Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Former Oriole Walt Dropo dies; Played for Baltimore's first winning team

Monday's Washington Post includes the obituary for Walt Dropo, the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year for the Red Sox who finished his career in Baltimore.

From the Post:
In 1950, Mr. Dropo beat out New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford to win AL Rookie of the Year honors after batting .322 with 34 home runs and a league-best 144 RBIs in 136 games. He also made his only All-Star team that year.

A broken wrist slowed Mr. Dropo in 1951 and he was never able to match his outstanding rookie numbers. The first baseman batted .270 with 152 homers and 704 RBIs during his career. He was traded by Boston to the Detroit Tigers in 1952 and also played for the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles.

Shortly after being traded to Detroit in 1952, Mr. Dropo tied a major league record that still stands when he got hits in 12 consecutive trips to the plate. During that streak. he also tied another big league mark that's still in place when he totaled 15 hits in a four-game span. 
The Orioles acquired Dropo on June 23, 1959, in a trade that sent Whitey Lockman to the Cincinnati Redlegs. Dropo saw limited action during his two-plus seasons in Baltimore as Diamond Jim Gentile, a subsequent Orioles addition on Oct. 19, 1959, blossomed.

The 37-year-old Dropo played 79 games for the 1960 Orioles, the club that gave Baltimore its first winning season since relocating from St. Louis. A career first baseman, he appeared in three games at third base for the O's.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Can the 2011 Phillies Match the 1971 Orioles with Four 20-Game Winners?

The Phillies brought Cliff Lee back to Philadelphia this week, thereby piecing together what on paper is one of the great four-man rotations of all time. The Associated Press has termed it "a potentially historic rotation."

Among the potential history Philadelphia's rotation presents is the possibility of having four 20-game winners on one team. It's happened only twice before with the 1920 Chicago White Sox and the 1971 Baltimore Orioles. Wins don't mean what they used to for many baseball fans, but there's no denying the significance of having four 20-game winners in the same rotation.

So how do the top four pitchers in the Phillies' 2011 rotation compare to the top four pitchers in the Orioles' 1971 rotation? Can history repeat itself?

The purpose of this exercise is not to determine which rotation is better, but rather to size up both rotations and offer an educated guess as to whether the Phillies can match the Orioles' accomplishment. I believe it's important to remember the past greats of the game and celebrate their achievements. This represents the perfect opportunity to do so. It's entirely possible to celebrate modern greatness without overlooking or overshadowing prior triumphs. That's the point here.

Who's better? I'll leave that to the fans in bar rooms in Charm City and the City of Brotherly Love. For now, I'll conclude that the Phillies won't match the Orioles with four 20-game winners for two primary reasons:

1. Starters today throw fewer innings and therefore have less opportunities to pick up wins. And the 1971 Orioles utilized a four-man rotation.

Roy Halladay led all of baseball with 250.2 innings pitched in 2010. That total would be last among the Orioles' top four starters in 1970 and is nearly 40 innings less than the combined average of Baltimore's rotation.

Consider the remarkable difference that exists in the approach to the game by era. The 1971 Orioles rotation averaged 287.3 IP in 1970 led by Jim Palmer's 305 IP. By comparison, the 2011 Phillies top four picthers averaged 220.3 IP in 2010 led by Halladay's 250.2 IP. 

2. As Mike Mussina demonstrated for 17 of his 18 seasons in baseball, there's a certain amount of luck involved in winning 20 games.

Both the 1971 Orioles and the 2011 Phillies had/have remarkable pitchers in their starting rotation. Among each team's starting four, only one pitcher entered/enters the season having never won 20 games. However, Baltimore's 1971 rotation had three pitchers who won 20 games the previous season while Philadelphia's 2011 rotation has just one pitcher who won 20 games in 2010.

The likelihood of three pitchers holding form (Cuellar, McNally, Palmer) and one other catching enough breaks to win 20 (Dobson) is greater than the likelihood of one pitcher holding form (Halladay) and three other starters catching enough breaks to win 20 (Oswalt, Lee, and Hamels).

Here's a rundown of the numbers for the Orioles' four-man rotation  in 1971 (through the 1970 season) and the numbers for the top four members of the Phillies' 2011 rotation (through the 2010 season). If you love great pitching, you'd have a hard time doing much better than this.

Age (1970, 2010)
Palmer - 24
Hamels -26
McNally - 27
Dobson - 28
Lee - 31
Oswalt -32
Cuellar and Halladay - 33

Average - Orioles rotation - 28, Phillies rotation - 30.5

20-Win Seasons (though 1970 and 2010 )
Halladay - 3 (22-7 in 2003, 20-11 in 2008, 21-10 in 2010) and McNally - 3 ( 22-10 in 1968, 20-7 in 1969, 24-9 in 1970)
Cuellar - 2 (23-11 in 1969, 24-8 in 1970) and Oswalt - 2 (20-10 in 2004, 20-12 in 2005)
Lee - 1 (22-3 in 2008) and Palmer - 1 (20-10 in 1970)
Dobson - 0 and Hamels - 0.

Average: Orioles rotation - 1.5, Phillies rotation - 1.5

Career Wins (through 1970 and 2010)
Halladay  (13 seasons) - 169
Oswalt (10 seasons) - 150
McNally (9 seasons) - 114
Lee (9 seasons) - 102
Cuellar (8 seasons) - 89
Hamels (5 seasons) - 60
Palmer (5 seasons)- 59
Dobson (4 seasons) - 25

Average: Orioles rotation - (6.5 seasons) 71.75, Phillies rotation - (9.25 seasons) 120.25

Career ERA (through 1970 and 2010)
Palmer - 2.94
Cuellar - 2.95
Oswalt and McNally - 3.18
Halladay - 3.32
Dobson - 3.39
Hamels - 3.53
Lee - 3.85

Average: Orioles rotation - 3.12 (1970 League Average - 3.72), Phillies rotation - 3.47 (2010 League Average - 4.03)

Career ERA+ (through 1970 and 2010)
Halladay - 136
Oswalt - 135
Hamels - 123
Palmer - 120
Cuellar - 117
McNally - 114
Lee - 112
Dobson - 108

Average: Orioles rotation - 114.75, Phillies rotation - 126.5

Career WHIP (through 1970 and 2010)
Cuellar - 1.152
Hamels - 1.176
Halladay - 1.181
Oswalt - 1.189
McNally 1.195
Palmer - 1.209
Lee - 1.256
Dobson - 1.275

Average: Orioles rotation - 1.208 (1970 League Average - 1.330), Phillies rotation - 1.201 (2010 League Average - 1.348)

Wins in most recent season (1970 and 2010)
Cuellar - 24
McNally - 24
Halladay - 21
Palmer - 20
Dobson - 14
Oswalt - 13
Lee - 12
Hamels - 12

Average: Orioles rotation -  20.5, Phillies rotation - 14.5

IP in most recent season (1970 and 2010)
Palmer - 305
Cuellar - 297.2
McNally - 296
Dobson - 251
Halladay - 250.2
Lee - 212
Oswalt - 211
Hamels - 208

Average: Orioles rotation - 287.3, Phillies rotation - 220.3

Image Source: Here (though the original appears to be from Sports Illustrated).


Friday, December 10, 2010

Flashback Friday: Don Buford's Five Strikeout Day

Don Buford established two Orioles records in 1971: He hit five home runs leading off games, and he struck out five times in a nine-inning game.

Brady Anderson easily eclipsed the former mark in 1996 with 12 home runs leading off a game. Hopefully, Mark Reynolds will surpass the latter mark in 2010; not because I don't like Reynolds, but rather because Buford deserves better than to be remembered for a bad day at the plate not consistent with his overall performance.

Buford had a career AB/SO ratio of 7.92. Other leadoff hitters with a similar career AB/SO ratio are Roberto Alomar (7.96), Kenny Lofton (7.99), and Jimmy Rollins (7.89). Anderson, meanwhile, finished his career with a 5.5 AB/SO ratio, which nearly matches Boog Powell's 5.4 ratio.

In four seasons, Reynolds is averaging a 2.6 AB/SO ratio, which is to say that a five strikeout day would be entirely consistent with his overall performance ... except for the fact that he's never actually done it. Reynolds' career high for strikeouts in a game is four. He was worn the golden sombrero multiple times.

Back to Buford. As if keeping company with Alomar, Lofton, and Rollins wasn't impressive enough, Buford's numbers outshine Ichiro's - and any other player in history, for that matter - when it comes to staying out of double plays.

Buford, who played 10 major league seasons, has the lowest GDP in baseball history. He hit into 34 double plays in 4,553 career at-bats. Ichiro has grounded into 46 double plays in 10 seasons. Though the number of games played doesn't match up, Buford's 162-game average (4) is one better than Ichiro's (5).

Strangely enough, Buford's bad day at the plate came during what was otherwise a career year. In 1971, he led the league in runs scored with 99 (his third consecutive season of 99 runs scored), and posted career highs in average (.290), OBP (.413), slugging (.477), and OPS (.890).

Those numbers earned him his lone All-Star appearance for a half-season's work and MVP vote points for a full-season's work. But it only took one day for him to earn his Olympic Rings

Other notables from Don Buford's five seasons with the Orioles (1968-1972):

-He was the first player to lead off a World Series with a home run. He did so off Tom Seaver in Game 1 of the 1969 World Series. Dustin Pedroia matched Buford's effort in 2007.

-He was the first Oriole to homer from both sides of the plate in a single game, doing so on April 9, 1970 against the Indians.

Strikeout Percentage (SO%) and AB/SO ratio while in Baltimore

Sam Horn
(Holds team record for most strikeouts in an extra-inning game with 6)
1990 - 22.1%, 4.0
1991 - 27.4%, 3.2
1992 - 32.4%, 2.7

Mickey Tettleton
(Holds team record for most strikeouts in a season with 160)
1988 - 22.2%, 4.0
1989 - 23.9%, 3.5
1990 - 28.6%, 2.8

Don Buford
1968 - 9.3%, 9.3
1969 - 9.4%, 8.9
1970 - 8.7%, 9.2
1971 - 11.3%, 7.2
1972 - 17.1%, 4.9


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Like Budweiser, Mark Reynolds has Whiffability

Mark Reynolds will establish a new Orioles record in his first season in Baltimore. Unfortunately, it will be for strikeouts.

Reynolds, whom the Orioles acquired in a trade with Arizona on Monday in exchange for David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio, is an all-or-nothing swinger who makes Adam Dunn seem like a contact hitter. All of which should make former Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton a happy man.

Tettleton holds the Orioles' single-season team record for strikeouts with 160 in 1990. In four major league seasons, Reynolds has averaged 191.75 strikeouts per season. And even that figure underestimates his whiffability as it includes his 129 strikeout total in only 111 games during his rookie season.

[A quick aside: Having never before used the term "whiffability," I Googled it to examine its usage and whether the word actually exists. Turns out it has non-baseball applications. From Life magazine: "Budweiser has whiffability ... a clean, fresh aroma you find only in Bud." I smell a sponsorship opportunity in your future, Mark Reynolds.]

Other former Orioles who may be excited about the Reynolds acquisition are Don Buford, team record holder for most strikeouts in a nine-inning game (5 on Aug. 26, 1971), and Sam Horn, team record holder for most strikeouts in an extra-inning game (6 on July 17, 1991).

For information on Reynolds' positive value to the team (and there definitely is some), check out this ESPN piece on his "contact to damage" ratio.

A record-setting pattern

Should Reynolds indeed establish a team record during his first couple of seasons in Baltimore - for strikeouts or otherwise - he will be following a pattern established by other sluggers the O's have acquired in recent history. Specifically, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, and Miguel Tejada.

The Birds signed Palmeiro prior to the 1994 season; by 1996 he held the team record for most RBI by a left-handed batter with 142.

The Birds signed Albert Belle prior to the 1999 season; by 2000 he held the team record for most RBI in a month with 37 in June 2000.

The Birds signed Tejada prior to the 2004 season; by the end of the year he held the team record for most RBI by a right-handed batter with 150. Two years later he set the team record for hits in a season with 214.

Welcome to Baltimore, Mark Reynolds. Here's hoping you make the Orioles brass look like Real Men of Genius.

"So here's to you, Mr. Whiffability."

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Confederate money and fake prospects; It must be Winter Meetings time

The Winter Meetings are almost here. Let the Syd Thrift references begin!

Dan Connolly offers a nod to Thrift and his much-repeated "confederate money" phrase over at Orioles Insider.
Call this the “Courting of Paul Konerko 2.0.”
The first version occurred in the 2005 offseason, when the Orioles’ brass had a clandestine meeting with Konerko and offered a five-year, $65 million deal to the then 29-year-old first baseman. He decided to stay with the Chicago White Sox for $5 million less, prompting more jokes about the Orioles’ “Confederate money.”

(I’m still quoting Syd Thrift all these years later. God rest his soul.)
But nothing says Syd Thrift quite like"minor league prospect" Gary Dell'Abate. Jeff Labrecque interviewed the real Dell'Abate, who referenced Thrift's broadcast misstep in 2000.
Not counting the famous pop-cultural shout-outs, like to Peter Jennings during the O.J. Simpson Ford Bronco chase, but what’s the strangest place you’ve gotten a Baba Booey shoutout?
I’m not very religious but I went to church a couple of times after 9/11. There was this woman wearing this very matronly dress and when she handed me the program whatever, she leaned in and just said, “Big fan, big fan. Baba Booey.” I just thought that was really funny because she did not look the part at all. Just shows you, the fans are everywhere.

One of my favorite stories of yours didn’t make the book and actually involved your given name. I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan and—
The Syd Thrift story? I love that.

They’ve been bad now for so long and that story kind of encapsulates their impotence.
That made it in to Sports Illustrated, as part of a story about how dysfunctional the Baltimore Orioles organization was. I love that one. Have you ever heard the actual call? Syd Thrift actually says, ‘Oh yeah, [Gary Dell' Abate] is one of our big prospects. He’s coming along.’

Orioles Baseball: As much fun as a trip to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.


Related Reading: Flashback Friday: Revisiting a "Thrifty" Trade Deadline