Billy-Ball Daily: 2008-5-5

5/5/2008
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Top of the 1st
19 TO 21
Billy-Ball has a great team of Irregulars who contribute on an, you guessed it, irregular basis. John Shiffert is one our guys and today, he leads off…

19 to 21
No, that’s not how many home runs Micah Owings is going to hit this year, it’s,
Baseball… Then and Now

Volume 6, #15, May 2, 2008

News Item: April 29, 1888 – Charlie Ferguson dies of typhoid fever in Philadelphia in the North Broad Street home of teammate Arthur Irwin at the age of 25.

Micah Owings’ recent pinch-hit home run for the D’Backs has re-opened discussion on a fascinating, and practically extinct, subject. That is, the good-hitting pitcher. Owings’ own personal editorial against the abomination known as the designated hitter, plus current amicus briefs from Livan Hernandez, Carlos Zambrano and Cole Hamels, have made it at least seem as if there is some hope at the plate for baseball’s mound corps, despite the fact that almost none of them have much if any experience swinging a bat in anger in professional baseball.

While home runs by Hernandez (his ninth) and Zambrano (his 13th in 430 career at bats) were noteworthy, as was Hamels (who is hitting .313) knocking a 349 game winner out of the box with a single, it was Owings’ blast that really generated some questions. Should Owings be playing every day (i.e., should he converted to a position player)? Is he one of the best hitting pitchers of the last 50 years? Of all time? Etc., etc., etc.

It’s way too early to give any definitive answers to such queries. Nonetheless, it is interesting to look at where Owings stands as a hitter and to assess some of the good-hitting pitchers of baseball history. Following his game-tying home run, Owings’ major league batting line read as follows…

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI W K BA OBA SLG OPS+
79 14 28 8 1 5 18 3 20 .354 .373 .671 158

A very small sample, but an impressive one, especially his Isolated Power of .317. Still, this is nothing to get too carried away over. Any decent-hitting pitcher can have a fluke season that makes him look like the next coming of what’s-his-name, the big lefty the Red Sox turned into an outfielder before selling him to the Yankees. Take Robin Roberts’ 1955 season, for instance.

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI W K BA OBA SLG OPS+
107 12 27 9 4 2 13 18 18 .252 .360 .467 120

A monumental fluke, since Robbie’s career OPS+ was just 27. And the biggest part of the fluke? His strikeout/walk ratio. One-to-one. Even good hitting pitchers very seldom have anything but a terrible K/W ratio. Look at Owings’ numbers, for instance. Or look at Rick Ankiel’s numbers, while he was a pitcher. He may be tearing it up now as an outfielder, but his K/W ratio at the plate as a pitcher (the less said about his ratio pitching, the better) was 6/29.

Speaking of great single seasons, how about Walter Johnson’s (who was a very good hitting pitcher) incredible 1925 year, which may have been the best hitting season ever for a pitcher in the 20th Century.

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI W K BA OBA SLG OPS+
97 12 42 6 1 2 20 3 6 .433 .455 .577 163

Sir Walter, at the age of 37 no less, set the all-time record for single-season batting average for starting pitcher that year, while going 20-7 on the mound.

So, it’s more significant to compare Owings’ career line, not to Roberts’ or Johnson’s big years, but to the career numbers of arguably the current best hitter among the hurler trade, assuming you want to consider Mike Hampton still active…

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI W K BA OBA SLG OPS+
664 88 161 19 5 15 68 43 176 .242 .292 .354 66

For this era, that’s a pretty good line. In fact, 88 runs scored in 664 at bats is good for a pitcher in any era. Still, Hampton’s numbers, at least in batting average and home runs, pale in comparison with some of the big hitters of the past. The leading home run hitters among pitchers (hit while they were pitching) are…

Wes Ferrell 38
Bob Lemon 37
Warren Spahn 35
Red Ruffing 34
Earl Wilson 33
Don Drysdale 29
John Clarkson 24
Bob Gibson 24
Walter Johnson 23
Jack Stivetts 21

Clarkson (a Hall of Famer for his pitching) and Stivetts were both 19th Century hurlers, a time when the game, and player usage, was much different, as indicated by the fact that Stivetts actually hit a total of 35 home runs, but he also played 185 games in the field, along with pitching 388 games. Guy Hecker, in 1886, actually led the American Association in hitting with a .341 average while pitching 49 games (26-23), playing first for 22 games and the outfield for 17 games. It was a different game then. Still, the other eight pitchers on this list did do double duty as hitters a fair amount of the time. Here’s the 20th Century list showing their appearances as something other than a pitcher…

Ferrell OF-13, PH-161
Lemon OF-14, 3B-2, PH-139
Spahn PH-33
Ruffing OF-3, PH-155
Wilson PH-67
Drysdale PH-29
Gibson PH-68
Johnson OF-13, PH-118

Ferrell’s 13 games in the outfield were all during the 1933 season when his arm was bothering him. Lemon, of course, came to the majors as an infielder before converting to the mound. And Johnson would go to the outfield in Clark Griffith’s joke games at the end of the season. So, basically, all of these power hitting pitchers were just that, power hitting pitchers, except for various levels of pinch-hitting duties.

Now, for that top 10 batting average pitchers with a minimum of 500 at bats since 1900. It is a completely different list…

Jack Bentley .322
Ervin Brame .306
Babe Ruth .304
Mike O’Neill .292
Bill Bayne .290
George Uhle .288
Johnny Cooney .288
Doc Crandall .284
Red Lucas .282
Chad Kimsey .282
Earl Yingling .282

Bentley was another combo player – he came up as a pitcher, went back to the minors and became a first baseman/pitcher and came back to the majors as a pitcher who could also play first base. In fact, since he played in the minors as a Baltimore Oriole, and had torn up the International League as a hitter, he was widely billed as the next… Babe Ruth (that’s his name!). He wasn’t, and he basically just stayed as a pitcher in his second tour of the majors. Most of the rest are pretty anonymous, mainly because they had short and undistinguished pitching careers, except for Uhle, Crandall and Lucas, who are probably better known historically as pinch hitters, not pitchers. Cooney was another case of a pitcher who converted to an outfielder in mid-career – he actually played far more games in the outfield than he pitched (794-159).

Putting the two lists together, throwing in a couple of other current pitchers already mentioned, and leaving out the special cases of Clarkson, Stivetts and Ruth (who always seems to be in a class by himself), let’s look at the career Adjusted OPS figures of these good-hitting pitchers, recognizing that this list is by no means comprehensive, more so just representative of good-hitting pitchers.

Crandall 119
O’Neill 101
Ferrell 100
Kimsey 95
Bentley 90
Brame 89
Uhle 86
Cooney 86
Yingling 85
Lucas 84
Lemon 82
Ruffing 81
Bayne 77
Wilson 76
Johnson 76
Hampton 66
Gibson 49
Zambrano 47
Drysdale 45
Hernandez 44
Spahn 43

These were/are all good hitting-pitchers. But, with the exception of Crandall, it’s a stretch to call any of them good hitters. Ferrell’s combination of power and average (his .280 just misses the top 10) does give him some points if you’re voting for the best hitting pitcher of all time, however, Crandall had nine home runs, playing his entire career in the Deadball Era, whereas Ferrell played largely in the high-scoring `30s.

It is clearly them premature to anoint Owings as anything historic, or to suggest the D’Backs try him in the outfield. He’s only batted 79 times in the majors, sort of like Terry Forster…

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI W K BA OBA SLG OPS+
78 7 31 4 1 0 7 2 9 .397 .413 .474 145

A nice line, and a nice OPS+. It would make a great APBA card, but it’s not enough to make pronouncements about. Pitchers just don’t hit that well. Even Charlie Ferguson, the Phillies’ pitcher/infielder/outfielder for four years in the 1880s who died of typhoid at the age of 25 before his career could play out, had an OPS+ of just 123. Pitchers don’t have Adjusted OPS figures of 158 or 145, at least not over the long term, or unless they’re Babe Ruth. Still, pitchers hitting is supposed to be part of the game.

— John Shiffert

Top of the 2nd
WALKOFF
Billy-Ball loves the walkoffs so let’s give a little love to the Houston Astros’ Hunter Pence, who was 0-for-5 when he went to the plate in the bottom of the 12th against the Milwaukee Brewers with the game tied at 6. Pence hit a two-run homer to lead the Astros to an 8-6 win.

Ben Sheets was denied his fifth win by Gagne’s fifth blown save. This will make for an interesting stat as the season progresses, will Ben Sheets have more wins than Eric Gagne has blown saves?

Lance Berkman hit his 10th home run of the season and had four hits total.

Sheets needs just one strikeout to tie Teddy Higuera for the franchise record for career strikeouts of 1,081.

Top of the 3rd
TIGERS FIGHTING EX-STINK-TION
After sweeping the Yankees in New York for the first time since 1966 you thought all was heading right in Tiger-Land, guess again. Detroit was swept this weekend by the Twins losing yesterday’s game after jumping out to a 6-0 lead in the top of the 1st off Twins starter Boof Bonser. Bonser threw 45 pitches in the first inning, then only 54 over the next five innings during which one Tiger got past first base.

It will be interesting to see which Tigers team comes out to face the Red Sox, who just swept the Rays (making up for being swept last week in Tampa), because before yesterday’s game manager Jim Leyland said there were going to be drastic changes, as in “changes people will consider pretty drastic” no matter how Sunday’s game turned out.

Leyland said he is looking for more “excitement.” “We can be tough to watch sometimes. I’m going to shake things up pretty shortly, I think,” he said. “There will be no personnel chances or player movement. Same pieces, but quite a bit different (order). For whatever reason, we haven’t had that killer instinct.

“I just think our offense is better than this. I know it is. There’s no doubt in my mind.
“We can lull you to sleep at times, and I can live with that. But that’s why we have to hit. That’s what we’re supposed to be able to do. I don’t know why, but we haven’t had the sense of urgency that we need.

“I’m shocked,” Leyland added. “There’s just not been that extra kick in the butt yet to get us over the hump. I think it will happen. I’d be very disappointed if it doesn’t.”

The Tigers have averaged 6.25 runs per game since their 2-10 start, and their overall average of 4.94 is the best in the American League, but the Tigers are next to last in the AL in ERA.

Top of the 4th
THINK PINK
Major League Baseball will once again celebrate Mother’s Day by swinging pink bats on Sunday, May 11. Bidding is currently under way through May 14 at the MLB.com Auction for seven signed pink Louisville Sluggers which will benefit the Susan G. Komen for a Cure foundation. Three of the bats were autographed by Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. The other four are each signed by a different member of ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Chris Cuomo and Sam Champion.

On Mother’s Day, hundreds of players will use pink bats. “It’s about bringing awareness to breast cancer and raising money for research so we can stop cancer and save lives,” said John A. Hillerich IV, the president and CEO of Hillerich & Bradsby Co., manufacturers of Louisville Sluggers who was interviewed on MLB.com.

“It’s a great cause, a great idea,” said Jeter, whose sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and is now cancer-free, of the pink-bat tradition. “I hope they raise a lot of money.”

After the May 11 games, the pink bats will be sold on the MLB.com Auction. In addition to bidding on the seven signed pink bats up for auction, fans can “Go to Bat Against Breast Cancer” and make a donation at komen.org.

Top of the 5th
MADDUX 0-4
Four-time Cy Young award winner Greg Maddux is now 0-3 in four starts since April 13. He leads all active pitchers in victories and yesterday was trying to become the ninth member of the 350-win club, but instead he fell to 349-217 and lost his fourth decision against Florida in a row, as the Padres lost to the Fish, 10-3.

The Padres fell to 33-33 in Miami.

Top of the 6th
BILLY-BALL-SITE-OF-THE-DAY
http://www.davidwrightfoundation.com/
The David Wright Foundation is a charitable, tax exempt 501(c)3 organization founded in 2005 by David Wright of the New York Mets. The sole purpose and mission of the foundation is to provide financial support and raise awareness for those in need and to financially support other charitable organizations. The foundation pays special attention to Multiple Sclerosis and children’s causes, and maintains its focus on the New York City and Norfolk, Virginia metropolitan areas.

Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
AL
Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers, 7:05 pm
(R) Daisuke Matsuzaka (4-0) vs. (R) Jeremy Bonderman (2-2)
Chicago White Sox at Toronto Blue Jays, 7:07 pm
(R) Javier Vazquez (3-2) vs. (R) Dustin McGowan (1-2)
LA Angels of Anaheim at Kansas City Royals, 8:10 pm
(R) Ervin Santana (5-0) vs. (R) Brett Tomko (1-3)
Baltimore Orioles at Oakland Athletics, 10:05 pm
(L) Garrett Olson (1-0) vs. (L) Dana Eveland (3-2)
Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners, 10:10 pm
(R) Kevin Millwood (2-2) vs. (L) Jarrod Washburn (1-4)

NL
Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 pm
(R) Ryan Dempster (4-0) vs. (R) Johnny Cueto (1-3)
St. Louis Cardinals at Colorado Rockies, 8:35 pm
(R) Joel Pineiro (2-2) vs. (R) Ubaldo Jimenez (1-2)
Philadelphia Phillies at Arizona Diamondbacks, 9:40 pm
(L) Jamie Moyer (1-2) vs. (R) Max Scherzer (0-0)
New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers, 10:10 pm
(R) Nelson Figueroa (2-1) vs. (R) Chad Billingsley (1-4)
As of May 4, 2008, at 04:12 PM ET

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Seattle has gone into the 9th inning of its last four games having scored two runs or less. It has gone into the ninth 9th scored three runs or less in its last seven games. The M’s are 0-14 in games in which an opponent leads by two runs or more at any point.

Top of the 9th
THANKS TO BRIAN REICH
From all the members of the Ball family.

Bottom of the 9th
BUY THE BOOK
Bill Chuck is the creator of Billy-Ball.com and, with Jim Kaplan, is the author of the book, “Walk-Offs, Last Licks, and Final Outs – Baseball’s Grand (and not so Grand) Finales,” with a Foreword by Jon Miller available now from ACTA Sports.

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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.