The Week That Was in Baseball: July 14-20, 2014
In Defense of Derek Jeter's Omission • Eye-Opening Minor League Statistics
Bud Selig Speaks, But Really Says Nothing • The Downspiral of Dan Uggla
The Week That Was in Baseball: July 14-20, 2014
In Defense of Derek Jeter's Omission • Eye-Opening Minor League Statistics
Bud Selig Speaks, But Really Says Nothing • The Downspiral of Dan Uggla
Our review of the week's best and worst hitters, pitchers and teams will return next week.
2013: Coming on Strong
After two years of internal misery, the Boston Red Sox come together and give an emotional lift to a wounded city with an inspirational championship effort.
TGG Opinion: An Open Letter to Baseball Re: Expanded Video Review
An honest, heartfelt letter to the powers that be behind baseball’s failing version of comprehensive video review—and how our concept can fix it.
It Was Twenty Years Ago Today...
The story of how This Great Game has evolved over two decades, from a modest datebook to an ambitious coffee table book to the popular web site it is today.
The Ten Most Influential People in Baseball History
Who are the people most responsible for shaping Major League Baseball as we know it today? Our list includes a little bit of everything: Commissioners, front office types, a stat man and even an architect.
They Were There: The TGG Interviews
Check out our growing list of interviews with ex-major leaguers who witnessed and experienced, first-hand, some of the greatest, strangest and craziest moments in baseball history, as told to This Great Game's Ed Attanasio.
TGG Programming Note
Because of the limited action in the majors owing to the All-Star break, we are not featuring our usual collection of Day-by-Day notes and the Best and Worst of the Week. Both sections will return next week.
A List With No Captain?
Last year we debuted the expansion of our Teams section with lists of the greatest hitters, pitchers and most memorable games for each major league team. And nothing has generated more controversy (or, certainly, more reader feedback) than the absence of Derek Jeter from the roll call of the ten greatest Yankees hitters.
Nobody in pinstriped history has collected more hits, stole more bases, played in more games and appeared at the plate more often. Jeter is second only to Babe Ruth in runs scored (he has a slim chance of passing Ruth in this, his final season) and by the time you read this, he’ll have unlocked a tie with Lou Gehrig and become the all-time doubles leader among all Yankees past and present.
So why is Jeter not represented on our list? And why instead do we see the names of Charlie Keller, Bobby Murcer and Rickey Henderson, who played a mere four-plus years in New York?
Remember first what determines the lists. It’s strictly metrical, which we’re sure will inflame the anti-Bill James crowd to no end. But as we often say, the numbers don’t lie—they don’t, folks—and we have carefully created two formulas that reward those who are productive in an accumulative fashion, and efficient in the most potent of ways. We combine those two results to determine a yearly ranking of all players from each league, and those rankings are then used to determine the greatest from an all-time perspective.
Jeter, while productive, was never efficient enough to crack the yearly top ten on a regular basis. In our Leaders and Numbers pages that show the top ten hitters every year based on our formulae, Jeter has placed five times in 19 seasons—his high point being a fifth-place finish in 1999.
Also keep in mind that Jeter, who’s never been a power hitter, was at his best at a time when big-time offensive numbers were in vogue, thanks in part to rampant steroid use; that smothered his chances of moving up in the rankings. Look at the four guys who placed ahead of Jeter in 1999; two (Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro) are linked to positive steroid tests and a third (Shawn Green) has been highly suspected of using the juice though never proven. If you put Jeter in the time machine and land him on the Yankees of the 1950s, he’d have a better chance of making the top ten. But we can’t do that.
Finally, remember this: These are the Yankees. The Babe. The Iron Horse. Joltin’ Joe. The Mick. Reggie. If you’re on this list, you’re something special. Charlie Keller? Some might debate that he was the best Yankee player in the 1940s, Joe DiMaggio included. Bobby Murcer? Arguably the American League’s best player circa the early 1970s. Henderson? Yeah, he was only a Yankee for four years, but he was a dynamite, all-around force performing in his prime—at the plate and on the basepaths.
Hey, we get it. We love Jeter, too—and we loved him years ago when he was regularly topping polls as the most hated player in baseball. If we had a list of the ten greatest Yankees players—a more subjective tally in which we weighed more than just the numbers—Jeter easily makes the cut. But these are Yankees hitters we’re discussing. It’s a list full of greatness. And there’s no shame in Jeter not being on it.
Jeter, playing his 13th and last All-Star Game, doubled and singled in his two plate appearances at Minnesota to finish his Midsummer Classic record with 13 hits in 27 total at-bats—a .481 average. In 49.1 innings of work in the field, Jeter never made an error.
The Best and Worst of the Rest
Every year around this time, we take our focus off the major league scene and look at what’s happening down below—or, as it’s otherwise known, the minors—to see some of the crazier stuff going on numbers-wise. It’s not a sign that these guys will be duplicating their efforts once they get to the bigs (if they make it there), but it sure makes you stand up and take notice.
Let’s get right to the most frightening guy out there right now—that is, unless you’re a Cubs fan who can’t wait to see Kris Bryant receive a call to the parent team. And why it is you’re having to wait is a puzzler for us, given that the current flock of Cubs third basemen is hitting a collective .207. In 92 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, the 22-year-old Bryant is hitting .352 with 33 homers and 84 runs batted in. Cubs GM Theo Epstein says he’s not calling up Bryant this year because he doesn’t want to rush him. Question for Theo: How is he not ready?
Equally impressive thus far is Cuban émigré Alex Guerrero, who’s hit .375 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs through 39 minor league games in the Dodgers’ farm system, mostly at the Triple-A level; he missed over a month after having part of his ear bitten off by teammate Miguel Olivo over something that must have really ticked Olivo off. As long as Dee Gordon is running his tail off at the parent level, don’t expect to see Guerrero (who turns 28 next month) moved up to Los Angeles to play some second base until the September call-ups are announced.
Then there’s Joey Gallo, the Texas farmhand who’s smashed 21 homers in 189 at-bats at Single-A+ Myrtle Beach and another ten in 133 ABs at his current base at Double-A Frisco. He’s also walked 67 times in 89 total minor league games, meaning he’s patient as well as powerful. Maybe the Rangers will give him a sniff in September.
The San Francisco Giants can always use a little extra muscle, and they have it at the Triple-A level in Adam Duvall, who’s hitting .302 with 26 bombs over 77 games for Fresno. He also homered in his first game for the Giants during a cameo last month. But first base is Duvall’s thing, and as long as Brandon Belt, Michael Morse and Buster Posey are clogging up that spot at the parent level, don’t expect a more permanent promotion anytime soon.
After struggling for seven years at the low levels of the minors, Steven Souza is having a breakthrough campaign for Washington’s Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse. His .368 average, 15 homers, 63 RBIs and 21 steals are all among tops in the International League. His chances of cracking the Nationals’ roster late this year are iffy given the depth of the team’s outfielding corps.
If the Milwaukee Brewers are looking for some good arms, they’ve got them at their Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. Jimmy Nelson, Mike Fiers and Brad Mills all claim the top three WHIPs (walks and hit allowed per inning) among starting pitchers in the Pacific Coast League, and don’t forget Tyler Cravy, who just came up from Double-A Huntsville after starting the season there with an 8-1 record and 1.72 earned run average. (Note: Mills was earlier picked up by Oakland and is now with Toronto.)
Before being called up to Anaheim last month, reliever Cam Bedrosian was all but untouchable in the minors, allowing just seven hits and 11 walks in 32 innings with 57 strikeouts. And yes, he is the son of former Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian.
At Triple-A Louisville, Nick Christiani has a 7.71 ERA in 15 games with 15 walks and ten strikeouts in 18.2 innings—and he’s 3-0.
At Class A+ Stockton, Oakland farmhand Matt Olson is hitting just .238 but has clout and patience, having collected 27 homers, 85 walks and 96 strikeouts. Are we sure this isn’t Jack Cust in disguise?
Mark Appel, last year’s number one pick in the amateur draft, is having a nightmarish time at Class A+ Lancaster. An early-season appendectomy and a bum wrist that’s led to cortisone shots have limited his time to 11 starts—from which he’s 1-5 with a 10.80 ERA.
Remember Henry Rodriguez? A few years back he was lighting up the radar gun at over 100 MPH while his wildness scattered opponents with the Nationals. Now he’s laboring in the minors, where’s he’s wild even by his standards—and if you don’t believe us, believe the numbers: 32.1 innings thrown, 51 walks and 32 wild pitches. That’s right; one wild pitch per inning.
What seems longer than the name, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders? Try the team’s list of pitchers used on the year so far, which at last count totaled 39. They include 19 players with major league experience.
The World According to Bud, One Last Time (We Think)
Besides the All-Star Game (American League, 5-3) and the Home Run Derby (Yoenis Cespedes, again), the most anticipated event of the All-Star festivities is when Commissioner Bud Selig took the podium and spoke in his usual fractured, meandering phrasing that we have come to know as Seligese.
Among the topics discussed as Selig spoke for the last time as commissioner:
Montreal: Selig called the two spring training games that drew a near total of 100,000 to Olympic Stadium “marvelous” and said that the former home of the Expos would be “an excellent candidate” for a new (or existing) franchise. But, he stressed, “they have much work to be done.”
The A-Rod Exemption: Responding to the recent revelation that Alex Rodriguez was given a special exemption to take additional testosterone in 2007-08, Selig feigned ignorance as he does so well: “We did not know about it at the time. These independent people made a judgment. History proved them I guess it turned out to be somewhat wrong, but they were outstanding doctors.” Or, as Marge Schott once said about a certain, very evil person: They were good in the beginning.
Pete Rose: On recent reports that the banished all-time hits king would be officially allowed to be a part of next year’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati, Selig said: “That will be up to the Cincinnati club, and they know what they can do and can’t do. It’s sort of been subjective. But they’ve done some things with Pete, but they’ve been very, very thoughtful and limited. But that’s a subject that I'm sure they’ll discuss in the next year.” Too many buts, Bud.
Smokeless Tobacco: Selig is hoping to work with the union to enact a ban on all chewing tobacco (as currently is the case in the minors) in the next Basic Agreement. “This is a matter of health,” he said. “I understand players have a right to make their own decisions. All we can do is communicate and hope it gets through.” Translation for this is not yet available.
Chief Wahoo: Selig washed his hands of the ongoing controversy regarding the Cleveland Indians’ longstanding cartoon caricature of a Native American, saying Wahoo’s fate is up to the team itself. “I have never had anyone call me to raise an issue,” Selig said of Wahoo. That, we find hard to believe.
Quotas and Challenges and Errors, Oh My…
This Week in MLB Video Replay Gone Wrong
Commissioner Selig also sounded off on how he thinks comprehensive video replay is working. Of course, he was upbeat. He had to be; he’s got a lot riding on it. “We had no right to expect it to be this good this fast. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Let’s understand that…It’s gotten better. We’ll tweak it a little bit in some areas. But I couldn’t be happier.”
Overhauling the system, not tweaking it, is what’s needed to make video replay more like the way we see it.
Gwynn and Losses
The biggest furor to come out of the All-Star Game—besides Adam Wainwright’s admission that he gave Derek Jeter some hittable pitches—was the lack of a tribute to recently fallen Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who succumbed to mouth cancer—possibly as a result of chewing smokeless tobacco. The din of the criticism was so that Major League Baseball and Fox (which carried the All-Star Game) were compelled to release a joint statement afterward, defending their choice not to give a nod toward Gwynn because they didn’t want to single out one man when so many other important people within baseball (Ralph Kiner, Don Zimmer, Jerry Coleman) had also passed.
This may lead MLB and Fox to put together an “In Memoriam” montage on TV and at the ballpark during next year’s All-Star Game, the way the Oscars do it every year with its list of notable Hollywood personnel who died in the previous year. But of course, doing so will lead to the next, inevitable controversy: Why did you leave so-and-so out of the tribute?
Yo, It’s You Again
Oakland slugger Yoenis Cespedes became the second back-to-back winner (after Ken Griffey Jr., from 1998-99) of the Home Run Derby this past week in Minneapolis’ Target Field, easily defeating an unlikely opponent in Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier in the final round. It’s the fifth straight year, and the seventh in the last eight, that an American Leaguer has taken the trophy.
MLB had tried to speed up the event by giving hitters only seven none-home runs or “outs” (down from ten), but the dang thang still went on for three hours—and that’s not including the one-hour rain delay that produced a very sweet-looking rainbow beyond the right-field fence.
You really want to speed things up? Then come up with a solution that greatly reduces the number of pitches the hitters pass on before taking a swing. Some guys took as many as ten straight pitches before finally smacking at one.
You’re No Yo, Yas
The biggest disappointment at the Home Run Derby was the failure of Yasiel Puig to get even one ball over the fence in the first round. His first swing, in fact, resembled a check swing bunt as the ball bounced meekly back to the pitching screen. Overall, it was seven outs and out for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ star outfielder—but trust us, this will not be the last we see of Puig at the Derby.
They Weren’t Aiken to Get it Done
For all those fans who rushed into the Houston Astros’ team store to purchase Brady Aiken jerseys…eh, you might want to consider those collector items someday. Aiken, the number one pick in this year’s amateur draft, failed to come to terms with the Astros after the team got cold feet from a physical that reportedly showed signs of concern in his elbow; when the Astros lowered their bonus offer to $3.1 million—half of its original figure, and a move that angered the players’ union—Aiken balked.
Aiken now plans to attend UCLA, along with Jacob Nix—who also failed to sign with the Astros after being selected in the fifth round.
An Uggla Ending
What the heck happened to Dan Uggla? The second baseman, once a perennially high option for the All-Star team, saw an end to a bitter four-year tenure in Atlanta by being released by the Braves this past week. Any team can sign the 34-year-old Uggla and pay the minimum as the Braves are bound to the $19 million owed to him through 2015, but it will need to find out what’s up with his sudden lack to hit the ball, either for power or average.
Uggla never hit for a high average in Atlanta; he topped out at .233 in 2011, his first year with the Braves. But he did blast a career-high 36 homers that year and, somewhat strangely, managed to string together a 33-game hit streak that’s the longest by any Braves player since the team’s move to Atlanta in 1966.
But Uggla’s problems really began last year after the All-Star break, when he hit .133 with four homers. LASIK surgery to sharpen his eyes was thought to be the panacea to bring him back to form, but it didn’t work. His struggles continued into 2014, batting just .162 with two long balls over 130 at-bats. He was benched in early May and had just two singles in his last 34 at-bats before asked to depart. Perhaps he had already checked out; he was suspended last week for showing up late before a game.
Bye Bye, Korea!
Former major leaguer Luke Scott was released from his current team in South Korea for being “disrespectful” toward a coach. Scott got into a shouting match with Lee Man-soo, calling him a “liar” and “coward” before turning his attention on media witnesses assembled in the clubhouse, arguing that he had a foot injury that was being mistreated by the team. This may not be news for those who covered Scott back in the States; he was known for being outspoken, most notably when he challenged President Obama’s U.S. citizenship in 2010 at the height of that madness.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer needed only three scheduled games to make the grade for the second straight week as the owner of the majors’ longest active hitting streak—but he did, even as the ball girl sometimes got in the way, as the fourth-year first baseman extended his run to 16 games.
League vs. League
In a short week of regular season action, there was only one interleague series to report on—and the Cincinnati Reds did the National League no favors in its attempt to catch up with the American League by being swept in three games by the New York Yankees. This now drops the Senior Circuit behind in the record against the AL to 105-88.
Adding insult to injury, the AL took bragging rights at the All-Star Game with a 5-3 win over the NL. In the 11 years that the junior circuit has dominated interleague action, it has won eight of 11 All-Star games—but it’s only 5-5 in World Series competition during this time.
Wounded of the Week
We’re betting right now that the last flick the San Francisco Giants would want to choose for the in-flight movie on their charter flights is Vertigo. (Even one of the Airport movies would suffice as a replacement.) On their way to Miami, the Giants had to make an emergency stop in Las Vegas when pitching coach Dave Righetti came down with a case of vertigo.
Once in Miami, first baseman Brandon Belt was hit in the head with a ball during batting practice—and although he started the game to follow, he was removed after hitting a double in his first at-bat, complaining of dizziness. While that’s not vertigo, but Belt must have understood how James Stewart felt when looking doing that missionary tower.
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