Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

The Arizona Fall League will name a champion on Nov. 18, and Braves prospect Max Fried could have a key role to play. The southpaw has fully overcome Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as a top prospect in MLB.

For the Braves, Fried’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. With many prospects like the much heralded Ronald Acuna ready to make the major league jump, Max Fried has tasted MLB, and is ready to take the ball every fifth day in Atlanta. This is prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook.

The injury

Entering 2014, Fried was one of the hottest left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2012, the San Diego Padres were sure they had an “ace of the future” waiting in the wings. They might have been right, had Fried not injured that prized left arm of his.

At just 20 years old, in 2014, Fried was the third ranked prospect in San Diego’s farm system as rated by Baseball America. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until early in the spring months, Fried began feeling soreness in his left forearm.

As a result, the Padres medical staff shut down all throwing activities for the young hurler. He wouldn’t see live action again in 2014 until mid-July. However, he didn’t last long. In his third start after his return, he began to complain of soreness in his arm, this time in his elbow. And this time, it would require surgery to repair. Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab would cost Fried nearly two years of his career, and he wouldn’t again pitch until 2016.

The comeback

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried as a fresh-faced draft pick of the San Diego Padres. (Photo courtesy of: AP/Alex Gallardo)

Although Max Fried would lose nearly two years of his development to rehab after undergoing Tommy John, he remained committed to the cause. However, when he resumed pitching he would no longer be doing it for the team that drafted him. During December of 2014, Fried was part of a trade that sent Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego in return for a load of top-end prospects. Fried was one of them.

In 2016, Fried would break camp with Low-A Rome in the Braves system. While he started slowly, the surgically repaired elbow stood up to the test of live action. By season’s end, Fried would be firmly entrenched as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Sally League.

In 21 games (20 starts) Fried pitched 103 innings, striking out 112 batters, and posted a 3.93 ERA for the year. Excellent work for a young pitcher coming back from the vaunted Tommy John surgery.

Building off a strong 2016, the Braves decided to challenge Fried by jumping him two levels to Double-A. In 19 starts for Mississippi, Fried pitched to a 5.92 ERA and won two while losing 11. However, the strikeouts were still there. He fanned 85 over 86.2 innings of work. This would suggest that his pitches were taking time to find their bite at an advanced level.

If that were all there was to go on, you might think of Fried as a ho-hum type of prospect, but he buckled down when the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. In two starts at Gwinnett, spanning six innings of work, the youngster only surrendered one hit, walking two and striking out six. It was on the back of this performance that Fried earned his first big league call-up. And he didn’t disappoint.

For Atlanta, their eighth ranked prospect, fared well in his first taste of MLB. In nine appearances (four starts), Fried went 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA striking out 22 and walking 12 in 26 innings of work.

For Fried, the road back has been long, but his outlook for 2018 is bright.

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried fires one to home as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
(Photo courtesy of: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

As it stands now, into the last week of the Arizona Fall League’s schedule, Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. What Fried has done in Arizona, considering his past injury, has been remarkable. His line this fall 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA has shown that this young man is ready for the big-time. Fried has tested himself in Arizona against baseball’s most elite prospects, and has come through in fine style.

The strikeouts are still there as well. In 26 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas, Fried has struck out 32 batters, while only walking eight. Mitch Keller and Justus Sheffield are the only other starting pitchers in Arizona with a better WHIP than Max Fried. Neither of those two pitchers, however, has posted as many innings of work as Fried has this fall.

Based on the late season call-up to Atlanta, and the success he had there, it would be inconceivable to see Fried start anywhere but Atlanta. It’s a bonus for the Braves’ front office personnel that Fried has dominated in Arizona like he has.

The kid is ready. Give him the ball.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: David Banks/Getty Images)

 

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Honoring baseball's military veterans

Honoring baseball’s military veterans

Veteran’s Day is upon us once more, so it is only fitting to honor baseball’s military veterans today. From the Civil War, our nation’s greatest struggle, to the rice paddies of Vietnam, there have been dozens of baseball men that have fought alongside the “common Joe”.

Some of the names of the men who’ve served our nation in its greatest time of need you will know, others you will not. The list of names is too exhaustive to name them all, but we tip our caps all the same. Here are five men who’ve served with distinction.

Morgan Bulkeley – Civil War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

First president of the NL and Civil War veteran, Morgan Bulkeley. (Photo courtesy of: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Morgan Bulkeley never played in a game, but the Hartford-based businessman was the first president of the National League. Bulkeley would only hold the National League’s presidency for one season in 1876. Not wanting to make baseball his life’s work, he walked away from the post.

In 1937, Bulkeley was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Ban Johnson, the first president of the American League.

Bulkeley has the distinction of being the only Baseball Hall of Fame member to serve during the American Civil War. Even though he came from money, Morgan Bulkeley and his brother Charles both enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. An unusual choice given these were the sons of Aetna Insurance co-founder, Eliphalet Bulkeley.

For those that aren’t up to date on their Civil War history, the unusual nature of the Bulkeley boys’ enlistment lies in money. During the Civil War, a person could buy their way out of the draft and pay for another person to serve in their place. The Bulkeley boys choosing to enlist was the exception to the rule, make no doubts about it. For Morgan Bulkeley’s brother Charles, this decision would seal his fate. He would not survive the war.

For Morgan Bulkeley though, he spent his time under the command of Gen. George McClellan in the 13th New York Regiment. It must have been a shock to go from a life of extravagance, to marching around the dirty, dusty countryside in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This is exactly the life Bulkeley lived from the years 1861-1865.

Grover Alexander – WWI

Alexander is a name that rests among the greatest names in the history of pitching. What you might not have known, however, is Alexander also saw live combat in World War I.

Prior to the war, Grover Alexander broke into the big leagues in 1911 with Philadelphia. From that time on, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. He led the NL in wins five times between the years 1911-1917, posting three consecutive 30+ win seasons from 1915-1917. On top of those 30-win seasons, he also posted sub 2.00 ERA in each of those three years as well. He did all of this while war threatened to consume the entire world.

The United States had managed to keep a “veneer” of neutrality for most of WWI, but in the spring of 1917, peacetime was over. The U.S. was now on a war footing with Germany, and with an army that had been drastically reduced in strength over time, needed fresh recruits.

In 1917, and for the first time since the Civil War, the nation’s men were subject to conscription into the armed forces. This is the avenue by which Grover Alexander found his way into the Army.

Three games into the 1918 season, Alexander, at the rank of Sergeant found himself among the killing fields in France. A member of the 342nd Field Artillery Battalion. It was at his post, while under an enemy artillery barrage, that Alexander suffered severe hearing damage from a nearby shell explosion. This explosion also left Alexander with epilepsy.

It was 99 years ago today, that peace was reached between the belligerents of WWI, and by the spring of 1919 Alexander was back at his old post. On the hill, toeing the rubber as a member of the Chicago Cubs.

Warren Spahn – WWII

Honoring baseball's military veterans

All of Warren Spahn’s 363 career wins came after he won the Purple Heart in WWII. (Photo courtesy of: Dailydsports.com)

Spahn, a fresh-faced rookie in 1942, got his first taste of big league ball with the Boston Braves. He made two starts over four appearances in 1942, and by December he would be finding himself in Army green.

Spahn was one of the “luckier” baseball players of his generation in that his career was interrupted at the beginning, rather than during his prime years. Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio are just a few players that lost some of their peak years.

It was in December of 1944 that Warren Spahn would find himself fighting for his life during the Battle of the Bulge. This was the last gasp offensive of by the German war machine. Spahn, a combat engineer, was part of the under-equipped troops that were left to face the onslaught.

Spahn did several interviews after the war, in which he would recall the bitter cold and terrible conditions in which they fought. He has also recounted how fierce the fighting was while his unit tried to break free from the German forces that had surrounded them.

When the 1944 German winter offensive was stopped cold, Spahn’s unit was sent to Remagen. It was here, while working on the Ludendorff Bridge in March 1945, Spahn would get hit in the foot with shrapnel. This would be the end of the line for his time at the front.

It earned him a Purple Heart, but it was an incredible twist of good fortune for Spahn. The following day, the entire bridge collapsed into the river below taking over 30 men to their untimely demise. For his actions at Remagen, Spahn earned a battle-field commission of 2nd Lieutenant.

Ted Williams – Korean War

Ted Williams is all legend. This man was the game’s best hitter when he was called away to service during WWII like so many others.

Williams was drafted into service in 1941, but was exempted due to having a dependent mother, but he would later enlist in the Marines in 1942. After completion of his triple-crown season in ’42, Williams was off to training. It was during the years 1943-1945 that Williams would earn his pilot’s wings. The war would end before he would see any active combat.

However, the 1950’s brought with it a new fight. The Korean War.

Of the 1.8 million soldiers that fought in Korea, Ted Williams was one. Immediately Williams was back at flight school learning the controls of the F9F Grumman jet fighter. His involvement in the conflict would consume the majority of his 1952 and 1953 season’s.

In Korea, Williams was the wing man of future space traveler, John Glenn. In Glenn’s estimation, the pair flew together on about half of Williams’ 39 combat flights. Glenn would later recall that Williams was a very active pilot, and an excellent one at that.

Ted Williams was right in the line of fire taking on enemies in the air, and he almost was a goner on a few occasions. On one of those occasions, Williams’ plane was on fire after being badly hit. The landing gear on his smoking wreck was inoperable. The only option left was to attempt a belly landing. In true Ted Williams fashion, he did what he always did. He stayed calm, and he stuck the landing. Williams escaped the cockpit just moments before his mangled plane was engulfed in flames.

Al Bumbry – Vietnam War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

Al Bumbry never lost a man during his time leading troops in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)

Bumbry has the distinction of being one of only 10 major league players to fight in the Vietnam War. He would win the Bronze Star for his actions under fire as a platoon commander.

The most remarkable thing about Bumbry’s time in combat, is that he never lost a man under his command. This takes on even more significance when you realize the amount of responsibility on the young lieutenant’s plate. In an interview with The Washington Times, Bumbry said, “I was a tank platoon leader in Vietnam for a year. It was all very stressful. I had nine vehicles and 45 men in my platoon, and I was responsible for all of our activities.”

Bumbry, like the millions of others like him, returned home a changed man. He also returned a better ballplayer, to which he credits an accelerated maturing process forged in the fires of Vietnam. Though Bumbry floundered in his first 35 minor league games before being called to active duty in the Army, when he finally returned, he went on a tear through the minor leagues.

In 1972, Al Bumbry was called up to the big club in Baltimore where he played in nine games. The following year, 1973, Bumbry would solidify a spot in the Orioles lineup, and win the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Following his RoY campaign in 1973, Bumbry would firmly entrench himself as the everyday center fielder in Baltimore. From the years 1973-1985, Al Bumbry would put together a respectable career in MLB. He was a 1980 All-Star, a (.281) lifetime hitter and a key member of the Orioles’ 1983 World Series championship team.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: fadeawaypodcast.com)

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Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

In a significant turn of events, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced substantial changes in voting on Nov 6. These changes will have a major impact on how the 2018 Hall of Fame class could be comprised. The Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope for several of the game’s elite players, who’ve now been given a second crack at Cooperstown.

The Hall of Fame defines the Modern Era as the span of time from 1970 through 1987. To the layman, this means for a player to be considered in this era, his peak years should mostly fall within that range. This, of course, has serious impact for several players who’ve watched their initial 15-year period of eligibility expire.

Among the names on the newly formed 10-player Modern Era ballot are, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller (executive nominee), Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell.

Among the players on this list with a career WAR of (50+) are pitchers Luis Tiant (66.1) and Tommy John (62). Also joining this list are position players Alan Trammell (70.4) and Ted Simmons (50.1), respectively.

In my estimation, the no-brainer selections are Alan Trammell, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller. Trammell deserves it for being among the best short stops ever, Simmons for being among the best catchers ever and Miller for his work as the first MLBPA union head. Miller has a legacy that every player in today’s game owes a serious debt of gratitude.

How voting works

Alan Trammell had a (52.6) WAR between 1980-1989. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

This newly formed selection committee will consist of 16 members. Membership of the Modern Baseball Committee will be a mixture of HoF members, executives and veteran media members (BBWA). Members will be appointed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors.

The appointees to the Modern Baseball Committee will each serve for a renewable term as well. They will meet twice every five years to discuss the merits of elite players that have slipped through the cracks.

According to the Hall of Fame, voting set to begin in 2017. So presumably, we will have our first voting process at the winter meetings this coming December in Orlando, Fla.

Voting can only take place when there is a 75-percent quorum (12 of 16 members). In the event a quorum isn’t reached, there is an allowance for voting via conference call.

Short Stop, Alan Trammell – Detroit Tigers

Alan Trammell is one of the biggest snubs in the history of the game. I know there is fervent debate about Pete Rose, but unfortunately, he’s banned from baseball. So are the PED players, in a round-about way.

Trammell was a career Tiger having played the entirety of his career in Detroit. A career that spanned 20 major league seasons. These were 20, mostly bright, seasons as well. Had Trammell not had the break down at the end of his career, he would most likely be in already. Still, it’s a shame to see arguably the best short stop of the 1980’s, not enshrined in Cooperstown.

Of the three Hall of Fame short stops that would be classified in the Modern Era (Yount/Ripken/Smith), Trammell (52.6) has a higher WAR than all but Yount (55.1) throughout the decade of the 1980’s. It should be noted, however, that Yount switched to center field full-time in 1986.

It’s not just WAR in Trammell’s case though that shows his greatness. We’re talking about a player that not only posted a (70.4) WAR, we’re talking about an all-around elite player. We’re talking about a six-time All-Star. We’re talking about a four-time Gold Glove winner.

Trammell was a fine hitter, though not known for his power he hit a (.285) clip in his 20 professional seasons. That’s not bad, in fact, it’s the same career average as Robin Yount.

The Tiger legend was also great when the moments were biggest. In the 1984 postseason, Trammell went 13-for-31 in his eight playoff starts. In case you are wondering, that’s an average (.419). However, Trammell saved his best for the World Series in ’84. He hit a blistering (.450) with two homers and six RBI on his way to winning World Series MVP.

Put Trammell in already.

Catcher, Ted Simmons – St. Louis Cardinals

Ted Simmons is one of the greatest catchers that has ever played the game. He still ranks in the top five is several offensive categories after retiring almost 30 years ago. I would go much further in depth on this legend, but I recently laid bare the case for Ted Simmons just days ago.

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Robin Yount was the only short stop with a better WAR rating than Alan Trammell in the 1980’s. (Photo courtesy of: baseballhall.org)

What should be mentioned is that Simmons, a (.285) hitter, was the first catcher to hit 400+ career doubles, and still ranks second in RBI all-time among catchers. That’s impressive no matter which way a person looks at it.

With each passing year, Simmons’ career continues to look better and better. Like a fine wine, it’s time to pop the cork on this fine vintage. Ted Simmons deserves the call to Cooperstown.

Read the case for Ted Simmons here!

Marvin Miller – Former MLBPA Union Head

Marvin Miller wasn’t a player, but his impact on the game of baseball was immense. Miller, an economist by trade, became the first head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.

In 1968, Miller successfully lead the first negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement between players and owners. As a result, the minimum salary was raised from $7,000 to $10,000 over the seasons of 1968 and 1969.

Perhaps the biggest battle Marvin Miller fought while head of the MLBPA, was the challenge to what was known as the reserve clause. Under the reserve clause, players had no rights to pursue better financial offers from other teams. In effect, the owners of major league franchises held all the power. Under the reserve clause, players were bound to a team as “property” and could be sold, released, or traded on the whim of the owner.

Enter Curt Flood.

During the 1969 season, Curt Flood was locked in a battle with Cardinals owner August Busch over a dispute of a $10,000 raise. As a three-time All-Star, and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Flood was right in thinking he was worth more. However, because of rocking the boat, Flood was traded to Philadelphia at season’s end. Presumably as punishment.

Flood denied the trade, and making a long story short, ended up suing MLB over the legality of the reserve clause. A case he would lose, but would lay the ground work for others in his wake. Flood sacrificed his career for those that came after him. I wonder how many of us would be so principled in that same situation.

Miller’s legacy

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Curt Flood, along with Marvin Miller, reshaped the financial aspect of MLB. (Photo courtesy of: The Atlantic)

In 1974, Miller won a landmark case on behalf of the MLBPA. Due to a missed annuity payment, owed to Catfish Hunter, by A’s owner Charlie Finley an arbitrator ruled that Hunter was fee to sign with any team of his choosing. Thanks to Marvin Miller, free agency in baseball was born when Hunter signed a five-year deal with the Yankees.

For the first time a player had all the negotiating leverage to get the maximum financial return out of his skill set.

Also in 1974, Miller successfully convinced two pitchers to play out their 1975 seasons without signing a contract. It was then that these players challenged MLB by filing grievances with the league. The case was heard by arbitrator Peter Seitz, who ultimately sided with pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.

Though the fallout from this case sparked widespread collusion against many of the pioneers of free agency in the 1970s, Miller perhaps changed the game in more ways than any player ever has on the field. After all, Miller fought for free agency, led the MLBPA through three labor stoppages and oversaw average salaries rise from $19,000 in 1966, to $326,000 by the time he stepped away from the union in 1982.

Miller, who passed away in 2012, always blasted the Hall of Fame for colluding against his inclusion in those hallowed halls. Maybe the Modern Baseball Committee will finally give this man his just desserts. Even if it does have to come posthumously.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

 

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Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

With the World Series having been settled, Houstonians prepare to honor their championship winning team. For the fans in Houston, all the talk will be on the greatness that this season has produced. For the rest of us it’s time to warm ourselves around the hot stove, and talk about all things past, present and future. Yes, now’s the time to talk about why Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown.

As we move forever into the future, it’s hard to look back sometimes at those “less glamorous” items from the past. Catcher Ted Simmons is just one of those items that seems to have lost its shine through the years. How sad. The former Cardinals, Brewers and Braves player deserves to stand on that stage in Cooperstown and talk about what it means to be a Hall of Famer.

There has been much written about the likes of Alan Trammell, one of the greatest Detroit Tigers to don the uniform, but Ted Simmons is probably one of the greatest players you don’t realize was great. Simmons’ numbers hold up to this day, nearly 30 years after he played his last professional game. His numbers aren’t just good, they’re great. I would say, they are Hall of Fame great.

The BBWA has made a huge mistake by not admitting Simmons to the Hall when they had their chance. In fact, I wonder how it could possibly be that Simmons only garnered 3.7 percent of the vote in his bellwether year on the ballot. It’s quite mind boggling to be frankly honest. Especially when considering all his peers are in the Hall of Fame.

For Simmons, affectionately known to his fans as Simba, being frozen out of the Hall of Fame is a nightmare that needs to end.

Simmons’ WAR and JAWS ratings

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons putting on his Cardinal red jacket while be formally inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals team Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of: CBS St. Louis/Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

As someone who was brought up in the pre-money ball era, it has taken time to adjust to the advanced metrics of modern day analysis. I see their usefulness, but there isn’t a ton to be gleaned from them that you can’t glean from a comprehensive analysis of the traditional stats, but I digress.

The WAR rating system is just a quicker way to get to the nuts and bolts of a player’s value. Instead of pouring over stat line after stat line of data, it is much faster to take the numbers and plug them into a handy formula that weights each category appropriately. Much to the credit of Jamesian statistics, these types of stats have made it easier to gauge a player’s individual worth compared to his positional peers.

In the case of Ted Simmons his WAR, 7-year peak WAR and JAWS ratings stand him in good stead. It’s also the jumping off point for arguing that Simmons should be enshrined in Cooperstown. So, where does Simmons rate?

In WAR, Ted Simmons ranks 12th among all catchers with a solid (50.1) rating. Take into consideration that the average HoF catcher has a (53.4) career WAR, and it seems like splitting hairs to say that Simmons’ career WAR isn’t good enough. We’re talking about a difference of (3.3) Wins Above Replacement over the length of a career.

Considering that Simmons is one of only 12 catchers with a WAR rating over (50), it makes little sense that he’s not already enshrined in Cooperstown. All other catchers that amassed a 50+ career WAR rating are in the Hall of Fame, except for the still active Joe Mauer.

But it gets even better for Simmons’ case when accounting for both his 7-year peak WAR, and his JAWS ratings. Starting with Simba’s 7-year peak WAR (34.6), he’s slightly above the average HoF catcher in that category. The average 7-year peak WAR for all HoF catchers is (34.4), making Simmons just your average HoF caliber catcher. Nothing more, nothing less.

Simmons’ JAWS rating of (42.9), which is a combination of both a player’s WAR and 7-year peak WAR, sits just off the average of all HoF catchers (43.9). So, regardless of how you view Ted Simmons, what you can’t argue with is the notion that he’s one of the all-time greats behind the plate.

It’s a crime against baseball that a player that ranks 12th in WAR, 12th in 7-year peak WAR and 11th in JAWS at his position all-time, doesn’t have a bust in Cooperstown. Simmons resides at, or very near, the average HoF numbers in each of these three categories.

Simmons at the plate

If advanced metrics aren’t your thing, that’s ok. A comprehensive look at the traditional state lines will tell you that Simmons is still worthy of the Hall call.

Let’s just start with games played. Simmons to this day, still ranks third in games played all-time. He also ranks third in both plate appearances (9,685) and at-bats (8,680). This shows that Simmons was a guy you could count on to be healthy, and ready to rock and roll every day, for the better part of 20 years.

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo courtesy of: Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Simmons also ranks sixth in runs scored (1,074), making him one of only 10 catchers to surpass (1,000) runs scored for a career. Jason Kendall is the only other catcher in this category that isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Everyone else that achieved this feat is included in Cooperstown.

Now we get into the real meat and potatoes of the matter. In hits, Simmons, still ranks second all-time (2,472), behind only Ivan Rodriquez’s (2,844). That means, when Simmons retired after the 1988 season, he was the all-time hits leader for catchers. A record that stood for 19 years until Rodriquez bested Simmons’ in hits during the 2007 season.

If that doesn’t do it for you, then let’s talk about doubles. Simmons was the first catcher ever to hit over 400 career doubles. He finished with a whopping (483) two-baggers in his 21-season career. Simmons remained the all-time doubles champion for catchers, until again bested by Rodriquez in 2007. Keep in mind that when Simmons retired in ’88, Carlton Fisk was the next closest to him in doubles at (346). It wasn’t until the 1991 season that Fisk finally joined Ted Simmons in the 400-double club.

Simmons was also a (.285) career hitter, which is identical to Yogi Berra’s career average at the plate. However, very few catchers can boast a prolific strike out ratio like Simmons’. He struck out an average of once every 12.5 at-bats for his career, which is phenomenal. Simmons also walked 1.23 times to every time he struck out. This is the hallmark of a HoF caliber hitter folks.

If all this isn’t enough for you to digest, Simmons still ranks second in RBI for a catcher with (1,389). Who’s better than Simmons in this category? Only Yogi Berra, and his (1,430) RBI’s are better than Simmons’ mark. Surprisingly, Simmons knocked in more runs than the legendary Johnny Bench’s (1,376). That’s some exclusive company if I do say so myself.

Simmons’ bat alone should have been enough to get him into Cooperstown. Especially when you realize that when he retired in 1988, he was the all-time leader in games played, plate appearance, at-bats, hits and doubles.

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

It’s hard to say where we go in the case of Ted Simmons from this point. Thus far, there isn’t exactly a fire here. Certainly, the Veterans Committee will debate Alan Trammell’s case long before they will Ted Simmons’ case.

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons putting in work behind the plate, this man deserves a better historical fate. (Photo courtesy of: bestsportsphotos.com)

One of the bugaboos about Ted Simmons is that he didn’t win a gold glove at catcher. However, there can be only one winner each season. Going up against the Red’s 10-time Gold Glove winning catcher, Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons was probably never going to win that award. To Simmons’ credit though, he had an arguable case for the award in 1976. Johnny Bench edged out Simmons for a Gold Glove in ’76 by the slimmest of margins.

Simmons was a competent defender. He was good, but not great, a point that I will readily concede. But the facts remain, Simmons’ bat should have been enough to catapult him into baseball immortality.

Let’s face it, Simmons was a Mike Piazza style of catcher long before Piazza even came around. Although Simmons does have a superior dWAR (4.7) to Piazza’s (1.0). It’s for this reason, that Simmons gets dogged by the BBWA, because it surely isn’t his bat. Simmons’ bat is sound and worthy of all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with being a Hall of Famer.

It’s time for baseball fans to band together to fix this injustice. In Ted Simmons’ case, the Veterans Committee remains his only lifeline to the Hall. However, they don’t vote players in every year.

It’s time to apply the pressure folks.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

 

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Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future

The Milwaukee Brewers might have struck gold with Keston Hiura, their first-round selection, in 2017’s first year player draft. Let’s talk about Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future before he’s a star everyone knows.

David Stearns, Milwaukee’s general manager, has done many good things in his first two years at the helm. Perhaps one of Stearns’ best moves though is his selection of sweet-swinging second baseman Keston Hiura with the ninth pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. For Hiura, the best is most certainly yet to come.

Hiura’s Bat

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura was the Division I college batting champion last season at UC Irvine. (Photo courtesy of: Baseball America)

Hiura was billed by many pundits leading up to the draft as the best pure hitter available. It’s not hard to figure out why either. As a junior at the University of California–Irvine, Hiura batted (.442/.567/.693) leading to an astounding OPS of (1.260). As far as college bats go, a scout for any MLB team would be hard pressed to find one better.

Hiura did, after all, lead Division I college hitters in both batting (.442) and OBP (.567).

Hiura’s hitting prowess saw him named as a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2017. Though the UC-Irvine standout didn’t win the honor, it is most certainly high praise to be named to the semi-finalists list.

The hits just kept on coming for Hiura after making the jump to pro-ball as well. In his first 42 games of professional baseball, the first-round pick belted an impressive (.371/.422/.611), split between two levels.

Putting those number into perspective, Hiura spent the majority of his first pro season at Low-A Wisconsin. It was there that Hiura put up an impressive batting line, hitting (.333/.374./.476). As the old turn of phrase goes, “That’s just par for the course.” Well, for Keston Hiura it is anyway.

Hiura, at 21 years of age, still has a long road to travel to get to the big leagues. His bat might be hard to slow, however. He showcases the plate discipline of a player more advanced in years, and that bodes well for Hiura. He could potentially be one of the first hitters from this year’s draft class to step to the plate in the majors.

Hiura’s Injury

As good as Hiura is at the dish, he doesn’t come without a certain amount of risk attached. This is not a unique circumstance though. There is a certain amount of risk with every prospect that makes the jump to pro-ball.

In 2016, as a sophomore at UC-Irvine, Hiura suffered an injury to the elbow of his throwing arm. While playing center field, Hiura unleashed a throw to home resulting in a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. The injury led to many MLB teams wondering if the dreaded Tommy John surgery would be in Hiura’s future.

Hiura has said in an interview with Baseball America that the injury never affected his swing. It did, however, affect his fielding. As a result of the injury, Hiura spent the entirety of his junior season as UC-Irvine’s DH. Hiura’s lack of game film in the field and the threat of a possible surgery on that elbow without doubt caused some of the teams picking ahead of the Brewers to go another direction with their pick.

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Hiura has also played for the U.S. Collegiate National Team. (Photo courtesy of: Orlando Sentinel)

An outfielder by trade, Hiura’s task now is learning how to become a professional second baseman. Not a small task, but if anyone is capable of the transition it would be Hiura. This youngster has drawn rave reviews from his former coach at UC-Irvine, Mike Gillespie, about his work ethic.

Much to the delight of David Stearns and the Brewers organization, Hiura was back in the field by the middle of August while with Low-A Wisconsin. Even better still, Tommy John surgery has been ruled out for Hiura’s elbow.

Hiura did suffer an injury that saw him on the DL toward season’s end, but breathe easy Brewers fans, it was a strained hamstring that kept him out of action. Hiura’s arm is seemingly good to go for 2018 and his first full season of professional baseball.

Playing a full season at second base, the Brewers and Hiura should know very early on in the year if his arm is going to be an issue. At least for the moment though, all signs point to his UCL sprain as being behind him.

Hiura in 2018

Based on the numbers Hiura pounded out in his first taste of professional baseball, Brewers fans might want to see him start 2018 at High-A Carolina. It is very doubtful that he will start there with the work he needs in the field.

It is far more likely that he will be the opening day second baseman for Low-A Wisconsin.

While his bat is ready right now to face tougher competition, his glove invariably needs work. Brewers fans need to remember that Hiura is essentially learning a new position. There will be a learning curve to this process and it will take time.

Hiura won’t be toiling away at Low-A Wisconsin all season though. I fully expect Hiura the climb the prospect ladder at least one level by the end of 2018, if not two levels. It isn’t unreasonable to assume Hiura could hit his way to Double-A by season’s end. Of course, this depends on how Hiura adapts to second base and how that arm holds up.

The good news though, is if a player can play center field he more than likely can handle second base as well. As he logs more innings, he should come to terms with how to play second base fairly quickly.

Another factor that bodes well for Hiura is time. At the tender age of 21 and with a glut of rising prospects at the keystone positions in the Brewers organization, there is no need to fast-track this young man to the big leagues. Time is on Hiura’s side as far as learning how to properly defend second base is concerned.

Hiura’s ETA in Milwaukee

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura signs his autograph for some of the Milwaukee faithful. (Photo courtesy of: The Post-Crescent)

While the fans in Milwaukee will want to see Hiura sporting the ball and glove logo on his hat sooner rather than later, it would be asking too much to see him up with the big club at any point in 2018. He simply has too much glove work to do before making that jump.

Also, there is no question that as the standard of pitching gets better, his bat will have to adjust as well. In this category though, Hiura will most likely do just fine. There is absolutely nothing in his past to suggest that he will suddenly forget how to hit. It is, after all, his best tool.

The future is indeed a bright one for Keston Hiura. He’ll be knocking on the door of the big leagues by mid-2019, and his bat will be the major reason why. But of course, this is all assuming he experiences no further problems with that balky elbow on his throwing arm.

Hiura seems intent on battering minor league pitching. This should leave Brewers fans with those warm and fuzzy feelings inside. With the emergence of Travis Shaw at third base and Orlando Arica at short stop, adding in Keston Hiura could be a watershed moment for the Brewers organization overall.

How quickly Hiura makes the transition to second base will be the difference maker in how quickly he ascends to the big club in Milwaukee. One thing is for certain though, if his glove adapts anywhere near as quickly as his bat has, you will see him in Milwaukee sooner than later.

Hiura has the bat to play beyond the level he is currently at. If he can become just an average defender in short order, he will be forcing the Brewers’ hand very soon.

For Brewers GM David Stearns this is an excellent problem to have. And it’s a far cry from the pile of smoldering, twisted, wreckage that the Brewers’ farm system had become under Stearns’ predecessor, Bob Melvin.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: azcentral.com)

 

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greatest world series ever played

Greatest World Series ever played

When the first pitch of the 2017 World Series is thrown out Oct. 24 at Dodger Stadium, it will mark the 113th installment of baseball’s fall classic. Only one World Series, however, can be dubbed the greatest World Series ever played.

For the fans in Houston and Los Angeles, their focus won’t be on this series being an all-time classic. Their primary focus for the immediate future will be on winning at least four of the possible seven games that remain. Right now, the glory of a championship is first and foremost.

The rest of baseball’s fandom is just looking to be enthralled. We’re looking for hotly contested games that remain up for grabs into the final innings. We’re looking for immaculate pitching, we’re looking for clutch two-out hits and we’re looking for spectacular game saving glove work in the field. In short, we’re looking for the proverbial barn burner.

With 112 World Series already on record, there have been some wild match-ups throughout time. Perhaps no match-up has offered more excitement to baseball fans of all stripes than 1991’s World Series, pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesotans will remember 1991 for two distinct reasons. First, on Oct. 27, 1991 they saw their Minnesota Twins lift the World Series title after seven games. Second, just four days later, the Twin Cities were buried under almost two-feet of snow from an epic Halloween blizzard.

In Atlanta though, 1991 will always be remembered with mixed emotions. The 1991 Braves improved from last place in 1990, to first in 1991. This was also the first year that a World Series was played in Atlanta since the Braves moved from Milwaukee at the end of 1965.

How they arrived

greatest world series ever played

Braves legend, Tom Glavine, tries to channel a little rally hat magic on the road in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)

Speaking of the Braves’ remarkable turnaround, Minnesota also accomplished the same feat. They too finished the season in last place in 1990, only to become AL champions in 1991. It was the first time in MLB history that any team went from “worst to first” let alone having two teams do it in the same season.

For Minnesota, 1991 was the year of the bat. This isn’t to say they couldn’t pitch, but their offense was magnificent. They led the majors in average (.280) and on-base percentage (.344) that year. They also finished second in both slugging (.420) and OPS (.764) making them one of the toughest lineups for opposing pitchers to navigate.

Atlanta’s forte though, was undoubtedly their pitching. The Braves’ pitching was phenomenal in 1991. Tom Glavine, 1991’s NL Cy Young award winner, was the unquestioned leader of the young Atlanta staff. This Braves rotation was young, hungry and devastatingly good.

For the season, Atlanta finished third in team ERA (3.49), third in fewest hits given up and fourth in total runs surrendered. Any fan can plainly see, scratching runs across the plate against this pitching staff was no small task.

The 1991 World Series was more than just excellent pitching versus excellent hitting. This series was a classic match-up of two evenly matched ball clubs. Something had to give, because we all know there can only be one team left standing. That team left standing, in the end, would be the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota didn’t get to the summit of baseball’s highest mountain without a fight though, and what a fight it was. Atlanta and Minnesota put together a performance for the ages. Culminating in arguably the greatest World Series ever played. This was a World Series filled with spectacular pitching, clutch hitting and wild defensive plays.

The greatest world series ever played

In the pantheon of World Series match-ups, there are several that stand out. For instance, 1960’s classic Pirates and Yankees showdown featured the only walk-off Game 7 homer ever, by the Pirate’s Bill Mazeroski. Braves versus Twins in 1991 rates right up there with the lot of them.

greatest world series ever played

Bill Mazeroski sinks the Yankees with his dramatic walk-off Game 7 World Series home run. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)

The 1991 World Series offered something for everyone, including one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history. Of course this is referring to Kent Herbek pulling Ron Gant off the bag in the third inning of Game 2. For fans of a certain age in Atlanta, this certainly must still be a sore subject.

Watch the play here!

The Twins and Braves only played two games decided by more than a single run, Game 1 and 5. Minnesota took Game 1 by a score of 5-2 and Atlanta took Game 5, blowing away the Twins 14-5. All other games in the series were one-run affairs.

Extra innings was also a common thread that tied this series together as well. Game 6 and the pivotal Game 7 were two of the three extra inning games. Minnesota would find themselves on the winning side in both of the aforementioned games. The Twins’ only extra inning loss came on a Mark Lemke 12th inning RBI single in Game 3.

For the Twins, legendary Kirby Puckett was the man of Game 6. Puckett’s glove, and then his bat, cemented the win for Minnesota and pushed the series to Game 7.

Puckett seemed to defy the laws of physics, jumping at the wall in left-center to rob Gant of extra bases. Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett sent a Charlie Leibrandt offering into the seats for a solo homer. His clutch hit won the game for Minnesota in walk-off fashion, making Game 7 a necessity.

Watch Puckett’s series saving homer here!

Game 7

The deciding game of the 1991 World Series pitted two excellent pitchers at opposite spectrums of their careers. For the Twins, it was 15-year veteran and 1984 World Series champion, Jack Morris. The Braves countered with a future Hall of Famer, 24-year-old, John Smoltz.

greatest world series ever played

1991 World Series MVP and Game 7 winner, Jack Morris, rushes to greet Dan Gladden at home plate. (Photo courtesy of: Pioneer Press/Jean Pieri)

All these two did was lock horns to produce one of the best pitched games in World Series history. Smoltz pitched excellent in Game 7, but wily veteran Jack Morris pitched a magical Game 7. With Morris in command of all his pitches, he put together one of the greatest World Series starts this side of Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Morris went the distance, all 10 innings, to pitch a complete game shutout under immense pressure.

Jack Morris, for his part, swallowed that pressure deep down and used it to breathe fire at the Braves lineup. He gave up seven hits and walked only two hitters in his 10-inning masterpiece. On the back of Morris’ Game 7 exploits, coupled with his Game 1 win and his hard luck no-decision in Game 4, he walked away as World Series MVP.

When Gene Larkin laced a one-out single to left-center in the bottom of the 10th inning, bringing Dan Gladden in for the winning run, it was only fitting that Morris was the first player to welcome him home.

If the showdown between Los Angeles and Houston is half as good as 1991’s World Series, we are in for a treat. Play ball, boys.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: twinkietown.com)

 

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Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Axe Bat leading hitting technology into the future

There’s a new bat poised to take Major League Baseball by storm. The Axe Bat, developed by Baden Sports, is proof that what’s old can become new again. If you aren’t familiar, the latest development in hitting technology is the Axe-handled baseball bat.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

A lineup of Victus’ Axe-handle bats before being shipped to Miami Marlins slugger, Giancarlo Stanton.
(Photo courtesy of: whatproswear.com)

The early results by those that have swung them competitively at the game’s top level are remarkable. Axe Bat’s Director of Communications, Matt Peterson, spoke about this revolutionary new bat design in greater detail.

In 2017, at least 35 different big-leaguers swung the Axe-handled bat. Peterson said that together, those players totaled nearly 4,800 plate appearances and more than 1,100 hits.

All time, at least 57 players have used an Axe-handled bat during an official MLB game. It’s this type of growth that is turning more and more hitters onto this innovative design.

It also doesn’t hurt when you compare the hitting lines of those using it, to those still using traditional round-knobbed bats. Over the past two seasons, players swinging the Axe-handled bat design hit a collective slash line of (.273/.463/.805). In comparison, hitters using the traditional round-knobbed bat design put together a collective (.255/.422/.745).

Rookie Hitters

The early returns on performance seem to be paying huge dividends for players who decide to incorporate this new tool into their game. Take San Diego Padres rookie center fielder Manny Margot for instance. He converted to the Axe-handled bat for the majority of the season’s second half in 2017.

“The week he switched, he won the NL

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

San Diego rookie, Manny Margot, before he started realizing the benefits of the Axe-handled bat. (Photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

Player of the Week award,” Peterson said.

What a week it was for the young rookie with stars in his eyes too. Margot slapped Mets and Pirates pitching around the park all week (July 30), going 12-24 at the dish. But wait, there’s more to it than that.

In the first half of 2017 from Opening Day to July 23, before Margot switched bats, he hit (.258/.373/.677) with five homers and nine doubles in 281 plate appearances. After the switch to an Axe-handled bat, however, the difference is amazing.

From July 24 through the final game of the season, the young Margot posted a much improved (.269/.449/.772) over 248 plate appearances. During the final few months of the season, Margot matched his first half output in doubles with nine and hit eight home runs. If you’re keeping score, that’s three more homers in 33 fewer plate appearances. Margot loves hitting with the Axe-handled design it would appear.

Margot isn’t the only Padres youngster swinging an Axe-handled bat though.

“His teammate, Allen Cordoba, another rookie, also swung the bat most of this season,” Peterson said.

Established Professional Hitters

The rookies, however, aren’t the only players in MLB that have had their head turned by the Axe Bat. Established pro hitters are also getting in on the action as well.

Several of this year’s hitters in MLB’s postseason are among those switching from the classic round-knobbed handle to the Axe-handle. In 2017’s playoff field, George Springer, Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Chris Owings, Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Allen and Mookie Betts all swung the Axe Bat 100 percent of the time in 2017 Peterson said.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Dustin Pedrioa steps into the batter’s box brandishing his Axe-handle bat. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

There were also several other players on the rosters of playoff teams who used the Axe-handled bat in 2017.

“Other players on playoff teams who used it in a significant number of at-bats included Dustin Pedroia, Joc Pederson and Matt Wieters,” Peterson said.

Growth within the game is happening rapidly as more players are encountering the Axe Bat.

“Several others experimented with it for a handful of at-bats this year and might be candidates for Spring Training 2018,” Peterson said.

“We anticipate the growth trend to continue as Axe-handled bats become more available, as more performance benefits of the handle are confirmed,” Peterson said. “And we begin showing players some of the new designs and customization options that will soon be available to them.”

One significant performance benefit of an Axe-handled bat is an increase in bat speed. It has been studied by Baseball Prospectus. They confirmed that Axe Bat’s claim to improve bat speed does, in fact, hold water.

Read Baseball Prospectus’ study on the Axe Bat here.

Licensing Axe-handle technology

There’s a good reason many fans haven’t realized this bat has found its way into several big leaguer’s hands. That reason is licensing.

Axe Bat’s patented Axe-handle technology has been licensed to Major League Baseball’s approved wood bat makers. The first of these companies to purchase the right to use the Axe-handled design is Victus Sports.

“That’s why you see Victus’ logo on the barrel of Axe-handled bats.” Peterson said. “Victus Sports was our first licensee. They make a great bat and were instrumental in getting the Axe-handle in players’ hands around the league.”

As more players realize the benefits of this revolutionary bat handle design, more bat makers are sure to be purchasing the rights to make this bat for their customers. Couple this with high profile players like Dustin Pedrioa and Mookie Betts, and swinging an Axe-handled bat and it is sure to find its way into other players’ hands too.

Baseball players are some of the most superstitious people in the universe. One solid hit during a slump and a player can get hooked forever. As more research is done (like the study by Baseball Prospectus) on the Axe Bat, more players are sure to start incorporating it into their game.

Final Thoughts

Since the moment it was created, Axe-handle design has seen significant growth in MLB. The idea for the Axe Bat was conceptualized in 2009 by Bruce Leinert. As a result, by 2017 there were already 35 players who tested it in live competition. Some, like Mookie Betts, have even made it their primary bat. That’s darn impressive growth in the span of eight years.

From a fan’s perspective, is will be interesting to see what impact this bat will have on the game. It’ll be interesting to see the statistical comparison between both Axe and traditional bat designs going forward, especially as more players incorporate the Axe-handle bat into their game.

This should make for some fascinating conversations in the future, no doubts about it!

 

(Feature image: Sports Illustrated)

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saluting super duper baseball bloopers

Lloyd Moseby double steal: Try not to cringe

Lloyd Moseby double steal

Retired Blue Jays legends Lloyd Moseby and Roberto Alomar talk about the days of yore. (Photo courtesy of: Guelph Mercury Tribune)

Baseball is the most beautiful of games. It’s slow enough to follow, yet exciting enough to make your heart skip a beat. When the umpire motions to play ball, the fans never know just what to expect.

Baseball gives its fans lasting gifts of the mind. Remarkable plays to be recalled on those rainy days when baseball is on your lips, but not on the field. Saluting Super Duper Baseball Bloopers, the highlights of the game’s less than elite performances, exposes some of the most remarkable happenings the game has ever seen.

Now defunct Blockbuster Video produced arguably the greatest of all baseball blooper reels. Of course, I say this tongue in cheek but it might contain the greatest bizarre play of all time. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching “Super Duper Baseball Bloopers”, you might know where this is heading. If you haven’t seen it before, please, you owe it to yourself to watch it at least once.

Lloyd Moseby Double Steal

On Aug. 16, 1987, at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium, Lloyd Moseby was the man of the hour. Powered by Moseby’s three hits and late seventh inning two-run homer, the Toronto Blue Jays emerged 6-4 winners over the White Sox. While that’s all well and good, it’s far from anything other than run-of-the-mill baseball.

Rewind to earlier in the game before Moseby’s seventh inning blast and you will find one of the true gems of baseball footage. See the play here!

Lloyd Moseby double steal

Lloyd Moseby was one of the American League’s premier base stealing threats in the 1980s. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)

With White Sox right-hander Bill Long on the mound and Carlton Fisk behind the plate, Fisk set up outside and readied for the pitch. The way Fisk set up before the offering from Long suggests he knew Moseby was running. Fisk was right in thinking so because Moseby was a perennial 30+ steals guy in the 1980s.

Right on cue, when Long unleashed his fastball toward home Moseby lit out for second base. Ozzie Guillen moved swiftly from his short stop position to cover the bag. Catching the pitch, Fisk exploded out of his crouch and uncorked a strike- to center fielder Kenny Williams.

Yes, former White Sox GM Kenny Williams.

Fisk’s throw to second was horrendously overthrown into center field. Moseby, with his head down chugging for second, most likely never saw the ball. Seeing that Kenny Williams had the ball, Moseby had to be thinking he had made a terrible mistake. Thinking he was about to get doubled off, Moseby lit out for first again causing the broadcast team to meltdown. It’s the part that always makes me chuckle.

Instead of just letting the play die with Moseby back on first, Kenny Williams let loose a throw that would make your grandmother cringe. How Williams managed to upstage Carlton Fisk’s rotten throw to second will forever be a mystery. Williams’ throw was a nasty one-hopper that bounced off the AstroTurf and crossed up first baseman Greg Walker. Walker tried to stab at it, but the ball ricocheted off his glove and skipped all the way to the wall in foul ground.

As Walker gave chase Moseby used this opportunity to do an about face, kick the throttle back into gear and high-tail it back to second. Wisely, Walker decided to eat the darn ball instead of throwing it around the park like Fisk and Williams. In doing so he also limited any further damage to the pride of White Sox defenders.

After this spectacular play rolls on the tape, it streams seamlessly into a sly Moseby talking about how this was always the plan. He said this was an exercise to teach kids that you can do something twice and be successful both times. Yeah, sure Lloyd!

We believe you.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: ESPN)

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three times pitchers went deep

Three times pitchers went deep in the World Series

Pitchers hitting home runs is something we don’t see a great deal of these days. One of the greatest plays that fans could ever hope to witness during a game is dying out. Being that we rarely talk about pitchers hitting the long ball, here are three times pitchers went deep in the World Series.

Home runs by a pitcher in the World Series is a feat that has been accomplished on 15 occasions in MLB history, by 13 players. Here are three such notable instances.

Where have all the homers gone?

Hitting a home run is the epitome of a pitcher helping his own cause. Before 1973 and the advent of the designated hitter, pitchers of both leagues were expected to hit for themselves. It’s no great coincidence that home runs by a pitcher would be more of a common occurrence in those days.

three times pitchers went deep

Warren Spahn, a veteran of 21 MLB seasons, was no stranger to knocking a few out of the park himself. (Photo Courtesy of: Atlanta Braves)

Take Warren Spahn for example. In his 21 seasons of big league ball, he went deep an astounding 35 times, good enough for third place all-time for a pitcher. Spahn, the Braves’ left-handed ace, sits behind leader Wes Ferrell’s 38 and Bob Lemon’s 37. Remarkably though, Spahn does hold the record for number of seasons (17) with a home run as a pitcher.

Pitchers certainly don’t clear the fence in 2017 at the rate they used to in those bygone eras. Admittedly, this downward trend in homers is relative to the sample size, meaning pitchers just don’t hit as often as they used to.

There is still one pitcher who hits his share of taters, and his name is Madison Bumgarner. In his nine seasons taking the hill for San Francisco, he’s also added 17 career homers to back his excellent pitching efforts. Bumgarner might not have had the 2017 season that many envisioned for him, but he became the first pitcher in MLB history to smash a pair of homers on opening day.

Bumgarner is the exception to the rule these days however. There are few pitchers going right now who even look like they have a clue at the dish. What’s more is that a lot of pitchers aren’t getting the at-bats they once did either.

With many rotations now going to the bullpens earlier and with greater frequency than ever before, the home run by a pitcher is only going to become rarer. This begs the question: is the designated hitter coming to the National League soon?

Three times pitchers went deep

Jack Bentley, 1924 World Series

New York Giants vs. Washington Senators (Game 5) off Walter Johnson

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bentley’s homer in 1924 isn’t merely the fact he went deep. It’s noteworthy anytime a pitcher does a little yard work. To Bentley’s credit though, he’s the only pitcher to ever homer off Walter Johnson in October. This is a monumental feat no matter which way you slice it.

three times pitchers went deep

Dave McNally (left) is photographed with teammate and baseball Hall of Famer, Jim Palmer. (Photo courtesy of: classickicks.com)

In the fifth inning of Game 5 in 1924’s World Series, the Giants and Senators found themselves knotted at one apiece. Heading to the home half of the inning with both pitchers throwing well, nobody in the Polo Grounds that day could have expected what happened next.

Walter Johnson, the hard-throwing 1924 pitching triple crown winner, awaited Jack Bentley’s presence in the batter’s box. He was most likely thinking Bentley would be an easy out. He was dead wrong.

The Giants lefthander did the unthinkable. Bentley banished Johnson’s offering to the right field seats, breaking the one-run deadlock in Game 5 and powering the Giants to a 6-2 win.

This remarkable homer was not a sign of good things to come though. Washington would ultimately prevail in the series four games to three with Johnson picking up the deciding win.

Though Johnson and his Senators teammates had the last laugh, Bentley walked away with a unique bragging right no other pitcher could ever contend with.

Dave McNally, 1970 World Series

Baltimore Orioles vs. Cincinnati Reds (Game 3) off Wayne Granger

Unlike Jack Bentley before him, Dave McNally had the good fortune to both homer and walk away a champion. In 1970, the Orioles were baseball’s best team, finishing the season with a record of 108-54. Dave McNally, was one of their best pitchers.

McNally finished second in Cy Young voting in 1970, posting a league leading 24 wins.

While putting up an impressive showing in 1970, McNally also has the distinction of being one of two pitchers (Bob Gibson) with multiple World Series homers. He accomplished this in both 1969’s ill-fated matchup with the Miracle Mets and 1970’s dismantling of Cincinnati’s not-yet-completed Red Machine.

McNally’s home run in the 1970 World Series is special because it’s the only grand slam by a pitcher in the postseason. Not just the World Series, but in the entirety of MLB’s postseason.

Baltimore’s McNally started Game 3 matched by the Reds’ Tony Cloninger. In fine fashion and like he did all year, McNally pitched all nine frames, scattering nine hits and three runs. In the sixth inning with the bases jacked, McNally sent a deep drive to left field and unjacked the bases. All it took was one mighty swing of that solid ash bat.

Baltimore won Game 3 after McNally kicked the door wide open in the sixth by a score of 9-3. Ending the year on a high note, Baltimore went on to win the World Series against Cincinnati in five games. Their first ever championship.

Joe Blanton, 2008 World Series

Joe Blanton turns on an inside heater from Edwin Jackson for a solo home run. (Photo courtesy of: Boston.com)

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Game 4) off Edwin Jackson

Joe Blanton’s 2008 homer isn’t the flashiest of home runs, nor was it hit by the flashiest of players. It stands out for another reason. It currently stands as the last occurrence of a pitcher going yard on the biggest stage in the sport.

Prior to Blanton, Oakland’s Ken Holtzman was the last player to homer in a World Series. He did so in 1974 and still remains the last American League pitcher to accomplish the feat.

There is nothing that will get the crowd on its feet faster than watching the pitcher go yard. Especially in a World Series game.

The Phillies faithful watched as that day’s starter, Joe Blanton, came to the plate with a 5-2 lead. With nobody on and two out, Edwin Jackson uncorked a fastball over the inner half of the plate. Blanton attacked with authority, launching a deep drive to left-center field for the 6-2 lead.

For the Rays, their fate was all but sealed. Coming in to Game 4, they were already behind the proverbial 8-ball, trailing the series two games to one. After the dust settled and the final outs were recorded in Philadelphia that night, the Rays found themselves 10-2 losers in Game 4.

For any team in the World Series, being down three games to one is like the kiss of death. Amazingly, 35 teams in history have held this lead in the World Series. In only six instances though, did the trailing team come back to win the series. The Rays were not one of those six.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Deadspin.com)

 

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

The Houston Astros came from behind in Boston on Monday, becoming the first team to make their way in to a league championship series. They produced some late inning heroics and walked out of Fenway Park 5-4 winners. Avoiding elimination game drama in the division series is one of the most important tasks of any World Series hopeful.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also join the Houston in moving on to the next round of games, sweeping Zack Greinke and Arizona right out of the playoffs. They now await the winner of Chicago versus Washington in the NLCS.

Why it Matters

Elimination games are the proverbial pressure cooker in MLB. There is perhaps nothing that can reduce hardened veterans to looking like a rookie quite like an elimination game. Getting the wins early on in the series is the name of the game.

In all division series that have ever been played, you might think having that deciding game at home would be a big feather in your team’s hat. Surprisingly that’s not the case.

avoiding elimination game drama

Luis Severino celebrates a huge out against the Cleveland Indians in Game 4. (Photo courtesy of: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports)

In the American league, there have been 17 divisional series elimination games since New York defeated Milwaukee in 1981 at Yankee Stadium. Since that inaugural Game 5, the home team has won nine, whilst the visitors have won eight. It’s a true pick ‘em type of proposition. Nothing could be more disastrous to a 102-win Indians team like losing a pivotal Game Five at home.

This is exactly the position Cleveland now find themselves in after last night’s 7-3 Game Four loss. The season, for both clubs, now rides on a fateful Game 5 showdown on Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

In the National League, the odds are far worse for the home club. There have been 13 Game 5’s in the history of the NL and, get this, the home team has a paltry four wins to the road crew’s nine collective Game 5 triumphs.

When you roll them all together, that’s a cumulative record of 13-17 for the home team in division series elimination games. The games have been played a litter tighter in the AL than in the NL, but those are odds that I’m not at all interested in tempting if it’s my team gunning for the league title.

The Astros

It would be fair to say this year’s incarnation of the Houston Astros has been brilliant. They pitch, they hit, they hit and they hit. They do a lot of hitting, that would be the main take away here.

Houston has the best team offense in MLB  powered by three-time American League batting champion Jose Altuve. The little spark plug had another momentous year taking home the batting title during the regular season. Altuve however, has saved perhaps his best for last in 2017.

avoiding elimination game drama

Jose Altuve goes deep in ALDS action. (Photo courtesy of: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)

The slight statured Altuve stands 5-foot-6, but he might have the sweetest stroke in the game this side of Tony Gwynn. The work he’s doing this postseason is shaping up to be legendary. If Altuve continues to hit at the torrid pace he’s thus far established, his could be one of the best performances of all-time in postseason play.

Like, Lloyd McClendon in 1992 good. For the Pirates that year, McClendon set the record for postseason batting average. He hit .727 in 16 plate appearances over five games. Of course, with the difference in the amount of games the playoffs entail post-1994, McClendon’s record is probably safe for all times.

Red Sox pitching finally solved Altuve in Game Four at Fenway Park. As a result, his average plummeted to a “meager” .533.  However, the sweet-swinging righty did manage to push across the game’s first run. Albeit he did so by grounding into a double play. Altuve won’t get credit in the box score for an RBI, but that run is no less important in the bigger picture.

Houston has come from off the deck not once, but twice. They’ve showed real resolve for a team with World Series aspirations. The Astros are for real.

The Dodgers

What can be said about the Dodgers that hasn’t already been said?

Los Angeles is certainly looking like the team that finished 2017 with the game’s best record. The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season and has just kept on winning. And they are fresh off the only sweep in division series play this postseason, taking down Arizona 3-1 last night.

avoiding elimination game drama

Cody Bellinger had a huge Game 3, hitting a his first postseason homer and making this spectacular catch. (Photo courtesy of: fanragsports.com)

The best part of L.A. getting the sweep last night, is they get the extra rest for the pitching staff leading in to the NLCS. This could be the biggest advantage the Dodgers have. With the way Yu Darvish was throwing last night, the Dodgers are going to be a tough out this year. He looked strong.

Also, Count on perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw being ready to rock and roll come Game 1 of the NLCS. Take that to the bank. He’s easily been the most dominant pitcher of the last decade. Kershaw just needs some postseason glory to fully cement his status as living legend. Apparently his evil sorcery on the mound isn’t already enough.

Right now it appears the pitching for L.A. is getting stronger. Sure-fire Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger is finding his playoff power stroke. And the rest of the lineup just continues to hit. There really is no question that the Dodgers are starting to play excellent baseball at the right time.

Dodgers fans are hoping for better tidings this year in the NLCS. This will mark the fifth appearance in the league championship series for Los Angeles since 2008. Is this the year L.A. takes it home?

The Rest of the Field

The Cubs lead their division series with Washington, two games to one after taking another closely pitched game 2-1. With 2016 playoffs hero Jake Arrieta taking the hill, Chicago has a chance to slam the door on this series at home. Washington and Chicago square off later today (5:30 EST) at Wrigley Field.

avoiding elimination game drama

Anthony Rizzo is the difference maker as he bloops a vital RBI single for Chicago in the eighth inning of an epic Game 4 showdown. (Photo courtesy of: AP/David Banks)

The division series between Washington and Chicago stands out because of the pitching. While the rest of the league should be considering protective netting around the outfield bleachers, pitchers in this series have been throwing well. The craziest game in the series has been the 6-3 Nationals win in Game 2. Whoa guys, slow down!

Don’t count Washington out yet though! This team has more than enough life in that pitching staff to put the clamps on any offense. The Cubs will be looking to seal the series tonight and stave off a dreaded Game 5. Washington on the other hand, will be looking to force a Game 5 meet-up in Washington D.C. for Thursday.

The Indians meanwhile, are now in a situation where the series comes back to Cleveland for Game 5. The silver lining for Indians fans is that staff ace Corey Kluber is bringing it back on the mound. Kluber will be looking for the win, but it remains to be seen whether that alone will be enough. It’s why they play the games.

There is no discernible trend of good outcomes for hosting an elimination game in the divisional round. In these types of sudden death meetings, home field advantage counts for very little.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe)

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