Seven years without hitting the baseball
I came across this quote a couple of weeks ago. It is attributed to Yankees great Mickey Mantle. According to the “Mick”:
“During my 18 years (in the majors) I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and I walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven seasons without hitting the ball.”
Think about that for a second…. seven years without hitting the ball.
It got me thinking about whether or not Mantle was the only player who might fall into this category. To establish the standard, I looked to see how many players, like Mantle, had more than 1,500 strikeouts and 1,500 walks in their careers. There are six players on this list:
Barry Bonds (1,539 strikeouts, 2,558 walks)
Jim Thome (2,548 strikeouts, 1,747 walks)
Harmon Killebrew (1,699 strikeouts, 1,559 walks)
Mike Schmidt (1,883 strikeouts, 1,507 walks)
Mickey Mantle (1,719 strikeouts, 1,733 walks)
Rickey Henderson (1,694 strikeouts, 2,190 walks)
(Note: Tally up Thome’s strikeout and walk numbers and it adds up to 4,295. Using Mantle’s example, that’s eight and a half seasons without hitting the ball!)
I also wondered how many players had seasons “without hitting the ball,” specifically, how many players had a season where they had more than 150 strikeouts and 150 walks. There is only one player that fits into this category: In 1998, Mark McGwire ended that season with 155 strikeouts and 162 walks, just about a strikeout and a walk each game that season.
If we drop the numbers down to 125 strikeouts and 125 walks in a season, there have been a dozen players who have reached the 125-125 milestone in a season. Three did it in two seasons… Jack Clark, Joey Votto, and McGwire. The other nine players who have done it once: Aaron Judge, Adam Dunn, Bryce Harper, Frank Howard, Jeff Bagwell, Jim Thome, Jim Wynn, Mike Schmidt, and Tony Phillips.
For the record, only one Brewers player ever had a season with 100 or more strikeouts and 100 or more walks in the same campaign, and he did it in three consecutive seasons; Prince Fielder in 2009 had 138 strikeouts and 110 walks, in 2010 he had 138 strikeouts and 114 walks, and in 2011 he had 106 strikeouts and 107 walks.
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Bill Buckner: Underrated, Underappreciated!
The sports world lost another memorable athlete this week when former major leaguer Bill Buckner died on Monday of dementia at age 69. Buckner may not have been the iconic sports personality that was Bart Starr, who preceded him in passing just a few days earlier, but Buckner is certainly attached to one of sports’ most unforgettable moments.
Buckner enjoyed a 22-year career (1969-90) in baseball and had 2,715 hits, a career batting average of .289 with 174 home runs, and he tallied 1,077 runs scored and 1,208 RBI. He was an all-star and a batting champ (in 1980 as a member of the Chicago Cubs). The sad thing is that Buckner is one of those rare athletes who is probably more infamous than famous because of what happened in one game.
As a member of the Boston Red Sox, first baseman Buckner had a Mookie Wilson (New York Mets) groundball go through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that led to a Mets walk-off victory in that game. The Mets went on to win Game 7 and the Red Sox (at that time) were still waiting for their first World Series title since 1918. Buckner’s error, at that time, made him somewhat of a scapegoat for the Game 6 loss, the World Series defeat, and the Red Sox Nation continued woes.
Buckner’s career, however, should not be defined by his fielding gaffe in the ’86 World Series. A 22-year MLB career, .289 average and 2,717 career hits are certainly stats that generate discussion about whether or not Buckner deserves to be in the Hall of Fame… for the record, he appeared on the ballot in 1996 and received only 10 votes.
But I contend that Buckner was a much underrated and underappreciated player. I’m not ready to say he should be in the Hall, but in my mind he was a “hitter’s hitter.” He rarely struck out, rarely walked, and was probably the best example of what youth coaches preach to their young players: “Put the ball in play and see what can happen.”
There are a few stats in Buckner’s stat-line that illustrate this point:
- Buckner had 15 seasons where he had 400 or more plate appearances and less than 40 strikeouts. That ranks tied for sixth most in baseball history. Tris Speaker tops the list with 18 such seasons.
- Buckner had 14 seasons where he had 400 or more plate appearances and less than 40 walks. That ranks tied for fifth most in baseball history. Ivan Rodriguez and Tommy Corcoran top the list with 16 such seasons each.
- If we combine the two stats above, Buckner had 14 seasons where he had 400 or more plate appearances and less than 40 strikeouts and less than 40 walks in that season. That ranks tied for second most in MLB history. Lave Cross tops the list with 15 such seasons.
- Buckner’s 2,715 career hits ranks him 66th on the all-time list. Of those 66 players with 2,715 or more career hits, Buckner’s 453 career strikeouts ranks as the second fewest of the group and his 450 career walks ranks also ranks as the second fewest among the 66 players.
- How about this stat… of the players who have more than 10,000 career plate appearances, Buckner is one of only 11 players in history to have less than 500 career strikeouts. The others: Charlie Gehringer, Tony Gwynn, Tris Speaker, Paul Waner, Frankie Frisch, Cap Anson, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Sam Rice and Nellie Fox. Of these 11 players, only three, Gywnn, Fox and Buckner ended their careers after the 1960’s. Here’s the real eye-opening part of this stat… of the 11, all but Buckner are in the Hall of Fame.
Buckner was a unique hitter. If a pitch was in the strike zone, chances are he was swinging and there was a good chance he was making contact and putting the ball in play. He seemed like an “old school” player and one that probably was born later than he should have been… his game seemed to fit more appropriately with those players from the first half of the century, especially when you consider that most of his batting stats with low strikeouts and low walk totals are shared with players from that earlier era.
Here are three more stats that I found interesting about Buckner’s career:
- He hit 174 home runs. His last home was an inside-the-park HR. It was also the only inside-the-park home run of his career.
- He had seven seasons where he played in 100 or more games and batted over .300. He is one of 151 players in MLB history to do that.
- Fifty-one of the 65 players ahead of Buckner on the all-time hits list are in the Hall of Fame.
Bill Buckner, Hall of Famer? The voters certainly did not think so as he appeared only once on the HOF ballot in 1996 (because he did not receive at least 5% of the vote that year, he was taken off the ballot for future consideration). But I think Bill Buckner will one day find his way into the Hall as a future selection of the Veteran Committee. He was clearly one of the most unique and successful hitters of all-time.
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Can Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw dominate in his 30s like he did in his 20s?
Kershaw turns 30 on March 19th. He enters the 2018 season (and his 30s) with 144 career wins and only 64 losses, a .692 winning percentage. Kershaw’s career in his 20s was one of the best in MLB history. Consider this:
- Kershaw is one of only 34 pitchers in baseball history to have 140 or more wins in his 20s.
- Kershaw’s .692 winning percentage is the second-best all-time of the 171 pitchers who won 100 or more games in their 20s. Whitey Ford was 105-40 (.724 winning percentage) in his 20s, the highest winning percentage in this stat.
Kershaw is one of three active pitchers who won 140 or more games in their 20s. C.C. Sabathia won 157 in his 20s, while Felix Hernandez won 143 in his 20s. (For the record, Sabathia has won 80 in his 30s; Hernandez has won 17.)
As I stated in the opening paragraph, the question will be can Kershaw, now age 30, match the success he had in his 20s. Can he reach 200 wins? How about 250? Or 300?
Looking at the 31 non-active pitchers who reached 140 or more wins in their 20s, it’s interesting to note that not all had success in their 30s. In fact, nine of the 31 did not reach 200 career wins after posting 140+ before hitting their 30s. Others flourished in their 30s… some even winning more games in their 30s than their 20s. For example, these pitchers with 140 or more wins in their 20s won more in their 30s than their 20s;
Pete Alexander (won 160 in his 20s; 213 in his 30s)
Roger Clemens (won 152 in his 20s; 202 in his 30s)
Greg Maddux (won 150 in his 20s; 205 in his 20s)
Tom Seaver (won 146 in his 20’s; 165 in his 30s)
There have been 11 pitchers who won 140+ in their 20s who won less than 40 games in their 30s. Unfortunately, some of these pitchers passed away during their baseball careers. For others, injury or other performance factors played a role in them not matching their win totals from their 20s. Those 11 pitchers are:
Dizzy Dean, 3 wins in his 30s… 147 wins in his 20s
Addie Joss, 5 wins in his 30s… 155 wins in his 20s
Wes Ferrell, 18 wins in his 30s… 175 wins in his 20s
Hal Newhouser, 22 wins in his 30s… 185 wins in his 20s
Ken Holtzman, 23 wins in his 30s… 151 wins in his 20s
Don Drysdale, 32 wins in his 30s… 177 wins in his 20s
Fernando Valenzuela, 32 wins in his 30s… 141 wins in his 20s
Chief Bender, 36 wins in his 30s… 176 wins in his 20s
Lefty Gomez, 36 wins in his 30s… 153 wins in his 20s
Dave McNally, 36 wins in his 30s… 148 wins in his 20s
Dwight Gooden, 37 wins in his 30s… 157 wins in his 20s
One final note: There are only two active pitchers under the age of 30 who have accumulated 100 or more wins. Rick Porcello sits at 117 career wins. He dies not turn 30 until after the end of the 2018 season. Madison Bumgarner has 104 career wins and doesn’t turn 30 until August 1, 2019. He certainly has an outside chance of reaching that 140 career wins in his 20s.
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When you think of 20-game winners in the majors, most of the time you probably think of a fireballin’ pitcher who strikes out a lot of batters. That is not, however, the case all the time. In fact, there have been several pitchers who have won 20 or more games in a season who did not depend on the strikeout for their success.
In MLB history, there have been 132 pitchers who have won 20 or more games in a season with fewer than 100 strikeouts that season. The interesting thing about this stat is that 125 of those pitchers accomplished this prior to 1970. Only seven pitchers have won 20-plus games with less than 100 strikeouts since 1970.
The all-time leader in this odd statistic is Cincinnati hurler Slim Sallee who had only 24 strikeouts in 1919 with 21 victories in the books.
Here are the seven pitchers who tallied fewer than 100 K’s when they were a 20-game winner.
Pitcher, team, year
Tommy John, NY Yankees, 1980, 78 strikeouts/22 wins
Ross Grimsley, Montreal, 1978, 84 strikeouts/20 wins
Dave McNally, Baltimore, 1971, 91 strikeouts/21 wins
Bill Gullickson, Detroit, 1991, 91 strikeouts/20 wins
Ed Figueroa, NY Yankees, 1978, 92 strikeouts/20 wins
Randy Jones, San Diego, 1976, 93 strikeouts/22 wins
Bob Forsch, St. Louis, 1977, 95 strikeouts/20 wins
Since 2000, there have been only three times where a 20-game winner had less than 130 strikeouts in that season. Jamie Moyer did it twice; in 2001 with Seattle when he had 119 strikeouts in a 20-win season, and two years later with the Mariners when he had 129 K’s in a 21-win season. The other pitcher on the list is Derek Lowe; he won 21 games in 2002 with Boston and had 127 strikeouts that season.
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