Koufax and Kershaw, Leveling the Playing Field…

In my last post, I gave you a pretty comprehensive overview of Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw. For Koufax it encompassed his six years of dominance from 1961 through 1966 and for Kershaw it ran from 2011 into this year.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax and a Comparison in Dominance…

When the performances of these two greats are analyzed there is a remarkable comparability in them. However, what cannot be denied is the remarkable incomparability in the wide disparity in innings pitched/pitches thrown. It is thus this disparity in which I will attempt to level the playing field.

How do we do that?

I will keep this as simple as possible and be advised I am in the process of a complete comparison of their six seasons, so what I have for you today is a breakdown of their first  Cy Young Award seasons for each of them.

Now here’s where we level the playing field so hang with me. Again we take the given that Sandy Koufax threw far more innings in a season and thus, far more pitches per outing. There is no way we can accurately attempt to measure what Kershaw may have done if he threw as many innings/pitches as Koufax. We can however, get a pretty accurate read on what Koufax may have done if he threw less. With that in mind, let’s proceed.

We can get that read by using what I will call, the seventh inning demarcation mark. The choice of the seventh inning is simply because of the current use of pitchers in Major League Baseball, with set up man (8th inning guy) and of course, the closer.

So here goes.

In 2011 Kershaw was 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA. He led the league in strikeouts with 248. His opponents hit .207 against him. Those are the traditional stats. Looking at the other stats, his WAR was 6.5, his WHIP (Walks plus hits/IP) was an NL leading 0.977, his strikeouts per nine innings was 9.56 and his average hits allowed per nine innings was a league leading 6.71.

In Kershaw’s 33 starts in 2011, he threw 3,469 pitches, that is an average of 105 pitches per start. In 13 of those 33 starts he went beyond the seventh inning, twice he threw complete game shutouts and he also threw three other complete games, all wins. In each game he threw beyond the seventh he went 12-0 with one no decision.

As we begin it should be understood that complete game shutouts pitched by both Kershaw and Koufax were removed from scrutiny. The reason is simply that by definition, the performances of both pitchers on those days were not affected by number of innings pitched or pitchers thrown.

With that said, we begin the breakdown on Kershaw’s 2011 performance past the seventh inning. He pitched 13 2/3 innings, allowing 4 runs, on 13 hits while walking 4 and striking out 15. His ERA was 2.63 (a third of a run more) and he surrendered 4 earned runs past the seventh, 6% of his 59 total earned runs allowed. His opponents hit .245 against him (38 points higher), his WHIP was 1.27 (a half hit more per inning), and his hits per nine innings was 8.5 (nearly 2 full hits more). The only stat that remained the same was his strikeouts per nine innings which actually went up from 9.6 to 9.7.

Now comes what I will call his COMPARATIVE PERFORMANCE…Pretty sexy huh? Arrived at by backing out all activity beyond the seventh inning.

His record remained the same…21-5…His ERA went from 2.28 to 2.25…His Opponents Batting Average from .207 to .204…His WHIP from 0.977 to 0.960…His Hits per Nine went from 6.7 to 6.5 and his K/9 remained the same 9.6.

Now lets take a look at Koufax’s first Cy Young season of 1963.

First the traditional stats: he was 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA. He led the league in strikeouts with 306. His opponents hit .189 against him. In the modern stats: his WAR was a major league leading 10.7. His WHIP also a major league leading 0.874 and his K/9 innings was 8.8. He allowed 6.1 hits per nine innings to lead the NL.

Koufax started 40 games in 1963 throwing a total of 4,454 pitches for an average of 111 pitches per start. That is only six more per start than Kershaw. It is worth noting that Koufax had two starts in 1963 where he threw only 8 pitches in one and 16 in another. Twenty-eight times Koufax went beyond the seventh inning with 11 of them complete game shutouts. Nine other times he threw complete games and in all games he went beyond the seventh he was 24-0 with 4 no decisions.

This is what he looked like beyond the seventh inning; again remember this does not include his 11 shutouts for the aforementioned reason.

He pitched 35 1/3 innings allowing 12 earned runs, 38 hits while walking 8 batters and striking out 33. His ERA was 3.05 (well over a run higher), as he surrendered 12 of his 65 earned runs after the seventh, 18% of his total. His opponents hit .259, 70 points higher than before the seventh. His WHIP was 1.302 (like Kershaw nearly a half of hit higher). His strikeouts per nine dipped to 8.4 while his hits per nine soared from 6.2 to 9.6 nearly 3.5 hits more!

His COMPARATIVE PERFORMANCE…

His record remained the same…25-5…His ERA went from 1.88 to 1.73…His Opponents Batting Average from .189 to .173…His WHIP from 0.875 to 0.819…His Hits per Nine went from 6.1 to 5.7 and his K/9 virtually remained the same 8.8 to 8.9.

A few interesting notes on these two seasons…

KOUFAX 1963

  • Left-handed hitters hit .224 against him while righties hit .179.
  • 31 of his 40 starts came on 3 days rest, he was 19-3 with a 1.93 ERA in those games.
  • He started one game on just a days rest…He won, giving up 2 runs (one earned) in 8 innings.
  • He was 15-3 with a 2.09 ERA against teams over .500, 10-2 1.47 facing teams under the mark.
  • His 11 shutouts remains a record for left-handers in the Modern Era (1901-Present) and he threw 3 of them in a row in early July.
  • In two separate starts, he lasted only 1/3 of an inning surrendering 9 earned runs in those starts.

KERSHAW 2011

  • Lefties hit .178 against him, righties .213.
  • In his first 25 pitches of the game, batters hit .130 against him; over 100 pitches, .267.
  • In the seventh inning opponents hit .283 against him, his worst inning.
  • Seven times he registered double digit strikeouts with his high being 12.
  • His average run support was 4.44.
  • He was 3-3 on May 2nd and went 18-2 the rest of the way.

This is one year completed with five to go! In the end my objective is to develop a mechanism by which we can measure pitchers across the eras. So stay tuned as I will be pecking away at this for quite a while.

And so it is on this day in Fenway history, July 1, 2016. The summer is here!

 

 

 

 

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Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax and a Comparison in Dominance…

My son has, on various occasions, uttered the phrase, “Kershaw is the most dominant pitcher of all time.” Factored into this is his firm belief that todays baseball players are better than the superstars of yesteryear. There is validity in this contention for there is no doubt that todays athletes are bigger, faster and stronger. When you add those three ingredients together we have to come to terms with the fact that it should logically, equal better.

For purposes of full disclosure, I’m an old school guy. I’m not easily willing to jump on the “next best thing” mentality of our society of instant gratification. There are several reasons for this and one, I must confess, is that when it comes to my baseball heroes of bygone days, I get very protective. There’s a gazillion reasons for that and I would need a psychiatrist’s couch to sort through them all.

But that’s my issue. What I do love to do is search for ways to level the field in evaluating todays players with the greats of those bygone days.

What better place to start than these two? I dare say this will be the most extensive breakdown of these two greats you will find anywhere.

                                       Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax.

At this moment the Dodger 27 year old lefty sits with an 11-2 record and an ERA of 1.79. He leads the league in strikeouts (145) and he has walked NINE! That’s a strikeout to walk ration of 16 to 1. To gain some perspective on this consider the following. The first pitcher to have a double digit SO/W ration was old “Grasshopper” Jim Whitney hurling for the Boston Beaneaters (Braves) in 1884. It was a 10-1 ratio and he held that record for 110 years until Bret Saberhagen threw up an 11-1 ratio in 1994. Cliff Lee hit the double digit mark in 2010 with a 10.2/1 deal and in 2014 Phil Hughes set a new mark with an 11.6/1 ratio. But I digress.

Back to dominance. In my lifetime the three most dominant pitchers I have seen are, in order of appearance on the scene: Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. The Dodger connection of Kershaw and Koufax is the most intriguing at this point and here is why. First, duh, their both Dodger southpaws but more importantly is the fact that each present six comparable successive seasons to be examined. So here goes.

Sandy Koufax made his major league debut in 1955. A mega talent, he “arrived” in the 1961 season which he entered with a record of 36-43 and an ERA of 4.04.

During his six seasons (1961-1966) he was 119-47 (.717) with a 2.19 ERA. He threw 1632.2 innings in 221 starts. Of those 221 starts, 115 were complete games of which 35 were shutouts; that is 30% of his complete games. He led the league in ERA for five straight seasons, wins three times and strikeouts four times, three times with over 300 K’s with a high of 382. Three times he topped the league in both wins and shutouts, twice in innings pitched and twice in complete games with 27 in both 1965 and 66. He pitched over 300 innings in three separate campaigns.

Koufax was the unanimous Cy Young Award winner three times (1963, 65 and 66), when there was only one pitcher selected for the honor. He won the MVP Award in 1963 garnering 14 of 20 first place votes. He threw four no-hitters in four years including a perfect game.

Clayton Kershaw’s rookie season was 2008 and his “arrival” in terms of dominance came in 2011. From that season until June 23, 2016 his record is 89-34 (.724) with a 2.06 ERA. he has pitched 1.243 innings in 174 starts. Of those starts, 23 of them were complete games with 14 of those shutouts, 61% of his complete games. He led the league in ERA four years in a row, wins twice, and strikeouts three times, hitting the 300 mark once (301 in 2015). Twice he topped the league in wins and shutouts, once in innings pitched and twice in complete games.

Kershaw has won three National League Cy Young Awards (2011, 13 and 14). He was a unanimous choice in 2014, the year in which he was also named the NL MVP receiving 18 of 30 first place votes. He tossed a no-hitter in 2014.

POST SEASON COMPARISON…

Sandy Koufax pitched in four World Series, 1959, 1963, 1965 and 1966. He had seven starts and one relief appearance and was 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA in 57 innings of work. He hurled four complete games and two shutouts, striking out 61 and walking 11. He was the World Series MVP in 1963 and 1965 and in 1963 struck out 15 Yankees in game one (a record he held until 1968).

His 4-3 record is a winning percentage of .571, considerably lower than the .717 mark he held during his six years of dominance. It’s worthwhile to take a look at his three World Series losses. The first game in game six in 1959; he was a loser in a 1-0 game with the White Sox run coming on a double play in the fourth inning. His second loss came in game two in 1965. He surrendered two runs in six innings (one unearned) in a game eventually won by the Twins 5-1. He struck out nine in those six innings. His third loss came in game two in ’66’ when the Orioles tabbed him for four runs (in six innings), one earned as the Dodgers committed a record six errors and hall of famer Jim Palmer became the youngest pitcher to hurl a World Series shutout. This would turn out to be Koufax’s last game.

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Koufax pitches to Harry Bright with two outs in the ninth inning of the first game of the 1963 World Series. Bright became Koufax’s 15th strikeout victim. He was the first player to win two World Series MVP’s. Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson are the only other players to do so.

Clayton Kershaw has pitched in seven post-season series in five seasons. He has 10 starts and three relief appearances. He is 2-6 with an ERA of 4.59. He has thrown 64.2 innings with 77 strikeouts and 23 walks. In four NLDS he is 2-3 with a 3.52 ERA. Three times he has pitched in a NLCS in which he is 0-3 with a 7.32 ERA, he has 17 strikeouts and 11 walks in NLCS action. He has never pitched in a World Series.

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Kershaw’s best post season series was the 2013 NLDS against the Braves. In two starts he was 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA. He struck out 18 Braves and walked four in 13 innings.

The discerning eye will note that all these comparisons involve the traditional evaluators: wins, ERA etc. It is only fair to compare them using the modern sabermetric evaluators which are at play today. It provides a vehicle which levels the field and allows us to transcend the generations of players.

First and foremost the greatest difference between the baseball eras is innings pitched. When Sandy Koufax took the ball every fourth game (not fifth), a large part of his job was to finish the job…Pitch nine innings. When Koufax broke in, bullpens were largely comprised of pitchers who could no longer complete games.

Kershaw’s entire career has been played in this era where the vast majority of big league pitchers have thrown their entire professional careers with the goal to not exceed 100-110 pitches per outing.

Lets take a look at the first Cy Young seasons of both men.  First Kershaw; in 2011 he went 21-5 with an ERA of 2.28 He pitched 233.1 innings and in his 33 starts he averaged 105 pitches thrown. Twice during the year he topped 120 pitches hitting a high of 125.

When Koufax won his first Cy Young Award in 1963 he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA. He pitched 311 innings and in his 40 starts he averaged 123 pitches. Within that season were two outings of over 160 pitches, both 12 inning complete game wins. And to go along with those: seven outings between 130-140 pitches and one outing each in the 140s and 150s.

Koufax’s pitch counts per outing have yet to be totally compiled so the career totals are incomplete; leaving us to work with innings pitched. However it is obviously clear that Koufax threw far, far more pitches than Kershaw and that is manifested in the innings pitched category. So lets go there.

In Koufax’s six seasons of dominance he averaged pitching 272 innings a season. He had 211 starts of which 115 were complete games. That means that 55% of the time Sandy took the ball he completed the start.

Kershaw has averaged 207 innings per season in his six seasons of dominance and in his 174 starts he has completed 23 games, 13% of them. The most innings Kershaw has pitched in a season is 236, 36 innings less than Koufax’s average.

From 1961 through 1966, the major league leaders in innings pitched averaged throwing 316 innings per year. Included in that was Koufax himself throwing 335.2 in 1965 and 323 in 1966.

Since 2011 the average leader in innings pitched is about 240 innings. Kershaw led the majors last year (232.2) and was second in 2014 with his career high 236. In all fairness it must be noted that to consistently hurl 200+ innings in this era; one will earn the designation as a horse, an innings eater.

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Who would you take?

With that said, lets move into the modern evaluation stats and lets begin with WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for pitchers.

Kershaw has averaged a WAR of 7.0 going into this season, twice having led the majors. At this writing he leads all pitchers with a 4.8 which projects to a 2016 WAR of between 7 and 8. From 1961-1966 Koufax averaged a WAR of 7.7 and twice led the majors with a WAR better than 10.

Next up is ERA+. Now don’t let your head explode because all this does is give a measure of how much better a pitcher’s ERA is compared to the rest of the league.  Here is an example of its simplicity. An ERA+ of 100 is average. The highest modern day ERA+ belongs to Pedro Martinez at 291, meaning his ERA was 191% better than the league average. Let that sink in.

While that sinks in, Kershaw has led the league in ERA+ three times and twice led the majors. His lowest since 2011 is a 150 in 2012. Currently he leads the majors with a mark of 247.

Koufax led the National League twice and the majors once in ERA+. His lowest mark was a 122 in 1961. His highest was a 190 in 1966, the year he retired.

The number one objective of a pitcher is to keep runners off the bases, get outs. The stat known as WHIP best measures that function. It is calculated by simply adding walks and hits and then dividing the total by the number of innings pitched. Obviously the lower the number the better.

Kershaw  led the NL in WHIP in 2011, 12,13,14 and led the majors in 2013 and 14. He leads the majors to date this year, 0.727. Koufax led the major leagues four successive years, a feat that has never been duplicated. Clayton Kershaw is fourth on the all-time list of career WHIP, behind hall of famers Addie Joss, “Big Ed” Walsh and soon to be hall of famer Mariano Rivera.

The lowest single season WHIP was 0.7373 by Pedro Martinez in 2000. His ERA+ that same season (291) was the best in modern baseball history. (since 1901)

Spinning off of WHIP and an illustration of dominance are the stats of hits and strikeouts per nine innings. Obviously the more dominant is a pitcher, the least amount of hits will be allowed and there is no more indication of pitcher dominance than the strikeout.

In the hits per nine category, Kershaw led the NL in 2011 and 12, leading the majors in 2012. Koufax led the NL five straight years 1961-65 and the majors in 62 and 65. Kershaw’s best season was in 2013 when he allowed 6.25 hits per nine innings while Koufax’s best came in 1965 when opponents mustered 5.79 hits per nine.

In the strikeouts per nine department, Kershaw led the NL in 2014 and the majors in 2015. Koufax on the other hand led the NL every year from 1961 through 1966 and the majors in 1961 and 62.

So there you have it. A rather extensive, exhaustive look at these two pitchers measured and compared in their six seasons of dominance. Kershaw is, in fact in the midst of his sixth season of dominance.

Can we conclude anything from this? Does it clearly indicate which one of them was more or less dominant? Each of us will bring our own subjectivity to this argument; for what we are still left with is a vast difference in eras. But guess what? I’m not done.

Coming soon, my attempt to level their playing fields.

To be continued…

                  And so it is on this day in Fenway Park history, June 27, 2016.

                                             18 years and with me every step

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” Terrence Mann

I have been a teacher for a quarter century now and I have often said that one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is that it encompasses the past, the present and the future. I interact with kids every day and each day is spent cultivating those relationships. Drawing on past experience in every walk of my life, I work daily with kids who are navigating their way through the daily, often turbulent, waters of childhood and adolescence. And in so doing, hopefully, in some way, I help to prepare them for the future, their future and in a small way the future of this nation.

I am a passionate historian! This blog was born on the 100th birthday of Fenway Park. There have been some in my life who have suggested I spend too much time in the past. I suppose that is a matter of personal opinion, however this I know, that often the past can be paralyzing. Events, decisions and experiences which remain unresolved will influence us, our choices, our behavior and our self worth.

There are times in life when the patchwork quilts of past and present meet. Times when an event, an experience revisit us. There is nowhere where this is more prevalent than in the game of baseball and it is within that greatest of games where often events of my past have been brought home to me.

It happened last week as I was making my way across the southeastern United States with the Collegiate Diamond Tour. The Collegiate Diamond Tour took 29 high school baseball players from the state of Florida, covered 2500 miles in seven days and visited 28 colleges.

http://www.collegiatediamondtours.com/home.html

The Collegiate tour is a product of the Florida Burn; (http://www.floridaburn.com/burn-store.html) a travel ball organization in Florida founded and run by these two guys,

Mark Guthrie

and

Craig Faulkner.

It is a tour that is filled with great moments as a group of high school baseball players who aspire to take their game to the next level. These young men get an incredible opportunity to see 25 or more colleges and get to hear first hand the rigors of that endeavor.

Some of the moments…

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First day, stop, two was at the University of Florida in Gainesville where two former Collegiate Diamond Tour participants play a big role in the Gators success.

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Coach Faulkner “interviews” Gator shortstop Dalton Guthrie who gives the boys an idea of what it takes to compete in college.

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At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, we ran into two other former Diamond Tour participants. Austin Bergner (L) and Brandon Elmy are introduced to the boys at UNC. Elmy is entering his junior year at Furman University in South Carolina and Bergner is entering his freshman year at UNC. Austin was drafted in June by the Red Sox.

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Duke University is always a favorite stop with the visit to the legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium a highlight and it provides a surprising link to baseball.

Dick Groat’s number 10 was the first Blue Devil basketball number retired in 1952. He was the third overall pick in the draft by the Fort Wayne (Detroit) Pistons and he played with them a year.

An All-American baseball and basketball player at Duke, Groat was a five time all star, the 1960 MVP for the World Champion Pirates and the 1960 NL Batting Champ. Groat played 14 years in the big leagues and won a ring with the Cardinals in 1964 as well.

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A stop was made to pay respects to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in Greenville South Carolina. The baseball sitting atop the O in Jackson, was signed by all the boys on the tour.  

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Charleston Southern University head coach Adam Ward, (second from left) addresses the boys at the school’s baseball field. It was here where real life intersected with the great game of baseball.

The most poignant moments of the trip came when we visited the campus of Charleston Southern University.  It was Fathers Day, two days from the day when one year ago, an evil monster attended a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. An hour into the session, he rose and opened fire into the class killing nine of them. One of them was Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the mother of Charleston Southern’s right fielder, Chris Singleton.

Chris Singleton held a press conference on the Charleston Buccaneer baseball field. And in it he set the tone for how the community chose to respond to hate. An invaluable lesson for the boys on the tour, for the men on the tour…For the nation.

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Tyler Zupcic (L) Director of Baseball Operations at Eastern Carolina University and Coach Faulkner.

The visit to Eastern Carolina provided an intersection of lives all brought about by three decades of baseball.

                           

Tyler’s dad Bob played against Coach Faulkner in the minor leagues. They faced each other in the NY Penn League in 1987, the Carolina League in 1988 and both the Eastern and International Leagues in 1989.

On September 7, 1991, Bob Zupcic made his big league debut when he pinch ran for Mo Vaughn. He would bat 25 times that month and he launched his first home run into Fenway’s old left field screen as well. His official rookie season would take place the following year.

This is where I step in.

It was Tuesday night June 30, 1992 and I made my way into Fenway Park to watch the Sox take on the Tigers. My daughter Beth was with me, she was eight years old. The Sox lineup that night included Jody Reed, Jack Clark, Phil Plantier, Luis Rivera, Tom Brunansky, Mo Vaughn, Tony Pena, Wade Boggs, who was coming to an end of his time in Boston and in centerfield the rookie, Bob Zupcic.

After two innings the Tigers led 5-3. It would stay that way until the Red Sox added one in the eighth narrowing the lead to 5-4 going to the ninth. With men on second and third with one out, Tiger manager Sparky Anderson, ordered a walk to Jody Reed, loading the bases and bringing up Bob Zupcic. On a 3-1 pitch the kid launched a fast ball over the screen at Fenway sending the Faithful into delirium.

Zupcic’s mates greet him at home plate following his walk-off grand slam.

The next day I took the troops to one of our favorite places. The baseball card store in South Weymouth Mass. We loaded up on Bob Zupcic rookie cards.

The baseball thread of decades past wove its way through the campus of Eastern Carolina University last week.  I related this story to Tyler which brought a smile. “My dad will be happy to hear that story” he told me and he was pleased to learn from Coach Faulkner that “your dad was one of the nicest men I met in all my years playing.”

Tyler played at Appalachian State and spent a year playing in the Frontier League with the River City Rascals.

Tyler had just turned a year old the night Beth and I watched his dad launch a bomb into the Fenway night. But a quarter century later the baseball thread that is Craig Faulkner, Raymond Sinibaldi and Bob Zupcic found its way to Greenville North Carolina and the campus of Eastern Carolina University where Tyler will play his part in taking that program to Omaha… And probably sooner than later.

And along the way hearing how his dad brought smiles to his fans, and commanded the respect of the men against whom he competed.

As Terrance Mann sat in the bleachers at the Field of Dreams he turned to Ray Kinsella and said, “This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

On Fathers Day, I was reminded of all in the game that was good and as I met the men who guide the likes of Chris Singleton and our boys on the bus, I was mindful of just how good it can be again.

                        And so it is on this date in Fenway history, June 22, 2016.

                                                       Happy Birthday Rach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A half Century of the Red Sox and the Amateur Draft…

Yesterday the Boston Red Sox made Jason Groome their overall number one pick in the 2016 Amateur draft.

The 6’6″ left-handed pitcher from Barnegat High School in New Jersey was the 12th overall pick. His fastball sits between 90-94 and has touched 97 and he sports a “biting” curveball in the high 70s. He also has a change-up in his arsenal. The 17 year old southpaw struck out 81 batters in 35 innings of work his senior year.

Groome was Baseball America’s number one rated prospect for a number of weeks this spring. He was the 34th Red Sox first round pick to come out of high school. He is the 11th left-handed pitcher selected by the Red Sox in the first round and he is only the 8th high school player taken since the year 2000, a total of 31 picks.

Since 1965, the Red Sox have made 74 number one picks in the draft. The first one was a local kid from Swampscott High School, Billy Conigliaro. The fifth overall pick, Conigliaro was drafted behind Rick Monday (first) and ahead of Bernie Carbo (16th). In fact their were three Massachusetts High School kids drafted in the first round that year. Billy spent five years in the big leagues, making it to Boston in 1969 and he shared the outfield with big brother Tony in 1970. It was his best year, hitting .271 with 18 homers and 58 RBI.

Billy Conigliaro played three years with the Red Sox, one with the Brewers and was a member of the 1973 World Champion Oakland A’s.

Of the 74 players drafted in the first round, 29 of them have not seen a day in the major leagues, 39% of them. Now in all fairness, four of them include the last four number ones, one of whom is Andrew Benintendi, recently elevated to Portland and their number two ranked overall organizational prospect.

What does the future hold for Groome, this years number one? Obviously it remains to be seen but let’s take a look back at some of the past number ones. Some of them will ring familiar having made significant contributions and impact on the organization.

Bruce Hurst, the 1976 number one pick, had a 15 year big league career. Nine of them came in Boston where he won 88 games and nearly won the 1986 World Series MVP Award. Hurst was the Red Sox most successful southpaw taken in the top spot.

Mo Vaughn was the 1989 selection out of Seton Hall. The “Hit Dog” hit 230 homers and batted .301 in eight years with the Red Sox and was the 1995 American League MVP.

In 1993, Trot Nixon was the number one out of New Hanover High in Wilmington NC. The original “Dirt Dog”, Nixon was a popular player with the Red Sox for 10 years. He is forever endeared to Red Sox fans as the right fielder on the 2004 squad which unleashed the joy of a World Series Championship.  

The 1994 number one out of Georgia Tech came to be known simply as “Nomah.” He hit .323 in eight years in Boston. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and won back to back batting titles in 1999 and 2000. At his peek he was one of the most popular players in franchise history.

In 2005, Jacoby Ellsbury, out of Oregon State University, was their number one pick and became a key component in winning the 2007 and 2013 World Series.  

He arrived in Boston for the last 33 games of the 2007 season and then hit .438 in the World Series helping the Sox win their second World Series in four years. In seven years in a Red Sox uniform he led the league in stolen bases including a Red Sox record 70 steals in 2009. He was an All Star in 2011, his best year as he hit .321 with 32 homers and 105 RBI, finishing second in the MVP voting to Justin Verlander, won a Gold Glove and led the league with 364 total bases. In 2014 he signed with the Yankees where he has not come close to those numbers.

Jackie Bradley Junior (right) and Blake Swihart (23) were both recent number one picks who are part of today’s Red Sox landscape. Swihart did the bulk of the catching last year and recently was contributing as a left-fielder until felled by a sprained ankle. JBJ has emerged as a star and currently is a top three receiver of votes for an outfield spot at this years all star game.

THE TWO BEST…

There is no doubt that the best everyday player taken number one by the Red Sox was James Edward Rice.

Jim Rice was drafted number one in 1971 out of TL Hanna High School in Anderson South Carolina.

Arriving in 1975 along with Fred Lynn, the “Gold-Dust Twins” as they came to be known, were the greatest rookie tandem in baseball history. The 1978 MVP was among the most feared hitters in the game for five seasons. In 1978 he hit .315 and led the league in hits, triples, home runs, RBI, SLG, OPS, OPS+ and WAR. He also compiled 406 total bases, the only American League player to do so since 1938.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009, Rice’s number 14 joined the elite numbers on Fenway’s right field facade.

The all time number one pick to toe the slab for the Boston Red Sox is Roger Clemens.

Clemens was taken number one by the Red Sox in 1983, the 19th overall pick.

For 13 seasons “The Rocket” toiled on the Fenway mound and he made his mark as one of the Red Sox all time greats at any position. He won 192 games equaling Cy Young for most wins by a Red Sox pitcher, (you know the guy they named the award after). He won three of those awards in a Red Sox uniform. He was the first pitcher in history to punch out 20 guys in a nine inning game and he did it twice in a Red Sox uniform, once at Fenway and once in Detroit. In 1986 he became the seventh pitcher in baseball history to win an MVP and Cy Young Award in the same season. It was a bitter parting when Clemens left the Sox to sign with the Blue Jays in 1997. We all know what transpired with the accusations of PED’s which leaves Clemens today outside the doors of Cooperstown. This despite some of the greatest career numbers any pitcher has accumulated.

The icy relationship between the Fenway Faithful and Roger Clemens has thawed as the years have past and he was well received in a 1986 reunion night at Fenway in May of this year. It is interesting to note that since Roger Clemens left the Red Sox following the 1996 season, no player has worn his number 21.

DRAFT NOTES…SUPPLEMENTAL PICKS

Since these entered the draft equation in 1981 to compensate for players lost through free agency, some interesting picks have emerged.

  • Casey Fossum (LHP) was a pick for the loss of Greg Swindell. He made no great contribution in a Red Sox uniform but was the lynchpin in the trade for Curt Schilling.
  • Clay Bucholz was a 2005 pick for the loss of Pedro.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury was another 2005 pick for the loss of 2004 shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
  • Both Jackie Bradley Junior and Blake Swihart were picks garnered for the loss of Adrian Beltre in 2011.

OTHER TIDBITS…

  • Roger Clemens was drafted by both the New York Mets (12th round in 1981) and the Red Sox. (Imagine the Mets with Clemens and Dwight Gooden?)
  • Jim Rice’s High School TL Hanna High in Anderson SC, claims James “Radio” Kennedy, actor Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in 42) and astronaut Stephen Thorne as alum.
  • Jason Groome said the Red Sox are his favorite team.

And so it is on this day in Fenway Park History, Draft Day One, 2016.

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Musings Born of “67”…

This morning I awoke with visions of “67” dancing in my head. It happens once in awhile, the year, the magic. My son tells me I give too much reverence to baseball’s bygone days and he may, in fact, be correct; as last night I was lamenting the “state of the game” today.

I’m not a fan of interleague play, I don’t like the idea that batters put on suites of armor, hang over the plate and the pitcher can’t take back the inside part of the plate. The genie is out of the bottle and only an act of Congress, signed by the president will change that. Oh, and don’t get me started on presidents, candidates and Congress.

The new “rule” on sliding into second and breaking up a double play is, well, one more indication of the softening of America. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that guys should be trying to hurt each other, but breaking up the double play has been one of baseball’s ten commandments since Alexander Cartwright brought baseball’s stone tablets down from Mt. Elysian Fields.

Chase Utley upending Reuben Tejada.

You want to “protect” players from getting injured? How about this for a concept? If a player is determined to have deliberately “injured” a player; said player is “suspended for as long as it takes said injured player to return to the lineup. This would apply to pitchers hitting batters as well.

The immediate reaction may be “no way”, “can’t be done”, “how could you do it”, blah, blah, blah. I’m not unaware of the potential difficulties in its implementation, however would it be any more difficult than all the administrative red tape involved in todays decision making process regarding such matters?

Oh and I HATE, absolutely HATE instant replay. Strong word hate, not one I use much but very applicable here. I simply offer this; has it sped up the game? Made it more entertaining? Nope! A close play takes place, manager comes to the top step of the dugout, waits for the call from his replay people, walks out to the ump, everybody stands around while people miles and miles away watch a screen and call back. AND, very often leaves those of us watching along on TV  puzzled, and scratching our heads.

Would you rather that? Or this?

Earl Weaver and Ken Kaiser going nose to nose.

Billy being Billy.

Sweet Lou…

What’s more entertaining?

Oh and by the way, this or waiting for replay takes at least the same amount of time.

Anyway, I digress….Back to my musings.

On April 23, 1967 Boston had a most unusual day. Temperature in the 40s with thunder and lighting. Mickey Mantle had his last Fenway Park RBI. Yaz homered on his way to his Triple Crown and he and Dick Williams were both ejected. The Sox lost, but a new energy force arrived at Fenway, hailed by lightning and trumpeted by thunder. An energy force that would ignite a city, transform a franchise and the Greater Boston area would never be the same.

A lot of interesting events mark April 23rd. At Fenway, Ted Williams’ first career homer was struck on April 23rd 1939. In 1954 Hank Aaron hit his first career homer at Sportsman Park and at Ebbetts Field Jackie Robinson stole second, then third and then home leading the Dodgers to an extra inning victory. 032514-MLB-Babe-Ruth-Jackie-Robinson-Hank-Aaron-Ted-Williams-TV-Pi

Jackie, Hank and Ted.

Warren Spahn of 363 career wins (more than any other southpaw in history) and World War II combat service, was born on April 23, 1921.

Spahn was a 14 time All Star, four time NL shutout leader and nine times he led the league in complete games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

 

 

Spahn played a German soldier in a cameo appearance on the TV Show Combat in 1963. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded as part of the force taking the Remgen Bridge.

And this guy was also born on April 23rd, a few years earlier than Mr. Spahn.

Willie also died on his birthday and something tells me that if he were alive in America today he would have written a great tragedy involving baseball.

On this day in 1989, this guy…

Nolan Ryan

passed this guy…

Walter Johnson

as the all time major league strikeout leader. A position he still holds!

I woke up this morning with visions of “67” dancing in my head. My son tells me that I give too much reverence to baseball’s bygone days and in fact he may be correct.

So I got up and went to the baseball field to practice with these guys…And to revel in the hope of their dreams…The hope of their tomorrows.

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And then I went to the golf course with these guys to revel in the hope that lives over each golf shot, each swing, each putt. The hope of now.

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I woke up this morning with visions of “67” dancing in my head. My son tells me that I give too much reverence to baseball’s bygone days and in fact he may be correct. Maybe it’s time to just let it go…

But damn, that song was so sweet…

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So very, very sweet….

And so it is on this day…April 23rd the day someone once told me was, “the best day evah.”

 

 

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‘The Hardest Thing to do in All of Sports, Without Question, Is to Hit a Baseball.” Ted Williams

This one is for baseball coaches at every level.

I have been knocking around a baseball field with kids for the better part of three decades. They have ranged in age from five to 20, from T-Ball to high school. And there is a familiar thread that exists at EVERY LEVEL. And that is the players expectations of their success rate with a bat in their hands. We have all seen it, dealt with it and attempted to ameliorate it.

It was the early 1990s when  I was coaching in Little League and Ken Griffey Jr was the best player in the baseball. When I would ask the kids how many hits they thought he got in ten at bats, the lowest number I received as an answer was seven! SEVEN! They perceived Junior as a .700 hitter.

griffey

By the time they reach high school they realize that’s impossible (most of them) but it does not seem to translate to them that it is simply impossible.

We all have witnessed the emotional upheaval caused by that young player who does not meet expectations from either daddy, mommy, or above all themselves. This compounds the difficulty of a game that is brutally difficult to begin with.

I offer this today as a tool to bring young players to the realization to the degree of difficulty in this greatest of games. Coming to this understanding is the first step in the development of the mental toughness required to function at their best.

I have often stated that baseball is the most difficult of all the sports to play. If you doubt this, consider the following. We begin with this guy,

Cobb

                                                           Tyrus Raymond Cobb

Nobody was more adept with a bat in his hands than Ty Cobb. Cobb played for 24 seasons. He was the batting champion in 12 of those seasons, including a record nine in a row. For over six decades he was the all-time hit king having amassed 4189 hits in his career. In his rookie season of 1905, he played in 41 games with the Tigers and hit .240. The next 23 seasons he hit over .300. Included in that were back to back years in which he hit .420 and .409 and three straight years when he hit .383, .382 and .384. When he left the game following the 1928 season he did so with a lifetime batting average of .366. It remains today the highest lifetime batting average in the history of the game.

Pretty impressive huh?

Now considered this; in his 11,434 official at bats he made 7,245 outs. So that means his at bats ended in an out 63.4% of the time. Or we can say his out average was .634. Let that sink in for a minute.

He failed nearly twice as much as he succeeded.

Now, let’s take a look at this guy.

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                      Cotton Davidson

Confused? You won’t be. Cotton Davidson sits in the 181st position for career completion percentage for NFL quarterbacks. In a 14 year career he completed 43.9% of his passes.

He failed 56.1 % of the time to meet his objective.

How about this guy?

Shawn_Marion

                                                                  Shawn Marion

In a 16 year NBA career, Shawn Marion had a shooting percentage of .484 good enough to rank 250th on the all time career list.

He failed 51.6% of the time.

A quick recap, if THE BEST average hitter of all time had succeeded at the same rate as the worst NFL quarterback of all time he would have hit for a .439 lifetime batting average. NOBODY ever hit that high in one season. And if the BEST average hitter of all time had succeeded at the same rate as the worst NBA shooter of all time he would have hit at a .484 lifetime clip.

The absurdity of a baseball player hitting .439 or .484 in a season has all of you baseball aficionados smiling.

Baseball’s last .400 hitter may well be on to something.

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Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 and is sixth on the all time average list with an average of .344.

And what he was on to can be simply explained. Standing in a batters box 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher, the batter holds in his hands a bat, made of wood. The bat is barreled and is round and smooth. The pitcher releases the ball at varying speeds which will range approximately 20-25 mph in their variations, depending upon the given pitcher. Big league pitchers can range from the high 60s from the knuckleballer to fastballs touching 100 mph.

The fast ball gives the batter the luxury of about 1/4 of a second to see, identify and swing his round object at the round baseball on his way.

Catch my drift?

As of today, 18,663 players have played Major League Baseball, and of all those a grand total of 178 of them have achieved a lifetime batting average of .300 or higher.

Now let that sink in for a second. The percentage of players to achieve the lifetime .300 mark is 0.009%! That is less than 1%. Thirty-seven of those players are over the .325 mark, twenty-four have hit the coveted .333 lifetime average, fourteen are over .340 and only THREE (including Cobb) are above .350.

Hornsby

                    Rogers Hornsby hit .358 in 23 seasons.

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The ill-fated “Shoeless” Joe Jackson hit .356 in his 13 year career.

There are nine active players who are currently hitting higher than .300 throughout their careers.

Miguel+Cabrera+World+Series+San+Francisco+xUS-TMivzqSl

Miguel Cabrera leads the active players with a .321 lifetime average. He is entering his 14th season.

All that said, perhaps the argument can best be made by looking at the top 1000 career averages in the history of the game. What would you guess the lifetime batting average is of the player who is 1000 on the all time average list? Think about that before proceeding and make your best guess

And before we get there, here he is.

PatKelly

Pat Kelly played 15 years from 1967-1981.

This morning he occupies Baseball Almanac’s 1000th spot on the list of Major League player’s batting average. Now before I give you his average, contemplate this fact; he is in the top 5.3% of batting averages.

He hit .264 lifetime, so conversely his out average is .736! He failed to get a base hit 73.6% of the time and he is among the top 5% in his success rate as a hitter.

Each player is an individual with varying expectations of what they wish to accomplish, These facts may help them make that first step in understanding that the very best who played this game, at its highest level, failed with a bat in their hands between 63 and 74% of the time.

Good luck!

And so it is on this day in baseball history, Coaching tip Day. February 28th, 2016.

 

 

 

 

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Indians on the Move…“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

As the 2016 season begins, there are currently 21 Venice Indians who have taken their game to the next level. Four of those players finished the 2015 baseball season playing pro ball.

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Venice High School Baseball

Matt Tellor was a 2010 graduate and a winner of the Indian Grinder Award. He went on to play at Southeast Missouri State from where he was a 10th round draft pick of the Braves in 2014. Last year he played for the Rome Braves in the South Atlantic League. He battled a wrist injury most of the season and hit .296 in August.

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Matt Tellor Rome Braves

Nick Longhi played on the Indians back to back State Championship teams of 2012 and 13. He was drafted by the Red Sox in June of ‘13’ and last year he played in Greenville SC in the South Atlantic League. He hit .286 with 7 home runs and 62 RBI. He is slated to play in the Red Sox High A team in Salem Virginia. The website soxprospects.com lists Nick as their 13th ranked prospect.

nick sox card

Nick Longhi, Salem Red Sox

Aaron Rhodes graduated in 2011 and was a two-time Indian MVP as well as the pitcher of the year his senior year. He went on to the University of Florida where he earned SEC pitcher of the week honors, pitched for last year’s SEC Championship team and played in the College World Series.  Drafted by the Angels in June of 2015, he pitched in the Pioneer League striking out 23 batters in 21 innings.

Rhodes Owls

Joe Iorio graduated in 2010 and went on to play at the University of North Florida and then to Barry University from where he graduated in 2014. He spent last season pitching for Washington and Southern Illinois in the Frontier League, an independent minor league.

Joe Iorio

Indians CWS 2015

College World Series 2015

At the top of the Indian list of college players are three teammates who played in the 2015 College World Series. At the University of Florida, with Rhodes, last year were Mike Rivera and Dalton Guthrie. Both were 2014 graduates who played on the 2012 and ‘13’ back to back champions. Rivera was a member of the USA National team in 2013 which won the World Championship and Guthrie was the 2014 Florida 6A player of the year, as well as the recipient of the Rawlings National Prep Gold Glove Award. Both Indians were Freshman All-Americans in 2015 and are expected to be key components to Florida’s quest for a National Championship. Cooper Hammond was also a member of the back to back champs of ‘12’ and ‘13’. He was one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of baseball in Sarasota County. He was the 2013 7A Player of the Year and a first team prep All-American as well. The past two years he has led the University of Miami in pitching appearances and he is 10-3 with a 2.27 ERA as a Hurricane. Last year he faced his Indian teammates in the College World Series.

Sham UVA

Tyler Shambora

Tyler Shambora, another member of the Back to Back crew, went on to pitch at St. Petersburg Jr. College where he was an All-Conference player in 2015. His work ethic and determination has paid off as this year he will pitch for the defending National Champion Virginia Cavaliers.

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Brandon Elmy

Brandon Elmy, yet another major contributor to the back to back championship seasons, is a jack of all trades at Furman University in South Carolina. He is pitching, playing the outfield and DHing for the Palladins. Elmo was the starting pitcher in the State Championship games of 2012 and “13”.

 

kragel_cole

Cole Kragel

Last year’s Florida 6A Player of the Year and Indian co-captain, Cole Kragel will be pitching this year for the Hokies of Virginia Tech University. Kragel was 13-0 with a 0.72 Era with 104 strikeouts, leading the Indians to their third State Championship in four years.

Banko Eckerd

Grant Banko

Kevin Guthrie Brown

Kevin Guthrie

Co-Captains of the 2012 team will be entering their senior years this year. Grant Banko (Eckerd College) and Kevin Guthrie (Brown University), were driving forces for the “Road Warriors” of 2012. Guthrie missed most of last season with an arm injury and is expected to be ready to go for his senior campaign and Banko is hitting .250 with a triple and 2 RBI in Eckerd’s first three games this year.

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Michael Knott

Two Indians will toe the slab for Florida Tech University this season. Michael Knott, a 2012 graduate and co-captain with a 4.6 GPA, sat out last season with an arm injury and is expected to be back this year. Joining him on the mound with the Panthers will be freshman Colin Cristello who was a member of the ‘12’, ‘13’ and ‘15’ state championship teams.

Cristello

Colin Cristello

Three members of the back to back championship teams of 2012 and ‘13’ are still playing and matriculating in Florida. Tyler Atwell will play this year at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers. Atwell comes to FGCU via St. Petersburg and Tallahassee JC. Josh Grubbs enters into his junior year at Rollins College in Winter Park Florida. His kid brother Jake is the Indians senior catcher this year. Colton Lightner also enters his junior year at Stetson University where he will play second base for the Hatters this season.

Grubbs Atwell Lightner

Left to right, Josh Grubbs, Tyler Atwell, Colten Lightner and Coach Dubrule

Three more Indians are also on the mound for State College of Florida. Kade Hunkipillar (2015), Ryan Ahern and Ryan Miller (2014) all will be part of the staff of the Manatees. “Hunk” and Ahern are both southpaws who were part of Indians State Championship teams. Miller played centerfield, caught and pitched for the Indians and also owns two rings. Miller transferred to SCF following a year at Florida Atlantic.

Ahern

Ryan Ahern

Miller SCF

Ryan Miller will be on to Clemson following this year with the Manatees.

Hunk Coach

Kade Hunkipillar and Coach Faulkner

Langston

Langston Provitt #25.

And finally, Langston Provitt, 2015 centerfielder and co-captain has taken his talents to Ohio University where he has chosen football as vehicle. This year he was a cornerback, kickoff and punt returner for the Bobcats.

Twenty-one Indians have chosen 10 different states in which they will bring their brand of excellence on and off the field. Wherever they travel, they do so in the knowledge that they come from a special place with a special tradition and that they are and will always remain, Indians all.

Peek back here as I will be posting bi-weekly updates of the progress of these young men.

And so it is on this day in Venice Indian Baseball history, moving on and up.

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