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August 24, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Voting Oddities and Reinventing the Iron Man

by Jim Baker

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If at First, You Come in Third…

In celebration of 50 years of giving out the Gold Glove award, Rawlings had fans vote on an all-time Gold Glove team. For the most part, the results were pretty much what you'd expect. Nobody should be surprised that Brooks Robinson is the third baseman, Ozzie Smith the shortstop, or Greg Maddux the pitcher. There are two positions that were surprising, however. At least to me.

The first of the two was first base, where Wes Parker beat out Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez, J.T. Snow, Vic Power, and Bill White. What makes this especially curious is that Parker is not famous in the way that some of the other winners are. Greg Maddux and Jim Kaat both have 16 Gold Gloves to their credit, but you can get your head around why the fans would go for Maddux. For one thing, he's ending up with more career victories, joining the 300 club while Kaat fell short. For another, he's still active and fresh in the minds of voters. Parker, along with J.T. Snow, had the fewest Gold Gloves among the nominated first basemen. What is more, his career was very short, not even lasting a decade. He was not famous for his hitting, either-something that does seem to matter, however incongruously, in fans' perceived value of a player's fielding worth. (Parker qualified for the batting title in 1968 and drove in all of 27 runs. Even in the Year of the Pitcher playing in a pitcher's park, that's a pretty staggeringly low sum from a first baseman.) How he beat out Keith Hernandez (11 Gold Gloves) and Don Mattingly (9) is beyond me. Not only did those two win more hardware, they played more recently and were widely celebrated for their leather craft.

As for Power, he played the position with incredible finesse and a good deal of showmanship. In the Historical Abstract, Bill James describes him as "…a spectacular defensive first baseman, an acrobat who would dive for ground balls halfway to second base; he had athletic ability we normally associate with a very good second baseman, but he applied it to playing first base." I can't imagine that a very high percentage of the voters have ever seen him play, however, given that he never appeared in the postseason, he played in relatively small markets, and, most importantly, his career ended over 40 years ago. Just a few numbers to add to the discussion:


Player      BatOut   FRAR  FRAA
Hernandez    5270     350   182
Olerud       5052     286   156
Mattingly    4583     195    66
Snow         4204     104     5
White        3971     180    34
Power        3513     234    95
Parker       2891     195    87

I included BatOut to show the relative length of their playing time. Given the length of his career, Parker does pretty well against this group. Hernandez probably comes out best statistically, but Parker holds his own. The one player who does not hold up well is Snow, which is why I included John Olerud, a contemporary with much better statistical credentials but half as many Gold Gloves to his credit. (Leaving Olerud off the ballot makes sense in that this is, after all, choosing from among the top Gold Glove recipients and Olerud doesn't qualify in that regard.) I'm not saying Parker is a bad choice, I'm just saying he's an extremely surprising one given the nature of his competition.

The other position I found surprising is second base, where Joe Morgan beat out a field comprised of Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Bill Mazeroski, Frank White, and Bobby Richardson. While I firmly believe that Morgan was a better baseball player than all of these men, I don't see him as the best fielder and, to my knowledge, never heard that sentiment expressed by anybody. Perhaps I have undercut my own surprise: Morgan's overall greatness and continued public presence thanks to his prominent place as a member of ESPN's broadcasting A-team goes a long way to explain why his was the most recognizable name on the ballot.

In terms of Gold Gloves won, though, he's at the bottom. Alomar had 10, Sandberg nine, Mazeroski and White eight each, and Richardson, like Morgan, five. Morgan started winning Gold Gloves about the same time he arrived in Cincinnati and, not surprisingly, about the time his offensive game went into hyperdrive, although his 1974 and 1975 defensive numbers are very good. Over the length of his career, however, Morgan does not fare well statistically:


Player      BatOut   FRAR  FRAA
Mazeroski    5855     735   258
White        5725     621   182
Sandberg     5771     490    75
Alomar       6850     399     6
Morgan       6922     553   -11
Richardson   4013     198   -73

Quick question: If Richardson had played his career in Cleveland, would anybody know who he is today? I guess what surprised me most about this vote is that more baseball fans don't realize that Bill Mazeroski is nearly unique in baseball history in terms of dominating the playing of his position. Ozzie Smith-whom the fans correctly tabbed at shortstop-is the other player in this very small club. A 735 career FRAR is pretty much off the charts (Smith's is an even more staggering 788). Look at this way-Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame in spite of a career EqA of .249, so he must have been really something with the glove to compensate for that. On the other hand, Morgan was such an offensive threat that he could have played the field barehanded and still been a valuable commodity. I just wish more fans could separate the two disciplines.

I blame the government and our public schools.

The Modern Iron Man

From the Shades of 100 Years Ago Department: Very early this A.M., Yahoo Sports had Jon Garland listed as the probable starter for the White Sox in both games of today's doubleheader. They have long since fixed this, but it got me to wondering: could a pitcher start both games of a doubleheader and stay within the restrictions of the modern game?

First of all, the pitcher wanting to try this would have to pick an opponent other than the Red Sox, a club that is currently leading the majors in walks and is ranked ninth in high-pitch count type at bats (walks plus strikeouts). To minimize the possibility of throwing a lot of pitches, the doubleheader foe would best be drawn from the lowest ranking teams in total plate appearances: St. Louis (4,745), Garland's own White Sox (4,745), Kansas City (4,802) or Seattle (4,811). The Mariners have the fewest number of combined strikeouts and walks in the major leagues at 960. The Cardinals are fourth from the bottom at 1,076.

Now that we've found some ideal opponents, we have to figure out what we're looking for from our modern-day iron man. We would have to suppose that a team asking one of its starters to begin both games is short in that area, and are prepared to have their bullpen pick up the slack by with some early entrances. So, let's say the minimum they'd like to see from their go-to starter is five innings in each game. That's a lot of innings in a single day, but it's not completely without precedent. In the last decade, a few pitchers have gone 10 innings in a game:


Date                 Pitcher
July 23, 2007        Aaron Harang
April 13, 2007       Roy Halladay
April 23, 2005       Mark Mulder
September 6, 2003    Roy Halladay
August 28, 1999      Kevin Millwood
September 20, 1998   Darryl Kile
September 21, 1997   Brad Radke

Next, we'd identify which pitchers throw the least number of pitches per inning to find who we can count on to be economical enough to trot out for the second game with something left in the tank. ESPN.com identifies these pitchers with at least 100 innings thrown this year as doing so with the least number of pitches per inning: Greg Maddux (13.6), Tim Hudson (14.0), Chris Sampson (14.2), Fausto Carmona (14.4), Chien-Ming Wang (14.5), Scott Baker (14.5), Aaron Cook (14.5) and Brandon Webb (14.6).

Therefore, we can expect that even the most economical pitcher is going to throw 130 pitches over 10 innings, a number above the limits mandated by what we have come to understand as the respectable limits of endurance. Unless, that is, they go above and beyond the econometric pitching model and really work through the opponents' lineup efficiently. Cook did this just last month against the Padres, requiring just 74 pitches in a complete game outing.

Here are the most efficient complete games of the past decade. You'll notice that three of the pitchers mentioned above appear on this list.


Date             IP     Pitches  Pitcher
July 25, 2007     9       74     Aaron Cook
May 20, 2005      9       74     Carlos Silva
July 5, 1998      9       75     Andy Ashby
July 22, 1997     9       76     Greg Maddux
August 21, 2007   8       77     Fausto Carmona
May 24, 2001      9       78     Jon Lieber
July 1, 2007      8       79     Scott Baker

It is, therefore, quite possible for a pitcher to work 10 innings in a single day without going beyond 100 pitches. This exercise is done, of course, without getting into the mechanics of splitting those 100 pitches into two groups separated by four or five hours in the case of day-night doubleheaders, the more common form of twin bill in today's game.

So, while it is not out of the realm of possibility, we're still unlikely to see it for a number of reasons. For one thing, it's a pretty crazy idea. A team would have to be extremely desperate to even try it, and could only do it under when the circumstances are exactly right. Have it as an unannounced contingency plan, that way, if things don't go exactly right in the first game, a different pitcher could be called on to start the nightcap. Let's say all the circumstances are right-the Rockies are playing the Cardinals in a day-nighter, and Cook breezes through five innings using just 49 pitches (that's more than it took him on average to beat the Padres on July 25). Meanwhile, his teammates have run up seven or eight runs, so the game seems well in hand. At this point, he can be yanked and saved for the second game.

That's a lot of ifs, of course. Also, there are so few doubleheaders these days that the chances of creating the perfect storm for an Iron Man outing are pretty slim. It would be fun to see Fausto Carmona-Scott Baker both give it a try in the same doubleheader, though, provided their arms are given priority, of course. Expedience should trump novelty every time.

Skroo-Uppz (Skroo-Uppz is a copyrighted feature of this author)

In my last outing, I referred to Wes Ferrell as the best hitting pitcher of all time. Several of you pointed out that, technically, Babe Ruth deserves that accolade. I should have inserted the word "pure" as a qualifier. Ruth had some devastating EqAs before moving to the field; numbers that trumped Ferrell's, really.

William Burke contributed research to this column.

Related Content:  Greg Maddux,  Wes Parker,  The Who,  Fourth Of July

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