: Uncategorized on May 22, 2016 at 4:09 pm  Comments (2)  

Out of Obscurity, One Great Shining Moment

A Milwaukee Brewers player named Tim Unroe hit a 9th-inning pinch hit grand slam for his 1st MLB homer in a May 3, 1997 17-4 win over the Mariners in the Kingdome. He hit a total of 3 big league homers, with 11 RBIs, in 95 at-bats, 1995-2000. It got me thinking about other short-term big leaguers who did one spectacular thing in an otherwise obscure career. Phil Humber’s perfect game is a better example, but in a slightly longer career. And, Humber is in no danger of being forgotten.

The negative side of this is Ron Wright, who, as a Seattle Mariner, struck out, hit into a double play and hit into a triple play in his three MLB at-bats, on one day, April 14, 2002. Judging from this 2007 New York Times article on Wright, he recovered from the experience pretty well.

Do you have any players to add to these ranks?

Published in: Uncategorized on April 26, 2016 at 1:31 pm  Comments (7)  

The Disappearance of Sammy Sosa

Presumably Sosa’s five-year stretch, 1998 through 2002, in which he hit 292 homers, set a record for slugging that we won’t see eclipsed for a long time. It was an average of 58 homers per season. Sosa missed a combined 23 games in the five seasons, and drew 92 walks per season: the 292 homers came in 3,005 at-bats, for nearly a 10% homer rate. He had 10 triples total, and 135 doubles total: the 292 homers more than doubled his 145 other extra base hits. The absurd statistics Barry Bonds put up in various seasons in the 2000s have obscured some of Sosa’s 2001 stats: a .737 slugging percentage, league-leading 37 intentional walks, 160 RBIs in 160 games, along with 146 runs scored. (Sosa also hit 3 homers in 3 different games in August and September of ’01.)

Considering these kinds of performances, it is amazing the speed with which Sosa vanished from the minds of baseball fans and journalists. He got 12.5% of the vote on his first Hall of Fame ballot, in 2013, then 7.2%, then 6.6%, and 7% in 2016. This wasn’t just because of steroids: Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro are among the offensive players who’ve exceeded Sosa’s 6.6% low-water mark in the past 4 years.

Published in: Uncategorized on April 15, 2016 at 3:09 pm  Comments (1)  

The Most Exciting Player You’ve Ever Seen

When talking about sports, the most interesting debates tend to be those that rest on idiosyncrasies and complete subjectivity. Not “who was the best player ever?” but “who was the most infuriating player?” or “which manager do you most dislike?” When we can’t objectively point to a number that at least pretends to settle the argument, it opens up the argument in all kinds of ways, and creates opportunities to be surprised. This question is one of those very subjective and open-ended debates: Who is the most exciting baseball player you’ve ever seen?

My impulse is to say Rickey Henderson. There’s his speed, his power, that batting crouch; but more than that, his personality, and the way he acted. He was a bit like Dennis Rodman in the 1990s, but Rodman was clearly looking for attention and not really a fully formed personality; Rickey managed to be very self-contained and assured, but also, in his own odd way, highly engaged with the media and fans. Compare him to some great players in other leagues during Rickey’s time: Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky, John Elway, Barry Sanders, Magic Johnson, Mario Lemieux, Larry Bird. I don’t think any of them combined greatness, charisma, and inscrutability, along with unpredictability, to near the extent that Rickey Henderson did. It seems to be quite rare for great athletes to really embrace their fame, as Babe Ruth and Magic Johnson did; Rickey didn’t quite embrace his fame, but he was, apparently, comfortable with his status.

 

Published in: Uncategorized on March 27, 2016 at 1:17 pm  Comments (2)  

The Best Player of the 1970s

Some of the players who come to mind as possibly the best of the decade are: Seaver, Reggie, Stargell, Morgan, Pete Rose, Carlton, Carew, Bench, Nolan Ryan, Schmidt. Without looking up stats, I’d guess Seaver, or maybe Carlton, was the best, as Seaver was in his prime pretty much throughout the decade. Briefly looking at the stats, Seaver did win 178 games, with a 2.61 ERA, from 1970-79, but I’m not seeing a place that ranks players of the ’70s by WAR or any other comprehensive stat. This article nominating a ’70s All-Star team helps flesh out the debate.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 23, 2016 at 11:25 am  Comments (1)  

What Will Be the Next Franchise Move in MLB?

The move by the St. Louis Rams back to Southern California for the 2016 NFL season-they might soon be accompanied by the Raiders or San Diego Chargers-reminds you that the last MLB franchise to change cities was the Montreal Expos moving to D.C. after the 2004 season. Which franchise will be the next to move? The Tampa Bay Rays and/or Oakland A’s seem most likely, with their older stadiums and stated desire to have taxpayers pay for new ones. It seems that in pro sports, once a franchise has moved once, it’s fairly likely to move again.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 2, 2016 at 12:15 pm  Comments (4)  

A Few Items on Dave Henderson

Hendu was, on an Oakland A’s team filled with star power from 1988 to 1992, perhaps the A’s player who most appealed to fans. If you remember those teams, you know why he was so popular. In ’88, his quadruple slash line was .304/.363/.525/.887, for a 149 OPS+, second-best on the team and not that far behind Jose Canseco. In ’88 Hendu set career bests for runs, hits, homers, RBIs, doubles, batting average, and slugging percentage. In the World Series that year, his .300 batting average (6 for 20) led A’s hitters who played in all 5 games. He was the only A with more than one extra-base hit off the Dodgers.

Hendu made a lot of good memories for Mariners, Red Sox, and A’s fans, but he ended his career playing 56 games for the Royals in 1994. Despite playing most of his career as a center fielder, he never stole more than 9 bases in a season. He nearly hit 3 homers in the post-Loma Prieta earthquake game 3 of the 1989 World Series, with a 1st-inning double that hit off the top of the Candlestick fence.

His most famous hit is the homer off Donnie Moore in the 1986 ALCS, but he then hit the go-ahead homer in the 10th inning of game 6 of the World Series vs. the Mets. In that Series, Hendu was 10-25 with 6 runs scored, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, and a .760 slugging percentage. He presumably was going to be the Series MVP if the Red Sox won game 6-or game 7. Those ’86 postseason feats are probably why he got two Hall of Fame votes on the 2000 ballot.

This post isn’t so much about memorializing Hendu-a lot of people did that in the days following his death just after Christmas-as it is about highlighting some of the notable stats from his career.

Published in: on January 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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Aaron Robinson, Last Yankees Starting Catcher Before Yogi Berra

I found a profile of Robinson in the January 7, 1948 issue of the Sporting News, whose Furman Bisher caught up with Robinson at his farm in rural South Carolina. See the photo below; here is part of Bisher’s story:

“There was talk last summer that Robinson had put himself in the doghouse because of a tendency to sulk when Yogi Berra, a rookie rated a good hitting prospect, was given every consideration. That was a state of affairs that might have irked a more complacent citizen than Robinson, who no doubt was unable to forget that only a year earlier he had been acclaimed by many as the finest young catcher in the majors.”

After the World Series with Brooklyn, Robinson had a West Coast barnstorming trip with Bobo Newsom fall through, his father-in-law, in North Carolina, suffer a critical illness, the collapse of his car’s rear end upon arrival in the Carolinas, and the collapse of his kitchen stove. Bisher of the Sporting News met with Robinson around the turn of the year in the countryside outside Lancaster, South Carolina, where his family was living in an old farmhouse with no telephone. They were “building a new five-room home across the highway behind the schoolhouse Aaron attended as a youngster.” Bisher added that Robinson was “quite a fancier” of gamecocks, breeding and training them at his farm.

Robinson was said to be hoping for better things in 1948; a sidebar column by Dan Daniel touted his virtues over “usurper” Berra, especially Robinson’s performance in the World Series after Berra and Sherman Lollar allowed many Dodger steals in the first four games. “All of us in the press box like Robinson, and we hope that he will stay with the club for many years to come,” Daniel concluded.

Robinson did not stay with the Yankees; instead, Gus Niarhos and Berra were the two main Yankee catchers in 1948. He eventually died in Lancaster, S.C., in 1966. You can read more about him in Robinson’s SABR bio: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/1d8f2b79.

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Published in: Uncategorized on December 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Last Full Game of Don Drysdale’s Scoreless Streak in 1968

This is an AP article and photo on the last complete game shutout of Drysdale’s streak: June 4, 1968 vs. the  Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

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I notice how tall, almost ungainly, Drysdale looks in the photo.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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The End of Mark McGwire’s 1998 70-Homer Season

These photos of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of September 28, 1998, are some reminders of the days when McGwire was a legend in his time. This was the cover of the Dispatch-not the sports section, the front section:
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An inside photo:
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And a tie-in with the Post-Dispatch’s online offerings:
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Published in: Uncategorized on November 24, 2015 at 12:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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