Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Weakest Bats in History (Part II--Active Players)

Completing my survey of guys most likely to keep the ball inside the park, here's a list of active players with virtually no power.  

Meunori Kawasaki
A good defensive infielder and energetic presence on the diamond, Kawasaki is popular among fans in Toronto. During his eleven seasons in the Japanese Pacific League, he averaged one homer per every 190 at-bats. Since signing with the Mariners in 2012, he has managed just 1 long ball in 612 plate appearances--among the lowest ratios in the majors. 

Ben Revere
Drafted in 2007 by the Twins, outfielder Ben Revere has worn three different major league uniforms. He led the National League in hits during the 2014 campaign and has maintained a .300 batting average for three straight seasons. But members of Revere's fan club shouldn't hold their breath waiting for him to hit one out. He has just 4 career homers in 2,497 at-bats. He went homerless in his first 384 major league games.

Brock Holt
Holt can play every position on the diamond except for pitcher and catcher. What the versatile Red Sox utility man can't do is hit for power. The left field foul pole at Fenway Park is a little over 300 feet from home plate. Even so, the lefty-swinging Holt went deep just twice in 509 plate appearances during the 2015 slate. 

Alcides Escobar
An All-Star, Gold-Glover and World Series champ, Escobar hasn't gained any acclaim for his power hitting ability over the past several years. He gathered just 3 homers in 662 plate appearances during the 2015 slate. In Game 1 of the World Series, he surprised everyone by going deep off of Mets right-hander Matt Harvey. To date, he has 2 postseason homers in 31 games.

Micheal Bourn
The thirty-two year old Bourn is a veteran of ten major league seasons. Though he reached a high of 9 long balls in 2012, he is currently riding a streak of more than 650 consecutive plate appearances without a homer. Known more for his base stealing ability (he has led the league three times in that category), Bourn's last circuit blast came in July of 2014. 

Eric Sogard
The slick fielding Sogard posted the highest range factor among AL second baseman in 2015. He also posted some of the weakest power numbers in the majors, generating just 16 extra-base hits in 401 plate appearances. The light-hitting infielder has gone deep just twice in the past two seasons. 

Cesar Herenandez
Promoted to the Phillies in 2013, Hernandez gradually emerged as the club's top second baseman. He didn't earn that distinction as a result of his ability to knock down fences. In 227 career games, Hernandez has hit just 2 homers. After going deep in game #43 of his career, he waited another 100 games to duplicate the feat.  

Delino DeShields
DeShields' father spent thirteen seasons in the majors, slamming 80 homers for five different clubs. Though it's way too early to tell whether the younger DeShields will surpass that number, he got off to a rather slow start in his 2015 rookie debut, managing just 2 long balls in 121 games. Those two homers were fewest among any Rangers player with at least 100 plate appearances. 

Brandon Barnes
Apparently, the air in Colorado doesn't affect Barnes the way it affects his teammates. Appearing most often in left field, Barnes hit just 2 homers in 106 games during the 2015 campaign. It was the lowest output among Rockies regulars.    


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Weakest Bats in History (Part I--Inactive Players)

In baseball, every player has his role. While some are built to swing for the fences, others are severely lacking in the power department. Just for fun, I decided to compile a list of the least powerful hitters who are no longer active. I excluded pitchers and Deadball Era players for obvious reasons. I limited my search to players with lifetime batting averages significantly above the Mendoza Line. Here's what I came up with:   

Tommy Thevenow
Primarily a shortstop, Thevenow spent significant portions of time at second and third base. He played his entire career during baseball's offensive Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s. While many of his peers were breaking down fences at an impressive rate, Thevenow gathered just 2 homers in more than 4,000 at-bats. This included a drought that spanned twelve consecutive seasons.

Frank Taveras
A speedy shortstop, Taveras stole 40 or more bases for the Pirates every year from 1976-'79. He led the league in that category during the '77 slate. With guys like Willie Stargell and Dave Parker behind him in the lineup, Taveras didn't need to swing for the seats. He ended up going deep just twice in his career though he came to the plate more than 4,300 times. His first career homer--a grand slam off of Doug Capilla of the Reds in '77--came after he had logged 1,594 at-bats. No player with at least 1 career homer has ever waited so long.   

Tom Oliver
Oliver was an excellent defensive center fielder who spent four years in the majors (all with the Red Sox) from 1930-1933. Described as an opposite field slap-hitter, he stood directly facing the pitcher with one foot behind the other--a rather unusual way to hit. When he failed to generate a homer in 1,931 at-bats, he was banished to the minors for good.  His minor league career spanned more than twenty seasons. 

Mike Tresh
A righty-swinging catcher, Tresh spent most of his career with the White Sox during the 1930s/'40s. He was the club's most often used catcher for nine straight seasons. Behind the plate, he had a strong arm, finishing among the top five in assists and caught stealing percentage multiple times. Though he fashioned a serviceable .249 lifetime batting average, he had virtually no power--generating just 89 extra-base hits in over 3,500 plate appearances. Only two of those extra-base hits were homers, giving him an average of 1 per every 1,584 at-bats.

Emil Verban
 Nicknamed "Dutch," Verban played second base for the Cardinals, Phillies and Cubs from 1944 through 1950. He was named to three All-Star teams. A lifetime .272 hitter, he ended up with just 1 homer in 2,911 at-bats. Despite his glaring lack of power, he inspired a group of loyal Cubs fans to form the "Emil Verban Memorial Society" in 1975. Notable members included former President Ronald Reagan and two Supreme Court justices.

Duane Kuiper
Kuiper was a decent second baseman for the Indians and Giants from 1974-1985. He fashioned a .271 batting average over the course of his career. Typically appearing at the top of the order, he managed just 1 home run in 3,259 at-bats. The rare blast, which came off of Chicago's Steve Stone in August of 1977, ended a streak of 357 consecutive games without a long ball. He went homerless in 699 more games after that.

Jerry Remy
Not only was Remy pretty handy with a glove, but he could hit for average as well. While wearing a Red Sox uniform between 1978 and 1983, he topped the .300 mark twice and never fell below .275. Despite playing a majority of his home games at hitter-friendly Fenway Park, Remy logged 2,226 consecutive at-bats without a homer--among the longest power outages in history.

Larry Bowa
Bowa was nicknamed "Gnat" for his diminutive stature and bothersome nature. First baseman John Kruk, who played for Bowa when he managed the Padres in '87/'88, referred to him as an "asshole" and a "dickhead." Despite that denouncement, Bowa was among the premier defensive shortstops in the National League during the 1970s, capturing a pair of Gold Gloves while appearing on five All-Star rosters. He was also among the least powerful hitters in history. Including his minor league career, Bowa managed just 22 home runs in more than 11,000 plate appearances.    


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1955 Dodgers

I'm not sure if anyone else was underwhelmed by this year's World Series, but I thought it was a real clunker. Though I agree that both teams were overdue for championships, the feel-good story I wanted to see was the Chicago Cubs finally rising to glory after more than a hundred years of futility. Baseball can be a frustrating and anti-climactic sport at times--as evidenced by the Mets epic October collapse this year.

I would like to wind up my latest set of blogs with an excerpt from my upcoming book, which is due out next spring. It carries the title of Baseball's Dynasties and the Players Who Built Them. This particular excerpt deals with my favorite underdog story--the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

...Beginning in 1947, the Dodgers captured six pennants in a ten-year span. They came remarkably close on two other occasions. In 1950, they spent most of June in first place, ultimately finishing two games behind the Phillies. The following year, they remained on top for a total of 147 days, but couldn’t hold off the rampaging Giants, who posted a 54-23 record in the second half while winning eight of the last ten head-to-head matchups. On the final day of the season, the two teams were locked in a first place tie. A rare three-game playoff format was employed to determine the pennant winner.

The Giants took the first game at Brooklyn thanks to a pair of solo homers by Monte Irvin and Bobby Thomson. But the Dodgers came storming back in Game 2 at the Polo Grounds, battering three different New York hurlers for a 10-0 victory. The third contest contained one of the most epic moments in playoff history.

Brooklyn led 4-1 in the ninth inning of Game 3 when starter Don Newcombe ran out of gas. With one out, two men on and a run already in, manager Chuck Dressen made an unfortunate decision, bringing in right-hander Ralph Branca to face third baseman Bobby Thomson. Branca had coughed up a homer to Thomson in Game 1, but Dressen apparently figured that lightning couldn’t strike twice. He was wrong. Thomson hit his famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” as radio announcer Russ Hodges immortalized the moment by manically repeating the phrase: “The Giants Win the Pennant!” In some newspapers, the Giants victory took up more space than a Russian atomic bomb test. Years later, several Giants players admitted that manager Leo Durocher had set up a sign-stealing operation at the Polo Grounds to inform New York hitters what pitches were coming.

The Dodgers recovered from the trauma, capturing back-to-back pennants in ‘52 and ‘53. Again, the Yankees robbed them of glory both times. The ’53 Series was the eighth consecutive postseason loss for Brooklyn. After the final pitch had been thrown, Roy Campanella (the eternal optimist) commented disconsolately: “It was a wonderful season, but it ended in a heap of nothing.” Asked by reporters what the Dodgers needed to do to beat the Yankees, Pee Wee Reese admitted: “I don’t know what the answer is. I’ve been trying to find it for twelve years now.”

The solution finally arrived in 1955, when the Dodgers ran away with the pennant and met the Bombers for the sixth time in World Series play. After dropping the first two games at Yankee Stadium, Walter Alston’s resilient crew bounced back with three straight wins at home. But the Yankees would not go quietly. A five-run explosion in the first inning of Game 6 was all they would need with staff ace Whitey Ford on the mound. Ford scattered 4 hits and struck out 8 in a 5-1 victory. Southpaw Johnny Podres, who had posted a substandard 9-10 record during the regular season, became the unlikely Series hero for Brooklyn in Game 7, picking up his second win with a complete game shutout. “Just give me one run,” he had asked his teammates before clinching the Series for Brooklyn.

It was the first championship in franchise history and, though the game was played at Yankee Stadium, a large throng of fans swarmed onto the field to celebrate. An Associated Press writer described the scene in the Brooklyn locker room as follows: “There was shouting and back pounding, cheering and embracing, and it was spontaneous, genuine and totally unabashed.”  In Flatbush, church bells rang, factory whistles blew and thousands of people danced in the streets. Banners and bunting flew from windows and effigies of Yankee players hung from lampposts. The Dodgers held a celebration dinner at the Bossert Hotel.  Jackie Robinson offered the following words to the cheering crowd outside: “The whole team knows it was the fans that made it for us. It was your support that made this great day possible. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”