brewers baseball and things


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The Slump

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Making Sense of WAR

I was watching a special on the MLB Network about the 1967 Red Sox. It’s called The Impossible Dream:Red Sox Nation Begins. The premise was that 1967 marked a watershed moment in Red Sox history, that it turned a city’s attention towards its baseball team. I like that it’s narrated by Boston native John Slattery. Adds some local color to the show.

There were interviews and adjectives thrown around and yet, I still wanted to know what was implied by watershed as in how did it translate into numbers. Thanks to baseball reference, I had my wish. Attendance at Fenway did more than spike from 1966-1967. It doubled, from 811,172 (10,014 per game) to 1,727,832 (21,331 per game.) That may or may not be a record.

There is a dialogue between  two players from that team – Rico Petrocelli and Mike Andrews and also an extensive interview with Carl Yastrzemski. I don’t remember all the details of the show, but one really sticks out – that Yaz carried the team on his back for most of the season.

This type of single-handed contribution screams of WAR or Wins Above Replacement Player. I’m not too knowledgeable when it comes to today’s statistical analysis, but I don’t think the formula or factors or complicated math matters. What does matter is the intent – to determine how valuable a player is to his team. That’s interesting and in this case, it proved to parallel the word “carried team on his back.”

The all-time single season WAR leader begins with Babe Ruth (14.3 in 1923) and is followed by Ruth as well (12.9 in 1921) and who is third? Yaz in 1967 with 12.5.

Those numbers don’t speak to me the way a batting average above .300 does or an OB% above .400, but one day, they might…….

 

 


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three trades and…..

I’m not opposed to free agency. I prefer money landing in player pockets….not owners. The entertainment is, after all, rooted in the long ball, head first slides, pitcher’s painting corners, diving catches, and not owners smoking cigars in luxury boxes or whatever they do these days. Bill Veeck is maybe the lone exception. If he were still alive, I’d pay to sit on a park bench in his mind. What he did for baseball is roll out the intestinal track long, maybe nothing more wonderful than him signing Satchel Paige, not once, but twice, first with the Cleveland Indians and then the St. Louis Browns.

Anyway, back to the point of this post….Free agency pales in comparison to the good old fashioned trade, especially ones that help both teams.

Winter, 1980
The Brewers acquired Ted Simmons, Pete Vuckovich, and Rollie Fingers from the St. Louis Cardinals for David Greene, Dave Lapoint, Sixto Lezcano, and Lary Sorenson. It was the biggest trade in Brewers history. All three players helped the Brewers win the second half of the 1981 season. Rollie Fingers won both the MVP and the Cy Young as a freaking relief pitcher. I don’t know if that’s happened before or since? The Brewers lost to the Yankees in the playoffs. But then in 1982, the Brewers won the AL East and then came from behind to beat the Angels and win their first ever AL Championship. Pete Vuckovich won the Cy Young Award with less than stellar numbers. In fact, he may have the worst WHIP of any pitcher that won the award. (1.502)  Who did they meet in the Series, but those same Cardinals in what came to be known as the Suds Series. The players the Brewers traded to the Cardinals didn’t play as big of role as the ones the Brewers got, but in the end the Cardinals took the series in 7 games. Of course, some say, if Rollie Fingers hadn’t of got injured, the Brewers would have won…..if if if..

Winter 1985
The New York Mets sent John Christensen, Wes Gardner, Calvin Shiraldi, and LaSchelle Tarver to the Boston Red Sox for Bob Ojeda and Chris Bayer. The Mets ran away with the NL East in 1986. Bob Ojeda won 18 games. They outlasted the Astros in the NL Championship, and who did they face in the World Series? The Boston Red Sox. I’ll never forget the look on Calvin Shiraldi’s face, rubbing his Game 6 chin as Bob Stanley performed his version of the colossal meltdown on the mound.

December, 2010
The Brewers traded Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odirizzi to the Royals for Yuniesky Betancourt and Zack Greinke. It was the second biggest trade in Brewers history. We were all in and Greinke didn’t disappoint.  He won 16 games in 2011 and kept us close in another dozen. The Brewers won the NL Central and then lost to the Cardinals….again….. in the NL Campionship. It took the Royals a few years, but they reached the Series in 2014 and lost, but then won it all in 2015. Cain and Escobar played significant roles in the Royal’s success and their manager? None other than former Brewers player and manager – Ned Yost.

The Brewers lost Greinke to free agency, no surprise there. But recently they started missing Cain and Jeffress so much so that this off season they signed Cain to a long free agent contract and got Jeffress in a trade with Texas. It’s June 29th and after their win last night against the Reds, the Brewers are 47-33 and in first place.

 


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Tale of Two Peraltas

Long before baseball’s scouting bureau, the bird dog scout roamed. I always pegged the species as wearing a Hawaiian button down, sun glasses and sitting in a lawn chair, maybe a stop watch around his neck. He drove a big car, the back seat filled with reams of data. He traveled the country side in search of players. Those days, those olden golden days are, of course, gone or maybe they aren’t?

I was watching the Yankees-Phillies game a few days ago and the announcer told a story of Yanks pitcher and Nicaraguan native Jonathan Loaisiga being signed as an amateur free agent by the Giants and then released three years later. The story fasts forward to an evening in the Dominican Republic. Loaisiga was pitching and the Yankees international scout was watching, then drooling, and finally phoning back home to Yankee land, at 3 AM insisting that they sign him and they did. He was called up at some point this season. He’s started three games. The Yankees have won all three, Loaisiga two. It’s early. He’s only pitched 14 innings, but 18 k’s and a 1.286 WHIP ain’t too shabby.

Loaisiga is one of hundreds, if not thousands of pitchers who look good, real good. They fill up high school and university rosters. Many of them are drafted and begin the long climb out of obscurity. They are as plentiful as aluminum cans. But most end up selling vacuum cleaners or some such trade because they get injured or never develop. Blame it on the pitching coach or destiny or the wind….who knows?

I’m not sure how the Brewers compare in developing pitchers to other organizations. But two names that come to mind – Teddy Higuera and Ben Sheets were signed and drafted respectively and they shined. Then there’s Wily Peralta. He was highly regarded and showed signs of success as a member of the Brewers starting staff. He earned a spot for four consecutive years, but in the fifth, the wheels fell off and he started getting shelled. He now pitches for the Royals in their AAA affiliate.

Speaking of the Royals, the Brewers are hosting them for a quick two game interleague match up and another Peralta, Freddy, another top Brewers prospect (we actually got him in a trade with Seattle for Adam Lind) was on the hill last night. It wasn’t his first start as a Brewer, but it was his first at Miller Park. His family was on hand to watch him pitch seven innings of one hit ball with 10 K’s. Got the win too. Alright, so it was against the rebuilding Royals, but still something to celebrate. Peralta’s total stats this year look mighty impressive…..22.2 IP, 35 K’s and only 7 hits allowed, a 1.59 ERA and .786 WHIP.


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Chuck “my bags please” Porter

No, this is not about the Brewers reliever who suffered the loss in what still is the longest game, time wise, in MLB history, 8 hours, 6 minutes. The game took two days, May 8th and 9th, 1984 and was played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The White Sox won in the 25th inning when Harold Baines hit a homer off Porter.

Porter, by definition is someone who carries luggage and loads, hence the Chris Berman nickname. He’s helping someone on the go and that someone is Edwin Jackson. This is an update, a glorious one in honor of Edwin Jackson. A few posts ago, I discussed the starting pitcher in the hopes he might be called back up to the Nationals and win a spot in their starting rotation or bullpen. Unfortunately, the Nats released him, but the A’s picked him up and sent him to AAA where he pitched well enough to earn a call up.

Yesterday, he got the nod to start the game and did well. (6IP, 7K’s, OBB’s, 1 ER) A no decision, but he showed that he can still pitch in the big leagues. He’s only 34 years young and here’s the kicker……he is now tied with Octavio Dotel for most franchises played for in the history of baseball – 13. What makes his traveling ways even more remarkable is that he’s a starter, not a LOOGY.

If I added a photo to this post, it would be a 13-sided collage.

Dear Edwin! You inspire me. Maybe you’ll one day pitch for the Brewers. If not, it doesn’t matter, I will always remember you, especially if one day I lose my job. I will never get too down.

Your friend and fan,
Steve


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Do we have to do the splits?

Last Friday, I bumped into a guy from work at the bottom of a subway escalator.  I didn’t know his name, but his hat, oh his hat; unmistakable;  it had the C and R for Colorado Rockies. I had never seen one in Montreal.  It proved to be a better conversation starter than a dog. I asked the obvious,

“So you’re a Rockies fan?”

He opened up right away, told me he loved the National League West. Then he reeled off the division’s teams. I said something about Coors Field being a real bomb. He said,

“Yeh, I’d like to go there some day.”

I countered with Diamondbacks being so good at the beginning this season, then so bad, and now leveling off, good again, still in first place.

“You know baseball…..” he said; as in nothing lasts forever.

“Yeh” I answered and with that he went through the turnstiles. I had to buy a ticket and by the time I had, he was gone. But I got to thinking of the Seattle Mariners winning 100 however many games back in 2001 and on the flip side, what team in recent memory lost the most games, maybe an expansion team or maybe one of the Astros or Royals teams that suffered three consecutive 100 loss seasons? I wasn’t sure so I waited patiently till I got back home and looked it up. Turns out the Tigers are the team. In 2003, they suffered a winning percentage under .300, going 43-119.

What’s remarkable to me is how close 119 losses is to 90 losses. If the Tigers would have simply won one more game per week or four per month, that would’ve been 24 for the season..easier said than done, but it would have brought their loss total to 95, barely better than the one year bankrupt Seattle Pilots who went 64-98.

Anyway, a team always offers intrigue, regardless of its place in the standings. Those 2003 Tigers had four guys hit double digit HR’s and well, if you prefer to visit funerals (like Harold in the movie Harold and Maude), there were three pitchers on that team flirting with 20 losses and one pitcher – Mike Maroth who did.

And so the Brewers beat the Cards two in a row, Thursday and Friday. Then they lost on Saturday and to make matters worse, Lorenzo Cain (grimace) left the game with hamstring cramps, same diagnosis that brought him out of Thursday’s game. He wasn’t in the lineup on Sunday and the Brewers didn’t win. Travis Shaw also left the game due to a wrist injury in the middle of his at bat. The Brewers were winning at the time 2-1, but went on to lose 8-2 as the Cardinals earned a split of the four game series and around dinner time, late Sunday afternoon, I heard an echo…”You know baseball.”

 


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stepping up and sitting down

Steve Sax had one named after him; so did Steve Blass, of curse, yes curse, this has nothing to do with their first name being Steve or I sure hope not anyway. It’s too small sample size to start attributing reasons especially not as silly and unsabermetric as a name. By the way, I often use the expression unsabermetric. I do not intend this as a dis or an insult. I find the science and math to better evaluate player performance as very fascinating. I simply don’t grasp most of the metrics, but I’m working on it, one at a time.

OK so on to the syndrome. Sax’s was an inability to throw the ball to first base, kind of important for a second baseman. Blass’s was an inability to throw strikes and get batters out. The syndrome hit Blass so hard that his career was cut short. Sax went on to have a few good seasons, both offensively and defensively.

What about career minor leaguers who don’t too well when they get a chance and their opposite…. mediocre minor leaguers who star in the show. I have no idea how to conduct the research for this so I’ll revert to what’s on the top of my head. In terms of career minor leaguers, I give the nod to Kilakila Kaʻaihue, born in Hawaii, an on base machine with power in the minors. But it never translated into much in the majors. He spent a few seasons with the Royals and A’s, then Japan. He’s now coaching a high school team somewhere.

Bob “Hurricane” Hazle was a big name in our house growing up. My dad made reference to him anytime anybody got on a roll doing something. He had OK stats rising the ranks of the Braves minor league system. In the year that he was called up, 1957, to give you an example, he hit .279 for AAA Wichita with 12 home runs in a little over 300 at bats, certainly good, but not out of this world. He saved that for the show where in 41 games (to replace the injured Billy Bruton), he hit  over .400 in 134 at bats, had a .477 OB%, slugged .649, and hit 7 home runs. The Braves went on to win their first ever National League and ultimately, the World Series that season.

Hazle was out of baseball in a few years. He finished with a .310 career average.

PS…yes the fences are closer to home plate, the ball seems juiced resulting in weaker hitters blasting opposite field home runs, but Jesus Aguilar barely made the team out of spring training and last night he broke up the Cardinal’s Jack Flaherty’s no-hitter in the 6th with a home run and then hit a walk off blast in the 9th off Bud Norris. He now has a team leading 16 home runs. I believe in Jesus. The Brewers believe in him. He is certainly making the most of his opportunity.

The Brewers have beaten the Cardinals in back to back games and once again sit atop the NL Central and maybe most revealing, have a winning record against division rivals.