Wednesday, December 27, 2017
MLB is trending younger, which is why so many veteran free agents remain unsigned
The average Major League Baseball salary increased for the 13th consecutive year in 2017, reaching $4.47 million, though the rate of growth is slowing, according to USA TODAY Sports’ annual salary survey. Meanwhile, industry revenues topped $10 billion.
While player salaries are increasing, the average age of MLB players is falling.
At 30.4 years, the Atlanta Braves had the highest average player age in 2017. In a change from previous decades, MLB rosters are now driven by a youth movement and tend to be filled with players in their mid to late-20s.
The average age of the oldest Major League Baseball player for every team is now 37 years. The numbers show that the game is skewing younger. In fact, this is a Golden Age for players 25 and younger.
The All Star team is now populated by young stars in their 20s, rather than players in their 30s. Players age 25 and under made up more than a quarter of the two All Star teams in 2015. The game’s biggest, brightest stars are relative youngsters.
Among position players in their age-25 seasons or younger, nine of the top 11, in terms of Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, were on the two All Star teams in 2017. On the pitching side, six of the top seven were under age 25.
Another indication that All Stars are trending younger is this: of the 68 players named to the 2017 All-Star Game, 28 were first-timers.
In 2016, Kris Bryant was the National League MVP at age 24, while Mike Trout won his second American League MVP at 25. Last season, Jose Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton each won their league’s respective MVP Award at age 27.
The age of the best hitters in baseball fell to 26.8 in 2012 from 30.1 in 2002, a decline of over three years in just a decade.
The use of steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and other PEDs once allowed players to extend their prime years into their mid and late-30s. However, stringent testing no longer allows older players to artificially extend their careers. Their declines now come earlier and are more pronounced.
During the Steroid Era, a 34-year old player might have been viewed as still in his prime; not any more. Now he’s considered over the hill or, at the least, in decline.
There are still some good 35-year-old players; there are just fewer of them these days. There are even less great 35-year-old olds at present and there are hardly any great players from the ages of 36-40.
Teams see older players as riskier; in other words, likelier to be injured and to decline precipitously.
This is why so many older free agents remain unsigned. It’s the reason why teams are reluctant to grant expensive, long term contracts to players in their 30s. Most clubs would prefer to overpay a player for three or four years than to be constrained by a six, seven or even eight-year deal.
This is why the Red Sox, for example, are hesitant to give JD Martinez the seven-year contract he desires at age 30. Such a pact would take him through his age-36 season, when he will surely be in decline.
Front offices across baseball are now populated by highly-educated, young executives who are obsessed by statistics, especially sabermetrics. There is no chart, graph or diagram that agent Scott Boras can present them about a player that they don’t already know. These execs are fully aware that players peak in their late 20s, as they have for many decades.
For organizations, a player’s 30s are a decade of risk, at best, and of uncertainty, at least. In fact, the only certainty is that players in their 30s are in a steady decline. That’s why baseball executives are very cautious about giving them the guaranteed, long term contracts that often make them the highest paid players in the game.
Smart franchises — which means all of them these days — draft and develop their own players, creating a core, and then hang onto them until they reach free agency, which is often around age 30. As I noted previously, it’s a bad system for the players too. A merit-based system would not only be more equitable; it would make more sense.
In time, the player’s union will push the owners to be both more equitable and more sensible. It will be good for baseball.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Red Sox fans are freaking out right now. We’re approaching Christmas and the club still hasn't signed the middle-of-the-order power hitter that they’ve been missing since David Ortiz retired following the 2016 season.
Fans are often reactionary and impatient. They are passionate and want what they want right now. They don’t want to be composed, even-tempered and accommodating. It’s not their money that will be spent this offseason; it’s John Henry’s money and he’s a billionaire.
However, team president Dave Dombrowski has to consider the long-term interests of the Red Sox, not just the most immediate. As I’ve noted previously, most players enter free agency at around age 30, like JD Martinez, for example. The problem is that players begin to decline in their 30s and their aging bodies are at greater risk for injury.
The holdup with Martinez, who is by far the best free agent slugger available this winter, is that his agent, Scott Boras, is touting him as a $200 million player. Such a suggestion is absurd and entirely without merit. To reach $200 million, Martinez would have to receive a seven-year contract, with an average annual cost of $29 million.
Simply put, Martinez is not worth that much annually and, most importantly, he is not worthy of a seven-year investment. Few players are. Such a contract would take him through his age-36 season.
Like most players, Martinez will have begun an inevitable decline by age 35 and the Red Sox would still be paying him like he was a 29-year-old superstar.
Five years, $125 million seems reasonable for Martinez. That would give him an average annual cost of $25 million.
The 30-year-old slugger is a defensive liability in the outfield. The major defensive metrics — Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating -- grade him unfavorably. When in right field (where he has played 439 of his 674 games in the field), Martinez has trouble getting to relatively catchable balls. Simply put, he has poor range and costs his team runs. That matters… a lot. Defense is a critical, though often overlooked, aspect of the game.
Putting Martinez in left field would require trading Jackie Bradley, one of the game's premier defensive outfielders, and shifting Andrew Benintendi to center. The Red Sox defense would undoubtedly suffer in that scenario and it would cost them runs.
However, Martinez sure can slug. In fact, he posted a .690 slugging percentage last season, which was higher than Giancarlo Stanton’s .631 slugging. However, Martinez only had 489 plate appearances, while a player needs 502 to qualify. He also belted 45 homes in just 119 games. Clearly, his power is not in dispute.
Offensive production aside, part of Martinez's free agent appeal is the fact that, since he was traded from Detroit to Arizona at midseason, there is no draft compensation attached to his services.
Yet, nothing in Martinez’s first three seasons with Houston suggested that he would become a premier slugger. Take a look at this rather underwhelming stint with the Astros:
2011: 53 games, 226 plate appearances, 13 2B, 6 HR, 35 RBI, .274 BA/.319 OBP/.423 SLG
2012: 113 games, 439 plate appearances, 14 2B, 11 HR, 55 RBI, .241 BA/.311 OBP/.375 SLG
2013: 86 games, 310 plate appearances, 17 2B, 7 HR, 36 RBI, .250 BA/.272 OBP/.378 SLG
It’s easy to see why Houston gave up on Martinez and tough to see what Dombrowski, as Detroit’s GM, saw in him. After all, 252 games and 975 plate appearances are a pretty good sample size.
It’s hard to understand Martinez’s breakout season in 2014, after Dombrowski took a flier on him. It’s also hard to claim that Dombrowski viewed Martinez as some sort of reclamation project since he had no solid history to reclaim.
Yet, Martinez posted the following that year: 30 2B, 23 HR, 76 RBI, .315/.358/.553
Most remarkably, Martinez has gotten markedly better, offensively, since then. He epitomizes the term “late bloomer.”
Now he wants a $200 million deal. If I was Dombrowski, I wouldn’t be buying at that price. The Red Sox president is too savvy to bid against himself. Who are the other bidders at that price?
At this point, Martinez is much better suited to the American League and everybody in baseball knows it. He’s a defensive liability, meaning his greatest value is as a DH. At present, the Red Sox are just about the only club in the AL with the resources and the need for a DH who makes $25 million a year.
That’s why patience should prove to be a virtue. Dombrowski should play the waiting game with Martinez and Boras, until the asking price comes down to a more reasonable five years, $125 million.
Boston has lots of experience with high-priced, long term contacts that went bad and never should have been signed in the first place: Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo are all position players from recent Red Sox history that should serve as cautionary tales.
Stay the course and be patient, Dave. Let sanity and wisdom prevail. Get your man at your price.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
This offseason, free agents Eric Hosmer and JD Martinez are being promoted as $200 million players. Quite plainly, they are not.
From the advent of professional baseball in 1869, players had few rights and were poorly paid. Players were essentially the property of team owners, unable to ply their trade for whichever team they preferred, including the highest bidder. Baseball contracts contained reserve clauses, which forced players to stay with one team in perpetuity, unless traded.
However, St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood became the first professional athlete to fight for free agency rights in 1969. When Flood found out that he was being traded from the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, he wrote a letter to baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn protesting the trade and asserting that he was entitled to consider contract offers from other teams. Commissioner Kuhn denied the outfielder’s petition, so Flood sued Major League Baseball for antitrust violations.
Flood challenged Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, claiming it violated antitrust laws and his 13th Amendment rights. His case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, where the justices ruled against him, 5-3. The majority determined that baseball was a sport and not a business, and therefore exempt from anti-trust law (imagine that).
In December, 1975, an arbitrator reversed the Supreme Court’s verdict and declared that Major League Baseball players had the right to become free agents upon playing one year for their team without a contract.
With the ruling, the reserve clause was forever terminated from sports, allowing free agency to begin. Major League Baseball also implemented federal arbitration for salary demands, allowing players to negotiate their salaries when their contracts expire.
These changes shifted control from team owners to the players, giving the athletes freedom to block trades and request higher salaries.
In 1976, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association signed an agreement which allowed players with at least six years of experience to become free agents.
These were watershed moments. I am all for players being fairly compensated and having the freedom to play for whichever team wants them. After all, they are the ones the fans come to see. In essence, they are the ones putting asses in seats at ballparks all across the country. They create enormous revenues from live attendance, television ratings and from the sales of hats, jerseys and other paraphernalia. Simply put, the players should be well-paid.
I also understand that it must be very difficult for a player to be traded, especially in-season, which also affects a player’s family. Players have homes, put down roots in their adopted cites and often have kids in school. This is why free agent veterans sometimes fight to have no-trade clauses inserted into their contracts.
Having said all of that, we have reached a time when too much power has shifted to players.
Top free agents are now insisting on opt-out clauses, as well as no-trade clauses, in their contracts. Why do owners agree to such excesses? If the player performs well, he can opt-out and walk away, under no obligation to honor the remaining years on his contract. On the other hand, if the player is injured or otherwise underperforms his contract, his team is obligated to pay him in full for the contract’s duration. If the team wants to rebuild, or unload the player’s contract for any reason, that player can also refuse to be traded.
This is insanity and the owners need to make it stop.
Giancarlo Stanton is just the latest example of this extreme power shift to star players.
Stanton had a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause inserted into his mammoth, 13-year, $325 million contract. The contract was so long, and so expensive that it was far too cumbersome for the Marlins, as well as for the vast majority of major league teams.
Point in case: the Marlins recently sold for $1.2 billion to Derek Jeter and a group led by New York businessman Bruce Sherman. So, Stanton’s ridiculous contract represented more than a quarter of the team’s price. The MVP of the league is so grossly overpaid that his contract was a liability to the organization that gave it to him, as it would be to all but a handful of teams in baseball.
Former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria signed Stanton to that deal knowing it wouldn’t be his burden for long. Loria had every intention of selling the club, which is why he backloaded the pact for the next owners to deal with.
The Yankees were among a handful of clubs that could financially absorb Stanton’s contract and they still got $30 million from the Marlins (which will only kick in if he refuses to opt out after the 2020 season) to help pay Stanton.
Stanton has been on the disabled list in four different seasons and averaged just 117 games over his first seven years in the majors. He may be just 28 now, but players don’t get healthier in their 30s and most don’t get better either.
That speaks to the insanity of long-term contracts. They almost never work out for the team that signs them. Players typically hit free agency at around age 30, the decade in which they become more susceptible to injuries and begin their inevitable decline.
As history shows, massive, long term contracts are only good for the players who sign them. The teams that agree to such deals are usually left holding the bag, and with many regrets.
Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Jayson Werth, Troy Tulowitzki, Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Hamilton, Matt Kemp, Ryan Howard, Shin-Soo Choo, Albert Pujols and Jason Heyward, for example, all vastly underperformed their expensive, long term contracts and the teams that signed them would surely love a do-over.
This offseason, teams seem to think that keeping top free agents in limbo for as long as possible will drive down prices. We can only hope they are right. Teams believe that players will eventually worry about getting a job, which will result in a discount from the original asking prices.
Most teams can’t afford to spend huge sums in free agency, only to have the decision blow up in their faces. They cannot afford to have a high-priced player fail spectacularly on their watch. The smart GMs are perceived as the ones who spend wisely and win with low to moderate payrolls.
Organizations see free agency as a big, risky gamble. Huge sums of money will be wasted on players who will eventually get hurt or underperform. Guaranteed contracts are a game of roulette for the owners. Such terms don’t exist for almost any other workers in any industry.
In short, free agency is widely viewed by clubs as inefficient and wasteful. Yes, there are rosters to fill and needs to address, but teams need to spend their money wisely, not foolishly. The reality is that almost all long-term, big-dollar contracts ultimately prove to be a mistake for the teams who sign them.
Players such as JD Martinez and Eric Hosmer — both Scott Boras clients, not incidentally — are being promoted as $200 million players this offseason. Such a claim is without merit; neither player is worth anything near that amount. We can only hope that sanity prevails.
A player will get whatever the market will offer. However, if owners were smart, or had any guts, they would stop paying players in their 30s for past performance.
Any contract of at least six years, and certainly of seven or more, can be deemed long term, and they are a minefield of risks. There are few teams that can afford to fail spectacularly with players such as Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury, for example.
The entire system is backwards and geared toward failure. Young players are under team control for six years and only become arbitration eligible after three. Breakout rookies and young stars in year-two or three shouldn’t have to wait be among the highest-paid players in the game.
Players such as Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger should have been among the game’s highest paid players last season. Instead, Judge was paid a mere $544,000, while Bellinger earned just $468,000.
On the other hand, Ellsbury was paid over $21 million for slashing 264/.348/.402, with 7 HR, 39 RBI, 20 doubles and 22 steals. Crawford was so awful that the Dodgers paid him $21 million to simply go away in 2016 and then they paid him another $21 million to not play for them again in 2017. It’s madness.
Aging, underperforming veterans should be paid like first and second-year players, while young stars should be able to cash in right away. Baseball earnings should be a merit-based system, related to current performance, not past performance or the fact that a team controls a young player.
The current system isn’t working, and the repeated failure of large, long-term contracts proves it.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Both players were picked by a 16-man Modern Baseball Era Committee that considered 10 candidates whose biggest contributions came from 1970-87.
Let’s consider Morris’ candidacy.
Morris was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 15th and final time in 2014 and never received the required 75% of the vote in any of his eligible years. After careful examination and scrutiny, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America deemed him a borderline candidate, unworthy of induction into sports' greatest, most demanding Hall of Fame.
The righty has always been one of the most controversial candidates, not because of PEDs, but simply due to his credentials.
Over 18 seasons, Morris posted the following:
175 complete games
Morris was also a five-time All Star who twice led the American League in wins. He also led the AL in strikeouts once and shutouts once. Additionally, Morris is the only pitcher with 2,000-plus strikeouts who did not face a single pitcher in his career, meaning his Ks weren’t padded, like some NL pitchers.
The number that really jumps out in Morris' long career is his 175 complete games. For comparison, CC Sabathia leads all active pitchers with 38 complete games over 17 seasons. It’s unlikely that we will ever again see a pitcher who even approaches 175 complete games over the course of his career because the game has changed so much. These days, pitchers are on strict pitch counts and rarely go past the seventh inning, at most.
Since 1973, Morris, who debuted in 1977, pitched at least eight innings more times than any other pitcher in baseball, a testament to his durability and consistency.
Morris also started the most games, pitched the most innings and had the most wins of any pitcher in the 1980s.
On the other hand, during the '80s, Morris also led all of Major League Baseball in losses, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, hits allowed and home runs allowed. While those numbers could be a byproduct of pitching so many innings, they are glaring nonetheless.
Additionally, Morris led the league in wild pitches on six separate occasions, and his 206 career wild pitches rank eighth in baseball history.
Morris has the highest ERA of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. He also failed to win 300 games or strikeout 3,000 batters, general Hall of Fame litmus tests.
Morris built his reputation in the post-season and played on four World Championship teams (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, and 1992–1993 Blue Jays).
While the post-season is only part of a pitcher’s career and resume, the Modern Baseball Era Committee seemed to have placed extra emphasis on this. There are only five pitchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame who never played or pitched in the World Series.
So here’s the question: Is Jack Morris a bona fide Hall of Famer or just a borderline candidate who was very good, but not great?
For Morris' supporters, and Morris himself, the strength of his argument has always been his postseason performance.
However, Morris was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in the postseason. If that’s the best argument for why he should be in the HOF, it’s not a very reasoned or rational one.
Morris had to rely on a special committee because the Baseball Writers’ Association of America could see that his induction would lower the bar on the game's most hallowed institution, and now it has.
Saturday, December 09, 2017
The Yankees have been down this road before and it didn't end well.
The New York Yankees have a deal in place to acquire Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins. This is surely a nightmare for almost all Red Sox fans.
The combination of Stanton, who led the majors with 59 home runs last season, and Aaron Judge, who was second with 52 homers, creates the modern day equivalent of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, at the least.
The Yankees' offense will be a juggernaut. Even without Stanton, the 2017 Yankees were first in the majors in homers (241) and second in runs (858).
The deal is contingent on Stanton’s willingness to waive his no-trade clause, which he reportedly will for the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros and Cubs.
Take solace Red Sox fans; there is plenty of reason for concern about Stanton's massive contract, which has 10 years and $295 million remaining.
Yes, Stanton is elite offensive player... when healthy. The problem is that he is too often unhealthy/injured.
Over his first seven seasons (2010-16), Stanton averaged just 117 games. Last season he finally stayed healthy and played a career-high 159 games. In fact, through eight seasons, Stanton has played in at least 150 games just twice.
This is why I wasn't enthusiastic about the prospect of the Red Sox dealing for him.
Stanton is entering his age 28 season, meaning he is still in his prime and that his contract will run through his age 38 season, assuming he doesn't opt out after the 2020 season.
Players are typically at their best and healthiest in their 20s. Most players don't get better and healthier in their 30s, and that is what the Yankees are banking on.
There are eerie similarities between Stanton now and Alex Rodriguez in 2003, when New York obtained him in an offseason trade. A-Rod was also entering his age-28 season, was also the reigning MVP, was also playing for a losing team, also had an opt-out clause three years away and also had the biggest contract in the sport's history.
Yes, the Yankees won the World Series with A-Rod in 2009, but his last eight years in the Bronx were a huge letdown, at the least, and his contract proved to be a disaster for the Yankees, which they surely regret.
In 2007, Rodriguez opted out of his 10-year, $250 million contract, only to re-sign a new 10-year, $275 million deal with New York. That contract proved to be an albatross for the Yankees. They paid him to simply go away in 2017, the pact's final year.
Even excluding his 2014 suspension, A-Rod was injured and in serious decline for most of that 10-year contract. From 2008-16, excluding his 2014 suspension, A-Rod averaged just 110 games per year.
In other words, out of a possible 1,458 games over that nine-year span, A-Rod played in just 880 games, and that was on top of the fact that he didn't play a single game in the 2014 and 2017 seasons.
It was a nightmare for the Yankees and it should surprise no one if that same fate repeats itself for New York, this time with Stanton.
If Stanton is injured again or decides not to opt-out for any reason, the Yankees are on the hook for the duration of the pact -- through the 2027 season -- since Stanton has full no-trade rights built into his deal.
As history shows, massive, long term contracts are only good for the players who sign them. The teams who agree to these deals are usually left holding the bag and with many regrets.
Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes, Josh Hamilton, Matt Kemp, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, for example, all vastly underperformed their expensive, long term contracts and the teams that signed them would surely love a do-over.
Boston has had its share of bad, long term pacts in recent years, including those of Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo.
Just remember that, Red Sox fans, as you weep into your Wheaties this morning at the thought of Giancarlo Stanton in pinstripes.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
In the pantheon of all-time great Red Sox hitters -- the likes of which includes Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz -- another Sox great is often overlooked.
That would be Dwight Evans. The long-time Boston right fielder was often overshadowed by his teammates and fellow outfielders, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn. However Evans was a fantastic player in his own right.
Who do you think had more career runs, doubles, walks, stolen bases and a higher on-base percentage — Rice or Evans? Remarkably, the answer is Evans.
No. 24, who played for the Sox from 1972-1990, also amassed just one less total bases, three fewer home runs and just six less hits than Rice, who is in the Hall of Fame.
Evans is often overlooked in the history of great Sox hitters. Yet, after a 20-year career, all but his last spent with the Red Sox, Evans left his mark with 2,446 hits, 483 doubles, 1,470 runs, 1,384 RBI, 385 home runs, a .272 career average, a .370 OBP and an .840 OPS.
Evans was an on-base machine, leading the league in OBP in 1982 (.402) and in walks three times (1981, 1985, 1987). In 1981, he had as many walks, 85, as he had strikeouts. Even more impressive, in three seasons Evans drew more walks than strikeouts (1985: 114 BB/105 Ks; 1987: 106 BB/98 Ks; 1989: 99 BB/84 Ks. Even in his final season, with Baltimore, Evans walked 54 times, while striking out just 54 times. Overall, Evans had three seasons in which he drew at least 100 free passes.
His offensive prowess led to two Silver Slugger Awards, in 1981 and 1987. In ’81, Evans led the league in walks, times on base, home runs, total bases, runs created and OPS.
Evans was a three time All-Star (1978, ’81, ’87), yet it’s surprising that he wasn’t selected more often, given that he had four top-10 finishes for the AL MVP Award (1981, 1982, 1987, 1988).
What may surprise many is that Evans hit more home runs than any other American League player during the 1980s (256) and the fourth most overall, behind only Mike Schmidt, Dale Murphy and Eddie Murray. Evans also led the AL in extra base hits during that span.
Evans, long known for his exceptional defense in Fenway’s challenging right field, won eight Gold Gloves (a Red Sox record). The only major league outfielders with more are Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline and Ken Griffey, Jr. With the exception of 1977 and 1980, Evans won the Gold Glove Award every year from 1976 through 1985.
While Evans was a very solid offensive player, as his numbers attest, he was a gifted all around player, whose greatest asset may have been his defense. He had a phenomenal arm and made great catches seem routine. Evans quickly and accurately read balls right off the bat and had a great first step, which usually put him in position to make a play.
Some of his backers argue that Evans is worthy of induction into Cooperstown. Among them is famed statistician Bill James, who wrote, “Dwight Evans is one of the most underrated players in baseball history.” No matter your stance on that issue, Evans’ on field exploits seem to be forgotten, though they are surely worthy of greater merit. Evans lasted only three years on the Hall of Fame ballot, never getting more than 10.4 percent of the vote.
There were two seasons, in particular, that may have kept Evans out of the Hall.
In 1977, he battled a knee injury all year, spending a good portion of the season on the disabled list. We’re left to wonder what kind of offensive numbers me may have posted had he not been limited to 73 games due to the injury. It's a shame, since Evans hit better than he ever had, finishing with 14 home runs and a .287 average, which was a career high at the time. It's also likely that he would have won a second straight Gold Glove.
The other season that negatively affected Evans, through no fault of his own, was the strike-shortened 1981 season.
"Dewey" was having his best year in '81—he hit .296/.415/.522, played every game and led the league in homers, total bases, walks and OPS. And, naturally, he won another Gold Glove.
However, due to the strike, Evans played in just 108 games. Had he played a full season, he may have won the MVP award—which would have boosted his case. Instead, Rollie Fingers, a reliever, won the MVP, as well as the Cy Young Award. The MVP Award was highly controversial that year. Fingers edged out Rickey Henderson by 11 points, while Evans finished third. It was one of the closest MVP races in MLB history.
In essence, Evans' career-year, his masterpiece season, was shortened by a labor dispute. Through forces beyond his control, perhaps his greatest chance for MVP consideration was cut short.
Combining the ’77 and ’81 seasons, Evans missed a possible 143 games (89 and 54, respectively).
If Evans had hit just 15 more home runs — which he might have done in ’77 alone, given that he hit 14 in 73 games—he would have finished his career with 400 homers, which might have caught the voters’ attention. In addition, he would have certainly driven in a lot more than 16 additional runs—which would have raised his career total over 1,400. Evans would have also surpassed 500 doubles and 1,500 runs.
While none of those numbers, individually, are critical benchmarks for Hall of Fame consideration, in totality they would have made his resume look a lot more impressive.
Dewey was never a superstar, but he was an excellent player who was extraordinarily valuable to the Red Sox during his long career. Possessing a cannon-like arm that could reach home plate with pin-point accuracy and enough pop in his bat to swat at least 20 homers in 11 out of 12 seasons, including nine in a row, Dwight Evans is surely an all-time Red Sox great.
Indeed, the club validated that truth by selecting him to their Hall of Fame in 2000, an honor of which he was most deserving.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Bobby Doerr, one the greatest players in Red Sox history, has died at age 99.
Doerr, whose No. 1 is one of only 11 numbers retired by the team, was the oldest living former major league player and the only Hall of Famer to reach age 99. The LA native was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Red Sox retired his number two years later.
Doerr often led AL second basemen in double plays, putouts and assists, and once went 414 games without an error -- a record at the time.
Doerr spent all 14 years of his playing career (1937-1951) with Boston and was forced into early retirement by a bad back.
The nine-time All Star, who is widely viewed as the best second baseman in Red Sox history, compiled a .288 lifetime batting average, 2,042 hits, 223 home runs and 1,247 RBI in his storied career. Doerr drove in at least 100 runs in six seasons, a feat that went unmatched by another second baseman for 25 years.
The only other Red Sox second baseman in the same company as Doerr is the incumbent, Dustin Pedroia.
Since Pedroia has only played 12 seasons, while Doerr played 14, it is only fair to compare their first 12 years. Doerr was 33 in his final season; Pedroia was 33 this past season.
1,503 Games, 6,743 PA, 820 Runs, 1,802 Hits, 394 2B, 15 3B, 140 HR, 2,646 TB, 724 RBI, 138 SB, 621 BB, 651 K, ,300/.366/.441/.807
1,610 Games, 6,902 PA, 931 Runs, 1,754 Hits, 331 3B, 76 3B, 183 HR, 2,786 TB, 1,054 RBI, 49 SB, 685 BB, 533 K, .284/.358/.448/.806
As the numbers bear out, Doerr was the better run scorer and run producer. Of the 14 statistical categories above, Doerr bests Pedroia in eight. When it comes to runs, triples, homers, RBI and strikeouts, Doerr was superior.
However, when it comes to hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting average and on-base percentage, Pedroia is better.
It should be noted that Doerr’s lifetime batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS all rose after his final two seasons, and the latter two were better than Pedroia’s career averages. This clearly indicates that Doerr was not merely hanging on at the end of his career. Rather, he was still a highly productive player, who was forced into early retirement due to an ailing back.
Additionally, at age 27 — during the prime of his career and following a year in which he led the American League with a .528 slugging percentage — Doerr did not play in the major leagues due to his military service in World War II. That lost season would have significantly added to his career numbers.
Here’s a look at how often each player made the top-10 in various statistical categories:
Games Played: 3 seasons
At-Bats: 5 seasons
Plate Appearances: 5 seasons
Batting Average: 5 seasons
On-Base Percentage: 3 seasons
Runs Scored: 5 seasons
Hits: 5 seasons
Doubles: 5 seasons
Total Bases: 2 seasons
Runs Created: 2 seasons
Times on Base: 5 seasons
Games Played: 3 seasons
At-Bats: 4 seasons
Plate Appearances: 2 seasons
Batting Average: 2 seasons
On-Base Percentage: 1 season
Slugging Percentage: 7 seasons
OPS: 5 seasons
Runs Scored: 3 seasons
Hits: 3 seasons
Doubles: 4 seasons
Triples: 6 seasons
Home Runs: 7 seasons
Extra-Base Hits: 9 seasons
Total Bases: 7 seasons
Runs Batted In: 8 seasons
Runs Created: 5 seasons
Times on Base: 1 season
Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2007 and the MVP Award in 2008. However, that award was not established until 1940, three years after Doerr’s rookie campaign. That said, Doerr's rookie season was not a standout. Additionally, Doerr never won an MVP, but had one top-five and two top-10 finishes.
In 2008, Pedroia won the Silver Slugger Award, which is given annually to the best offensive player at each position in both leagues. However, the Silver Slugger was first awarded in 1980, three decades after Doerr retired.
Pedroia has also won four Gold Glove Awards (2008, 2011, 2013, 2014). However the Gold Glove wasn’t awarded until 1957, six years after Doerr retired.
Who knows how many of each of these awards Doerr would have won, but the likelihood is that there would have been many.
As long as Pedroia’s surgically repaired knee holds up, there is still time for him to continue writing his chapter in the Red Sox record book and to secure the title of “Best Second Baseman in Red Sox History.”
But at present, as the first 12 years of their respective careers make clear, that title still belongs to Bobby Doerr.
Monday, November 13, 2017
The conventional wisdom says the Red Sox will sign, or trade for, one or two sluggers this offseason to upgrade the team's offense. After all, the club finished last in the American League in home runs this season for the first time since 1930.
However, Boston could seek to stabilize, if not upgrade, its starting pitching this offseason. That’s because the health of some players (David Price, Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez) remains uncertain and the contract status of a number of starters is short term.
Price and Pomeranz could both exit after next season, while Porcello and Sale could be gone after the 2019 season.
Here's a look at the contract status of the Boston rotation:
David Price LHP
7 years/$217M (2016-22)
Can opt out of contract after 2018 season
Rick Porcello RHP
4 years/$82.5M (2016-19)
Chris Sale LHP
5 years/$32.5M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options
Drew Pomeranz LHP
1 year/$4.45M (2017)
Pomeranz is arbitration edible for the final time this offseason and will become a free agent after the 2018 season.
Steve Wright RHP
1 year/$0.5935M (2017)
Wright is arbitration eligible for the next three years and will become a free agent after the 2020 season.
Eduardo Rodriguez LHP
1 year/$0.5843M (2017)
Rodriguez is under team from control for the next four years and will become a free agent after the 2021 season.
To be clear, the Red Sox are not in a desperate situation right now. They’ve got their full rotation under team control for next season. It’s at this time next year, however, that things will get murky.
Yet, given the health concerns of Price, Rodriguez and Wright, Boston may seek some certainty/insurance for the upcoming season, as well as for the years ahead.
There aren’t a lot of top-level arms available on the market this offseason, but Jake Arrieta (age 31) and Yu Darvish (31) are regarded as the top two. Each of them will likely seek a contract in the range of five years and at least $100 million. That is likely beyond the cost Boston is considering.
Other free agent starters that will draw interest from the market include Lance Lynn (30) and Alex Cobb (30).
Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb all received and rejected qualifying offers, meaning a signing team will lose its second-round pick, as well as $500,000 from its international signing bonus pool.
Of course, Dave Dombrowski could also circumvent the free agent market and instead engage in a trade. However, the Red Sox have already drained many of their top-level prospects in recent trades for Sale, Pomeranz and Craig Kimbrel.
While it’s more likely that the Red Sox will sign free agent hitters such as JD Martinez and Carlos Santana this offseason, we cannot rule out the possibility that they will attempt to shore up the rotation for 2018 and beyond.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Baseball has many hallowed records, many of which have stood for generations. That's what makes some of the game's greats seem like immortals.
Some records are thought to be unbreakable, making them almost sacred, such as Ted Williams .406 batting average in 1946 or Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak that same year.
Another such record is Pete Rose's career hits record. Rose notched a whopping 4, 256 hits in his 24-year major league career. Considering that only four other players have topped 3,500 hits and that the leading active player is Ichiro Suzuki, who has 3,080 hits, it's safe to say that Rose's remarkable record may remain unmatched.
To break Rose's record, a player would have to average 200 hits a year for 21 years. To do so, that player would not only need to remain elite into his 40s, he would also need to remain healthy and injury free. Additionally, he would need to maintain tremendous motivation, the kind that doesn’t fade after 15 or so years and perhaps $100 million in career earnings — the kind of money that would allow someone to live the rest of his life on an island, sipping pina coladas, long before reaching age 40.
For perspective, Ichiro Suzuki amassed 200 hits in 10 straight seasons. However, over his last seven seasons, he has averaged just 119 hits.
At age 38, Rose played in 163 games, notching 208 hits. At age 39 he played 162 games. At age 41, Rose played in 162 games and at age 42, he played 151 games. It's hard to imagine that happening again, most especially in the National League.
Rose was an All Star and finished in the top-10 in the MVP balloting at age 40. He was again an All Star at age 41. Rose batted .286 at age 43 (Ichiro batted .255 this season, at age 43) and posted a .395 on-base percentage at age 44. Rose didn’t merely have longevity; he had sustained greatness.
In an era of pronounced strikeouts, quite remarkably, 25 players struck out at least 150 times this season, led by the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who fanned a whopping 208 times. Also notable is that 136 players struck out at least 100 times.
However, over his last 16 seasons, Rose never struck out more than 54 times in a season. That now seems other worldly.
What complicates or even tarnishes Rose’s legacy, of course, is the fact that he bet on baseball, while managing the Cincinnati Reds.
In August, 1984, the Expos traded Rose back to the Reds, who immediately named him player-manager. He remained in that role, until he retired as a player after the 1986 season. However, Rose remained manager of the Reds until August 24, 1989.
At the start of the 1989 season, a Sports Illustrated cover story detailed allegations that Rose had placed bets on baseball games.
Subsequently, and at the request of MLB, lawyer John Dowd investigated charges that Rose bet on baseball, while managing the Reds. Dowd interviewed numerous Rose associates, including bookies and bet runners, and delivered a summary of his findings to Commissioner Bart Giamatti in May, 1989.
Dowd documented Rose's alleged gambling activities in 1985 and 1986 and compiled a day-by-day account of Rose's alleged betting on baseball games in 1987. The report showed that Rose bet on 52 Reds games in 1987, wagering a minimum of $10,000 a day.
Consequently, Rose voluntarily accepted a permanent ban from baseball on August 24, 1989, recognizing that there was factual evidence supporting his ban.
Despite this, Rose vehemently and publicly denied the allegations for 15 years, until finally admitting them in his autobiography My Prison Without Bars, which was published in January, 2004.
Though the Dowd Report says, "no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Reds," Dowd stated in a December 2002 interview that he believed Rose probably bet against the Reds while managing them.
Yet, there were still more events that further sullied Rose's name and reputation.
On April 20, 1990, Rose pleaded guilty to two charges of filing false income tax returns that failed to show income he received from selling autographs and memorabilia, as well as from horse racing winnings. He was sentenced to five months in a medium-security prison.
Then, just this summer, Rose faced allegations that he had consensual sex with a 14 or 15-year-old girl in the 1970s, while he was in his 30s and married, with children. The woman, now in her late 50s, verified the accusation in a sworn statement. The age of consent in Ohio, where Rose lived while playing for the Reds at the time, is 16. Rose admitted the sexual relationship, but said he thought the girl was 16 at the time, as if that somehow absolved him.
In 2010, Deadspin reported Rose used corked bats during his 1985 pursuit of Ty Cobb's all-time hits record. Two sports memorabilia collectors who owned Rose's game-used bats from that season had the bats x-rayed and found the telltale signs of corking. Rose had previously denied using corked bats.
Until that point, Rose's greatness as a player and his accomplishments on the field were indisputable. Since then, a shadow has been cast over his playing career.
What remains indisputable is that Pete Rose has been revealed as a man who is entirely lacking in ethics, principles and morals.
Rose's clear lack of character have forced him to live, and eventually die, in infamy, even though his hits record will endure through history.
Thursday, November 02, 2017
Free agency officially began this morning and the Red Sox may soon make a very expensive contract offer to free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. But it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Boston had big plans for minor leaguer Sam Travis, seeing him as their homegrown first baseman of the future. Mitch Moreland was simply supposed to be a one-year stop gap because Dave Dombrowski didn’t want to block Travis in the long term.
However, Travis disappointed this year, slugging just .342 in the majors and .375 at the Triple-A level. The 24-year-old was known for his bat and was expected to develop into a power hitter at the major league level. Yet, Travis struggled at Pawtucket this season, hitting .270 with just six homers and 24 RBIs in 304 at-bats.
Travis spent much of last offseason rehabbing from knee surgery, which may have contributed to his struggles. That said, the Red Sox are likely done waiting for him to develop into an everyday first baseman. The club will give him a shot in left field in the Dominican League, which could improve his prospect stock headed into next season.
Moreland, meanwhile, hit 22 homers and 34 doubles, while providing solid defense at first. However, the 32-year-old batted just .246 and was slowed in the second half by a broken toe and a bad knee. Moreland, who has a career .252 batting average and .317 OBP, is now a free agent. It’s likely that 2017 was his lone season in Boston.
Red Sox first basemen combined to hit a mediocre .248/.326/.430 in 2017. A major upgrade is very much needed and is almost certainly coming.
The struggles of Travis and Moreland illustrate why the Red Sox may get involved in the bidding for Hosmer, who slashed 318/.385/.498/.882, with 31 doubles, 25 homers and 94 RBI this season.
In seven seasons, the 28-year-old has a number of American League top-10 finishes: three times for batting, three times for hits, two times for runs scored and twice for on-base.
There aren’t many All Stars who are 3-time Gold Glove winners that reach free agency at age 28. Hosmer also played a prominent role on a World Series winner. That’s why he will likely get at least a six-year contract offer.
The Royals will reportedly make every effort to retain him and they will have write an awfully big check to do so. Yet, they will undoubtedly have plenty of competition for Hosmer's services.
Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star reports that one National League executive believes agent Scott Boras will attempt to get Hosmer an eight-year, $200 million deal.
Will the Red Sox go all in? They have a long track record of getting the player they want, as long as the cost doesn’t go above the value they place on the player.
Boston is an appealing place for many players. This is a team that is continually competitive (they've just won back-to-back AL East crowns), has a great young core and the financial resources to put a very good team on the field year after year.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo recently reported that players view the Red Sox organization as first-class and find it hard to leave. The players say they are treated very well and love the amenities afforded to them and their families. That reputation is known among players across MLB and it may work in the Red Sox favor this offseason.
One major complication, however, is the fact that the Red Sox are just $9 million under the luxury threshold. Teams that go over the mark have to pay a tax and, with the new labor deal, teams over the luxury tax threshold face worse draft pick compensation rules if they sign or lose certain free agents.
The tax threshold is $195 million under the new labor contract and rates are set at three levels: 20 percent for first-time payers, 30 percent for those owing for a second straight season and 50 percent for clubs paying three times in a row or more.
Hosmer could very well end up with the Red Sox, but it will surely be costly.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
The Red Sox have a young, talented, homegrown roster, the likes of which most teams surely envy. Yet, the club wasn't good enough to get out of the first round of the playoffs in either 2016 or 2017, despite winning back-to-back AL East crowns for the first time in club history.
The Red Sox managed to win 93 games this season, in spite of a series of rather obvious flaws.
Boston finished last in the AL in homers, the first time they’ve done so since 1930. Almost every player in the Boston lineup took a giant step back from last season: Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Sandy Leon all experienced considerable declines in 2017.
There will be changes made to the roster this offseason, as there should be. Chris Young and Brock Holt (the team's lone All Star in 2015) likely won’t be back, but those would merely amount to cosmetic changes.
Boston needs a significant addition, particularly a power hitter with positional versatility. This lineup desperately needs a big bopper, and Hanley Ramirez is not that guy.
The 33-year-old’s bating average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have all declined in three of the last four seasons. In other words, his solid 2016 campaign was an outlier.
Ramirez appeared in just 18 games at first base this year. That lack of versatility hurts the team, as does his weak offensive production: Ramirez slashed .242/.320/.429/.750, with 23 homers and 62 RBI, this season. An inability to adequately play a defensive position, along with poor offensive output, does not warrant $22 million annually.
Ramirez is under contract through the 2018 season, as part of his his four-year, $88 million deal. The contract, however, has a vesting option. Ramirez will be paid $22 million in 2019 if he can combine for 1,050 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018.
Ramirez posted 553 PAs this season, pushing past the halfway mark to vesting his 2019 option. That means Ramirez needs fewer than 500 PA’s next season to guarantee his return in 2019, which is a nightmare scenario for Boston, given that he is very clearly in decline, shoulder problems notwithstanding.
It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox limit Ramirez’s play next year, especially if he struggles, to keep him off the roster and prevent him from collecting a huge pay day in 2019.
Recurring left knee problems forced Pedroia onto the disabled list twice this season. As a result, the second baseman played in just 105 games. Pedroia had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee over the winter only to be re-injured when he was spiked by Baltimore’s Manny Machado in April.
The 34-year-old, who just completed his 12th season, has four years remaining on his eight-year, $110 million contract extension. However, there are good reasons to be concerned about whether Pedroia will be able to fulfill that contract, as his career may be in jeopardy. He is expected to undergo another, more complex, surgery this offseason.
Dave Dombrowski publicly admitted the significance of Pedroia’s injury this season, saying, "The problem for Dustin is, and will be, he has a bad knee. He has a bad knee that he’s going to have to watch, and we're going to have to watch, for the rest of his career."
That sounds ominous and indicates that this is going to be a long term problem. It’s reasonable to wonder how much it will affect Pedroia’s career and if it might even shorten it. The Sox will need to have a contingency plan for second base going forward.
Boston has a talented young nucleus, which includes Betts, Bradley, Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez. But after the back-to-back eliminations in the ALDS, will Dombrowski see any of them as expendable or as bait to improve a team that clearly needs improvement?
Then there’s the rotation, which clearly needs help.
Chris Sale is the only sure thing and, quite fortunately, is under team control for the next two seasons. Defending Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello lost 17 games and posted a 4.65 ERA. The rotation was without David Price for more than half the season and Eduardo Rodriguez (6-7), Doug Fister (5-7), Steven Wright (1-3), Kyle Kendrick (0-2) and Hector Velazquez (0-1) all posted losing records.
Recurring left elbow problems put Price on the disabled list twice this season and held him to just 11 starts. It should surprise no one if Price’s troubled elbow ultimately requires Tommy John surgery. The lefty was limited to 74.2 innings this season, but he has thrown 1,746 frames over the course of his nine-year career. That’s a lot of mileage for a pitcher who is just 31, and the tread is wearing thin.
It’s time to stop waiting for Rodriguez to develop into a frontline starter. He'll be part of the rotation, but he is inconsistent and his health cannot be relied upon. Over three seasons, the lefty has never made more than 24 starts and has averaged just 22.
Yes, Porcello can surely bounce back from his disastrous 2017 campaign, but he is a pitcher with a lifetime 4.25 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Obviously, those are very mediocre career numbers. His 2016 season was an extreme outlier in a career that has been marked by the ordinary.
Drew Pomeranz is under team control for one more season. His left elbow required a stem cell procedure last winter and it seemed to work. However, he threw a career-high 173.2 innings in 2017 and it clearly wore him down.
Beyond Sale, Porcello and Pomeranz, there are only questions in the Boston rotation. Steven Wright could return, following cartilage restoration surgery on his left knee, but his health remains in question. Neither Brian Johnson, Roenis Elias, Henry Owens or any other minor league pitcher will crack the rotation next season. None of them is a difference maker. The Sox may need some help from outside the organization.
John Farrel’s greatest achievement as manager was fashioning one of the game’s best bullpens out of players like Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Blaine Boyer, Fernando Abad and Robby Scott. Somehow, the Red Sox bullpen managed to post the second lowest ERA (3.15) in the majors.
Firing Farrell won’t fix what ails the Red Sox. He didn’t hit or pitch or field. This roster was mostly lackluster this season, yet they still won the AL East. Call it overachieving. Joe Madden wouldn’t have made this group any better.
The greatest enigma is this: what exactly would make this team a World Series contender in 2018? The Red Sox are a young and highly talented team, yet they looked entirely overmatched by Houston in the ALDS.
A healthy and fully effective David Price would have certainly made the rotation more formidable this year. So would the "2016 edition" of Rick Porcello, but we may never see that version of the righty again. Again, his 2016 performance was an extreme aberration in his nine-year career.
It’s clear that the Red Sox need a reliable power hitter to replace David Ortiz, which they never had this season. Is one big bat really all that Boston needs?
Would 29-year-old free agent Mike Moustakas be enough of a difference maker? Devers looked shaky at third, displaying erratic/errant fielding and throwing. Might the Sox shift the 20-year-old to first base to make room for Moustakas? Does Boston simply need a DH, such as free agents JD Martinez, Jay Bruce or Carlos Santana? Would any of them be enough to get the Sox over the hump?
Dave Dombrowski and his staff will contemplate these questions over the coming weeks; free agency begins the morning after the World Series ends.
Friday, September 29, 2017
The Red Sox (92-67) are playing the Astros (99-60) in the final series of the regular season. The matchup is a likely preview of the American League Division Series, which will begin next Tuesday, Oct. 5.
Boston was crushed by Houston last night, 12-2, a drubbing that should concern both the Red Sox and their fans. The loss came on the heels of Boston dropping two of three games to last-place Toronto, a team that has lost more games than it has won this season.
Though the Red Sox suffered a beat down at the hands of their likely playoff opponent, their magic number still fell to 1 due to the Yankees loss to Tampa. This is what it’s come down to for Boston. They can’t count on winning their way into the postseason, but may need to rely on their arch rival losing in order to gain entry.
Despite winning 92 games so far this season, the Red Sox do not inspire confidence. Do you believe they are better than the Indians (100-59) or the Astros? I don't and the records reveal why.
Houston has scored 11 or more runs in four consecutive games, leading to a franchise-record 49 runs in that four-game span. It wasn’t all offense either; the pitching and defense are doing their parts too. The Astros won each of those four contests by at least 9 runs, making them the first team to do so since the Detroit Wolverines in 1887. Remember them?
Houston has also won 12 of its last 14 games. Clearly, they are peaking at the right time. The Astros can reach 100 wins for only the second time in team history with a victory in any of the final three games against Boston.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, are limping into the playoffs behind some really weak starting pitching as of late. The latest poor performance came from Eduardo Rodriguez, who was tagged for five runs on six hits and two walks over just 1 2/3 innings last night.
Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA) and Drew Pomeranz (16-6, 3.38 ERA) are undoubtedly Boston’s two top starters. Yet, each has been shaky as of late. Perhaps they are both feeling the burden of a six-month season.
Sale’s late-season inconsistency is really worrisome and couldn’t come at a worse time, since the playoffs begin next week. In his last eight starts dating back to Aug. 19, he is 3-4 with a 4.30 ERA.
How unpredictable has he been? In the three wins, he didn't give up any runs.
At this point, when Sale takes the mound, the Red Sox aren't sure which version they'll get. That's a nightmare for Boston since he is, by far, the team's very best starter.
Pomeranz has thrown 167 2/3 innings so far, putting him just three away from his career-high set a year ago. He appears worn down, as evidenced by the fact that his velocity has declined. Over his last four outings, the lefty’s fastball has fallen to 89-91 mph, after averaging 92.74 mph in August.
Boston’s projected Game 2 starter in the ALDS was pulled Monday night after just two innings in which he allowed five runs on seven hits and one walk. He struck out none. The Red Sox went on to lose the game, 6-4, to the Blue Jays.
Pomeranz is scheduled to take his final regular season start on Saturday against the Astros, who will be watching him very closely. If the Red Sox can win the AL East tonight via a win or a Yankees loss, they might choose to rest Pomeranz and not give him more exposure to Houston’s powerful lineup.
Boston will need at least one additional starter for the playoffs. Who that will be remains unclear. If the decision is a matter of merit, as it customarily is, no one has stepped up and earned the privilege.
Rick Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, finished the 2017 regular season with an 11-17 record (the most losses of his career) and a 4.65 ERA. Porcello gave up his 37th and 38th homers this season on Wednesday, tying the club record set by Tim Wakefield in 1996.
In a normal world, Porcello would never make a playoff roster. In the Red Sox world, he may be viewed as a better alternative than Doug Fister (5-6, 4.69) or Eduardo Rodriguez (6-7, 4.22).
David Price, the Red Sox $217 million starter, has missed half the season due to a left elbow injury. Two stints on the disabled list have limited him to just 11 starts this year. It won’t surprise me in the least if Price ultimately requires Tommy John surgery during the offseason, which would cost him the 2018 season.
In the meantime, the lefty may to contribute to the Red Sox as a reliever. He could serve the team in high-leverage situations out of the pen, as long as his elbow holds up. In the past week, he has twice struck out the side in a relief role, which seems to serve him well at present.
Then there’s the Red Sox offense.
Among the 15 American League teams, Boston is ninth in batting (.258) and 14th in slugging (.408).
Most remarkably, the Red Sox will finish last in the American League in home runs for the first time since 1930. Boston has hit 167 homers in 159 games this season; there are nine AL clubs with over 200.
Though Boston has four players with at least 20 home runs this season (Betts, Ramirez, Moreland and Benintendi), not one of them has as many as 25. This is in the same year that Major League Baseball has set a single-season home-run record. In other words, this shouldn’t be happening now.
The Red Sox are poised to win the AL East for the second straight season. It would mark the first time in club history that Boston has won back-to-back division titles.
It’s amazing that this 117-year-old franchise has never won back-to-back AL East titles, and normally it would be viewed as such a great feat and an honorable distinction.
This season, however, it seems meaningless.
Of course, there is hope. This is a very determined and resilient Red Sox team. They have won 11 games in which they were trailing after seven innings, the most in the majors. Boston is also 15-3 in extra innings this season, tying the 1943 Red Sox for most extra-inning wins, and they lead the Majors with an .833 winning percentage in extras.
I actually like this Red Sox team a lot. There is plenty to like. They are young and, with the exception of Mitch Moreland, the lineup is almost entirely homegrown. When Sam Travis starts at first and Hanley Ramirez is the DH, the Red Sox field a team in which every player was drafted by the organization.
This unit will largely remain intact and be very competitive for years to come. Yet, they have clear offensive flaws (namely a lack of power) and most of the starters have woefully underperformed.
In a week or so, I think we’ll all be left saying, “Wait until next year.”
Monday, September 18, 2017
This year marks a sad anniversary in Red Sox history. Fifty years ago, rising star Tony Conigliaro was brutally struck in the face by a fastball, a tragic event that changed the trajectory of his highly promising career.
For those too young to know, “Tony C,” as he was known, started his career as brilliantly as any player in club history.
Born in Revere, Massachusetts, Conigliaro graduated from St. Mary’s High School in nearby Lynn in 1962. The Red Sox immediately signed the 17-year-old right out of high school and he made his major league debut just two years later.
In his first game at Fenway, on April 17, 1964, the 19-year-old, local product hit a towering blast that cleared the Green Monster. It was a sign of things to come. Tony C enjoyed a sparkling rookie season, batting .290 with 24 home runs and 52 RBI in only 111 games. To this day, he holds the Major League record for most home runs hit as a teenager.
Unfortunately, Tony C’s season was cut short due to a broken arm. The injury may have cost him Rookie of the Year honors, which instead went to Minnesota's Tony Oliva.
The next year he hit 32 round-trippers, becoming, at the age of 20, the youngest home run champ in American League history. That year, he also slugged .512 and drove in 82 runs in just 138 games.
Tony C was already becoming a folk hero by the time the 1966 season rolled around. As a 21-year-old, the right fielder hit 28 homers with 93 RBI. He was a bona fide superstar in Boston.
As his teammate Rico Petrocelli said of him, "Conigliaro had it all: tremendous talent, matinee idol looks, charisma and personality.
That combination of assets earned Tony C a recording contract and he actually cut a few records. He was a guest on TV shows, such as the Merv Griffin Show. Conigliaro’s fame extended well beyond the baseball diamond.
Ih his book, “Tales from the Impossible Dream Red Sox," Petrocelli said this about his friend:
An eligible bachelor, Tony C. was easily the most popular player on the Red Sox, especially with the ladies. He certainly took pleasure in their company. But while he dated actresses and Playboy bunnies, he wasn’t a playboy… Tony didn’t like to go to fancy nightclubs. In fact, he preferred to stay out of the public eye as much as possible.
In 1967, the 22-year-old continued his torrid pace and made his first All Star team. Through August 18, Conigliaro was hitting .287, with 20 home runs, 67 RBI and a .517 slugging percentage.
Then, tragedy struck when he was hit in the face by a fastball from Angels’ pitcher Jack Hamilton. It changed the course of Tony C’s skyrocketing career and may have ultimately cost the Red Sox the World Series that year (Bob Gibson notwithstanding).
Despite his season being cut short once again, Conigliaro became, and remains, the youngest player in American League history to hit 100 home runs, reaching the century mark at 22 years and 197 days. Mel Ott, was the youngest player to hit 100 home runs and his was the first National Leaguer to hit 500 home runs.
A promising, possibly historic career was forever changed by Hamilton’s misfired pitch, which hit Conigliaro squarely on the left side of his face.The pitch broke his left cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and severely damaged his left retina, resulting in 20/300 vision.
Petrocelli swore that the noise the ball made when it impacted Conigliaro's face could have been heard clearly all over Fenway Park, which was near capacity that Friday night. He said it sounded as if the ball had struck Conigliaro’s helmet, but it was the sound of his face being shattered.
Conigliaro lost consciousness and lied listless in the batter’s box. His teammates gathered around him in horror. His skull swelled up like a ballon. Blood poured from his nose. Petrocelli said he thought his friend would surely lose his left eye. Three teammates lifted Tony C’s limp body onto a stretcher and carried him off the field.
Conigliaro later said he thought he was going to die.
Dr. Joseph Dorsey, who examined the slugger at Sancta Maria Hospital in Cambridge, said that if the ball had struck Conigliaro an inch higher and to the right, he might have indeed been killed.
At the time, hitters wore batting helmets without the earflap that is customary today. Had he been wearing a modern helmet, things might have turned out quite differently.
Hamilton, the Angels' pitcher, tried to visit Conigliaro in the hospital the next morning, but was denied admittance to his room. Few visitors were allowed and the press was barred from interviewing him, but a photographer was permitted to snap the iconic photograph above.
The young slugger’s sight was permanently altered and he missed the entire 1968 season.
Though he returned in 1969, batting .255, with 20 home runs and 82 RBI, his left retina had been irrevocably damaged. Still, he won Comeback Player of the Year honors and got to roam the outfield alongside his brother, Billy, who played with the Red Sox from 1969-1971.
The 1970 season proved to be an extraordinary comeback for Tony C, as he hit .266, with a career-high 36 homers and 116 runs batted in.
The performance earned him the Hutch Award, which is given annually to an active Major League Baseball player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson, a former big league pitcher and manager who was stricken with fatal lung cancer at the age of 45.
Perhaps the Red Sox organization knew that Tony C’s best days were behind him. Perhaps it was his uneasy relationship with manager Dick Williams. Whatever it was, Boston traded Conigliaro to the Angels after the 1970 season.
His eyesight worsened and the effects were obvious. Petrocelli said that his former teammate could barely see out of his left eye. Conigliaro played in only 74 games in 1971, hitting .222, with just four homers and 15 RBI, before going on the disabled list in July. He retired at the end of the season at the age of 26.
After four years away from the game, Tony C attempted a comeback with the Red Sox during the 1975 season. Though he was still just 30-years-old, Conigliaro was s shell of his former self. Over 21 unmemorable games, he batted .123 with 2 home runs, before retiring for good.
Conigliaro never fully recovered from the horrific beaning he suffered in August, 1967. It derailed his brief but brilliant career. If you exclude the aborted comeback in '75, Tony C played just seven seasons in the majors, two of which were under 100 games. We’re all left to imagine what might have been.
Conigliaro hit 162 homers during his relatively brief career with Boston. Baseball historians, and Red Sox fans old enough to remember him, are left to wonder what he could have accomplished over the course of a 15 or 16-year career. Many believe he surely would have been a member of the 500 home-run club. After all, he had already eclipsed 100 homers by the age of 22.
Food for thought: Mel Ott, the only player to reach 100 homers at a younger age, is a member of the 500-hume run club.
Consider that Conigliaro hit 104 homers in his first four seasons, from the ages of 19-22. In that span, he averaged 26 homers. Meanwhile, he never played in more than 150 games over those four seasons and averaged just 124 games.
Had he averaged 26 homers over the next 12 seasons, he would have ended his career, at age 34, with 416 homers. But many observers think Tony C easily had 30-home run power, and he surely hadn’t yet entered his prime at the time he was beaned. It’s not hard to imagine Conigliaro playing into his late 30s. Had he averaged 30 homers a year for the next 14 seasons, and retired at age 36, Tony C would have amassed a total of 524 career homers.
Health is the key to longevity and that will always remain the greatest question in terms of what Tony C might have been. Five times he had bones broken by pitches, including the one that broke his shoulder blade in spring training in 1967, just five months before his career was tragically altered.
Tony C looked like a surefire Hall of Famer in-the-making, but it wasn’t meant to be. Though he was a star, he was also star-crossed. It could be said that Tony C was a shooting star. As Petrocelli said of his friend, the only thing he didn’t have was luck.
After his baseball career ended, Conigliaro worked as a sportscaster, first at WJAR in Providence, RI, and later at KGO-TV in San Francisco. He then worked as a sports agent for Dennis Gilbert in Los Angeles. Gilbert said that Conigliaro had been prescribed blood-pressure medication, but that he didn’t like to take it.
After visiting his family in Boston during the Christmas holidays, the 37-year-old Conigliaro was on his way back to Los Angeles when he suffered a heart attack on Jan. 9, 1982. He was riding with his brother, Billy, on the way to Logan Airport. Billy sped to Massachusetts General, the nearest hospital, but Tony was in a coma by the time they reached the emergency room.
Doctors said Conigliaro’s brain was deprived of oxygen for 14 minutes. He remained in a coma for weeks and required constant care for the next eight years.
Tony C passed away from kidney failure on February 24, 1990, at the age of 45.
However, his legacy lives on. Since 1990, MLB annually hands out the Tony Conigliaro Award, given to a deserving player for overcoming adversity.
Former Red Sox lefty Jon Lester earned the award in 2007, after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and successfully resuming his career.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger, brighter, more charismatic young star on the Red Sox roster since Tony C. Fred Lynn and Nomar Garciaparra may be the only Red Sox stars to burst onto the scene with such talent, charisma and popularity.
Tony C’s star shined oh so brightly, but all too briefly.
Friday, August 18, 2017
With the Red Sox having won three World Series since 2004, this is widely viewed as the ‘Golden Era’ of Boston baseball. For anyone under the age of 50, there are no memories of the team’s decades-long struggles that followed its early successes.
At the turn of the last century, the Red Sox were a juggernaut, winning five World Series Championships in a 16-year span from 1903-1918.
Then, quite famously. team owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season for $100,000 — the largest sum ever paid for a baseball player.
The Red Sox subsequently became a bad team for many years thereafter; the club never won more than 75 games (1921) in the 1920s, as the Yankees rose to dominance.
Boston peaked at 89 wins in the 1930s and won as few as 43 that decade. The team did not win another pennant until 1946, yet that year Boston lost the World Series to St. Louis in seven games.
Boston averaged 81 wins in the 1950s, a time when interest in the club waned considerably across New England. The team drew just 1.15 million fans to Fenway Park in 1957, the highest total of the decade.
Ted Williams was the star of the Red Sox in the 1940s and 1950s, when the club suffered through mediocrity and obscurity. Williams, widely viewed as the “greatest hitter who ever lived,” played in just one World Series during his glorious 22-year career.
Williams retired after the 1960 season and was supplanted in left field by a rookie named Carl Yastrzemski, who became the club’s next great star.
But Yaz’s early career with Boston was also marked by frustration and disappointment. From 1960-1966, the Red Sox finished, on average, 29 games out of first place. In 1966, Boston ended the season with a 72-90 record, second worst in the AL, behind only the Yankees.
The team was so bad in the early and mid-‘60s that they routinely played before home crowds of just a few thousand, sometimes only in the hundreds. Imagine that. Dick Williams, the manager of the '67 club, was Boston’s eighth skipper in as many years. Yeah, they were that bad.
That all changed in 1967, when the Red Sox went from perennial cellar dweller to first place, winning the American League Pennant and returning to the World Series for the first time in 21 years. That’s when the real passion for the Red Sox was born across New England. Fans came to adore the Yastrzemski-led “Impossible Dream” team, which won 92 games that season — the most by the club in 17 years.
Yaz won the Triple Crown that year, leading the league in batting average (.326), home runs (44) and runs batted in (121). His performance, quite deservedly, earned him the AL MVP Award.
No player in baseball would win the venerable Triple Crown for another 45 years, until Miguel Cabrera achieved the feat in 2012.
Yaz went 7-for-8 in the final two games of the regular season, helping Boston edge Detroit and Minnesota by just one game.
The Red Sox came out of nowhere in ’67. No one saw them coming. Their achievement made Boston a true baseball town again for the first time in decades. They were vast underdogs and great overachievers, whose stunning season changed the trajectory of baseball in New England for the next five decades, and counting.
Despite all he did, Yaz, of course, didn’t win the pennant all by himself.
Through August 18, 22-year-old outfielder Tony Conigliaro hit .287, with 20 home runs, 67 RBI and a .517 slugging percentage. Then he was hit in the face by a pitch from Angels’ pitcher Jack Hamilton. It changed the course of Tony C’s skyrocketing career and may have cost the Red Sox the World Series (Bob Gibson notwithstanding).
First baseman George Scott batted .303, with 19 homers and 82 RBI.
Shortstop Rico Petrocelli hit 17 homers, 24 doubles and drove in 66 runs.
Outfielder Reggie Smith hit 15 home runs, 24 doubles and had 57 RBI.
Second baseman Mike Andrews scored 79 runs, second best on the team, behind only Yastrzemski.
Then there was Boston's pitching.
Jim Longborg led the team with 39 starts, 273.1 innings, 246 Ks and 22 wins (against nine losses), while posting a 3.16 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
Righty Gary Bell went 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
Righty Lee Strange posted a 2.77 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, despite his 8-10 record.
The Sox bullpen was outstanding in 1967. Four relievers had ERAs of 2.60 or better, led by lefty Sparky Lyle, who posted a 2.28 ERA and a team-leading 1.08 WHIP.
Righty John Wyatt led the club with 20 saves, but also had 10 wins, a 2.60 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP.
After so many years of failure and futility, no one had great expectations for the ’67 Red Sox. In the preseason, even manager Dick Williams would only predict that they’d win more than they’d lose.
The 1967 Red Sox did a whole lot more than that. They sparked a passion for baseball in New England for generations to come. They created an expectation for winning and that ownership should field a highly competitive team each season.
Though they again lost the World Series to St. Louis in seven games, the Sox still ended up as winners in the long run.
The ’67 club gave birth to one of the most popular franchises in American sports over the past half-century. Most of all, they gave Red Sox fans hope.
That is worth remembering and celebrating.
Friday, July 28, 2017
Adrián Beltré is only four hits shy of 3,000 for his career and when he reaches that vaunted milestone, he will become just the 31st player in major league history to do so.
It will be just the latest achievement in a career that will likely lead to Cooperstown.
Beltré is the fourth third baseman to reach 400 home runs and 1,500 runs batted in. He is a four-time selection for the Silver Slugger Award and a five-time Gold Glove Award winner.
And he was, for one fleeting season, a member of the Boston Red Sox.
On January 7, 2010, Beltré signed a one-year, $9 million deal with Boston (the deal included a $1 million buy out for 2011 if no long term agreement could be reached). The Sox got so much for their investment.
That season, Beltré led the Red Sox with a .321 in batting average, which was fourth-best in the American League, and tied David Ortiz for the team lead in RBI (102). He finished the year with 189 hits, 28 home runs and 84 runs scored. Beltré’s 49 doubles led the Majors and were a career high. He also finished fifth in the AL in total bases (326) and slugging percentage (.553).
By all accounts, the 31-year-old Beltré enjoyed his lone season in Boston and would have gladly returned to the OldeTowne Team if only the Sox had made a reasonable offer. Had Boston come to the table with a four-year deal in the range of $50-$60 million, they likely would have had a future Hall of Famer on their roster, perhaps to this day.
But the Red Sox had other plans.
That offseason, Boston traded a package of prospects (including Anthony Rizzo) to the San Diego Padres for Adrian Gonzalez and handed him a 7-year $154 million extension. They then moved Kevin Youkilis, who had previously won a Gold Glove at first base in 2007, back over to third base, where his career began.
How did that all work out?
In 2011, Gonzalez had an outstanding first year in Boston, slashing .338/.410/.548, with a league-leading 213 hits, 45 homers, 27 doubles and 117 RBI. However, he faded down the stretch and September was one of his weakest months in nearly every statistical category.
The Red Sox suffered an epic collapse that month, going 7-20, which was their most September losses since the 1952 club also dropped 20 games. The team pathetically lost 16 of their final 21 games, resulting in a September winning percentage of .259, the worst for any Red Sox team since August, 1964.
Through it all, Gonzalez showed a total lack of leadership, which contributed to the Red Sox’ demise. He displayed no passion, no drive, no desire, no fire and no ferocity. He was a star without a pulse.
Gonzalez took no responsibility for the Red Sox' collapse. Instead, he blamed the ‘big man in the sky'. When asked to describe the Red Sox epic choke, Gonzalez responded by saying, “I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't his plan for us to move forward."
In August of the next season, the Red Sox orchestrated a historic trade with the Dodgers, offloading the bloated contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, along with Gonzalez’s. Though he put up great numbers, Gonzalez didn’t act like a winner and he was the bait that allowed Boston to jettison Crawford and Beckett.
By second half of 2011, Youkilis’ career was flaming out and his sudden decline led Boston to trade him to the White Sox in June, 2012. Youk looked far from the player that had been an All Star the previous season. His body was breaking down and betraying him; he was out of baseball by early 2013.
Meanwhile, Rizzo has had three straight 30-plus home runs seasons. In 2016, he added his first Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and first World Series title with the Cubs.
In the seven years since Beltré’s departure, third base has remained an unsettled mess for the Red Sox.
Boston signed Pablo Sandoval to a highly-regrettable five-year, $95 million deal in 2014. The organization was driven to ink an obese third baseman, whose on-base, slugging and OPS had declined for three consecutive seasons, for one glaring reason: the Sox had fielded 14 different players at the hot corner for 10 games or more over the previous four seasons.
In other words, ever since they let Beltré walk away.
If there was one ray of light in this otherwise horrible decision, it was this: by letting Beltré walk, the Sox received two compensation draft picks in 2011, which turned out to be Blake Swihart (26th overall) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (40th overall).
For the last seven seasons, the Red Sox have lamented their decision not to re-sign Beltré and to instead allocate hundreds of millions of dollars for Crawford, Gonzalez and Sandoval. Over that period, Beltré has batted .307 and slugged .520 for Texas, while posting four 30-plus homer and three 100-plus RBI seasons.
This weekend, perhaps, the Red Sox organization will watch Beltré notch his 3,000th career hit, and a few years from now it will watch him become enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
What a shame and how regrettable? We are left to wonder what might have been. Beltré was a Red Sox and they let him slip away.
That decision set off a chain of events — a domino effect — that is still haunting the team to this very day.
Thursday, July 06, 2017
Cy Young competed a whopping 41 of his 43 starts for the Red Sox in 1902
Baseball has changed through the decades, from a pitching-dominant sport to a hitting-dominant sport.
The exclusion of black players until 1947 kept many exceptional players out of the big leagues, and out of the record books.
League expansion has added more players and, some would say, watered down the talent pool. That, however, should have affected both hitters and pitchers equally.
After the 1968 season, known among baseball historians as “The Year of the Pitcher,” the pitcher’s mound was lowered in 1969 to curb to the dominance of pitchers.
Additionally, the American League’s adoption of the designated hitter in 1973 increased offense and diminished the pitcher’s advantage in that league.
Through it all, however, some things have endured and remained consistent — year after year, decade after decade.
The mound is still sixty feet, six inches from home plate, which remains a five-sided slab of whitened rubber, 17 inches square. The batter’s box remains the same size, at 4 x 6 feet, and the bases are all still 90 feet apart.
However, there has been one rather odd change in MLB in recent decades: the near absence of the complete game.
Will White completed a whopping 75 games for Cincinnati in 1879. The notion that a pitcher would make that many starts, alone, sounds bizarre today. However, throughout the late 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for a pitcher to record 50-plus, or even 60-plus, complete games per season.
During this era, the basic rules of the game had not been settled upon (examples: the number of balls for a walk was once as high as 8, foul balls did not count as strikes, so a batter could foul off pitches until he got one he liked, etc.) and the American and National Leagues had not been established as the two major leagues.
The period beginning in 1901 is generally considered the start of “modern baseball.”
As its name implies, the Dead Ball Era (1901-1920), was heavily tilted toward pitchers, who would routinely start 40 or 50 games and often win 25 or 30.
Some of the things that contributed to the pitchers’ dominance in this era included the use of the spit ball, which wasn’t banned until 1920. Pitchers were not only allowed to spit on the ball, but were also allowed to scratch up the ball, changing its aerodynamics to their advantage.
Additionally, in this era, a single ball was used as long as possible, allowing it to wear down and become softer and harder to hit for distance. After the 1920 season, new balls were used more often for better visibility, which helped batters. Furthermore, new parks were also constructed toward the end of the Dead Ball Era that had hitter-friendly dimensions.
However, starting in 1920, the game shifted to lessen the numerous advantages held by pitchers and to level the playing field, so to speak, for hitters.
Yet, from the 1920s to the 1970s, it was not uncommon for pitchers to record 30 complete games in a season. These pitchers aren’t ancient artifacts of history. They were modern pitchers, playing by the same standardized rules that remain in effect today.
For example, Catfish Hunter led the majors with 30 complete games for the Yankees in 1975. It didn’t even seem remarkable at the time. Rick Langford led baseball with 28 complete games for Oakland in 1980. But by the time Roger Clemens competed an MLB-best 18 games for the Red Sox in 1987, the downward trend in complete games was clearly visible.
Jack McDowell of the White Sox (1991) and Curt Schilling of the Phillies (1998) notched the highest complete-game totals in the 1990s, each finishing 15 games. Such a number seems extraordinary by today’s standards.
The highest complete-game total in the 2000s was nine, which was reached six times by five different pitchers.
James Shields finished 11 games for the Rays in 2011, by far the highest total this decade. Last year, Ivan Nova and Max Scherzer led the National League with two complete games apiece.
So, what happened? Pitchers aren't physically inferior today than they were in the 1970s, or even the 1920s. The human shoulder and elbow aren’t weaker or less durable.
Yes, pitchers throw harder today than ever before. Today’s game emphasizes the heater more than in the past, favoring hard throwers to four-pitch craftsman who paint the corners at will with great command. The current game is littered with starters who can throw in the mid to upper-90s, and even the triple digits.
On the other hand, as recently as the 1970s, teams used four-man rotations, with each starter pitching on just three days’ rest. It didn't ruin pitchers.
Today, a five-man rotation (and occasionally six) is the norm. That has resulted in pitchers making fewer starts and throwing fewer innings. In essence, pitchers now endure less physical stress and their bodies endure less wear. Yet, it isn’t helping.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is littered with pitchers who took the mound on three days of rest. It clearly didn’t make them pitch less effectively or shorten their careers.
Today’s pitchers operate on strict pitch-count limits (usually 100) and enjoy longer rest periods. Yet, no one can even complete as many as 10 starts. It’s reasonable to ask why can’t they complete the majority of their starts. What was once common is now viewed as impossible, or super human.
The last time a major league pitcher completed as many as 20 starts was in 1986, when Fernando Valenzuela finished 20 games for the Dodgers.
Despite five-man rotations, seven-man bullpens, four-days rest and pitch counts, pitchers are now more fragile than ever. Tommy John surgery is currently an epidemic. Even when starting pitchers aren’t undergoing elbow or shoulder surgery, they often miss starts to rest or end up on the DL.
Boston’s David Price led the majors with 35 starts in 2016 and Tampa’s Chris Archer led the majors with 34 starts in 2015. Those numbers were once considered pedestrian; now they are outliers.
The expectations of a starting pitcher have dropped dramatically in the modern game. We celebrate a pitcher who makes 30 starts and throws 200 innings. A “quality start” is considered six innings and three or fewer runs. However, three runs allowed over six innings results in a 4.50 ERA. That should not be viewed as quality.
Steve Carlton threw 304 innings for the Phillies in 1980. No one has even come close since then. Prior to that, it was the norm.
In fact, since 1990, the highest innings totals have been 271.1 by Roger Clemens in 1991 and 271.2 by Randy Johnson in 1999. Just two pitchers — Roy Halladay (250.2 in 2010) and Justin Verlander (251 in 2011) — have reached at least 250 innings since 2005.
Pitch counts and five-man rotations aren’t helping starters or the game. Baseball needs to reconsider the way things are being done. The conventional wisdom needs to be challenged because it does not appear to be wise after all.
Cy Young made a club-record 43 starts for the Red Sox in 1902, a year in which he threw a remarkable 384 2/3 innings, also a club record. Most stunning, perhaps, was that Young competed a whopping 41 of his 43 starts that season.
That sounds like the stuff of fantasy. In today’s game, he would be considered a freak of nature. But he was just a man, with the same shoulder and elbow construction as most other pitchers in the 21st Century.
I don’t claim to have the answers, but I know this for sure: the way pitchers are being managed, and limited, today is not working.
Humans have shown a tendency to evolve over time; not to devolve.
It’s time to go back to the past. Pitchers might be better served.