Rookies with 35 or More Home Runs – Could this be a Trevor Story?

StoryOne of the top “stories” (pun intended) of the 2016 MLB season has been Colorado Rockies’ rookie shortstop Trevor Story – just 14 games into the season, Story has an MLB-leading eight home runs. That got BBRT to thinking: How many long balls would Story need to put himself into a top-ten spot on the all-time rookie leader board?  It appears a season of 35 home runs would do it – and that reaching the mark can portend a pretty long and successful career.  Let’s take a look at the past rookies who have reached 35 home runs.

 

 

 

 

ALL TIME ROOKIE SEASON HR LEADERS

49 HR … Mark McGwire, 1B,  A’s, 1987 – Age at start of rookie season: 23

Mark McGwire, who played in just 18 games for the A’s in 1986 (three home runs, nine RBI), retained his rookie status for 1987 – and he made the most of it.  McGwire played in 151 games, hitting .289 with an MLB (and AL) rookie-record 49 home runs and 118 RBI.  His performance was good for an All Star berth and the AL Rookie of the Year award.  Note: In 1985 and 1986, McGwire had hit 47 home runs and driven in 218 at A-AA-AAA.

McGwire went on to hit 583 home runs and collect 1,414 RBI in 16 MLB seasons – leading his league in HR’s four times (high of 70 HR’s in 1991) and RBI once (high of 147 in 1998 and 1999). McGwire was a 12-time All Star.  Nickname: Big Mac.

A little known fact about Mark McGwire – he was an AL Gold glove winner in 1990.

38 HR … Wally Berger, LF, Braves, 1930 – Age at start of rookie season: 24

Although he moved to CF in 1931, Wally Berger started out in LF with the Braves. He made the team in 1930 – after hitting .355 with 40 round trippers in the Pacific Coast League (then AA) the year before.  In his MLB rookie season, Berger hit .310, with 38 home runs (tied for the NL Rookie record) and 119 RBI. The 38 home runs was Berger’s career high. Berger was a four-time All Star in his 11-season MLB career – during which he hit .300, with 242 HR’s and 898 RBI. In 1935, he led the NL with 34 HR and 130 RBI.

Berger was the starting CF for the NL in the first MLB All Star game (1933).

38 HR …. Frank Robinson, OF, Reds, 1956 – Age at start of season: 20

Frank Robinson broke onto the MLB scene as a 20-year-old in 1956 by hitting .290, with 38 home runs (tied for the NL rookie record) and 83 RBI.  (In three minor league seasons, Robinson hit .320, with 54 home runs.) Robinson was an All Star and NL Rookie of the Year in 1956 – and he never looked back, earning his way into the Hall of Fame.  He ended his career in 1976 with a .294 average, 586 home runs and 1,812 RBI. He was an All Star in 12 seasons and won just about every award possible: NL Rookie of the Year (1956); NL Most Valuable Player (1961); AL MVP (1966); World Series MVP (1966); All Star Game MVP (1971); AL Triple Crown (1966); Gold Glover (1958). Nickname(s): The Judge; Pencils.

Robinson was the first African-American manager in both the AL (Indians 1975) and NL (Giants 1981).

37 HR … Al Rosen, 3B, Indians, 1950 – Age at start of rookie season: 26

Rosen’s strong minor league numbers, .328 average and 86 homers in five minor league seasons, earned him a call up to the Indians in 1947-48-49.  His service was brief, however, 54 at bats in 35 games – and he retained his rookie status when he opened the 1950 campaign with Cleveland. Rosen clearly delivered on his promise in that rookie season – .327-37-116; and he scored 100 runs and drew 100 walks. Rosen played ten MLB seasons, hitting .285, with 192 HR’s and 717 RBI. His best season was 1953, when he hit .336, with 43 HR’s and 145 RBI – all career highs. Rosen was an All Star in four seasons and the 1953 AL MVP. He led the AL in runs scored once, home runs twice and RBI twice.  Nickname(s): Flip; The Hebrew Hammer.

How the (All Star) game has changed. In the 1954 All Star contest, Al Rosen played 1B and 3B, had three hits and a walk in five plate appearances, scored twice, drove in five runs and hit two homers – all while playing with a broken finger. Rosen is one of only five players to hit two home runs in an All Star Game (Arky Vaughn -1941; Ted Williams – 1946; Rosen- 1954; Willie McCovey – 1969; Gary Carter – 1981) and one of only two players to drive in five runs in an All Star Game (Ted Williams – 1946; Rosen – 1954).

37 HR … Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals, 2001 – Age at start of rookie season: 21

Albert Pujols started the 2001 season with the Cardinals – following just one minor league campaign (A – High A – AAA) in which he hit .314 with 19 homers and 98 RBI. The 21-year-old rookie did even better at the major league level, hitting .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBI – earning a spot on the All Star team and the NL Rookie of the Year award. That began a string of ten consecutive seasons of a batting average of .300+, 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI. He almost has an eleventh. In 2011, the string was broken when he went .299-37-99. As this post is being prepared, Pujols is still active (16th season), has been an All Star in ten seasons, NL MVP three times (2005, 2008, 2009) and a Gold Glover twice.  He has led his league in runs scored five times, hits once, doubles once, HR’s twice, RBI once and batting average once.  He has a career average of .311, 562 home runs and 1,708 RBI (all those may change by the time you read this.)  Nickname(s); Prince Albert; The Machine.

In 2002, Albert Pujols played first base, third base, shortstop, left field, right field and designated hitter for the Cardinals.

36 HR … Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox, 2014 – Age at start of rookie season: 27

Jose Abreu joined the White Sox in 2014 after ten seasons as a star in Cuba (640 games, .341 average, 178 home runs, 583 RBI). The White Sox’ investment paid immediate dividends, as the 27-year-old MLB rookie hit .317, with 36 home runs and 107 RBI – making the All Star team and earning AL Rookie of Year honors. Abreu, still active, followed that up with a .290-30-101 campaign in 2015.

In 2010, playing for Elefantes de Cienfuegos, Abreu hit .453 (66 games), with 33 homers and 93 RBI.  His batting average and home run totals for 2009-10-11 were, respectively: .399-30 in 89 games; .453-33 in 66 games; and .394-35 in 87 games.

35 HR … Hal Trosky, 1B, 1934 – Age at start of rookie season: 21

In 1933, Hal Trosky blossomed at AA Toledo, hitting .323 with 33 home runs in 132 games – earning a call up to the Indians during which he hit.295 in 11 games.  Still a rookie in 1934, Trosky got into 154 games and hit .330,with 35 home runs and 142 RBI. He went on to an 11-season MLB career, hitting .302, with 228 homers and driving in 1,012 runs.  His career-best season was 1936, when he hit.343, with 42 HR’s and 162 RBI.

Hal Trosky never made an All Star team – blame the likes of Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.

35 HR … Rudy York, C/1B/3B, Tigers, 1937 – Age at start of rookie season: 23

Rudy York showed his power potential early.  As a 21-year-old he hit .301, with 32 home runs at A-level Beaumont; then, at 22, he hit .334 with 37 home runs at Milwaukee (AA). In 1937, he was in the big leagues to stay – and he responded with a .307 average, accompanied by 35 home runs and 101 RBI – all in just 104 games. York went on to a 13-year MLB career in which he was an All Star in seven seasons and hit .275 with 277 home runs and 1,149 RBI. In 1943, he led the AL in home runs (34) and RBI (118), while compiling a .271 average.

Rudy York has the distinction of being the only hitter ever struck out by Ted Williams. On August 24, 1940, Williams came in from the outfield and pitched the final two innings of a 12-1 Red Sox loss to the Tigers (in Boston). It was Williams’ only career pitching appearance (he gave up one run on three hits) and was historic for Rudy York because he became the only player ever struck out by Ted Williams (on three pitches). Ironically, York went 4-5 with a double, two singles, a home run, three runs scored and five RBI off the regular members of the Red Sox’ mound staff before facing Williams.

35 HR … Ron Kittle, OF, White Sox, 1983 – Age at start of rookie season: 25

In 1983, White Sox rookie OF Ron Kittle started off his MLB career with a bang – a .254-35-100 season and the AL Rookie of the Year award. Despite a steady show of power over 10 MLB seasons, Kittle would never again reach 35 homers or 100 RBI. He wrapped up his career in 1991, with a .239 average, 176 home runs and 460 RBI.

The year before Ron Kittle made the major leagues to stay, he destroyed Triple A pitching,  In 127 games for the Pacific Coast League Edmonton Trappers, he hit .345, with 50 home runs and 144 RBI.

35 HR … Mike Piazza, C, Dodgers, 1993 – Age at start of rookie season: 24

In 1992, Mike Piazza earned the proverbial cup of coffee in the major leagues by hitting .350, with 23 home runs and 90 RBI at AA and AAA.  In 21 games with the Dodgers, he hit .232 with just one home run. 1993 would be a different story.  Piazza hit .318, with 35 homers and 112 RBI for the Dodgers – earning All Star recognition and NL Rookie of the Year honors. The ride continued for 14 more seasons – all the way to the Hall Of Fame.  While he never led his league in any category, Piazza was an exceptional offensive performer – an All Star in 12 seasons and nine-times a Silver Slugger Award winner. He retired after  the 2007 season with a .308 career average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBI. Piazza topped 30 HR’s nine times, 100 RBI six times and a .300 average ten times. He holds the record for home runs as a catcher at 396.

Mike Piazza is lowest MLB Draft pick to make the Hall of Fame. He was chosen in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft – which means 1,389 played were chosen ahead of him.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Immaculate Innings and More – Pounding the Zone

They’re called immaculate innings – striking out the side on nine consecutive pitches. Not that rare a feat – it’s been accomplished by 75 different pitchers. Rare, however, is the hurler who pitches an immaculate inning more than once in a career. That list is limited to four – and they are all Hall of Famers: Lefty Grove – who did it for the Athletics; Sandy Koufax – Dodgers; Nolan Ryan – Mets & Angels; and Randy Johnson – Astro & Diamondback). BBRT note:  Nolan Ryan is the only pitcher to throw an immaculate inning in both the AL and NL.  The Astros were in the NL when Johnson threw his for them.

  http://

 

SANDY KOUFAX TOSSED A RECORD THREE IMMACULATE INNINGS

Why bring this up today?  Because April 18 is the anniversary of the date (in 1964) when Dodgers’ great Sandy Koufax became the first – and still only – pitcher to throw three immaculate innings in his career.  Koufax’ third  nine-strike, three-strikeout inning came in the third inning of a 3-0 loss to the Reds in LA and his victims were the 7-8-9 hitters: SS Leo Cardenas, C Johnny Edwards and P Jim Maloney.  Koufax gave up three runs on three hits and three walks (and six strikeouts) in that game.

Immaculate on the Big Stage

The only pitcher to throw a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning in the World Series is the Royals’ Danny Jackson. On October 24, 1985, Jackson started Game Five of the Series against the Cardinals. He threw a complete-game, five-hitter in beating the Redbirds 6-1.  He walked three and struck out five, including 3B Terry Pendelton, C Tom Nieto and PH Brian Harper on nine pitches in the seventh inning. Jackson had gone 14-12, 3.42 in the regular season He had taken the loss in Game One of the Series, despite giving up only two runs (four hits, two walks, seven strikeouts) in seven innings. His Game Five win pulled the Royals to 3-2. They eventually won the series four games to three.

Koufax’  third immaculate inning came almost a year-to-date  after his second such inning. It happend on  April 19, 1963 – when he fanned Houston Colt .45’s 3B Bob Aspromonte, C Jim Campbell and P Turk Farrell (yes, the 7-8-9 hitters again) in the fifth inning  of a 2-0 home win over Houston.  In that contest, Koufax went the distance in a two-hit, two-walk, 14-strikeout victory. The southpaw’s first immaculate inning came on June 30, 1962. That time, he worked the top, rather than the bottom, of the order.  It came in the first inning of a 5-0 no- hit victory over the Mets (in LA) and the victims were LF Richie Ashburn, 3B Rod Kanehl and 2B Felix Mantilla.  Koufax walked five and struck out 13 in what was the first of four career no-hitters.

Pounding the Strike Zone

On April 18, 2012, the Oakland Athletics’ Bartolo Colon had a stretch of 38 straight strikes (from the second pitch of the fifth inning to seventh pitch of the eighth).  The stretch included 17 called strikes, 10 foul balls, 10 balls put into play – and, notably, only one swinging strike. Over the stretch, Colon recorded four ground outs, two strikeouts (one swinging), three fly outs, one pop out and two hits (a single and a double). For the game (he got the win), Colon went eight innings, giving up four hits and no runs, with no walks and five strikeouts.  The A’s topped the Angels 6-0.

IMMACULATE EXTRA INNINGS

Only two  immaculate innings have been thrown after the ninth inning:

  • Sloppy Thurston, White Sox, August 22, 1923 … Thurston, who came on in the 11th inning, threw and immaculate 12th before giving up a run in the 13th and taking the loss in a 3-2 Athletics victory.
  • Juan Perez, Phillies, July 8, 2011 … Perez came on (against the Braves) in the top of the tenth of a 2-2 game and fanned the side. The Phillies scored on a Raul Ibanez HR in the bottom of the inning to give Perez the win.

BBRT side note for Twins fans: While no Twin has ever thrown an immaculate inning, former-Twin LaTroy Hawkins tossed one for the Cubs (against the Marlins) on September 11, 2004. Hawkins came on in the ninth inning to save a 5-2 Cubs win and used just nine pitches to fan three tough hitters: 1B  Jeff Conine, RF Juan Encarnacion and SS Alex Gonzalez.  Here’s a list of pitchers who have thrown an immaculate inning while  facing only three batters in a game – in the ninth inning unless otherwise noted:

  • Jim Bunning, Tigers … August 2, 1959
  • Doug Jones, Brewers … September 23, 1977
  • Pedro Borbon, Reds … June 23, 1979
  • Jeff Montgomery, Royals … April 29, 1990
  • Stan Belinda, Royals … August 6, 1994
  • Todd Worrell, Dodgers … August 13, 1995
  • Ugueth Urbina, Expos … April 4, 2000
  • Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals …. April 13, 2002
  • Rafael Soriano, Rays … August 23, 2010
  • Juan Perez, Phillies, 10th inning … July 8, 2011
  • Steve Delabar, Blue Jays, 8th inning … July 30, 2013
  • Rex Brothers, Rockies, 8th inning… June 14, 2014
  • Sergio Casilla, Giants … May 7, 2015

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

 

 

Twins Home Opener – and MLB’s First Week

A look at the Minnesota Twins Home Opener – And, at the end of the post, some unique events from the first week of the MLB season.

 

 

“There is NOTHING like baseball’s Opening Day. The day drips with symbolism and elicits emotions across our community, our region, and our nation. Every opener should  be a day game. Every kid should have the opportunity to attend. In my view this, is a national holiday.”

                                                                   Dave St. Peter, Minnesota Twins President

 

od2016The first game of a new season (whether it’s part of MLB’s Opening Day or your team’s Home Opener) does indeed elicit strong emotions.  That may be especially true here in Minnesota, where the return of baseball is one of the most valued rewards for surviving the frigid winter.  Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there is no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Here in Minnesota we take a more active approach to winter, but from what I saw on the faces of fans heading for Target Field yesterday, Minnesotans have been eagerly anticipating the return of baseball, their Twins and spring.

Now, BBRT will not ignore the elephant in the room – the Twins’ seventh straight loss to open the season, a not very well-played game and a disappointing outcome for players and fans. This post, however, is more about the opening of a new season and the joy (and optimism) that surrounds the return of baseball each spring.

I’ll also take a look at a few events of Week One (and a day) of the 2016 MLB season that caught my attention.  Here’s a teaser of the kinds of observations you can expect.

The San Diego Padres started out the season by being shutout in their first three games (MLB record), including the most lopsided Opening Day shutout ever – a 15-0 loss to the Dodgers.  Conversely, the Dodgers tied a record, throwing three consecutive shutouts to open the season (full story, click here.)  That caught BBRT’s attention, and I was further intrigued by the fact that after scoring zero runs in their first three games, the Padres turned around and scored 29 in their next two (16-6 and 16-3 wins over the Rockies).

Now to the Twins’ home opener.

PRE-GAME

Home Opener festivities started at 6:00 a.m.  Yes, for those of you from other MLB cities, we “open” pretty much everything we do early here in the Minnesota.  Yesterday, between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., approximately 1,200 fans made their way to the Target Field (by car, light rail, bus, bicycle and even on foot) to enjoy a complimentary baseball breakfast of brats, hot dogs and coffee – and perhaps share a high-five Twins’ mascot TC Bear.

Twins Fans Elizabeth Wallace and Paul Christensen from Edina showed true Minnesota spirit - enjoying cold pre-game beverages "al fresco," despite chilly temps and a brisk breeze.

Twins Fans Elizabeth Wallace and Paul Christensen from Edina showed true Minnesota spirit – enjoying cold pre-game beverages “al fresco,” despite chilly temps and a brisk breeze.

As game time grew closer, downtown Minneapolis parking lots, local eating and drinking establishments and the Target Field Plaza began to fill – despite a crisp 40-degree day (29-degree wind chill) – with fans wearing a variety of Twins’ gear, as well as an eclectic array of gloves, mittens, bomber hats, ear muffs and hoodies.

By noon the heart of Twins Territory was once again beating in downtown Minneapolis – as was the booming base of DJ Mad Mardigan, who was spinning lots of upbeat tunes for the large, festive crowd that had already gathered in the Target Field Plaza –  in anticipation of the 1:00 p.m. gate opening (3:10 game time). Plaza concession stands were open and doing an ironically (given the weather) “brisk” business and, as is always the case, there were plenty of fans taking photos with the statues outside the ballpark (Harmon Killebrew seemed the most popular), as well as sitting in the giant-sized baseball glove near Gate 34.

At one p.m., another Target Field tradition was honored as the ball park gates were opened to fans (and a new season of baseball) by a host of Twins’ legends, including Bert Blyleven, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Tom Kelly, Jack Morris, Dan Gladden, Rod Carew, and Catherine and Kirby Jr. representing the Puckett family.  Once fan got through the gates and past the bag check and  metal detectors, each was handed a free Twins hooded sweatshirt – a truly Minnesota-focused promotion that many fans immediately put to good use.  For a look at BBRT’s post on 2016 Twins’ promotional items, click here.

"Cluck and Moo" Bloody Mary..

“Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary.

Once inside the ball park, early arrivals made their way to locations like Hrbek’s, Barrio, The Town Ball Tavern and Two Gingers Pub. At Hrbek’s (near Gate 14), the Prime Rib Sliders were popular and it seemed everyone with a smart phone wanted to take a selfie with the new Buffalo Chicken Wing or “Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary’s. (Try to imagine a large Bloody Mary topped with a Bacon Cheeseburger on a stick and a chicken wing apparently trying to escape the glass.) One of the more popular early gathering spots was the new Minnie and Paul’s pub in center field – featuring food offerings from Pizza Luce and Red Cow, as well as plenty of beverage options.

The fact is, the Twins have done a great job of making a food and beverage experience part of the fans’ baseball experience.  I highly suggest you go to the game hungry.  Note:  BBRT would recommend the Chicken Tikka from Hot Indian Foods, washed down with a Mango Lassi (non-alcoholic) or Longfellow Lemonade (adult beverage). For a look at some of the new foods and beverages for 2016, click here.

The new Minnie and Paul's pub and The Catch in center field were popular - and in the sun.

The new Minnie and Paul’s pub and The Catch in center field were popular – and in the sun for the whole game.

After a bit of grazing, I made my way to my seat – Section 123, Row 20 Seat Five. Nice lower deck, not too far beyond third base. Other than the chilly breeze (“icy-cold wind” if you prefer), there was plenty of sun and a bright blue sky with just a few start white clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We enjoyed the usual Opener activities (and a few unusual ones). Just a few highlights:

  • An MLB video explaining 2016 rule changes.
  • The introduction of staff, coaches and players from both teams (the largest rounds of applause went to Twins’ coaches Eddie Guardado and Tom Brunansky; manager Paul Molitor; and players Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Trevor Plo-u-u-u-uffe.
  • The National Anthem, performed by local singer Caroline Smith, followed by an impressively low flyover by a pair of F-16’s from the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

odIntroThen came what would prove to be the emotional highlight of the day – the ceremonial first pitch. Twins’ hero, Hall of Famer and seven-time batting champ Rod Carew – who suffered a near fatal heart attack in September  – received a long and warm standing ovation as he made his way to the infield to do the honors. The ovation continued as another Twins’ legend, three-time batting champion and former Carew roommate Tony Oliva delivered the ball to “Sir Rodney.”  Catching the pitch was another three-time batting title winner, Twins’ 1B Joe Mauer.  It was genuinely a feel-good moment – not indicative of what was to come once the pitching began in earnest.

MISCELLANY

Before we get into the game, a few other observations from 2016’s Game One at Target Field:

  • I know why they needed to add the expanded safety netting. Lots of fans were more interested in their cell phones than the action on the field.
  • Conversely, for the first time in quite awhile, I found myself surrounded by fellow scorecard keepers. (At least four within five or six seats of me.) That was reassuring.
  • Yay, a scorecard is still just a buck – and the Twins Magazine is still free.
  • Stadium blankets come in every imaginable color.
  • It seems everything is “sponsored” these days. We witnessed the “RentersWarehouse Challenge” in the eighth inning.
  • Minnesotans are extremely polite when it comes to standing in line and waiting your turn.
  • A fan near me documented the weather by using her phone to take a video of the steam rising from the wild rice soup she purchased mid-game.
  • Appropriately, one of the between innings songs was Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.” Unfortunately, they missed the chance to cue up “Cold As Ice” by Foreigner.

THE GAME

Okay, let’s be honest.  It was not a good game for the home squad – a seventh straight loss (the worst start in the team’s Minnesota history). On the offensive side of the ball, we saw the Twins go zero-for-six hitting with runners in scoring position, botch a bunt (resulting in a double play) and deliver some questionably conservative base running (at least in the fans’ eyes). On the defensive side, a wild pitch, a hit batsman, five walks, an error, and two unearned runs. Then, of course, there was the sunny – but chilly and windy afternoon. The fans’ frustration emerged with a scattering of un-Minnesota-like boos and a considerable number of empty seats by the eighth inning. The end result was a 4-1 loss to the visiting White Sox. (There, I told your I wouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room – but I am personally giving the Twins a mulligan on this one.)

THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO

Needless to say, I have been reading and hearing a lot of post-game doom and gloom.  Let me just say, it is a long season.

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”

                                                               Halll of Fame Pitcher Bob Feller

Stats folks have been quick to point out that of the thirty-eight teams that started an MLB season 0-7, only two were able to regroup and finish above .500; that the Twins have scored only 13 runs in seven games and are hitting an MLB-low  .091  with runner in scoring position; and that Twins’ hitters  and have more strikeouts than hits and walks.  (Then again, the Twins had only one win after seven contests last season and finished in second place at 83-79.)  Yes, it’s a depressing way to start the season – but there are 155 games to go.  Oh, and for those who wonder about such things, the worst start to a season in history belongs to the 1988 Orioles, who lost their first 21 games.

Cold Starts Can Be Overcome

In 1991, The Twins – coming off a last-place finish in a seven-team division – got off to a slow start.  As of April 20, they had a 2-9 record (worst in MLB), were 5 ½ games out of first, were riding a seven-game losing streak and had been outscored by 21 runs on the season. By season’s end the Twins had won 95 games – and had become the first MLB team to go from last place one season to World Series Champions the next.

What of 2016?  Well, it’s time for the Twins to dig deep and put a few wins on the board.

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once  in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.”

                                                             Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

So, it’s time for the Twins to go out and prove something.

With that, let’s look at a few unique happenings  from the 2016 season’s first week.

A FEW OPENING WEEK OBSERVATIONS

  • Pinch Hitter(s) indeed – a record falls.

On April 8, the Cardinals used three pinch hitters against the Braves and set an MLB record by launching three pinch-hit home runs in a single game (several teams shared the previous record at two). It started with one out in the top of the seventh and the Redbirds trailing the Braves 4-3. Jeremy Hazelbaker pinch-hit for pitcher Jaime Garcia and tied the game on a home run to right-center off Matt Wisler. In the top of the eighth, Aledmys Diaz pinch hit for 1B Matt Adams to lead off the inning – and gave the Cardinals the lead (5-4) on a home run to left off Eric O’Flaherty. Then, with one out in the top of the ninth, Greg Garcia pinch-hit for pitcher Kevin Siegrist and homered to right off John Gant.  The final?  Cardinals 7 – Braves 4.  How likely was this combination? Garcia had two career MLB home runs coming into the game; Hazelkbaker had one; and Diaz had zero.

  • Pinch-hitter, indeed – another record falls.

The Tigers opened the 2016 season on April 5 in Miami. That meant playing by National League rules, putting designated hitter Victor Martinez in an uncomfortable spot – on the bench. That didn’t stop Martinez was putting himself on the AL home run leader board.  According to the Tigers, Martinez became the first player to go deep as pinch-hitter in the first two games of the season (for at least as far back as the research goes – 1914).

Martinez’ Opening Day homer came in the top of the ninth, a solo shot to center (pinch-hitting for pitcher Mark Lowe) that gave Detroit a 7-4 lead.  It turned out to be meaningful blast, as the Marlins tied it at seven in the bottom of the inning. (The Tigers went on to win 8-7 in 11 innings).

The next day, Martinez was called upon to pinch hit for pitcher Justin Wilson with one on and two out in the top of the eighth (Tigers leading 5-2). This time he delivered a two-run shot to left-center.  (Detroit won the contest 7-3).

  • A Storybook beginning.

Colorado SS Trevor Story staked his claim as a Rookie of the year candidate right out of the gate. On Opening Day (April 4). The rookie went two -for-six, with two home runs and four RBI – becoming the first rookie to homer twice while making his debt on Opening Day. The very next day, he went one-for-four – with a solo home run. Then on April 6, he added a fourth home run – a two-run shot in the first inning. After an off  day, he continued his power surge on April 8, being two more round trippers.  At week’s end (end of play Sunday), Story had played in six games, held a .357 average, with seven home runs and 12 RBI.  For more on some of the records Story set or tied and a look at four other players who homered in the first four games of a season, click here.

  • More Why I Hate the DH.

On April 9, Giants fans settled in for an epic pitching duel – as San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner faced off against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.  They got the expected mound battle, as the Giants loss to the Dodgers 3-2 in ten innings; with the two starters going a combined 14 innings, giving up three runs and fanning 13. What caught BBRT’s eye was Bumgarner’s  home run off Kershaw in the second inning.  It was Madbum’s second career homer off the Dodgers’ ace – making him one of only 15 players to take Kershaw deep twice.  It was also Bumgarner’s twelfth career homer – tying him with Yovani Gallardo for the most among active pitchers.

On April 10, last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, not only earned his second win of the week (Cubs 7 – D-backs 3), but also hit a 440-foot, two-run home run to left center – the culmination of an eight-pitch at bat against Shelby Miller.

  • An Unruly situation.

Only a week into the season and the new infield slide rule has already had a significant impact on the outcome of two MLB games – prompting early calls for its adjustment.

  • A few team stats over the first week (and a day) – stats through Sunday:
    • The Cardinals led all of MLB in fielding miscues – 10 errors in six games. The Nationals, Tigers and Giants had committed just one error each (Giants in seven games, Tigers and Nats four games).
    • The Cardinals also led MLB in free passes, issuing 31 walks in six games, while the Mets walked just seven in five contests.
    • Toronto pitchers fanned the most hitters (64 in seven games), while Clevelands hard-throwing staff fanned the fewest (28, but in only only four games).When you factor in innings pitched, the Orioles were your K leaders with 10.8 per nine innings, while the Rangers are at the bottom at 5.69.
    • Baltimore had MLB’s lowest team ERA at 1.80; Colorado the highest at 7.98.
    • Colorado led all teams in home runs (17 in six games), while the Angels were on the bottom with just one (six games).
    • Minnesota batters struck out an MLB-leading 72 times (does not include Monday’s Home Opener) – exactly twice as many at San Francisco (36 whiffs in seven games).

A Final Thought on Opening Day

On Opening Day, the sun seems a little brighter, the sky a little bluer, the grass a deeper shade of green. Once the game begins, the ball hops off the bat with an especially sharp crack, the pitches seem to have more zip and whir-r-r than ever and the fielders move with a unique combination of grace and energy.  In the stands, the beer is crisp and cold and the hot dogs steam in the cool of early spring.  The fans cheer on their old and new heroes and follow this opening contest with pennant race intensity – the most intense among them logging each play in the new season’s first scorecard.   Baseball Is Back!

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Everyone Loves a Good (Trevor) Story

Last April, BBRT featured a blog post about the historic start to Kansas City outfielder Paulo Orlando’s MLB career. On April 9, the 29-year-old rookie collected his first major league hit – a triple to deep center.  Orlando’s next start came on April 12.  In that game, he collected two hits in five at bats (and scored three runs). Not really unusual, unless you consider the fact that both his hits were triples –  making Orland0 the first player ever to log triples for his first three MLB hits.  Notably, in his next two games, Orlando added two more hits – a triple and a single.  So, after four MLB games, Orlando had five hits, four of them triples.

http://

This season, we’ve all been reading about a rookie who has gone Orlando one base, two games (and more) better. I’m talking, of course, about Rockies rookie SS Trevor Story, who has homered in each of this season’s four Rockies’ contests (which also happen to be Story’s first four MLB games.  In those for games, Story has gone 7-for-19 (.368), with six home runs (his first four MLB hits were homers), six runs scored and 11 RBI. In the process, Story has become the:

  • First player to hit two home runs in an Opening Day MLB debut (the fifth to hit two round trippers in his debut regardless of the day of the season).
  • First player whose first four major-league hits went yard.
  • First player to homer in his first four MLB games.
  • Fifth player to hit home runs in the first four games of a season: Willie Mays, Giants (1971); Mark McGwire, Cardinals (1998); Nelson Cruz, Rangers (2011); Chris Davis, Orioles (2013).
  • First player to hit six home runs in the first four games of a season.

Homers in First Four Games of a Season

Willie Mays (1971)

 7-for-18 (.388); five runs; one double’ one triple; five home runs; nine RBI.

Mark McGwire (1998)

7-for-16 (.438); five runs; one double; fuor home runs; 12 RBI.

Nelson Cruz (2011)

5-for-14 (.357); five runs; four home runs; four RBI.

Chris Davis (2013)

9-for-15 (.600); five runs; three doubles; four home runs; 16 RBI.

Trevor Story (2016)

7-for-19 (.368); six runs; six home runs; 11 RBI.

Next stop of the list?  The record for consecutive games with a home run is eight: Dale Long, Pirates (1956); Don Mattingly, Yankees (1987).

So, today, the Story continues.

Opening the Season with Three Straight Shutouts – and How the Game has Changed.

The Dodgers opened this season with three straight shutouts – sorry, Padres’ fans – only the second team in history to do so.  Before 2016, the 1963 Cardinals were the only other team  to open with three whitewashes.  In a reflection of how the game has changed, the Dodgers used at least three pitchers in each contest.  The 1963 Cardinals accomplished the feat by opening their season with three complete-game shutouts. Read on for the details.

The Dodgers have a long reputation for being pitching rich – having captured an MLB-leading 12 CYA honors. The Braves and Phillies are next at seven each. As the 2016 season opened, LA hurlers may have outdone themselves – tying an MLB record by opening the season with three straight shutouts.

Clayton Kershaw got the Dodgers going with x scoreless innings on Opening Day.

Clayton Kershaw got the Dodgers going with seven scoreless innings on Opening Day. Photo: Ron Reiring.

 

On Opening Day (April 4) in San Diego, the Dodgers trounced the Padres 15-0, in the worst opening day shutout loss in MLB history. Clayton Kershaw and two relievers gave up a total of four hits and two walks, while fanning 10.

The April 5 game, started by Dodger Scott Kazmir was more competitive, as LA topped San Diego 3-0. Kazmir and a trio of relievers gave up just two hits, no walks and recorded 11 strikeouts.

Then on April 6, the last game of the three-game series, Kenta Maeda and three relievers topped the Padres 7-0 – giving up five hits, once again no walks and fanning seven. Totals for the three games for Dodgers’ pitchers – 27 IP, 11 hits, two walks, 28 strikeouts. For the series LA outscored SD by a 25-0 margin.

Cardinals Finish What They Start

The only other team to open a season with three shutouts was the 1963 Cardinals (April 9, 10 and 13) – whose three-game opening shutout stretch included two games on the road against the Mets (7-0, 4-0) and the home opener against the Phillies (7-0). Another illustration of “How the Game Has Changed” – The Cardinals string of three shutouts to open the season included three complete games (a two-hitter by Ernie Broglio; a four-hitter by Ray Washburn; and a 5-hitter by Curt Simmons. The Phillies finally put up a run against St. Louis in the sixth inning of the Redbirds’ fourth game (April 14). The tally came off starter Ray Sadeki, who gave up four runs in 7 2/3 innings as the Cardinals won 5-4.

A Record to Shoot For

The Dodgers target in today’s matchup with the Giants (Dodgers’ Alex Wood versus Giants’ Jake Peavy) is to open the game with at least five shutout innings (to tie the record for scoreless innings to open a season) and six to break it.  I’ll be watching this one.

You can find a pair of 99-question trivia quizzes here and here.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Twins 2016 Season – New Food and Beverage Preview

"Cluck and Moo" Bloody Mary - star of the 2016 Twins Food and Beverage Preview.

“Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary – star of the 2016 Twins Food and Beverage Preview.

Today (April 5), Baseball Roundtable again took part in a new rite of spring. No, it wasn’t the first robin or even the first Spring Training fastball thrown in earnest.  It was the Twins (Seventh) Annual Media Food and Beverage Preview.  Sponsored by the Twins and Delaware North Sportservice (the team’s exclusive food, beverage and retail partner), the annual event features a look at (and taste of) the upcoming season’s new Target Field food and beverage offerings. This year’s preview once again made it clear that the Twins’ continue to “raise the bar” when it comes for food and beverage at the ball park.  The new offering for 2016 range from the “Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary (complete  with a dry-rubbed Buffalo Chicken Wing and Bacon Cheeseburger Slider) to Nutella and Strawberry Sauce Pretzel Bites to Walleye Tacos. Let’s take a look at just a few of the new items that BBRT found both tasty and interesting. (I, unfortunately, have neither the space, nor the time, to touch on all the food and beverage items that were presented on Tuesday. For more information on Twins’ concessions, visit the team’s website – here

Cluck and Moo and Buffalo Chicken Bloody Mary’s – A Meal in a Glass

Regular readers know of BBRT’s passion for Ballpark Bloody Marys. Well, the Twins are launching a couple of new ones designed to take this beverage to a whole new level. New to the menu at Hrbek’s (Section 114/Gate 14) is the Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary ($19) – which includes a Buffalo chicken wing, celery, pickle, multiple cheeses and olives, a pepperoncini and a pepperoni stick.  (Still on the menu is The Bigger Better Burger Bloody Mary – also $19 – basically, the Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary with a bacon cheeseburger slider taking the place of the chicken wing.) For the really adventurous, there is the new “Cluck and Moo” Bloody Mary. Appropriately, you get the slider and the wing with this one ($23). This is truly a meal in a glass. (I’d ask the bartender to make your spicy.) Sad news for its fans, The College Daze Bloody Mary, which featured a slice of pepperoni pizza, has been released.

Longfellow Lemonade – Refreshment for a Hot Day

The Longfellow Lemondade - as refreshing as it get.

The Longfellow Lemondade – as refreshing as it get.

Sticking with liquid refreshment for now, one of BBRT’s favorites for the coming season is the Long Fellow Lemonade – an icy cold combination of Minnesota’s L’etoile Vodka, fresh lemon juice and Strawberry Coulis.  It was a great combination of lemon tart and strawberry sweet.  But, be careful, I have a hunch these tasty treats could sneak up on you.  (Near Section 111/112.) This drink really was a home run.

Mango Lassi

If you’re looking for something tasty, refreshing and non-alcoholic – the Mango Lassi from Hot Indian Foods (Section 120) is for you.  This cool beverage has yogurt, milk, mangos and unique spices. It was delicious and would go great with any spicy foods.  BBRT sees this as an inside-the-park homer.

Walleye Tacos

Hrbek’s has gone local on its fish tacos, moving from Mahi Mahi to Walleye. The soft shell treat includes mango salsa, Napa cabbage and fresh lime.

Primed for Prime Rib

Prime rib sliders - a juicy treats.

Prime rib sliders – a juicy treat.

BBRT is a fan of prime rib and the Prime Rib Sliders at Hrbek’s were among favorite samplings of the day – juicy thin-sliced prime rib, caramelized onions and horseradish boursin spread on a toasted bun.  Tasty, but be ready to wipe the juice from your chin.

 

 

 

 

Hot Pretzel Bites and Brews

Sweet Pretzel Bites - a true summer desert. Great way to celebrate a Twins home run,/

Sweet Pretzel Bites – a true summer desert. Great way to celebrate a Twins home run,/

Target Field is presenting a whole new take on pretzels and beer at Hot Pretzel Bites and Brews (Section 101). Ice cold beers and a variety of fresh hot pretzel bites: Savory – seasoned and topped with rich beef gravy and Monterey jack cheese; Local – topped with Summit Beer cheese sauce and candied bacon, then dusted with cayenne pepper; Sweet (BBRT’s favorite) – topped with strawberry sauce with macerated berries, a Nutella sauce  and whipped cream.

 

 

 

 

Among the other new foods tasted and previewed:

  • The Loon Café’s (near section 101) Pecos River Red Chili (topped with sour cream, green onions and shredded cheese) and Grape Ape cocktail (a signature drink featuring Pinnacle Citron Vodka, sour mix, and Buddy’s Grape soda).
  • The Legend’s Club’s Buffalo Chicken Poutine and Chocolate Mousse Cup.
  • Senor Smoke’s (Sections 105/205) new Barbacoa and Vegetarian Burritos.

The Twins also unveiled a new pub – Minnie and Paul’s – located in the center field area.  Bright and open, Minnie and Paul’s should prove a popular gathering place for fans.  Among its features will be food from local favorites Red Cow and Pizza Luce, a full bar and selection of draft beers.  Red Cow will offer the Ultimate Red Cow, the Blues Burger, Turkey Burger and Beer Cheese Poutine, while Pizza Luce’s offering will include its Athena Pizza and a special TC Bear Pizza (sausage, Pepperoni, marinated chicken, ground beef, Canadian bacon.)

Of course, many past favorites will be back including Kramarczuk’s Sausages; Tony O’s Cuban; Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen; Mac’s Walleye and Chips; Butcher and the Boar; Izzy’s Ice Cream (which has added Gelato); Hot Indian Foods; Barrio; Murray’s – and I could go on and on.  (Again,visit the Twins Website for more information on concessions – or just wander a bit at the ballpark and you’re sure to come across something tasty.)  Fact is, it’s always a good day to be at the Target Field – especially if you’re hungry.  And, Tuesday was a pretty good day to be a baseball blogger.

Coming soon –  a look a few new foods from other ballparks.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

A Few Opening Day Trivia Bites

OD introsWell, MLB Opening Day – or, more accurately, Opening Days – is at least partially behind us. (BBRT is old school.  I miss the times when Opening Day featured games in Cincinnati and Washington D.C. and the rest of MLB opened play the following day.) This year, Opening Day, even without postponements, was slated to stretch from Sunday through Tuesday. (So, it’s not over yet.) My feelings on Opening Day(s) aside, let’s look at a few notable occurences from 2016 openers thus far.

 

Back-to-Back-to-Back Jacks.

On Monday (April 4), for just the third time in MLB Opening Day history, a team launched three consecutive home runs in their first game of the season. The assault came with two out in the eighth-inning of San Francisco’s 12-3 win over the Brewers (unfortunately, for Brewers’ fans, played in Milwaukee). It included a three-run shot to right by lead-off hitter/CF Denard Span, followed up by solo homers (to right and center, respectively) by 2B Joe Panik and C Buster Posey. It was a somewhat unlikely trio.  Span hit five home runs for Washington last season, has never topped eight in an MLB season and came into 2016 with 37 home runs in eight MLB campaigns. Panik, in just his third MLB season, hit eight round trippers (in 100 games) last season. Posey had shown the most power of the three, with 19 HR’s last season, a high of 24 in 2012 and 102 in his first seven MLB seasons.

The two teams to achieve back-to-back-to back dingers on Opening Day before the Giants were the 1997 Padres (in an April 1 12-5 victory over the Mets) and the 1948 Red Sox (in a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics on April 19).

The Padres’ trio of consecutive Opening Day homers came at home in the sixth inning. With the Padres trailing 4-0, SS Chris Gomez led off with a HR to left center, Rickey Henderson (pinch hitting for pitcher Joey Hamilton) banged one out to deep left and 2B Quilvio Veras poked one down the right field line.  The outburst apparently got the Padres started, as they scored eight more runs in the inning. Again, there were some unlikely long ball candidates in the mix. It was, for example, one of only five 1997 home runs for Gomez, whose career high was 11 in 1995 and who hit just 60 round trippers in 16 MLB seasons. Veras hit a total of  three HR’s in 1997, never hit more than six in a season and ended a seven-year MLB career with a total of 32 long balls.  Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson was on his way to an eight-homer 1997 season, but would hit 297 in his 25-year MLB careers.

The Red Sox’ trio of consecutive Opening Day homers involved a more likely combination of hitters than the Giants’ or Padres’ groups. Their outburst, in the second inning, came from the 4-5-6 hitters in the lineup. First baseman and cleanup hitter Sam Spence started it off, followed by SS Vern Stephens and 2B Bobby Doerr.   Spence hit a dozen homers in 1948, and 95 in a nine-year MLB career.   Stephens would go on to hit 29 homers that season, had a career high 39 in 1949 and 247 in a 15-year MLB career. Doerr hit 27 long balls in 1948, was consistently in double figures and ende a 14-year MLB career with 223 HR’s.

Off to a Good Start.

On April 4, Rockies’ rookie SS Trevor Story let his bat tell the story – becoming the first rookie to hit two home runs, while making his MLB debut on Opening Day (we do track everything in baseball) – as the Rockies topped the Diamondbacks 10-5 in Arizona. Story’s homers came in the third and fourth innings, both off Arizona ace Zack Greinke. Story ended his MLB debut two-for-six, with two runs scored and four RBI.

Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper got his 2016 off to an MVP start, homering in his first at bat of the season (with two-out in the first inning.)

Ouch! & Ooops!

Ouch! When the Dodgers torched the Padres 15-0 on Opening Day (in San Diego), it was the worst shutout drubbing in Opening Day history.  The Dodgers collected 15 runs on 17 hits and ten walks (no home runs). Meanwhile, Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw held the Padres to one hit in seven scoreless innings. (The Padres collected four hints in the game.)

Oops! The Rangers managed to win their April 4 opener (in Texas) by a score of 3-2 over Seattle – despite collecting only one hit.  All three Texas tallies came in the fifth inning off Mariners’ starter Felix Hernandez. 2B Rougned Odor started it off with a walk; SS Elvis Andrus reached on an error by Seattle 3B Kyle Seager; C Robinson Chirinos sacrificed the runners to second and third; CF Delino DeShields drew a walk, loading the bases; RF Shin-Soo Choo walked, forcing in a run; DH Prince Fielder blooped a single (the Rangers’ only hit of the day) that fell between the left fielder and shortstop, scoring Andrus; 3B Adrian Beltre was safe on a error by SS Ketel Marte, scoring DeShields; finally, 1B Mitch Moreland and LF Ian Desmond went down swinging to end the brutal half-inning. Seattle outhit the Rangers 4-1 and punched two home runs, but still lost the contest.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Opening Day – Targets To Shoot For & To Avoid

Opening Day is the most hopeful and optimistic day of each year.  At least for this one day, every team is a contender, every rookie a potential “phenom,”  every fading veteran a potential “Comeback Player of the Year,” and every new face in the lineup or on the bench a welcome addition.

                                                Baseball Roundtable, March 26, 2013

opening dayMLB’s 2016 Opening Day is nearly upon us and, in honor of this annual rite of spring, BBRT would like to revisit some Opening Day targets that players and teams will be “working for” or “working to avoid.”  (Unfortunately, my Twins open on the road, but I will be attending the May 11 home opener.)

 

 

OPENING DAY TARGETS TO SHOOT FOR

An Opening Day No-Hitter – ONE for the Ages.

On April 16, 1940, 21-year-old Bob Feller (already in his fifth MLB season) threw what is still the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history – topping the White Sox 1-0 in Chicago. It was the first no-hitter (of an eventual three) for Feller, who walked five and struck out eight. During the season, Feller would go on to lead the AL in wins (27), ERA (2.61), strikeouts (261), games pitched (43), games started (37), complete games (31), innings pitched (320 1/3) and shutouts (4).

Longest Opening Day Pitching Performance – 15 Shutout Innings.

On April 13, 1926, the Senators’ Walter Johnson pitched a 15-inning, complete game shutout (six hits, three walks, nine strikeouts) as Washington topped the Philadelphia Athletics.  The opposing starter, Eddie Rommel tossed the second-most innings in an Opening Day appearance – going 14 1/3, as Washington scored the winning run with one out in the 15th.

Fifteen Strikeouts on Opening Day – Tossing the Hitters a Curve.

On April 18, 1960, Camilo Pascual (known for his sweeping curve ball) took the mound at Griffith Stadium for the Washington Senators (against the Boston Red Sox). In 1959, the Senators had finished in last place in the AL, but Pascual had gone 17-10, 2.64, and led the league with 17 complete games and six shutouts. As the Senators’ Opening Day starter in 1960, Pascual picked up right where he left off – tossing a complete game three-hitter, walking three and striking out an Opening Day record 15 batters in a 10-1 win over the Red Sox.

Two-Squared is Four – Most Doubles in an Opener.

On April 13, 1954, the Reds’ LF Jim Greengrass (there’s a great baseball name), tied the record for doubles on Opening Day with four (in five at bats) as the Reds topped the Braves 9-8. Frank “Pop” Dillon also hit four two-baggers in an Opening Day tilt (for the Tigers) back on April 25, 1901 – as Detroit topped the Milwaukee Brewers 14-13. The Tigers scored ten runs in the bottom of the ninth (coming back from a 13-4 deficit) and Dillon’s final double drove in the tying and winning runs.

Emilio Bonafacio – Off to a FAST start in 2009.

On April 6, 2009, Florida Marlins’ third baseman and lead-off hitter Emilio Bonafacio got his season off to a fast start. In the Marlins’ Opening Day win over the Nationals (12-6), Bonafacio went four-for-five, with four runs scored, three stolen bases, two RBI and an inside-the-park home run. It was Bonafacio’s first career home run and came in his first game as a Marlin (he was traded to the Marlins by, ironically, the Nationals). Bonafacio’s four runs scored tied the Opening Day record, as did his three stolen bases.  Bonafacio finished the season hitting .252, with just the one home run, 27 RBI, 72 runs scored and 27 steals.  

Most Triples – Just Takes a Pair to Win this Hand.

The most triples in an Opening Day game is two – accomplished by six players, most recently Royals’ SS Tony Pena on April 2, 2007, as KC topped the Red Sox 7-1. Pena, batting ninth, went two-for-three, scoring twice and driving in a run.  In his “non-tripling” plate appearances he drew a walk and struck out.

Lucky Number Three – Most Home Runs in an Opening Day Game.

Three players – the Blue Jays’ George Bell, Cubs’ Tuffy Rhodes and Tigers’ Dmitri Young share the record for home runs in an opening day game with three.

On April 4, 1988, George Bell – batting clean-up and serving as the DH –  became the first major leaguer to hit three home runs in an Opening Day game as his Blue Jays topped the Royals 5-3 in Kansas City. Bell’s power outburst was no surprise. He was coming off a 1987 season in which he hit 47 homers, drove in 134 runs and was the AL MVP. Bell went three-for-four with three runs scored and four RBI, hitting all three home runs off Royals’ starter Brett Saberhagen.

On a windy April 4, 1994, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes (leading off and playing CF for the Cubs in Chicago) hit three solo shots off Mets’ starter Dwight Gooden. Rhodes also had a single and a walk in five plate appearances. Despite Rhodes’ record-tying performance, the Cubs lost to the visiting Mets 12-8. At the time, Rhodes had played 107 MLB games in four seasons – hitting a total of five home runs. His MLB career consisted of 225 games in six seasons, with a .224 average and just 13 round trippers (with a high of eight in 1994). Rhodes did go on to hit 474 home runs in eleven seasons in Japan.

On April 4, 2005 the Tigers’ Dmitri Young joined Bell and Rhodes on the list of batters with three home runs in an Opening Day game – as the Tigers topped the Royals 11-2 in Detroit. Young started at DH and went four-for-four with four runs and five RBI.  Young, an All Star in 2003 and 2007, hit a total of 21 home runs in 2005 – and 171 in 13 MLB seasons. He hit a career-high 29 round trippers in 2003.

Seven RBI in an Opener – Some Productive At Bats.

Being a Twins’ fan, one of my favorite Opening Day records is seven RBI in game one of the season – shared by the Twins’ Brant Alyea and the Cubs’ Corey Patterson.

On April 7, 1970 – in his very first game as a Twin – LF Brant Alyea drove in an Opening Day record seven runs as Minnesota topped the White Sox 12-0 in Chicago. Batting fifth, Alyea went four-for-four, with two home runs, two singles and two runs scored.  The game, it turned out, would foreshadow a strong April for Alyea.  In 17 April games, he hit .415, with seven runs, 23 RBI, four doubles and five home runs.

Thirty-three seasons later – on March 31, 2003 – Cubs’ CF Corey Patterson tied Alyea’s record. In a 15-2 win over the Mets in New York, Patterson, batting seventh, drove in seven runs, going four-for-six with two home runs and two runs scored.  Patterson, a career .252 hitter (12 seasons), was an Opening Day All Star. In seven Opening Day appearances, Patterson hit .440, with seven runs, 12 RBI and three home runs.

OPENING DAY TARGETS TO AVOID

Five Whiffs as a hitter – Ouch!

On March 31, 1996, White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice set an MLB Opening Day record by striking out five times as Chicago lost 3-2 in Seattle.  Karkovice, however, may have been a victim of circumstance.

First, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson started on the mound for the Mariners – striking out 14 in seven innings (including Karkovice three times).

Second, the White Sox could muster only two runs on four hits over the first nine innings – taking a slim 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth (at that point, Karkovice had fanned just three times).

Third, the Mariners tied the contest in the ninth, and the game went to 12 innings before the Mariners prevailed 3-2.  In those three extra innings, Karkovice struck out against Norm Charlton (tenth inning) and Edwin Hurtado (twelfth inning) to set the Opening Day record.

Out of Control – Issuing Eleven Walks on Opening Day.

On April 16, 1957, Cleveland southpaw Herb Score set the Opening Day record for pitcher’s walks, delivering eleven free passes to the visiting White Sox.  Despite Score’s wildness, it was a close contest, with Score going the distance in a 3-2, 11-inning loss. Score struck out ten and gave just seven hits and two earned runs – stranding 14 Chicago base runners.

Opening Day Record I’d Like to See Broken.

How about a six-hit Opening Day? The record is five, and the number of players to accomplish that feat is in the double-digits.  Let’s see someone collect six safeties in an Opening Day game and thin the field.

The Target? Not to be a Target.

On April 9, 1990, the Astros’ first baseman and cleanup hitter Glenn Davis was hit by a pitch an Opening Day record three times. Davis came to the plate six times and never put the ball in play – but still made only one out.  Davis (who led the league in HBP that season with eight) was hit by a pitch three times, walked twice and struck out once as the Astros lost to the visiting Reds 8-4.

BBRT Note: Davis finished Opening Day with a batting average of .000, but an on-base percentage of .833.

TEAM TARGET

Longest Opening Day Game- Shoot For or Avoid. Your Call.

On April 5, 2012, the Blue Jays topped the Indians 7-4 in 16 innings – the longest Opening Day contest ever. Guess the winners would shoot for this, the losers would prefer to avoid working overtime for little reward.

THE KINGS OF OPENING DAY

Perhaps no one looked forward to Opening Day more than Ted Williams – the king of the Opening Day batter’s box.  A career .344 hitter, Williams was even better on Opening Day.  Teddy Ballgame played in fourteen openers and was never held hitless.  He compiled a .449 Opening Day average (22 hits in 49 at bats), with three home runs, eight doubles, one triple, nine runs scored, 14 RBI and eleven walks.  His Opening Day on-base percentage was .550 and his season-opener slugging percentage was .837.

The Washington Senators’ Walter Johnson can be crowned king of the Opening Day hill.  On his first-ever Opening Day start (April 14, 1910), the 22-year-old Johnson tossed a 3-0 one-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Athletics.  Sixteen years (and 13 Opening Day starts) later, a 38-year-old Johnson fulfilled his last Opening Day assignment with a 15-inning, complete-game, 1-0 win (6 hits, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts) over the A’s.  Johnson holds the record for Opening Day pitching victories with nine (against five losses) and also threw a record seven Opening Day shutouts.

 

Finally a little, opening day gift to you – because this kind of thing never gets old.

 

NOW, LET’S OPEN ANOTHER MLB SEASON!

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Henry Rodriguez – Spring Training Sultan of Swat

As Spring Training 2015 winds down, Tigers’ RF J.D. Martinez showed he was ready for the regular season. Yesterday (March 31), Martinez launched three home runs in four at bats as the Tigers downed the Yankees 10-6. Martinez showed power to all fields, homering to left field in the first inning, right field in the fourth and center field in the seventh. The first two round trippers came off the Yankees’ Chad Green, while the final blast came off Conor Mullee. Martinez ended the day three-for-four, with three HR’s, three runs and four RBI.  Martinez is coming off a 2015 season when he went .282-38-102 and had a three-HR game (also against the Yankees) in a 12-4 win on June 21 in New York. Martinez’ big day put him at .255-7-15 for the Spring. Last spring, before his big season, Martinez went .313-5-11.

Martinez’ performance reminded BBRT of the day in 1995 when – at least for one game – Henry Rodriguez was the Spring Training Sultan of Swat.

RodriguezOn April 23, 1995 (more on why they were playing Spring Training games that late in April in just a bit),  Dodgers’ RF Henry Rodriguez went four-for-four with a Spring Training single-game record four home runs as the Dodgers topped the Mets 8-4.  It was the final game of Spring Training and Rodriguez finished the exhibition season with a .405 average and seven homers. Note:  Of Rodriguez’ four long balls – two came off Bret Saberhagen and two off Josias Manzanillo.  Rodriguez was coming off a 1994 season when he hit .268 with eight homers and 49 RBI in 104 games for the Dodgers. After his big spring game, he got off to a slow start and was traded to the Expos in May. He finished the season hitting just .239 with two home runs in 45 games. The following season, he had a breakout year, in which he was  an All Star and reached what would be career highs in home runs (36(, RBI (103), while hitting .276. From 1996 to 2000, Rodriguez hit 139 homers for the Expos and Cubs. (In Montreal, fans often tossed Oh Henry! candy bars onto the field  after Rodriguez’ home runs. He finished an 11-season MLB career with a .259 average, 160 home runs and 523 RBI.

Now, as to why Spring Training games were still being played on April 23.  It was the result of the 1994-95 MLB strike, which began on August 12, 1994 and was suspended on April 2, 1995 – the longest work stoppage in MLB history. As a result, the 1995 season began on April 25 (allowing a brief Spring Training for striking players) and was shortened to 144 games. It was a tough time for fans. (I still have a t-shirt that reads simply “Victim – 1994-95 Baseball Strike.” ) BBRT Note:  Team owners did choose to open Spring Training in February with “replacement players” and some spring games were actually played using replacements.  More on the replacement players (and particularly those who eventually made it to the major leagues) in a future post.

Coming soon:  MLB Opening Day hitters’ and pitchers’ targets.

 

For thirty things BBRT would like to see this season, click here.

 

National League predictions, click here. American League, click here.

 

You can also find a pair of 99-question trivia quizzes here and here.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Spring Training Surprises – Something to think about until the season opens.

With MLB Opening Day this coming Sunday, it seems appropriate to take a look at a few Spring Training surprises.  So, here’s a handful of developments BBRT found interesting.  (All 2016 statistics through March 27.)  As you read through these, keep in mind:

1) Spring Training provides a pretty small sample size;

2) The competition can be uneven as teams “get a look” at players who may not be in their immediate major league plans;

3) Players show up at Spring Training at different levels of preparedness; and

4) Players – particularly pitchers – often sacrifice immediate performance to work on specific skills like mastering a new pitch or hitting to the opposite field.)

With all this in mind, here are a few developments BBRT found at least somewhat surprising.

(My) Twins’ starting pitching – a pleasant surprise.

The pitching should be better at Target Field this season - at least if Spring Training is any indication.

The pitching should be better at Target Field this season – at least if Spring Training is any indication.

Right off the top in terms of surprises is the performance of the Minnesota Twins’ pitching staff – particularly the starting rotation.  (Being from Minnesota, the status of the Twins’ mound corps is of considerable interest to me.) Looking at the starters now locked in (slots 1-4), it’s been a surprisingly strong spring.  Opening Day starter Erwin Santana’s spring ERA is 1.13 (down from an also strong 1.89 in 2015 Spring Training); Kyle Gibson sits at 1.53 (down from 3.51 last spring); Tommy Milone’s ERA is 2.40 (down from 3.60); and Phil Hughes is at 2.76 this spring (down from 5.28). Overall, the Twins’ ERA is 3.51 through March 27, down from 4.00 for the 2015 exhibition season.

It’s surprisingly good to be young and at third base.

Nolan Arenado - a hor spring at the hot corner. Photo: Jennifer Zambrano

Nolan Arenado – a hor spring at the hot corner.
Photo: Jennifer Zambrano

Things are indeed hot at the hot corner this spring.  That in itself is not unexpected, but just how strong the play of a couple of young third sackers has been is a little surprising. For example, looking at players with at least 40 Spring Training at bats, the top batting average goes to 24-year-old Rockies’ 3B Nolan Arenado at .553 (26-for-47, with three home runs and 12 RBI). Arenado, in just his third MLB season, is clearly establishing his dominance. Last season, he led the NL in HR’s (42) and RBI (130), while hitting .287, winning his third straight Gold Glove and making his first All Star team.

The second-highest average among players with at least 40 at bats belongs to the D-backs’ 26-year-old 2B/SS Jean Segura at .529 (27-for-51). Segura also has two home runs, ten RBI, 14 runs scored and five stolen bases in 15 games.  Segura, acquired by the Rockies from the Brewers in an off-season trade, has a .266 average in four MLB seasons.  However, he was an All Star in 2013, when he hit .294, with 12 home runs and 44 stolen bases in 146 games. The Rockies would love to see a return to that form. Note: Segura’s likely double play partner Nick Ahmed is also having a strong spring (.418 in 17 games through March 27).

Leadership in the other two Triple Crown categories (HR’s and RBI) also goes to a young third baseman – only this one is just beginning to show his major-league potential. The Phillies’ 23-year-old Maikel Franco has hit .298 thus far this spring, with an MLB-leading eight home runs and 20 RBI.  As a rookie last season, Franco got into 80 games, hitting .280 with 14 HR’s and 50 RBI.  Looks like he’s on his way to a solid career.

Currently tied for the second-most Spring Training HR’s at six are Seattle 2B Robinson Cano (.370-6-15) and Giants’ RF Hunter Pence (.484-6-11).

A surprising Story.

The Rockies’ 23-year-old SS Trevor Story has opened a few eyes this spring – going .381-5-12 in 16 games through March 27.  The rookie may very well have captured the Colorado starting spot at short after going .279-20-80 (with 22 steals) at Double A and Triple A last season.  Rookie of the Year candidate?

Did you catch this surprise?

D-backs’ catcher Wellington Castillo has been a monster this spring.  In 11 games, he’s put up a .433 average, with three home runs, an MLB third-best 16 RBI and a spring-leading nine doubles. The 28-year-old is in his sixth MLB season (.251 career average), coming off a breakout year in 2015 (.255-17-50 in just 80 games).  He looks poised to be an offensive force in 2016.

Surprising power from the White Sox.

No team has hit more home runs this spring than the White Sox – with 42 in 26 games. What makes this surprising is: 1) In the 2015 season, the White Sox finished 26th in HR’s with 136 in 162 games; 2) No White Sox player has hit more than four home runs this spring. (However, the following players have four each: 3B Matt Davidson; RF Avisail Garcia; SS Jimmy Rollins; 3B Tyler Saladino.)

More surprises?  Here’s another Juan.

The Pirates are known for their work in helping pitchers reach their full potential.  This year’s surprise project may be 6’4”, 250-pound right-hander Juan Nicosia.  The 29-year-old has a career (five seasons) record of 22-25, with a 4.88 ERA.  (However, he did spend four of those five seasons in Colorado – not exactly a pitcher’s paradise). Last season, working primarily as a reliever (53 games) with the Dodgers, he went 1-3, 3.86. Now with the Pirates, he’s been “lights out” this spring. In five appearances (four starts) he’s pitched 15 innings, fanned 24 (tied for MLB second-best) and has yet to give up a run.

Other pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched and an ERA of zero this spring: Matt Barnes, Red Sox (10 1/3 IP); Dana Eveland, Rays (10 1/3 IP); and Dallas Keuchel, Astros (10 IP).

Diamondbacks swinging hot bats.

Through March 27, the D-backs are leading all of MLB with a .321 team batting average, 338 hits, 206 runs scored, 76 doubles and 19 triples. They also are fifth in home runs (37). Take a look at some of these Spring Training averages: Jean Segura (.529 in 15 games); Yasmany Tomas (.452 in 10 games); Wellington Castillo (.433 in 11 games); Nick Ahmed (.418 in 17 games); Jack Reinheimer (.400 in 17 games); Jake Lamb (.391 in 19 games); Brandon Drury (.379 in 22 games) – and I could go on and on.  The D-backs have 15 players who have played in at least 10 games and are hitting .315 or higher.

A surprising comeback.

D-backs’ lefty Patrick Corbin missed all of the 2014 season and half of 2015 following Tommy John surgery – but managed to finish 2015 at 6-5, 3.60 in 16 starts.  He looks to be all the way back this spring – with a 1.71 ERA and 24 strikeouts (with only three walks) in 21 innings. The 26-year-old Corbin is in only his fourth MLB season and appears to be back in the form that earned him 14 wins and an All Star berth in 2013.

Note: The Spring Training strikeout leader through March 27 is the Angels’ Hector Santiago – with a 3.52 ERA and 26 whiffs in 23 innings.

A good surprise, and a crowded outfield.

The Nationals’ 25-year-old outfielder Michael Taylor is having a solid spring – .455-4-12 in 17 games – after hitting .229 with 14 home runs, 63 RBI and 16 steals in 138 games during the 2015 regular season.  Still, there is plenty of competition for at bats in the Nats’ outfield – with Jayson Werth, newcomer Ben Revere and MVP Bryce Harper.  A surprising Spring Training performance, however, may help ensure Taylor gets his share of plate appearances.

Of course, not all surprises are good ones. For example, who would have expected that (through March 27), the Giants’ potential starting rotation’s spring ERA’s would look like this: Jeff Samardzija – 7.20/25 IP; Jake Peavy – 7.43/23 IP; Madison Bumgarner – 11.12/11 1/3 IP; Johnny Cueto – 9.58/10 1/3 IP; Matt Cain – 12.15/5 2/3 IP).

Or consider this sampling of players who have played in 15 or more games and are hitting under .200: Orioles’ 1B Chris Davis; Cubs’ OF Jayson Heyward; Tigers’ OF Anthony Gose; Astros’ 1B Jon Singleton; Royals’ SS Alcides Escobar; Marlins’ OF Christian Yelich; Mets’ C Travis d’Arnaud;  Yankees’ 1B Mark Teixeira; Cardinals’ 3B Matt Carpenter.

Here also, is a partial list of pitchers with ten or more innings and ERA’s over 7.00: Miguel Gonzalez, Orioles; Danny Salazar, Indians; Matt Shoemaker, Angels; Scott Kazmir, Dodgers; Wily Peralta, Brewers; Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees’; Colby Lewis, Rangers.

Of course, it is Spring Training – and things are likely to change a lot once the regular season gets underway.  In fact, we can expect most of the players to play up to – or down to – their expected performance. No one will hit .500; no one will finish a full (qualifying season with a o.oo ERA; the list of under-.200 hitters is not likely to include any of the players listed above; and the list of 7.00+ ERA pitchers also is unlikely to include those listed here.  So, I wouldn’t take these numbers – good or bad – very seriously. But until the soon-to-be-here season opener, it does give us something(s) to think about.

Thirty things BBRT would like to see this season – here.

Fan of trivia? -Quizzes here and here

BBRT National League prediction here – American League Predictions here

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.