Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hidden Talents of Major Leaguers (Concluded--Maddux, Ferrell, Dinneen and Blyleven)


There are so many things that Maddux has been recognized for--355 lifetime wins, four ERA titles, 3,000-plus strikeouts. But the most remarkable aspect of his game ended up buried beneath all the other tacky stats year after year. Simply put, Maddux was the greatest defensive pitcher the game has ever seen. Only one hurler has come close to matching Maddux's eighteen Gold Gloves (Jim Kaat--winner of sixteen). And in Maddux's case, the trophies were well-deserved. The former Cubs/Braves ace led NL pitchers in putouts nine times and assists on twelve occasions. In regard to those stats, he compiled the highest range factor (avg. # of putouts and assists) per nine innings than any hurler in the history of the game. Dwight Gooden once remarked: "He makes it look easy. You wish there was another league he could get called up to." Had Maddux been able to hit a little better, he could possibly have been considered the most complete player ever to grace the diamond. 


Brother of Hall of Fame backstop Rick Ferrell, Wes was a major star during the offensive renaissance of  the 1920s and '30s. After winning 20 games in four consecutive seasons with Cleveland, he assembled back-to-back 20-win campaigns for the Red Sox. Beset by arm trouble in the late-'30s, he relied on off-speed junk to prolong his career. He has long been considered one of the best pitchers outside the Hall of Fame. Though his lifetime ERA was a bit unwieldy at 4.04, it was actually fifty points below the league average. And his power at the plate went uncelebrated for many years. Ferrell holds all time records for home runs (38) and slugging percentage (.451) among pitchers. Additionally, his lifetime .280 batting average is the third highest among right-handed hitting hurlers with a minimum of 500 at-bats. Ferrell was so adept at the plate, he was called upon to pinch-hit 123 times. He wasn't terribly successful in the role, compiling a .187 average. But he did hit an even-.300 with runners in scoring position during his fifteen years in the majors.     


Dinneen's name doesn't get tossed around too much nowadays. That's because he spent his entire career in baseball's Deadball Era. Between 1900 and 1904, the sturdily built right-hander won at least 20 games and worked no fewer than 300 innings on four occasions. He threw the first shutout in World Series history for Boston in 1903. Following his retirement, he moved on to a long career as an American League umpire, becoming the only man in history to throw a no-hitter and call balls-and-strikes in another. During his playing days, Dinneen's baserunning skills were vastly underrated. He retired with 29 lifetime steals, which seems rather unimpressive until you compare the stat to other pitchers of the era. There are two pitchers ahead of Dinneen on the stolen base list, but both spent ample time at other positions during their careers. Cy Young tied Dinneen's total, but played in twice as many games. In the post-Deadball Era, no pitcher has come close to matching Dinneen's numbers (likely due to the scarcity of managers foolish enough to risk an injury). According to one researcher, there were only 869 pitcher steals between 1918 and 2013. In 1969, Bob Gibson stole 5 bases just to prove he could. The thefts represented nearly forty percent of his lifetime totals.


Blyleven was vastly underappreciated until 2011, when he finally made the Hall of Fame on his fourteenth try. Undoubtedly the most famous player to hail from the Netherlands, the durable right-hander used his signature curveball to win 287 games over twenty-two seasons. That totally is highly remarkable considering the fact that he spent most of his career on sub-par teams. Before he was surpassed by Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, Blyleven held a ranking of #3 on the all-time strikeout list. But he had better control than all four of the players currently ahead of him. With high strikeout totals come high walk totals--a side-effect of nibbling at the corners and baiting players to swing and miss. Baseball's all time strikeout king, Nolan Ryan, averaged 4.7 walks per nine frames. Randy Johnson--the leader among lefties--averaged more than 3. Steve Carlton, author of 4,136 strikeouts, allowed 3.2 free passes per nine innings and steroids enthusiast Roger Clemens (third on the all time list with 4,672 K's) averaged 2.9. Blyleven has them all beat with an average of just 2.4 walks per 9 innings. 

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