Archive for category Blue Jays Baseball

Uhm, how about doing some homework before you speak?

This post isn’t about baseball or knuckleballs, but rather, about commentators mouthing off about football when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Last night on TSN 1410, a sports talk station in Vancouver, Canada, David Pratt was a guest on one of their shows and proceeded to talk about things that made him look like he needed to do more homework about the NFL before speaking.

*He talked about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at 2-11, still had a shot at the NFC South because both Atlanta and New Orleans led the division at 5-8. Uhm, no. If he’d bothered to do his research, he would have realized that the Falcons and Saints play each other once more, meaning that there would be a winner in that one. So, either Atlanta or New Orleans would, at worst, have six victories. Even if Tampa Bay were to win out, the Bucs could finish only at 5-11. Last I checked, six wins beats five victories for the division. Perhaps Pratt was doing his own system of math there. Okay, even if the Falcons-Saints game ended in a tie, we’ll say that New Orleans, for example, would finish at worst, 5-10-1. Again, that’d still put them ahead of Tampa Bay. So, obviously, during their current three-game losing streak, the Bucs had already been eliminated from the playoffs, but Pratt still was talking like they were alive and had more to play for the rest of the year. Nice try – how about knowing the facts before going on the air?

*Pratt also mentioned how he was annoyed that the Miami-New England game was being shown on TV in the Vancouver area, instead of the Cincinnati-Cleveland game with Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel) making his first ever NFL start. Uhm, again, please do some research. Yes, both games are AFC matchups, meaning traditionally they would be airing on CBS (as FONFL_on_FoxX does the NFC games). So, yes, the Dolphins-Patriots tilt is being shown on CBS in the Vancouver market, but FOX actually has the Bengals-Browns game because the latter network didn’t have enough 1:00 p.m. Eastern games so the Cincinnati-Cleveland contest was moved to FOX. This was a new rule that was in effect beginning this season and had already affected some other games earlier in the year. Even I knew that FOX had gotten the Manziel game earlier in the week, so it is laughable that a professional radio personality was clueless about that. (From what I heard, FOX had already gotten this game even before the Browns announced Johnny Manziel would start against Cincinnati.) So, instead of lamenting the fact he had to watch Miami-New England, Pratt should have been crying about how Green Bay-Buffalo on FOX in the Vancouver market was being aired instead of Johnny Football’s first career start. Get it right, bro! And by the way, if you’re not happy you get to watch Tom Brady and the Pats or Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, then something’s wrong with ya!

Anyway, since we’re on the subject, I was thinking that the Falcons, with their silly 5-8 record, was going to lose something like 58-34 to Pittsburgh, which has been on a roll with Le’Veon Bell carrying the load and playing well. I still hope New Orleans wins that division, though if the Saints lose at home to Atlanta next week, then they’re done.

As for baseball, it was announced earlier today that the White Sox have signed Melky Cabrera. I believe he’ll have a big year and will make the Blue Jays regret not re-signing him. R.A. Dickey could lose 18 games for Toronto this year, I say. He’s no innings-eater in Toronto. So many times last season when I looked at the boxscores, I noticed he was logging 6 innings or 6.1 innings consistently. I thought a knuckleball pitcher was supposed to go eight innings instead of being a six-inning pitcher? He gives up way too many home runs at Rogers Centre, and I predict a horrible 2015 season for him.

Chris SaleWas talking to a buddy a few days ago, and I still contend that Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez rank as the top two pitchers in baseball. Don’t get me started about Clayton Kershaw. NL pitchers don’t have to face the DH, and Dodger Stadium is a pitchers’ park. What Sale and Hernandez, in particular King Felix, have been doing the past few seasons, facing the DH and pitching against tougher AL opponents, should put them at the top of any lists concerning the best pitchers in baseball.

I’m no White Sox fan, but perhaps this season Chris Sale will win the AL Cy Young Award, Melky Cabrera will contend for the AL MVP, and Chicago will make it to the one-game AL Wild-Card game? I’m still not sure about Jeff Samardzija, whom the White Sox acquired from Oakland last week, as he hasn’t really proven himself over a long stretch. But at least he’ll be giving Chicago a lot of innings – something that R.A. Dickey, Mr. Six-inning Knuckleballer, hasn’t been for Toronto.

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What Cy Young?

I was asked the following question on Quora.com earlier today:

How many times has a Cy Young award winner gone 0-2 or worse in the post-season?

My response was as follows:

Well, it’s happened to the best. Obviously, I am assuming this question was posted following Los Angeles Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw‘s second loss in the 2014 NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, a defeat that sent L.A. home for the winter.

In 1997, Seattle’s Randy Johnson, the AL Cy Young winner two years earlier (and a 20-game winner in that current season), went 0-2 against Baltimore in the Division Series as the Mariners lost three games to one. The following year, Johnson was 0-2 for Houston in the NL Division Series versus Kevin Brown’s San Diego Padres, with the 102-win Astros embarrassed in four games. (In 1997, Johnson was 20-4 with a 2.28 ERA, finishing second in the Cy Young race to Roger Clemens. In 1998, the Big Unit was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA following a late-season trade to the Astros.)

madduxSpeaking of Brown, his wild-card Florida Marlins beat Greg Maddux twice in the 1997 NLCS, giving the four-time Cy Young-winning Maddux an 0-2 record in that series. The Braves, who won 101 games during the regular season and finished nine games ahead of Florida in the standings, lost to the Marlins four games to two. Maddux had won the Cy Young in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995, and was 19-4 with a 2.20 ERA in 1997. [1]

Brown’s 1998 Padres also handed the Braves’ Tom Glavine an 0-2 mark in the NLCS, with San Diego knocking off Atlanta in six games. Glavine had won the Cy Young in 1991 and would win it again that same 1998 season with a 20-6 record and a 2.47 ERA. The Padres had a good year with 98 victories, but they were underdogs against the Astros (102-60) and the Braves (106-56). San Diego’s brilliant run ended in the World Series, where the Padres were swept by the 114-win Yankees.

In 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays beat Cy Young winner Jack McDowell (22-10, 3.37 ERA in the regular season) twice in the ALCS as his Chicago White Sox went down four games to two. It was McDowell’s second straight 20-win season that year, and he was named the 1993 Cy Young in the offseason. McDowell was 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA in that 1993 ALCS, and then two years later in the AL Division Series with the Yankees against the Mariners, was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA (with the second loss coming in relief in the decisive fifth game).

So, it’s happened before. I’m sure others will chime in as far as exactly how many times it’s happened.

[1] 1997 was truly an odd season. In addition to Maddux and Johnson, a couple of other top pitchers went 0-2 in that year’s postseason. Brown himself went 0-2 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Though Brown never won the Cy Young, he was runner-up to Atlanta’s John Smoltz a year earlier, and was also a 21-game winner in 1992. Andy Pettitte of the Yankees, meanwhile, was 0-2 also in the AL Division Series against Cleveland, one year after finishing second to Pat Hentgen for the AL Cy Young. The Indians also won two games in the 1997 ALCS that were started by Baltimore’s Mike Mussina, who got a pair of no-decisions as the Orioles couldn’t score in those two contests.

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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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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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Flashback to 1991 Candiotti/Henke One-Hitter

On August 6 at Rogers Centre, Toronto pitchers Drew Hutchison (8.2 IP) and Casey Janssen (0.1 IP) combined on a one-hitter in a 5-1 victory over the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, preventing the O’s to take an even more commanding lead over the second-place Blue Jays. (It also allowed Toronto to stay one game ahead of the Yankees for the second AL wild-card spot, as New York defeated Justin Verlander and the Tigers by the same 5-1 score.)

I don’t want to get into the performance of Hutchison, who came within a Chris Davis second-inning opposite-field homer of taking a no-hit bid into the final innings. This is not the blog for that sort of analyst.

I do want to go back to the 1991 season, when the Blue Jays got another clutch combined one-hitter against the Orioles. The game I’m referring to happened on August 28, 1991, at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, with the Blue Jays and Orioles playing the finale of their three-game series.

Toronto had won the first two games, and had never before swept a series in Baltimore. Going into that day, the Blue Jays were in first place in the AL East, with a one-game lead over the Tigers, who had No. 1 starter Bill Gullickson (16-6) on the mound against California. Gullickson, despite a high ERA (4.12), had a league-leading 16 victories, as Detroit seemed to always score runs for him.

It was a crucial day in the pennant race, because if the Tigers won and the Blue Jays lost, both teams would be tied for first place, and Toronto would be at a disadvantage because that year the Blue Jays were the “swing team” and would play only (the tougher) AL West clubs in the final weeks of the season. (That year, all of the AL West teams finished .500 or better.)

Gullickson certainly delivered, pitching a complete-game five-hitter…only to lose 1-0 to the Angels and Jim Abbott in an afternoon game. (Gullickson, though, would get 5.66 runs of support throughout the season, and go on to win 20 games with a 3.90 ERA.)

Then Tom Candiotti took the mound for the Orioles, and was in trouble in the first inning when Joe Orsulak (a perennial Candiotti-killer hitting .529 off him going in) hit an opposite-field single off the glove of third baseman Kelly Gruber. A walk and passed ball later, and the Orioles had runners on second and third with two outs.

Randy Milligan, a .444 hitter against Candiotti at the time, worked the count to 3-and-2 before striking out swinging.

From there, Candiotti didn’t allow another baserunner, taking the one-hitter into the ninth inning. Gene Tenace (the interim manager with Cito Gaston out due to a back problem) opted to go to closer Tom Henke in the ninth, and the Blue Jays stopper pitched 1-2-3 inning to close out the 3-0 victory.

It was Candiotti’s best game with the Blue Jays, with the team in a pennant race with the Tigers, and it came three days before his birthday.

Yet, the combined one-hitter has been forgotten. It was one of the most underappreciated – and yet clutch – pitching performances of the year. (As an aside, when I spoke with former Blue Jays reliever Bob MacDonald three years ago about this game, he admitted he didn’t remember anything about it, adding that it was probably because the no-hitter was broken up in the first inning. Had it been broken up in the late innings, it might have been more memorable.)

Like Hutchison in 2014, Candiotti was only two batters away from perfection going into the ninth, and similarly he also retired 22 straight Orioles like Hutchison did. Like Hutchison, it was an opposite-field hit early in the game and a walk that prevented a perfect game bid.

I know in 2012 when I flipped through the Blue Jays media guide, I found no mention of the 1991 Candiotti/Henke combined one-hitter in the section listing one-hitters, even though other combined one-hit efforts in franchise history were listed.

The 1991 Blue Jays, by the way, won the division, something that the 2014 team will not do. Because that 1991 club lost the ALCS to Minnesota, however, Candiotti has always been criticized by the Toronto media for his struggles against the Twins in that series. They forgot that without Candiotti’s regular-season contributions – a 2.98 ERA in 19 starts after a mid-season trade from Cleveland following ace Dave Stieb’s season-ending injury – the Blue Jays might not have made it to the postseason.

So, thanks to Drew Hutchison, we get an opportunity today to celebrate Tom Candiotti’s gem from that 1991 season.

Meanwhile…time to take another shot at tsn.ca. Read that first sentence carefully, and then you do not need to read any longer. How can you take that column seriously if they make such a mistake? (The mistake is magnified when you look at the very next sentence.) Do they even do fact-checking there?

tsn again

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“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti, will be released in the latter half of 2014. You may pick up a copy either from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

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