Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Topps Baseball #5, Desmond Jennings

Closing out 2012 with its own #5, a leaping shot of Demond Jennings heading for home.

Being an obvious game situation, it wasn't hard to locate Topps' source, a Getty newswire photo from July 31, 2011.

Jennings is about to score Tampa's first of 8 runs on an infield grounder by Evan Longoria (box score). A dramatic opposite angle (also newswire) shows Desmond hitting the plate.

There's a whole album of shots from the game, including this grass-flying pic of the Sam Fuld Experience.

These shots reminded me how often guys dive all over the place as fielders and runners. Thank goodness for forgiving MLB outfield turf.

You can follow Desmond Jennings on Twitter at @d_jennings8.

Happy new year, everyone. Hope you get the cards you want and want the cards you get!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry (Steve and Maurice) Christmas!

Thanks to everyone who follows the blog and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate! Two players named Christmas have played pro ball, Steve (shown as a Tucson Toro this time last year) and Maurice.

Steve Christmas reached the bigs for a few cups of coffee in the mid-80s. A quick COMC search turned up this interesting 1982 Indianapolis team issue, complete with catching gear and tidy signature.

Steve played in the bigs for Cincy and both Chicago teams. His biggest hit was a Sept 19, 1984 game-winning homer off Mike Smithson, a great moment for anyone to hang their hat on.

Maurice spent several years in the Braves system, topping out at high-A. This Danville card shows the 19 year-old Mr. Christmas and can be yours on COMC for $2.95.

Enjoy the rest of this holiday season and best wishes for 2013!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top 5 Seasons To Forget, Managing Edition

Let's not overcomplicate the managerial version of my Top 5 Seasons To Forget, which already covered hitting and pitching. All-time, only 5 managers proved steadfast enough to lose 200 more games than they won. These are their cards.

1. Fred Tenney (-200, Boston)

One of three 19th century emeritus members on this list, Fred debuted way back in 1894. Solid, above-average player (career stats), but historically ineffective manager for 4 seasons, dropping 50 extra games per season. Doubt that anyone today would stick around as long averaging 56-106.

High point: Beneficiary of this nice 45th birthday recap, complete with Boston's 1900 team photo.

Low point: 44-107 in 1911. Not even Cy Young (in his final year) could help.

2. Buddy Bell (-205, Tigers, Rockies, Royals)

Bell's managed three franchises during moribund periods, raising the chicken-or-egg question: do lousy franchises limit a manager's success or do lousy managers sink teams that could otherwise succeed?

High point: KC's 2007 season inspired the short-lived FIRE BUDDY BELL, a frozen-in-time example of frustration at Bell's willingness to start Scott Elarton and the like. (As noted in Pitching Seasons To Forget, Elarton's the only guy to start 3 different seasons with 8+ straight lousy starts.)

Low point: Runner-up for 1997 AL Manager of the Year after Detroit finished 79-83. That's more of a low point for the whole voting process. (GOOD GAME BUDDY, GOOD EFFORT.)

3. Connie Mack (-217, Pirates and Athletics)

No manager will ever touch Mack's wins record (3731), loss record (3948), tenure record (53 years), or wingtips-wearing record (2). He's an inseparable piece of sports history, a "starting corner" in our 500-piece baseball puzzle.

High point: 4 pennants and 3 titles in 5 years (1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914).

Low point: As both owner and manager, Mack felt free to fire sale his teams just after their peak, so fans rode the emotional sea-saw of winning big one year and losing bigger the next year more than once.

4. John McCloskey (-227, Colonels and Cardinals)

Let's remember McCloskey's decades as a player, scout, and manager at every pro level instead of that terrible .313 winning percentage in 5 seasons in Louisville and St. Louis. I suspect he did better helping players develop than keeping a top-level team on the same page.

High point: The Austin Post wrote an enthralling recap of a McCloskey-led barnstorming tour that passed through Texas in 1887, assuming you (like me) find 19th cards and players enthralling. John's own club split a 2-game series with the New York Giants, a roster loaded with future HOFers King Kelly, Buck Ewing, Rogor Connor, and Tim Keefe.

Low point: Louisville fired McCloskey in 1896 after a horrid 2-17 start, spurring his move back to the Southwest. He made silk of their sow's ear by helping start the Texas League, which continues play more than a century later.

McCloskey scouted when he wasn't managing and eBay seller extremelyrare lists a letter to Reds President August Herrmann evaluating 1914 infield prospects. (Nice signature, too.)

5. Jimmie Wilson (-242, Phillies and Cubs)

Philly player/manager Jimmie Wilson served as crosstown rival to Connie Mack's Athletics from 1934 to 1938 and I have a hunch the Phillies kept him around that long because both teams stunk. Neither side managed even 70 wins, a morass of mediocrity that sent locals anywhere but the ballparks.
  • 1934 attendance: A's 6th of 8 AL teams, Phillies 8th of 8 NL teams
  • 1935: A's 7th, Phillies 8th
  • 1936: A's 7th, Phillies 8th
  • 1937: A's 6th, Phillies 8th
  • 1938: A's 6th, Phillies 8th

No big surprise Philly jettisoned a team--the A's to Kansas City--once improved planes and roads made more Midwestern markets accessible to the majors.

High point: Jimmie helped Philly save money by both catching and managing, I guess.

Low point: Wilson spent most of 1940 as unofficial bench coach, but circumstances pushed him to start (and excel) as Cincy's catcher in a World Series win. This ranks as a low point for Chicago, who immediately hired Wilson as manager for 3+ seasons of going nowhere.

Top 5 Honorable (Questionable?) Mentions

These guys don't rank on all-time W/L lists yet, but are either active or might score a job again.

1. Ned Yost (-100, Brewers and Royals)

"Active Royals manager" means we can expect Ned's loss differential to increase.

2. Brad Mills (-103, Astros)

Mills dropped those extra 103 games in just 3 seasons (less, actually, given his firing in July 2012). Only 5 managers ever did more with so little; 1939-41 Phillies manager Doc Prothro set the low-water mark at -182.

3. Clint Hurdle (-113, Rockies and Pirates)

One amazing run to the 2007 World Series. Otherwise, phhhhhhhhhbt.

4. Manny Acta (-146, Nationals and Indians)

Cleveland ownership finally cut ties with Acta in late 2012, about five months after most fans did the same. To Manny's credit, he writes a cool "M."

5. Morris Buttermaker (lost 7-6 in title game)

Heck with records, those kids are the Baddest Bears in my or anyone's book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top 5 Seasons To Forget, Pitching Edition

Fans, commentators, and statisticians all enjoy streaking from time-to-time. Hitters, runners, and fielders earn extra kudos for putting several successes in a row. Managers and franchises garner respect by making the playoffs in consecutive years and even pitchers get credit for having a hot hand, despite playing every few days at most.

But what if you're going the other direction? As companion to my look at all-time hitting futility, I dug into the history of pitchers for 5 horses who left the gate slow and spent most of the race falling further behind.

I built this list using Baseball-Reference's pitching streak finder for most consecutive game scores under 50 to begin a season. Game scores help isolate starting pitcher performance, since wins and losses depend a great deal on run support. Check out Tim De Block's article on SB Nation for more, but the bottom line is that below 50 game score = below 50% odds of winning. Tossing a string of mediocre games means extra work for your teammates and these 5 guys did that the most since we started keeping track.

1. Bill Kennedy, 1949 (12 starts, 1-7 record)

1949 Bowman #105, Bill Kennedy

Kennedy's 1949 pitching line of 16 starts, 32 relief appearances, and 153 innings says a lot about what the 101-loss St. Louis Browns had to work with. Seven different guys started 13+ games and even team "ace" Ned Garver (114 ERA+) went 12-17 thanks to lousy run support. Two of their most-worked pitchers, Cliff Fannin and Karl Drews, combined for 48 starts but just 12 wins.

Bill's own "streak" covered five months, April 23 to August 21, with two dozen relief outings mixed in. He did decent work out of the pen, but allowed 4+ runs almost every start, a deep hole for the iffy St. Louis lineup to escape.

High point: Collected two relief wins and a save between Jun 28 and July 19.

Low point: Lost 4 straight starts in June by combined score of 32-7.

2. Nelson Briles, 1970 (12 starts, 3-3 record)

1970 Topps #435, Nelson Briles

I'm a little distracted by the card photo itself, as there's a Cardinals uniform #60 in the background, but no coach or player on the official roster sported that number during Nelson's tenure. Anyone know the St. Louis hitting instructors or spring training squads well enough to guess who it might be?

Nelson got off easy considering his 9+ ERA, going 3-3 over those 12 starts. The Cardinals gave him a lot of run support and bad starts often became no-decisions. Briles did come close to pitching himself off my list with multiple game scores just under 50, but "close" only counts in hand grenades and partner dancing.

High point: Thanks to the aforementioned run support, Briles pitched into the 8th inning twice and won both games, July 17 vs. ATL and August 1 at HOU.

Low point: Left two starts without recording an out, May 29 vs. LA and June 13 at SF.

3. Jim Colborn, 1978 (13 starts, 1-8 record)

1978 Topps #129, Jim Colborn

Colborn spread his ill luck across two teams, as KC moved Jim to the Mariners in a mid-season swap for Steve Braun. Seattle gained little from the transaction other than an answer to the question, "what 1978 pitching acquisition dropped his first 6 starts?"

High point: Jim entered KC's April 28th game in the 2nd inning and threw 6.1 innings of 1-run ball, picking up the relief victory in a 7-6 Royals comeback. That might've been a 50+ game score as a starter.

Low point: Won just 1 of first 10 starts with Seattle and never pitched in the majors again after 1978.

4. Brian Anderson, 2004 (13 starts, 1-9 record)

2004 Topps #627, Brian Anderson

Brian kicked off his subpar streak on April 5th as KC's Opening Day starter, yielding 5 runs in 5 innings in an eventual no-decision. Excellent run support kept his record clean for three weeks, but a return to average Royals hitting started a tailspin of 7 straight losses and demotion to the bullpen. Spot starts on June 30 and July 19, both losses, capped the misery at 13.

High point: April 20, 15-5 win over Cleveland, 46 game score.

Low point: May 5, 10-3 loss at Toronto, 11 game score.

Statistical let-downs not enough for you? Brian Anderson also punched his ticket to Internet immortality in 1998 by testing the temperature of a hotel iron with his face. Wonder which he'd rather experience again, those ignominious cheek burns or this 2004 streak.

5. Nick Blackburn, 2012 (13 starts, 4-5 record)

2012 Topps #316, Nick Blackburn

Blackburn went 4-5 despite this 2012 streak of poor game scores, so why do I rank it most forgettable? Two reasons. First, Minnesota didn't jerk Nick around with bullpen duties. They kept sending him out to chew through 5 or 6 innings, carry a 7+ ERA, and absorb fan frustration after losses. Second, this year's 13-game streak followed a 6-game streak at the end of 2011, so Nick also holds the combined record of 19 straight starts with a below-average game score.

High point: Nick picked up 4 straight wins between May 11 and June 22, thanks to good run support. Minnesota averaged 7+ runs during that streak, helping Blackburn's record look good despite his ERA jumping from 6.84 to 7.45.

Low point: 5 straight losses followed those 4 wins and the Twins sent Blackburn down to AAA Rochester in August. (Nick's outright assignment to the minors left him off September's expanded rosters and cast doubt he'll pitch for Minnesota in 2013, despite a year left on his contract.)

Honorable mention to Scott Elarton, who started three different years on 8+ game cold streaks. Ouch.

UPDATE: Discovered that High Heat Stats examined pitchers with good and bad streaks just yesterday! Very cool.

Any infamous pitching streaks or performances you'd add to the list?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Top 5 Seasons To Forget, Hitting Edition

Hey, it's December! Catch you by surprise, too?

The calendar's back end lays claim to nostalgia season, our "November and December to Remember" period. Some count the days to pitchers and catchers reporting. Others analyze trades and prospects. I use the off-season for researching statistical oddities like "first DH to play 162 games" (Hal McRae, 1977), "most doubles without a triple" (Edgar Martinez, 52 in 1995), and "highest HBP-to-K ratio" (Kid Elberfeld, 25 HBP, 5 K in 1911).

Esoteric numbers are fun, but "all-time best" or "all-time worst" stand apart, so how about something all-encompassing, like "worst-hitting season by a regular player." That notion calls to my mind notorious "hitters" like Ray Oyler, Mark Belanger, or Mario Mendoza, good fielders who played during pitching-friendly eras, but--surprise!--their brand of lousy batting is still too good for this list.

For hitting, I used Adjusted OPS (OPS+), which is On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) neutralized for factors like hitting era and ballpark. For "regular players," I picked guys who appeared in at least 100 games. This allows for late-inning defensive replacements, but their at-bats show up in the stat sheet like any other, even if managers don't lean on those skills.

These 5 terrible hitting seasons all came from guys I'd heard of, even if barely, thanks to the long history of card and stat collecting. Baseball squeezes its past with both hands!

1. Mick Kelleher, 1980 (105 games, 9 OPS+)

1980 Topps #323, Mick Kelleher

How did Mick notch that single digit? 1980 Topps blog #323 notes he was first and foremost a glove man, so rarely found himself in the position to drive in runs or win a game. Those 105 games included only 19 starts and 10 came in September, with Chicago out of contention.

Highlight: 5-game "hitting streak" spread across July and August, going 5-for-9 with a double. Average jumped from .151 to .203.

Lowlight: Mick enters as 9th-inning defensive sub on July 6, becomes last out three times (13th, 16th, 18th) in a 20-inning, 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh.

2. Mike Benjamin, 2002 (108 games, 2 OPS+)

1992 Upper Deck #268, Mike Benjamin

Benjamin returned for his 13th season in 2002 after missing all of 2001 due to injury. Pittsburgh started Mike at third or short early in the year, but switched to defensive subbing when his average dropped to .150 and stuck there.

Highlight: Mike Benjamin wore #5 for the Phillies in 1996! (I bet he saved some runs in 2002 with the glove, but can't find any games where his bat made a positive difference.)

Lowlight: If OPS+ included base-running, going 0-for-4 in stolen bases would drop this season even further.

3. Bill Bergen, 1909 (372 PA, 1 OPS+),
4. Bill Bergen, 1910 (273 PA, 6 OPS+), and...
5. Bill Bergen, 1911 (250 PA, -3 OPS+)

1909-1911 T206 Bill Bergen (Hindu tobacco back)

Sweet biscuits, we better chalk Bergen's last three years up to "the game was different then." I pushed the 100 games cutoff a bit for 1910 (89 games) and 1911 (84 games), but he batted enough in those years to mean more to his team than Kelleher or Benjamin above.

Bill could be patron saint of a chaotic era for backstops, as he threw out 138 runners in 1909--most in the National League--but that's still less than half of all attempts. Hitters in the dead ball era played an aggressive game on the base paths and his defense provided some measure of control. Bergen often placed at or near the top in fielding % and similar range stats, proving useful to Brooklyn despite swinging an empty bat.

Craig Counsell's "oh-fer" streak for Milwaukee in 2011 briefly resurrected Bergen's name as the previous record-holder for non-pitchers. Craig and Bill now sit tied at 44 straight fruitless trips to the plate.

Brooklyn never came close to challenging for the pennant during Bill's career, making one poor batsman more or less irrelevant. I consider him above-average at one key skill instead of falling down at others.

Highlight: Hit his second (and final) career homer on September 6, 1909. Most in those days were inside-the-parkers, so some of Bill's 21 career triples might've been slow-jog homers in modern stadiums.

Lowlight: His 1911 OPS+ (-3) was somehow lower than the year he went 0-for-44.

By this measure, Mario Mendoza's most Mendoza-like year is 1979 (25 OPS+ in 148 games for Seattle). For all our Mariner fan hate, the 40 OPS+ Chone Figgins posted over 81 games in 2011 ranks just third-worst for a franchise regular; Manny Castillo split the difference with a 35 OPS+ in 1983.

Anyone else have a favorite (or un-favorite) bad year with the bat?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

1980 TCMA Glens Falls White Sox Baseball #5, Mark Platel

I'll take TCMA's word for it that this is Mark Platel. Could be any 1970s guy with that hair.

Seeing that Mark stood a basketballish 6'5" led to the discovery that you can sort Baseball-Reference rosters by height, weight, date of birth, and so on. Doing this with Glens Falls shows that Platel tied for "Tallest 1980 White Sock" with Len Bradley and Richard Weiters.

Color me surprised Glens Falls generated two different 1980 sets, given that season's mediocre 63-74 record. Perhaps the Sox ordered another in full-color (type profile to come) when this black-and-white version obscured almost all player faces with high-noon shadows.

TCMA pictured 29 Glens Falls players, managers, and team staff in this set, with those in bold reaching the bigs.
  1. Steve Pastrovich
  2. Len Bradley
  3. Tom Johnson
  4. Randy Evans
  5. Mark Platel
  6. Luis Rois
  7. Rick Seilheimer
  8. Ray Torres
  9. Reggie Patterson
  10. Kevin Hickey
  11. Ted Barnicle
  12. Rick Wieters
  13. Mark Teutsch
  14. Mark Esser
  15. Andy Pasillas
  16. Julio Perez
  17. Ron Perry
  18. Randy Johnson (the 80s version)
  19. Dom Fucci
  20. Vince Bienek
  21. A.J. Hill
  22. Lorenzo Gray
  23. Fran Mullins
  24. Mike Pazik, Manager
  25. Duane Shaffer
  26. Orlando Cepeda, Instructor
  27. Allan Haines
  28. Batboys
  29. Bob Bolster

Value: This #5 cost $2 at The presence of HOF hitting instructor Orlando Cepeda pushes the team set up a bit to $20-25.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several of their team sets for "collectors kits" later in the 80s. Originals use blue ink on the back and those reprints have black.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

1980 TCMA Clinton Giants Baseball, #5, Jerry Stovall (Stoval)

In 1980, Clinton (Iowa) kicked off their new SF Giants affiliation with this set of black-and-white cards familiar in design to those who've seen other TCMA entries. A tip of the hat to their photographer for creating one unforgettable, slack-jawed image.

I tried to find any other photo of Jerry in a uniform for comparison, since this is about as awkward as awkward gets, but Google turned up nothing. If you know of something, drop a line and I'll post it here.

Not sure if Jerry's switch-hitting gave him an edge, since pitchers can swing an empty stick if they throw well enough. I do know that 3 such multi-talented hurlers made it to Cooperstown, 2 of whom appeared on #5s.

1970 Sports Cards For Collectors Old-Timers Postcards, Early Wynn

1976 Motorola, Three Fingers Brown

(Robin Roberts was the third HOFer to hit from both sides, but without a known #5.)

TCMA printed 27 cards for Clinton, including future slugger Rob Deer and All-Star pitcher Scott Garrelts.
  1. Dave Wilhelmi
  2. Dennis Rathjen
  3. Jose Chue
  4. Ramon Bautista
  5. Jerry Stovall
  6. Chris Goodchild
  7. Ron Matrisciano
  8. Ken Schwab
  9. Tim Hagemann
  10. Scott Garrelts
  11. Art Maese
  12. Kevin Johnson
  13. David Fonseca
  14. Randy Kutcher
  15. Tim Painton
  16. Chris Brown
  17. Frank Thon
  18. Rafael Estepan
  19. Glen Moon
  20. Rob Deer
  21. Ron Perodin
  22. Stan Morton
  23. Richard Figueroa
  24. Bob Cummings
  25. Gilbert Albright
  26. Wayne Cato, Manager
  27. Yommy Jones

Trivia: Rob Deer's first season (1984) included 3 RBIs, all from his own homers. That's tied for most single-season RBIs by a batter who only knocked himself in, a "feat" accomplished by 7 guys all-time. (Most recently, J.R. House turned the trick over 19 games of work for Baltimore in 2007.)

UPDATE: Thanks to Jon Dunkle for scouring eBay and finding these shots of Jerry as a Clinton Giant and his dad as a running back. The open-mouth thing looks to be a Stovall trait.

Value: This #5 cost $2 at Team sets with Rob Deer run a little above average at $20 and up.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted some of their team sets for "collectors kits" in the 1980s. Those cards have backs with black ink. Originals (as above) have blue.