Archive for category Blue Jays Baseball

It’s throw-the-ball-away night in Houston!

How about those “contending” Toronto Blue Jays, falling for a second consecutive night against the lowly Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park?

I guess Brett Oberholtzer and his “mediocre” ERA – a term referenced on tsn.ca’s game preview – was better in the August 2 contest than counterpart R.A. Dickey, huh? (That’s the R.A. Dicky, who by the way had an earned-run average which is not that different from the Astros left-hander at the start of the day….but what does tsn.ca really know about baseball?)

Houston is mediocre

Anyway, the momentum in the game changed thanks to a pair of Blue Jays errors on a pickoff play in the middle of the contest.

With the score tied 2-2 in the fifth inning and Altuve on first base, the knuckleballing Dickey tried to pick him off but the throw instead bounced past first baseman Danny Valencia down into the foul territory in right field. With Altuve hustling around the bases, Valencia chased the ball down and eventually got to it, and then fired a throw to third base to try and get the Astros’ All-Star second baseman. Alas, the throw rolled away from Steve Tolleson, allowing Altuve, who had just slid into the bag at third, to quickly get up and score the tie-breaking run without a throw.

One big run on two errors (Dickey and Valencia), and DH Chris Carter homered moments later to give Houston a two-run advantage. The Blue Jays couldn’t recover, and the Astros’ four-run eighth inning put the game away, as Houston went on to the 8-2 victory.

This reminds me of a game between Oakland and expansion Tampa Bay during the 1998 season, with another knuckleballer involved in an error-filled play that gave the opposing team all the momentum it needed to pull out a victory.

On May 26, 1998 in Oakland, the Athletics had Tom Candiotti on the mound while the visiting Devil Rays had rookie Rolando Arrojo looking to improve to 7-3 on the season for the first-year franchise.

The A’s gave Candiotti a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run homer by Matt Stairs, but everything fell apart for the veteran knuckleballer in the top of the third.

Devil Rays shortstop Kevin Stocker led off with a single, bringing up second baseman Miguel Cairo. With the count 2-and-1, Cairo dropped a bunt down the third-base line, and A’s third baseman Mike Blowers charged in to field the ball. Unfortunately, Blowers’ throw to first base went past Jason Giambi and rolled toward the Tampa Bay bullpen. Stocker, who was running from first base, scored easily.

cairoA’s second baseman Scott Spiezio finally tracked the ball down and threw to third base to try and get Cairo…only to realize nobody was covering. With the ball scooting away, Cairo scored the Devil Rays’ second run to tie it at 2-2.

Two errors on the bunt play, and Tampa Bay had two runs on the board.

Two innings later, Quinton McCracken homered off Candiotti to put the Devil Rays ahead to stay, and the A’s went on to a tough 7-2 loss.

The key play, according to Candiotti, was the bunt that the A’s bungled. “I haven’t seen a bunt turned into a home run before,” he noted afterward [1]. Wade Boggs, the Devil Rays’ third baseman who like Candiotti also threw a knuckleball, agreed with that last statement, saying: “It was more like my son’s Little League game, the way they were throwing the ball around.” [2]

“A lot of things happen with the Oakland A’s you haven’t seen before,” Stairs added [3]. Ahhhh, yes… those were the A’s from a different era, one that would finish last in the AL West in 1998 and also lead the league in errors.

Okay, the A’s misplays in the Tampa Bay game from 1998 were probably worse than what was seen in Houston by the Blue Jays on August 2, but hopefully Toronto will keep throwing the ball away and finish the 2014 season in disappointing fashion.

Getting back to tsn.ca, good job, by the way, with the headline of the following recap in the Mets-Giants contest:

tsn giants mets
[1] Steve Kettmann, “Errors Add Up to Loss for A’s,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 1998.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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What big series in September?

It’s always amazing to read and hear how delusional those covering the Toronto Blue Jays are.

Remember back in May when the Blue Jays went 21-9 and were in first place? They were as many as six games up in the AL East on June 6 following their sixth straight win, a streak which included a three-game sweep in Detroit.

At the time, the scribes on TSN.ca were writing all sorts of garbage about how the Blue Jays-Orioles three-game series to close out the season would be significant, comparing that season-ending set to the 1989 series when Toronto clinched at home against Baltimore to win the division on the final weekend of the campaign. Those scribes were reminiscing about how magical those ’89 Blue Jays were and were trying to suggest – at least that’s what it seemed to me – the 2014 edition were on their way.

tsnThose same scribes were then saying how the Red Sox and the Rays were dead, that there was no way for either Boston or Tampa Bay to rally from their deficits. Those same delusional writers were even suggesting that David Price might be traded to Toronto because Tampa Bay was out of it. (Yeah, right. As if the Rays would trade within the division.)

All hogwash. Do they not even follow baseball? Did they not see how the Rays overcame a seemingly insurmountable deficit at the beginning of September back in 2011? [1] So, this year when the Blue Jays were in first place in June and both the BoSox and Rays were struggling, those Toronto scribes thought the race was over. Those scribes must have thought that the Blue Jays would just keep on slugging their way to the World Series, believing that the team’s only strength – hitting home runs – would last forever. (Do they not know that pitching wins pennants? And I’m sorry – if they think the Toronto rotation is on par with the pitching staffs on true contenders, then they really know nothing about baseball.)

Fast forward to July 21, following the Red Sox’s 14-1 thumping of the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Boston is only 3.5 games worse than Toronto. As for the idle Rays, a three-game sweep over lowly Minnesota over the weekend, coupled with Toronto’s latest loss, moved Tampa Bay to within four games of the Blue Jays. And oh yeah, the Rays have won five straight – same as the Red Sox – and that streak includes two victories over the Blue Jays prior to the All-Star break. (The Blue Jays still haven’t won a road series in Tampa Bay since April of 2007. Oh wait, maybe those scribes expect Toronto to sweep the Rays in their next series in Tampa from Sept. 2-4, right? And go 9-0 in their nine remaining games against the Rays from late August onwards, right? After all, according to those guys, the Rays are done.)

And yes, as TSN.ca correctly pointed out, back in 2000 the Rays (who were known as the Devil Rays at the time) did trade right-hander Steve Trachsel to the Blue Jays down the stretch. But really? Trachsel was a journeyman pitcher and Tampa Bay was a horrible team back then. Does TSN.ca really expect the Rays, a perennial contender, to trade a marquee ace such as David Price to the Blue Jays? Even if they were to give up on the season and trade Price, he would likely be going to a National League team. Definitely not Toronto.

Again, it’s just amazing how, year after year, the delusional Toronto media seems to have a complete lack of knowledge of the game. During the first half, whenever I had a baseball conversation with Blue Jays bandwagon fans around me, I always told them, “Oh, by the way, there’s still a second half of the season to play.” Apparently, even those scribes in Toronto, particularly the ones writing for TSN.ca, are clueless about that too.

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[1] One needs not be a baseball historian to know that large deficits in baseball are surmountable, even if he/she hasn’t heard of the 1951 Giants, 1978 Yankees, or 1914 Braves. Even in the last 25 years alone, we have seen numerous examples. In 1995, for instance, the Mariners (the Blue Jays’ expansion cousins from 1977, by the way) rallied from an 11-game deficit to eventually overtake the Angels. The 1991 and 1993 Braves rallied from 9.5- and 10-game deficits against the Dodgers and Giants, respectively. (And don’t get me started on those Expos fans who seem to think their team would have won the 1994 World Series. The Braves could have overtaken them down the stretch, and as most fans know, teams that make it to the postseason for the first time in a long time – which the Expos would have been in 1994 – rarely win it all in their first try.) Heck, even in that historic 2011 season, the Braves had an 8.5-game lead at the start of September, but collapsed in that final month. So, it’s happened before – and will again. Then again, why would the scribes covering the Blue Jays know anything? From listening to their analysts and reading their columns, it’s like the Blue Jays play in a vacuum and the rest of the baseball world doesn’t exist and doesn’t matter.

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Knuckleballs and forkballs: Candiotti vs Morris

A few days earlier, It’s Pronounced Lajaway had a piece on the greatest Indians players to never make an All-Star team.

Knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who pitched for the Indians from 1986-1991 (and again in 1999), made the list at No. 5.

As It’s Pronounced Lajaway noted, Candiotti especially deserved an All-Star nod back in 1991:

As I’ve referenced in other posts in the past, Candiotti’s Tribe career was pretty impressive in hindsight. He posted an ERA+ over 125 in three of his six seasons in Cleveland. If you think Kluber got snubbed this year, check out Candiotti’s situation from 1991. With a 2.23 ERA in 17 starts (6th best in all of baseball), Candiotti was left off the roster. Meanwhile, due to postseason heroics which almost got him into the Hall of Fame, some guy named Morris started the game for the AL—with the 43rd best ERA in baseball at 3.65.

Of course, as I had posted here recently too, Candiotti would have made the American All-Star team had he not been traded to Toronto a mere 10 days prior to the Midsummer Classic.

I want to focus here on Candiotti vs Morris, though, since it was brought up on It’s Pronounced Lajaway.

Candiotti normally struggled in first innings of ballgames because it took a few frames for him to get the feel for the knuckleball, but interestingly, Morris was even worse in his 21-win season with Toronto in 1992. That season, Morris had a 6.88 ERA during the first innings of his 34 starts, allowing 26 earned runs and 14 extra-base hits. In 1991, Candiotti gave up 15 first-inning runs in 34 starts, for a 4.01 ERA, and nine extra-base hits. But Candiotti’s first-inning ERA was skewed because seven of those runs came in the one game where he received multiple for a bad tooth just prior to taking the mound. In any event, Morris’s 6.88 ERA in the first inning in 1992 was a lot worse.

Former major-league pitcher Jim Kaat, working the broadcast booth for CBS during the 1992 postseason, explained Morris’s first-inning woes this way during Game One of that year’s ALCS: “When you throw the forkball, it’s difficult to find the release point” and get that pitch in the strike zone early on. The idea that it took a few innings for Morris to see if his forkball was sharp or his fastball was effective, before he decided which pitch to go with. So, essentially, it took Morris a few innings before he settled down. And once he had his pitches working, he’d be untouchable the rest of the game.

That’s not all. As Kaat also pointed out, because of Morris’s high leg kick and the use of the forkball, the ball took a longer time to get to home plate, making Morris easy to steal bases on throughout his career. In fact, Morris was one of the easiest pitchers to steal on in the AL during that morris cardera.

Wait a minute. Morris had a tendency to struggle in the first innings of ballgames. Because he threw a forkball, Morris was easy to run on. Those two characteristics were consistent with knuckleball pitchers such as Candiotti and Charlie Hough. So, why did knuckleballers get more scrutiny than a guy who threw a forkball?

Hough himself wondered the same thing during the spring of 1992, some five months after Morris had captured World Series MVP honors with Minnesota. “Some managers would say they wouldn’t have a knuckleballer on the staff with all the wild pitches and passed balls,” Hough told the Chicago Daily Herald, referring to the negative perception toward knuckleball pitchers. “But there are more wild pitches on a forkball or a splitter. If Jack Morris throws a wild pitch or passed ball and gives up a big run on it, it’s all right. But when I do it, it’s the god-darned knuckleball” (Mark Ruda, “Is the Knuckleball a Dying Art? Not on the White Sox,” Chicago Daily Herald, April 5, 1992).

Then there’s also bases on balls. Managers hate knuckleballers because of the walks associated with them. But in 16 seasons, Candiotti finished in the top 10 in walks allowed only twice. Meanwhile, he was in the top 10 for fewest walks allowed per nine innings a total of three times. Morris, however, finished in the top 10 in most walks allowed nine times in his 18 major-league seasons, and never once finished in the top 10 in fewest walks per nine innings. So, managers prefer a forkball pitcher because…?

Wild pitches? Morris was in the top 10 in his league in that category a total of 12 times, leading the league six times and finishing second twice. Candiotti was in the top 10 in wild pitches “only” seven times. He never led the league in that category, and his 14 wild pitches in 1998 represented a career high. Morris equaled or surpassed that number several times; he had seasons with 18, 14, 15, 24, 16, 15, and 14 wild pitches.

Round-trippers? Six times, Candiotti finished in the top 10 in the league in fewest home runs allowed per nine innings. He never led the league in homers allowed, finishing in the top 10 only twice, including a career high of 30 allowed in 1998. Morris was in the top 10 in homers allowed seven times, and had seasons in which he allowed 37, 30, 40, and 39 long balls. So, Candiotti owned low home run and walk rates—and managers didn’t like a pitcher like him because…?

In Game One of the 1992 ALCS, Morris had an atypical flawless first inning against the Oakland A’s. But his early-inning woes would bite him in the second frame, as he allowed three runs – including back-to-back homers – and Toronto went on to lose 4-3. In Game Four, he allowed five runs in the third inning as the Blue Jays trailed 6-1 entering the eighth. Oakland seemed destined to win that contest to even the ALCS at 2-2, but the 1992 Jays weren’t the same team as the offensively-challenged ’91 club.

The ’92 Jays were a more balanced team, and it was no cakewalk to go through their lineup. John Olerud and Candy Maldonado had solid seasons, and Toronto also had a legitimate designated hitter in Dave Winfield. (The DHs in the 1991 ALCS were a combined 2-for-18 after putting up horrendous regular-season numbers.) With Winfield hitting behind him, Joe Carter saw more fastballs because pitchers didn’t want to walk him and have to deal with the dangerous Winfield with runners aboard.

Icandiotti cardn 1991, if the Jays were trailing by that kind of a margin – 6-1 in the eighth inning – the game was essentially over since they didn’t have much of an offense beyond White-Alomar-Carter atop the batting order. No such problem in 1992. An Alomar double and Carter single cut the deficit to 6-2. Winfield then singled Carter to third, prompting A’s manager Tony La Russa to bring in closer Dennis Eckersley. It didn’t matter. Olerud and Maldonado each smacked RBI singles to make it 6-4. An inning later, Toronto tied it off the seemingly invincible Eckersley, and then prevailed 7-6 in extra innings.

The comeback overshadowed a horrible outing by Morris, whose numbers were: 3.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 2 SO.

Not unlike Candiotti’s in Game One in 1991: 2.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO.

The ’92 Blue Jays would win the AL pennant before stunning Atlanta in six games in the World Series. And oh, Morris lost twice against the Braves.

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Though Jack Morris defeated Candiotti’s Blue Jays twice in the 1991 ALCS, the Candy Man has nothing but praise for the right-hander.

“Jack Morris was the greatest competitor I’ve ever seen on a big-league mound,” he said several years ago on the subject. “Jack might not have had an outstanding ERA, but he had this refuse-to-lose mentality and was definitely a big-game pitcher. The bigger the game, the better Jack was. He could beat you 1-0 or he could beat you 10-9. He always wanted the ball and he never wanted to come out of the ballgame. That’s what you want out of your starting pitcher. That’s the guy I’d want on the mound for a seventh game in the World Series.

“Not only was he the best clutch pitcher I’ve ever seen, but Jack also threw an amazing split-fingered fastball, which was the best splitter in the game. It approached the plate looking like a fastball, but it really dipped when it got to the plate. I know I wouldn’t have wanted to hit against that splitter of his.”

Candiotti never stepped into the batter’s box against Morris, but opposed him on the mound quite a few times. Sure, Candiotti was only 1-8 lifetime in their nine career matchups, but several of the games were very close. During the Cleveland years, he was 1-5 despite a respectable 3.67 ERA. “Jack was with the Tigers for most of those years,” Candiotti said. “It seemed like I faced him a lot when we were playing against Detroit, and he was always one pitch better than me.”

That was certainly the case in both of their 1987 matchups. On August 23, Candiotti should have had a shutout but his defense betrayed him, and the Tigers took advantage and won the game in a span of four pitches. In the third inning, Detroit had runners on the corners with one out when Darrell Evans hit what looked like an inning-ending double-play grounder to Joe Carter at first base. Alas, Carter’s throw to second base went into leftfield as everybody was safe. One run scored, and there were still two runners on. Kirk Gibson, the next batter, smacked a three-run homer and the Tigers would prevail 4-3 behind Morris. “I threw Gibby a knuckleball the pitch before, and he missed it by a foot,” Candiotti recalled. “I threw him another knuckler but it stayed up a little bit, and Gibby just absolutely crushed it. We lost that game but it easily could’ve been a shutout, because they didn’t come close to getting another run.”

Ten days later, Candiotti threw a one-hitter in Detroit, but Carter booted a ball at first base which led to a run, and Morris’s Tigers won 2-1. Though the error cost him the game, Candiotti was quick to jump to his teammate’s defense. “That year,” he recalls, “part of the problem was there weren’t any set positions for a few players. Joe wasn’t out there trying to make an error. He was out there trying his best, but it was tough when he’d play first base one day, then move over to leftfield the next, back to first again, and then to rightfield. It was tough for a few of the guys not having a set position.”

One time, it was because of a catcher’s unfamiliarity with Candiotti that cost him a game against Morris.

Joel Skinner, who was traded to Cleveland before the 1989 season, had caught Yankees knuckleballer Joe Niekro five times from 1986-87. However, for the first five months of the ’89 season with the Indians, he’d caught Candiotti just once – way back in April – because Andy Allanson was the Candy Man’s personal catcher. In September, though, interim manager John Hart wanted to see what Skinner could do behind the plate, and inserted him into the starting lineup in a game against Morris.

“Skinner warmed me up in the bullpen before the game, and did just fine,” recalled Candiotti. “But with the knuckleball, though, is it’s different in the game than it is warming up on the sidelines. When the game began, he was using a regular catcher’s glove – instead of the big knuckleball glove that catchers wear to catch a knuckleball pitcher*.”

Gary Pettis led off with a single, stole second, and moved to third on a passed ball. Candiotti then fanned Fred Lynn but Skinner couldn’t hang on to the third strike, which got away for another passed ball, allowing Pettis to score. “After that inning, Skinner switched to the big glove,” said Candiotti. “And he did a great job the rest of the way. In fact, he was terrific in handling my knuckleball whenever he caught me [from that moment on].” Despite Candiotti’s solid game – two earned runs over 6.2 innings – Morris was victorious 3-1.

Morris would compile a 26-8 record against Cleveland by the time Candiotti finally beat him in 1990. “It seemed every time I pitched against Detroit, I got matched up against Jack. He had an amazing record against us, especially at Tiger Stadium. He just beat us every time. I go, ‘Well, somebody’s gotta take this punishment. It might as well be me.'”

Though Morris said years ago he didn’t need luck to beat Candiotti, based on some of those games it seemed like he did.

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*Skinner wasn’t the only catcher who learned the lesson the hard way. When Dodger catcher Carlos Hernandez first caught Candiotti during spring training in ’92, he didn’t want to use the big knuckleball glove – and soon regretted that decision. “Carlos was catching me in the bullpen and he was just using a regular catcher’s glove,” said Candiotti. “I threw my hard knuckleballs and a few of them hit him. After that, he gave up and went with the bigger glove.” With the oversized glove, Hernandez missed only three of Candiotti’s pitches during the entire game. 

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Sometimes zeroes don’t mean much…

Dan Johnson, called up by the Blue Jays from Triple-A Buffalo on July 11, made his Toronto debut that same night against his old team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and had the most interesting stat line in his new club’s 8-5 victory.

Johnson, probably best known for his ninth-inning homer for Tampa Bay against the Red Sox in September of 2008 in a contest which gave the Rays the AL East lead and then another dinger against the Yankees in the 2011 season finale to help the Rays clinch the wild card, posted the following line in his Toronto debut:

0 AB, 3 R, 0 H, 0 RBI, 4 BB, 0 SO.

Though Johnson couldn’t get a hit, he still made a huge contribution for Toronto. The Blue Jays’ newest DH was still was able to reach base in all four plate appearances and, more importantly, came around to score three times – including the tie-breaking run in the ninth inning after he had drawn a leadoff walk against the struggling Grant Balfour.

Definitely an odd and crooked-looking line score.

This reminds me of a couple of weird-looking stat lines for Tom Candiotti, where he lost a couple of games despite allowing zero earned runs. Same with John Smoltz, who lost a pivotal game to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Four of the 1993 NLCS.

Let’s start with the Smoltz game, with the Atlanta right-hander owning a career postseason record of 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA in nine starts heading into the October 10, 1993 contest against lefty Danny Jackson (a playoff veteran himself) and the Phillies. Thanks to a Mark Lemke error at second base in the fourth inning, the Phillies scored two runs off Smoltz to take a 2-1 lead. The Braves almost tied it in the eighth when they put two runners on with two outs and erratic closer Mitch “The Wild Thing” Williams took over for Jackson.

Lemke, looking to redeem himself for the earlier fielding error, took Williams’s second pitch to deep left – which would have tied the game but leftfielder Milt Thompson made a circus catch to end the inning.

Atlanta then put two runners on to lead off the ninth but Williams fielded Jeff Blauser’s sacrifice bunt attempt and threw out the lead runner at third base, before inducing Ron Gant – arguably the league’s best clutch hitter down the stretch – to hit into a game-ending double play. The Phillies won 2-1 to even the series at 2-2, and then won the next two games to clinch the NL pennant.

But here was Smoltz’s line in the game:

6.1 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 10 SO.

It was Smoltz’s first career postseason loss – despite the fact he struck out 10 Phillies and gave up zero earned runs. What was interesting too, was that reliever Mark Wohlers walked three and struck out five in two hitless innings, meaning Atlanta pitching struck out 15 Philadelphia hitters but the Phillies still prevailed [1].

Oscar AzocarThen, on to Tom Candiotti. On August 3, 1990, the Cleveland Indians knuckleballer took a no-hitter into the bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. He retired the first two batters and was four outs away from history, with a 4-2 lead. The Yankees had scored two runs in the first inning on a hit batsman, an error by second baseman Jerry Browne, a Candiotti wild pitch, and an RBI groundout by Mel Hall.

With two outs in the eighth, Steve Sax walked before Jim Leyritz reached on an error by shortstop Felix Fermin. Yankees rookie Oscar Azocar, in his first month in the majors, broke up the no-hitter with a single up the middle, cutting the deficit to 4-3.

At that juncture, Indians skipper John McNamara pulled Candiotti in favor of closer Doug Jones, who gave up a first-pitch home run to Hall, turning the 4-3 lead into a 6-4 deficit. That was the way the game ended, with Candiotti charged with the loss and the following line:

7.2 IP, 1 H, 5 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO.

All five runs off Candiotti were unearned because of the fielding errors by Browne and Fermin.

Then on June 30, 1995, Candiotti was pitching for the Dodgers against the Colorado Rockies, and gave up two first-inning runs because of an error by third baseman Tim Wallach. At the time, the two runs seemed insignificant because Rockies starter Kevin Ritz was just 11-24 with a 5.78 ERA going into the season, and you would figure a lineup featuring Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, and Raul Mondesi would do some damage against a mediocre pitcher.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers couldn’t touch Ritz, who gave up just three hits over six shutout innings (though he also walked five and struck out only one). Karros finally homered off Curtis Leskanic in the ninth to break the shutout, but the Dodgers couldn’t get the tying run home in the 2-1 loss.

The line for Candiotti:

7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO.

It was as good a start as Candiotti had had at Yankee Stadium five years earlier – but again only good enough for a loss. It would be that type of a season for the knuckleballer, who went 7-14 despite a respectable 3.50 ERA for a first-place Dodger team [2].

Funny stat lines – they happen in baseball from time to time, and thanks to Dan Johnson for reminding me of these couple of examples.

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[1] Kent Mercker, who also appeared in the game for the Braves, recorded two outs but did not issue a walk or notch a strikeout.
[2] Teammate Ramon Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA.

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You’re not an All-Star!

Right-hander Jeff Samardzija, traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Oakland Athletics on July 5, was named to the National League All-Star team the following afternoon for the upcoming Midsummer Classic at Minnesota’s Target Field.

Samardzija, who was 2-7 for the Cubs despite a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts (and 103 strikeouts in 108 innings), will be allowed to take part in the festivities but will not be pitching in the All-Star Game because of the trade which sent him from the NL to the AL.

But hey, at least he became an All-Star for the first time. Some players never got a chance to even be named to the All-Star Game. Some 20 years ago, a guy with a good ERA but a low win total wouldn’t have been named to the team.

Take Tom Candiotti, for instance, who was probably denied a shot at the 1991 Midsummer Classic because he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Toronto Blue Jays 10 days prior to the game. He also was unfortunate in that he pitched in the wrong era.

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SkyDome played host to the 1991 All-Star Game and the Blue Jays had three All-Stars – rightfielder Joe Carter, second baseman Roberto Alomar, and left-handed starter Jimmy Key. The Indians, meanwhile, had only one representative for the Midsummer Classic. Second-year catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., despite having a bad year – he’d spent time on the disabled list and was hitting .200 going into July, was voted into the starting lineup by the fans. A .476 hitting tear the first seven days of July – including a 4-for-4 performance in the final game before the All-Star break – helped pushed his average up to a more respectable .241 at the end of the first half.

“Sandy Alomar was an All-Star with Cleveland,” Candiotti laughed as he told me this back in 2010. “He was voted in, but other than Sandy, there weren’t any other All-Star-caliber players on that team. The trade to Toronto – which happened before the break – might have cost me a spot on the All-Star team that year, because the Indians really had no other guys that were going to make it.” [1]

Nowadays, it seems to be a lot easier to make an All-Star roster. Take a look at the 2010 AL roster, for instance; there were a total of 42 All-Stars on that squad! Back in 1991, however, there were only 28 roster spots available on All-Star teams, which certainly cost Candiotti a spot. As the years went by, spots were added as the roster size went over the 30-man mark, so in the 2000s, there are far more players per club in the Midsummer Classic. In 2009, All-Star rosters increased from 32 to 33 players, but even that wasn’t enough.

In 2010, All-Star rosters were increased to 34 players, and a new rule was added: Pitchers who start on the Sunday before the break are prohibited from playing in the Midsummer Classic. Thus, that year, American League All-Star pitchers CC Sabathia and Trevor Cahill – who were named to the All-Star team earlier but each then started his team’s final game before the break – were part of the festivities at Angel Stadium, but weren’t eligible to pitch. [2]

That meant Joe Girardi, the manager of the AL squad, had to pick two more pitchers to replace them. In fact, Girardi added three – Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, and Andrew Bailey – to the team. Reason? Girardi had originally picked Weaver as one of the replacements, not realizing the right-hander had pitched on Sunday. Thus, a replacement then had to be chosen for Weaver, opening up yet another spot on the AL team. [3]

So, in the end, Verlander replaced Sabathia, Weaver replaced Cahill, and finally, Bailey replaced Weaver.

Thanks to the new rule, Verlander and Bailey were recognized as All-Stars. Ditto Sabathia, Cahill, and Weaver, even though there were not part of the Midsummer Classic roster. A whopping total of 42 players – among them 18 pitchers – were recognized as All-Stars on the AL squad that year, including all the players who either were ineligible to pitch or couldn’t play because of an injury.

In 2011, it was more of the same. In total, four starting pitchers in the AL and two in the NL were declared ineligible to participate in the All-Star Game because they pitched on the Sunday before the break, meaning they needed to be replaced. And even then, there were some complications. Sabathia replaced Tampa Bay’s James Shields on the roster because Shields was starting on the final Sunday. Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester replaced Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez because he also started on Sunday. But Sabathia just happened to pitch on Sunday too, meaning he was essentially a replacement needing his own replacement (which turned out to be Alexi Ogando of Texas). Lester happened to be on the disabled list, meaning he needed a replacement too (Ricky Romero of Toronto). So, the week after the initial announcement of the All-Star rosters, there were still players being added, and replacements needing to be replaced.

“If they had that rule when I was playing,” Candiotti shrugged, “I definitely would have made it one of those years. But I’m sure even with [roster sizes] increasing every year, there’ll always be complaints about how so-and-so was left off the team.”

That last part is probably right. Despite the new rule regarding pitchers and the increase in the roster size, there is still controversy over the player selection process. In fact, there has been for years, before and after the expanded rosters in the 2000s. In 2006, Kansas City pitcher Mark Redman was an All-Star despite an ERA of 5.27 and a 6-4 record at the break. Why was he an All-Star? Well, the rules state that each team has to have at least one representative on its league’s All-Star roster. In Redman’s case, he was the Royals’ lone representative, a year after going 5-15 in Pittsburgh. Speaking of the Pirates, they had their own controversial All-Star in 2003, when closer Mike Williams was selected for the Midsummer Classic as Pittsburgh’s lone representative despite his 6.44 ERA. That rule – where each major-league team needed at least one representative – was one that Candiotti also had to deal with when he was still pitching in the big leagues. Candiotti certainly missed out in 1991 because of that rule.

sandersonFor instance, the ’91 Yankees were a fourth-place outfit in the AL East that didn’t deserve to have any players representing them in the Midsummer Classic. The Yankees, in fact, didn’t have any players voted in. However, since each team had to send at least one player, right-handed pitcher Scott Sanderson, 9-3 with a 3.93 ERA, was selected for the American League squad as the Yankees’ lone representative. While Sanderson’s won-loss record was great, he was far from being a dominant pitcher, averaging just over six innings per start with opponents hitting .276 against him. The knuckleballing Candiotti, on the other hand, was averaging over seven innings – 121.1 innings pitched over 17 starts – while posting a 2.23 ERA. Opponents were hitting only .224 off Candiotti. Thus, with Sanderson’s inclusion (which turned out to be the only time in his career he was an All-Star), a far more deserving pitcher like Candiotti was not selected. If there was no rule insisting each team had to have at least one player chosen as an All-Star, it’s very likely Candiotti’s 2.23 ERA – not to mention all the other stats except for walks – would have put him ahead of a pitcher with an ERA approaching 4.00.

First-half stats in 1991:

……………………………..GS    IP      H    R  ER  BB  SO HR  ERA  (W-L)
Candiotti (CLE/TOR)……. 17   121.1  102  38  30  33   96     7   2.23   (8-7)
Sanderson (NYY)……….. 17   103.0  112  48  45  13   60     9   3.93   (9-3)

“My numbers were up there some years,” Candiotti recalled, referring especially to 1990 and 1991. “My ERA was the [third-best] in the American League the year I was traded to Toronto. How do you have a pitcher with [one of the best ERAs] not make the team?”

He does offer up another explanation, however. It goes back to when Boston Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman had trouble handling Texas knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough in the Midsummer Classic in 1986.

“Managers and coaches pick the pitchers for the All-Star team. Back in 1986, Charlie was on the American League team. He was pitching to Rich Gedman, the All-Star catcher that year. Gedman missed the ball and couldn’t catch it in that one inning Charlie was pitching.”

Hough struck out three straight batters in the eighth inning, but gave up two runs and couldn’t get out of the inning. With a runner on second base, Hough struck out Chili Davis for the first out, but the ball got past Gedman for a wild pitch. Hough then struck out Hubie Brooks, but the ball again got away – this time Gedman was charged with a passed ball – allowing the runner to score and Brooks to get to first base. Hough fanned Tim Raines for the second out before Steve Sax hit an RBI single to knock the knuckleball pitcher out of the game.

“A catcher just couldn’t catch a knuckleball pitcher if he wasn’t his personal catcher. A knuckleball pitcher really needs his own personal catcher, and so over the years after that, managers and his coaches weren’t going to pick a knuckleball pitcher.

“There were three years when I really deserved to go. One of those years was definitely 1991. Unfortunately for me, I was having a tremendous season, [third in] the American League in ERA [at the All-Star break]. Then I was traded to Toronto, and I was no longer a member of the Indians. There was nobody that really did anything on that Cleveland team that year. When I got to Toronto, there was Robbie Alomar, Joe Carter, Jimmy Key, Tom Henke, tons of guys, five or six players that could be picked as All-Stars. I was [third in] the league in ERA [at 2.23] but I didn’t get a chance to go. There was no doubt I would have been an All-Star [had I still been] with the Indians. But I was traded. Oh well.”

That’s right, oh well. So Jeff Samardzija – unless the rules are changed for him – won’t pitch in the 2014 Midsummer Classic. But hey, at least he was named to the National League squad. Some people just aren’t – or weren’t – lucky enough.

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[1] The Indians apparently had no other guys that could make the All-Star team in 2010. Right-handed starting pitcher Fausto Carmona was the Indians’ lone representative at the Midsummer Classic, despite posting unspectacular numbers. At the break, Carmona was only 8-7 with a 3.64 ERA in 18 starts. By season’s end, the numbers would be 13-14 and 3.77. Those are numbers for an All-Star? And it wasn’t as though he made the team based on a great 2009 season, as he was 5-12 with a 6.32 ERA in 24 starts in ’09.

[2] “Rangers Righty Alexi Ogando Joins AL All-Stars,” Associated Press/Yahoo! Sports, July 10, 2011. In the 2011 season, almost the same thing happened with Sabathia. This time, CC wasn’t named to the All-Star team originally but was later added to the team as the replacement for Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields. However, Sabathia and Shields both pitched in the Yankees-Rays contest on the Sunday before the All-Star break, making them ineligible for the game. Thus, Texas pitcher Alexi Ogando was named to the AL squad as a replacement for Sabathia.

[3] “Verlander, Weaver, Bailey Added as AL All-Stars,” Associated Press/Yahoo! Sports, July 11, 2010.

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