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April 3, 2013

The Lineup Card

10 Milestones to Look Forward to in 2013

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. Mark Ellis' 100th Homer
When Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis hits his first home run of the season, there won't be national television cut-ins, and the umpires won’t stop the game for a brief ceremony. The 100th homer of his career will go all but unnoticed. Ellis is entering his 11th season and has never made an All-Star team or even been a down-ballot choice for MVP. He has produced just 19.9 WARP in his career, including only 1.3 combined in the last two seasons. However, not everyone can be a superstar, and Ellis has been able to forge a long career and has won the respect of his teammates and others in the game by always being professional, dependable, and courteous. That won’t get him to Cooperstown, and neither will 100 home runs—just 27 more than Barry Bonds hit in 2001, the year before Ellis broke in the big leagues with the Athletics—but reaching the milestone will provide a genuinely nice guy with a nice little memory. I like that. —John Perrotto

2. The Angels (4143-4152) Moving Their Franchise Record Above .500
This milestone wouldn't be a first, technically, but it would be a long-time in the making. The Los Angeles Angels won their first game in 1961, beating the Baltimore Orioles 7-2 at Memorial Stadium behind two home runs from Ted Kluszewski in what would be his final season. But then the expansion franchise lost eight straight and have never seen been above water as a franchise again, whether as the Los Angeles Angels, the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels, or the current mouthful.

At the end of the 2001 season, the franchise was not only title-less, but it had 224 more losses than wins. The next year, they went 99-63 on the way to a ring and started the mad rush to historical mediocrity. After nine winning seasons in 11 years, they just need an 87-75 record in 2013 to ensure that, at some point this year, they will have been over .500. Seems reasonable with this collection of talent. —Zachary Levine

3. Stephen Vogt's Pursuit of the All-Time Hitless-Streak-to-Start-a-Career Record
In 2010, the A’s (now Astros’) Chris Carter came uncomfortably close to Vic Harris’ 1972 0-for-35 career-opening schneid, which remains a modern record for debut futility. Carter reached his 34th official at-bat in the majors before singling off the White Sox’ Scott Linebrink on September 20, 2010. (Look at the smile on Carter’s face.) Last year, Stephen Vogt went 0-25 in 27 coffee-cup plate appearances with the Rays. The last of these resulted in a blown call at first base, robbing Vogt of an infield hit on the last day of the regular season. He needs 11 more outs to pass Harris, but first he needs a place to do it: Vogt is currently in DFA limbo, waiting to see if he’ll clear waivers and be outrighted to Triple-A Durham. If he’s claimed, the Rays will regret it when Vogt sets the record in another uniform. Here’s hoping that the affable, hardworking C/1B/OF then proceeds to get hit after hit after hit. —Adam Sobsey

4. Matt Cain's 100th Win
If you count his outing on Opening Day, Matt Cain has made 236 career starts and compiled a 3.26 ERA over that span. Cain's 3.29 ERA since 2006, amassed over the course of seven seasons in which he annually made at least 31 starts, ranks in the top 10 league-wide among starters that pitched in each of those years.

Yet, for all of his contributions on the mound, the Giants' ace entered 2013 with a career ledger of 85-78, which stayed unchanged on Monday, when his team's offense failed to push across a run against Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. Cain did not even cross the .500 mark for his career until last season, and his poor record stands in stark contrast to those of his comparable contemporaries, such as Angels ace Jered Weaver, who has made 208 starts and logged a 3.23 ERA since his 2006 debut. Weaver's own no-decision on Monday kept his career mark at 102-52; he picked up his 100th win last September 18, in his 204th career start.

The Giants offense, though still far from elite, has come a long way from the days when Bengie Molina hit cleanup, and when Cain was saddled with a 7-16 record in 2007 in exchange for his 3.65 ERA. If Cain can maintain his improvements from last season, and if the Giants' top bats stay healthy, he should finally approach the century mark by the end of the season. And when he does, it will be a well-deserved milestone that's at least a year overdue. —Daniel Rathman

5. Juan Pierre Passing Joe DiMaggio on the All-Time Hits List
Did you know that Juan Pierre has 2,141 career hits? Did you know that Joe DiMaggio, he of the famous hitting streak, had 2,214 career hits? Did you know that Pierre will be suiting up and hitting leadoff for the Miami Marlins (they still exist!) this summer? Did you know that if Pierre registers 74 hits, he will pass DiMaggio on the all-time list? Isn't that silly? Doesn't that put idolizing raw hit totals into perspective? Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? —Russell A. Carleton

6. Jim Thome Breaking Reggie Jackson's All-Time Strikeout Record
This year, I am rooting for Jim Thome to sign with some team so he can notch 50 more strikeouts and pass Reggie Jackson as the all-time leader. Thome never led the league four straight seasons like Jackson once did, but he has been steady in his pursuit. Considering that Thome trails by 1,100 plate appearances, he has made up a lot of ground over the years.

Thome couldn't have started much earlier. He came up with Cleveland at age 20 but didn't really start striking out until his mid-20s. Kids need time to develop. The '94 strike hurt, as did breaking his hand in '98. And he missed huge chunks of 2005 thanks to a bad back and an elbow injury that required surgery.

The '05 injuries opened the door for Ryan Howard, who needs 154 strikeouts of his own to catch Frank Howard at 59th all-time. From there it's another 1,088 to catch Thome, so let's not carve that in stone just yet.

Then again, Adam Dunn may have fanned 565 times by the time you finish reading this sentence, rendering Thome's pursuit of Jackson moot. Dunn stands a good chance of holding the record someday, but not today. Let Thome have it for a while. Dear some team: Please sign this man so we can all watch history unfold together. We promise to fold it back nicely once we're done watching. —Geoff Young

7. Billy Butler Breaking Steve Balboni's Record of 36 Homers in a Season
In a rare bit of serendipity, with access intersecting Lineup Card topic, I was able to go straight to the horse's mouth. After the Royals workout at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday, I topped off a lengthy chat with Butler by blurting out, "So you got eight more dingers in you this year?" Instead of shrugging, laughing, or striking me, Butler said, "Kansas City's tough, the hardest ballpark to hit home runs out of. But I'm not going to use that as an excuse. You know what? There's a lot of gaps in that outfield to hit balls into, too. It is what it is. I'm not going to sit here and say I'm going to try to hit 36 home runs, but if I catch some backspin, you never know." —Bradford Doolittle

8. Joe Mauer Breaks the Record for Plate Appearances by a Catcher 6'4" or Taller
Tall catchers aren’t quite as rare as catchers who throw with their left hand, but it’s close. Crouching behind home plate for nine innings, day in and day out, is hard enough on compact people. The taller a catcher is, the more strain squatting puts on his joints, and the longer it takes him to uncoil from the crouch to rise and throw out runners. Not many tall players have had long careers at catcher, either because injuries hamper those players’ performance or because their height prevents them from playing the position in the first place.

Joe Mauer, who stands 6'5", will turn 30 two weeks from Friday. He has already missed most of one season with lower-leg problems, and last year he split his time about evenly between catcher and first base/DH. Mauer is signed through 2018 at an annual cost of $23 million, which he probably won’t be worth if he has to switch positions soon.

Only two players 6'4" or taller have spent any significant amount of time at catcher and made more career plate appearances than Mauer has now:

Johnny Edwards, 5132
Sandy Alomar, 4865
Joe Mauer, 4557

Mauer is 308 plate appearances behind Alomar and 575 behind Edwards. If he stays healthy, he’ll pass both of them this season. Beyond that, he’ll be in uncharted territory for a catcher his height, with five seasons and $115 million to go.

So how long can a 6-foot-5 catcher keep catching? Given the lack of career comparables, we could say that history is no help in answering that question. But maybe the lack of tall catchers who’ve lasted longer than Mauer is the only answer we need. —Ben Lindbergh

9. Derek Jeter's 250th Career Error
Derek Jeter garners a lot of press for his defense—or lackthereof. Despite owning four Gold Glove awards, it's not infrequent that a Yankees broadcast includes the words, "Past a diving Jeter." To be fair, Jeter typically converts the plays he's supposed to make into outs, but nobody will confuse his defense (and -259.0 career FRAA) with that of Elvis Andrus. And this season could be a milestone year for the Captain's much-maligned fielding: With 241 baseball bumbles already under his belt, Jeter is just nine errors shy of his 250th career error, which would tie him with Rafael Furcal and Ossie Bluege for 368th on the all-time errors list.

OK, so this isn't exactly a milestone worth celebrating, but for a player who once committed 56 errors in a minor-league season, it is a testament to the strides one can make on defense (and with a little help from the scorekeeper). If that's not enough, Jeter can take comfort in the fact that, barring extremely unforeseen circumstances, he will never catch Herman Long's record of 1,096 errors. —Stephani Bee

10. Jamie Moyer Pitches at 50
He doesn’t have a job, but Moyer didn’t officially retire. That can mean only one thing: Moyer is still hoping to convince a team to sign and play him in 2013, which will make him just the third man to pitch in a year in which his age starts with “5.” The others are Satchel Paige (59) and Jack Quinn (50). (Hoyt Wilhelm missed by 16 days, unfortunately.) Fun facts about Jack Quinn: He was born Joannes Pajkos in Slovakia in 1883; he was the last active baseball player born in the 19th century. As for Paige, his age-59 season lasted one honorary game, 12 years after he had previously appeared. It was a gesture by Kansas City owner Charlie Finley that put Paige in an A’s uniform for one day. Paige allowed one hit over three scoreless innings, a first-inning double by Carl Yastrzemski. Having given Adam Greenberg a day of his own last year, there’s no reason why the Marlins couldn’t do the same for Moyer this year. It’s not like they’ll playing for anything in September. Meanwhile, Moyer should avoid fried meats. —Adam Sobsey

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