Saturday, August 4, 2007

? No. 23: Hardest to K

Quick: Name the hitter currently leading the majors in strikeouts. It's an easy question, as Adam Dunn, who has 128 whiffs already, is always at or very near the top. He's currently one behind Ryan Howard, also a great guess. But turning the tables, can you tell me who the current leader is in fewest strikeouts? Of those qualified for the batting title, there are just two batters under 25 — Paul Lo Duca with 24 and Placido Polanco with 19.

Today's question takes this theme a step further. Since 1957, one batter has been particularly stubborn at the plate, striking out fewer than 20 times in a season on seven occasions in that span. Over his 19-year career, the bulk of it spent as an everyday player with few trips to the DL, he K'd just 216 times. He holds the record over that stretch of time for fewest K's in a season: 11, in a whopping 698 plate appearances. Who was this 15-time All-Star?

Yesterday's Answer: Believe it or not, two teams have scored 8-plus runs in the same inning only one other time in major-league history. The first occurrence happened on May 8, 2004, when visiting Detroit got eight runs and Texas countered with 10 in the fifth inning of the Rangers' 16-15, 10-inning win. The 16 runs combined were a record for a second inning, two more than the previous mark.

Friday, August 3, 2007

? No. 22: The makings of one long inning

Two Yankees questions in a row? You bet. Yesterday, the Yankees and White Sox did something shocking, even for A.L. teams with bloated payrolls: They each posted 8 runs in the 2nd inning. How many additional times in major league history have a pair of teams matched or bettered that feat, regardless of inning? (Easy question if you watched SportsCenter or read the game recap.)

Yesterday's Answer: You are all too good. Three correct answers is a first! Prince Fielder's (big) daddy is the correct response. Cecil was already in steep decline by the time the Yankees acquired him, even though he was just in his early thirties. He was making a huge pile of cash ($9 million per year), too, making the risk even more pronounced. The Yankees bit the bullet on that deal. By '97, Fielder's only full season with the Yankees, his slugging percentage had dipped to .410 and he was reduced to sharing time at DH with Mark Whiten, Wade Boggs, Mike Stanley, Rock Raines, Pat Kelly, and some dude named Scott Pose. Fielder was out of the bigs by the age of 35.

The Tigers wisely unloaded their former All-Star at the right time. Unfortunately, they also took on Ruben Sierra in the process. He wasn't exactly making chump change himself ($6 million, although the Yanks paid a mil of that), and he stunk to high heaven over the season's final two months. Shortly after the '96 season, though, the Tigers were able to unload Sierra on the Reds. Sierra wouldn't stop sucking until his stellar (steroids?) season of '01 at the age of 35, when he sported this line: 23 homers in just 94 games and a .561 slugging percentage. He then parlayed that effort into a payday with the Mariners, where he earned $1.9 million and promptly returned to mediocrity or worse for the balance of his career.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

? No. 21: First baseman to the rescue

The Braves made the biggest splash at the trade deadline this year when they landed first baseman Mark Teixeira, who only has 13 home runs so far this year but sports a .524 slugging percentage that is around his career average. Still, Teixeira will need to pick it up if he's going to approach his career-best .575 slugging percentage from 2005.

Eleven years ago, another slugging first baseman traded teams at the July 31 deadline, landing with the Yankees, who at the time held a 10 game lead over the Orioles but would need all the help they could get down the stretch. Ruben Sierra was the player he was traded for in this 1996 deal. I'm not specifying which team he came from (or Sierra went to), because it makes the question too easy. This first baseman hit a whole lot of bombs in the '90s, pacing the majors in home runs two straight years. He stuck around in a Yankees uniform for only one-and-a-half seasons, and was out of baseball altogether by 1999. Who was he?

Yesterday's Answer: Apparently I stumped all two of you: The answer is John Halama, who was 26 when the Mariners acquired him. At his best, he was a league-average hurler. After going 41-31 in four seasons for some pretty darn good Mariners teams, Halama bounced from Oakland to Tampa Bay to Boston to Washington to Baltimore, and hasn't made a big-league start since 2006.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

? No. 20: July 31st trade deadline blues

For as much hype as the trade deadline receives, teams rarely deal big-name players anymore in the month of July. That's especially true on July 31, the final day to deal before a player must clear waivers. For every Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs as part of a four-team deal (in 2004), there are twenty variations on the Shawon Dunston-for-Craig Paquette theme. The last truly jaw-dropping July 31st trade we had came in 1998, when the Mariners dealt Randy Johnson to the Astros in exchange for a batch of top prospects. Two of those prospects were destined to be All-Stars: Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen. The third, however, was not. He was the "player to be named later" in the deal, and spent four seasons in Seattle before bouncing around the rest of his career. Who is he?

Yesterday's Answer: I love my old copies of Who's Who in Baseball, the annual with the cover design that never changes. It's one of the few quick references available if I'm looking for minor league career stats for major league players. It tells me, and the internet verifies, that Sosa has hit 35 dingers in the minors, and that A-Rod has him beat by one, with 36. In 1994, Rodriguez hit a combined 21 in single- and double-A before getting a cup of coffee. He returned to triple-A the next year and hit another 15 before finally sticking with Seattle. Sosa, by contrast, spent part or all of four seasons in the minors before finally sticking with the White Sox in 1990. Griffey hit 27 minor league bombs in his two seasons in single- and double-A at ages 17 and 18. Thomas hit 23 in single- and double-A, and much later in his career hit another in 2005. Bonds hit just 20 — 13 in A-ball and then 7 the following year in triple-A.

Monday, July 30, 2007

? No. 19: Minor League bombs

Since we're just passing time until Barry breaks the Hammer's home-run record, here's a question loosely based around Bonds. Of the active major leaguers to have tallied 499 or more home runs — Bonds, Sosa, Griffey, Thomas, and Rodriguez — who has hit the most home runs in the minor leagues? (Again, no peeking or googling, just make an educated guess.)

Yesterday's Answer: Listmaker guessed correctly again. The '87 Twins were the only World Series winner to yield more runs over the regular season than it scored. The Twinkies allowed 806 and scored 786, which came as a surprise to me since they had a slugging lineup including Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, and Tom Brunansky. Yes, they had Les Straker as a No. 3 starter. But the team also boasted Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven — not a bad one-two punch — and a pair of 42-year-olds named Joe Niekro and Steve Carlton. And Jeff Reardon as a closer. Lots of impressive pitchers on that list, but most had off-years during the regular season.