Ten Things I Think I Think on September 29
First, it’s not me thinking anything today except Wow … a great, memorable season of baseball. The ten things in today’s post are thought by Elliott Kalb, Senior Editorial Director of MLB Network, and the MLB Network Research Department. I received this research packet just moments ago, as I and a limited number of privileged recipients have done each morning throughout the season. These routinely brilliant packets are designed to be particularly useful to those of us thinking about the day ahead, making us appear especially brilliant. Today’s inbox delight is different–the 2014 regular season has passed into history, my turf. It is my privilege to share with a wider readership the sort of pleasure I get every day. Here’s Elliott:
1. Raise the Jolly Roger! Prior to the start of the 2014 season, two young dreamers (Ethan Kleinberg and Elliott Kalb) pooled all of their disposable income and put their last $20 on the Pirates to win the 2014 World Series!
2. The season where everyone is the same.
…No team won 100 games
…The only teams to win more than 90 games play either in Southern California (where special effects are instrumental in movie making) or the Nation’s Beltway (where special effects are instrumental in political maneuvering).
….Both Northern California teams (the Giants and Athletics) won exactly 88 games. The Giants spent 91 days in first place this summer (the last being on July 26). The Athletics spent 131 days in first place this summer (the last being on August 25).
3. Stat that may be of interest only to me… The Athletics went 11-21 since August 26. The other four teams that play in the state of California (the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Angels) went 77-48 in that span. The Padres went 17-15 in their final 32 games.
4. You can’t kill off the stats and values in baseball that people hold dear to them. Over the weekend, Derek Jeter (whose greatness cannot be quantified by advanced metrics) was feted by the media and fans and opponents alike. On Sunday, the Houston Astros (the Astros!) did everything possible to ensure their second baseman, Jose Altuve, could win a batting title! Also on Sunday, one of the biggest stories of the day concerned a Jordan Zimmermann no-hitter.
Wait a minute! Haven’t Brian Kenny and his believers been telling us that that batting titles, no-hitters, and intangibles that Jeter possesses are worthless?
Altuve also personally made sure his title wouldn’t be tainted by insisting he wanted to play instead of sitting on his average, with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow finally agreeing and reinserting him in the lineup 30 minutes before the game, shortly after an outcry on social media. “This is way better than just sitting on the bench and waiting for something,” said Altuve, who finished with the most hits by a second baseman since 1936.
Altuve said before the game that there was no conversation about the matter, and that a combination of interim manager Tom Lawless, Luhnow and others told him in a morning meeting he would not play.
Hey, Jeff Luhnow, and your team of statistical analysts in the Front Office: if you had any Brian Kenny-like convictions, you would disallow any mention of Altuve’s batting title in your 2015 Astros Media Guide. You would concentrate on Altuve’s .377 OBP.
Oh by the way, Altuve finished 13th in OBP. He walked just 36 times all year. But I guess, the Astros front office is now touting batting average!
And I love no-hitters, but Zimmermann threw one on the final day of the season against a team with their bags packed and the car engines running. The time of the game was 2:01. Congrats and job well done to home plate umpire Alan Porter, who sped things along in this one: there was one walk in the entire game.
5. It’s not hard to argue, however, that Victor Martinez had a much better year than Jose Altuve. Victor Martinez led the American League in OBP (.409). He walked 70 times and struck out just 42 times.
Victor Martinez: 317 total bases, 262 times on base
Jose Altuve: 299 total bases, 266 times on base
6. Dee Gordon had an amazing season, but his “hidden bases” will cost him in the eyes of fans and MVP voters.
Dee Gordon led the majors in infield hits (31).
Dee Gordon led the majors in stolen bases (64).
Dee Gordon led the majors in triples (12).
That tells me this guy took a ton of extra bases (that no one else would get) at first base (on the infield hits). He took a ton of extra bases at second base (steals) that no one else took. He took a lot of extra bases at third base (triples).
And is it any wonder that a player hitting behind him in the lineup led the majors in RBIs (Adrian Gonzalez)? Gonzalez drove in Gordon 24 times.
7. If you like the Oakland Athletics, do I have a football team for you to root for!
- Made the postseason in 2012, lost in Division Series
- Made the postseason in 2013, lost in Division Series
- Started 2014 with best record in MLB
- Made the postseason in 2011, lost in first round
- Made the postseason in 2012, lost in first round
- Made the postseason in 2013, lost in first round
- Started 2014 with best record (3-0) in NFL
Nothing that Josh Donaldson or Andy Dalton does matters in the regular season. Show me some postseason heroics, guys.
8. Are the Boston Red Sox really going to call in other Boston sports legends like Bobby Orr and Paul Pierce to honor Jeter? Paul Pierce, really? You can’t get Bill Russell on a plane, or Larry Bird? I’ll take Danny Ainge (who played some infield in the majors with the Blue Jays). I’ll take a current Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo. But to take Pierce—now a Wizard, most recently a Nets player—in honoring the one-team, one-team only Jeter…makes no sense.
9. The MLB Network Research Department has seen a ton of major league baseball in 2014…probably more than the recommended daily requirement should allow. We asked them their favorite notes or stats or things that impressed them over the year.
Ken Gold: The Astros employed a major league leading 1,646 defensive shifts. It accounted for saving 54 base hits.
No team scored 800 runs this season. The last time that happened in a full season was 1992. Compare it to 2000, when MLB teams AVERAGED 832 runs per team!!!
Nate Purinton: Four of the top 16 pitcher seasons in terms of strikeout to walk ratios occurred in 2014. Whether it’s the result of the batters’ approach or a bigger strike zone (as Tom Verducci has argued), pitchers are posting absurd strikeout to walk rates. And now a list, populated by impressive names such as Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Greg Maddux, is topped by Phil Hughes!
Marc Adelberg: The league ERA was 3.74 in 2014, the lowest since 1989, and it’s only fitting that there were three 1-0 games–including a no-hitter–on the day’s final season. 2014 finished with 69 1-0 games. There was a 1-0 game once every 35 games this year, or once every three days. That’s the highest rate since Gerry Ford was falling all over the White House.
Matt Baker: There were 833 pitches thrown this season at 100+ mph – 470 were thrown by Aroldis Chapman and 363 by all other pitchers combined (the next closest was Kelvin Herrera who had 108 pitches 100+ mph). Over 73% of all fastballs thrown by Chapman this season were 100+ mph (470 of 643 fastballs). His average fastball velocity was, to no surprise, 100.3 mph this season.
Keith Costas: For me it’s Adam Wainwright’s 12 scoreless starts, the most since mound was lowered in 1969, as it relates to his Cy Young candidacy. Obviously Kershaw is going to win the award, marking it the fourth season Wainwright will fall short in a Cy-Young-worthy season…
2009: finished third in an ultra-close race with Lincecum and Carpenter despite receiving the most first place votes
2010: became the first pitcher in over 20 years with 20-plus wins, 230-plus innings and a sub-2.50 ERA to NOT win the Cy Young Award, finishing second to unanimous winner Roy Halladay
2013: returned to form in his second season back from Tommy John Surgery to lead the Majors in innings, finishes second in Cy Young Voting to Kershaw
2014: does something that’s never been done since the mound was lowered (12 scoreless starts) and will have virtually no shot at winning his first Cy Young
The point is we tend to look to awards as one of the first indicators of how good a player’s peak was, and while Wainwright may well retire without a Cy Young on his mantle it’s clear he could have won it multiple times already if circumstances outside of his control had been altered ever so slightly.
Matt Salvatore: In a time when strikeouts are on the rise and home runs have decreased, one of my favorite notes from 2014 comes from Victor Martinez. Martinez finished the season with 32 HR and just 42 strikeouts. The last American League hitter to hit at least 30 homers while striking out fewer times than Martinez did this season was Don Mattingly back in 1987 when he hit 30 HR and struck out just 38 times. (Barry Bonds in ’04 and Sheffield in ’92 from the NL also did this).
Matt Orso: Nelson Cruz led MLB in home runs this season (40). He’s the only player this season to reach the 40 HR mark. That’s the first time since 1989 when just one player hit 40 home runs or more in a season. (Kevin Mitchell in 47 home runs for the 1989 Giants.) The last time someone led the major leagues with 40 home runs or fewer was Jesse Barfield (40 HR) in 1986.
Chris Bonetti: A little love for the Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles hit 25 more home runs than any other team in the majors this season (Rockies) and 34 more than the next closest American League team (Blue Jays).
… And Orioles Pitching: Since the trade deadline, the Baltimore starting pitchers have posted the best ERA of any American League team to qualify for the Postseason (3.00 ERA).
As far as my favorite off-beat, irrelevant stat/note of the season… This came through from Mike Hughes of Elias back on April 17:
The Phillies defeated the Braves 1-0 today after losing to Atlanta 1-0 last night. It’s the first time ever that these two teams have played back to back 1-0 games against each other (regardless of who wins); the Braves-Phillies rivalry dates back to 1883.
Elliott Kalb: Well, Chris… Here’s my head-scratching note from the season. The Boston Red Sox finished tied for ninth in the majors with 282 doubles this season. They led the majors in doubles (363) last year. They led the majors in doubles (339) in 2012. And in 2011 (352). And in 2010 (358). Did they move the wall back or something?
And speaking of doubles, I love that the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy broke the record for most doubles (46) as a catcher this season, surpassing Ivan Rodriguez. In my eyes, Lucroy’s accomplishment is totally authentic and meaningful. In a year where nobody hit 50 home runs or saved 50 games, Jonathan Lucroy led the majors with 53 doubles.
Dom Campana: I’ve got two things that stood out to me this season:
1. Yasiel Puig’s amazing month of May:
2. Puig’s 1.224 OPS in May was the best OPS any player had in a month in which they had at least 85 AB this season. His .776 OPS in all other months combined would have tied Luis Valbuena and Kole Calhoun for the 50th best mark among qualified hitters.
Marc Matcham: Kershaw’s 15 K, 0 BB no-hitter, mixed in with his 1.77 ERA, which gives him MLB’s ERA title for an unprecedented fourth straight season… As an Indians fan, it was great to witness breakout seasons from Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley… Cy Young and MVP worthy. From May 1 on, only Clayton Kershaw (1.78) and Felix Hernandez (2.08) had a better ERA than Kluber (2.13) and nobody had more strikeouts in that span than Kluber (234). But if I had to pick just one, I’d say it’s Jeter, and the way he finished his career at Yankee Stadium Thursday night. The walk-off, opposite field base hit was an instant classic. An amazing moment from a guy that represented everything that is great about the game.
10. For those too young to remember, this is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 postseason, which never took place. It’s hard to believe the bad feelings the nation had towards baseball then. It’s hard to believe we had a year without a World Series.