Friday, May 29, 2009
Sandwich Awards: Who has munchies but no hits?
It's time once again to head for the nearest baseball buffet line, otherwise known as our weekly Generic Sandwich Awards. But first
Munchies of the Week
• There has been a major crisis in the annual "Last Guy To Get A Hit" competition. Jason Smith and Brad Nelson, the last two position players in baseball without a hit, both got designated for assignment and are now out of the big leagues. The guys with the next-longest droughts, Tony Pena Jr. (0-for-11) and Matt Treanor (0-for-13 and now out for the year), both had to hit the disabled list. So since I've never faced a crisis like this in LGTGAH annals, let me throw it open to the masses. Do we give this award to Smith, who outlasted everyone else but never got a hit? Do we give it to whichever of these guys makes it back to the big leagues first and finally gets a hit? Do we just bag the whole award for this year? Or do we keep researching to figure out who was last to get a hit before all those guys? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Adam Dunn has hit 16 home runs this year. That team he plays for, the Nationals, has won 13 games. So I know what you're wondering: Has there ever been a guy who had more homers in a season than his team had wins? And the answer: Heck, no. The Washington Times' Mark Zuckerman figured that one out, with the help of the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR magician David Vincent.
• All Twins pitchers throw strikes. It's required by Minnesota state law, apparently. Well, no Twin is more law-abiding than Kevin Slowey. Seven weeks into the season, this man has more wins (seven) than walks (five). So how many starting pitchers are in that More Wins Than Walks Club over a full season? There was Bret Saberhagen in 1994 (14 wins, 13 walks). And before that, there was the immortal Slim Sallee (21 wins, 20 walks) in 1919. The only other starting pitcher to do it in modern times was the great Christy Mathewson, who actually did it twice, in 1913 and 1914. Closest recent calls: Greg Maddux (19 wins, 20 walks in 1997) and, of course, a Twin -- Carlos Silva (9 wins, 9 walks in 2005).
• Loyal reader David Flaherty caught a great feat this week: With the help of a convenient monsoon, the Pirates' Ian Snell threw a five-inning complete game Tuesday at Wrigley Field. The bad news was, he gave up six runs in those five innings. That's the highest ERA (10.80) in any complete game (rain-shortened or otherwise) in the past 55 years. And it was the first CG by any pitcher who allowed more earned runs than innings since Mike Norris gave up (no kidding) 17 hits and 10 ER in a nine-inning classic for Billy Martin's Oakland A's on Sept. 26, 1980.
• One more eye-popping box score: Johan Santana unfurled a six-walk, 11-strikeout game Wednesday. Loyal reader Eric Orns reports it was only the fifth time in the 55-year Retrosheet/Play Index era that any pitcher had that many walks and that many whiffs in a start of six innings or fewer. The others: Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, Tom Glavine and (who else?) Russ Ortiz.
• Finally, here's to two loyal readers -- Aaron Fonda and Michael Mays -- who rose to meet our latest Reader Challenge. They found the last day before Monday that featured hitters who went 1-for-1, 2-for-2, 3-for-3, 4-for-4, 5-for-5 and 6-for-6 on the same day. It was Sept. 23, 1995. And the perpetrators included Lance Johnson (6-for-6), Jose Vizcaino (5-for-5), Otis Nixon (4-for-4) and Will Clark (3-for-3). Way to go, men. Excellent research.
And now on with the Sandwich Awards
Strike One -- The On A Roll Award
Guess what? Best-kept Padres secret Adrian Gonzalez mashed three more homers in the past week, since the last time the Sandwich Awards Committee weighed in on America's finest sandwich-worthy feats. It hardly seems like news anymore, I know. But it's time we gave this guy a little more pub, isn't it?
What the heck, he's leading the major leagues in home runs (with 18). And he's doing it while playing for a team that never scores -- while playing in a park where you have a better chance of witnessing an earthquake than a home run by anyone else on his team. We've been thinking about how amazing this guy is. Here are just some of the reasons:
• Since May 10, Gonzalez has hit nine home runs in 57 at-bats. That's one every 6.3 at-bats. All Padres hitters not named Adrian Gonzalez have hit 13 homers -- in 473 at-bats. That's one every 36.4 at-bats. So this man, essentially, is outhomering his teammates, 6 to 1. Is that insane, or what?
• Gonzalez also is doing all this while playing for a team locked in a fierce battle with the Giants for the honor of being the lowest-scoring team in the major leagues. I've gone back through the entire expansion era, and (boy, this will shock you) I couldn't find a single hitter who won the home run title while playing for the lowest-scoring team in his league. But Gonzalez might. Tough to do, folks.
• And let me remind you of his greatest obstacle one more time: Gonzalez is threatening to lead the major leagues in homers -- despite being forced by the proper authorities to play all his home games in Petco Park. If you check our ballpark-factors charts, you'll find that Petco ranked as the hardest ballpark in America in which to hit a homer last year. And only the late, not-so-great RFK Stadium in Washington beat it the year before. Now here's another way to look at it: The Yankees have seen 87 home runs hit already in their new stadium -- in 23 games. The Padres have hit 86 homers at Petco -- in their past 104 games. Get the picture?
Adrian Gonzalez. He's a Sandwich Award waiting to happen every darned week.
Strike Two -- The Cold Cuts Award
Six years ago, Delmon Young was the first human picked in the entire 2003 draft. Four years ago, Delmon Young was the minor league player of the year. Two years ago, Delmon Young led all American League rookies in RBIs, hits, total bases and a bunch of other stuff. But this year, we can sum up the performance of that same Delmon Young with three words: What the heck?
OK, there are possibly some other words you might pick to throw in there. But they'd all mean about the same thing: What the heck happened to this man?
Over the past week, he's gone 2-for-19, with 10 strikeouts. Since May 8, he's 2-for-26, with 12 strikeouts. His last (and only) home run this year was hit April 12. And since April 23, 401 different players in the big leagues have had at least one extra-base hit -- a group that includes Andy Sonnanstine, Ted Lilly and Bronson Arroyo. But one name you won't find on that list is Delmon Young. He's now up to 74 plate appearances without an XBH -- and counting.
"I'll tell you what," said one scout. "This kid's hitting instincts are nowhere near what we all thought he'd be. He's so undisciplined, it's unbelievable."
So how undisciplined is he? According to fangraphs.com, Young has taken a hack at 58.8 percent of all the pitches thrown his way this year, the sixth-highest percentage in baseball among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. But he's made contact with only 68.3 percent -- the seventh-worst percentage in baseball. Only he and Miguel Olivo rank in the bottom 10 of both those categories. And that's not good.
"He's still got speed. He's still got a good arm. He still has skills," the same scout said of Young. "He's just not a real good hitter."
And for anyone who saw Young a few years ago, that's hard to believe. We're not sure how. We're not sure why. But if it's any consolation, at least he got a Sandwich Award out of it.
Strike Three -- The Super Sub Award
Barring something miraculous erupting, those Baltimore Orioles won't be winning the American League East this year. But at least they can see the future -- and it looks a whole lot more picturesque than the recent past.
They keep calling up guys from scenic Norfolk, Va. And it's safe to say those Norfolk escapees have been way better than a bunch of the mercenaries who stopped by to steal Peter Angelos' money over the past decade. For instance:
• The Orioles have called up three rookie pitchers along the way -- Brad Bergeson, Jason Berken and David Hernandez. And all three of those guys won their first big league start. Combine that with the winning debut of Koji Uehara, and the Orioles have become the first team to have four different rookies win their first big league start since Crazy Schmit's 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys -- a team that went (ready?) 23-113, the third-worst full-season winning percentage in baseball history.
• In the bigger picture, the Orioles' rookie starters have gone 5-5, with a 4.47 ERA, in 18 starts this year. Meanwhile, the Orioles' veteran starters have gone 8-14, with a 6.50 ERA, in 30 starts. Take away ace Jeremy Guthrie, and that record gets even uglier -- as in 4-10, with an 8.54 ERA. Yikes.
• Finally, there's rookie left fielder Nolan Reimold. If you had him in the First AL Rookie To Hit Five Home Runs pool, you're a winner. Reimold has hit those five homers just in his past nine games. Meanwhile, all the other rookies in the American League combined have hit 25 homers all season. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that the only other Orioles rookie in history to hit his first five homers faster than Reimold was Curt Blefary in 1965. And for what it's worth, Blefary wound up as the AL rookie of the year.
Now we remind you that the most ballyhooed of all the Orioles' call-ups, catcher Matt Wieters, doesn't even arrive until this weekend. So this group's Sandwich Award-worthiness just keeps on growing. It's a beautiful thing.
Shameless Book-Plug Dept.
Last but hardly least, here are this weekend's signings of "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies": Friday night, from 7-9 p.m., at the spectacular Borders in the King of Prussia Mall, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at my favorite York, Pa., hangout, Bookland. For a complete list of "Worth The Wait" signings, click here.