Sunday, August 30, 2009

Update: Last Position Players to Pitch by Team

Previous installments can be found here: April 2008, May 2009.

With September call-ups a couple days away, it is likely the days of position players pitching are over for another season. Here is the full list of 2009 position player pitchers:

Ross Gload (FLA) - May 22
Nick Green (BOS) - August 27
Paul Janish (CIN) - May 6 & July 6
Mark Loretta (LAD) - July 28
Cody Ross (FLA) - April 26
Nick Swisher (NYY) - April 13
Jonathan Van Every (BOS) - April 30
Josh Wilson (ARI & SDP) - May 11 & June 7

Here's the updated list by team:

Last Position Player to Pitch by Team
(through 8/30/2009)

Arizona DiamondbacksJosh Wilson
Atlanta BravesJohn Russell6-25-1989
Baltimore OriolesManny Alexander4-19-1996
Boston Red SoxNick Green
Chicago CubsGary Gaetti7-3-1999
Chicago White SoxDave Martinez8-4-1995
Cincinnati RedsPaul Janish7-6-2009
Cleveland IndiansTim Laker4-20-2004
Colorado RockiesTodd Zeile9-14-2002
Detroit TigersShane Halter10-1-2000
Florida MarlinsRoss Gload
Houston AstrosTim Bogar6-24-2000
Kansas City RoyalsTony Pena
Los Angeles AngelsChili Davis6-17-1993
Los Angeles DodgersMark Loretta
Milwaukee BrewersTrent Durrington4-17-2004
Minnesota TwinsJohn Moses7-31-1990
New York MetsTodd Zeile7-26-2004
New York YankeesNick Swisher
Oakland AthleticsFrank Menechino7-18-2000
Philadelphia PhilliesTomas Perez5-13-2002
Pittsburgh PiratesAbraham Nunez5-30-2004
San Diego PadresJosh Wilson
Seattle MarinersJamie Burke
San Francisco GiantsGreg Litton7-4-1991
St. Louis CardinalsAaron Miles6-13-2008
Tampa Bay RaysJosh Wilson6-8-2007
Texas RangersScott Sheldon9-6-2000
Toronto Blue JaysFrank Menechino8-28-2004
Washington NationalsJunior Noboa7-20-1990*

* - Fellow position player Dave Martinez pitched right before Noboa in the same game.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

20+ Home Runs

A friend of mine brought this to my attention. Robinson Cano hit his twentieth home run of the season last night, making him the sixth Yankees hitter to reach that number in 2009. With one more 20 HR player, the Yankees will tie the record for most players with 20+ HR on one team. The current record holders:
  • 1996 Baltimore Orioles
    Brady Anderson - 50
    Rafael Palmeiro - 39
    Bobby Bonilla - 28
    Cal Ripken, Jr. - 26
    Chris Hoiles - 25
    Roberto Alomar - 22
    B.J. Surhoff - 21

  • 2000 Toronto Blue Jays
    Carlos Delgado - 41
    Tony Batista - 41
    Brad Fullmer - 32
    Jose Cruz, Jr. - 31
    Raul Mondesi - 24
    Shannon Stewart - 21
    Darrin Fletcher - 20

  • 2005 Texas Rangers
    Mark Teixeira - 43
    Alfonso Soriano - 36
    David Dellucci - 29
    Kevin Mench - 25
    Hank Blalock - 25
    Michael Young - 24
    Rod Barajas - 21
The Yankees have two more players who may well end up with 20 home runs. Derek Jeter has 16 and Jorge Posada hit his 17th earlier tonight.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Lenn Sakata Day

Lenn Sakata should have been one of those ballplayers that spent a few seasons in the majors, had a few timely hits, played decent defense, and then slipped out of baseball consciousness.

For the most part, that is the type of ballplayer he was. Mention the name Sakata to baseball fans today and you probably won't get much of a reaction. A few might think the name is familiar, and some diehards might remember seeing him play. Like so many background players, if he is remembered today, it is because of his role in some strange part of baseball history. Would anyone remember Bill Wambsganss today without his triple play? Would Brewers fans remember Rick Manning if he hadn't gotten the walk-off hit robbing Paul Molitor of a final chance to extend his hitting streak? So it is with Lenn Sakata...

Lenn Sakata was born in 1954 in Honolulu, Hawaii, and graduated from Kalani High School in that city in 1971. He played college ball as an infielder at Gonzaga University, earning All-Big Sky conference honors in 1973 and 1974 and second team All-American honors in the latter year. In 1974, he set a school record for RBI (68) that would stand until some guy named Jason Bay broke it in 1999. After his excellent 1974 season, Sakata was selected in the fifth round of the 1974 draft by the San Diego Padres but did not sign. Back then, baseball had a secondary draft in January for players who either did not sign or were not eligible to be drafted in June. In the January 1975 draft, the Milwaukee Brewers saw fit to select Sakata with the tenth pick. He began his professional career later that spring.

He began his minor league career about as far from Hawaii as he could get in organized baseball. He was assigned to the Brewers AA affiliate in Thetford Mines, Quebec. Once a hotbed of asbestos mining, Thetford Mines is about 120 miles (190 km) northeast of Montreal. Sakata, playing second base, shared the infield with future Brewer Jim Gantner. Both players hit .257 in the Eastern League, but only Sakata was promoted to AAA Spokane for the 1976 season. Back in his college town, Sakata hit .280 with ten home runs. He followed that up by hitting .304 in 1977 and earning a callup to the majors. When Sakata took the field in the first game of a July 21 doubleheader, Sakata became only the second Japanese-American to play in a major league game (the first was Ryan Kurosaki, a Cardinals pitcher).

Sakata struggled as a Brewer, hitting .162/.209/.214 in 53 games for Milwaukee. He started the 1978 season with Milwaukee, but a poor .192 average in 86 plate appearances earned him a ticket to Spokane. His final shot in Milwaukee came in September 1979 after he once again hit .300 in AAA. Seizing his chance, Sakata went 7 for 14 with two doubles in four games at the end of the year. The Brewers were so impressed they promptly shipped Sakata to Baltimore for righthanded reliever John Flinn. Flinn spent one unimpressive year in Milwaukee, but Sakata spent six seasons with the Orioles. After tearing up the International League for a month, Sakata was called up to Baltimore and hit his usual .190. He played a little shortstop for the first time in his pro career, however, and that earned him a spot on the 1981 Baltimore squad. He finally cracked .200 that year and had his best season in 1982, hitting .259/.323/.370 in nearly 400 plate appearances while playing second and short. In fact, he was the starting shortstop until a guy named Cal Ripken moved over from third in July. Undoubtedly Sakata would have started again at short had Ripken needed a day off. So much for that idea.

Sakata was once again a backup second baseman in 1983, but it was his appearance at a different position that year that remains memorable. Coming into play on August 24, the Orioles were 1/2 game behind Milwaukee for first place and one of four teams within 4 games of the division lead. Baltimore was hosting Toronto, the third place team. Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh with one out and the bases loaded, manager Joe Altobelli pinch-hit for starting catcher Rick Dempsey. The move didn't work and the Orioles didn't score that inning. After the inning, Lenn Sakata came into the game at second base and thus was around for the Orioles' ninth-inning rally. Sakata walked and later scored the tying run, but not before Benny Ayala pinch-hit for backup catcher Joe Nolan. The Orioles couldn't plate the winning run. Lacking catchers, the Orioles were forced to use Sakata behind the plate, outfielder Gary Roenicke at third, and outfielder John Lowenstein at second base.

The first batter, Cliff Johnson, hit a go-ahead home run and the second batter, Barry Bonnell, singled to center. That was it for pitcher Tim Stoddard, and lefthander Tippy Martinez came in to stem the tide. Eager to steal off non-catcher Sakata, Bonnell was promptly picked off first. Dave Collins then walked and, also eager to test Sakata, was promptly picked off. Willie Upshaw then hit an infield single to second. Following the example of his teammates, he leaned too far and was also picked off first.

In the bottom of the tenth, Cal Ripken tied the game with a leadoff home run. A walk, groundout, intentional walk, and strikeout set it up for Lenn Sakata to step in the box. Randy Moffitt, a pitcher Sakata had never faced in the majors, was on the mound. In this weirdest of games, what happened next only made sense. Sakata hit his second home run of the season to win the game.

Baltimore went on to win the division by six games and won the World Series in five games over Philadelphia. Sakata spent two more years as a backup second baseman in Baltimore, hitting .191 and 227. He had a couple last gasps in 1986 and 1987 with Oakland and New York, but he finished his career four hits short of 300 with a .230 average. Sakata went on to coaching, both in America and Japan, setting a record for most wins in the California League, and currently manages the Japanese Chiba Lotte Marines farm team.

Depending on how his coaching career progresses, Sakata may eventually be known for more than being behind the plate while Tippy Martinez set a pickoff record or being the second Japanese-American to play in the majors. No matter what Sakata does going forward, however, the August 24, 1983, game between Toronto and Baltimore (and Sakata himself) will be remembered for both dramatic moments and a trivia-producing extra inning.

More reading about Sakata and the game:
Lenn Sakata at

Lenn Sakata at The Baseball Cube
Box score and play-by-play of August 24, 1983 Toronto-Baltimore game
The Baltimore Sun remembers the game with some great quotes
Seattle Times about Sakata's current situation and view of baseball
Press release for Sakata setting California League wins record
New York Times article about Don Wakamatsu with some Sakata information

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Unassisted Triple Play

Eric Bruntlett made only the fifteenth unassisted triple play in baseball history today. It ended the game, only the second unassisted triple play to do so.

You can watch the highlight here:
Direct link to video:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Last Left-Handed Catcher

The New York Times looks at Benny Distefano and the dearth of left-handed catchers. Distefano's appearance behind the plate on August 18, 1989 (box score) remains the last time a lefty has donned the tools of ignorance.

Hat tip to Bucs Dugout.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Getting Hit Hard in 2009

What do Trevor Cahill and Jeff Suppan have in common? They are the only two pitchers qualified for the ERA title (1 IP per team game) who have allowed opponents to slug .500 or more this season. Suppan sits at .512 while Cahill is at .505. Suppan will shortly fall off the qualified list, as he is currently injured and hasn't pitched since July 27. His fellow Brewer, Braden Looper, is poised to take his place on the list as he has allowed opponents to slug .499 this year. Jeremy Guthrie (.499), Armando Galarraga (.494), and Jamie Moyer (.491) are also nearby.

Since 1954, forty-four qualified pitchers have allowed opponents to slug .500 over a season. Twenty have cracked the .520 plateau:

Jim Deshaies1994MIN.583
Jose Lima2000HOU.578
Darrell May2004KCR.555
Bill Gullickson1994DET.552
Brian Anderson2004KCR.545
Dave Mlicki2001DET/HOU.545
Brandon Backe2008HOU.544
Jose Lima2005KCR.544
Eric Milton2005CIN.543
Terry Mulholland1994NYY.539

The abbreviated 1994 season and Jose Lima are both well-represented. Pitchers just didn't have as much time to a) drop their slugging percentage to something more respectable or b) get replaced before reaching the usual 162 innings to qualify. The other seven seasons all took place this decade, which makes sense as slugging percentages league-wide have reached new heights. Here's the .500+ opponent slugging allowed list prior to 1994:

Don Newcombe
Jack Lamabe
Bob Knepper

Yep, that's it.

A high slugging percentage allowed is fueling Jeff Suppan's run at another distinction. He likely will not reach the required 162 innings, but if the season ended today he would be only the ninth qualifying pitcher to allow an OPS of .900 or higher. The current list of eight is the highest slugging allowed list jumbled a bit:

Jim Deshaies1994MIN.965
Jose Lima2000HOU.942
Dave Mlicki2001DET/HOU.927
Brandon Backe2008HOU.920
Jose Lima2005KCR.917
Bill Gullickson
Brian Anderson
Darrell May

Suppan has allowed opponents to put up a .900 OPS this year. Cahill, if you're wondering, is second with an .856 OPS allowed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Games Finished & Saves

As most baseball fans know, Trevor Hoffman is the all-time saves leader with 578 over the length of his career. His 578th save came last night against the Los Angeles Dodgers after a rocky ninth inning. While each save obviously sees him extend his own saves record, last night he tied another career mark. It was his 802nd career game finished, tying him with former saves leader Lee Smith.

Games finished (GF) is, really, a useless counting stat. All it tells you is that such-and-such pitcher was the last reliever to appear in a game for his team. That's not that impressive, right? After all, a guy who mops up blowouts can rack up games finished just as easily as a closer. Then again, chances are that guy mopping up blowouts probably won't stay in the league very long. So, one game finished isn't very impressive, but you have to be pretty darn good to get up to 500-600-700 GF.

With that in mind, here are the sixteen pitchers with over 600 games finished through August 3:
  • Lee Smith, 802
  • Trevor Hoffman, 802
  • John Franco, 774
  • Mariano Rivera, 753
  • Rollie Fingers, 709
  • Jeff Reardon, 695
  • Rich Gossage, 681
  • Roberto Hernandez, 667
  • Hoyt Wilhelm, 651
  • Doug Jones, 640
  • Kent Tekulve, 638
  • Billy Wagner, 637
  • Sparky Lyle, 634
  • Jose Mesa, 633
  • Todd Jones, 619
  • Gene Garber, 609
Three pitchers on that list are still active. Behind them, Troy Percival sits in 27th place with 546 and Jason Isringhausen is 37th with 467. The next healthy player is Francisco Cordero, 55th with 407. The top 1000 can be found here.

Many closers in need of work are used in the ninth inning even when it's not a save situation, so they end up with more games finished than saves. For players who became closers early in their career and never relinquished the role, a large percentage of their relief appearances result in games finished. Here are the top all-time pitchers in terms of game finished per relief appearance (min. 200 GF):
  1. Kazuhiro Sasaki, 201 of 228, 88.2%
  2. John Wetteland, 523 of 601, 87.0%
  3. Bobby Jenks, 228 of 254, 86.8%
  4. Rick Aguilera, 643 of 732, 86.6%
  5. Bryan Harvey, 278 of 322, 86.3%
  6. Robb Nen, 548 of 639, 85.8%
  7. Billy Koch, 325 of 379, 85.8%
  8. Tom Henke, 548 of 642, 85.4%
  9. Jonathan Papelbon, 208 of 244, 85.2%
  10. Mariano Rivera, 753 of 885, 85.1%
Hoffman has finished 802 of his 963 appearances, good for 83.3%.