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The Best Young Offense Ever?

Despite their 64-97 record last season, the Kansas City Royals set a
franchise record with 856 runs, and did so almost entirely with youngsters.
Mike Sweeney, who turned 26 last July, was the senior member of a
group that included Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, Rookie of the
Year Carlos Beltran, Carlos Febles and Jeremy Giambi.

How impressive was that group? Combined, Royals hitters under the age of 26
(as of July 1, 1999) produced 523 runs, where "runs produced" is
simply the average of runs scored and RBIs. This led baseball easily; the
Montreal Expos were the only other team with more than 400 runs produced
from their under-26 crowd, and most teams had fewer than 200.

Where does this rank historically? The top teams of the 20th century:

Year    Team             Runs Produced

1999    Kansas City                523
1942    Boston (AL)              521.5
1921    Philadelphia (AL)        516.5
1937    St. Louis (NL)           515.5
1928    New York (NL)            502.5
1929    New York (NL)              495
1935    Chicago (NL)               485
1962    Los Angeles (NL)         480.5
1930    Philadelphia (NL)          469
1929    Philadelphia (NL)          468
1979    Montreal                   465

That’s right–the Royals had more production from hitters aged 25 and under
than any team in history. Or at least since 1894, back when pitchers were
still getting used to the idea of throwing 60 feet, 6 inches and the entire
Phillies’ outfield hit over .400.

The best young offense ever? I’m too biased to answer that question; I’m
just supplying the data. But if the criteria are changed to include all
hitters under age 27–the traditional peak year for a hitter–last year’s
Royals still rank ninth, and they have a chance to move up on that list this
season.

Rock Safe

When Eric Davis went just 5-for-9 in stolen base attempts last
season, his career stolen base percentage slipped from 85.1% to 84.4%, just
enough to let Tim Raines retire with the all-time record.

The six players in history who were successful on at least 83% of their
attempts (minimum 200 stolen bases):

Player         SB   CS    SB%

Tim Raines    807  146   84.7
Eric Davis    347   64   84.4
Barry Larkin  345   65   84.1
Willie Wilson 668  134   83.3
Stan Javier   231   47   83.1
Davey Lopes   557  114   83.0

Raines’s reign may not last long; Tony Womack is currently at 87.0%,
and with 194 steals, he should crash the party by the end of April.

The Incredible Shrinking ERA

Russ Springer broke in as a rookie with the California Angels in
1993 with a not-so-impressive 7.20 ERA. He improved the following year–he
didn’t have much choice–to a 5.52 ERA, and followed that up with ERAs of
5.29, 4.66, 4.23, 4.10 and, last season, a 3.42 ERA. That marked the sixth
consecutive season he had improved his ERA. How rare is that? Take a look
at this list:

                                   ERA
Player         Years          Start   Finish

Chief Bender     7 (1903-10)   3.07     1.58
Bill Dineen      6 (1898-04)   4.00     2.20
Ed Walsh         6 (1904-10)   2.60     1.27
Johnny Niggeling 6 (1938-44)   9.00     2.32
Sandy Koufax     6 (1958-64)   4.48     1.74
Claude Osteen    6 (1959-65)   7.05     2.79
Russ Springer    6 (1993-99)   7.20     3.42

Keep in mind that this list includes all pitchers, regardless of whether
they threw 200 innings or two. Some notable names, no? What’s most
impressive about Springer’s achievement is that all six of the other
pitchers turned the trick at a time when the baseball environment was
turning towards the pitcher: the strike zone change after the 1962 season
(and the move to Dodger Stadium), the use of dead balls (and the departure
of most great players) during World War II, and the steady downturn in
offense at the turn of the century. Springer has cut his ERA steadily in an
era of ever-increasing offense, and his ERA last season is much higher than
any of the other members of the list. This could make it easier for him to
tie Chief Bender this season for the longest such streak in history.