June 2010

Perfect Game, Imperfect Rest Of Career

With Mark Buehrle’s loss Monday, and Dallas Braden getting scratched from his start last night, the combined record since their achievements of the three active pitchers to have tossed Perfect Games has dropped to 8 wins and 18 losses.

Is there something about getting 27 outs in a row that psychologically alters a pitcher? The sudden realization that you can do it? The gnawing sensation that a “quality start” or even a six-hit shutout just isn’t the ceiling? Or is it possible that a Perfecto really is some sort of apogee of pitching skills, and not merely the collision of quality and fortune?
Whatever the impact of the Perfect Game on the Perfect Game Pitcher, nine of the 20 to throw them have not managed to thereafter win more games than they lost. Another was one game over .500. An eleventh was just three games over. Fully fourteen of the pitchers saw their winning percentages drop from where they had been before their slice of immortality (though obviously the figures on Braden, Buehrle, and Halladay are at this point embryonic)
Consider these numbers, ranked in order in change of performance before and after. First the good news: it is perhaps not surprising that of the six pitchers whose percentages improved afterwards, the two most substantial jumps belong to Hall of Famers.
Jim Hunter Before: 32-38, .457
Jim Hunter After: 191-128, .599
Jim Hunter Improvement: 142
Sandy Koufax Before: 133-77, .633
Sandy Koufax After: 31-10, .756
Sandy Koufax Improvement: 123

Koufax is a bit of an aberration, since that 31-10 record, gaudy as it seems, represents only one season plus about a month, before his retirement in November, 1966.

The other four improvements are a little more telling.
David Wells Before: 110-86, .561
David Wells After: 128-71, .643
David Wells Improvement: 82
Don Larsen Before: 30-40, .429
Don Larsen After: 51-51, .500
Don Larsen Improvement: 71
Mike Witt Before: 37-40, .481
Mike Witt After: 79-76, .510
Mike Witt Improvement: 29
Dennis Martinez Before: 173-140, .553
Dennis Martinez After: 71-53, .573
Dennis Martinez Improvement: 20

For everybody else, the Perfect Game has meant comparative disaster. We can again discern some unrelated factors: many pitchers threw their masterpieces late in their careers (Cone), late in life (Joss died about 30 months after he threw his), or not long before injuries (Robertson and Ward, the latter of whom would switch positions and become a Hall of Fame shortstop).

Still, the numbers don’t augur well for our trio of active guys. They are listed in here in terms of the greatest mathematical drop from career Winning Percentage before the game, to career Winning Percentage afterwards:
Dallas Braden Before: 17-23, .425
Dallas Braden After: 0-5, .000
Dallas Braden Dropoff: 425
David Cone Before: 177-97, .646
David Cone After: 16-29, .356
David Cone Dropoff: 290
Lee Richmond Before: 14-7, .667
Lee Richmond After: 61-93, .396
Lee Richmond Dropoff: 271
Roy Halladay Before: 154-79, .661
Roy Halladay After: 2-3, .400
Roy Halladay Dropoff: 261
Mark Buehrle Before: 132-90, .595
Mark Buehrle After: 6-10, .375
Mark Buehrle Dropoff: 220
Jim Bunning Before: 143-89, .616
Jim Bunning After: 80-95, .457
Jim Bunning Dropoff: 159
Len Barker Before: 33-25, .569
Len Barker After: 40-51, .440
Len Barker Dropoff: 129
Charlie Robertson Before: 1-1 .500
Charlie Robertson After: 47-79, .373
Charlie Robertson Dropoff: 127
Addie Joss Before: 140-79, .639
Addie Joss After: 19-18, .514
Addie Joss Dropoff: 125
Cy Young Before: 382-216, .639
Cy Young After: 128-116, .525
Cy Young Dropoff: 114
Randy Johnson Before: 233-118, .664
Randy Johnson After: 69-48, .590
Randy Johnson Dropoff: 74
Johnny Ward Before: 80-43, .650
Johnny Ward After: 81-60, .574
Johnny Ward Dropoff: 46
Tom Browning Before: 60-40, .600
Tom Browning After: 62-50, .554
Tom Browning Dropoff: 46
Kenny Rogers Before: 52-36, .591
Kenny Rogers After: 166-120, .580
Kenny Rogers Dropoff: 9 

Rogers’ fall off is not even what the typical decline of a pitcher would suggest, and Browning’s and Ward’s aren’t very spectacular. Then again, neither are the improvements of Witt or Martinez. 

Essentially the pitchers break down into three groups: four who improved, five who didn’t change much, and eleven who got worse and noticably so.
Maybe Armando Galarraga got a minor break after all. 

Statistical Possibility Does Not Really Permit This: Update

This does boggle the mind. Since Mark Buehrle’s perfect game against them last July, the Tampa Bay Rays have now been no-hit three times in a span of 140 games. 

They’ve now been victims of a perfect game in a day game after a night game (Buehrle), victims of a perfect game on an ordinary road weekend game (Dallas Braden, in Oakland, this season), and victims of a no-hitter in their own stadium, at the hands of a pitcher whom they once thought might become the ace of their own staff, Edwin Jackson, tonight.
These are not the 1998 Twins or the 1999 Expos, light-hitting, fringe-player-filled line-ups that are the kinds ordinarily slightly more susceptible to being utterly blanked. Ever looked at the line-up David Wells knocked down with only 27 tries in ’98? Lawton, Gates, Paul Molitor, Cordova, Coomer, Ochoa, Shave, Javier Valentin, Meares. Not quite murderers’ row.
The Rays, on the other hand, have sent Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist to the plate in each of these games. They are a combined 0-for-42. Carl Crawford did not bat tonight due to his cranky shoulder, but he managed another 0-for-6 in the perfectos.
These are good hitters who have, in essence, been stymied three times in what amounts to 22 games less than a full season. The laws of statistical possibility are angry at some one or some thing.
UPDATE: From Marc Topkin of the St Pete Times on Twitter the Rays are indeed the first team to be no-hit three times, in full length games, in such a short span. The 1906 Brooklyn Superbas were blanked three times between May 1st and September 24th (Johnny Lush of the Phillies, Jake Weimer of the Reds, and Stoney McGlynn of the Cards), but the last two of the games were seven-inning jobs (the McGlynn game, in fact, was a tie). That was not uncommon then in the time when doubleheaders were frequent and lights were 30 years in the future – second games of DH’s often were pre-arranged to last only seven frames. In fact some were played not to an inning total but to the clock, so teams could catch trains to get from city to city.
The ’06 Brooklyns, by the way, also had a decent offense. Tim Jordan led the NL with a then-******** dozen homers, and Harry Lumley led in Slugging Percentage (.477). But they were frequent victims in that era. Nick Maddox of the Pirates would no hit them in September, 2007 (thus four no-hitters in 16 months), and Johnny Lush would come back and throw a six-inning no-hitter in August of ’08.
One other creepy thing of which an MLB.Com headline just reminded me: Edwin Jackson pitched his no-hitter a year to the day Michael Jackson died.

Soccer?

A lot on the site today about the “cross-over appeal” of the World Cup, and there’s no doubt about it; half the televisions in the Yankee club this afternoon were tuned to it (and half is a lot of televisions), and two of my companions and I stuck around to watch the last 30 minutes of the USA-UK tie.

But, while firmly believing that neither game is as much a sport as it is a cultural inheritance, and freely stipulating that if neither had ever been played and both were invented tomorrow, both would have a hard time catching on anywhere in this electronic age, I have to insist: I just don’t think soccer measures up to baseball in any respect excepting the joy people derive from each.
More over, soccer’s support in this country reminds me of a dining room set we got when I was seven. It and the accompanying swivel chairs were much ballyhooed, and in the style of that Keep-Up-With-The-Joneses era, my mother boasted about them to all the other mothers. Came the grand day of the dining set’s arrivals and the swivel chairs were unavailable, on back order, and identical looking non-swiveling chairs had been given us as loaners. Well, one of my mother’s friends came over and decided to one-up my mother by explaining the history of these chairs, her familiarity with the product, and her superior ability to judge the efficacy of the swivel mechanism. The chairs would not budge, but she would not let that stop her. While seated in one, she lifted it up, half with her feet, half with her hands, and bounced it a few times to the left and a few times to the right. “Yes, I can tell,” she said, “you got the good ones. Not the best, we have better ones, but these are good too.”
In her mind, they swiveled.
To me, that’s an American soccer fan, seeing suspense and action where there is little. More disturbing, perhaps – and maybe this is why European fans in particular are noted for their violence – is the almost complete non-interaction of the spectators with the sport. Fans are kept engaged at all times at a ballgame; in every one of them at least one baseball winds up in the seats, and if you’re lucky, a player will, too. Fans can impact play on the field without doing more than standing and moving their arms (ask Steve Bartman, or, me, in an identical play at Yankee Stadium in 1972 or 1973 involving no less than Moises Alou’s Dad as the fielder). To effect the game, the soccer fan must run on to the field. Or sing. Or run on to the field while singing.
It doesn’t swivel. Sorry.
But enough of that. Back to the world of Daniel Nava and somebody who owns a Bryan Bullington shirt. The Nava story is self-explanatory (has soccer had one like that since Dixie Dean retired?), the Bullington one I’ll get to in a moment.
First, a shot of one of my friends at the ballpark today. 

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Ex-soccer player himself, was happy with the tie, didn’t see anything special in the US-UK game.
Jason Bateman is a Dodger fan, in town to reveal a new online comedy site he will co-populate with Will Arnett (not attending today’s game). Here, Jason, also the Commissioner of his own fantasy league for five seasons, signs a baseball for a fan who obviously no longer cares about the value of the baseball.
A considerable debate preceded this about where exactly he should sign the thing since the store-bought ball appeared to have a logo placed in the traditional “sweet spot.” I suggested that it no longer mattered, providing his signature was not upside-down compared to the manufacturer’s inscription on the ball itself. If you happen to see this ball on eBay with the inscription erased, this photo will serve as the certificate of authenticity.
EXPERIMENTING WITH AN APP
Downloaded this thing “CameraOne” for iPhone – I think the cost was $1.99 – and it gives you a zoom on the phone. It’s a little grainier than I would like, but not by much. Examples:
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Derek Jeter at the plate, at the left; the Golden Knights of the U.S. Army Parachute team arriving early.
One last image, from last week, a Pirates’ fan missing a foul ball and, in frustration, throwing his glove. He was wearing a shirt representing Bryan Bullington, the first pick in the 2002 draft, who had a lifetime 0-3 record in Pittsburgh. If he’s a relative, that’s one thing. Otherwise, you might want to have a tailor take the lettering off. It’s like going to a Mets’ game wearing a shirt with “CHILCOTT” on the back.
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Strasburg On Cardboard

With the scouting observation that the most impressive part of Stephen Strasburg’s night was his willingness to work quickly, to maintain ownership of the pace and momentum of the game, a little sneak preview of a much more “official” welcome to the big leagues.

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This will be what Strasburg’s rookie Topps card will look like, and it’s more than just a nice shot of the rookie’s classic delivery. It is, in fact, an image of the first pitch of Strasburg’s Major League career, to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, Tuesday night at Nationals’ Park.
The other memorabilia for the most hyped rookie since Griffey consists mostly of his Bowman 2010 cards (including a 1-of-1 variety which inspired insanity and could never recoup its purchase price unless Strasburg ended his career 511-0). A few game tickets have already popped up (standard Ticketmaster style around $50, nicer Ticketmaster around $60, the deluxe Season-Ticket style not being offered as eBay buy-it-now, but with a minimum of $70).
But with Upper Deck out of the game, the Topps card is the gold standard. And this is what it will look like.
UPDATE: The card is destined for general release in the annual update set in the fall but the grass doesn’t grow between the toes of the execs at the place with the renewed card monopoly: they’ll be giving some away earlier as part of this year-long “Million Card Giveaway.”
ONE LAST UPDATE: I can’t think of Strasburg – and this only has tangentially to do with the card – and not flash back to a summer’s day 17 years ago when I saw another can’t-miss pitcher who did not get as far as the Washington rookie now has. I had never seen, and have never seen, anything like it. Some guys throw extraordinarily hard (I was in the Red Sox dugout for a Daniel Bard inning in Spring Training, 2009, and I watched him paint the corners with 98′s and 99′s), but all of them show it.
Not Brien Taylor.
The ill-fated Yankees’ top pick of 1991 had already made it to AA ball in ’93 and was pitching for Albany at the Beehive in New Britain, CT, just 10 minutes from my home when I worked at ESPN. Taylor was to pitch and a bunch of us went to see him. And he was not just everything they said, but he was more – by being less.
The sound of his effortless warm-up pitches thudding the catcher’s glove resonated around the park. And then he got serious, and you couldn’t see the ball any more. Of course, there was nothing to suggest Taylor was trying to throw that hard, even though a nearby scout with a gun told us “that hard” was 102. Taylor still looked like he was warming up, or perhaps just playing a serious game of catch. Not that the first pitch was caught - it hit the backstop on the fly. The next one nearly did the same, and then a coach hustled out to the mound and put both hands on Taylor’s shoulders.
A slightly quieter thud. Strike one, 97 MPH. Another one. Strike two, on a curveball, about 90, I think. The last. Strike three, 96 MPH. By this point, having taken something off his fastball, it appeared the catcher was trying harder to throw the ball back to Taylor than Taylor was pitching it.
The Taylor I saw was 21 years old. An outfielder just up from A-ball (might have been Brian Brown) took him over the fence in a very big ballpark, and Taylor got a little angrier, fired it back up to triple digits, almost looked like he was trying, and soon reached his pitch count. Six months later came the bar brawl that would destroy his shoulder and end his career.
I wonder how many pitchers I’ve seen, live or on television, in 44 years of being a fan. I do not wonder about how many of them threw that blindingly fast, that effortlessly. Strasburg was as impressive as any rookie pitcher I’ve ever seen at the big league level. But he’s not on the other list. Only Brien Taylor is on that one.

Stanton, Improbable Pitchers, And Joseph Joseph

So the guy many observers think is better than Jason Heyward has made the majors. Florida has promoted 20-year old Michael Stanton, the leading home run hitter in the game, and presumably he will make his major league debut on Tuesday – just as Stephen Strasburg makes his.

The question is: who loses their job in the Marlins’ lineup? Stanton is a corner outfielder, but Cody Ross can play an adequate centerfield. The assumption has been that the odd man out is the current occupant Cameron Maybin, and in that equation is the eternal caveat about the can’t-miss-prospect. Cameron Maybin has/had been that guy for nearly four seasons.
Maybin in the Dustbin of History might not be an automatic, however. There are other options for Florida, and it will be intriguing to see if they try any of them. Leftfielder Chris Coghlan has just awakened from his slumber of the season’s first seven weeks, and has infield experience. Putting him at third or second and leaving Maybin and Ross where they are, shifting either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first in place of the flaccid Gaby Sanchez, might actually improve the Florida defense, to say nothing of the offense.
WHICH PITCHING STATISTIC WON’T LAST?
Ubaldo Jimenez is a tidy 11-1 through his first twelve starts. He made the average number of starts last year, 33, and if he can match that, statistical projection has him finishing up at 30-3. This is why statistical projection is crap, but fun.
Just as entertaining is the line of Mitch Talbot of Cleveland: 11 starts, 7-4, 32 strikeouts. This extends out to a record of 21-12 with 96 K’s. If Mitch Talbot can win 21 games (and stay in all  his starts long enough to get a decision in every one of them) with just 96 strikeouts all season, he should get the Cy Young Award, the AFC Defensive Player of the Year, and The Lady Byng Trophy.
Still, the weirdest numbers a third of the way through belong to Tyler Clippard of the Nationals. If the Yankee castoff were to continue his current pace, he would end up with about 106 innings pitched in relief, featuring 123 strikeouts, 22 wins, 8 losses, 34 holds, and 14 blown saves. I’m not sure if those numbers would put him in the Hall of Fame or AAA, but you needn’t worry – Jimenez and Talbot’s projections seem likely by contrast.
PHOTO OF THE DAY:
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This is why being a graphics operator might be the most difficult job in television. You rarely have an editor, and very often you’re working on the road in a smelly, crowded truck, that might have the air conditioning sputtering, and the room is full of idiots shouting and spilling sodas and corndogs all over your console and whining about management and then shutting up when management suddenly walks in and before you’ve noticed it you’ve finished typing up all the Brewers’ names into their templates and you’ve made sure you put the second “l” in Counsell and that you haven’t typed in “Carlos Villauneuva” and you’ve double-checked whether Braddock is “Zach” or “Zack” and then there goes another corndog and the manager leaves and that one guy starts whining again about his per diem and before you’ve known it you’ve looked at the beard and typed in “Corey Hary” instead of Hart.

FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:
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Other than perhaps the untouchable king of the hill, onetime pitcher Eugene Hamlet Krapp, this gentleman to the right might have the best full name in baseball history. He is the late Joe LaFata and he was a pretty nondescript lefthanded bat off the bench, playing some first base and a little outfield for the New York Giants in 1947 and 1949 (and for one game in 1948). 
He is something of a mystery, and not just for the fact that even in the minors he never cleared 14 homers or a .289 batting average in a single season. He is a mystery because all his records agree: his first name was Joseph, and his second name was… Joseph. 
Joseph Joseph LaFata.
Of course, Eugene Hamlet Krapp’s nickname was “Rubber.”

After No Further Review

My baseball sources now confirm that despite the meandering nature of Commissioner Bud Selig’s statement today about the Armando Galarraga game, Jim Joyce, Replay, and Zen And The Art Of Mistake Repair, you can take that statement as an indication that the matter of correcting Joyce’s mistake is closed.

It is conceivable that the Commissioner might revisit intervening at some later date, but the further we march away from the hour of the blown call, the less likely any change is – and the chances right now are almost nil.

It should be noted again, of course, that from 1917 until late in the 1991, Ernie Shore and his family and friends were under the impression that he had thrown a Perfect Game – admittedly with an asterisk – until a special committee serving under the previous commissioner decided otherwise. Similarly, Harvey Haddix went from 1959 to ’91 thinking he’d thrown one, too.

The Commissioner’s lovely words about Mr. Joyce’s honesty, and Mr. Galarraga’s graciousness, sound filling and satisfying right now. I suspect history will be a lot tougher on the umpire – and the Commissioner.

Sources: Commissioner Selig Reviews Galarraga Game

Major League Baseball sources with direct knowledge of the meeting confirm that key members of baseball’s hierarchy were to convene this morning in New York to review the circumstances of Umpire Jim Joyce’s erroneous “safe” call at first base in Detroit, which last night denied the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga what would have been the 21st Perfect Game in baseball history and the third in just 25 days.

There was considerable doubt that Commissioner Bud Selig felt he could or should intervene in overturning the results of an umpire’s on-the-field ruling. The Detroit News reported that the Tigers might be contacting MLB in hopes of remedying what umpire Joyce later admitted, clearly and emotionally, was a wildly incorrect call. The News quoted Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dombrowski as saying “I wouldn’t get into telling you what I would do. That’s a private matter. He shouldn’t have missed it. It’s a shame for the kid…”
Baseball sources said that as of late morning, the Tigers’ opponents, the Cleveland Indians, had not contacted the Commissioner’s office. Their support of any change to last night’s call might be a key factor.
“This isn’t a call,” Joyce said afterwards, “this is a history call. And I kicked the **** out of it, and nobody feels worse than I do…I took a perfect game away from that kid.”
Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated and MLB Network tweeted that Commissioner Selig was “involved” and his office would have a statement at some point today.

Some in the Commissoner’s office were to urge Selig to declare that with Joyce’s admission, the 27th out of the game was recorded when Cleveland’s Jason Donald grounded out, first baseman Miguel Cabrera to pitcher Galarraga, covering first. The base hit credited to Donald, and the following at bat, by Cleveland’s Trevor Crowe, would be wiped off the books and thus Galarraga would be credited with a perfect game.
There is precedent for the Commissioner’s Office to decide what is, and isn’t, a perfect game. On September 4, 1991, a so-called “Statistical Accuracy Committee” ruled that the game would only official recognize as perfect games, ones in which pitchers retired 27 (or more) consecutive batters and completed the game without a batter reaching first base. The ruling wiped off the books the 1959 game in which Harvey Haddix of Pittsburgh pitched 12 perfect innings, only to lose the game to Milwaukee on a base hit. It also erased the 1917 game in which then-pitcher Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox had walked the lead off batter, then been ejected by the umpire for arguing the call. Reliever Ernie Shore entered the game with none out and that runner on first, who was promptly caught stealing. Shore then retired the 26 batters he faced, and had, at the time of the Commissioner’s Office ruling, been credited with a perfect game for more than 74 years. 48 more no-hit games were also erased by the re-definition of the rules.
There are also countless instances of umpires’ on-field decisions being reviewed and even overruled by the now dormant offices of the Presidents of the American and National League. One such review confirmed a controversial “out” ruling that ultimately decided the 1908 NL pennant. More recently, in 1983, after Kansas City’s George Brett had hit a two-out, 9th inning home run to bring his team from behind to ahead in a game in New York, umpire Tim McClelland determined that Brett had broken the rules by having the gripping substance “pine tar” further up his bat than rules permitted. McClelland nullified Brett’s home run and called him out for the final out of the game. Within days, American League President Lee MacPhail had overruled McClelland, declared the home run valid, and ordered the game replayed, more than a month later, from the point directly after Brett’s home run.

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