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March 28, 2012
...Is This Thing On?
Welcome aboard, and thank you for joining me for the maiden voyage of the Baseball Prospectus Research Mailbag. This week’s mailbag features two reader questions as well as the answer to a topic Kevin Goldstein pondered on Twitter a few days ago. Along the way, we’ll explore long, contrasting days had by Wilbur Wood and Don Newcombe, the baseball card collection I maintained as a child, and the worst starting pitchers deployed by defending World Series champions on Opening Day.
Feel free to send me a note with your research questions (please remember to include your name and hometown) for possible inclusion in future editions.
Only once, on July 20, 1973, when the White Sox trotted Wilbur Wood out for both ends of a doubleheader against the Yankees in New York. In the first game, Wood surrendered four hits and a walk to the first six batters he faced, all of whom came around to score. Chicago skipper Chuck Tanner lifted Wood before he could record an out, replacing him with swingman Eddie Fisher.
Things weren’t much better for Wood in the nightcap, though he was able to pitch into the fifth inning before giving up a grand slam to Roy White with one out, earning the hook. Ken Fraling relieved Wood with Chicago down by seven runs, and rain washed out the White Sox’s chances for a comeback an inning later, saddling Wood with his second losing decision of the day.
While Wood may be the only hurler to start and lose both games of a doubleheader, two others have taken the mound twice in the same day. On September 6, 1950, Don Newcombe shut out the Phillies on three hits, then came back to toss seven innings later that evening. San Diego’s Al Santorini faced one batter in the first game of a doubleheader against the Astros on May 26, 1971 before Dave Roberts came in to pitch the final eight and two-thirds innings. In the second game, Santorini went six innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits and a pair of walks, but he took the loss in a Larry Dierker one-hitter.
I’ll never forget the temporary confusion I felt as a child when I looked through my baseball card collection and came across this Randy Johnson card from 1983. At that point, it hadn’t occurred to me that two people could possess the same name. Here’s the weird thing, though: that wasn’t even the only non-“Randy Johnson” Randy Johnson playing in the big leagues in 1982! Randy Glenn Johnson made his debut with Atlanta that year, joining Randy Stuart Johnson, then of the Twins, as the only Randy Johnsons of reasonable stature in major league history.
The three Randy Johnsons combined for 94.0 career WARP, good for third place on our list of the Greatest Names of All Time.
Father-son pairs dominate the top of the list, but if we limit the search to names with three or more players, the results become a little more interesting.
The most common name in major-league history is John Sullivan, though it has appeared only once since 1950. Nine others (Bill White, Dave Roberts, Bob Johnson, Bob Miller, Mike Smith, Tom Hughes, Bob Allen, Bill Smith, Harry Taylor) have have appeared four times apiece.
Frank Thomas leads the way in home runs (807) and walks (2,151), while Ken Griffey is tops with 4,924 hits, 8,338 total bases, and 19,352 plate appearances. The 50 innings thrown by this Ryan Braun in 2006-07 makes last year's National League MVP eligible for this list, and his career 922 OPS is 26 points ahead of runner-up Earl Averill. Dutch Leonard leads the pitchers in wins (328), losses (291), games started (648), and innings pitched (5,410.1). Randy Johnson (4,876) is your strikeout leader, but he places slightly behind Francisco Rodriguez (10.77) in strikeouts per nine innings with 10.61.
When it was determined that Chris Carpenter wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny named Kyle Lohse the defending champs’ Opening Day starter, opting to start Adam Wainwright in the Cardinals’ home opener a few days later.
After posting a 6.55 ERA in 2010, Lohse bounced back last year to win 14 games and provide stability to a Cardinals rotation weakened by the loss of Wainwright in spring training. His 1.7 WARP in 2011 and his career 4.64 ERA doesn’t fit the profile of what most would consider an Opening Day-caliber starting pitcher, but is he among the worst to take the ball in game one for the reigning World Series champs?
In short, yes. Lohse’s WARP during the Cardinals’ championship season ranks among the bottom 20 percent of all defending-champion Opening Day starters since 1951:
Fortunately for Lohse, he’ll avoid the honor of “worst Opening Day starter for a Cardinals team defending its World Series title” thanks to Bob Forsch’s 0.5 WARP season for the 1982 champs in which he struck out 2.67 batters per nine innings and owned a 4.64 FRA.