With Regular Season Over, 10 Things I Think I Think
First, it’s not me thinking anything today except Wow … another 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 2015 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:
10 Things I Think I Think for Monday, October 5
1) Here’s what I like about this past weekend.
- Mark Buehrle won a big game Friday night, going 6.2 innings to beat the Rays 8-4, giving the Blue Jays their 93rd victory of the season.
- The Angels putting pressure on the Rangers and Astros; by beating Texas 2-1 on Friday, and then 11-10 on Saturday in a most improbable comeback. I like Shawn Tolleson taking the ball. I liked Aybar and Calhoun kick-starting the comeback and keeping the Halos season alive another 24 hours.
- I loved the Saturday night game at Citi Field. First, I love a game that goes 2:14. I love Matt Harvey again, as he proved he wanted the ball. And I love that Max Scherzer pitched his second no-hitter of the season.
- I loved Zack Greinke giving the Dodgers his usual (8 IP, 1 run) a few hours after the Mets were no-hit; which gave Los Angeles home-field in the NLDS beginning next week.
- I liked all the Sunday games starting at 3 pm. I liked the Marlins allowing Ichiro to pitch. I liked the Orioles fans giving an ovation for a job well done to Wei-Yin Chen and Matt Wieters, both of whom may not return in 2016. I liked Shelby Miller breaking his losing streak in the season finale. I liked Jimmy Rollins getting to manage the Dodgers on Sunday in the meaningless game. I liked Cole Hamels making a statement with his complete game. I liked the Brewers thanking their fans before Saturday’s game by riding around the parking lots in golf carts. I liked A.J. hitting some mascots engaging in a race between the fifth and sixth innings. There’s nothing like “Phil the Bucket” running away from A.J. Pierzynski (unless it’s our own Keith Costas running away from Pierzynski when A.J. does television. Come to think of it, that’s all we do in Research is “Phil the Bucket.”)
2) Here’s what I didn’t like about the past weekend: the Mets and Yankees and Blue Jays said the hell with trying to gain home-field advantage. No offense to Max Scherzer (see, the Mets offered no offense to oppose Scherzer), but the Mets didn’t put their best lineup on the field that night. And the cold weather and swirling winds made it a night for the hitters on both sides to take their swings and return to the warm clubhouse.
And what was this about Mark Buehrle starting Sunday’s season finale, all in the attempt of getting 200 innings for the 15th season in a row? It’s utterly foolhardy, for many reasons, but mainly this one: the Jays still had a chance of winning home-field advantage.
But allowing Buehrle to chase an historic milestone instead of sending someone that could throw, I don’t know—let’s say 82 mph— out for the start proved to be asinine. Tampa Bay jumped all over Buehrle in the first inning, scoring eight unearned runs, including four that came on a grand slam to center field by designated hitter Joey Butler.
Counting Sunday, opponents were batting .331 off Buerhle in his last nine starts. He gave up 10 unearned runs (eight of them Sunday) so his ERA is “only” 5.56 in his last nine starts.
He was done. And the only way he should have been given a sentimental start is if his team had nothing left to play for. The ultimate teammate let his teammates down. John Gibbons let his team down.
(Now, in all fairness, my opinion differs from many. Richard Griffin, of the Toronto Star, and someone I greatly respect, wrote “Anybody who questions the decision to let Buehrle try for 200 should give their head a shake. No doubt the right call especially if he’s not on the playoff roster. A true professional was owed this sign of respect.”)
Richard, I’m puzzled. What does John Gibbons and the Blue Jays care more about—a stupid, personal 200 IP milestone or having home-field advantage in the deciding Game of a playoff series?
Well, the 200 IP list is pretty cool! (he says sarcastically)
Most Consecutive Seasons, 200+ Innings Pitched
Cy Young 19 1891-1909
Warren Spahn 17 1947-1963
Gaylord Perry 15 1966-1980
Don Sutton 15 1966-1980
*Mark Buehrle: 14 consecutive seasons with 200+ IP (2001-14)
So, you probably say to yourself, take heart, Mr. Buehrle. You must be the only player besides these four to pitch 15 consecutive seasons of 198 innings! Right? WRONG
Look at the back of Greg Maddux’ baseball card.
Maddux had 14 consecutive years of 200 IP beginning in 1988-2001. Then, in 2002, he threw “just” 199.1 IP. He threw four more consecutive seasons of 200 innings, giving him 19 consecutive years of 199 innings.
And then, just for good measure, Maddux threw 198 innings in 2007 and 194 innings in 2008, giving him 21 consecutive years of 194+ innings.
Now, I know I’m going down the watering hole, but friends, hear me out. I looked up Greg Maddux’s final start of the 2002 season, which ended with him at 199.1 innings.
It was Friday night, September 27, 2002 at Shea Stadium, the second game of a doubleheader. The Braves won to up their record to 99-58. The Mets lost to go to 74-84. It was a tuneup game for the Braves. Maddux went five innings, allowing just one run. He threw just 53 pitches (40 strikes) in getting the fifteen outs. Could he have gone one more inning and made his season total over 200? Sure, he could have. But it didn’t mean anything. By the way, the final four outs of that game were historically significant: it was the 54th save of the season for Braves reliever (and now Hall of Famer) John Smoltz. That broke the N.L. record for saves in a season. Smoltz would finish the season with 55, which was matched a year later by the Dodgers’ Eric Gagne. But I digress. Maddux and Bobby Cox didn’t give a hoot about Maddux getting 200 IP each year, or he would have done it.
And give Bruce Schein credit for pointing out that Maddux’s 200 inning seasons included 1994—when the strike ended everyone’s season August 12. How could Maddux pitch 200 innings in just 25 starts (8 IP per start). But look it up—he did!
3) What I liked about the 2015 season: the return of the Home Run. And I mean, boy, did it return.
2014: 1 player had 40+ HR
2015: 9 players had 40+ HR
2014: 11 players had 30+ HR
2015: 20 players had 30+ HR
2014: 20 players had 26+ HR
2015: 38 players had 26+ HR
2014: 4,186 HR
2015: 4,909 HR
4) What I liked about the 2015 season:
- a) I loved—for the first time—the HR Derby. The Franchise Four was brilliant, displayed at the All-Star Game. And the start times on the final Sunday of the year makes absolute sense (you’re insane, Joe Girardi, for complaining about it.)
- b) Dee Gordon won the batting title. Dee’s father, Tom Gordon, led the A.L. in saves one year (1998). The son had a higher average for this one year than the great Bryce Harper. The dad had more saves in that one year than the great Mariano Rivera.
- c) I liked what I’ve liked every season in recent years—the late-season announcement that Vin Scully is returning to work Dodgers games.
- d) I liked the fact that Torey Lovullo paid so much respect to Boston manager John Farrell, that he refused to use Farrell’s office, when he took over for the final two months of the season after Farrell was forced to take a leave-of-absence due to cancer. And I liked that the Red Sox played hard down the stretch, and that Farrell (and his faithful companion coach Lovullo) will be back in ’16.
- e) I liked the fact that Clint Hurdle made the postseason again; and that the Blue Jays made the postseason for the first time in 22 years.
- f) I loved all those Madison Bumgarner-Clayton Kershaw matchups we were treated to this year!
- g) I liked watching Andrelton Simmons play shortstop; and Kevin Kiermaier play outfield.
- h) I liked that Mike Trout (.299/.402/.590) with 41 HR, 90 RBI was Mike Trout. And Miguel Cabrera was Miguel Cabrera.
- i) I liked the fact that the Royals drew 33,439—which represented a 38.4% increase in attendance from 2014.
- j) I liked the fact that the Washington Nationals did not make the postseason.
5) What I didn’t like about the 2015 season:
- a) The fact that the Atlanta Braves sold tickets for the 2015 season all offseason; and then traded away their best players right before the start of the season. On April 5, the Braves traded Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton, Jr.
- b) Jonathan Papelbon
- c) I didn’t like the fact that Giancarlo Stanton’s season—which might have been historic—was cut short due to injury.
- d) I didn’t like The Players’ Tribune. Not one bit.
- e) I didn’t like the attention paid to the dispute between the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez over a $6 million dollar bonus.
- f) I didn’t like how the Mets (two runs in their last 43 innings) ended the season.
- g) I didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t a real rush to seek out minority managerial candidates when Ron Roenicke, Mike Redmond, Bud Black and Ryne Sandberg were fired (or resigned). And that’s putting it mildly.
6) Quotes that make no sense: When asked whether their youth will shield the Cubs from feeling the pressure of their World Series drought, Joe Maddon replied with, “Cubs history is wonderful. The tradition of being a Chicago Cub is outstanding, and I’m talking about the players and the ballpark and the city and all of the lure that’s attached to that. Superstition, for me, there’s no place for it in Cubs history or tradition. If you choose to vibrate there, that’s your concern.”
Okay, Joe, let’s break this apart. I choose to “vibrate” there. MLB Network researcher Lee Sinins can take it from here. Lee, your thoughts?
“I have spent the past 37 years of my life studying baseball history and “wonderful” and “outstanding” would not make the list of words I’d use to describe Cubs history. No World Championships since Teddy Roosevelt was President is not what I would call a “wonderful” history. I see nothing “outstanding” about having FDR start the year in the White House the last time the franchise won a pennant and advanced to the World Series.”
7) Stats that may be of interest only to me. John Smoltz once told me that the most important stat to look at for pitchers is Innings Pitched. He said you can’t possibly have a bad year if you lead the league in innings. Well, just look at the top five leaders in innings pitched.
Most Innings Pitched
- 232.2 Clayton Kershaw
- 232.0 Dallas Keuchel
- 229.0 Jake Arrieta
- 228.2 Max Scherzer
- 222.2 Zack Greinke
Here’s an oddball one: With a loss to the Pirates at PNC Park on Sunday, the Reds dropped to 0-13 in Sunday road games in 2015. Here’s a radical idea: tell the Reds players they CAN’T go out on Saturday nights on the road anymore!
Here’s a stat you don’t see too many places. C’mon … let Grace win!
D-BACKS LEGENDS RACE
LEGEND ALL-TIME WINS
Luis Gonzalez 156
Randy Johnson 143
Matt Williams 138
Mark Grace 13
The Legends Race takes place following the fifth inning of every home game.
8) It was the Year of the Rookie. No, no, make that the Year of the Sophomore. No, no, it was the Year of the Senior.
We had a strong sophomore year.
2nd Year Players
Jose Abreu: .290, 30 HR, 101 RBI
Jacob deGrom: 14-8, 2.54
Dellin Betances: 6-4, 1.50
Xander Bogaerts: .320, second in A.L.
Mookie Betts: .291, 18 HR, 21 SB
We had a strong senior year.
Most HR hit by a player 35 and older this season: (well, like everything with these guys, we just take them at their word about their age!)
40 Albert Pujols (35 years old)
37 David Ortiz (39 years old)
33 Alex Rodriguez (40 years old)
Most innings by a player 35 and older this season:
218.0 John Lackey
214.1 R.A. Dickey
204.2 Colby Lewis
198.2 Mark Buehrle
194.2 Bartolo Colon
But this really was the Year of the Rookie. Ross Insana and Mike McCurry did some research on the great Rookie class—which we’ll get to in-depth tomorrow.
Here’s a sample of Insana’s research:
This year’s rookie class has turned out to be one of the best in recent memory, with the AL Rookie of the Year award conversation still up in the air between Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and to some extent Miguel Sano. The National League also had itself a close race early on with Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson up until the All-Star break, then more candidates begun to join the conversation with strong second halves like Jung Ho Kang, Matt Duffy and Randal Grichuk. That was all until Bryant turned it up another notch in August and never looked back.
To be quite honest, the 2015 season to me was in fact the year of the rookies despite the revival of baseball in Toronto and in Flushing and big offensive years from the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, etc. One elite prospect after another was being called up by their respective Major League club and making an instant impact. It felt like no matter what day of the week or a random stretch of games, at least one rookie was grabbing headlines. In fact, 48 of MLB.com’s top 100 prospects on their preseason list played at least one game in the Major Leagues this season.
This even includes eight players in the top ten:
Byron Buxton #1
Kris Bryant #2
Carlos Correa #3
Francisco Lindor #4
Addison Russell #5
Corey Seager #7
Joey Gallo #9
Noah Syndergaard #10
9) On this date in 2001– Barry Bonds hits his 71st home run of the year off Dodgers’ pitcher Chan Ho Park, breaking Mark McGwire’s single-season record set three years earlier. He would hit his 72nd that game as well, but the Dodgers won 11-10. (And if you don’t remember why the regular season extended a week later that season, then think real hard).
10) Okay, the Mets have lost 11 of their last 18 games. The Yankees backed into the postseason (they’ve lost six of seven). Can teams turn these streaks around entering postseason?
Okay, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, get ready to hear the story of two teams that turned it around on a dime at the exact right moment.
2000 Yankees: How would you like to enter the postseason, having lost 15 of the last 18 games? That’s what the 2000 Yankees did. They finished the season with a seven-game losing streak. They went from 9-games up to 2.5 games up. Starters were playing nearly every day.
And then, the Yankees lost Game One of the ALDS to the Oakland A’s (a team that had a fraction of the payroll the Yankees had). But…Andy Pettitte (7.2 IP) and Mariano (1.1 IP) combined to shutout the A’s 4-0 in Game Two. The Yankees righted the ship, won the series in five games. Then, the Yankees defeated a great Mariners team in the ALCS, and then defeated the Mets in the World Series.
As Mel Allen would have said, “How about that?”
1986 NY Jets: The Jets defeated the Colts 31-16 in Week 11 to give them a 10-1 record with five games remaining. The Jets (as only the Jets can) lost the next game 45-3. And the next game 17-3. And the next game 24-10. And the next game 45-24. And the final game, losing 52-21 at Cincinnati (Boomer threw a ton of touchdowns). The Jets finished 10-6.
But they made the playoffs.
And then the Jets defeated the Chiefs 35-15 at the Meadowlands in the Wild Card Game. Of course, in the Divisional Round, the Jets let a 20-10 fourth quarter lead evaporate when Mark Gastineau assaulted Cleveland QB Bernie Kosar after he threw a pass. Roughing the passer was called, and the Browns rallied to force overtime and eventually Cleveland won in double OT.
Non-baseball items that interest me: Ridley Scott’s movie “The Martian” with Matt Damon is much, much better than I anticipated. I’m not a big fan of 3-D movies, but this time, it’s necessary. The movie—a survivial story in outer space—is suspenseful throughout. There’s one scene in particular—using the music of David Bowie (“Starman”)—that is beyond great.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
Hey, look up the Bowie song from Ziggy Stardust days and play it. Now. Go to the movies—maybe tonight with no baseball game. Must warn you—the length of the movie resembles more of a Yank/Red Sox game than a Mark Buehrle game. But Damon is fabulous.
Hey, the NHL season starts Wednesday with four games, including the Rangers playing the Blackhawks. For some reason, I’m real interested this year!
As someone who correctly predicted the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night in Marc Weiner’s Eliminator Pool (never in doubt!), let me give you an early pick for Week Five. The New York Giants host the San Francisco 49ers. It’s never easy to travel west-to-east, and the Niners are a mess. They’ve lost three straight, and the Giants will make it four.
Hilary Clinton did pretty, pretty good on Saturday Night Live. I guess you can’t get elected these days without going on late-night television shows.
Hey, everyone still with me?
These 10 Things I Think I Think will be posted each day [but not at Our Game, alas–jt] until the last out of the last game of the World Series. Or exhaustion strikes, whichever comes first. It’s a team effort, and tomorrow’s 10 Things will feature an interesting look at the use of closers and the sheer number of Saves in 2015 by Andy Cooper-Leary, as well as more on the great rookie crop (Ross Insana and Mike McCurry’s work). And while this column owes so much in format and style and tone to my friend Peter King, it also relies on the influence of many great journalists. When I asked Peter yesterday where he came up with the phrase “10 Things I Think I Think,” he remembered that Mike Lupica used to write, saying “Here’s what I think.” And sometimes, “here’s what I think I think.”