Archive for category Indians Baseball

Doug Jones Story

The Single-A season in Minor League Baseball has just started, and I’m pleased to share that my story on former Indians closer Doug Jones made it into the 2016 Vancouver Canadians program book. Check it out starting on page 48 here.

Get a copy of the program book for $5.00 if you’re at the ballpark!

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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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Flashback to 1995: A 1-0 gem featuring few, few pitches

I was interested in the Cleveland-Seattle game from July 30 because of the major-league record Felix Hernandez was potentially about to break, but as it turned out, it was the Indians’ starter that was making the headlines.

Corey Kluber, who is now the ace in Cleveland after the Indians traded Justin Masterson earlier in the day, threw an 85-pitch shutout to defeat Hernandez and the Mariners, 2-0. In his previous outing, the 28-year-old right-hander had taken a perfect game into the seventh inning against Kansas City back on July 24 in the Indians’ eventual 2-1 loss to the Royals.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Kluber’s gem against Seattle marked just the seventh major-league shutout on 85 or fewer pitches in the 21st century [1].

That stat – so few pitches in a shutout – reminds me of a game in particular, one that featured Greg Maddux against his former Cubs teammate, Mike Morgan. It was an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game back in the 1995 season, where the Atlanta Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0 in a contest that took under two hours to complete.

That night, Maddux tossed a two-hit shutout to outpitch Morgan, who allowed only six hits and a walk over eight innings [2]. A quick search on Baseball-Reference.com reveals that that game took place on August 20, 1995, with Maddux throwing only 88 pitches – 66 for strikes – in his nine innings.

mike morganAs for Morgan? He threw 84 pitches – 55 for strikes – over his eight innings of work. It might have been his best start of the season – and he did come within two outs of throwing a no-hitter against the Montreal Expos over a month earlier on July 3.

A tidy, efficient game for both pitchers, with the only run of the game coming in the third inning when Marquis Grissom led off with a double, moved to third on Jeff Blauser’s sacrifice but, and came home on Chipper Jones’ grounder to second base. That was all the scoring for the night, with the game lasting only an hour and 50 minutes.

Any baseball fan knows about Maddux’s dominance that season – where the Braves ace right-hander went 19-2 and captured his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award – so I won’t talk much more about him.

Let’s talk a little bit about Morgan, who went just 7-7 despite a respectable 3.56 ERA in 21 starts. Apparently, if you made him throw enough pitches – something that the Braves didn’t do – you were going to get to him in the late innings. More specifically, Morgan was virtually unhittable in his first 75 pitches in 1995, but became a batting practice pitcher on his 76th pitch onward.

That’s what Dodger third-base coach Joey Amalfitano told first baseman Eric Karros before he stepped up to the plate to face Morgan in the sixth inning on August 9, 1995. Next thing you knew, Karros stroked a two-run homer on the Cardinals right-hander’s 76th pitch of the night, and the Dodgers – with knuckleballer Tom Candiotti on the mound – went on to beat St. Louis, 4-2.

Speaking of Candiotti, he himself also once tossed a complete-game 1-0 shutout where he threw only 85 pitches. The knuckleballer fanned three and didn’t walk a hitter in the four-hit shutout. But that was a spring-training game back in 1987 between the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland Athletics, though the A’s did have their everyday players in the lineup that afternoon. According to an old San Jose Mercury News story from March 28, 1987, Tony Phillips (0-for-3), Carney Lansford (0-for-3), Jose Canseco (2-for-3), Reggie Jackson (0-for-3), and Mark McGwire (0-for-3) all played in that game.

Ahhhhh…great memories, and it’s thanks to Corey Kluber, the new ace of the Indians.

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[1] According to that same Yahoo! Sports story, Kluber faced one batter over the minimum in nine complete innings for his second straight start, which marked the first time it had happened in big-league history.

[2] Poor Morgan. He was also the losing pitcher in Dennis Martinez’s perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 1991, dropping a hard-luck 2-0 decision. He gave up only four hits in a complete-game effort, with both runs off of him unearned.

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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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