“This team is playing solid–I mean solidly. I should use the adverb.”

Morgan Ensberg on KVUE, Austin, Texas, July 11

“The Home Run Derby is the tightest five hours and 10 minutes on television today!”
–Jason Brannon, BP reader, July 11

Will Carroll and I were in Arlington on Saturday and Sunday for a Pizza Feed and a trip to Ameriquest. I was going to get all contrarian and keep referring to the place as The Ballpark but you never know when Ameriquest–a mortgage company–might end up holding the note on me, so I shouldn’t get on their bad side. It pays to kiss up to large corporations. The event at the game was hosted by Jamey Newberg and his group and they did a great job, although they could not prevent the heat. It was the kind of day that made you wonder what sort of supermen inhabited the Texas League before the advent of lights. How did they survive every day in that heat wearing those baggedy uniforms of old?

It was also Hank Blalock statue day at the ballpark. I’ve got mine here in front of me and I’m not sure how much it looks like Blalock, but he is wearing a Rangers uniform so I guess it counts. I was curious to see how many people had run right from the stadium to their computers so they could post the things on eBay. The answer is “around 30.” As of press time, these 30 statues had generated 11 total bids with a high bid of $15 on one of them. Perhaps the Instant-Freebie-Turnaround market isn’t the best career choice after all.

Last time out, we discussed Jason LaRue‘s steady progress up the EqA ladder. As it turns out, if he can hold on to his current EqA, he’ll be one of only 37 men to have improved on that stat for five consecutive years. If he can ratchet it up a notch again next year, he’ll join an even smaller group, players who have improved their EqAs for six consecutive seasons. Then, if we can throw another “if” on the if pile, if he does it again in 2007, he’ll become the first man ever to improve for seven consecutive seasons. Here are the 10 players who’ve reached six consecutive years, using all-time adjusted EqA. (First year in the majors doesn’t count. Entirely missed seasons don’t break the streak.) Thanks to Clay Davenport for compiling this list and suggesting some of the text.

  • Jason Giambi, 1996-2001. Were you ever in a bowling league as a kid and some joker tanked it the first week so he could establish a low average and come back to win the “Most Improved” trophy? Jason Giambi was not using that strategy. He posted an excellent .281 as a rookie in 1995, went to .286, .301, .310, .332, .373, and .380 before falling to .351 in 2002. Those are the highest starting and ending points on this list.

  • Todd Hundley, 1992-97. He started slowly with a .177 in 1991, then picked it up with EqAs of .224, .225, .255, .300, .303, and .317 before plummeting to .190 in 1998. He got back up to .311 in 2000 before injuries really began to pull him down for good.

  • Dwight Gooden, 1987-92. I’m sure you know that the Mets made Gooden bat right-handed so that his pitching arm would not be the first thing between the mound and the plate. Slowly, he overcame the handicap of not hitting from his natural left-handed side. He improved from .077 in 1986, to .170, .178, .197, .209, .225, and .245 before falling back to .205 in 1993. He is the only pitcher on this list.

  • Kelly Gruber, 1985-90. Some guys look like ballplayers but aren’t and some guys are ballplayers but don’t look the part. Gruber was a ballplayer who looked like a ballplayer. He hit a skewed -.081 in his debut (in just 16 at-bats), then climbed to .151, .197, .245, .286, .289, and .301 before falling to .272 in 1991. It was then that a series of nasty injuries ruined his career, leading to a trade for Luis Sojo. In the world of professional sports, there can be no greater loss of face than that.

  • Enos Cabell, 1973-78. Went from -.197 in his first year in the majors (0-for-5) to .210, .237, .257, .259, .270, and .274, before dropping to .252 in 1979. Of the 10 men on this list, seven had their career-best EqAs in the final season of their six-year improvement streaks. The three that managed a better year later on in their careers are Cabell, who got up to .279 in 1984, Steve Garvey and Eddie Yost.

  • Steve Garvey, 1971-76. After a .245 EqA in 1970, he went .254, .275, .276, .293, .296, and .299 before falling to .284 in 1977. There was a time when it was generally agreed that Garvey had two destinations in life: Cooperstown and the floor of the United States Senate. Cooler heads have prevailed in both cases. The fact that he only cracked an EqA of .300 one time–1978–rightfully dooms him to a life outside the Hall of Fame.

  • Dick McAuliffe, 1961-66. Debuted in 1960 at .226, then went to .244, .262, .263, .271, .274, and .309, fell to .294 in 1967. Not a Hall of Famer, but definitely a guy who belongs in the next tier. A cool player who was fun to watch.

  • Eddie Yost, 1946-51. Yost had a .134 EqA in 1944, did not play in the majors in 1945, then had EqAs of .180, .235, .258, .281, .301, and .310 before dropping to .278 in 1952. Clay thought it best not put any minimums on the number of plate appearances a player could have in any of these seasons. For instance, Yost came up just 16 and 31 times in his first two years. Even with no restrictions whatsoever, the fact that there are still only 10 players who have done this shows how incredibly hard it is.

  • Paul Richards, 1933-45. Richards had a seven-year break in his major league playing career and 15-year break in his major league managing career. He easily had the best chance of improving on his first year, as he debuted in 1932 with a -.211 EqA. Went to .175, .178, and .226 (total with Giants and A’s) over the next three years. Then came the break and the continued climb upward as the war brought him back to the bigs: a .233 EqA in 1943, .235 in 1944 and .241 in ’45. The next year it was .233 again and that’s pretty much his whole playing career.

  • Rabbit Maranville, 1913-18. Opened in 1912 at .189, then went to .244, .246, .250, .254, .266, and .291 in the 1918 season. He dropped to .266 in 1919. That started a streak of getting worse for five straight years. He was never higher than .247 again. While Maranville managed the first six-year EqA improvement streak, a player named Farmer Vaughn was the first man to do it five times.

While LaRue attempts to join the five-year improvement club–which, as mentioned, has 37 members–three other current players have a shot at getting on the six-year list shown above:

  • Elmer Dessens, 2000 to present. After posting a .039 in 1998, he did not play in 1999, and has since hit .051, .167, .179, .189, and .204 with two teams last year. He’s only had six at-bats this year and has made outs all six times, so he needs a small-sample-size rally in the second half to keep hope alive.

  • Carlos Guillen, 2000 to present. Since a .166 in 1999, he’s gone .254, .258, .262, .274, and .315. He heads into the All-Star break at .306. So while he’s got a fairly decent chance to keep it going, this shows that those .41-point jumps are hard to top.

  • Melvin Mora, 2000 to present. He managed to top a 53-point jump from 2002 to 2003 by coming up with a .334 last year. That probably set the bar too high. He’s currently at a very decent .308 but seemingly too far off the pace to top last year’s effort.

Saturday’s 1-0 Rockies win at home was the first-ever such game at Coors Field. It was nowhere near the best-pitched game there, though. Jason Jennings lasted seven innings, walking four and striking out just one. He managed a Game Score of 60, as did his opponent, San Diego’s Brian Lawrence.

To date, only nine men have managed to throw a complete-game shutout in Coors Field. Here are the five with the best Game Scores:

  • Hideo Nomo, Dodgers 9 – Rockies 0 (September 16, 1996)
    Game Score: 91 — No-hitter, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts

  • Pedro Martinez, Expos 3 – Rockies 0 (July 27, 1997)
    Game Score: 89 — 5 hits, 1 walk, 13 strikeouts

  • Brian Bohanon, Rockies 4 – Phillies 0 (August 28, 1999)
    Game Score: 85 — 4 hits, 4 walks, 10 strikeouts

  • John Thomson, Rockies 10 – Brewers 0 (September 30, 2001)
    Game Score: 83 — 5 hits, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts

  • Andy Ashby, Padres 11 – Rockies 0 (July 4, 1999)
    Game Score: 81 — 6 hits, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts

The Rockies’ Roger Bailey (1997) is the only other pitcher to pitch a nine-inning shutout without walking a batter at Coors.

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