Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 (It Was a Very Good Year)

Ground Ball With Eyes has been a ghost town of late, with this being my only post in December, after also writing only once in November and once in October too. My absence here has not been due to writing less, in fact it's quite the opposite. At the end of the 2013 season, I took over as managing editor at Let's Go Tribe, and after writing there twice a week or so for the previous year, I've had at least one post up there every since day for more than two months, often more than one, and that's left me with precious little time for other research or writing.

With old daddy Earth fixin' to start one more trip 'round the sun, and everybody hopin' this ride 'round be a little more giddy, a little more gay*, I wanted to take a moment to look back on some of the biggest events of my 2013, which has been one of the most eventful, memorable, and wondrous years of my life.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Greatest Chicago-Area Baseball Players

Baseball talent is not evenly distributed around the United States, for reasons largely having to do with climate. As you'd expect, more MLB players come from warmer parts of the country. Still, any big city is going to produce a fair amount of talent over the years. What kind of team could be built entirely of players from my hometown of Chicago? Place of birth is what I know how to feasibly research, so that's what I'm using. I'm also including the metro area, to get a wider scope. All players included here were born in Chicago or a suburb within 30 miles of the city limits.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Worst 3-season stretches in baseball history

Entering 2011, the Houston Astros had never lost more than 97 games in a season. The Angels were the only other franchise that could say that. In 2011 though, Houston lost 106 games... then they lost 107 games in 2012... and then they lost 111 in 2013. They went from having one of the most impressive track records in all of baseball for avoiding really bad seasons, to putting together one of the worst stretches ever.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2013 breaks MLB record for most extra-inning games

When the Blue Jays and Orioles went into the 10th inning Tuesday night, a new record for most extra-inning games in a single season was established. It was the 238th extra-inning game of 2013, besting the mark set in 2011 (the Diamondbacks and Padres later made it 239). No other season in MLB history featured more than 220 extra-inning contests. With five days left in the season, there's time for this season to build up a little breathing room, likely finishing up at something like 245 (I'll update this post once the final results are in). What follows is a look at some of the specifics of this year's extra innings, and how they compare to those of other seasons.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vladimir Guerrero: a Hall of Fame career?

Vladimir Guerrero was the #1 overall pick in the first fantasy baseball league I ever played in, and he helped me win the title that year. I already liked him, but that cinched his place in my heart. Guerrero hasn't played in the Major Leagues since 2011, but it wasn't until this month that he accepted that he wouldn't make it back, and made his retirement official. Vlad was famous for having elite power and speed during his prime, as well as an absolute cannon for an arm, and for swinging at and connecting with any and all kinds of pitches sometimes even ones that bounced in the dirt. When his name arrives on Hall of Fame ballots in a few years, he'll be an interesting candidate, sure to draw solid support. Will he draw enough to be inducted? We'll have to wait and find out. In the meantime, should he be inducted?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Best 50-Game Stretches in Baseball History

Last season, the Houston Astros had one of the worst runs in MLB history, losing 43 out of 50 games during July and August. I wrote about the worst 50-game stretches ever then, but now, almost exactly a year later, I have reason to write about the best 50-game stretches, because the Los Angeles Dodgers have been on an incredible run. At the end of play on June 21, the Dodgers were 30-42, in last place in the NL West, and baseball's biggest disappointment. Since then though, LA has gone 42-8, taken over 1st place and built a commanding lead, and become the betting favorites to win the World Series. How often does a team go on a run this good?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Each Team's Madduxes and Madduxes Against

Hall of Fame pitcher AND fashion icon
Last night Major League Baseball's official Twitter feed referenced the Maddux. Sadly, they did not mention my name, or link to the original post on the topic, but it was still really, really cool to see them mention it. I did a Twitter search for mentions of the Maddux, and found dozens and dozens, most of which probably have no idea that I came up with the term. These things seem like a sign that the Maddux is really becoming a thing (thanks in large part to Jonah Keri giving it a whole lotta love), which is pretty darn cool for me. In addition to my original post on the Maddux, where I explained what it is, and listed a bunch of factoids relating to it, I've put together a few other posts with Maddux-related info. This post will list how many Madduxes each team has thrown, and also how many each team has had thrown against it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Six Extra-Inning Games on One Day

Earlier this year, I wrote about MLB being on-pace this season for a record number of extra inning games. That's still true, though the pace has fallen from 272 to 254 (the record is 237). Yesterday went a long way towards the quest to break that record, as there were 6 different games that went to extra innings. That's not a record (quite), but it's close. The record for most extra-inning games on the same day is 7, and that's happened twice. Including those two days, there have been 6 or more extra-inning MLB games on the same day ten times*.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Random Ballplayers: Bret Saberhagen (also Felix Hernandez)

I first started paying attention to baseball in 1986, my first year of playing t-ball. There was no internet (not that I was old enough to put it to good use, had it existed), and cable TV wasn't something my family would have for years. Baseball cards, the sports section of the Chicago Tribune we had delivered each weekday, and Mr. Coughlin (the father of two friends who lived across the alley from me) were the sources of whatever baseball knowledge I had. In 1986, the Kansas City Royals were the defending World Series champions and Bret Saberhagen was the reigning American League Cy Young winner. A rudimentary understanding of baseball statistics and one look at the back of any of his cards would have made it clear, even to a 6-year-old, that Saberhagen was a fantastic pitcher.

Friday, July 19, 2013

2013 American League Midseason Awards

It's Friday afternoon, the very end of the All-Star break, meaning it's now been two and a half days without any baseball, or four and a half, if you choose not to count the All-Star Game itself. Given how long these days feel, I don't know how I ever get through the winter months. As we take out final breaths before the second half begins, I figured I'd hand out my picks for midseason awards in each league. I'll also try my hand at predicting who actually wins each award at the end of the season. Predictions are fun, because they give people something to point at and laugh about later. I posted my National League choices earlier today, now for my American League selections.

2013 National League Midseason Awards

It's Friday afternoon, the very end of the All-Star break, meaning it's now been two and a half days without any baseball, or four and a half, if you choose not to count the All-Star Game itself. Given how long these days feel, I don't know how I ever get through the winter months. As we take out final breaths before the second half begins, I figured I'd hand out my picks for midseason awards in each league. I'll also try my hand at predicting who actually wins each award at the end of the season. Predictions are fun, because they give people something to point at and laugh about later. I'll start with the National League, then post my choices in the American League later today.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Orioles' Davis and Machado on Record-Breaking Paces

The 2012 Baltimore Orioles were one of the most surprising playoff teams I can remember. Baltimore hadn't finished with a winning record since 1997 and had finished last in the AL East every season from 2008 to 2011, but managed to win 93 games and a spot in the wildcard game (which they then won). They did it without having a real star. Adam Jones was their top guy, but he probably wasn't one of the 20 best players in the American League (though he did finish 6th in the MVP balloting). In 2013, the O's are contending again, but this time they've also got two legitimate MVP candidates, each of whom is on an incredible pace: Chris Davis and Manny Machado.

Friday, June 14, 2013

MLB on Record Pace for Extra-Inning Games in 2013

Last Saturday the Marlins and Mets played 20 innings and the Blue Jays and Rangers played 18. I found myself wondering how often two games on the same day had each gone so many innings. I began researching and was fairly quickly able to find an answer to that question*, but (as is often the case for me) then I found myself wondering about other extra-inning game tidbits. Suddenly I was immersed in hours and hours of research. One thing I discovered while working my way through the mountain of data I wanted to go through: 2013 is on pace to have more extra-inning games than any season in MLB history.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Maddux Undone by Defense (AKA: The Ohka)

A Maddux requires that a pitcher go the distance, throw fewer than 100 pitches, and not allow any runs. Because pitch count records from earlier are scarce, 1988 is the start of the Maddux-era for MLB. Since then there have been 269 Madduxes. There have also been 1,844 shutouts in which the pitcher threw 100+ pitches and there have been 265 complete games in which a starter threw fewer than 100 pitches, but allowed at least one run. (Cliff Lee once pitched a complete game on 95 pitches while allowing six runs.) In 18 of those 265 games though, the runs allowed were unearned. Those games do not qualify as Madduxes, but they deserve mention.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Youngest and Oldest Pitchers to Throw a Maddux

It was just over a year ago that I first wrote about the Maddux, a baseball accomplishment I've been tracking since 1998, when I'd just graduated from high school. (The original post can be found here.) A Maddux is a complete game shutout (of at least 9 innings, no "5 innings, then rain" games) in which the pitcher throws fewer than 100 pitches. The statistic can be tracked going back to 1988, which is when MLB began keeping complete pitch count records for every game. In that first post, I listed the career leaders for Madduxes (with Greg himself atop the list, quite naturally and comfortably), the fewest pitches in a Maddux, and many other tidbits about the accomplishment. As inspiration strikes, I'll share other Maddux-related information. Today, I take a look at the youngest and oldest pitchers to throw one.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Best MLB Rookie of the Year Winners

In 2012 Mike Trout wasn't just the best player in baseball, he was probably the best 20-year-old position player ever. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper, while not quite as productive, was only 19 years old, and arguably the greatest teenage position player in history. Never before had two players been so good, while so young, in the same season. Not surprisingly, each player was named the Rookie of the Year (ROY) for their respective league. Given their youth and talent, it's easy to imagine them as star players for years and years to come. If they do have that kind of success, where might they rank among all Rookie of the Year winners? Where might they rank as a duo, compared to all the other winning pairs?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Greatest Opening Day Performances

Last Monday, Clayton Kershaw had one heck of an Opening Day. He pitched a complete game shutout and hit an 8th inning home run, breaking a 0-0 tie and providing the only run of he needed. Kershaw recorded 7 strikeouts against just 4 hits and 0 walks. Kershaw's performance rates as one of the greatest Opening Days ever, up there with Walter Johnson's 15 shutout innings in 1926, Bob Feller's no hitter in 1940, or Camilo Pascual's record 15 strikeouts in 1960, or anything in more recent history. Speaking of recent history, today I'm choosing the very best Opening Day start for each season of the 2000s.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Worst Back-to-Back Seasons in MLB History

In 2011, the Houston Astros finished with their worst record ever, going just 56-106. In 2012 they broke that record by going 55-107. Few teams have had their two worst seasons consecutively, and the combined record of 111-213 is awfully ugly. Obviously it's the worst back-to-back stretch in their franchise history*, but how does it stack up with the worst back-to-back campaigns by other teams? Here's a look at each franchise's very worst consecutive seasons, along with other info on bad back-to-back records in baseball history.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

World Baseball Classic and Patriotism

The World Baseball Classic (WBC) has reached its championship game, which will pit the Dominican Republic against Puerto Rico tonight from San Francisco's AT&T Park. That means that for the third straight time (the WBC was also played in 2006 and 2009), the United States will not be a part of the title game, despite hosting most of the games and being home to the strongest professional league in the world. I'm not among those who are particularly disappointed that the U.S. was eliminated early. It's not that I don't care about the WBC (I think it's great), and it's not because I won't root for a favorite (I'm not sure the U.S. really was the favorite), it's because my strongest baseball loyalties are not to country.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Worst Seasons in Baseball History

The 1916 Athletics, one of baseball's worst teams ever
The Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros each had their worst season in franchise history in 2012. For the Rockies, it was a 64-98 record (.395 winning percentage). For the Astros, it was a 55-107 record (.340). It's sort impressive that two teams playing in the same league were both able to have their worst record. How do their marks stack up with other teams' worst ever records? What are the very worst records in modern history? What are the worst seasons in more recent history? Let's take a look.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Best Hitters You've Never Heard Of

Les Fleming
At Let's Go Tribe I've been doing a series on the best hitters in Indians history out of each spot in the batting order. In a recent installment I was looking at #5 hitters (a list topped by Jim Thome) and in 7th place I chose a player named Les Fleming, whom I'd never heard of before researching that post. Fleming batted fifth for most of the 1942 season, which was his only full season in the Majors. He was one of the ten or so best hitters in baseball that year, on par with Joe DiMaggio.

Despite being such a potent hitter, Fleming played in only 434 career games, getting to the plate for 1,572 plate appearances. His career OPS+ was 130 (meaning he was 30% better than average for his career). That's the level All-Star Carlos Gonzalez has been at over the last three years, right around the level of Joe Mauer and Troy Tulowitzki. I found myself wondering two things: Why didn't Fleming play longer and how many other hitters have been that good but had such short careers?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Springfield Nuclear: A Pennant Winning Team?

Nuclear power tycoon C. Montgomery Burns is a man used to having his way. Whether it's a child's plaything he's after, or a million dollar bet with the owner of a rival team, he's willing to skirt, bend, and break rules to get what he wants and maintain his own high standard for excellency. Twenty-one years ago today, Burns assembled perhaps the most talked about team in history*. His "Springfield 9" was a collection of stars expected to win not just a beer league softball crown, but the 1992 World Series as well.

On the anniversary of that occasion, I thought it appropriate to look back at that team, not only to remember what became of them that year (oddly enough, while a documentary on their spring training and footage of one game against Shelbyville are regularly televised, the 1992 season itself is rarely discussed), but also to muse about why it happened.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Baseball Players and Presidents

A federal holiday honoring George Washington began in 1879, when all government offices in the District of Columbia were closed on February 22, Washington's birth date. In 1971 the Uniform  Monday Holiday Act took effect, moving all federal holidays to designated Mondays. The holiday is now most commonly known as Presidents Day, but is still officially designated "Washington's Birthday." It is celebrated on the third Monday in February (odd, since that means it never falls on Washington's actual birthday), which is why I'm not at work today. To honor the highest office in our nation, I'm putting together a baseball team, made entirely of players who share their surname with a U.S. President.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Felix Hernandez and Seattle Make a Commitment

Felix Hernandez, one of the best pitchers in baseball and still just 26 years old, has reportedly agreed to a new contract with the Mariners that will lock him through 2019 and pay him $175 million. USA Today's Bob Nightengale first broke the news, reporting that the new deal would start immediately, replacing Hernandez's old contract, which ran through 2014. That would be an AAV (annual average value) of $25M for the next seven years. Later, ESPN's Buster Olney reported the previous deal is still in place, paying Felix $39.5M over the next two years, with a $135.5M extension added to it, an AAV of $27.1M from 2015-2019. Either way, the total money and AAV will both be the highest ever for a pitcher.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Stan Musial: An Appreciation of the Man

I have no memories of Stan Musial smashing baseballs across the National League, having arrived on this Earth more than sixteen years after he collected hit number 3,630 in the final at bat of his career, September 29th, 1963. While I would love to have seen him play, the record books are emphatic about his greatness as a player. The stories told of him also make clear he was quite a man. The news that Musial passed away yesterday has saddened many, but we should also reflect on the knowledge that at 92 years of age and surrounded by family, he went about as well as anyone can hope to.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2012: The Year in Movies

The award traditionally given to the best film
of the year is a green guy in a garbage can.
I tend to see what most people would consider to be a lot of movies. This began about as soon as I was old enough to be allowed to go to a theater with friends, by the time I was 15 I was going to a movie almost every week. In 1997 I saw 50 movies, and while I don't make it to the theater quite as often as I used to, but innovations like Netflix and Red Box have allowed me to keep up with new releases from home, and every year I've managed to see at least 50 new releases. Every year until 2012 that is. I've seen only 47 movies from last year. Shameful. No one is more disappointed in me than me. I thought about a marathon of whatever the Red Box had last weekend, but decided against it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot

Wednesday afternoon the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame voting results will be released. It is one of the deepest ballots in history, with over a dozen qualified candidates, including two of the very best players in baseball history. It may come as a surprise then (to those of you who normally pay little to no attention to this sort of things) that there will probably be zero candidates actually elected for induction. Why? Performance enhancing drugs (steroids, etc.), unsubstantiated rumors, intellectual dishonesty, and a voting body that is significantly out-to-lunch on modern baseball and advanced statistics. I'd like to briefly address some of those issues, and then present my own (obviously hypothetical) Hall of Fame ballot (which you can scroll to the bottom for, if that's what you're interested in).

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Age 32 Season

It's January 5th, my birthday. It took only a few minutes to know this will be a great year for me, because as soon as I was awake, my girlfriend insisted on giving me presents, which included the incredible sleeping bag you see to the right. It may smell bad, but it'll keep me warm until she gets the shelter up (The sleeping bag is a tauntaun, which Rebel troops rode to get around on the ice planet Hoth in "The Empire Strikes Back." Han Solo cut his open to keep Luke Skywalker from freezing to death. But you already knew that, right? ...RIGHT?!). I'm happy to be 33 (Yes, I still enjoy Star Wars' themed gifts at that age, what of it?), especially because studies show it's the happiest age there is. But before I move fully into this new age, I thought it would be good to pause and take a look back at my age 32 season, among the most memorable and significant I've had.