Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ichiro and the 200 Hit Club in Japan

I came across an interesting piece of Baseball history while researching Ichiro's Japanese statistics for my last post. Last week Ichiro tied Pete Rose for the most 200-hit seasons for a career with 10 seasons. As I stated last week, Ichiro is the Majors season hit leader with 262 which he accomplished in 2004. But what I found interesting is that Ichiro was also the single season hit leader in Japan with 210 hits which he accomplished in 1994 while with the Orix Blue Wave. What I didn't know what until that time no player had ever eclipsed the 200-hit mark in the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB). (PHOTO CREDIT http://japanesebaseballcards.blogspot.com/)

This season makes the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the NPB. I found it amazing that until 1994 there hadn't been a player with 200-hits. Now granted, the NPB plays a shorter season than MLB. I'm not sure if the number of games are consistent from year to year but from what I have researched, the last few years the Japanese season has been 144 games long while the MLB season is 162 games. That's a difference of 18 games which can be between 60 and 75 at-bats over that span. In 1994, Ichiro had 210-hits in 546 at-bats for an average of .385. In a league that plays small ball over the bloop and the blast that is most common here, I would think that more players would have had 200-hits. That might be changing.

Since Ichiro set the single season record for both the Pacific League and the NPB in 1994, four players have hit for 200 or more hits in a season. Here is the breakdown:

Norichika Aoki 202 in 2005 with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Alex Ramirez 204 in 2007 with the Yomiyuri Giants
Matt Murton 205 in 2010 with the Hanshin Tigers
Tsuyoshi Nishioka 203 in 2010 with the Chiba Lotte Marines
Norichika Aoki 202 in 2010 with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows

(PHOTO CREDIT http://japanesebaseballcards.blogspot.com/)

Aoki, who had the spotlight of the World Baseball Classic on him during the 2009 tournament, is the only player to have multiple 200-hits seasons (2005 and 2010). Former Rockies and Cubs outfielder Matt Murton currently holds the Central League single season record of 205-hits and has 8 games left to try and break Ichiro's record of 210-hits during his inaugural season with the Hanshin Tigers.

I know for many baseball fans here in the U.S., happenings in the Japanese baseball league barely register as a blip on the radar but I like to think of myself as a more worldy baseball fan. Especially since I remember the first day I saw Ichiro being introduced to the U.S. press with his signing with Seattle Mariners for the 2001 season and wondering who was this Japanese guy with the cool shades. We all now know who he is.


For Further Reading
- Robert Whiting The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastime (New York, Time Warner Book Group: 2004)
- Click Here for the English Language version of the Nippon Baseball League webpage
- Click Here to access YakyuBaka.com for an awesome site devoted to all things Yakyu. That's Baseball for all you Gaijin out there. LOL.
- Click Here to access my April 8, 2010 post on Alex Ramirez being the dominant Latino ballplayer in Japan from Latinoball
- Click Here to access my July 1, 2010 post on Alex Ramirez as he progressed during the 2010 NPB season from Latinoball
- Click Here to access my post from September 1, 2010 detailing how Alex Ramirez became the 1st player in the history of the NPB to have 8 100+ RBI seasons from Latinoball

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ichiro and Bautista Hit MIlestones

Today has been an early day for milestones in Baseball. Playing against each other's teams in Toronto Both Ichiro Suzuki and Jose Bautista have reached personal milestones so here goes.

- Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro continued his climb up the record books by reaching the 200 hits plateau for his 10th consecutive season. This coupled with his Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB)( stats puts him at over 3500 hits for his career (1285 in Japan/2228 in the U.S. ***Not including today). His achievement ties him with the all-time hits leader Pete Rose for total 200 hit seasons and one year ahead of Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. As it is, Ichiro has the season hits record with 262 having passed George Sisler in 2004 and until 2005, he was the only player in the history of the NPB to have 200 or more hits in a season. He still owns the single season record for hits in a season in Japan with 210 which he set in 1994. If Ichiro had played his total career in the U.S. with the numbers he had amassed in Japan we'd be talking about how Ichiro would be in the hunt to catch Pete Rose for the all-time hits record. I'm really not surprised that Ichiro has succeeded at the plate the way he has. I think that Ichiro can absolutely reach 3000 hits here in the U.S. which would just put the cherry on top of a Hall of Fame career.

- Jose Bautista
Jose Bautista continued his magical 2010 season by belting his 50th homerun. In doing so, Bautista became the 26th player in the history of MLB to hit 50 or more homers in a season. Considering how long professional Baseball has been played and the Steroid era, I find that 26 players having hit 50 or more homers to be small club. So I decided to look into who is on the list. Here goes:

Babe Ruth (54 1920, 59 1921, 60 1927, 54 1928)
Hack Wilson (56 1930)
Jimmy Foxx (58 1932, 50 1938)
Hank Greenberg (58 1938)
Johnny Mize (51 1947)
Ralph Kiner (51 1947 54 1949)
Willie Mays (51 1951, 52 1965)
Mickey Mantle (52 1956, 54 1961)
Roger Maris (61, 1961)
George Foster (52 1977)
Cecil Fielder (51 1990)
Albert Belle (50 1995)
Brady Anderson (50 1996)
Mark McGwire (52 1996, 58 1997, 70 1998, 65 1999)
Ken Griffey Jr. (56 1997, 56 1998)
Greg Vaughn (50 1998)
Sammy Sosa (66 1998, 63 1999, 50 2000, 64 2001)
Alex Rodriguez (52 2001, 57 2002, 54 2007)
Luiz Gonzalez (57 2001)
Barry Bonds (73 2001)
Jim Thome (52 2002)
Andruw Jones (51 2005)
Ryan Howard (58 2006)
David Ortiz (54 2006)
Prince Fielder (50 2007)
Jose Bautista (50 2010)

Where does Bautista rate on this list. In my opinion, I think that he is more like Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez. Where many of the players on this list hit 30 to 40 homeruns on a consistent basis, Anderson and Gonzalez hovered between the 15 to 25 homerun range. In that case, Bautista is below them since in his 6 years as a major leaguer he has never his 20 homeruns, reach a high of 16 for a season in 2006. I know much has been made about his work with Toronto hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to improve his swing. I guess time will tell if this season was a fluke or if Bautista is the real deal. Either way, welcome to the 50 homerun club.


For Further Reading:
- Click Here for Ichiro's statistics page from Japanese Players.com
- Click Here for James Hill's article Ichiro ties record with 10th 200-hit season from MLB.com
- Click here for Jerry Crasnick's article Strength in Jose Bautista's numbers from ESPN.com
- Click Here for an interesting Jose Bautista fan/blog page

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Minnesota Twins Clinch the AL Central...Again!

With their 6-4 victory against the Cleveland Indians (and the loss of rival Chicago White Sox) the Minnesota Twins are the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the 2010 post-season. With this year's AL Central Title, it marks the sixth title for the Twins in the last nine seasons. In a change from the last two seasons, the Twins were able to clinch early. In 2008 the Twins played and lost the 163rd game of the season against the Chicago White Sox while last year they once again played the 163rd game of the season this time in an extra inning classic against the Detroit Tigers to win the AL Central Title. Not bad for a team that MLB suggested should be contracted along with the Montreal Expos back in 2002. For those of you who don't remember or know what contraction is read Bob Collins' article Selig says Twins' contraction still 'a possibility' from the Minnesota Public Radio website dated March 26, 2002.

The victory also marked another milestone with the 800th career victory in the managerial career of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. In the nine years under Gardenhire, the Twins have won six division titles, have had five 90-win seasons, and only one season with a losing record. And this guy can't win a Manager of the Year title having finished second five times in nine seasons. The voters for Manager of the Year take note and give the man his due. To see an interesting breakdown of Gardenhire and the Twins teams during his tenure check out the article The Best Twins Team of the Ron Gardenhire Era on the Twinkie Town website.(Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

As my buddy Topper of the Curve For a Strike blogpage likes to remind me, the Twins have been the best team in Baseball in the second half playing to the tune of 44-18. This is especially impressive given the fact that the Twins lost two pivotal players to injury in closer Joe Nathan (to season ending surgery during spring training) and first baseman Justin Morneau (right before the All-Star break due to a concussion and related symptoms). The Twins have also been able to adapt and adjust to a myriad of other injuries to get to the record of 91-60, only a game behind the New York Yankees who lead the league with a 92-59 record. As it stands, the Twins are in the driver's seat for a home field advantage in the first round and are still in the hunt for home field throughout the playoffs. And speaking of a home field advantage.

This is for all the critics who claimed the Twins should have stayed indoors. The Twins had 39,580 fans in attendance on a cool night in Minneapolis. It was the 73rd straight sellout and 74th in 75 games this year. Whether or not the weather will be a factor this October remains to be seen but it should be interesting and exciting to see Target Field lighting up the October sky.


For Further Reading
- Click Here for Kelly Thesier's article Early clinch a change of pace for resilient Twins on MLB.com
- Click Here for Twins Win, Clinch AL Central After White Sox Lose from the NYTimes.com

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Few Baseball Milestones

In the last few weeks a number of Baseball milestones have been reached by various players throughout the league and I just wanted to highlight a few of them for you. Here goes:

- Dan Uggla
The Florida Marlins' second baseman for the became the first second baseman in the history of Major League Baseball to have four consecutive seasons of 30 homeruns. Uggla is also the first second baseman to have three consecutive 30 homerun seasons. I find that truly impressive since power hitting second basemen such as Jeff Kent, Chase Utley and Alfonso Soriano have put plenty of balls into the seats while playing second, through Kent and Soriano also played other positions. Michael Jong in his article named Dan Uggla Reaches Another Milestone HR on the MarlinManiac.com webpage compares Uggla to other players that have been homerun hitters at the second base position. Congrats to Dan Uggla on his continued success in Florida.

- Evan Longoria
Since I was in the sunshine state I decided to move north to Tampa-St. Petersburg to highlight the milestone of the Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. On Sunday September 5th in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, Longoria hit his 20th homerun of the season. This achievement couples with his 30 doubles has made Longoria the fifth player to achieve this accomplishment within their first three seasons in the league. Who are the other four players: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Orlando Cepeda and Albert Pujols. Longoria is definitely keep up with some impressive Major Leaguers and I doubt he'll let up in the least.

- Alex Rodriguez
In a truly off year for the New York Yankees third baseman, Rodriguez has become the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to have fourteen seasons of 100 or more runs batted in. Of these fourteen seasons of 100 or more RBI's, thirteen of them have come consecutively. In doing so, Rodriguez passed Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Babe Ruth, who each drove in at least 100 in 13 seasons. Rodriguez also tied Gehrig and Foxx with his thirteenth consecutive 100-RBI season. Even though A-Rod is at only 23 homers for this season, his RBI totals show that he has been able to adapt his hitting style from pure power to contact hitting. Tine will tell if this is truly an off year for Rodriguez or if his career is in a decline.

- Derek Jeter
Staying in New York City and profiling another Yankees player who is an off year, shortstop Derek Jeter continues his climb up the baseball hit list. During this past weekend's series against the Texas Rangers, Derek Jeter hit his 2,900th his. This places Jeter in thirty-sixth place behind Al Simmons (2,927 hits). Currently at 2,903 hits, Jeter's detractors (and some supporters) are starting to call this season as the beginning of the end. My thing is this, isn't someone allowed to have a bad year? Sure, Jeter is 36-years old and batting 50 points under his career batting average but damn, give them man credit for what he has done. Let's not send him out to pasture just yet. I still stand by my claim that Derek Jeter has the best chance to catch Pete Rose among current Major leaguers. Whether he does or not, only time will tell. But don't sleep on the Yankees captain. October is right around the corner.

- Albert Pujols
Pujols is currently in the thick of the NL Triple Crown and MVP races. While doing so, he's finding time to hit milestones. Pujols became the seventh player in Major League history with at least nine seasons of 30 home runs, 100 runs and 100 RBIs. This is truly amazing since he has only been in the league for TEN years. Barring any major slump during the last two weeks of the season, Pujols will become the fifth player in history with nine seasons hitting .300 with 30 home runs, 100 runs and 100 RBIs. Truly amazing.

So you folks don't think that I am biased toward batting, here are some pitching milestones.

-Trevor Hoffman

Last week, Milwaukee Brewers reliever Trevor Hoffman reached the 600 save plateau. He is currently the only pitcher with 600 saves though Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera is right behind him with 556 saves. Though Mariano will go down as the best closer in the history of the game, I've always said that Trevor Hoffman was severly underrated. Had he played his career in such venues as Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston or New York instead of San Diego and Milwaukee he'd be seen in a better light. As it is he is almost an after thought when talking about the best closers in the game.

- Derek Lowe
With his victory over the Washington Nationals this past week, Derek Lowe struck out his 1,500th batter. This ties him Paul Derringer in 175th place on the career strikeout list. Congrats to Derek Lowe on this achievement.

Ok folks, I'm wiped out. Have fun watching the pennant races. I know I am.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Felix Hernandez for AL Cy Young?

For those of you who know me personally know that I can be both modern and old fashioned when it comes to the game of Baseball. I try to stay up-to-date with the modern methods of statistical and player analysis and comparison but I also try to be old fashioned in thinking in certain areas. One of these areas is with the Cy Young Award and what it means to be a starting pitcher. I believe that an effective starter and a quality start is not one that lasts just 6 innings. No, I believe that a starter should pitch seven or more innings a game in order to be labeled a quality starter. In addition, analysis of said starter should take wins and losses into account. It is in that last sentence that I feel things are changing. Maybe it is me, but I seem to have seen a growing trend among Baseball writers to dismiss wins and losses, especially when it comes to the example of the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez. (Photo Credit Aaron Reynolds from the Hardball Times website)

For the last few weeks I've been reading how Felix Hernandez is generating Cy Young buzz and consideration with a sub .500 record. Granted, Hernandez is playing on the most under-achieving team of the 2010 season and as of late it seems that any game they win is when he's on the mound. One of the writers who believes that Hernandez is Cy Young worthy is Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times.

A few weeks ago, Baker wrote about Hernandez's chances on winning the Cy Young award. As he noted in his article Felix Hernandez selling East Coast on his Cy Young Award credentials. How about the West Coast?, take the wins and losses out of the equation, then Hernandez leads (or is near the top) most of the vital pitching categories for Cy Young. After this his performace a few weeks ago on an Eastern road trip where Hernandez dominated both the Yankees and the Red Sox, Baker is even more confident in his stance of Hernandez being the front-runner for the award. I don't dispute most of what he is saying. But I don't believe that it is (his belief) an East Coast bias and a West Coast disbelief that is going to keep Hernandez from winning the award. No, I believe that his wins and losses are what is going to decide whether or not he wins the award.

Bad enough last year's Cy Young winners for the American and National Leagues won the awards with 16 and 15 wins respectively. At the very least they had a 2-to-1 win-to-loss ratio. It was always my understanding that winning games was the goal for all starters, especially the ace. Now I'm not knocking Hernandez for his losses. He's gone out there game after game and has given his all often a victim of a lack of production from his offense and/or a lack of defense behind him. In a prior post called The Resurgent Seattle Mariners, I highlight how impressive both Hernandez and Cliff Lee looked together before Lee was traded to the Texas Rangers. I'm not a Felix Hernandez hater. Far from it. Trust me, I've watched Hernandez dominate the Yankees in three starts this past season (3-0 and almost logged his fourth complete game against the Yanks in a row). But I do believe that any Cy Young winner should at the very least have an over .500 record and at the least a 2-to-1 win-to-loss ratio.

Currently Hernandez is 11-10 with a 2.30 ERA with a league leading 209 K's in a league leading 219.1 IP with 30 games started having completed five. Hernandez wouldn't be the first pitcher to win the Cy Young on a bad team. Maybe this is an unfair comparison, but Steve Carlton won 27 games during the 1972 season (27-10) while the team in total won 59 games (59-97). He won the Cy Young. Playing for a bad team shouldn't disqualify anyone from winning the award. But the pitcher should (in my opinion) fit the criteria of having over a .500 record and at the least a 2-to-1 win-to-loss ratio.

What can Hernandez do to improve his standing in the eyes of the Cy Young voters? Keep winning games and at the very least try to get his record a few more games over .500. Last season, Hernandez went 15-1 in the second half to vault himself to a record of 19-5 placing 2nd in the Cy Young vote. He has the ability to do it. I'd be more open to change my position if Hernandez finished the season strong. Whether or not the team will let him do so is another story. In the end, I just hate to think that, in this era of metrics that dissect every little statistic and reorganizes them into infinite categories, wins and losses no longer have a bearing on who wins the Cy Young.

What do you think.

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to see Felix Hernandez's game-by-game log for the 2010 season from MLB.com
- Click Here to see Felix Hernandez's bio page from MLB.com

Friday, September 3, 2010

NL Triple Crown and MVP Races

Pete and I were working together this past Thursday evening when he asked me who I thought was going to win the NL Triple Crown. He caught me off guard by his question. Then I realized that I never noticed the NL Triple Crown race. Back in July I highlighted the possible AL Triple Crown winners in my post called Possible AL Triple Crown and NL ERA Dominance, which to be honest none of the players I profiled will win this year's Triple Crown. On the other hand, the NL is another story. It would be the first time in 73 years that a National League player has won the Triple Crown since Joe Medwick achieved the feat for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937. Let's see who's who in the NL Triple Crown race.

- Carlos Gonzalez
The man affectionately known as "CarGo" in Denver seems to have come out of nowhere for the Colorado Rockies this season. In his first full season (he played in 85 games with the Oakland A's in 2008 and 89 games with the Rockies in 2009), Gonzalez has exploded at the plate. He leads the NL with a .332 batting average, is currently fifth in hommers with 31 (four behind leader Albert Pujols) and is third with 93 RBI (four behind the leader Joey Votto). Having watched some of the Rockies games while at work, I can tell you that Carlos Gonzalez is an amazing player. Not only has he emerged as a potential Triple Crown winner, but he has also played himself into potential MVP consideration.

- Joey Votto
Building upon the success of the last two seasons, Votto has shown that he is only getting better with each passing year. In his fourth season Votto is currently second in batting with a .325 average (seven points behind Carlos Gonzalez), tied for third in homers with 32 (three behind Albert Pujols) and is the league leader with 97 RBI. Votto is one of the main reasons why the Cincinnati Reds are the NL Central Division leaders with an eight game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.

- Albert Pujols
Perennial NL MVP is the odds on favorite to qualify for the Triple Crown each season though I have to say that he is the longshot to win the award. Pujols is currently fifth in league batting .313 average (nineteen points behind leader Carlos Gonzalez), he leads the league with 35 homers and is second in the league with 95 RBI (two behind Joey Votto). Though it would take Pujols to go on a major tear to reach both Gonzalez and Votto in terms of average. It can be done. Pujols is like a machine when it comes to his at-bats and he is only getting better as he enters his prime years.

I believe that one of these three players will also win the NL MVP. Maybe whomever wins the Triple Crown will take both awards home. September will prove to be an interesting month in Baseball.