BBRT’s Spring is Officially Here!

Spring is here!

Spring is here!

Spring is now officially here for BBRT.  Last year, it began with a Yankees’ Spring Training game. See that post (Link Here).  This year, it began at yesterday’s Mets/Nationals contest, at the Nationals’ Space Coast Stadium (Viera, Florida).  While the score is of little impact (Mets won 7-5), the game had all BBRT has come to expect from Spring Training.

There was, of course, the very messy scorecard – The Nationals used 25 players (seven pitchers), while the Mets used 20 (just four pitchers).  It was, however, still my first completed scorecard of 2014.

Like many spring games, it started out pretty “clean.”  It was just 2-1 (in favor of the Nats) after seven innings – with a two-team total of 8 hits and two walks.  And, like so many Spring Training contests, it got a little “loose” at the end – a total of nine runs on eight walks and seven hits in the final two frames.

Still, it was baseball in the sun – 63 degrees at game time, low seventies by the late innings.  And, the price was right, right field box seats (row 5) for $22.  And, as always, there was plenty to see and talk about - a controversial infield fly call in the seventh, fan conversation surrounding the use of designated hitters in a game involving two NL teams, hot dog vendors in short supply and spectators wondering why the umps were wearing jackets.

Bryce Harper look strong this spring.

Bryce Harper looks strong this spring.

For BBRT, there was the first witnessed double play of the season (my season doesn’t really start until I see a twin killing).  In top of the third, Nats’ third baseman Zach Walters made a nice backhanded grab, threw to second baseman Jeff Kobernus, who completed the play with a throw to first baseman Adam LaRoche. I got to see former Twins Denard Span (we still miss him in Minnesota) lead off for the Nats with a double, steal third and score on a ground out by Bryce Harper. LaRoche, Span, Harper, names we’ll hear a lot more about during the regular season.

There were a pair of unlikely hitting stars.  The only home run of the game (a three-run shot in the eighth inning) came off the bat of Nationals’ first baseman Brock Peterson, who had replaced Adam LaRoche in the top of the inning.  The 30-year-old Peterson had a mid-season call-up with the Cardinals last season (after a decade of minor league and independent ball). Peterson, who hit .296, with 25 homers and 86 RBI in 122 Triple A games last year, went just 2-for-26 with 11 strikeouts for the Cardinals in 2013 (and was released after the season).  Trying to win a roster spot with the Nationals, the 1B is 7-for-18 (.389) with one home run and six RBI this spring.

The other player with three RBIs in the game was Mets’ right fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis (gotta love the name on the back of the uniform).  Known as a fine defensive outfielder, Nieuwenhuis hit just .236 in 138 games for the Mets over the past two seasons.  He’s having a decent Spring Training (.304-1-7 in 10 games) – but is trying to retain a spot in a crowded Mets’ outfield.  In this game, he earned his three RBI with a bases loaded walk in the eighth inning and the game-winning two-run single in the ninth (breaking a 5-5 tie).

The feathered fan is high on Spring Training baseball.

This feathered fan is high on Spring Training baseball.

The winning pitcher?  Met’s righty Jacob deGrom, who arrived in the “winner’s circle” via a blown save, 1 1/3 innings pitched, with two hits, two walks, one earned run and one strikeout. (He came on with two outs and two on in the eighth and gave up Brock Peterson’s three-run, game-tying shot. ) deGrom who has yet to pitch at the MLB level is 1-0, 1.23 ERA this spring – giving up one run on four hits, with three walks and seven strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.

Also got to see a “prospect” BBRT is high on (see my prospect post here) – Mets 6’6” right hander Noah Syndergaard, a rookie being counted on for the 2014 rotation.  Syndergaard was a little shaky, but did show good stuff – fanning five in 3 2/3 innings. He has ten Ks in 8 2/3 spring innings and last season struck out 11.5 per nine innings at AA.

A different kind of wave from the Nationals' bullpen.

A different kind of wave from the Nationals’ bullpen.

A few other observations from this first game.  1) I completed my usually ball park Bloody Mary test.  On the plus, they pour the vodka and let you add the mix and condiments (olives, celery, peppers, pickles, various hot sauces, salt, pepper.) On the negative – $12 price tag and the cup was simply identified as “Bloody Mary” – no team logo to make it a free souvenir. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Bloody Mary bar is still the best I’ve come across (see it here ). 2)  A seagull nesting atop a light pole provided a particular Florida flavor to the game. 3) The Nat’s bullpen provided a friendly kind of wave and retrieved foul balls for young fans. 4) My first ball park hot dog of the year, with fried peppers and onions, was delicious (I was at a ball game, after all) and priced right at just $6; making up for the $12 Bloody Mary.

 

Ahhh!  Spring is here!

MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Predictions

As the regular season approaches, it’s time for some BBRT predictions – starting with the major player awards.  Here’s what BBRT sees for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. We’ll start with the senior circuit.

National League MVP – Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals

Yadier MolinaIf the Diamondbacks had a better shot at the post season, this prediction would be a lot more difficult. Yadier Molina would be joined as a front runner by Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt, last year, led the NL in homers (36) and RBI (125), while tossing in a .302 average and 15 steals. The fact is, Goldschmidt is just 26-years-old and – if the Diamondbacks can contend – he probably has an MVP in his future (just not this year).  From BBRT’s perspective, the Cardinals are poised for a solid season, and catcher Yadier Molina is well-positioned to win the MVP and lead the Redbirds into the post season. One of the game’s best defensive catchers (six consecutive Gold Gloves) and a top notch game caller, Molina has developed into one of the game’s top-hitting backstops as well – averaging .305-.315-.319 over the past three seasons.  Anything like 2013’s .319-12-80 line should earn Molina the MVP award. (He’s finished in the top four in MVP voting in each of the past two seasons).  He is the one player the Cards can’t do without.

If Molina falters, it seems like a wide-open race, with contenders including:

  • Dodgers’ shortstop Hanley Ramirez – Despite being plagued by injuries in 2013, Ramirez showed just how valuable he can be (.345, 20 homers, 57 RBI and ten steals in just 86 games.) Ramirez needs to stay healthy to contend for the MVP.
  • Braves’ first baseman, Freddie Freeman – If the Braves are going to hold off the Nationals and win the NL East, they will need a big season from the 6’5” slugger.  Even a repeat of 2013’s .319-23-109 will get Freeman some votes.  BBRT thinks he’ll do better – at least in the power categories.
  • Pirates’ outfielder Andrew McCutchen – Coming off 2013’s MVP season (.317-21-84, with 27 steals), “Cutch” needs the Pirates to top 90 wins again to ensure a repeat MVP opportunity. BBRT’s guess?  The Pirates and McCutchen fall short.
  • Giants’ catcher Buster Posey – A former NL MVP (2012), Posey still has MVP skills behind the plate and at the plate (.294-15-72 in 2013 was an off-year for the Giants’ backstop, who sports a .308 career average).

A couple of dark horse candidates:

Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (see the first paragraph) and Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper, who just might be ready for the breakout season we’ve all been waiting for (which could vault an even stronger Nationals team past the Braves and to East crown).

NL Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Clayton KershawThe Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw, who captured the NL CYA in 2011 and 2013 is BBRT’s pick to repeat.  He’s coming off a 16-9 season that included a league-leading 232 strikeouts and a league-low 1.83 ERA (his third consecutive season with the NL-low ERA).  His consistency, the fact that he can throw four quality pitches for strikes and the likelihood that the Dodgers will top the NL West combine to put Kershaw in good shape to again be recognized as the NL’s top hurler. Then, of course, there is the fact that he probably IS the NL’s bet pitcher.  There is a challenger in the wings, however.

The Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, at JUST 21-years-old is also JUST too good not to be in this race. The right-hander has an explosive fast ball and an equally devastating breaking ball.  How good is Fernandez – or, better yet, how good can he be?  In 2012, in two minor league stops, he went 14-1, with a 1.75 ERA and 158 strikeouts (versus just 34 walks) in 134 innings.  Then in 2013, he made the jump from High A to the majors, won the Rookie of the Year award and went 12-6, 2.19, with 187 strikeouts in 182 2/3 innings (all for a Marlins team that lost 100 games.) With a better team behind him, Fernandez would be right there with Kershaw.  Jose may not win the CYA this year, but there’s one (or more) in his future.

Just a bit behind Kershaw and Fernandez is right-hander Adam Wainwright, who could win 20 for the Cardinals – after an NL-leading 19 wins (versus 9 losses), with a 2.94 ERA one year ago.  Wainwright has finished in the top three in CYA voting three times since 2009 (he missed the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery) and, if Kershaw stumbles, this consistent performer could take the crown.

A few dark horse candidates:

BBRT thinks Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel can (and should) earn Cy Young consideration- particularly if he can again rack up close to 50 saves. Over the past three seasons, this hard-throwing right-hander has saved 138 games (leading the NL all three years), had an ERA of 1.57 and struck out 14.8 hitters per nine innings.

The Diamondbacks’ southpaw Patrick Corbin could surprise. Corbin started 2013 13-3, 2.45 (April through August), before tailing off to 14-8, 3.41.  If he can avoid the late season slump, he will be in the CYA race.

Nationals’ right-hander and former phenom Stephen Strasburg, another year away from (2010) Tommy John surgery, may be ready to finally realize his full potential.  For those who don’t remember, in his MLB debut, Strasburg went seven innings, allowing just two earned runs, while striking out 14, with NO walks. While Strasburg went 8-9 last year, his peripherals were not much different than his 15-6 season in 2012 – 2012 ERA 3.16, 197 strikeouts and 48 walks in 159 1/3 innings; 2013 ERA  3.00, 191 strikeouts and 58 walks in 183 innings. If the Nationals contend with the Braves and Strasburg leads the staff, he has a chance.

NL Rookie of the Year – Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds

hamiltonRun, Forest, Run. The  Reds’ outfield prospect Billy Hamilton stole 155 bases in 2012 –  in 132 games at High A Bakersfield and Double A Pensacola – the all-time single-season record for organized baseball.  Hamilton followed up in 2013 by stealing 75 bases in 132 games at Triple A Louisville, before a September call up to the Reds.  In 13 games for Cincinnati, he hit .368 (9-for-19) and stole another 13 bases in 14 attempts. Don’t let that average fool you, Hamilton still has plenty to learn at the plate (he hit just .256 at Louisville). You can’t, however, teach speed and the Reds think highly enough of Hamilton to have penciled him in to replace the departed Shin-Soo Choo.  It should be fun to watch him on the base paths and the outfield – and to track his development at the plate.

Hamilton, by the way, was not BBRT’s “first” first choice for NL ROY.  That would have been Oscar Taveras (OF) Cardinals, until recurring ankle issues pushed his season back. That injury cut Taveras’ 2013 season short (46 games, .306 average, five home runs, 32 RBI for the Triple A Memphis Redbirds), and seems to still be causing problems. (That may explain the Cardinals’ trade for CF Peter Bourjos.)  Once Taveras is ready, it will be hard to keep him out of the Cards’ line up.  The 21-year-old (with five minor league seasons under his belt)  has little left to prove at the minor league level. Signed by the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2008, Taveras has put up a .320 average, with 45 home runs and 275 RBI in 374 games, while advancing steadily through the Cardinals’ system.  In 2011, at age 19, he captured the Midwest League (Class A) batting title, hitting .386, with eight home runs and 62 RBI in 78 games. In 2012, he led the Texas League with a .321 average, adding 24 homers, 94 RBI and ten stolen bases.  His ability to hit pitches off the plate reminds BBRT (a long-time Twins fan) of three-time AL batting champ Tony Oliva.

Kolten Wong, the Cardinals’ second base prospect, is already a household name for some fans.  He first came to BBRT’s attention in Game Four of the World Series, when he was brought in as a pinch runner in the ninth inning with his Cardinals trailing 4-2. Wong was picked off first (with two out and Carlos Beltran at the plate) by Red Sox closer Koji Uehara – marking the only World Series game ever to end on a pick-off play. Wong hit only .153 in 32 games (59 at bats) for the Cardinals at the end of the 2013 regular season.  That, however, is not an indication of his potential.  He was called up after hitting .303, with 10 home runs, 45 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 107 games at Triple A Memphis – and has posted a .301 average over three minor league seasons.  He may very well earn some ROY votes.

Dark horse candidate:

BBRT likes Mets’ right-handed starter Noah Syndergaard.  In 2013, his first season in the Met’s system, Syndergaard split time between High A and Double A – going 9-4, with a 3.06 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings.  Perhaps more telling is that fact that, while striking out 133, he walked only 28.  For his four minor league seasons, the hard-throwing (mid-90s, with a decent curve) righty is 22-12, with 329 whiffs and 81 walks in 293 2/3 innings. With Matt Harvey facing Tommy John surgery, the Mets need to shore up their rotation.  While Syndergaard will likely start the season at Triple A, solid performance at that level could lead to a mid-season call up, another exciting mound presence for the Mets and a shot at Rookie of the Year.

 Now let’s move on to the American League.

 

American League MVP – Prince Fielder, 1B/DH, Rangers

Prince FielderJust about everyone’s going to go with the one-two finishers of the past two seasons – Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout – for AL MVP.  BBRT is going to take a different route, projecting a close race among three candidates, with new Rangers’ first baseman Prince Fielder capturing this year’s AL MVP Award. Fielder has something to prove, and he will put up big numbers in a hitters park, helping the Rangers unseat the Athletics at the top of the AL West. A season of .290-35-110 would not be a surprise.

Hitting machine Miguel Cabrera, moving across the infield to first base for the Tigers, will also be a top candidate, and if he comes close to another Triple Crown could slide past Fielder. Let’s face it, when .320-35-110 would be an off year (and for Cabrera it would), you have to expect to be in the MVP hunt.  BBRT just thinks voters may: 1) Set expectations for Cabrera high 2) be ready for a change.

Also in the running will be five-tool star Mike Trout. Trout will again likely see a MVP-worthy numbers falling victim to the Angels’ inability to make the post season. MVP runner-up the past two seasons, Trout’s MVP fortunes will depend on the Angels won-lost record.

A couple of wild card candidates:

Albert Pujols, Angels, who says he is finally healthy again (plantar fasciitis). If that’s the case, he is capable of MVP numbers.  However, if he helps the Angels find success in the playoff hunt, Pujols is likely to share votes with teammate Trout.

Brian McCann, Yankees, is a long shot for MVP, but the new Yankee catcher is a left-handed pull-hitter, and New York’s short right field may help him to a career year. In addition, he may share the credit if Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda find success on the mound in 2014.  If the Yankees take the East, BBRT bets McCann will garner votes.

CY Young Award – Yu Darvish, Rangers

Yu Darvish pitching at Goodyear StadiumBBRT will go with the flow for AL CYA, looking to Texas right-hander Yu Darvish to take the crown. Darvish went 13-9, 2.83 last season, topping the AL with 277 strikeouts in 209 2/3 innings.  This follows an AL rookie campaign of 16-9, 3.90, 221 whiffs in 191 1/3 innings. Also, keep in mind, Darvish’s seven seasons in Japan resulted in a line of 93-68, 1.99, with 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings.  Darvish, just 27, has the stuff and the experience to capture the CYA, even in Texas’ hitters’ paradise of a park. It should be his year.

Next on BBRT’s list is Seattle righty Felix Hernandez.  In 2013, Hernandez went 12-10, 3.04 in 31 starts – and averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings (versus just two walks). An improved Seattle offense should get him a few more wins – and remember, Fernandez did win the 2010 CYA with a 13-12, 2.27 line.

Detroit may put up a pair of good candidates in former Cy Young winners (2011 & 2013, respectively) Justin Verlander (who was back to form in late 2014) and Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 last season).

Dark horse candidates:

Kansas City’s veteran staff leader James Shields (13-9, 3.15 in 2013) could be a surprise candidate– if the Royals make a move up the standings.

Chicago White Sox’ left-hander ander Chris Sale also has CYA potential. Sale went 11-14 last year (despite a 3.07 ERA and 226 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings).  Only 25, Sale was 17-8, 3.05, with 192 Ks in 192 innings for the Sox in 2012. He definitely has the stuff, he just needs some support from the Chicago offense.

Rookie of the Year – Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox, SS-3B)

BogaertsBBRT sees a four-player race for AL Rookie of the Year, led by Red Sox’ infielder Xander Bogaerts – who will be challenged by Yankee right-handed starter Masahiro Tanaka (already a star in Japan, but an MLB rookie), 2013 Minor League Offensive Player of the Year George Springer (Astros) and Seattle right-handed starter (and future staff ace) Taijuan Walker.  BBRT expects Tanaka and Walker to split the “pitcher votes) and Springer to suffer a bit from plate discipline, letting Bogaerts capture the award in a close race.

Seems strange to list a player who sports a .296 average in 12 post-season games as the pre-season Rookie of the Year prediction, but Bogaerts’ still has only 18 games of regular-season major league experience (.250 in 44 at bats, with seven runs, five RBI, one HR and one stolen base). A smooth fielder who came up as a shortstop, he split his time between SS and 3B for the Red Sox down the stretch drive. Bogaerts, ranked as 2014’s top shortstop prospect by MLB.com, hit .296 with 54 home runs, 235 RBI and 17 steals in four minor league seasons.

Then, of course, you have right-handed hurler Masahiro Tanaka, who joins the Yankee rotation after a dominating 24-0, 1.27 ERA (8 complete games) with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. Just 25-years-old, Tanaka has gone 99-35, 2.30 in seven Japanese seasons – and, over the past three seasons, he has thrown 609 1/3 innings, striking out 593 hitters, while running up a 53-9 record, with a 1.44 ERA, 30 complete games and 11 shutouts.

Also in the running will be Astros’  OF George Springer, 2013’s Minor League Baseball Offensive Player of the Year. Springer has put up Mike Trout-like numbers in the minor leagues over the past two seasons. In 2012, at High A and AA, he played 128 games and hit .302, with 24 HRs, 87 RBI and 32 stolen bases.  He moved up to AA/AAA last season and did even better – 135 games, .303, 37 HRs, 108 RBI and 45 steals. He still needs to work on plate discipline (145 walks versus 312 strikeouts over the past two seasons), but (given the state of the Astros) he may be allowed to develop at the major league level.  That makes him an ROY contender.  (Note:  BBRT still has trouble picturing the Astros in the AL.  It just doesn’t seem right.  In fact, in an early draft of this post, I had Springer in the running for NL ROY.)

Then there’s  Mariners’ righty Taijuan Walker. After going 5-3, 3.61 with 64 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings at Triple A Tacoma, Walker went 1-0, 3.60 with four walks and twelve strikeouts in three late-season starts (15 innings pitched) for the Mariners.  In four minor league seasons, Walker struck out 400 hitters (371 2/3 innings) versus 149 walks.  BBRT and the Mariners are confident he is ready.

Dark horse candidates include:

Nick Costellanos (Tigers, 3B-OF) is considered one of the minor leagues’ best pure hitters. Costellanos gets the opportunity at the hot corner, as Miguel Cabrera moves across the diamond to first base.  Last year, at Triple A, Costellanos hit .276, with 18 home runs and 76 RBI.   He also hit .278 in 18 at bats after a September call up to the Tigers.

Then there’s Twins OF prospect Bryan Buxton. Even though the 20-year-old is likely to start the season at the Double A level, Buxton – the 2013 Minor League Player of the Year and MLB.com’s top-rated prospect – is a BBRT dark horse candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. He’s a true five-tool player. In his first full minor league season, split between Class A Cedar Rapids and High Class A Fort Myers, Buxton hit .334 with 12 homers, 77 RBI, 109 runs and 55 stolen bases in 125 games. BBRT’s hope is for a mid-season call up (to appease frustrate Twins’ fans).

 

Coming soon:  BBRT MLB 2014 standings predictions.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

 

 

The Particulars on Some Veterans Worth Watching in 2014

In a January 22 post, BBRT called out a group of MLB prospects I’ll be watching in 2014. In this  post, I’ll touch upon about a dozen veteran players BBRT thinks are worth some special attention in 2014 – for the most part, players who face particular challenges and whose performance may be particularly important to their teams’ fortunes.

Justin Verlander ... ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander … ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers … The Tigers’ 31-year-old right-hander (2011 Cy Young Award Winner and AL MVP) had his second worst MLB season in 2013. (He did lead the AL in losses with an 11-17 record in 2008). He finished 2013 at 13-12, 3.46, while striking out 217 in 218 innings. Verlander’s velocity was down in the first half, but he found the old heat late in the season, posting a 2.27 ERA after September 1 and enjoying a post season in which he pitched 23 innings, giving up just one earned run and striking out 31. It certainly looked like Verlander was back on his game. But then came an off-season injury and “core muscle surgery.” It’s disturbing that the Tigers have not defined “core muscle.” Verlander says he’ll be ready, but it makes you wonder if seven straight seasons of 200+ innings (Verlander led the AL in innings pitched in 2009, 2011, 2012) may be taking a toll. BBRT will be watching, but is betting Verlander will be back at or near the top of his game. How good can that be? In 2011/2012, Verlander went 41-15, 2.52 with 489 strikeouts in 489 1/3 innings. Verlander should reach 16 wins and 200+ whiffs in 2014.

 

Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Angels … The Angels have a big investment in 34-year-old Pujols, who started his career (as a Cardinal) with ten straight seasons (2001-2010) of a .300+ average, 30+ homers and 100+ RBI, three MVP awards, a batting title and two HR crowns.   He barely missed another .300-30-100 season for the Cards in 2011 (.299-37-99), when he was on the disabled list from June 20 to July 5.  Since signing a 10-year/$240-million contract with the Angels before the 2013 season, Pujols has suffered from planter fasciitis and turned in seasons of .285-30-105 and .258-17-64.  Pujols says he is healthy now – and the Angels need a return on their investment if they are going to contend for the division crown.  BBRT will be watching to see if a healthier Pujols returns to form. BBRT expects a bounce back, but not to his early career levels. Still, a .290-32-104 season would suit the Angels fine, and that seems well within reach. One thing is for sure, a true professional, Pujols is determined to let his bat silence his critics in 2014.

Note:  While watching Pujols, BBRT will also be keeping an eye on another big-time Angels’ investment – Josh Hamilton, who turned in a disappointing .250-21-79 season in the first year of a five-year/$125-million contract with the Angels.

R.A. Dickey, RHP, Blue Jays … The Blue Jays acquired 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey after his spectacular 2012 season – when the then NY Met translated his hard knuckler into a 20-6 record, 2.73 ERA, NL-leading 230 strikeouts and a Cy Young Award.  To get Dickey (along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas), the Jays gave up high-potential prospects catcher Travis D’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, as well as catcher John Buck and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.  The Jays signed Dickey to a two-year/$25 million contract extension.   In 2013, Dickey went 14-13, 4.21 for the Jays, striking out 177 in 224 2/3 innings (and winning a Gold Glove award). The Blue Jays were and are hoping for more from Dickey.  However, if you take 2012 out of the equation, his 11-year MLB record is 55-63, 4.31.  Dickey’s knuckleball will remain fun to watch, but a return to 2012 form seems unlikely for the 39-year-old.  Still, Dickey appears recovered from neck and upper back pain that hampered him early last season, and 15 wins from this work horse would not be unexpected.

La Troy Hawkins, RHP, Rockies … Colorado Rockies have indicated the 41-year-old Hawkins will be their closer for 2014.  In 2012, his 19th MLB season, Hawkins went 3-2, 2.93, with 13 saves for the Mets.  Hawkins has kept his career alive by filling a variety of roles (for ten different teams) – full-time starter (twice starting 33 games in a season for the Twins), closer (twice saving 25 or more games), set-up and middle/long relief (six times appearing in 65 or more games). If he stays healthy, the ageless Hawkins (imposing on the mound at 6’5”, 220 lbs.) should be fun to watch.  If he pitches in 57 contests for the Rockies, he will become one of just 16 pitchers with at least 1,000 appearances.

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Orioles … Jimenez, with an inconsistent delivery (and similar results) can sink you or save you.  The Orioles are hoping they are getting something closer to the Jimenez who went 19-8, 2.88 for the Rockies in 2010 than the 9-17, 5.40 Indians’ hurler of 2012.  Last season, Jimenez was somewhere in the middle at 13-9. 3.30 for Cleveland.  He’s a gamble – but one with lots of upside.  Worth a watch in 2014, as his fortunes will have a lot to do with the Orioles’ ability to contend in the tough AL East.

 

Derek Jeter ... How high will  retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter … How high will retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees … Okay, so “everyone” will be watching the 39-year-old Jeter’s retirement tour.  What can you say about a player whose resume includes 3,316 hits, an AL Rookie of the Year award, 13 All Star selections, five Gold Gloves and a World Series MVP award? Of course, the “Jeter Watch” is focusing on more than his retirement (although Mariano Rivera set the “gift” bar high).  The Yankee captain is coming off a 2013 season when he was put on the DL four times (primarily traced back to his 2012 post season broken ankle) and played only 17 games.  Can he get back to form?  Don’t bet against him. Remember, Jeter is just one injury-plagued season away from leading the AL in at bas and base hits.  There are, however, a lot of miles on Jeter’s legs – 2,602 MLB games over 19 years.  For the Yankees, the question is will he look like the “Jeter of Old” or just an old Jeter.  BBRT expects Jeter will get into 130 games and turn in a .280-.285 average.  Then again, well rested, he could surprise and go out at .300+. Either way, the future Hall of Famer will be a veteran to watch this coming season.

Jeter factoid: In his first professional game (Rookie-level Gulf Coast Yankees), Jeter went hitless in seven at bats, with 5 strikeouts – and he finished the season at .202. Apparently, he made some adjustments over time – and we can expect he will adjust well in 2014 as well.

While you’re tuning in the Bombers to watch Jeter, keep an eye on Mark Teixeira as well. A wrist injury (and subsequent surgery) limited the power-hitting first baseman to 15 games last season.  The Yankees need his bat to come back.  Still, there are some disturbing signs beyond the injury. Over his first seven MLB seasons (2003-2009), Teixeira hit for a .289 average.  Over the past four seasons, he has averaged just .249.  Still, as recently as 2011, he hit .248, with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs.  That would make the Bronx Bombers happy, and strengthen their lineup considerably. Keep an eye on the 34-year-old (turns 34 in April). 

Koji Uehara, RHP, Red Sox … Uehara, who turns 39 in April, was presented the Red Sox’ closer role in 2013 after injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.  All he did was record 21 saves, along with four wins and one loss, a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. He then added a record-tying seven post-season saves and an ALCS MVP Award.  Uehara was successful as both a starter and closer in Japan (a twenty-game winner as a rookie in 1999, 32 saves in 2007) before joining the Baltimore Orioles in 2009. In five MLB seasons, he is 9-10, 2.42, with 35 saves.  It seems doubtful he can be as dominant in 2014 as he was in 2013, but BBRT and Boston fans will be watching. Notably, Boston does have a backup in place having added Edward Mujica (37 saves for the Cardinals last year) in the off season.

 

Prince Fielder - looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Prince Fielder – looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers & Prince Fielder, 1B/DH Rangers … These two are on the watch list together because they were traded for each other “one-for-one” in the off season – and both will be vital to their new team’s success.

Kinsler is a three-time All Star, who is considered a “plus” defender, and  is a two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs and SBs) club.  Kinsler is looking to bounce back from a 2013 season in which he went .277-13-72, with 15 steals.

Prince Fielder, on the other side of the trade, is a power hitter who has averaged .286, with 32 home runs and 97 RBI per season in his nine MLB years. Fielder is a five-time Star and a member of the 50-home run club (Prince and his father Cecil Fielder are the only father-son members of that prestigious club).  Like Kinsler, Fielder is looking to rebound from a pretty good (but not up to expectations) season – .279-25-106.

BBRT will be watching to see if either of these players performs well enough (or badly enough) to establish a clear winner in this trade.

Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates … Did the Pirates really find the flaw in Liriano’s explosive delivery? 2013’s 16-8, 3.02 record (163 strikeouts in 161 innings) seems to say so.  But we’ve seen this before.  (Liriano is, in fact, a two-time Comeback Player of the Year.) Liriano made the AL All Star team as a rookie in 2006, and ended the season 12-3, 2.16 with 144 whiffs in 121 innings pitched.  That season, unfortunately, ended early and was followed by Tommy John surgery. Liriano missed the 2007 season, then went 6-4, 3.91 in 2008.  In 2009, he fell off to 5-13, 5.80.  But he seemed to straighten out in 2009, going 14-10, 3.62 and topping 200 strikeouts, while winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.  His comeback was short lived. In 2011-12, Liriano went a combined 15-22, with an ERA over 5.00 both seasons.  Then came the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year II season with the Pirates.  Given his track record, 2014 could be interesting.

Others to watch:

David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox … Big Papi is 38 and coming off a .309-30-103 season, leading the Red Sox in all three categories. The Sox need solid numbers – and continued clubhouse leadership – from Ortiz to repeat as AL East leaders in 2014.  BBRT will watch to see if age starts to catch up to the game’s top DH.

Joe Mauer, 1B/DH, Twins … Mauer is the only MLB player to win three batting title as a catcher (2006, 2008, 2009) and carries a ten-year, .323 average into the 2014 season.  Concussion issues have resulted in a move to 1B for 2014.  BBRT will be watching to see if the less stressful position can lead to another batting title.

Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers … A thumb injury and a PED suspension muddied the waters for the five-tool Braun – a former Rookie of the Year (2007), MVP (2011), two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs/SBs) club and five-time All Star. He seems to be handling the pressure well, and BBRT expects a strong return for the 30-year-old in 2014.  BBRT will be interested in the fan reaction, as Braun works to rebuild his reputation.

Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, Angels … In 2013, Ibanez (then with the Mariners) rapped 29 home runs in 124 games, tying Ted Williams for the most homers in a season by a player over 40.  Ibanez who turned 41 in June of last year, is with the Angels now and, who knows, may make another run at the record.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels … Can he finally win an MVP Award?  If the Angels make the playoffs it’s very likely.

B.J Upton & Dan Uggla, OF & 2B, Braves … Two players who both played more than 125 games and hit .184 and.179, respectively. Upton signed a five-year/$75 million contract with the Braves during the 2012/13 off  season, while Uggla signed a five-year/$62 million contract before the 2011 season. The questions?  Can either or both return to form? (Uggla is a three-time All Star and Upton is a three time member of the 20+ HR/20+ SB club.) And, how much patience do the Braves have?  As it stands, the Braves have a lot of money invested below the Mendoza line.

Teams with Three 200+ Strikeout Pitchers – A Diverse Bunch of Hurlers

With the recent “feel-good” publicity surrounding pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, BBRT took time to reflect on some unique accomplishments involving major league batteries – specifically looking at teams that could boast 200-strikeout performances by three pitchers in the same season.  It’s only happened three times in major history, and the nine hurlers involve make up a pretty diverse bunch:

  • Five have at least one MLB no-hitter on their resume, with two of those having  fashioned multiple no-hit games;
  • One is on a streak of five consecutive 200+ strikeout seasons, while five notched only one (well-timed for this list) 200+ strikeout seasons in their careers;
  • One was only the eighth rookie to notch 200+ whiffs, and never came close to the mark again in a 14-season MLB career;
  • One won sixteen consecutive Gold Gloves, while another is one of only eight pitchers to capture the Cy Young Award and league MVP in the same season;
  • One threw 17 no-hitters in high school (while racking up a 52-1 won-lost record);
  • One celebrated his eighteenth birthday by making his first major league start and striking out Willie Mays to end his first major league inning;
  • One is one of only two pitchers to strikeout four batters in a single post-season inning;
  • Four, at one time, led their league in wild pitches, including one who led his league in wild pitches and hit batters two consecutive years.

You’ll find all of this and more in the detailed look at the 200+ strikeout trios later in this post, but for those who just want to know the years, teams and pitchers, here they are:

  • 1967 Minnesota Twins:  Dean Chance (220 Ks), Jim Kaat (211), Dave Boswell (204).
  • 1969 Astros:  Don Wilson (235), Larry Dierker (222), Tom Griffin (200).
  • 2013 Tigers:  Max Scherzer (240), Justin Verlander (217), Anibel Sanchez (202).

Now, let’s take a more detailed look at these bat-missing trios of teammates.

 1967 MINNESOTA TWINS 

The 1967 Minnesota Twins were the first MLB team ever to have three pitchers on the roster reach the 200-strikeout mark – two hard throwing right-handers and a crafty southpaw who took the mound in 25 MLB seasons.  All three were twenty-game winners at least once in their careers, and they totaled six 200-strikeout seasons among them.  In 1967, these three hurlers went 50-39, leading the Twins to a 91-71 record and a second place AL finish.

 

Dean Chance - led Twins in strikeouts in 1967 - three 17 high school no-hitters - "owned" Yankees in 1964.

Dean Chance – led Twins in strikeouts in 1967 – three 17 high school no-hitters – “owned” Yankees in 1964.

Right-hander Dean Chance – 220 strikeouts.  Acquired from the Angels after the 1966 season, the former Cy Young Award winner (1964), went 20-14, 2.73 in his first year as a Twin, leading the AL in starts (39) and complete games (18), while fanning 220 in 283 2/3 innings. His 1967 season included an August 25th 2-1 no-hit win against the Cleveland Indians.  Chance was a rangy (6’3”, 200 lbs.) right-hander, with a sinking low- to mid-90s fastball, complemented by a curve, changeup and screwball.

Chance signed right out of high school, where he had a 52-1 record – with 17 no-hitters – for West Salem Northwestern High in Wayne Ohio.  Graduating from high school in 1959, he was in the major leagues by the end of the 1961 season.  Chance reached the 200 + strikeout mark three times in his eleven MLB seasons (1961-71) – and finished with a career mark of 128-115, 2.92, and 1,534 strikeouts in 2,147 1/3 innings.  In his 1964 Cy Young season (with the Angels), Chance notched an AL-leading 20 wins (versus nine losses), while also leading the league in ERA (1.65), complete games (15), shutouts (11) and innings pitched (278 1/3) – while striking out 207.

In that 1964 season, Chance added to his reputation by truly “owning” the AL champion New York Yankees.  Chance started five games against the Bronx Bombers, throwing four complete games and three shutouts.  In the only game he didn’t complete, he pitched 14 innings and left with a scoreless tie.  In 50 innings against the Yankees that year, Chance gave up only one run on 14 hits, while striking out 36. The only run the Yankees scored in those fifty innings was on a solo home run by Mickey Mantle.

Left-hander Jim Kaat – 211 strikeouts Kaat went 16-13, 3.04, with 211 strikeouts in 263 1/3 innings. The southpaw was coming off the best season of his career (1966), when he led the AL with 25 wins (against 13 losses), and posted a 2.75 ERA, with 205 strikeouts in 304 2/3 innings pitched.  Kaat relied on a rising fastball, sinker/slider, changeup and curve to carve out a 25-year MLB career (1959-83). Kaat, who won 283 games and notched 2,461 strikeouts, reached the 200-strikeout level only twice. A superb athlete, Kaat won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves.  The left-hander was a three-time All Star. In 1961, Kaat led the AL with 11 hit batters and 10 wild pitches – and he repeated the dual category leadership in 1962 with 18 hit batters and 13 wild pitches.

Kaat gained the respect of teammates and opponents alike when he kept the Twins in the tough 1967 pennant race through the month of September. In that month, Kaat pitched in 9 games (8 starts), going 7-0, with six complete games, a 1.51 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings. 

He continues to show his athletic ability, shooting his age (75) as a golfer this past year (2013).  While quite a few golfers can boast shooting their age, Kaat has the distinction of doing it twice in less than 30 days – once left-handed and once right-handed.

Right-hander Dave Boswell – 204 strikeouts.  Another hard-thrower, Dave Boswell went 14-12, 3.27 and notched his 205 Ks in 222 2/3 innings in 1967.  In 1966, as a starter and reliever, he had led the AL with a .706 winning percentage (12-5) and had struck out 173 hitters in 169 1/3 innings.  Boswell, who relied primarily on a “plus” fastball, slow curve and slider, never again reached 200 strikeouts in a season.  He did come close in 1969, when he fanned 190, while compiling a 20-12, 3.23 record.

Boswell, who made his big league debut in 1964 at age 19 (he had a 28-2 high school record), had 64 major league wins by the time he was 24.  He injured his arm in the 1969 post-season (on a hard slider to Frank Robinson), went 4-9 in 1970-71 and retired after the 1971 season (at age 26).  Boswell had a record of 68-56, 3.52, with 882 strikeouts in eight major league seasons (1964-71).

 

1969 HOUSTON ASTROS

The second MLB team – and first NL team – to boast three 200-strikeout hurlers was the 1969 Houston Astros (now of the AL).  The Houston trio was made up of three young (24-, 22-, and 21-years-old) hard-throwing right-handers – one a rookie who would never again approach 200 whiffs (and, in fact, would only reach 100 strikeouts once more in his 14-year MLB career). The young, hard-throwing trio went a combined 47-35 as the Astros finished fifth in the NL West with an 81-91 record.

 

Don Wilson - led Astros in strikeouts in 1969 - threw two MLB no-hitters.

Don Wilson – led Astros in strikeouts in 1969 – threw two MLB no-hitters.

Right-hander Don Wilson – 235 strikeouts.  The hard-throwing righty (rising fastball/sharp-breaking slider), like many of the fire-balling hurlers in the 200K trios, came to the major leagues at a young age, making his MLB debut at age 21 (1966).  In 1969, he went 16-12, 4.00, fanning 235 hitters in 225 innings – and led the league with 16 wild pitches. Wilson was an effective starter for Houston, going 104-92, 3.15, with 1,283 strikeouts in 1,748 innings (1966-74).  He reached the 200-strikeout level just once.  Wilson fashioned two no-hitters in his brief career – his first, against the Braves in the Astrodome on June 18, 1967, was the first no-hit game ever pitched in a domed stadium or on artificial turf.

Wilson’s career was cut short in 1975 – at the age of 29 – when he died of carbon monoxide poisoning (He was found in the passenger seat of his car inside his garage with the engine running).  Wilson’s last game was a 5-0, two-hit, complete game shutout win over the Braves in Atlanta on September 28, 1974.

Right-hander Larry Dierker – 222 strikeouts. Only 22-years-old, Dierker had already registered 95 starts, 33 complete games and 35 victories going into the 1969 season. After 1968’s 12-15, 3.31 record, with a league-topping 20 wild pitches, Dierker came of age in 1969.  He went 20-13 (making him the Astros’ first twenty-game winner), 2.33, with 222 whiffs in 305 1/3 innings – notching 20 complete games in 39 starts. He never again reached 200 Ks, although the two-time All Star came close in 1970 (16-12, 3.87, 191 strikeouts in 269 2/3 innings).

Dierker made his major-league pitching debut on his 18th birthday (September 22, 1964) – striking out Jim Ray Hart and Willie Mays in his first MLB inning. He threw a no-hitter on July 9, 1976, against the Montreal Expos. Dierker ended a 14-season career (1964-77) with a 139-123. 3.31 record, with 1,493 strikeouts 2,333 2/3 innings.

Right-hander Tom Griffin – 200 strikeouts. A 21-year-old rookie, Griffin reached the 200 strikeout mark for what was to be the only time in a 14-season MLB career.  At the time, he was only the eighth rookie in MLB history to reach 200-strikeouts. (That number now stands at 16.) Griffin went 11-10, 3.54, with 200 strikeouts in 188 1/3 innings. Griffin fell off to 3-13, 5.74 the following season and spent most of his career (1969-62) bouncing between starter and reliever. His career record was 77-94, 4.07, 5 saves, with 1,054 strikeouts in 1,494 2/3 innings.  He only once topped 100 strikeouts after his first season.  In 1974, Griffin went 14-10, 3.54 with 110 Ks in 211 innings.

 

2013 DETROIT TIGERS

The Tigers’ 2013 power-pitching trio, if they stay together, have a good chance of making the Motor City team the first to have two seasons in which three of their pitchers reach 200 strikeouts. This past season, these three right-handers went 48-23 and averaged a combined 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings – as the Tigers won the AL Central with a 93-69 record and also ran up the highest regular season strikeout total in MLB history (1,428).

 

Led Tigers in strikeouts in 2013 - won AL Cy Young Award

Led Tigers in strikeouts in 2013 – won AL Cy Young Award

Right-hander Max Scherzer – 240 strikeouts The 2013 Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer led the AL with 21 wins (against only three losses, for a league-leading .875 winning percentage), logged a sparkling 2.90 ERA and struck out 240 hitters in 214 1/3 innings.  Scherzer also passed the 200 K mark in 2012 (16-7, 3.74, 231 strikeouts in just 187 2/3 innings). Scherzer uses a three-quarter (nearly-sidearm) delivery to offer up a four-seam fastball that averages in the mid-90s and has been known to touch 100 mph, a  mid-80s slider, a low-to-mid 80s changeup and a sparingly used high-70s curveball.

In four minor league seasons, Scherzer went 10-5, 2.69, with 232 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings pitched.  At 29 and with an MLB career average of 9.4 whiffs per nine innings, Scherzer is a likely candidate to contribute additional 200+ strikeout seasons going forward. Scherzer has a six-season MLB record (2008-still active) of 73-45, 3.67, with 1,069 whiffs in 1,019 innings. He has yet to throw a complete game (MLB or minors).

Right-hander Justin Verlander – 217 strikeouts.  At 6’ 5”, 225 lbs., Justin Verlander looks the part of power pitcher – the kind of strikeout artist you’d expect on this list.   And, he has the stats to back up that image.  Entering his tenth MLB season (at age 30), Verlander is looking back on five consecutive years of 200+ strikeouts.  In an off year by his standards, Verlander’s 2013 record was 13-12, 3.46 with 217 strikeouts in 218 1/3 innings. A Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young Award winner and MVP (2011) and six-time All Star, Verlander has led the AL in innings pitched and strikeouts three times, topping the AL in wins in two of those seasons. He relies primarily on a four-seam fastball averaging about 95 mph (and known to top 100 mph), a low-to-mid 80s slider, a challenging 12-to-6 curveball and a mid-to-high 80s circle change.

Verlander is known for both reaching back for a little extra with two strikes on the hitter and maintaining (or even increasing) his velocity late in games. Verlander has two no-hitters to his credit – one the first no-hitter ever at Comerica Park.  Drafted out of college (Old Dominion University), Verlander spent only one season in the minor leagues, going 11-2, 1.29, with 136 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings, before earning a late-season look from the Tigers (2005).  In nine MLB seasons (2005-still active), his record is 137-77, 3.41, with 1,671 strikeouts in 1,772 innings.

Right-hander Anibel Sanchez – 202 strikeouts.  Acquired from Miami in July of 2012, Sanchez went 14-8, with 202 strikeouts in 182 innings (and led the AL with a 2.57 ERA) in his first full AL season.  He previously struck out 202 batters in an NL season, with the Marlins in 2011. Less of a power pitcher than Scherzer or Verlander, Sanchez throws five pitches: four-seam and two-seam (sinking) fastballs in the mid-90s; a mid-80s slider; a high-70s curve; and a change-up.  At 30, Sanchez should have additional 200+ strikeout campaigns ahead.  The only caution is the fact that Sanchez had surgery in 2003 (elbow) and 2007 (shoulder).

Sanchez showed his potential in his rookie season (2006), coming up in late June and going 10-3, 2.83 in 18 games – including a September 6 no-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Diamondbacks.  In the 2013 post season, Sanchez struck out four Red Sox in the first inning of the first game of the American League Championship Series – Jacob Ellsbury, Shane Victorino (who reached base on a wild pitch), David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. He is one of only two MLB players ever to strikeout four batters in a single postseason inning (Orvall Overall, 1980 World Series).  Through his first 8 seasons (2006-still active), Sanchez is 62-59, 3.55 with 935 in strikeouts in 1,051 innings.

I tweet baseball  @DavidBBRT

Six Pitchers + No Baserunners = One Perfect Spring Training Afternoon

With Spring Training nearly upon us (and it’s been a long wait), BBRT would like to revisit one remarkable Spring Training contest – when six pitchers combined to throw a perfect game.

Spring training records are, of course, unofficial, but the games and achievements are, at times, memorable.  Such was the case on March 14, 2000, a sunny, 80-degree day at City of Palms Park in Fort Meyers, Florida – Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox.  The Sox had captured the AL Wild Card playoff spot the year before, finishing at 94-68, four games behind AL East Division leader Yankees.  The Red Sox went on to beat the Indians in the League Division series three games to two, before succumbing to the Bronx Bombers (four games to one) in the AL Championship Series.  A City of Palms Park record crowd of 7,139 was on hand for the March 14 game, due in great part to the fact that Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was slated to start the game (against the Toronto Blue Jays).

PedroIn 1999, the Sox right-hander had been nothing short of spectacular, leading the AL in wins (23-4), winning percentage (.852), ERA (2.07), and strikeouts (313 Ks in just 213 1/3 innings), while walking just 37– earning his second of three career Cy Young Awards.  And, Martinez didn’t disappoint.  In the first inning, he struck out lead-off hitter/rightfielder Anthony Saunders looking, followed by setting down second baseman Homer Bush swinging, and closed the inning with a called strike three on first baseman David Segui.  Martinez zipped through his three innings of work facing just nine-hitters, fanning six and giving up only one even reasonably hit ball, a line out to center by the last hitter he faced, catcher Ramon Castillo.  A great start.  For the Boston Faithful, however, the best was yet to come.

In the top of the fourth inning, right-hander Fernando De la Cruz (destined to spend the regular season at AA) relieved Martinez, and went on to pitch two perfect innings, with one strikeout.

In the sixth, another righty, Dan Smith (who had gone 4-9, 6.02 for the Expos the previous season) took the mound for Boston – adding another perfect inning and another strikeout.  Smith would spend most of the 2000 season at AAA Pawtucket, getting in only two games (3 1/3 innings) with Boston.

Veteran southpaw Rheal Cornier (who had appeared in 60 games with a 3.60 ERA for the Sox in 1999) kept the “perfecto” going with a 1-2-3 seventh inning, which also saw the Red Sox make changes at catcher, first base, second base, centerfield and rightfield.

The eighth saw another Boston pitching change, with stocky righty Rich Garces (5-1, 1.55 in 1999) setting the Blue Jays down in order and notching one strikeout.  (Garces would go 8-1, 3.25 with one save in 64 games in 2000.)

Right-hander Rod Beck, acquired from the Cubs during the 1999 season (and holder of 260 career saves), came in to “save” the perfect game in the ninth – finishing with strikeout, flyout, strikeout.

The Red Sox won the game, 5-0, with Nomar Garciaparra driving in four runs with a double and a home run. Spring Training records can be a bit sketchy, but BBRT has not been able to find another Spring Training perfect game.

I tweet baseball  @DavidBBRT

Sam “Toothpick” Jones, Truly WILD finish to an Historic No-Hitter

 

Sam "Toothpick" Jones - the definition of "effectively wild."

Sam “Toothpick” Jones – the definition of “effectively wild.”

Sam “Toothpick” Jones could be intimidating on the mound – not just because of his size (6’4”, 192 pounds)m his  fastball or his sweeping curve (Stan Musial said Jones had the best curveball he ever saw), but also because he was “effectively wild.”  As a Cub in 1955, the tall, lanky right hander led the National League not just in strikeouts, but also in walks and batters hit by pitch.  On May 12 of that season, Jones proved just how effectively wild he could be – tossing a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Chicago.  Three things about that no-hitter attracted BBRT’s attention:

1)      On that day, Jones became the first African-American to throw an MLB no-hitter;

2)      It came in what might be considered (statistically) Jone’s worst MLB season (he  led the NL in losses, going 14-20); and

3)      It had, perhaps, the “wildest” finish ever for an MLB no-no.

Let’s take a look at that historic game’s final inning.  First, Jones came into the top of the ninth having notched three strikeouts against four walks.  Despite the four free passes, he had faced only one more than the minimum number of hitters (or non-hitters in this case).  The Pirates’ number-five hitter, power-hitting first baseman Dale Long, had walked in all three of his plate appearances. Note: In 1956, Long set a still unbroken record by hitting home runs in eight consecutive games. Long’s feat has never been equaled in the National League, but was matched in the AL by Don Mattingly (1987) and Ken Griffey, Jr.  (1993).   But, back to May 12, 1955. In the second inning, Long was tossed out on an attempted steal; in the fifth he was the lead out in a short-to-second-to first double play; and, in the eighth, he was doubled off first on a line drive to third.  The only other Pittsburgh base runner to that point was catcher Toby Atwell, who led off the third with a walk, but was stranded as Jones induced a pop out, strikeout and ground out.  Meanwhile, over the first eight innings, the Cubs had scored four runs on fifteen hits off the Pirates’ Nellie King and Vern Law.

So, with a 4-0 lead and the eight, nine and lead-off  hitters scheduled to bat, Jones – ironically – seemed in control.  That would not last long.  Jones started the inning by walking the number-eight hitter, second baseman Gene Freese.  The Pirates sent Preston Ward up to hit for pitcher Vern Law and, during the at bat, a Jones’ wild pitch sent Freese to second.  The WP didn’t matter much, since Jones went on to walk Ward, bringing up lead-off hitter/center fielder Tom Saffell, still looking for his first hit of the season.  Jones walked Saffell to load the bases with no outs.

Coming up?  Shortstop Dick Groat (a future batting champion and NL MVP, who would strike out only 26 times in 151 games that season); future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente (right field); and left fielder/clean-up hitter Frank Thomas.  With the bases loaded, and both the no-hitter and game in jeopardy, Cubs manager Stan Hack made a trip to the mound (amid boos from the crowd) with some terse advice “Get the ball over.”  After the visit, Jones used just 11 more pitches to strike out Groat (looking), Clemente (swinging) and Thomas (looking).

Note: It’s reported that Cubs’ broadcaster Harry Creighton promised Jones – who pitched with a flat-sided toothpick angling from his mouth – that he would buy him a “gold toothpick” if he threw a no-hitter – and that Creighton spent $11 to make good on his word.

The final inning of Jones historic no-no – three walks and three strikeouts – was pretty indicative of Jones’ pitching style. Jones, would in fact, lead his league in strikeouts and walks in the same season three times – 1955, 56, 58.  And, in his two All Star appearances, (1955, 1959) Jones’  line was consistent with the term “effectively wild” – 2 2/3 innings pitched, one hit, one run (unearned), four walks, four strike outs, one hit by pitch.

In all, Jones pitched in MLB  in all or parts of 12 seasons (1951-52, 1955-64), taking the mound for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles. His best season was 1959 (SF Giants) when he tied for the league lead in wins (21-15) and shutouts (4), and led the NL in ERA (2.83).  That season, Jones also led the league in walks and finished second to Don Drysdale in strikeouts. Jones finished his MLB career with 102 wins, 101 losses and a 3.59 ERA.  In ten minor league season, nine at Triple A, he went 104-66, 3.01. Jones also played in the Negro Leagues (Cleveland Buckeyes), as well as in Panama, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.

Sam “Toothpick”  Jones died from cancer in 1971 at age 45

I tween baseball   @DavidBBRT

MLB Prospects BBRT Will Be Watching In 2014

Spring Training is approaching and that gets BBRT thinking about the MLB prospects for the coming season – whom to watch in Spring Training for signs of things to come.  BBRT’s choices at times may seem to defy traditional reasoning – driven by such factors as: numbers like a 102.8 mph fastball, a single-season record 155 stolen bases or 133 strikeouts versus only 28 walks;  events like a World Series base running gaff; opportunities created by trades or free agent losses; or even just because BBRT likes the name (Wouldn’t you like to hear sportscasters pronounce Foltynewicz?).  At any rate, in no particular order, here are the ten prospects BBRT will be watching most closely in 2014.

springer

 

George Springer (Astros, OF) 23-years-old, 6’3”,  200 lbs.

Players that bring together the combination of power and speed are special (at least in the eyes of BBRT), and Astros’ prospect George Springer is one of these.  Springer was originally drafted in 2008 by the Twins (48th round), but chose the University of Connecticut instead – where he earned First Team All-American and Big East Player of the Year honors.   He was the Astros’ first-round pick (11th overall) in the 2011 draft.

In 2012, at High A and AA, Springer played 128 games and put together a combined line of .302, 24 HRs, 87 RBI and 32 stolen bases.  He moved up to AA/AAA last season and didn’t miss a beat – 135 games, .303, 37 HRs, 108 RBI and 45 steals – earning Minor League Baseball’s Offensive Player of the Year honors.  He still needs to work on plate discipline (145 walks versus 312 strikeouts over the past two seasons), but (given the state of the Astros) it may be time to let him continue to develop at the major league level.  BBRT will be watching Springer in spring training and hopes to see his power and speed bringing excitement to the Astros’ lineup in 2014.

walker

 

Taijuan Walker (RHP, Mariners), 21-years-old, 6’4”, 210 lbs.

The Mariners’ 2010 first-round draft pick (43rd overall), Taijuan Walker and his mid-90s fastball made their Mariners’ debut in late August of 2013.  After going 5-3, 3.61 with 64 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings at Triple A Tacoma, Walker went 1-0, 3.60 with four walks and twelve strikeouts in three late-season starts (15 innings pitched) for the Mariners.

Walker – who complements a live four-seam fastball with a solid cutter, workable (but still inconsistent) curve and a developing changeup – rang up a 3.49 ERA with 400 strikeouts (versus 149 walks) in 371 2/3 innings over four minor league seasons (23-26 won-lost).

The Mariners appear to have reserved a spot for Walker in their 2014 rotation – and, reportedly refused to include the high-potential right-hander in a trade for David Price.

syndeergaard

 

Noah Syndergaard (Mets, RHP) 21-years-old, 6’6”, 240 lbs.

Noah Syndergaard, a Blue Jays’ first-round draft pick (38th overall) in 2010, was acquired by the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade – and it’s looking like a good move.

In 2013, his first season in the Met’s system, Syndergaard split time between High A and Double A – going 9-4, with a 3.06 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings.  Perhaps more telling is that fact that, while striking out 133, he walked only 28.  For his four minor league seasons, the hard-throwing (mid-90s, with a decent curve) righty is 22-12, with 329 whiffs and 81 walks in 293 2/3 innings.

With Matt Harvey facing Tommy John surgery, the Mets need to shore up their rotation.  While Syndergaard will likely start the season at Triple A, solid performance at that level could lead to a mid-season call up and another exciting mound presence for the Mets.  BBRT will be watching.

ventura

 

Yordona Ventura   (Royals, RHP) 22-years-old, 5”11”, 180 lbs.

Remember this number – 102.8 mph – more precisely 102.816 according to CBSSports.com.  That number represents the second fastest pitch by  starting pitcher (and the fastest regular season pitch by a starter) ever recorded by the Pitchf/x tracking system (dating back to 2007).  It was thrown by Royals’ prospect Yordona Ventura in his very first major league appearance (September 17, 2013).  That accomplishment, pun intended, put Ventura on BBRT’s 2014 prospect radar screen.  By the way, so as not to create too much excitement, Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes did turn the four-seamer around for a single.

(Note: The honor of the fastest pitch ever recorded during a game on Pitchf/x was thrown by  the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, who reached 105.1 mph versus the Padres on September 24, 2010. The fastest pitch ever recorded for a starter on the system goes to the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, who threw one 103.2 mph in game five of the 2011 ALCS. Apparently, even after more than 260 regular and post-season innings, Verlander had a little zip left in his arm. )

Back to Ventura.  The hard-throwing prospect signed with the Royals as an international free agent in 2008.  In five minor league seasons, he went 20-13, 3.47, with 455 strikeouts (142 walks) in 415 1/3 innings.  He earned his call up by going 8-6, 3.14 with  155 strikeouts and 53 walks in 134 2/3 innings at AA/AAA in 2013.   He brought a 100-mph fastball and a solid curve to the majors.  The only question seems to be whether, at his size, he will have the endurance to be a 200 innings-pitched starter.  Then again, once he fully harnesses his stuff, he could be an explosive closer.  Ventura may need a bit more seasoning, but keep an eye on him in Spring Training.  A strong spring could earn him a roster spot.

hamilton

 

Billy Hamilton (Reds, OF), 23-years-old, 6’, 160 lbs.

Another memorable number for this post – 155. That’s how many bases the speedy Hamilton stole in 2012, in 132 games at High A Bakersfield and Double A Pensacola. It’s also the all-time single-season record for organized baseball.  Hamilton followed up in 2013 by stealing 75 bases in 132 games at Triple A Louisville before a September call up to the Reds.  In 13 games for Cincinnati, he hit .368 (9-for-19) and stole another 13 bases in 14 attempts.  I wouldn’t let that average fool you, Hamilton still has plenty to learn at the plate (he hit just .256 at Louisville). You can’t, however, teach speed and the Reds think highly enough of Hamilton to have penciled him in to replace the departed Shin-Soo Choo.

Hamilton has to work on his ability to put the ball in play – so he can put his speed into play.  However, I wouldn’t bet against him.  He has shown a willingness to put in the work, agreeing to convert from a natural right-handed hitter to a switch hitter and from shortstop to centerfield.  Clearly, Hamilton promises a lot of excitement on the base paths – and, if he can hit .250 in his first full MLB season, the Reds are likely to be pleased.  He will definitely be fun to watch.

Tavarezx

 

Oscar Taveras (Cardinals, OF), 21-years-old, 6’2”, 200 lbs.

While an ankle injury cut Oscar Taveras’ 2013 season short (46 games, .306 average, five home runs, 32 RBI for the Triple A Memphis Redbirds), the 21-year-old outfielder (who already has five minor league seasons under his belt) is on everyone’s radar.  Taveras says he has recovered from ankle surgery and rehab is going well.  With that in mind, BBRT expects to see Taveras patrolling the Cardinals’ outfield in 2014.  He really has little left to prove at the minor league level. Signed by the Cardinal as an undrafted free agent in 2008, Taveras has put up a .320 average, with 45 home runs and 275 RBI in 374 games, while advancing steadily through the Cardinals’ system.

In 2011, at age 19, he captured the Midwest League (Class A) batting title, hitting .386, with eight home runs and 62 RBI in 78 games. In 2012, he found his power stroke at AA Springfield, leading the Texas League with a .321 average, and adding 24 homers, 94 RBI and ten stolen bases.  His performance earned Taveras Texas League Player of the Year honors.

A free swinger in the Vlad Guerrero/Tony Oliva mold, Taveras has drawn only 125 walks in 1,598 plate appearances, but he has also struck out only 212 times and shown an ability to make solid contact with pitchers off the plate.  Watch him in Spring Training.  If he’s healthy, he’ll be going north.

wong

 

Kolten Wong (Cardinals, 2B) 23-years-old, 5’9”, 185 lbs.

Kolten Wong is one of two “prospects”  on BBRT’s list who already has post-season experience – going one-for-six in seven 2013 post-season games.  He first came to BBRT’s attention in Game Four of the World Series, when he was brought in as a pinch runner in the ninth inning with his Cardinals trailing 4-2. Wong was picked off first (with two out and Carlos Beltran at the plate) by Red Sox closer Koji Uehara – marking the only World Series game ever to end on a pick-off play.  Given that negative attention, BBRT is rooting for Wong to have a strong 2014 with the Cardinals.

Wong was drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round of the 2008 MLB draft, but chose to attend the University of Hawaii.  There he played for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and was named a Baseball America All-American in 2011. The Cardinals selected him in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2011 draft.

Wong hit only .153 in 32 games (59 at bats) for the Cardinals at the end of the 2013 regular season.  That, however, is not an indication of his potential.  He was called up after hitting .303, with 10 home runs, 45 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 107 games at Triple A Memphis – and has posted a .301 average over three minor league seasons.  The trade of David Freese, which should open up more time at third base for Matt Carpenter, indicates the Cardinals are confident Wong can show his offensive potential at the MLB level.

Bogaerts

 

Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox, SS-3B), 21-years-old, 6’3”, 185 lbs.

Seems strange to list a player who sports a .296 average in 12 post-season games (.238 in six World Series contests) among “prospects,”  but Bogaerts’ still has only 18 games of regular-season major league experience (.250 in 44 at bats, with seven runs, five RBI, one HR and one stolen base. A smooth fielder who came up as a shortstop, he split his time between SS and 3B for the Red Sox down the stretch drive. Bogaerts’ 2014 position and playing time may be determined by where Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew signs. (Reports are that Drew has indicated he is willing to play multiple positions.) Bogaerts, ranked as 2014’s top shortstop prospect by MLB.com, hit .296 with 54 home runs, 235 RBI and 17 steals in four minor league seasons.  He is considered a natural hitter, who will develop power to go with a solid average as he matures.

cosellan

 

Nick Costellanos (Tigers, 3B-OF) 21-years-old, 6’4”, 210 lbs.

Prince Fielder gone, Miguel Cabrera moving over to first base – enter Tigers 2010 first-round pick (44th overall) Nick Costellanos.  The 21-year-old caught BBRT’s attention because of the opportunity and challenge he faces as Detroit revamps its lineup.  Considered one of the minor leagues’ best pure hitters, with developing power, Detroit was working to smooth Castellanos’ path to the big leagues even before the Fielder departure. With the promising prospect blocked by MVP Cabrera at third base, the Tigers switched Costellanos from the hot corner to the outfield in 2013.  He responded with a .276 average, 18 home runs and 76 RBI at Triple A.  In four minor league seasons, his line is .303-35-212.  He hit .278 in 18 at bats after a September call up to the Tigers.   Now a spot at third is open, and BBRT is anxious to see what this youngster can do at the major league level.

Buxton

 

Byron Buxton (Twins, OF) 20-years-old, 6’2”, 189 lbs.

Even though he’s not likely to see action at the major league level in 2014, BBRT had to have a Twin to watch and Buxton earned that position.  Buxton is the 2013 winner of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award (given by Topps and Minor League Baseball to the Minor League Player of the Year), is rated baseball’s top prospect by MLB.com, was selected as the Midwest League’s 2013 MVP, and earned Minor League Player of the Year recognition from Baseball America.

The second player chosen in the 2012 draft, Buxton is proving a sound choice.  In his first full minor league season, split between Class A Cedar Rapids and High Class A Fort Myers, Buxton hit .334 with 12 homers, 77 RBI, 109 runs and 55 stolen bases in 125 games. While most expect Buxton to start the season at Double A, he has been invited to Twins Spring Training, and BBRT will be watching his progress.  Twins fans could look forward to a late season call up.

Finally, here are a few other prospects BBRT will be checking in on – just with a little less regularity.  

Miguel Sano (Twins, 3B) 20-years-old, 6’3”, 195 lbs.

Baseball fans in Minnesota are following this super prospect. Miguel Sano, just 20-years-old, already has 90 minor league homers (.279-90-291 in 379 minor league games).   Not quite ready, but has perhaps the best power potential in the minors. The Twins needs at third base could speed his path to the majors.

Kris Bryant (Cubs, 3B) 22-years-old, 6’4”, 215 lbs.

Kris Bryant was the Cubs 2013 first round (second overall) draft pick and the first-team college All American and 2013 College Player of the Year (University San Diego) followed up by being recognized as MVP of the Fall League, where he hit .364 with 6 home runs in 20 games.   In his first minor league season (2013), at three levels, Bryant hit .336, with nine homers and 32 RBI in 36 games.

Raul Alberto Mondesi (Royals, SS) 18-years-old, 6’1”, 165 lbs.

Raul Mondesi is hoping to follow in his dad (Raul Ramon Mondesi) to the major leagues.  The senior Mondesi had a 13-year MLB career, during which the outfielder hit .273 with 271 home runs and stole 229 bases. “Mondesi the Younger” has solid skills and signed with the Royals (for a reported $2 million) at age 16.  A switch hitter and strong defensive player, Mondesi hit .261, with seven homers, 47 RBI and 24 steals in his first minor league season.  Still a long way from the major leagues, but BBRT always enjoys following “baseball families.”

Mike Foltynewicz (Astros, RHP) 22-years-old, 6’4”, 200 lbs.

BBRT wants this young man to make the majors, if only to see his last name on the uniform and hear the sportscasters try to pronounce it.  And he has a good chance – a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a four-year minor league record of 25-21, 4.74 with 370 whiffs in 460 innings pitched.

BBRT welcomes your comments on prospects you’ll be watching in 2014.

I tweet baseball  -  @DavidBBRT

Baseball Reliquary – 2014 “Shrine of the Eternals” Ballot

BBRThe Baseball Reliquary – a free-spirited organization dedicated to celebrating the human side of baseball’s history and heritage – recently announced the candidates for its 2014 “Shrine of the Eternals” election.  Before sharing the Reliquary’s news release and ballot, BBRT would like to provide a bit of background on the organization.  (This information is pulled from an earlier post about the Baseball Reliquary, for the full story and info on how to join, click the Baseball Reliquary link at the top of Baseball Roundtable’s home page.)

BBR PosterWhile its “home” is in the state of California (Pasadena), the Baseball Reliquary really resides more in the heart of its founders, honorees and members – who take joy in celebrating the character and characters of our national pastime.  The Reliquary leads that joyful (often irreverent) celebration through its Shrine of the Eternals, its collection of historic artifacts, and its traveling exhibitions.

The Shrine of the Eternals is the Reliquary’s best-known element and its honorees include (among others) a one-armed major league outfielder, a pitcher who once threw a no-hitter while high on LSD, a team owner who sent a midget to the plate, a man in a chicken suit, a member of Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club, a manager who won eight World Championships, a noted surgeon, a labor leader, more than one best-selling author, a statistical wizard and even the sports editor of the Daily Worker (American Communist Party newspaper).The honorees are each unique in their role in – and contributions to -   the national pastime, but they all share the distinction of having made a significant impact on the game.  

The Reliquary is moving toward its 2014 elections and the following news release provides the details.

Baseball Reliquary Announces Candidates for 2014 Election of the Shrine of the Eternals

The Baseball Reliquary, Inc. has announced its list of fifty eligible candidates for the 2014 election of the Shrine of the Eternals, the membership organization’s equivalent to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year marks the sixteenth annual election of the Shrine, a major national component of the Baseball Reliquary, a Southern California-based organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history. The forty-five individuals previously elected to the Shrine of the Eternals are, in alphabetical order: Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Roger Angell, Emmett Ashford, Moe Berg, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Bill Buckner, Roberto Clemente, Steve Dalkowski, Rod Dedeaux, Jim Eisenreich, Dock Ellis, Eddie Feigner, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Ted Giannoulas, Josh Gibson, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Pete Gray, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Dr. Frank Jobe, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Roger Maris, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Manny Mota, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Pete Rose, Casey Stengel, Luis Tiant, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck, Jr., Maury Wills, and Kenichi Zenimura.

The Shrine of the Eternals is similar in concept to the annual elections held at the Baseball Hall of Fame, but differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not a criterion for election. Rather, the Shrine’s annual ballot is comprised of individuals – from the obscure to the well-known – who have altered the baseball world in ways that

Why I Love Baseball – Guest Post by Veteran Blogger Bill Ivie

I-70Today, BBRT features a guest post in our “Why I Love Baseball” category from Bill Ivie, freelance writer, veteran baseball blogger, founder of i70baseball.com (dedicated to daily coverage of baseball in general and the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals in particular) and contributor to Bleacher Report.
Why I Love Baseball
by Bill Ivie
Baseball was a foundation of my life from a very young age.  My father used it to teach me life lessons disguised as sports practice.  He taught me a love of the game that is far beyond any connection I have felt with anything else (short of my wife and kids, obviously).
I spent countless hours taking ground balls in the back yard and on practice fields.  I was not allowed to take batting practice until I had satisfied whatever metric was my goal for the day defensively.  The ground balls were hit harder as we went along and the goal became harder to achieve.  But through hard work, perseverance and determination, I got there.  My reward was to enjoy hitting for a bit.
Sounds familiar now.  I work hard in my life.  Obstacles come, goals are set and sometimes it all seems insurmountable.  At the end of the day, if I put in the work and determination, I get the satisfaction of a goal reached.  Then I get to kick back and relax with the game.
During the offseason, it is baseball movies and documentaries.  During the season, it is the joy of the game.  Of course, there is nothing better than sitting at the park.
It is an assault on your senses.  It is the smell of the grass, roasted peanuts and hot dogs.  It is the glaring sun and the ball flying through the air.  The sound of the crowd as they discuss the game and anything else that is on their mind.  It is the crack of the bat and the sound of the ball smacking the leather of a glove.
The game of baseball, when viewed live, is America’s dinner table.  People discuss their days, talk business, talk about popular topics in the world and marvel at the drama unfolding in front of them.  The game is heartbreak and jubilation.  It is a massive let down and the overcoming of odds.  Indeed it does provide the opportunity to see something happen that has never occurred before each and every time you watch.
You see, baseball is a lot of things to a lot of people.  It is so easy to love and so hard to walk away from.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bill Ivie
Founder | I-70 Baseball
Freelance Writer | i70baseball | Bleacher Report
For more “Why I Love Baseball,” click the YILBB hot link at the top of the home page.   BBRT welcomes your guest post on this topic. Just use the “Contact” link and type your thoughts into the comments  section and I’ll format them for posting. 
 

Frank Robinson – A Crowded Trophy Case

RobinsonSay “MVP” in an exercise in word association and BBRT’s response would be quick and clear – Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. In his 21 seasons as a player, Robinson earned MVP Awards for the NL and AL (regular season), World Series and All Star Game – and, in 16 seasons as a manager, he also earned the AL Manager of the Year Award.  And, there were many more highlight achievements in Robinson’s record-setting, award-winning and history-making MLB career.  BBRT thinks this day, January 14, is a good day to reflect on Robinson’s accomplishments.

First African-American manager in MLB

On January 14, in 1981, Frank Robinson signed on to manage the San Francisco Giants.  With that stroke of the pen he became the answer to one of BBRT’s favorite trivia questions – Who was the first African-American Manager in the NL; in the AL?  Kind of a trick question, Frank Robinson holds the “first” in both leagues.

First – and only – MVP in Both Leagues

Like MVP,  first is a word often associated with Robinson.  He was the first (and still only) player to win the Most Valuable Player Award in both the AL and NL.  He was the NL MVP for the Reds in 1961, when he hit .323, with 37 home runs, 124 RBI and 22 steals; and he won the AL MVP award in 1966, when he went .316-49-122 for the Orioles.  That year, Robinson was first in the AL in batting average (.316), home runs (49) and RBI (122), as well as first in runs scored (122) – which also made him the first African-American Triple Crown winner.

Award-Winning First Season

Robinson started on his quest to finish at the top of the list in his very first season.  As a rookie with the Reds in 1956, he not only won the Rookie of the Year Award, he tied the rookie record for home runs (38), since broken by Mark McGwire. He finished the season hitting .290 with 38 home runs, 83 RBI and a league-high 122 runs scored.

And, there were other firsts in Robinson’s career.

First in Opening Day Home Runs

On April 8, 1975 (Opening Day in Cleveland) Robinson hit a home run in his first at bat as a player-manager.  It’s one of the eight Opening Day home runs that put Robinson in first place (tied with Ken Griffey, Jr.) for Opening Day homers (with eight).

First to it One Completely Out of Memorial Stadium

On May 6, 1966, he became the first (eventually only) player to hit a home run completely out of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

League Leader

Over the course of his playing career, Robinson led his league (finished first) in hit by pitch seven times, intentional walks four times, runs scored three times, and once each in doubles, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and total bases.

MVP – League, World Series, All Star Game

When it comes to recognition, Robinson’s not only has a Rookie of the Year and two regular season MVP Awards to his credit, he also earned a World Series MVP Award (1966, Orioles), MLB All Star Game MVP Award (1971)  AL Manager of the Year Award (1989, Orioles) and Hickok Belt (1966, for top athlete in all sports).

Stat Lines

In his 21-season playing career, Robinson hit .294, with 586 homers, 1,829 RBI, 1,812 runs scored and 204 steals.  He was an All Star in 12 seasons and captured one Gold Glove.

In 16 seasons as a manager (Indians, 1975-77; Giants, 1981-84; Orioles 1988-91; Expos/Nationals, 2002-2006), Robinson’s teams won 1,065 games and lost 1,176.

Oh yeah, and he was, appropriately,  a first-ballot Baseball Hall of Famer.