The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Brewer Buzz

Given my recent disappointment with the tense Yankee Stadium scene and its heavy-handed security, Friday evening at Shea Stadium felt like a breath of fresh air -- the first time in the history of the English language that sentence has been written, I'm sure -- with the Brewers and the Mets squaring off for the first of a three-game series. My brother-in-law Adam had surprised me by scoring tickets through his friend Matt and driving up from Wilmington, Delaware with girlfriend Nicole. With the league's best record at 24-10, holding a seven-game lead in the NL Central, the talented young Brewers are suddenly worth crossing state lines to see.

From our seats way down the leftfield line, we craned our necks -- our seats faced centerfield because Shea was apparently designed by inbeciles who had never seen a baseball game -- to watch as the first three innings passed without a hit. Both the Brewers' Jeff Suppan and the Mets' Jorge Sosa befuddled the opposing bats, but Milwaukee made a couple ugly mistakes along the way. Rickie Weeks, who walked to open the ballgame, was skewered at the back end of a strikeout-throwout double play to end the first frame, while centerfielder Bill Hall embarrassingly dropped a fly ball in the second. Oops.

The Brewers' J.J. Hardy, whose 19-game hitting streak (.418/.459/.835 with eight homers) had ended on Wednesday, registered the game's first hit in the top of the fourth, a clean single up the middle that nonetheless went for naught. In the bottom half, the Mets responded by bombarding Suppan, who baffled them last fall as a Cardinal in the League Championship Series. David Wright led off with a home to left-center, just his third shot of the year. Carlos Delgado followed a Carlos Beltran infield single with a two-run blast to leftfield. Moises Alou doubled noisily off the right-center wall (Willie's Wallbangers?), and one out later, scored on a Paul Lo Duca single. Damion Easley singled Lo Duca to third, but Sosa's sacrifice wasn't effective enough to plate the run. The six hits the Mets collected off Suppan in the inning would be the only ones he surrendered on the night.

As childhood friends Adam and Matt reminisced about ancient Brewers with the help of a handheld connection to (Rob Deer! Glenn Braggs! Ron "The Creature" Robinson! The legendary Chuckie Carr, who drew his release soon after swinging through a take sign and popping out on a 2-0 count, then explaining to manager Phil Garner, "That ain't Chuckie's game. Chuckie hacks on 2-0."...), the modern-day Brew Crew chipped away at the lead with solo homers by Geoff Jenkins in the fifth and Prince Fielder in the sixth. The latter was so emphatic that the Mets outfielders didn't even turn around; it was Little Big Daddy's 10th dinger in 20 games and his league-leading 11th of the year.

The Brewers threatened against a tiring Sosa in the seventh, alternating outs and walks until pinch-hitter Gabe Gross and reliever Pedro Feliciano ushered the starters offstage. Brewers manager Ned Yost countered by burning Gross in favor of Corey Hart -- generally a deplorable strategy in this age of short benches and ever-expanding bullpens, but the lefty Gross is just 4-for-50 against southpaws in his career, and sidearming southpaw Feliciano probably would have eaten his lunch and the sack too. Hart, apparently not wearing his sunglasses at night (admittedly, it was tough to see from our vantage), struck out to end the threat.

With Suppan gone, reliever Carlos Villanueva's second pitch was launched for another home run by Easley to start the bottom of the seventh, running the score to 5-2. But again the Brewers came back, likely buoyed by the sight of an ardent fan standing proudly in his ancient Pepsi Brewers Fan Club tank top in our vicinity (you know, just like Glenn Close in The Natural). Weeks reached on an infield single off Aaron Heilman, and Hardy followed by smacking the game's sixth homer, again to left -- our angled seats were good for a great view of something -- to trim the lead to 5-4. That was all she wrote, however. Heilman set down the next three Brewers in order, while Billy Wagner came on for a 1-2-3 ninth, leaving our foursome in the very small minority disappointed that the Mets came out on top. Still, it was fun to catch a bit of the Brewer buzz with folks for whom this is no annual occurrence.

• • •

Thanks to the efforts of Dan Fox and William Burke, this week's Prospectus Hit List yielded enough interesting data for two Unfiltered entries along the way. The first begins thusly:
While burrowing through various stat pages in the service of assembling this week’s Hit List, I noticed that Kansas City’s David DeJesus was second in the AL with 27 runs scored, certainly surprising for a player on a team averaging just 3.76 per game. Turning to the Royals‘ team stats, I quickly calculated that the DeJesus has scored 21.1 percent of his team’s runs, a level which set off a vague memory I had about an old Bill James Baseball Abstract player comment for Tim Raines that included a list topped by future streetclothes-wearing Dodger manager (my sole frame of reference for him up to that point) Burt Shotton. Both were in the vicinity of 20 percent.

As I queried our stat gurus to find out whether this level had been approached since, not only did I get the data but a note from our own Jim Baker, who served as James’ assistant back in the day: "By coincidence, it was I who put that list in the ‘84 Abstract inspired by the work of Tim Raines. I wonder if he’s been topped since then?"
The short answer is no, and in fact while many have come close to 20 percent, nobody has topped that mark. Check the top 30 over at BP.

Meanwhile, Baker also figures in the second entry, which is based on his "disaster start" stat, one in which a pitcher allows as many or more runs than innings pitched in an outing. In the Hit List I noted that Jeff Weaver had gone 6-for-6 in this department, but it took some persistent digging by Burke to find out whether this is indeed a record. Based on data going back to 1960, it turns out that Detroit's Willie Blair went seven consecutive starts in 1999, but those were interrupted by a stint in the bullpen. Seven pitchers have had six straight disaster starts interrupted by at least one relief outing, while five pitchers, including Weaver, accomplished a pure streak of six straight starts. These Masters of Disaster include the likes of Mike Morgan, Roy Halladay, and Kyle Lohse, and they'll survive in the spotlight at least until Weaver comes off the DL -- he was conveniently placed there on Friday -- to take another crack at infamy.

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