Archive for September, 2014

Don’t give me the ball….

Twins right-hander Phil Hughes is one out shy of reaching 210 innings this season, which will cost him a $500,000 bonus. His half-million-dollar bonus kicks in if he reaches 210 innings, and he is at 209.2 after a rain delay forced him out of his final scheduled start on September 24 against Arizona, in a game where he went eight innings.

Of course, Hughes also set a record in that last start, as he finished the season with 16 walks and 186 strikeouts, with his 11.63 strikeouts-to-walks ratio the best all-time for pitchers with a qualifying number of innings. He also has the same number of wins and walks, 16.

Whose record did Hughes break? Bret Saberhagen, who had 143 strikeouts and 13 walks for the Mets in the strike-shortened 1994 season for an 11.00 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. That was a great year for Saberhagen, as he had more wins (14) than walks (13) for a bad Mets team. It was also Saberhagen’s final great season – he was 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 24 starts and finished third in the Cy Young race and 22nd in NL MVP balloting. He was also an All-Star that year for the third and final time in his career. (Yes, I know Saberhagen had some success with the Red Sox in the late 1990s – 15-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 1998 and 10-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 1999 – but by that time he was a No. 3 starter at best.)

Another guy I remember is former Cards pitcher Bob Tewksbury, who in 1992 walked only 20 batters and went 16-5 with a 2.16 ERA. Never a big strikeout pitcher, Tewksbury had only 91 K’s in 233 innings that season. But he nearly had the same number of walks and victories! Tewksbury was also poised to win the ERA title, but the Giants gave reliever Bill Swift enough innings down the stretch and the San Francisco right-hander finished at 2.08 in 164.2 innings, beating him out. (The minimum number of innings to qualify for the ERA title is 162.)

bob tewksburyYou can also argue that the Cardinals’ main rival, the Chicago Cubs, cost Tewksbury that ERA title too. On August 31, his ERA was 2.01 after he gave up zero earned runs (and two runs total) in a complete-game victory over San Diego. He gave up two earned runs in each of his next two starts to improve to 16-5 with a 2.07 ERA. Then on September 18 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs pounded him for six earned runs in five innings and his ERA rose to 2.27. Tewksbury rebounded in his final two starts of the year – one earned run in 15 innings – but lost out to Swift.

Another thing too was at the time, he was thought of as a guy who would steal the Cy Young from reigning winner Tom Glavine, who raced out to a 19-3 start by August 19 before slumping late in the year (going 1-5 the rest of the way). On September 13, Tewksbury was 16-5 with three more starts to go, and had he won all three, would have had a shot. Alas, it was Greg Maddux (20-11, 2.18) of the Cubs who wound up being hot in the final weeks to take that sure Cy Young victory away from Glavine (20-8, 2.76).

So, that Hughes story made me think back to Tewksbury losing a couple of major accomplishments in 1992. Of course, they are not the same as one is money and the other is about awards… though I’m sure Tewksbury probably would have had some bonus clauses in his contract that would be triggered had he won the ERA title and/or the Cy Young.

In 1993, Tewksbury then went 17-10 (but with a mediocre 3.83 ERA) and walked just 20 batters, again nearly having the same number of victories and walks. He looked like the second coming of Bob Gibson the following year, winning each of his first six starts and getting out to an 8-1 record. Alas, the wheels fell off and he finished 12-10 with an ugly 5.32 ERA, notching a 6.72 earned-run average in his last 14 starts before the strike wiped out the remainder of the season. He walked 22 in 155.2 innings in 1994.Gullickson

Bill Gullickson was another guy who gave up a lot of hits and didn’t walk that many hitters, though he didn’t have the control that Tewksbury did. After going 20-9 with a 3.90 ERA for the powerful Tigers in 1991, Gullickson was poised to win 20 games for the second straight season. On August 7, he beat Toronto 7-2 on a complete-game eight-hitter to improve to 13-7 with at least 10 starts remaining. Alas, he went 1-6 in his final 10 starts with a 6.45 ERA, including 0-5 and 7.79 in September and October.

And finally back to the Twins, who have said that they would let Hughes pitch out of the bullpen on the final weekend of the season to get the one out to trigger the bonus, according to USA Today. However, Hughes has declined. …which reminds me of another Twins pitcher from 1988.

That season, lefty Allan Anderson had a scheduled start on the final day of the season, but teammate Bert Blyleven told manager Tom Kelly that if Anderson sat out, he would win the ERA title. Kelly gave the left-hander a choice, and Anderson decided to sit out indeed, backing into the ERA championship. It was the first time he had led the ERA race all season, because on the penultimate night of the season on October 1, ERA leader Teddy Higuera of the Brewers gave up three earned runs in 6.2 innings to bump his ERA from 2.41 to 2.45. More accurately, it was 2.4545. Anderson’s ERA was 2.4465, after his shutout against Oakland on September 27. While both ERAs rounded to 2.45, Anderson’s ERA was lower, and he won the ERA title by sitting out his final start on October 2.

What Phil Hughes has decided in 2014 – declining to pitch again just so that he could make an extra $500,000 – is certainly more admirable than what Anderson had chosen in 1988. Bravo, Phil Hughes.

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The best knuckleballer over the past 25-30 years….?

In the Blue Jays’ 10-2 victory over the Mariners on September 23, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitched a five-hitter through seven innings to thwart Seattle’s fading playoff hopes (while Toronto hammered M’s ace Felix Hernandez for eight runs).

For Dickey, he improved his record to 14-12 with a 3.78 ERA, the third straight season that he’s won at least 14 games.

Well, I was asked recently on Quora.com: Who was the best knuckleball pitcher in baseball in the last 25-30 years?

A lot of fans are going to come up with the names Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield. Some might even say Dickey, who won the National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012.

I’m going to, however, go with former Indians and Dodgers knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti, who was the most consistent knuckleballer over the last 25-30 years.

2012-R.A.-Dickey-213x300While Dickey had his one big season with the Mets (as well as a couple of other solid campaigns in New York where he pitched well but didn’t get much run support), he has not been that great with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013-2014. He hasn’t been able to duplicate his success from that 2012 season, which kind of makes him a one-hit wonder.

Wakefield will always be highly regarded in Boston because of his longevity and his being on two World Series championship teams with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but he had some very ugly seasons where he pitched poorly. In his rookie year with the Pirates, he was nearly unhittable and was a postseason star as he nearly pitched Pittsburgh into the World Series. However, over his postseason career, he was hit very hard and compiled an overall ERA of 6.75 in 18 career playoff appearances. In his final four career postseason starts, Wakefield was 0-3 with a 10.47 ERA. He especially struggled against Cleveland in the playoffs, allowing at least five runs in each of his three career postseason starts versus the Indians. Yes, he wound up winning 200 regular-season games over a 19-year career, but his ERA was over 4.00 in 15 of those seasons. He had six seasons where his ERA was over 5.00. However, he always seemed to win because of good run support with the Red Sox, as he was 14-13 with a 5.14 ERA in 1996 and 17-8 despite a 4.58 ERA two years later.

As for Tom Candiotti, he pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues, and though he finished with a career losing record and “only” 151 victories, he had an ERA over 4.00 only six times. Candiotti nearly won the ERA title in 1991, finishing with a 2.65 earned-run average that was second in the American League only to Roger Clemens (2.62). Had he allowed just one fewer earned run over the course of that season, Candiotti would have won the ERA championship. In 1993, he finished just 8-10, but suffered from atrocious run support while pitching for the Dodgers. That year, he was the ERA leader in the major leagues, pitching to a 2.43 earned-run average entering September before struggling in the season’s final weeks to finish at 3.12. In fact, for a full decade from 1986-1995, Candiotti had a 3.44 ERA, which was one of the best earned-run averages in baseball during that stretch. He also averaged 30 starts and over 200 innings during that decade, proving to be a very dependable pitcher for his clubs. He and Mark Langston were the only pitchers in the majors to work at least 200 innings in each season from 1986-1993, until the 1994 strike ended both streaks. His career ERAs after the 1995 season were 3.51 in the American League and 3.38 in the National League. Of his 151 career wins, 70 came in starts where he allowed one run or none. Even though he threw the knuckleball primarily during his career, he consistently had a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, meaning he consistently had twice as many strikeouts as he did walks.

Yes, R.A. Dickey was 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA at one point during the 2012 season, and Tim Wakefield started 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 1995. However, Candiotti had similar brilliant stretches of pitching…but not the gaudy won-loss records to show for them because the quality of his teams. In 1991, for instance, Candiotti had a 2.01 ERA in his first 19 starts…but only a 9-8 record and was left off the AL All-Star team. In 1993, he had a 1.53 ERA over a stretch of 17 starts, but was 6-1 with 10 no-decisions. The same summer when Wakefield made all the headlines in Boston with that 1.65 ERA in 1995, Candiotti had a stretch of 13 starts where his ERA was 1.74 for Los Angeles. Alas, the Dodgers gave him very little support, resulting in a 4-6 record in that stretch. Naturally, over time his accomplishments are no longer remembered.

Tom Candiotti never truly got any recognition because of the losing records he suffered while pitching for bad teams in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Had he gotten better support, he would have been better remembered. Or, if he had pitched today and gotten the same results, he would be talked about as a hard-luck pitcher because the baseball media now weigh more importance on other statistics and less on wins. During Candiotti’s time, it seemed that wins-and-losses were the be-all, end-all, and with his losing record he didn’t get as much press. Thus, he is forgotten today. On some lists on the Internet that talk about the best knuckleballers in baseball history, some bloggers cite Candiotti’s best season as 1988, when he was 14-8 with a 3.28 ERA. However, he won 15 games in 1990, nearly won the ERA championship in 1991, and from 1992-95 had the fifth-best ERA in the NL (behind only Greg Maddux, Jose Rijo, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz). People have forgotten that he was one of the best pitchers in baseball for a while, knuckleball or not.

To learn more about Candiotti and his career, check out his biography titled Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, which is available on Amazon.

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Who is the greatest minor league baseball player to have never made it to the major leagues?

On Quora.com, a Q&A website where questions are created, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users, someone recently asked the following question:

Who is the greatest minor league baseball player to have never made it to the major leagues?

Or perhaps had a short stint in the major leagues but spent the large majority of their career in the minor leagues. I always wondered if there was someone who spent several years in the minor leagues and amassed impressive stats but never made it to the major leagues because they fed into a team that happened to be loaded with great talent, like the New York Yankees.

It’s a very good question, actually, and one that naturally would elicit a lot of different responses. Of course, having read up on baseball history over the years, I had my own thoughts about this particular question.

Kris Bryant is the recipient of the 2014 Joe Bauman Home Run Award (courtesy Iowa Cubs).

Kris Bryant is the recipient of the 2014 Joe Bauman Home Run Award (courtesy Iowa Cubs).

Here was my (very brief) answer on Quora, where I went with a guy that played some 60 years ago and has a major individual award named after him today because of his achievements in the minors:

Joe Bauman was a first baseman who played for seven minor-league teams from 1941-1956. Though he had many productive seasons in the minors – bashing 575 extra-base hits in 3,463 career at-bats while batting over .330 – he never made it to the major leagues.

With the Roswell Rockets (Longhorn League, a Class-C league) in 1954, Bauman slugged 72 home runs in 138 games, a single-season record for any professional baseball league until Barry Bonds homered 73 times in 2001 for San Francisco Giants. That season, Bauman won the Triple Crown in his league as he also batted .400 and drove in 228 runs [1]. According to various sources, he led the league in runs (188) and walks as well that year (though the walk total isn’t available on Baseball-Reference.com, as perhaps those stats weren’t properly kept for that league).

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won the Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2004.

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won the Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2004.

Bauman wasn’t a one-year wonder; he led his league in home runs five times, and from 1952-1955 he never hit fewer than 46 homers in a season. (The totals were 50, 53, 72, and 46.)

In his nine minor-league seasons, Bauman hit 337 career home runs and had the exact same batting average: .337. He also finished with 1,057 career runs batted in while appearing in 1,019 games.

Since 2002, the Joe Bauman Home Run Award is handed out annually to the minor-league player with the most homers.

I know every time I set up a new league on Strat-o-Matic and I have the option of creating fringe players on my team, I always create a fake player using Bauman’s name and his 1954 stats so that I have a slugging first baseman to help me win games. (Though I cheat by giving him the defensive position of catcher on SOM.)

[1] Despite Bauman’s heroics, the Rockets finished second in the eight-team league with a record of 87-51, five games behind the first-place Artesia Numexers.


KP is the author of the baseball biography Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs.

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Why is the knuckleball such an important style of pitching in the game of baseball?

First off, congratulations to the Vancouver Canadians and Hillsboro Hops for advancing to the Northwest League Championship Series, which begins on Saturday, September 6th. Vancouver, after finishing ahead of Tri-City for the second-half pennant and sweeping Spokane in the North Division Finals, is gunning for its fourth straight Northwest League title. Hillsboro, meanwhile, is in the finals for the first time in only its second season in the league, after the franchise relocated from Yakima, Washington.

Congratulations to both organizations.

Now, moving on to another topic…. On Quora.com, which is a Q&A website where questions are created, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users, I was recently asked the following question:

Why is the knuckleball such an important style of pitching in the game of baseball?

Here was my response on Quora:

Very few pitchers throughout the history of baseball have mastered the art of throwing the knuckleball, which is a difficult pitch to learn. It is also a difficult pitch to hit as well, as even the best hitters in the major leagues have trouble with the pitch because they are used to seeing 90-mph fastballs and the knuckler throws their timing off.

Bobby Bonilla was one of many major-leaguers who hated facing Candiotti's knuckleball.

Bobby Bonilla was one of many major-leaguers who hated facing Candiotti’s knuckleball.

Tom Candiotti, a knuckleballer who pitched in the majors from 1983 to 1999, told me on several occasions that All-Stars such as Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds, and Bobby Bonilla always told him they never liked facing him and that knuckleball because it messed up their swing for a whole week after seeing it! Bonilla, a switch-hitter, didn’t want to bat left-handed against the right-handed Candiotti, because he was afraid it would mess up his left-handed swing.

Fred Claire, a former Los Angeles Dodger general manager, also once told me that having a knuckleball pitcher as part of your starting rotation helps to give opposing hitters a different look, to take their timing off. Claire’s Dodgers in the 1990s had only right-handed starting pitchers for several years, and he mentioned having Candiotti on the staff was valuable because his knuckleball broke up the pitching pattern, so that the opposition would be seeing different pitches and different speeds during a three-game series, instead of the same 90-95 mph fastballs all the time. The knuckleball simply messes up hitters’ timing.

candy torThe Toronto Blue Jays thought so highly of that knuckleball too that they specifically had Candiotti start Game One of the 1991 ALCS so that he could try to mess up the Minnesota Twins hitters’ timing. So, manager Cito Gaston went with a rotation of Candiotti-Juan Guzman-Jimmy Key-Todd Stottlemyre in that series, with a soft-tossing knuckleballer going first followed by a hard thrower (Guzman), then a soft-tossing finesse pitcher (Key) and another hard thrower (Stottlemyre).

Pat Gillick, the Hall of Fame general manager who acquired Candiotti in Toronto, told me that he liked the change of pace that Candiotti brought to the Blue Jays pitching staff, because he could be put in the rotation in between a guy like Guzman and David Wells, another hard thrower.

Yes, there were other knuckleballers in the major leagues such as the Niekro brothers, Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield, and R.A. Dickey since the 1960s. But Tom Candiotti was almost just as effective with the knuckleball. To read more about Candiotti’s career, check out Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, which can be found on Amazon.

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