My friend Rob Neyer has a good story up over at The National Pastime Museum today. It’s about how, in 1968, the Detroit Tigers used an outfielder who had never played a single moment at shortstop as a professional as their starting shortstop in the god dang World Series.
That man was Mickey Stanley. The manager who put him at short was Mayo Smith. And, of course, the Tigers won that World Series. As Rob explains, however, the decision was not made as impulsively as quick-and-dirty summaries of the 1968 World Series often suggest. Go check out his story to see why this strange set of events was put into play and just how Smith did it.
The Mickey Stanley-at-shortstop story was like a minor religious parable when I was growing up in Michigan and following the Tigers in the late 70s and early 80s. When 1968 came up, people who remembered it talked about Mickey Lolich’s World Series heroics first, Denny McCain’s 31-win regular season second and Mickey Stanley at short third. Indeed, I think it messed up a whole generation of Tigers fans, making them think you could just plug any old player in at any position and it’d just work.
That usually doesn’t happen, but it worked at least once.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.