Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Could Have Been: Pete Reiser

Washington Nationals' young star outfielder Bryce Harper is missing a few games this week for an injury he sustained from running into an outfield wall at Dodger Stadium couple weeks ago.  From this, I can't help being reminded of former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder of Pete Reiser.
1948 Bowman

Pete Reiser was signed out of high school in 1937 with St. Louis Cardinals.  He went to play for Cardinals in their new farm system designed by Branch Rickey.  Rickey felt in order to compete with the big markets such as New York or Boston, he had to sign and develop players on his own.  One year later, though, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis viewed that the Cardinals had stockpiled so much talent among their minor league teams that it was against the best interests of baseball.  Landis released dozens of players, one of which was one of Rickey's prized possession, Reiser.
Reiser signed with Brooklyn Dodgers as an agreement between Rickey and his pal, Larry MacPhail of the Dodgers that the Brooklyn would sign and hide him in the minors and trade Reiser back to St. Louis at a later time.   Reiser played so well during spring trainings and in the minor leagues, he forced MacPhail's hand and was added to Brooklyn's squad in 1940 as a part timer.
As Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio were stealing headlines for their historical seasons in 1941, Reiser had a season to remember also.  Reiser led the league in hitting, doubles, triples, runs scored and slugging. He also started in the All Star game and finished 2nd in the MVP voting.
Reiser proved 1941 was no fluke season as he started his second All Star game and had his average above .380 after getting hits in 19 out of 21 at bats before a July game vs the Cardinals. In that game, Cardinals' star, Enos Slaughter hit a ball to deep centefield.  Reiser chased it with his usual reckless style and slammed into the brick outfield wall.  He was carried off the field and checked into the hospital.  Diagnosed with a fractured skull and a brain injury, the doctors recommended not playing for the rest of the year.  Reiser refused and sat only a handful of games. His game and Dodgers subsequently suffered because of this.
In 1942, he joined the Army for World  War II.  While in service, Reiser suffered pneumonia and was to be discharged, but a commanding officer recognized Reiser and put him on the Army baseball team.  While playing for them Reiser suffered a shoulder injury.
By 1946, Reiser returned to the Dodgers but was not the same player as he once was.  The previous injuries did not deter Reiser playing his usual all out style.  It is estimated he was carried off the field eleven times in his career and was given his last rites once in the dugout.  Reiser's form manager, Leo Durocher once said of his star outfielder, "He had everything but luck".
Reiser's career ended in 1952 after stints with the Braves, Pirates and Indians.  Reiser's stardom never came to fruition and was never again compared to his couterparts in Williams and Dimaggio. For the Dodgers, a healthy Reiser in the lineup could have reversed some of the World Series battles against the Yankees towards Brooklyn's way.

Of course, Bryce Harper is fortunate to play in era of padded walls, warning tracks and more precautions for concussions, so Harper's fate is unlikey to be the same as Pete Reiser's.  But is hard not think of Reiser when one watches Harper go all out for a ball and hopefully these two will not be talked about together again.

Monday, May 27, 2013

MLB Players Who Paid the Ultimate Sacrifice For Us

On this Memorial Day,  I would like to stop and honor the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the things the rest of us take for granted in our daily lives.  We may say our favorite athlete or celebrity are our heroes, but in reality the men and women of the military truly are.  But there are athletes who are heroes also.  Here are the major league players who lost their lives for us:

World War I:
Tom Burr
Harry Chapman
Larry Chappell
Harry Glenn
Eddie Grant
Newt Halliday
Ralph Sharman
Robert Troy

World War II:
Elmer Gedeon
Harry O'Neill

Korean War:
Bob Neighbors

These are just the major leaguers.  Here is a great website that shows all the baseball players who were in the military: There are many more who fought for our freedom. Please take moment to remember and honor them. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Barbaro Garbey: A Cuban Trailblazer

Because the team is struggling, there has been recent talk of the Los Angeles Dodgers calling up their No.1 prospect, Yasiel Puig, from the minor leagues.  Puig, a Cuban defector, hit a robust .517 this past spring training, which produced speculation that the 22 year old would make the big league club.  Due to a crowded outfield and his youth, the Dodgers opted to send Puig to Double AA Chattanooga.
I doubt he will get the call up soon but it's only a matter of time when Puig makes it to the majors and when he does, he would be the latest defector of Cuba to do so.  Other current players include: Reds' Aroldis Chapman , Athletics' Yeonis Cespedes, Pirates' Jose Contreras and Mariners' Kendrys Morales.
We all know that Jackie Robinson was the first black player and Hideo Nomo started the influx of Japanese players in the majors, but who was the first Cuban defector?  Shortly after Fidel Castro became the dictator of Cuba in 1959, he abolished professional baseball and shut down the borders which ended the pipeline of Cubans to the major leagues.  There were a few Cubans during his regime to play in USA such as Rafael Palmiero, Tony Perez and Jose Canseco but they left Cuba as children and never were on any organized clubs in Cuba.   The first player to officially defect was Barbaro Garbey.
1984 Topps Traded

Garbey won a batting title in Cuba and was on the 1977 and '78 national teams.  However, in 1978 he was one of ten players suspended for taking cash from a run shaving scam.  Garbey denied throwing games, but said extra money was needed for his family because he was being paid so poorly.
In 1980,  Castro temporarily lifted his ban on people leaving the country.  From April to October, 1,700 boats of 125,000 Cubans came to the United States during the Mariel Freedom Flotilla.   Most of the those who left were called gusanos or "worms" by Castro  These people were either in jail, a mental hospital or against Castro's government.  Garbey did not fit in any of these groups, but saw it has an opportunity to leave. Garbey was easily recognized and subsequently denied initially, and finally made to the United States on the fourth attempt.  He was only allowed to leave with clothes he was wearing at the time and had to leave his family behind also.
After arriving to USA, Detroit Tigers scout and fellow Cuban, Orlando Pena sought him out.  Garbey ended up signing with the Tigers for a mere $2,500 bonus and a promise of $7.500 more if he made to the majors.
Garbey played well in the minors but got himself in trouble in 1983.  He admitted to newspapers that he took cash for the game fixing scam.  MLB became aware of this and immediately suspended Garbey. While on suspension, he got in a fight with a fan and hit him with a bat.  His suspension was eventually lifted and Garbey made his MLB debut in 1984 for the Detroit Tigers.
For the season, Garbey hit. 287 and had 52 RBIs while playing 3B, 1B and DH and also helped the Tigers win the World Series.  But, the following year his production declined as Detroit couldn't find a regular spot for him in the lineup.  He finshed with 28 RBIs and a .257 average and was dealt to Oakland at the end of the year.
Garbey never did play for Oakland.  He made his way to professional leagues in Mexico and Venezuela for a couple years before a brief stint with Texas Rangers in 1988.  Soon after, he finished his playing career back in the minors and now is a hitting instructor.
After Garbey, the next player to defect was Rene Arocha in 1991 when signed with St Louis Cardinals.  Since, there has been over 40 players to defect from Cuba to play in the major leagues.  Today, as Jose Contreras once stated in an interview, Garbey is considered "a hero" and "everyone knows he was the first."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

WAR Is A Flawed Stat

If you have been paying attention to baseball over the last a couple years, you probably have come across the statistic, WAR.  In the ever ending search to find a player's value or impact on a team, the sabermetric people came up with WAR. WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. It basically shows the worth of one player over a replacement player(usually a call up from the minor leagues). For example, if a player has a WAR of a +6, it means he will give the team six more wins over course of the year while he is in the lineup.
WAR takes in account the players all around impact of the game- hitting, fielding(not only fielding %, but also gives a guessed value to range of balls played in field) and baserunning(stolen bases is included but also advancing extra bases on hits also). Plus a different formula for pitching.  There is no one defined formula for WAR and different sources uses slightly different formulas. Here is the calculations and some more background information on it:

The sabermetric people uses a total analytical approach when using this stat. It does not consider how clutch a player is, or leadership qualities, a team's actual Win-loss record as a part of a player's value. For example, it doesn't look at if a player comes through in late innings down the stretch of pennant stretch that allows a team to win. Basically a game or plate appearance in April is just as important as in September and a player on a last place team should be equally compared to one on a divisional winner.  WAR also ignores the RBI stat as the proponents of WAR believe that the batter has no control who is on base when he is up and should have no bearing on his value. 

The above is the problem for me for using WAR as the defined stat to show a player's worth or case for an award like an MVP.  Games and seasons are decided by players coming through in high pressure situations and knocking in runs with men on bases.  I will give you here a game scenario to show you the flaw in the statistic. Yes, one game is a very small sample size, but it proves my point.

Let's say the Angels and Tigers have come down to the last game to decide who goes to playoffs and who goes home. The individual MVP race is too close to call between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. The voters are forgoing their picks until the regular season is all over. The last game is a matchup between aces in Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver. Because of this runs are at a premium.
Mike Trout leads off the game with a single, steals second and advances to third on out. He is left stranded. Game remains scoreless and Trout comes up with two men and and two out in the seventh inning.  He fails to score the runners as he strikes out. In the eighth, Miguel Cabrera who has not gotten a hit in the game so far, comes up with a runner on 3rd with less than two outs. He knows this run can be the game and season. He also knows just a fly ball to the outfield could score the run. He does just that and Tigers hold on to win the game,1-0.
So who had the better game? Who should win the MVP? According to WAR, it's Trout. He had the hit and stolen base even though he failed to knock in the runs when his team needed and while Cabrera had no known value to the game. But to the people watching, it was the Tigers winning and Cabrera was a big reason for it.

The above illustrated to you that can not put a number on the human side of the game. Baseball is still played by humans and not by names and statistics on a piece of paper. In order to see a player's true value, someone still has to sit down a watch him play.  You can't just plug numbers into a formula and spit out a name of a player who has the greatest WAR and award him a MVP award.
After saying all of this, I still think WAR has a place in the game. It is a great tool used to decide between two potential free agents for a general manager to consider, for an example.  But, just like any other statistic in the game of baseball, it has it's flaws. He should be used alongside other stats and not the end all be all statistic.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Miguel Cabrera is the Best Detroit Tiger Hitter Since......

As I was watching Miguel Cabrera put on a hitting clinic during last night's game against the Texas Rangers on national television, it got me thinking.  How does Miguel Cabrera stack up against the best Detroit Tigers of all time amongst hitters.  So, I am going to do a comparison.  First, I will tell what Cabrera did in last night's game.
1st AB:  after falling behind 0-2 in count, works it a full and hits a single into left field.
2nd AB:  with 2 men on base, hits the first pitch 440+ feet into right field seats for a home run
3rd AB: once again falls behind 0-2 and works it full. This time, he hits a line shot just over the centerfield wall for a homerun
4th AB: with men on 1st and 2nd base, and goes ahead 2-1 in the AB, ends up being intentionally walked
5th AB: is behind once again 0-2, takes a pitch for a ball. Pitcher decides to go inside put not far enough. Cabrera pulls hands in and keeps his weight back as he swings and lines another shot over centerfield wall.

2012 Topps
For the night, a 4-4 game with 3 HRs and 5 RBIs which puts him ahead of his triple crown numbers from last year in RBIs and batting average.  With the old "if the season ended today", Cabrera would win his 3rd consecutive batting title.  This accomplishment would put him in a company of recent players such as Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and  Rod Carew.  Of course, none of those are feared power hitters such as a Cabrera. Here is Cabrera's career stats:
So lets compare Cabrera with other Tiger greats, starting recently and working our way back in history:

Cecil Fielder:  in his six full seasons with a Tigers, he lead the league in RBIs 3 times and home runs twice, He was the first hitter in 1990 to slug 50 HRs in a season since 1977 and finished 2nd twice in MVP voting. But Fielder struck out a bunch which kept his batting average down.  Here is Fielder's stats: Advantage: Cabrera
1984 Detroit Tigers. Even though I personally think some do belong in the Hall of Fame. The fact that currently no one is inducted almost 30 years after winning the World Series tells me that no one is comparable to Cabera. Advantage: Cabrera
Al Kaline:  was a model of very good consistency over a long period of time which made him a great player. Kaline never hit over 30 home runs in a season, knocked over 100 RBIs only three times and won the batting average once. He finished top 5 in MVP voting four times, played in 15 All Star games and won 10 Gold Gloves. Kalline finished with 399 career HRs and over 3,000 hits for his career. Here is Kaline's career stats:  Since we are talking hitting only. Advantage: Cabrera
Hank Greenberg: In his 12 seasons with Detroit(he missed part of and some full seasons due to WWII), Greenberg lead AL in home runs three times(including one of yr of 58), RBIs, three times(including years of 170 and 183), runs scored and slugging once. He finished top 5 in MVP voting four times(twice winning). Greenberg had a consistenly better OPS(combined SLG and OBP) than Cabrera over their careers. If you compare Greenberg's 13 full seasons with Cabrera's 11, it is pretty similar. Greenberg's career stats:  Advantage: Greenberg right now, with Cabrera with a chance to surpass as years go by.

Ty Cobb: I am not going to begin to compare Cabrera with Cobb's accomplishments. Cobb is considered the best player ever in the deadball era of baseball(pre-1920). Cobb did win his triple crown with a nine home run season in 1909. So that gives you an idea of how the game was different then.  One can make an argument of how Cabrera would have played in that era and vice versa, but it is all speculation. Since we are comparing apples to oranges. I will leave this one alone. Here is Cobb's career stats:
There are also several other Tiger greats such as Charlie Gehringer, Sam Crawford, Harry Heilmann and George Kell. All of which Cabrera's numbers surpasses. So, Cabrera ranks up at the top with Hank Greenberg as the greatest Tiger hitter in the modern era
Oh, did I mention that Cabrera is only 30 years old with career stats of 332 HRS, 1170 RBIs, .320 avg and 1,869 hits thru last night's game. If he continues his same excellence in the coming years, Cabrera could reach 3,000 career hits around the age of 36(in comparison, Derek Jeter did it his age 37 year), By that time and with maintaining his minimum 30 HR and 100 RBI seasons, Cabrera would have over 500+ HRs and 1800 RBIs also. In addition, he could win more MVP awards, batting titles and possibly another triple crown. I also would not be surprised if he makes a run at hitting .400 in a season (1st since Ted Williams in 1941) or Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak.
Cabrera also has three more seasons left on his current contract. It would be interesting to see if the Tigers will resign him at the end of 2016 with already having to pay Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder's big contracts.  Will he continue to play in Detroit and reach all these milestones as a Tiger? One thing Kaline and Greenberg currently have over Cabrera is a World Series title and could be a factor where he plays. Bringing a World Series title in Detroit would cement his legacy among these greats.
Regardless, by the time Cabrera is enshrined in Cooperstown, he will not only be compared with Detroit Tigers' greats, but with the game's greats of all times. I hope current Tiger and baseball fans in general don't take him for granted and stop and watch his every at bat when you can.  One day, you can say to your kids and grandkids that you saw Miguel Cabrera hit and tell stories of games such as last night.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Scouts Are the Backbone and Unheralded Part of the MLB Team

Recently, MLB has started to recognize baseball scouts in the game's history.  They have started to award the scout of the year and recently released archives of scouting reports from various scouts regarding many players of the past. 
This allows me to talk about the importance of scouting to the teams and how they truly are the backbone of the organization.  The are several different type of scouts in baseball.  The most well known of which are the amateur scouts. These are the ones who search all over the country or world to find the next star for their big league club. Each scout is usually in charge of certain region of USA or part of the world.
There also scouts working in the minor leagues. They could either be giving the MLB team updates on development of their own players or could be watching players in other organizations who may become available in trades.  Then there is the advance scouts at the major league level.   They are usually watching the teams who their employers are playing next.  They are watching for trends for the upcoming team's players. For the hitters, it could be what pitch he his hitting well or getting out on and for pitchers, what pitches are being thrown well and in what kind of pattern.
Back to the archive of scouting reports. As I was going through them, it is interesting to see what some of the scouts think of the future stars before they become pros. For example, 1990 #1 overall draft pick and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. The Braves, who drafted him, said Jones had "outstanding hands", "accurate arm" with "power improving with maturity". Meanwhile his "swing is slightly long" but overall has "superstar potential".  Meanwhile the Chicago White Sox scout stated during Jones' first pro season that he was a "disappointment" in the eight games he saw of him and suggested that White Sox should not acquire him if he becomes available.
It is also fun to read about a player coming from high school and see how he develops and perceived after a few years in college. As an example, Bo Jackson. Out of high school, he is described as having a "football body-tight and bulky", "lacks fluidness" and is "a poor sign at this time. Will take a very big bonus sign-will have to match Auburn Univ and alumni".   Three years later, the same scout said of Jackson: "complete type player with outstanding tools. gifted athlete. best pure athlete in America today" and he thinks Jackson is liking baseball more now than before.   Another football/baseball player scouted was Kirk Gibson. One scout, said Gibson "is very adamant about playing his senior year of college football" but "baseball needs him"
Also interesting to read about the perceptions of former pitcher Jim Abbott, as he was born without a right hand or the signability of Derek Jeter(he was signed to attend of U. Michigan) and how he was compared to another big league shortstop and a Michigan alumnus, Barry Larkin.  Here is the link to the website of the archived scouting reports: You can search for your favorite players and see how they were perceived as players.
As you can see, scouts are very vital to the success of an organization.  The best scouts will give your favorite teams the proper information and analysis of future big leaguers and could end up finding the core of a championship team.  Of course, poor scouting could force a team to struggle at the big league level as they could miss on drafting a future star over a career minor leaguer.   The current scouts are working hard right now as they are looking for the right player for next month's MLB amateur draft.  Good luck to your favorite team in the draft and hope their scouting department serves them well.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Could Have Been: Herb Score

Today is an anniversary of one the saddest days in baseball history.  The beginning of the end of Herb Score's stardom.  Herb Score joined the Cleveland Indians as a 22 year old rookie in 1955.   Cleveland's pitching staff already included future Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Hal Newhouser, all of which were at or near the end of their impressive careers.  The lefthanded Score, found his way in the starting rotation thanks a lot to his blazing fastball.  He finished the season with 16-10 win/loss record with ERA of 2.85.  He also had an impressive total of 245 strikeouts in 227.1 innings pitched.  His rookie strikeout total became the major league record that stood until 1984 when New York Mets' Dwight Gooden broke it.
1956 Topps
Score improved upon his rookie season the following year with a 20-9 record and an ERA of 2.53. He also struck out 263 batters in 249.1 innings and made his second consecutive All-Star game appearance.
By the time 1957 season started, Score's fastball was compared to the best of all time. There was also discussion that Score could end up being the greatest left handed pitcher ever.  Score started the season with a 2-1 record, an ERA of 2.00 and 39 Ks in 36 innings.  For his fifth start on May 7, 1957, Score faced the New York Yankees.  In the first inning, Yankees shortstop Gil McDougald lined a Score fastball back at the star lefty and ended up hitting him the face. Score suffered an injured eye and broke several facial bones.  McDougald was so shook up he vowed to retire immediately if Score could never throw again.
Score did manage to come back late in 1958 season.  He later hurt his arm and was out of baseball by 1962 at the age of 29.  If Score maintained a long and healthy career, he could have had his name alongside other immortals in Cooperstown.  Score would also been forever compared to another left handed pitcher who made his MLB debut during the 1955 season - Sandy Koufax.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Jose Altuve Is Latest To Prove Size Doesn't Matter In Baseball

As I was watching the Detroit Tigers sweep the Houston Astros in a four game series last weekend, I had an observation.  Well, besides the obvious one in the difference of quality between the two teams. I noticed the physical difference of the best player for each time.  For the Tigers, the star of stars is Miguel Cabrera and for Houston, their star is a fellow Venezuelan in Jose Altuve. Cabrera, who is 6'4" and 240 lbs,  is a bit bigger than the average ballplayer, while Altuve is much smaller at 5'5" and 175 lbs.
2013 Topps

Cabrera, the reigning AL MVP and baseball's first triple crown winner since 1967, has become one of the best players in the league and is heading towards Cooperstown.  Altuve isn't just a good player on a bad team.  He has become one of the better 2nd basemen in the majors. He made his first All Star game appearance in 2012 in his first full season in majors and is on his way to his second selection this year as he in top five in AL in hits.
Jose Altuve has also become bit of a cult hero in Houston as an altuve has become an unit of measure. For example, how many altuves did that home run travel?  And has own it's website:
Altuve is not the only small statured player to excel in the majors. Tim Collins at 5'7" has been a mainstay in the Kansas City bullpen for last three seasons, San Francisco's Tim Lincecum(5'10") has won two Cy Young awards and Boston's Dustin Pedroia(5'8") is a former AL MVP.
While other sports put an emphasis on player's physique or speed when signing them to contract such as the NFL with it's predraft workout combines, MLB pays attention to these measureables, but doesn't put much emphasis in them. Baseball history is full of different body types and sizes.  For example, former pitcher Randy Johnson's 6'10" frame, Boog Powell's large waistline or the ideal strength and speed of a Mickey Mantle. If a player can hit or throw a baseball, MLB scouts will find him and put him in the lineup. Jose Altuve is the latest to prove this to be true.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Remembering Fernandomania for Cinco de Mayo

Today,  America is celebrating Mexican culture and heritage with Cinco de Mayo.  I will be discussing the career of the best player to ever play in MLB history from Mexico - Fernando Valenzuela.
1986 Topps

Valenzuela's career started in 1980 as a September call up from the minor leagues for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He pitched well in his ten games out of the bullpen.  In 17 innings of work, Valenzuela didn't give up any earned runs and struck out 16 innings.  It was the following year where Valenzuela became a star in baseball.
Roughly 24 hours before opening day of 1981, Dodgers' scheduled starter, Jerry Reuss was injured and Valenzuela was named as the replacement.  For the game, he pitched a shut out against the Houston Astros, winning 2-0.   From there, Valenzuela went on to start the season with a 8-0 record with five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50. 
Due to his success on the mound, unique pitching delivery( he would look up to his sky on each pitch just before he threw towards the plate), and happy go lucky attitude, Valenzuela became a media sensation.  He would draw huge crowds across baseball.  Fans would also go out and buy anything Valenzuela was on such as magazines, posters, tshirts and baseball cards and thus creating "Fernandomania".  Valenzuela finished the strike shortened 1981 season with a record of 13-7 record and ERA of 2.48 and help lead the Dodgers to a World Series title. He would also become the first player ever to win Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.
Valenzuela became a workhouse in the starting rotation for the Dodgers.  He pitched over 250 innings each year from 1982 to 1987 and striking out over 180 batters also, including twice of 240.  He was named a NL all star six times and in the 1986 game, he tied Carl Hubbell's all star game record by striking out five consecutive batters.
In addition to being a star pitcher, Valenzuela was also a good hitter. He won the Silver Slugger twice and Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda would use him on occasion as a pitch hitter or in a long extra inning game,  Valenzuela would play in the outfield or at first base.  He also won the Gold Glove for excellent fielding in 1986.
By the end of the decade, Valenzuela started to get arm problems due to the accumulation of innings pitched and throwing his signature screwball.  He became a less effective starter but did manage to throw a no-hitter in 1990, his last year with Dodgers.  Valenzuela went on to pitch in the majors until 1997 for 5 different teams including a couple years of resurgence in San Diego.
Today, Valenzuela is a legend in Mexico and was inducted in the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.  Also, no Los Angeles Dodger has worn Valenzuela's #34 jersey since.