11th and Washington

11th and Washington: November 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What's in a name? Thanksgiving edition

For Thanksgiving, I decided to have a little fun with some nicknames (and a few given ones), via Baseball-Reference. So here's a Turkey Day Team -- Thanksgiving, food and eating related names -- to chew on.

Managing the bunch is Hall of Famer Leo "The Lip" Durocher, Dodgers 1939-48, Giants 1948-55, Cubs 1966-72, Astros 1972-73

On the mound, HOF lefty Carl "The Meal Ticket" Hubbell, Giants 1928-43

Behind the plate, HOF catcher Gabby "Old Tomato Face" Hartnett, Cubs 1922-40, Giants 1941

At first base, HOFer Lou "Biscuit Pants" Gehrig, Yankees 1923-39

At second base, Stuffy Stewart, Cardinals 1916-17, Pirates 1922, Robins 1923, Senators 1925-29

At third base, HOFer Pie Traynor, Pirates 1920-37

At shortstop, Turkey Gross, Red Sox 1925

In the outfield:

HOFer Turkey Stearns, Negro Leagues, 1923-42

"Turkey" Mike Donlin, Cardinals 1899-1900; Orioles 1901; Reds 1902-04; Giants 1904-11, '14; Braves 1911; Pirates 1912. And buried in West Long Branch

And in recognition of the "first Thanksgiving," HOFer "Wahoo" Sam Crawford, Reds 1899-1902, Tigers 1903-17.

On the bench, we have:

RF/1B Frank "Turkeyfoot" Brower, Senators 1920-22, Indians 1923-24

Turkey Tyson, 0-for-1 for the Phillies in 1944

OF Manuel "Potato" Cueto, St. Louis Terriers 1914, Reds 1917-19

1B Hugh "Corns" Bradley, Red Sox 1910-12, Federal League 1914-15

Minor leaguer Arvie Pilgrim

And in the bullpen:

RHP Jeremy Guthrie, Indians 2004-06, Orioles 2007-10 (for Arlo, natch)

LHP Mark Guthrie, Twins 1989-95, Dodgers 1995-98, Red Sox 1999, Cubs 1999-2000, Devil Rays 2000, Blue Jays 2000, A's 2001, Mets 2002, Cubs 2003

RHP Luke "Hot Potato" Hamlin, Tigers 1933-34, Dodgers 1937-41, Pirates 1942, A's 1944

RHP Camilo "Little Potato" Pascual, Senators 1954-60, Twins 1961-66, Senators, 1967-69, Reds 1969, Dodgers 1970, Indians 1971

And, finally, HOF RHP Red Ruffing (rhymes with "stuffing"), Red Sox 1924-30, Yankees 1930-46, White Sox 1947

Makes me want to put on my Thanksgiving pants and chow down on the biscuits!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let's trust in Sandy's decision

When this offseason started and the Mets began their search for, first, a general manager and then a manager, I followed the GM process pretty closely. I was invested in it, had some thoughts and preferences, and made sure I tuned in for the introductory press conference.

Once Sandy Alderson was on board, I stepped back a little. I didn't read all the stories and blog posts on each round of interviews, but I took note of the headlines and some of the tweets. I knew who interviewed when and I knew who the final candidates were. But I didn't have a horse in the race. It had nothing to do with who the final four candidates were, because I had no top preference from the start. There wasn't an available candidate who I felt strongly about, who I really hoped would be accepting the floral horseshoe at the home opener next April.

So when the news came out Sunday that Terry Collins was the choice, I took note, read a little, and moved on. I didn't watch the press conference today, but I've read several of the stories, including Marty Noble's column. Back on Sunday, I didn't expect to be blogging about the choice, but after some of the reaction among Mets fans -- and "fans" -- I started thinking about why everyone needs to chill the hell out.

And listen, I don't blame people for their opinions -- but some of the knee-jerk reactions were over the top. There were some who renounced their fandom, some who acted offended, as if Wally Backman (the fans' choice) were a close relative. But look, no one can know in November if Collins -- or Backman, Bob Melvin or Chip Hale -- is the right or wrong choice. At the moment, we don't even know who his Opening Day starter will be.

Here are the reasons I'm not getting all bent out of shape over the choice of Collins:

It's just a two-year deal, with a rumored club option for a third. Two years is reasonable, especially if you expect 2011 to be a non-contending year, as I do. You could probably substitute the word "rebuilding," but as of today, it's hard to see how the Mets will be in contention for the NL East title next season. There are a lot of unknowns: Johan Santana may not pitch; Jason Bay has to first stay healthy, then double his production; Carlos Beltran needs to be close to 100 percent for 150 games; and a lot of personnel moves need to be made, particularly concerning Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. But looking at the team today, it's hard to see a contender there, and Alderson couldn't wait until February to hire a manager. So why not go with an experienced guy -- and one who's familiar with the system and its young players -- when it's not a position that is set up favorably for immediate success?

Had the choice been Backman or Hale, they could have easily been in a tough spot -- similar to John Russell with the Pirates, Lee Mazzilli with the Orioles or Manny Acta with the Nationals in that they didn't have much to work with and, when they were fired, had many people saying, "What did they do wrong?" The situations aren't identical, because the Mets have more now than any of those clubs did when the skippers took their posts and have more resources to improve -- but not until next winter. So I can see why Alderson might not have wanted to put a rookie manager in a tough position in 2011 where a 70-win season might be more likely than a 90-win season.

Some bloggers and tweeters have cited the player mutiny that forced Collins' resignation as evidence that he's a loose cannon, he's too fiery. Others have lamented that he's an Alderson favorite and will merely be a puppet in the dugout to carry out the front office's "Moneyball" theories. To me, those two characteristics are mutually exclusive. I can't see a loose cannon being a puppet for the front office.

About his departure from Anaheim in 1999: While it should definitely be asked about, it shouldn't condemn him. Obviously, Alderson asked what happened there and liked Collins' answer. And, come on, it's been 11 years. Let's give the guy a break. There's a good chance he's changed and learned from that experience, as he said today:
"I did a bad job managing the clubhouse, no question about it. I'm accountable for that. I was the manager of that team. I should have done a better job of staying on top of it. I didn't. I learned from it. And it will never happen here. I guarantee it will not happen here."
Eleven years is a long time; a lot can change. And it's not like he's spent the last 11 years on a farm. He's been in baseball, managed the Chinese national team. He hasn't been away from the game, only from a Major League manager's office.

At 444-443, 10 games over .500, his record may not be spectacular, but in the six seasons (or parts thereof) he guided a team, he only had one losing record, the 51-82 mark before his resignation from the Angels. Take out those 133 games, and you're left with 393-349, a .530 winning percentage. He's gotten results on the field.

As for Backman, the clear fan-favorite, I'm not sure I would've wanted his second year managing in the system to be at the big league level. He has a right to be disappointed in the final decision, but I also think he should be grateful that he was among the finalists. The Mets clearly like him and he has a future with the organization. He might prefer to be on a faster track, but I still think he has an inside path to the job after Collins. Had Alderson gone with Backman because he felt he was the best man for the job, I would have no problem with that. But choosing Wally in order to sell more season tickets or placate the fan base is not the reason to choose a manager. Since the opening of Citi Field in 2009, the Mets have made great strides in fan interaction and in responding to fans' requests. They didn't need to let the fans pick the manager, too.

Finally, I wasn't sure what to call this post. My working title was, "The case for Terry Collins," but I didn't feel that's what I was offering. Another, similar option was, "In defense of Terry Collins," but I'm not sure that's the premise I wanted to set. So I settled on the idea that what I wanted to present was a defense of Alderson's choice. He's the one who led this process and interviewed the candidates. He likely led the questioning and came up with many of the queries. Until we have results on the field on which to judge Collins, why not let Alderson's blessing be enough for now.

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Quick thoughts: 2010 MVP Awards

I didn't post any quick thoughts on the NL MVP vote yesterday because the only thought I had was: Perfect. Nothing jumped out at me at the way it turned out. To me, Joey Votto should have won, and he should have won easily. He did both.

If pressed to find something, I suppose I would question putting Albert Pujols second over Carlos Gonzalez. It's the most valuable player award, not the most prolific player award or the most outstanding player award or the best hitter award. Pujols would be hard to beat in any of those. But the way I would look at an MVP vote if I had one would be which player's absence from his team would have had the biggest effect on that club's season. Clearly, without the season Votto had, the Reds are not NL Central champs.

Of course, without Pujols, the Cardinals do not sniff a pennant race, either. But Pujols had a very similar season to the one he had in his 2009 MVP campaign, yet the Cardinals missed the playoffs in 2010. In other words, I guess I look at it as whether or not they had Pujols, the Cards weren't winning the division this year. (Also, I find it interesting how Pujols has had three seasons -- including the last two -- of exactly 700 plate appearances but has never had any more than that.)

1 Joey Votto 1.024 150 648 547 106 177 36 2 37 113 91 125 11 16 .324 .424 .600
2 Albert Pujols 1.011 159 700 587 115 183 39 1 42 118 103 76 23 14 .312 .414 .596
3 Carlos Gonzalez .974 145 636 587 111 197 34 9 34 117 40 135 9 26 .336 .376 .598
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/23/2010.

As for the American League, again I have trouble coming up with an argument in support of anyone else. Had Josh Hamilton played more than 89 games in 2009, the Rangers might have overcome the Angels, or pushed them deeper into September instead of finishing 10 games back (in second place). This wasn't a full season for Hamilton, either, but in 133 games and 571 plate appearances, he had better numbers (except for 30 fewer RBIs) or negligible deficits in many key categories compared to his 2008 breakout All-Star season. The true difference in the Rangers winning the division and previous years may be their pitching, or simply just their pitching philosophy, but for a single most valuable piece of Texas' AL West title, you have to look at Hamilton.

Miguel Cabrera probably deserved more second-place support for another spectacular season. If he hasn't already, he's close to taking the torch from Alex Rodriguez as the American League's best and most reliable player, the guy you can pencil in for 150 games, a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBIs at the start of the season and then wait to see when he reaches those numbers and how far past them he goes.

As for Robinson Cano, kudos on a breakout year for the Trenton Thunder alum. If there's anyone on the Yankees who should be getting a six-year, $100 million contract this winter, it's him, and not Derek Jeter (same goes for three years, $45 million). But absent a 50-homer, 140-RBI season or a Triple Crown-contending campaign, it remains hard for a Yankee to garner enough support for the MVP award because the team is loaded, year in and year out. I have no problem with that, because on a team full of All-Stars, how do you determine which one is the most valuable? Take any one of them away for a significant portion of the season, and the Yankees will hardly miss a beat.

I'm trying to say that the MVP Award has to go to a player on a playoff team or contending club every year, but so long as there are singular performers on such teams, it's going to take video-game like numbers from anyone else to garner support. In a year without Hamilton, Cabrera or Cano, Jose Bautista might've been the favorite, or a top-two contender. Maybe a few more than 109 runs or 124 RBIs would've lent more weight to his 54 home runs. Or maybe his .260 batting average pulled him down in voters' eyes (indicating that BA still has more influence than wins do for pitchers in the eyes of those who judge these performances). Or perhaps the cloud of doubt in this post-BALCO age eliminated Bautista in June.

1 Josh Hamilton .359 133 571 518 95 186 40 3 32 100 43 95 8 1 .411 .633 1.044
2 Miguel Cabrera .328 150 648 548 111 180 45 1 38 126 89 95 3 3 .420 .622 1.042
5 Robinson Cano .319 160 696 626 103 200 41 3 29 109 57 77 3 2 .381 .534 .914
42 Jose Bautista .260 161 683 569 109 148 35 3 54 124 100 116 9 2 .378 .617 .995
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/23/2010.

With the announcement of the final major award for the season, I like to consider this day the final one of the 2010 campaign. We also saw the last managerial opening officially filled today with the Mets' introduction of Terry Collins. (I may get into my thoughts on that later.) Today is the arbitration deadline, which will put a final stamp on the makeup of this winter's free-agent crop, and Thanksgiving is upon us. On the other side of the holiday is December and the Winter Meetings, so soon we'll be looking forward to 2011 in earnest.

Time to turn that Hot Stove up to 11.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Homers for the hometown

In honor of Stan Musial's 90th birthday today and inspired by George Vescey's column in The New York Times, I was curious to see which towns produced the most prolific home run duos in history. Stan and Ken Griffey Jr., representing Donora, Pa., were bumped down from third to fourth late this season when a New York-born slugger added on to his total for his New York team.

I filtered the top home-run hitters born in the United States on Baseball-Reference, then arranged them by birthplace as listed on the site and got these top duos:

Mobile, Ala. (Hank Aaron 755, Willie McCovey 521), 1,276
Baltimore (Babe Ruth 714, Al Kaline 399): 1,113
New York (Alex Rodriguez 613, Lou Gehrig 493), 1,106
Donora, Pa. (Ken Griffey Jr. 630, Stan Musial 475), 1,105
Riverside, Calif. (Barry Bonds 762, Bobby Bonds 332), 1,094
Tampa (Gary Sheffield 509, Fred McGriff 493), 1,002
Los Angeles (Eddie Murray 504, Duke Snider 407), 911
San Diego (Ted Williams 521, Graig Nettles 390), 911
Beaumont, Texas (Frank Robinson 586, Gus Zernial 237): 823
Oklahoma City (Joe Carter 396, Johnny Bench 389), 785
Portland, Ore. (Dale Murphy 398, Richie Sexson 306), 704
St. Paul, Minn. (Dave Winfield 465, Paul Molitor 234), 699
Shreveport, La. (Albert Belle 381, Reggie Smith 314), 695
St. Louis (Yogi Berra 358, Roy Sievers 318), 676
Sacramento (Greg Vaughn 355, Derrek Lee 312), 667
Columbus, Ohio (Frank Howard 382, Paul O'Neill 281), 663
Chicago (Greg Luzinski 307, Fred Lynn 306), 613
Seattle (Ron Santo 342, John Olerud 255), 597
Westminster, Calif. (Jeromy Burnitz 315, Ryan Klesko 278), 593
New Orleans (Rusty Staub 292, Will Clark 284), 576
Pittsburgh (Hank Sauer 288, Frank Thomas 286), 574
El Cajon, Calif. (Brian Giles 287, Bret Boone 252), 539
Long Beach, Calif. (Tim Salmon 299, Jeff Burroughs 240), 539
Philadelphia (Del Ennis 288, Roy Campanella 242), 530
Tallahassee (Dean Palmer 275, J.D. Drew 238), 513

If we were to rank cities based on all American-born players in the top 200 results, we'd get these totals (players in parentheses below are in addition to the pairs above; the four towns in italics had no additional players in the top 200):

Los Angeles (Darryl Strawberry 335, Troy Glaus 320, Cecil Fielder 319, Garret Anderson 287, Eric Davis 282, Brian Downing 275, George Hendrick 267, Todd Zeile 253, Joe Gordon 253, Ray Lankford 238, Eric chavez 230), 3,970
New York (Rocky Colavito 374, Hank Greenberg 331, Edgar Martinez 309, Ken Singleton 246, Raul Ibanez 232), 2,598
Tampa (Luis Gonzalez 354, Tino Martinez 339, Steve Garvey 272), 1,967
San Diego (Deron Johnson 245, Kevin Mitchell 234), 1,390
Chicago (Rickey Henderson 297, Wally Berger 242, Cliff Floyd 233), 1,385
Riverside, Calif. (Dusty Baker 242), 1,336
Oklahoma City (Bobby Murcer 252, Mickey Tettleton 245), 1,282
Mobile, Ala. (Hank Aaron 755, Willie McCovey 521), 1,276
Baltimore (Babe Ruth 714, Al Kaline 399): 1,113
New York (Alex Rodriguez 613, Lou Gehrig 493), 1,106
Donora, Pa. (Ken Griffey Jr. 630, Stan Musial 475), 1,105
St. Louis (Ryan Howard 253), 929

And, lastly, I was curious how the list might look when accounting for home runs per capita. Of course, we'd have to take into account all cities, because ... well, as you'll see, Jimmie Foxx hit a homer for every person in his tiny hometown.

Sudlersville, Md. (Foxx), 534 homers/396 population, 1.34 HR/person
Spavinaw, Okla. (Mantle), 536 homers/582 population, 0.92 HR/person
Earlsboro, Okla. (Stargell), 475 homers/667 population, 0.71 HR/person
Westfield, Ala. (Mays), 660 homers/1,403 population, 0.47 HR/person
Donora, Pa. (Griffey/Musial), 1,105 homers/5,253 population, 0.21 HR/person

Now, in no way is this a scientific study. It's something I threw together on a Sunday afternoon watching football, using 2000 census data. Numbers for Sudlersville, Md., were not available before 1990, so it's likely that fewer than 396 people lived in the hamlet when Foxx was born in 1907. But these are the numbers available, so that's what I used. And to keep it consistent, I went with the 2000 census data for all towns. Ideally, I would've averaged the populations for the towns and cities over the time period from the first-born player on the list to the most recent, but that would involve numbers and formulas that no one should be playing around with on a Sunday afternoon.

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