Wednesday, April 1, 2020
The main thing most baseball and even Giants fans know about the 1954 season is The Catch and the Giants sweeping a favored Indians team in the World Series. There was more to the Giants 1954 season than The Catch though. By 1954 many of the stars from the 1951 team such as Al Dark, Monte Irvin, Wes Westrum, Whitey Lockman, Larry Jansen and Sal Maglie were still around but on the downside of their careers. Johnny Antonelli(LHP) RIP, who we've already profiled, was an addition who had a career year on the pitching side. Don Mueller and Willie Mays were also holdovers from 1951 but were now the stars of the team and a fascinating subplot to the season was their race for the batting title.
Don Mueller was the son of Walter, a reserve OF for the Pirates. Walter taught young Don how to hit by pitching corn kernels which Don swung at with a broomstick. As a result, Don developed tremendous eye-hand coordination and bat-to-ball skills. He became the ultimate contact hitter albeit with virtually no power. Sportswriters were impressed by his seeming ability to punch groundballs through holes in the infield and dubbed him Mandrake the Magician, and I have no idea where that name came from or what it meant. Unfortunately, this seemingly unique ability was a mirage of BABIP luck. Mueller almost never struck out, but he also almost never walked making him uniquely BABIP dependent which is why his career ebbed and flowed with his BABIP luck.
Willie Mays was Willie Mays. He was already a star from the spark he gave the Giants in 1951. He was coming back from a 2 year hiatus in the army and big expectations awaited him in New York. I've read that Giants Manager Leo Durocher made up a song to the tune of Take Me Out To The Ballgame counting down the number of days Willie had left in the army and when the Giants would have him back. There was no comparison between Mays and Mueller's overall production at the plate. Mays not only hit for average, he hit for power. He struck out a lot more than Mueller but he also drew a whole lot more walks giving him strong OBP's too.
Willie Mays had an MVP season in 1954 leading the league in BA, triples, SLG% and OPS. Mueller's campaign paled in comparison except for BA. He and Willie staged a season long friendly battle for the highest BA, AKA Batting Title. Mueller outhit Willie for the first 3 months of the season with BA's of .306, .391 and .353 to Willie's .254, .374 and .314. On May 2 in a doubleheader, Mueller went 5 for 5 in game 2 with a double and triple a feat which was overshadowed when Stan Musial became the first major leaguer to hit 5 HR's in one day. Mueller hit for the cycle on July 1, but July was his only month with BA under .300 at .297. He followed that up with .318 in August. Meanwhile, Willie Mays hit .330 in July and .385 in August to take the lead in the batting race. They came down to the final day of the regular season tied in BA. Mueller went 2 for 6 while Mays went 3 for 4 to win it with a .345 BA to Mueller's .342. Mueller finished with what most hits at 212. Don Mueller hit .389 in the World Series with 7 singles in 18 AB while Mays hit .289, but The Catch will be what fans will alway remember about the 1954 World Series.
*Biographical information for this post found in Don Mueller's SABR biography and stats are taken from Baseball Reference.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Last Hot Stove season, the Reds said **** that to an umpteenth year of the teardown/tank/rebuild from within model and decided to rebuild the old fashioned way, by you know, spending money and trading prospects for veterans. That model carried over into this year's Hot Stove League. You know what? They haven't done a half-bad job of putting together a competitive team! Here's a summary of their moves:
Free Agents Lost: Kevin Gausman(RHP), Jose Peraza(IF), Alex Wood(LHP), Jose Iglesias(SS).
Free Agents Signed: Mike Moustakas(IF- 4 years), Wade Miley(LHP- 2 years), Shogo Akiyama(OF- 3 years), Nick Castellanos(OF- 4 years), Pedro Strop(RHP).
Trades: Acquired Justin Shafer(RHP) from the Blue Jays for Cash, Acquired Jose DeLeon(RHP) from the Rays for cash, Acquired Travis Jankowski(OF) from the Padres for international cap space.
Rule 5 Draft: Picked Mark Payton(OF).
Summary: The Reds already did the heavy lifting for pitching with trades for Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer and needed only a #5 SP. They added a low cost option in Wade Miley who should be a lot better than Alex Wood was last season. This was Sabes/Evans type offseason for the Reds who methodically added the missing pieces. Moustakas will play 2B. Akiyama should be a premium leadoff batter and take pressure off Nick Senzel. Castellanos is a huge bat for the middle of he lineup and should be able to play the short RF in Great American Ballpark. Strop adds depth to the bullpen. Reds are now loaded enough that it is unlikely Shafer, DeLeon, Jankowski or Payton would have made the team. They may now have a shot if rosters expand to 29 or 30 players.
One more thought: What the Reds are doing now tells me once again that any team in MLB can afford to spend big money anytime they decide that's what they want to do. I love the moves they have made and the team they have put together. And you know what? I am going to be rooting for them to succeed because I am so sick of the dogma that before you can rebuild, you have to teardown and tank and you aren't allowed to spend money on players until you are at a certain point the the process.
I've always loved to look at lineups in boxscores and try to figure out what role each hitter played and how they contributed or didn't contribute to the success or failure of the team. We've see mini-biographies for several key players on the legendary 1951 New York Giants team. I'd like to finish that series up by posting their playoff lineup(it was the same for all 3 playoff games against the Dodgers) along with their stat lines. It's fun to compare with other Giants lineups. No offense to the great Giants lineups of the 1960's or the championship teams of the 2010's, but I think the 1951 lineup might be the best in Giants history! Let's see what you think.
Eddie Stanky(R) 2B .247/.401/.369, 17 2B, 2 3B, 14 HR, 8 SB, 88 R, 43 RBI, 654 PA.
Al Dark(R) SS .303/.352/.454, 41 2B, 7 3B, 14 HR, 12 SB, 114 R, 69 RBI, 700 PA.
Don Mueller(L) RF ..277/.307/.431, 10 2B, 7 3B, 16 HR, SB, 58 R, 69 RBI, 493 PA.
Monte Irvin(R) LF .312/415/.514, 19 2B, 11 3B, 24 HR, 12 SB, 94 R, 121 RBI, 657 PA.
Whitey Lockman(L) 1B .282/.339/.407, 27 2B, 7 3B, 12 HR, 4 SB, 85 R, 73 RBI, 673 PA.
Bobby Thomson(R) 3B ..293/.385, 562, 27 2B, 8 3B, 32 HR, 5 SB, 89 R, 101 RBI, 603 PA.
Willie Mays(R) CF .274/.356/.472, 22 2B, 5 3B, 20 HR, 7 SB, 59 R, 68 RBI, 523 PA.
Wes Westrum(R) C .219/.400/.418, 12 2B, 20 HR, SB, 59 R, 70 RBI, 474 PA.
Hank Thompson(L) 3B/OF .235/.342/.386, 8 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR, SB, 308 PA.
Ray Noble(R) C .234/.265/.383, 6 2B, 5 HR, 148 PA.
Bill Rigney(R) IF .232/.321/.435, 2 2B, 4 HR, 80 PA.
Sal Maglie(R) 23-6, 298 IP, 2.93 ERA.
Larry Jansen(R) 23-11, 278.2 IP, 3.04 ERA.
Jim Hearn(R) 17-9, 211.1 IP, 3.62 ERA.
George Spencer(R) 10-4, 132 IP, 3.75 ERA, 6 Saves(57 Games, 4 Starts).
Dave Koslo(L) 10-0, 149.2 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3 Saves(39 Games, 16 Starts).
Sheldon Jones(R) 6-11, 120.1 IP, 4.26 ERA, 4 Saves(41 Games, 12 Starts).
Al Corwin(R) 5-1, 59 IP, 3.66 ERA, 1 Save(15 Games, 8 Starts).
Monty Kennedy(L) 1-2, 68 IP, 2.25 ERA(29 Games, 5 Starts).
Al Gettel(R) 1-2, 57.1 IP, 4.87 ERA(30 Games, 1 Start).
Roger Bowman(L) 2-4, 26.1 IP, 6.15 ERA(9 Games, 5 Starts).
The Giants starts the 1951 season with Bobby Thomson in CF and Hank Thompson at 3B. Perhaps Willie Mays biggest contribution to the team was on defense which was a huge upgrade on Thomson in CF but Thomson was a better fielder at 3B than Thompson so that upgraded the defense at two positions. Hank Thompson then became the first bat off the bench and a lefthanded one at that.
Part of the reason for Wes Westrum's high OBP was opposition pitchers pitched around him to get to the pitcher batting 9'th.
Have the Giants ever had a better 1-2 combo at the top of the lineup than Eddie Stanky and Al Dark in 1951?
Although Bobby Thompson was a better hitter with more power than either Don Mueller or Whitey Lockman the lefthanded batters in the 3 and 5 holes gave better balance to the lineup.
Interesting that the #4 and #5(seldom used) SP's and Closer were both by committee with the same multiple pitchers both closing and starting, which I think was fairly standard practice in those days.
So, there you have it. Your 1951 New York Giants!
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Last season the Brewcrew won 89 games and came within a bullpen meltdown of advancing past the wildcard game instead of the ultimate World Series winners, the Nationals. In response, the Brewers front office chose to modestly reduce payroll while spreading free agent money over a large number of smaller contracts. Here is a summary of the moves:
Free Agents Lost: Yasmani Grandal(C), Mike Moustakis(3B), Drew Pomeranz(LHP), Gio Gonzalez(LHP), Jordan Lyles(RHP), Matt Albers(RHP), Travis Shaw(IF-non-tendered), Jimmy Nelson(RHP- non-tendered), Hernan Perez(IF-non-tendered), Junior Guerra(RHP- non-tendered).
Free Agents Signed: Avisail Garcia(OF- 2 yr/$20 M), Josh Lindblom(RHP- 3 yr/$9.125 M), Justin Smoak(1B), Brett Anderson(LHP), Eric Sogard(IF), Brock Holt(IF/OF), Jedd Gyorko(IF), Alex Claudio(LHP), David Phelps(RHP), Ryon Healy(IF).
Trades: Acquired Chad Spanberger(1B) from the Blue Jays for Chase Anderson(RHP), Acquired Omar Narvaez(C) from the Mariners for Adam Hill(RHP) and Competitive Balance Round Draft Pick(B), Acquired Luis Urias(IF) and Eric Lauer(LHP) from the Padres for Trent Grisham(OF) and Zach Davies(RHP), Acquired Mark Mathias(IF) from the Indians for Andrew Melendez(C).
Contract Extensions: Christian Yelich(OF)- 7 yrs/$188.5 M in addition to pre-existing 2 yrs/$26.5 M), Freddy Peralta(RHP)- 5 yrs/$15.5 M.
Minor League FA Signings: Logan Morrison(1B/OF), Shelby Miller(RHP), Keon Broxton(OF), Justin Grimm(RHP), Mike Morin(RHP), Jace Peterson(IF), Andres Blanco(IF), Tuffy Gosewich(C).
Summary: There's a lot to unpack here. Brewers make a big, longterm commitment to Christian Yelich, so it's hardly a teardown. The rest, much like the Giants, is a collection of potential undervalued players, breakout candidates and midseason trade pieces. Also like the Giants, this approach will look a whole lot better if rosters increase to 29 or 30 players for a compressed regular season. As for specific moves I liked here, I would say I am surprised Brock Holt cost as little as he did. Luis Urias could be their SS of the future. Ryan Healy has huge power and could have a breakout season if he can stay healthy and field a position. This team could really use an ace starter which they did not acquire.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
This is a story that needs to be shared. In all my years as an obsessed Giants fan, I had never really heard of Jim Hearn before I started researching the 1951 season. I guess you could call Hearn the Giants #3 starter after Larry Jansen and Sal Maglie and ahead of swingman Dave Koslo. He was one of several Giants who had career or near-career years in 1951.
Jim Hearn was big for that time at 6'3", 205 lbs. His first sport was basketball. He played center on his high school team and played basketball at Georgia Tech. He played semi-pro baseball in the summers which is where he was discovered by a scout for the Cardinals and signed a pro baseball contract. He did not start pitching until after he turned pro and had trouble adjusting to the nuances of pitching. He threw hard but after a promising rookie season in 1947, he struggled with command and pitch-tipping issues. "Big Jim" was a gentle giant and the Cardinals owner and manager accused him of a lack of dedication and of preferring golf to baseball. He was released early in the 1950 season and the Giants paid the $10,000 waiver claim.
Giants Manager Leo Durocher immediately confronted Hearn about his dedication to baseball saying if his heart wasn't completely in it, he might as well say so and not waste more time. Hearn apparently satisfied Leo. The Giants pitching coaches lowered his arm slot to give his fastball more sink. This adjustment paid immediate dividends and he broke out, finishing the season with a record of 11-4 and a 2.49 ERA. That success produced an uproar in St Louis about how Manager Eddie Dyer could have misjudged him so badly and ultimately led to Dyer being fired. For his part, the New York press dubbed him the "Miracle Man." He was not as dominant in 1951 but the potent Giants offense was enough to propel him to a 17-9 W-L record with an ERA of 3.62. He also won Game 1 of the playoff against the Dodgers and Game 3 of the World Series against the Yankees.
Jim Hearn pitched 5 more seasons for the Giants but with uneven success due to a series of nagging injuries. Durocher became frustrated and resurrected his suspicions that Big Jim was thinking more about golf than baseball. Hearn finished his career pitching mostly in relief in three seasons with the Phillies. After retirement from baseball, he opened a Golf Center in his hometown of Atlanta which became his lifelong post-baseball career.
I found most of the biographical information for this post on the SABR website. It also apparently appears in a book entitled The Team That Time Won't Forget: The 1951 New York Giants, published by SABR. Check it out!
We move on from the NL West to the NL Central in our Hot Stove Reviews. The Cardinals have a cohort of aging players but are coming off a 91 win season, so chose to mainly stand pat in the Hot Stove League. Here are the moves:
Free Agents Lost: Marcell Ozuna(OF), Michael Wacha(RHP), Tony Cingrani(LHP), Williams Perez(RHP).
Free Agents Signed: Adam Wainwright(re-signed), Matt Wieters(re-signed), Kwang Kim(LHP), Brad Miller(IF).
Trades: Acquired Austin Dean(OF) from Marlins for Diowill Burgos(OF), Acquired Matthew Liberatore(LHP), Edgardo Rodriguez(C) and Future Considerations from the Rays for Jose Martinez(1B) and Randy Arozarena(OF) and Future Considerations.
Avoided Arbitration: John Gant(RHP).
DFA/Release: Dominic Leone(RHP).
Minor League Free Agent: Oscar Hernandez(C).
Summary: As mentioned, the Cardinals have a lot of age on this team and a shaky OF situation, particularly with the loss of Ozuna. The addition of Kim bolsters the rotation and could be very good. A scouting report from spring training games is on Rotographs. Seems Kim has pretty good command of multiple pitches which help his low 90's FB play up. Cards also seem to be counting on highly ranked prospect, Dylan Carlson, being ready to step up in OF. They seem to be confident enough in their depth to trade away Martinez and Arozarena for highly rated pitching prospect, Liberatore which was a nice move for the future. Cardinals have a long history of mid-level prospects stepping up. Can they keep doing that as the core of Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter and Waino(plus Dexter Fowler) move into the twilight of their careers?
Grade: Grade C+.
Friday, March 27, 2020
Perhaps the most overlooked hero of the Giants legendary 1951 season was a defense-first catcher with a penchant for suffering broken fingers named Wes Westrum. Westrum's career got off to a slow start serving as a backup catcher for his first three seasons before a breakout campaign in 1950 in which he batted just .243 but with an OBP of .385 and 23 HR's. Like his Giants team, he got off to a slow start in 1951 due to another broken finger, but once he got healthy he recorded the highest OPS and fWAR of his career.
One of the best kept secrets in baseball lore is that Billy Beane did not invent Moneyball. It you look at the walk rates and OBP's of the hitters in the 1951 Giants lineup, you will find numbers that put any of Billy Beane's teams to shame. It's really hard to put into words the beauty of Wes Westrum's 1951 batting line, so here it is for you to stare in wonder at for yourself:
.219/.400/.418, 12 2B, 20 HR, 21.9 BB%, 19.6 K%, fWAR= 4.1, 474 PA.
Like several of his teammates, Wes Westrum's playing career tapered off after that pennant winning season. He played a lesser role on the 1954 championship team and retired to coaching before the Giants moved west after the 1957 season. He later went on to manage the Mets and Giants. The first time I heard of Wes Westrum was as manager of the Mets in the very first MLB game I listened to an the radio. Of course, I had no idea of his connection to the Giants. He had a reputation as patient manager who was willing to let young players with high ceilings make their mistakes for the future good of the teams he managed for.