Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals

How rare is the Royals’ season-opening homerless streak?

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OK, you know I love stuff like this — the Kansas City Royals (as of 1:41 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday) have not hit a home run all season. That’s seven games, that’s pretty rare stuff. The last team to start a season without a home run in its first seven games was the 1990 New York Yankees — that was the worst Yankees teams of the last 100 years. The Yankees streak was finally broken when Mel Hall — yeah, Mel Hall — homered off a 500-year-old Nolan Ryan in the second inning of Game 8.

Well, if the Royals can stretch their streak to eight games against Tampa Bay today, they will enter some very cherished company — only seven teams since 1950 have started the season with eight straight homerless games.

But what I found interesting and kind of shocking is that, on the whole, the seven teams weren’t too bad. In fact, a couple of them were REALLY good teams.

Most games without a homer to start a season (since 1950):

11 games: 1972 Red Sox. Man was that a crazy team and a crazy season — the Red Sox did not hit a home run the first 11 games but actually ended up finishing SECOND in the American League in home runs. They were 85-70 and lost the division title by a half-game in one of the weirdest races ever. There was a short strike in 1972 and because of scheduling quirks the Tigers played one more game than Boston. The Tigers finished 86-70, and baseball decided, OK, season over, no makeup game necessary for Boston.

Could you even IMAGINE the outrage today if something that absurd happened? Here we are in a time where they will take months to review some meaningles play in the third innings. And we’re not that far away from a time where they decided it was just better to give the Tigers the title rather than schedule a make-up game.

The Red Sox first homer of the year was Rico Petrocelli off our pal jim Kaat in a 5-2 loss.

10 games: 1966 Kansas City Athletics. The penultimate year of the Athletics stay in Kansas City — I love that word penultimate and don’t care if I used it right — that A’s team was just semi-stinky and already had good young players like Catfish Hunter and Bert Campaneris and Blue Moon Odom, who would be part of the A’s 1970s dynasty.

Pinch-hitter Larry Stahl hit the home run that broke the streak — he hit it in the ninth off former Athletics pitcher Orlando Pena in a 13-5 loss.

9 games: 1985 Houston Astros. Pretty good team that year (83-79) and a REALY good team in 1986.

An old hero of mine, Alan Ashby, broke the streak with a solo homer off Rick Mahler in a loss. That team really did not have much power — Glenn Davis led the team with 20 homers.

9 games: 1982 San Diego Padres. Another pretty good team — they finished 81-81. Ruppert Jones — who was hitting cleaning for San Diego — broke the streak with a home run off Bob Welch. That was in the middle of a San Diego 11-game winning streak, so they didn’t need homers.

9 games: 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers. How about that … a 99-win World Series team that did not hit a homer in its first nine games.

Of course that Dodgers team was a whole lot of pitching and a whole lot of speed — they were pretty famous for their lack of offensive firepower. Frank Howard, who was more or less the only guy on that team capable of hitting a home run, broke the streak with a two-run homer off Houston’s Turk Farrell. Those were the only two runs of the game — Sandy Koufax threw a two-hitter and struck out 14. It was like that a lot in 1963, especially in Los Angeles.

8 games: 1972 St. Louis Cardinals. Here, finally, we have a team that fits what you would expect of a team that could not hit a home runs. Those Cardinals were pretty bad and they had NO power. Ted Simmons led the team with 16 homers, Joe Torre was the only other Cardinal to reach double digits (he hit 11). They hit 70 home runs as a team.

Simmons broke the streak with a solo shot off Phil Niekro in Game 9. The Cardinals still got crushed 9-3.

8 games: 1967 Los Angeles Dodgers. Well this was the season after Sandy Koufax retired, and the Dodgers — even with future Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Don Sutton in the rotation — were pretty dreadful. Obviously pitchers dominated the game then. The Dodgers hit .236 as a team and scored 519 runs. Those weren’t even league-worst totals.

Ron Fairly broke the streak with a three-run homer off St. Louis reliever Joe Hoerner. Fairly finished the season with 10 home runs, behind Sweet Lou Johnson (11) and fourth-outfielder Al “The Bull” Ferrara (16).

So what’s there to learn here? Nothing really. Of the seven teams to start with eight homerless games, one won the World Series, one was a fluke away from a shot at a division title, two teams were right around break-even and three were fairly bad but not historically bad. Some of these teams carried their home run drought throughout the season. Some did not.

In other words, it likely means absolutely nothing that the Royals have not hit a home run in their first few games. But it’s fun to keep track of anyway.

Chipper Jones says the Mets are his pick to “go all the way”

Braves Spring baseball
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Chipper Jones may believe some weird things but he’s pretty savvy and clear-eyed when it comes to analyzing baseball.

Remember back in 2013 how he picked the Dodgers to beat the Braves in the NLDS? And how, because of his perceived “disloyalty,” Braves players had an immature little temper tantrum and refused to catch his ceremonial first pitch? Yeah, that was a great look. If I was more inclined to the hokey and irrational, I’d say that created “The Curse of Chipper” and that it condemned the Braves to two straight years of sucking. Hey, people have built careers on curses sillier than that.

Anyway, kudos to Chipper for apparently not giving a crap about that sort of thing and, instead, saying what he thinks about baseball. Stuff like how he thinks the Mets are going to win it all, saying “They’re really setting the bar and they’re my early-season pick to probably go all the way.”

Keeping in mind that anything can happen in baseball, it’s as good a pick as any other I reckon. Even if it means he has to say that the team who was his greatest rival during his playing career — and whom he thoroughly owned during that time — is better than the one that pays his salary now. Or any other one.

Did Tony La Russa screw Jim Edmonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy?

2011 World Series Game 4 -Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals
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Yes, that’s a somewhat provocative question. But it’s still an interesting question, the relevancy of and merits of which we’ll get to in a second. I pose it mostly so I can tell you about some neat research a friend of mine is doing and which should make Hall of Fame discussions and the general discussion of baseball history a lot of fun in the coming years. Bear with me for a moment.

There has long been a war between metrics and narrative. The folks who say that so-and-so was great because of the arc of his story and his career and those who say so-and-so was not so great or whatshisface was way, way better because of the numbers. Those views are often pitted as irreconcilable opposites. But what if they weren’t? What if there was some data which explained why some players become narrative darlings and others don’t? Some explanation for why, say, Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame while Dwight Evans isn’t despite having better numbers? An explanation, that isn’t about voters being dumb or merely playing favorites all willy-nilly? What if there was some actual quantitative reason why favorites get played in the first place?

That’s the thesis of the work of Brandon Isleib. He has just finished writing a very interesting book. It’s not yet published, but I have had the chance to read it. It sets forth the fascinating proposition that we can quantify narrative. That we can divine actual numerical values which help explain a player’s fame and public profile. Values which aren’t based on some complicated or counterintuitive formula, but which are rooted in the very thing all baseball fans see every day: games. Wins and losses. The daily standings. Values which reveal that, no, Hall of Fame voters who made odd choices in the view of the analytics crowd weren’t necessarily stupid or petty. They were merely reacting to forces and dynamics in the game which pushed them in certain ways and not others.

“But wait!” you interject. “Jim Rice and Dwight Evans played on the same dang team! How does Brandon distinguish that?” I won’t give away all the details of it but it makes sense if you break down how the Red Sox did in certain years and how that corresponded with Rice’s and Evans’ best years. There were competitive narratives in play in 1975, 1978 or 1986 that weren’t in play in 1981 or 1987. From those competitive narratives come player narratives which are pretty understandable. When you weight it all based on how competitive a team was on a day-to-day basis based on how far out of first place they were, etc., a picture starts to come together which explains why “fame” works the way it does.

From this, you start to realize why certain players, no matter how good, never got much Hall of Fame consideration. And why others’ consideration seemed disproportionate compared to their actual performance. All of which, again, is based on numbers, not on the sort of bomb-throwing media criticism in which jerks like me have come to engage.

Like I said, the book won’t be out for a bit — Brandon just finished it — but in the meantime he has a website where he has been and, increasingly will be, talking about his quantification of narrative stuff, writing short articles posing some of the questions his book and his research addresses.

Today’s entry — which is what my headline is based on — isn’t really numbers-based. It’s more talking about the broader phenomenon Brandon’s work gets at in terms of trying to figure out which players are credited for their performance and which are not so credited and why. Specifically, it talks about how Tony La Russa, more than most managers, gets the credit for his success and his players probably get somewhat less than they deserve. In this way La Russa is kind of viewed as a football coach figure and his players are, I dunno, system quarterbacks. It’s something that is unfair, I think, to guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and will, eventually, likely be unfair to players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.

It’s fascinating stuff which gets to the heart of player reputation and how history comes together. It reminds us that, in the end, the reporters and the analysts who argue about all of these things are secondary players, even if we make the most noise. It’s the figures in the game — the players and the managers — who shape it all. The rest of us are just observers and scribes.

Corey Seager tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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Yesterday it was the top farm systems, today it’s the top-100 prospects from ESPN’s Keith Law.

As Law notes, there’s a HUGE amount of turnover on the list from last year, given how many top prospects were promoted to the bigs in 2015. Kris Bryant seems like a grizzled old veteran now. Carlos Correa too. Eleven of the top 20 from last year’s list have graduated into the bigs. Are we sure it’s only been a year?

So, obviously, there’s a new number one. It’s Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ infielder. Not that everything has changed. Byron Buxton is still number two. This will obviously be his last year on the list. If you want to see and read about the other 98, go check out Keith’s excellent work.

And yes, like yesterday’s farm system rankings, it’s Insider subscription only. There were comments about how much you all hate that and I am sure there will be many more of them today. I get that. No one likes to pay for content. I was somewhat amused, however, by comments that said things like “hey, maybe if we don’t click it, they’ll have to give it to us for free!” Maybe! Or, more likely, the content simply will cease to exist!

It’s good stuff, folks. There aren’t many paid sites I say that about.

Ozzie Guillen to manage again. In Venezuela

Ozzie Guillen Getty
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With Dusty Baker getting back into action with the Nationals and with there being at least some moderate sense that, maybe, inexperienced dudes might not be the best choice to manage big league clubs, I sorta hoped that someone would give Ozzie Guillen another look. Nah. Not happening.

Not that I’m shocked or anything. I can imagine that, under the best of circumstances, a guy like Guillen is hard to have around. He tends to find controversy pretty easily and, unlike some other old hands, Guillen never claimed to be any kind of master tactician. He famously said that he was bored during games until the sixth or seventh inning when he had to start thinking about pitching changes. Refreshing honesty, yes, but maybe not the sort of dude you bring on to, say, be a bench coach or to mentor your younger coaches or to show your hand-picked manager the ropes. Nope, it seemed like Guillen was destined to stay in broadcasting with ESPN Deportes or someone and that his days in uniform were over.

But they’re not over! Guillen was hired yesterday to manage the La Guaira Sharks of the Venezuelan Winter League next offseason. It’s not the bigs, but it is is first on-field gig since he was canned by the Marlins in 2012.

 

Guillen managed the White Sox from 2004-11 and was voted AL Manager of the Year in 2005, when Chicago won the World Series. He may be a bit of a throwback now, but he knows what he’s doing. While I can’t really say that a major league team would be wise to hire the guy — I get it, I really do — a selfish part of me really wants him back in the bigs. He was fun.