Friday, May 13, 2005

adios curveblog, hola Viva El Birdos

look me up at Viva El Birdos, my new home in the blogiverse. it's a bigger, prettier, more interactive site, affiliated with the SportsBlog Nation and fully complicit in that network's many conspiracies and nefarious dealings. please check me out over there; gonna take me a couple of days to get organized and figure out the software, but come monday (no later) i'll be posting away. there's an intro post up there now; check it out, tell your friends, and help me create something over there that cardinal fans will enjoy. again, that URL is:

larry borowsky

Thursday, May 12, 2005

eck's appeal

i watched eckstein’s at-bats closely last night, particularly the strikes thrown early in the count. (if you're just joining us, i've been meditating on card ss's count management --- tuesdy and yest'dy.) he runs the standard singles-hitting-leadoff-guy playbook. when he batted with no one on base (1st, 4th, and 7th) eck had "deep count" at-bats, performing his famous We-Foul-Em™ routine and trying to worm his way on base. got to two strikes on all three at-bats - usually a bad sign - but still reached base two times and worked the count to 3-2 the other time. in the 2d and 5th, hitting with two outs and men on base, he attacked early in the count, putting 0-1 pitches in play both times. in his final at-bat, with runners at 2d and 3d and one out in the 8th, he took the first pitch right down the middle — classic "get me over" fastball — and then never saw another strike and wound up at first with a walk. i’d rather have seen him hack at that first pitch, which had nothing on it and cleaved the fat part of the plate — if nothing else you get a fly ball and another run. i suspect eck would have attacked the next strike had the pitcher obliged him with one . . . .

but why 2d-guess a guy who has just gone 4 for 5 with a walk? as a purely academic exercise — one in no way meant to demean eckstein’s fine performance (nice going david!) — here are a few add’l notes:
* in the top of the first eckstein got ahead 2-0, then took strike one over the outside corner; no complaint, it was a pitcher’s pitch and a wise one to lay off. besides, the pitcher was groping to establish his rhythm; make him throw pitches in that situation.
* in the fifth, with two on and two out, he very clearly was taking all the way on 0-0 — pulled one of those fake square-to-bunt maneuvers, then pulled the bat back and was never ready to swing, which is too bad because the pitch was a fat one. in this instance, no matter; he simply whacked the 0-1 pitch up the middle for an rbi hit.
* in the 7th, with none on and two out, he got ahead 1-0 and again took a get-me-over strike; two outs, i’m thinking take a cut at that thing and see if you can drive it and get yourself into scoring position. he eventually did get a single, then scored on ensuing larry walker double . . . .

why the increasingly unhealthy fixation on david eckstein? i have never disliked him, never thought he was a bad baseball player. i just don’t get him. he’s a shortstop who can’t throw, a leadoff man who doesn’t steal bases and doesn't have particularly impressive obps. it’s said that his full contribution to the team doesn’t show up in the box score, that he does a lot of "little things" (sure, sure; little guy, little things. a natural fit.) he hustles, he scraps, he grits his teeth, and by virtue thereof eckstein makes himself far more valuable than his .700 ops and mediocre (at best) range afield would suggest.

this is a standard myth we tell about certain types of ballplayers, and i’ve always been skeptical of it. we like to tell the same myth about ourselves — ie that effort, tenacity, fearlessness, etc are the main things that separate winners from losers, on the diamond and in the game of life. i never bought that myth either. strip away the myth from david eckstein and you no longer have a player who brings an intangible but significant value-add ("character," for lack of better) to a limited skill set. all you have is the limited skill set.

that’s what i saw in david eckstein when the cardinals signed him — a player who might serve nicely as a part-time player, or as an everyday shortstop batting eighth. but as everyday shortstop and everyday leadoff man? the anchor of the defense and the sparkplug of the offense for a pennant-winning team? mighty big responsibility for a guy who is so average (or worse) in so many respects. yeah, i know he’s got a championship ring and two playoff appearances in four years. i also know that he didn’t get to the majors until age 26, that his glove at short has always been suspect, and that he’s now 30 years old and starting to show signs of slowing down. his run production has faded since his sophomore year, along with his fielding statistics. and since (nothing personal against eckstein) i place little if any value on the "hustle" virtues david brings to the game, i have had concerns about him (like this one) ever since stl signed him.

i still have my concerns, by the way, even tho eckn has looked like a playoff-caliber shortstop through the first six weeks of the year. but i want him to keep doing well and will suffer no shame if he makes all my reservations about him look stupid. mainly, tho, i just want to understand him — how he bears such a sizable load on such a flimsy platform. i look at the guy and i see tony womack without the speed, omar vizquel without the (in his prime) glove; i see a glorified version of bo hart, a player with many limitations and no redeeming areas of excellence. eckstein gets the most out of his ability? that’s a nice story, but i still don’t understand how it makes a .~335 obp (eck’s career mark) a virtue in an aging leadoff man.

i’ll start watching more closely. and i hope eckn shows me.

update: at least one angel fan has bought the myth ex post facto. here's rev halofan in today's post at halos heaven: "After much consideration, it appears that we're most missing Eckstein. . . . . . The offensive anemia continues and it makes me buy all of that sparkplug bullshit they fed us in 2002."

david eckstein’s at-bats 5/11/05

AB#1: 1st inn, 0out, 0on

2-1 called
2-2 foul
2-2 foul
2-2 foul
in play F-7

AB#2: 2d inn, 2out, runnr2
0-1 called
in play single

AB#3: 4th inn, 1out, 0on
1-1 called
1-2 foul
2-2 foul
3-2 foul
3-2 foul
3-2 foul
in play single

AB#4: 5th inn, 2out, runnrs1+2
0-1 called
in play single

AB#5: 7th inn, 2out, 0on
1-1 called
1-2 called
in play hit

AB#6: 8th inn, 1out, runnrs2+3
0-1 called

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

eck'n called to a count (cont)

before i go on with the eckstein ball-strike stuff, i need to clarify something. the point of yesterday’s post wasn’t that eckstein hits worse when he’s behind in the count; all hitters do that. nor was the point to bash eckstein. the point is that eckstein bats from behind in the count — ie, at a disadvantage — more often than any other major-league regular i could find. and far too often for his (and his team’s) own good.

that doesn’t mean he’s a bad hitter; it means he’s a unique hitter. every batter makes decisions about which pitches to swing at; but few if any hitters have a pattern of decisions that resembles eckstein’s. does he know something ev’yone else doesn’t? does he have a skill ev’ybody else lacks? if so, i can’t see it. david’s like every other hitter — good on hitter’s counts, bad on pitcher’s counts. he just hits in more of the latter than the former. a lot more.

in comments here and at the birdwatch, it was suggested a few times that eckstein’s habit of laying off the first strike yields real but hard-to-quantify benefits — ie, he runs deep counts, fouls off scads of pitches, wears out the opposing pitcher, forces him to show all his pitches. these alleged benefits are thought perhaps to accrue to the hitters who come after eck — but whatever these dividends are (if they even exist), they couldn’t outweigh the damage eckstein does to himself by constantly hitting from behind. the deeper the count, the worse eckstein is. once he’s got two strikes on him — and according to the foul-em-off theory, two strikes is a given — eckstein’s obp is just 284. he fell into an 0-2 hole 337 times over the last three years — and battled back to draw a walk just three times. another 291 times he ran a 1-1 count to 1-2; from there he battled back to draw a walk just 8 times.

again, i’m not here to suggest that eckstein is unique in this regard. every hitter sucks when he falls behind in the count; eckstein’s no different. where eckstein is different is in how often he falls behind in the count — significantly more often than other hitters.

most hitters try like hell to stay out of pitcher’s counts. eckstein doesn’t. he puts a first-pitch strike in play only 10 percent of the time — the other 90 percent became 0-1 counts. other contact-hitting leadoff types are far more aggressive. juan pierre for example put an 0-0 strike in play 18 percent of the time; luis castillo, 15 percent; joe cora, 16 percent; ray durham, 19 percent. compared to these players, eckstein faces anywhere from 15 to 30 extra 0-1 counts per season.

of even greater interest is eckstein’s strategy on 1-0. he sees a lot of strikes, as pitchers don’t want to fall behind 2-0 on him with the heart of the order looming. he’s seen 779 1-0 pitches during this period, and 500 of them were strikes; yet eckstein put a measly 79 of those strikes in play — 16 percent. the other 421 strikes erased eckstein’s advantage and evened the count at 1-1. here’s how he compares to our group of hitters from yest’day:

put 1-0 strike in play:
pierre 43 percent
polanco 43 percent
grud’k 41 percent
rollins 31 percent
craig counsell 29 percent
womack 21 percent
cora 21 percent
eckstein 16 percent

when he did put a 1-0 strike in play, eckstein did well — .316 avg, .418 slugging,.743 ops. which surprises nobody since it’s a flippin’ hitter’s count. eckstein should be attacking pitches like these; you’ve got the advantage; you swing the batty-watty. instead, more than five times as often, david runs the count back to even at 1-1, and the at-bats play out to his disadvantage — .282 avg, .358 slg, .692 ops.

as salvo from birdwatch notes, eckstein didn’t sit with the bat on his shoulder for all 421 of those 1-0 strikes; he swung through some and fouled others off. but fouls and swing-throughs can’t explain a gap this large; eckstein’s too far removed from the field. he’s pursuing a deliberate strategy (which many readers obviously are more familiar with than me) of not swinging at the first strike. he thinks it works in his favor to run the counts deep.

he’s wrong. when eckstein puts the ball in play early in the count — 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, or 1-1 — he bats .322 and slugs .427. toss in his hbps on those counts and it adds up to an ops of 778. on all other counts, he’s a .251 hitter with a .654 ops. but — and again, this is my point here — eckstein’s at-bat distribution skews badly to deep counts. of his 1804 plate appearances, only 38 percent were resolved early in the count. the other 62 percent ran long, into ball-strike territory that disadvantages eckstein.

that’s how he chooses to play it; i think he ought to reconsider. the specific count he needs to rethink, imho, is the 1-0 pitch. taking a strike gets him nowhere; his walk rate from 1-1 counts forward is just .053, so he’s not exactly waiting pitchers out. he’s just handing them a free strike. i have to think if he became more aggressive on 1-0, looked for pitches in his happy zone and attacked them, he and the team would profit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

eck'n called to a count

josh schulz has a state-of-the-shortstops post up today at the birdwatch, comparing renteria v eckstein to date; he accurately concludes: "The Cardinals are getting a slightly better performance out of just a third the salary the Red Sox are paying."

i’ve been meaning to check out how the patek-esque eckstein holds up over a 162-game pounding; went to espn’s three-year splits and found that david does just fine — .266ba/.338obp pre all-star break, .287/.352 post break since 2002. so no worries on that score. but as i trolled around on that page one other thing jumped out at me: david eckstein hits from behind in the count too much. check this out:

ab on 1-0 or 2-0: 93 (6 pct of total ab)
ab on 0-1 or 0-2: 403 (25 pct)

whoa. as you might expect, the results on the top line (.355 avg, .534 slg) shame those on the bottom line (.263 avg, .320 slg). turns out david’s not much of a 1st-pitch swinger either — only 104 at-bats ending on 0-0, though he did well when he put those balls in play (.308 avg, .375 slg). in sum, eck’n has only put the first strike in play (ie, at-bats ending 0-0, 1-0, or 2-0) 197 times, or 12 percent of his at-bats — whereas 42 percent of his at-bats end with eckstein behind in the count (ie, on 0-1, 0-2, or 1-2):

ab on 1st strike: 197 (12 pct)
ab behind in count: 686 (42 pct)

that seemed like an unbelievably skewed distribution of at-bats — and badly in eckn’s disfavor. basically, david hits from behind in the count about four times as often as he hits from ahead. and that ain’t good. i looked at some other hitters as a check, beginning with eckn’s dp partner, mark grud’k:
total ab: 1274
ab on 1-0 / 2-0: 167 (13 pct)
ab on 0-1 / 0-2: 260 (20 pct)
ab on 1st strike: 363 (28 percent)
ab behind in count: 440 (35 percent)

a far more balanced spread. and grud’k is a phenomenal 1st-strike hitter — 388 avg, .554 slg — while he’s pretty much toast once he falls behind in the count — after 0-1, he’s a .636 ops’er (.291 obp, .345 slg). so it makes sense for him to go up there hacking. but it would make sense if eck’n did likewise more often: his ops after falling behind 0-1 is only .634 (.299 obp, .335 slg). unfortunately, eck’n bats from an 0-1 hole in 56 percent of his at-bats.

next comparison is — who else? — last year’s ss, eddie renteria:
total ab: 1717
ab on 1-0 / 2-0: 238 (14 pct)
ab on 0-1 / 0-2: 312 (18 pct)
ab on 1st strike: 493: (29 pct)
ab behind in count: 535 (31 pct)

edgar’s obviously a diff’nt type of hitter, but then we already knew that . . . . how about last year’s leadoff man?
total ab: 1492
ab on 1-0 / 2-0: 128 (9 pct)
ab on 0-1 / 0-2: 312 (21 pct)
ab on 1st strike: 230: (15 pct)
ab behind in count: 594 (40 pct)

womack’s pattern is similar to eckn’s, but it’s still not nearly as skewed. check out their ratios of 1-0/2-0 ab to 0-1/0-2 ab:
womack: 1:2.43
eck’n: 1:4.33
womack may hit from behind in the count too often, but compared to eckstein he is a wizard of ball-strike management.

how do a very good leadoff man’s at-bats shake out? let’s look at juan pierre:
total ab: 1938
ab on 1-0 / 2-0: 261 (13 pct)
ab on 0-1 / 0-2: 495 (26 pct)
ab on 1st strike: 472: (24 pct)
ab behind in count: 739 (38 pct)

again, not nearly as skewed as ecky. nor is jimmy rollins, whose career ab/obp are slightly worse than eck’s:
total ab: 1922
ab on 1-0 / 2-0: 220 (11 pct)
ab on 0-1 / 0-2: 324 (27 pct)
ab on 1st strike: 499: (26 pct)
ab behind in count: 584 (30 pct)

placido polanco has a very balanced allocation:
total ab: 1543
ab on 1-0 / 2-0: 94 (15 pct)
ab on 0-1 / 0-2: 301 (20 pct)
ab on 1st strike: 463: (30 pct)
ab behind in count: 492 (32 pct)

the only remotely close analog i could find (and i only looked at about 10 guys) was alex cora, one of the cards’ potential 2bmen in the offseason market:
total ab: 1140
ab on 1-0 / 2-0: 94 (8 pct)
ab on 0-1 / 0-2: 259 (23 pct)
ab on 1st strike: 213: (19 pct)
ab behind in count: 431 (38 pct)

if i kept looking i might find a few others who share eckstein’s profile in this regard. but it seems safe to say that eckstein takes a very specialized approach to his at-bats — or to put it less delicately, he’s either a weirdo or an outright freak when it comes to hitting. this is not to say that he’s a bad hitter; on the contrary, eckstein appears to have made this strategy work for him. tomorrow i’ll parse what he’s doing — and lodge a request with the little fellah to be more aggressive on one specific ball-strike count.

viva el birdos

Monday, May 09, 2005

busch nostalgia 2: of hague and taylor (cont)

the cardinals open the 1970 season as if tethered to a bungee cord. they jump off to a 7-2 launch, then fall to 3-12 over the next two weeks; they bounce back with a 10-4 run, only to go slack again at 6-12. on july 1 they fall into a 6-21 dive, but beginning july 30 they recoil and begin a 21-10 skein. to mix the metaphor badly, this is a team with an eating disorder: they stuff themselves full, throw everything up, then repeat the cycle.

this pattern also occurs within individual games — viz. the 11-10 comeback thriller over montreal on august 8 (chapter one of this post). that victory is the cards’ 9th in 10 games; they split a doubleheader the next day, take monday off, and on tuesday august 11 open a three-game series with the san diego padres.

another 2d-year franchise, another ripe compost heap of ballplayers. the pads are the bottom of the 1970 barrel, 10 games worse than their expansion cousins in mtl but, imho, a far more interesting group of guys. they rank among the bottom three teams in nearly ev’y offensive category save two — homers (3d) and strikeouts (1st). their 1st baseman, nate colbert, is a native st louisan, just 24 years old, en route to a 38hr, 150k, .837 ops season. their centerfielder, 26-year-old clarence gaston (later famous as toronto blue jay manager "cito"), is in the midst of an insane career year — a .907 ops and top-10 finishes in avg, hits, slugging, and total bases. the following year his ops will be .650; his career ops in 1026 mlb games is .695. (he strikes out, by the way, 142 times in 1970.) another talented young player, 26-year-old right fielder ollie brown, hits .292 with 23 jacks and an 821 ops. the roster also includes future espn analyst dave campbell; ex-cardinal ed spezio, a spare part on the ’67 and ’68 teams (and father of 2002 world series hero scott spezio); and fred kendall (father of current a’s catcher jason). they will finish 63-99 but aren’t nearly that bad; their pythagorean ratio projects to 70 wins. the 1970 cards, by the way, are similar underperformers, finishing five games off their pythagorean pace.

the series opener on august 11 pits earl wilson against poor nelson briles, whose 1970 season could serve as a tombstone for the 1960s "era of the pitcher." the 26-year-old righthander had racked up 48 wins over the previous three years, adding a complete-game world series win in 1967. he entered 1970 with a career era of 3.07, but as play begins tonight, he’s at 6.71 on the season — and that includes a complete-game shutout in his previous start, vs the mets.

nellie’s back up to 7.18 after this evening’s two and a third ineffective innings. he bequeaths a 5-1 deficit to the bullpen, which improves it to 8-1 by the seventh-inning stretch. the cardinals chip away for two in the bottom half; torre homers leading off the bottom of the 8th, and then brock doubles home two runs with two outs to make it a game again at 8-6. with the bullpen depleted by briles’ short start and the sunday doubleheader, schoendienst trots out a familiar face — harry parker, the starting pitcher from chapter 1 of this tale. it is his second big-league game, and it goes just as badly as the first; pitching just two days after his 5-1/3-inning start on aug 8, he puts a man on, gets two outs, but just just can’t close out the inning, yielding a walk and two singles to lengthen the gap to 10-6.

normally we — my family, i mean — would have departed by now. games started at 8 p.m. in those days, and it’s now past 10 o’clock and the outcome is pretty much decided. but my cousin josh is in town, visiting from long island, and nobody has to be at school in the morning; what the hell. we do leave our seats, per custom, and stake out standing room at the back of the section, the better to beat the traffic on highway 40 when the game ends. (traffic? paid attendance is but 16,734 . . . . ) a former cardinal, ron willis, is on the mound for the bottom of the 9th; he made 113 appearances for the 67-68 squad. my man joe hague leads off with a hit; attaboy joe, never say die. allen forces him at second, but comes around to score on singles by torre and cardenal. the tying run’s now at the plate in the person of mike shannon, whose career has literally reached the end — he will play his last ballgame tomorrow. plagued by some sort of non-baseball-related malady (wasn’t it his liver or something? . . . . no seriously), shanny hasn’t hit a homerun all season. but sd manager preston gomez, taking no chances, calls a righthander out of the pen, ron herbel. he retires shannon on a force for the second out but then walks ed crosby to bring the winning run to the plate.

the pitcher’s spot is due up, and schoendienst has already used most of his bench, including all the left-handed bats. his best remaining option is carl taylor, a 26-year-old outfielder struggling through a disappointing season. for the pirates in 1969 he hit .348 in 221 at-bats, but he’s at just .257 for st louis so far in 1970, with five home runs. meanwhile the player the cardinals traded for taylor — dave giusti — is having a banner season as a relief ace, 9-3 with 26 saves. (giusti will save 140 more for the bucs over the next seven years and earn a world series ring in 1971.) and taylor’s half-brother, boog powell, is in the midst of his mvp year for the orioles.

basically, everybody associated with carl taylor is doing well in 1970 except for carl taylor. but this is carl taylor’s night. with brock on deck (4 for 5 on the game) herbel doesn’t mess around with taylor; he throws him a strike and carl strokes it toward the left-centerfield bleachers. the flight is the exact opposite of hague’s high-apex longball against montreal; this one rides flat, like a stone skipping over water. i even remember thinking at the time that it didn’t look like much of a cut; he didn’t follow through on it, like the little league coaches said you’re supposed to. good rip or no, the ball carries — i keep my eye on it every inch of the way, as kids tend to do, rather than watching the fielder to see how it is going to play. based on the swing and the trajectory, i’m anticipating an out — but damned if doesn’t go over the wall! delerium ensues, of the type can only afflict boys who are up way past their bedtime on a summer night. none of us watch taylor round the bases or touch the plate. cousin josh, who doesn’t even like baseball that much — and to the extent he does, likes the mets — prances around in a display of jubilance i would term "simian," by which i mean it is uncannily similar to human behavior. my brother and i, both younger, follow his lead; even my dad can’t help but have some of the happy ape in him drawn out by that hit. it’s a grand slam, another walkoff homerun, another 11-10 win for the cardinals — and an experience the four of us never fail to recall whenever circumstance brings us together.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

these two 11-10 games from 1970 — and the team’s season-long hot-cold-hot-coldness, its consistent inconsistency — strike me, in long retrospect, as harbingers for the whole decade to come at busch stadium. the cards aren’t going to pitch, the games sooth-said, and they’re going to look awful a lot of the time; nearly every good play the cardinals make will be undone by a corresponding bad one, and vice versa. the decade of manic depression is coming. when they’re down they’ll be waaaayyyy down, but when they’re up it will be intoxicating. a little unreal, perhaps, and a little dangerous; just when things get good, you’ll know they’re about to come crashing back down to earth.

but they’ll never hit bottom; they’ll always bounce back. the bungee cord’ll see to it.

at busch stadium

1966: 3.11 team era, 2d in nl
1967: 3.05 team era, 2d in nl
1968: 2.49 team era, 1st in nl
1969: 2.94 team era, 1st in nl
1970: 4.06 team era, 6th in nl
1971: 3.85 team era, 11th in nl

as always, gotta acknowledge retrosheet for their great data and box scores.

viva el birdos

Sunday, May 08, 2005

busch nostalgia 2: of hague and taylor

some people write memoirs about the wars they fought in, the lovers they bedded, the scientific knowledge they pursued and contributed to humankind. i write about the baseball games i’ve seen. at busch stadium.

this is 2d part in the series; read part 1 here and the part 1 addendum here. those posts, and this one, made possible by retrosheet, where box scores never get yellow and brittle and krinkled up.

it’s august 1970. busch stadium is four years old, i am seven, and the cardinals are suffering through their worst season in more than a decade. a seven-game losing streak heading into the all-star break drops them from 3rd place, 4 games back, to fifth place, 9.5 back. they open the 2d half of the season 2-10, and late july finds the cardinals 16 games under at 41-57, dead last in the nl east — behind even the montreal expos, a 1½ -year-old expansion franchise.

hard to believe that less than two years ago the cardinals were coasting to their second consecutive pennant. but this lineup bears no resemblance to that of the invincible 67-68 team. the #3 and #4 hitters from that team left after the cards’ loss to detroit in the ’68 world series — roger maris into retirement, cha-cha cepeda to atlanta in a trade for joe torre. then, just days after the 1969 regular season ended, two more everyday players were sent packing — curt flood and tim mccarver to philadelphia for richie allen, in the transaction that heralded the death of the reserve clause.

the departure of flood and mccarver, up-the-middle anchors for all three of stl’s 1960s pennant winners, has changed the look and feel of the team. erstwhile pitching-and-defense specialists, the cardinals have become sluggers, led by the 28-year-old allen and 29-year-old joe torre. both drive in 100 runs in 1970 (the cards’ first such pairing in one lineup since the 1964 championship team), while torre and brock give the cardinals two 200-hit men, the first time that has happened since 1963 (musial’s last season). allen’s 34 homers are the most by a cardinal since musial’s 35 in 1954, and the most until jack clark’s 35 in 1987. the ’70 cardinals will pile up 744 runs, the highest-scoring lineup since 1963. no cardinal team will outscore them until 1985.

the reverse pattern holds, unfortunately, for the cards’ pitching. they will allow 747 runs in 1970, the most since 1955 — and a figure not to be topped for 28 years, until 1998. think that through again: the 1970 staff is the most scored-upon in a 43-year period between 1955 and 1998 — the most porous staff, essentially, for the entire 2d half of the 20th century. just two years earlier, the cards yielded only 472 runs — nearly 40 percent fewer — while leading the league in era; they led the league again in ’69 while allowing only 540 opposition runs to score. but steve carlton’s 1970 era is up a run and half over 1969; nellie briles’ is three runs a game higher, and even gibson is less sharp, giving up a run a game more this year than last. he’s still gibson — will win his 3d cy young this yr with a 23-7 mark, 23 cgs and 274 ks — but he won’t be throwing 13 shutouts as he did just two seasons ago.

by the morning of august 8 the cards have pulled themselves back into fifth, ahead of montreal and only 8 games under .500 (51-59). they are three games into a 16-game homestand that will bring five teams (nearly half the league) to town. montreal is here now; the cards beat them in the series opener last night (gibson’s 15th w) and on this saturday afternoon will start a 22-year-old righthander named harry parker, pitching in his major-league debut. he’s facing mike marshall, 0-5 with a 4.25 era. these are the expos in all their reeking expansionness — one good player (rusty staub), one colorfully named one (coco laboy), and 23 guys named staehle and gosger and boccabella to fill out the other 23 uniforms. triple a-ish players; but then, parker’s a triple a pitcher, and the expos have at him. they bruise him for 4 in the third to go up 4-1; the cards get the 4 right back in their half to regain the lead. it’s still 5-4 when parker departs with two on and one out in the sixth; he stands to earn the victory. but pinch-hitter mack jones (now there’s a good name for an expansion player) clouts a chuck taylor pitch into the alley to knock in parker’s two baserunners, then scores on a squeeze play. again the cardinals answer immediately, tying the score at 7s with two runs in the bottom of the 6th. there it remains until the top of the 9th, when — with two out and nobody on — the ’spos string together four singles off taylor and al hrabosky and harvest three runs.

claude raymond (3-6), mtl’s fourth pitcher, comes on to close out the game. but twice already this afternoon the cards have counterpunched immediately following mtl rallies, and they make like to do it one more time. leron lee leads off with a walk and jose cardenal bats a single up the middle; raymond seems to redeem himself by picking cardenal off first, but then he throws the ball away in the ensuing rundown and everyone’s safe, men at 2d and 3d. brock chases home one with a groundball, and a second scores on a single by pinch-hitter carl taylor (chuck’s brother). that makes it 10-9 montreal and brings rightfielder joe hague to the plate.

hague reached the majors a generation ahead of his time; if he played today he’d be a moneyball exemplar. his strengths are plate discipline (walk rate of .129 in a very short career) and pop (career .160 iso power); his career secondary average of .300 dwarfs his career BA (.239). but this is 1970; bill james is still in the army or wherever, and nobody owns a pocket calculator, much less a computer. we don’t have fancy metrics with which to evaluate baseball players; don’t need ‘em either, goddammit. we’ve got batting average, hr, and rbis — what the hell else does anyone need to know? joe hague starts the day at .274 with 8 hr and 37 rbi, not the kind of numbers that get a 26-year-old borderline prospect established as a big-leaguer . . . . but hague’s obp is .364 (if they only knew!) and he’s slugging .421 — a 786 ops, not at all bad for the day. he will finish the year with 5.58 runs created per 27 outs, an offensive winning percentage of .604 . . . .

ah well, like i said, it’s 1970 and nobody cares. we care only that hague is 2 for 5; that he doubled home the cardinals’ 7th (and tying) run in the 6th inning; and that another double would tie it again. hague seems to oblige, launching a raymond pitch on a high, nine-ironish flight toward the right-field corner. i can still picture the arc — "phat air," as they say (or did last month) on espn2. staub races that way but finally runs out of room; it’s over the wall, and the high-scoring, poor-pitching cards have an unbelievable 11-10 victory. this is the first walkoff homerun i have ever witnessed, the first thrilling bottom-9th comeback . . . . .for all i know they are the first such events in the history of the cardinals, even the history of major-league baseball, so shocking do they seem to me. i can’t shut up about it; for the next couple days every kid on the block has to hear me recap the 9th inning, while my older brother (who had a little league game or something that day and missed the excitement) lurches back and forth between jealousy and embarrassed disgust. i don’t care; let him suffer. to my 7-year-old mind it seems imperative to milk the experience now, because what are the odds i’ll ever attend another game as remarkable as that? probably never see the like again as long as i live. . . . . .

. . . . . or maybe i’ll see it happen all over again three days later. of which, more asap.

viva el birdos

Saturday, May 07, 2005

neil and pray

updated daily

stl bullpen since izzy inj'y 4/26:

19.2ip, 30h, 18r/er, 15w, 18k
8.24 era, 2.29 whip
1-3, 3sv, 2bs
games played: 10
games pen scored on: 6
stl record: 5-5

LOOGYs since izzy inj'y:
9ip, 18h, 13r/er, 10w, 8k
13.00 era, 3.11 whip
stl in one-run games: 2-3

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posted in game thread at padre blog gas lamp ball last night:
by bktabinga on Fri May 06, 2005 at 10:45:03 PM EST

viva el birdos