Saturday, July 14, 2007

? No. 9: Nicknames & hicknames

We're getting away from stats for today's question. Nicknames used to be commonplace in baseball, especially for the league's best players. Today, we mostly have boring variations on abbreviations – I-Rod, A-Rod, K-Rod. Blah. That's a far cry from Cool Papa, Wahoo Sam, Spaceman, Penguin, and Pudge. Did you know that Jim Hunter got his nickname – Catfish – from his team's owner, Charlie Finley, who thought his star player needed a "hickname" to add to his appeal?

The most common nickname in baseball is Lefty, to no real surprise. That's too easy for a question. Try this one: Prior to Mark McGwire, baseball had another Big Mac, who also went by Stretch. He's in the Hall of Fame. Who is he?

Yesterday's Answer: Two responses, and both were 2/3 of the way there. The other three players to land in the Top 5 in steals from 1980-89 are: 1) Tim Raines; 2) Willie Wilson; and 3) Ozzie Smith. Here's the top 11 for the helluva it:

1) Rickey Henderson, 838
2) Tim Raines, 583
3) Vince Coleman, 472
4) Willie Wilson, 451
5) Ozzie Smith, 364
6) Steve Sax, 333 (that was a good guess!)
7) Lonnie Smith, 331
8) Brett Butler, 307
9) Mookie Wilson, 293
10) Dave Collins, 284
11) Paul Molitor, 281

Friday, July 13, 2007

? No. 8: Relentlessly running in the '80s

Baseball Reference has this new research tool called the play index that is so cool. You can fool around with it for free, but you gotta pay to get the complete results of your search. (Just $29/year, a steal if you're a total stats nerd like me.) Today's question — like yesterday's — comes via this search engine.

If you grew up in the '80s like me, then you undoubtedly fell in love with the stolen base. It's not so much that there were more great basestealers from that era, but the stolen base as a weapon was certainly more valued. Or maybe that's just my own version of revisionist history, having rooted for the Runnin' Redbirds. At any rate, the benchmark for a stellar season on the basepaths nowadays is more or less 60 steals. That's enough to put you in the running for league honors. But for a bulk of the '80s — precisely from the 1980 season through the 1989 season — 60 steals would leave you a distant third. We all remember Rickey Henderson, who just got the nod as the Mets new hitting coach. And who can forget the other guy to top 100 swipes in a season that decade, Vince Coleman? But can you name the other three basestealers who round out the Top 5 in total steals from 1980 to 1989?

Here's a clue for each:
1) I played the entire decade of the '80s for a team that's now defunct.
2) I led the majors in triples hit during the '80s, and legged out 21 in 1985 alone. I also won a World Series ring in the '80s.
3) I'm the only Hall of Famer of the five.

Yesterday's Answer: (D) Believe it or not, Salomon Torres is the Ironman of baseball relievers. He's the only pitcher since 2000 to appear on the list of 90+ innings pitched three times. From 2004-06, he threw 92, 94, and 93 innings for the Pirates in a total of 256 games.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

? No. 7: The Ironman of recent relievers

Another question with roots in Tom Adelman's The Long Ball. During the 1974 season, reliever Mike Marshall did something unheard of: He threw 208 innings — all in relief. The poor guy appeared in 106 games for Walter Alston's Dodgers — at one point in the season appearing in 13 successive games — and posted a 15-12 record and a 2.42 ERA. And that was coming off a season with the Expos in which he threw 179 innings of relief. It's no surprise that Marshall spent a good deal of the '75 season on the DL after being worked so heavily. Those innings pitched marks are by far the highest of any reliever of the past 40 years. Matter of fact, there are only five other relievers to have topped 150 innings pitched in that span, and no one has done it since Mark Eichhorn threw 157 innings for the Blue Jays in 1986.

I wanted to know who the modern day equivalent of Mike Marshall was. Here's what I found out: Since 2000, there have been only eight occurrences of relievers throwing 100 or more innings. I limited my search to pitchers who relieved in 95% of their appearances, meaning they were used almost exclusively from the pen. Using those parameters but lowering the innings pitched bar from 100 to 90 broadens the list to 39 occurrences. My question for you is which pitcher appears on that latter list the most times?

A) Scott Sullivan
B) Guillermo Mota
C) Brad Lidge
D) Salomon Torres

Yesterday's Answer: Xavier Nady. Leave it to the Mets fans to nail this one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

? No. 6: Skipping the minors entirely

The list of major league players who skipped the minors entirely is short. There are plenty of Hall of Famers, from Koufax and Killebrew to Sisler and Yount. There are a few highly touted prep stars who went on to mediocre careers, like Pete Incaviglia, Moe Drabowsky, and Darren Dreifort. Plus a few who went on to relatively distinguished careers, like Bob Horner and John Olerud. There's one notable black player who went straight from the Negro Leagues to the big leagues — Ernie Banks. And there's even a one-handed pitcher — Jim Abbott.

But today's trivia question doesn't involve any of them. I want to know who the most recent player is to have skipped the minors. Here's a few clues. He was originally drafted in 1997 by the Cardinals in the fourth round, but opted to attend the University of California instead. After slugging .729 in college, he was taken in the second round of the 2000 draft by the Padres. Here's where the loophole comes into play: This player signed a major league contract, and played one game in the majors — in which he singled and scored a run in his lone plate appearance — before going to the minors for a few seasons. (So, he's only on this list due to a technicality.) In the minors, he was the Padres 2001 minor league player of the year. Since his rookie campaign in 2003, he's played for the Padres, Mets, and Pirates, primarily manning the outfield. He currently has 56 career home runs. Who is he?

Yesterday's Answer: A two-time All-Star with a career postseason ERA of 2.47, two World Series rings, 287 career wins, and 3,701 career strikeouts — Bert Blyleven. Bert allowed 96 home runs combined during the 1986 and '87 seasons. Granted that was in over 538 innings pitched and toward the end of his career. Throughout the first two-thirds of his career, he never allowed more than 24 homers in a season. The Metrodome was not so kind to him.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

? No. 5: Trade happy

All this talk of the White Sox trading Mark Buehrle has my interest peaked, mostly because the Cardinals are one of the discussed suitors. That's been long rumored, as Buehrle has openly discussed his desire to play in St. Louis, having grown up a Cardinals fan. A big part of me wants him; he's having a very solid year and would give me one reason to get excited to watch the Redbirds once every five games. (I need all the reasons I can get. This team is hard to watch.) But a bigger part of me wants him to go to a big-spending team like the Red Sox, eat up 50-some million dollars of their payroll over the next four years, and trend downward. In that scenario, the Cardinals become sellers — not buyers — this July and actually attempt to lure some cheap, decent talent to the Lou. Anyone remember the last veteran, "proven winner" lefty the Cards traded for? Mark Mulder. And who did we give up to get him? Dan Haren. Ouch.

Which brings me to today's question. Name this starting pitcher: He was first traded in June of 1976 from the Twins to the Rangers. The following winter the Rangers dealt him in a four-team trade that has to be one of the most massive deals in MLB history — at least from a personnel standpoint. In a ten-person trade, the Rangers shipped him to the Pirates. In 1980 he was then traded to the Indians, who traded him five seasons later back to the Twins to complete the circle. Finally, in 1988, he was traded to the Angles. Final clue: he's given up more home runs, 50, in a single season than any other starter.

Yesterday's Answer: The seven active players who have hit more home runs than Gary Sheffield's 475 are Barry Bonds (751), Sammy Sosa (602), Ken Griffey Jr. (586), Frank Thomas (501), Alex Rodriguez (493), Manny Ramirez (481), and the most difficult one to figure out, Jim Thome (485). Of those guys, the only player in addition to Sheffield to have never won a home run crown is Thomas.