After Jason Stoffel was included in a trade from the Giants to the Astros in July 2011 for Jeff Keppinger, Keith Bodie who is now managing the Corpus Christi Hooks, made a phone call. He called Ross Grimsley, pitching coach for San Francisco’s AA team in order to find out what the Astros were getting. According to Bodie, Grimsley told him, “This guy can be so much better than what he was here with us.” You see, Stoffel wasn’t truly bad with his 3.98 ERA and 1.579 WHIP in 32 appearances for Richmond, but those numbers weren’t about to excite anyone either.
Stoffel got to Corpus Christi and he put up somewhat worse numbers. In 18 appearances, he had a 5.63 ERA and a 1.688 WHIP. But I realize how volatile relief pitcher’s numbers can be and didn’t read too much into that. Stoffel got an invitation to participate in the Arizona Fall League which is something usually reserved for some of a system’s more elite prospects so I’m thinking that there has to be more to this guy than meets the eye. Well, that didn’t go all that well either. He ended up with a 6.87 ERA, a 2.182 WHIP and as many walks as he had strikeouts. Not his finest hour. So, I’ll admit it. I kind of forgot about him and he just wasn’t on my radar at all.
Then the new season started. Stoffel was with the Corpus Christi AA team again. But this time the results were different. Through April, he had a 1.93 ERA and a 0.549 WHIP. He kept it up through the end of May with a 1.54 ERA and a 0.900 WHIP. And now through June 24th, he has a 1.72 ERA, a 0.926 WHIP and 11 saves. Oh, and he’s an All-Star in the Texas League. This from a guy with a career 4.72 ERA and 1.445 WHIP prior to the 2012 season. How does that happen? It wasn’t an incremental improvement. It was as though a lightbulb went off somewhere.
I sat down and talked to Stoffel and his manager Keith Bodie earlier this month. Keith Bodie talked to me a great deal about his philosophy of player development and I learned much from him. Bodie preaches pitching to contact. Many of his pitchers fight that and pitch away from contact to get swing and misses. “This is the biggest battle I’ve had with these guys is you try to convince them to throw the ball in the middle of the plate. Throw the ball down the middle and you’re going to find out two things when you do that. One, you can’t throw it down the middle as much as you think you can and then it becomes a very good pitch. And when you throw the ball over the strike zone, they don’t hit it as well as you think they’re going to. And that’s what [they] have to learn.” He went on to say, “You have to share the baseball with your teammates.” In other words, pitch to contact and trust the players behind you.
What did Jason have to say about the change? “It’s been a mindset change for me. I kind of got away from trying to strike everyone out which I’ve been trying to do for the last few years and trusting my stuff and throwing it in the zone instead of maybe wasting a couple of pitches trying to get a strike out, and then I’m 3-2 on guys and walking people and just getting myself in trouble. I think that’s been a huge part of it.” Sounds like maybe Keith Bodie got through to at least one of his players.
Ross Grimsley had a bit more to say about Stoffel when he first came into the Astros system, “He’s got the ability. He’s got a lot more on his arm. He’s probably a 95-96 guy with an outstanding slider.” According to Bodie, “That’s what we’ve seen here. He’s coming in to his own. He’s got a lot more confidence and he’s pitching great and to me, he’s a big leaguer.” And Jason Stoffel is now officially on my radar.
When the Astros drafted Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa first overall, they picked the player with the most potential for impact – and most potential to become a complete bust – in the draft. A tremendous athlete, Correa has been lauded for his quick hands and potential at the plate, his grace and strong arm in the field, and his speed, Correa is a 6’3” shortstop approaching 200 pounds at age 17. Much of the commentary has focused on Correa’s potential and his age – Correa won’t turn 18 until September 22 (the same day as Tommy Lasorda will turn 85), which further underscores his potential for improvement, especially given the results of a groundbreaking study published by Rany Jazayerli at Baseball Prospectus.
After Correa signed quickly – and for under slot - there was a lot of buzz around whether the Astros picked the best available player, a player who would sign quickly for less than the maximum, or had hastily gone Matt Bush on the organization. Personally, I think it’s a great move. The Astros got a top flight talent at a premium position and saved some money to spread to other picks.
But I began to wonder out of the shortstops drafted out of high school in the first round of the major league draft:
- How many made it to the major leagues;
- Were successful major leaguers; and
- How many remained shortstops?
In order to answer these questions, I used MLB draft data from Baseball-Reference.com to pull all of the draft picks from 1990-2007 for the first two rounds. Here is the full data set via Google Docs (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AjuFn-ctXd3VdF9jQkVtMC03dE9TeENMYVg2SHZJOFE).
I filtered for:
- Listed position when being drafted, assuming the likelihood of a player moving TO shortstop was exceedingly low;
- Filtered for shortstop (as opposed to college players);
- Filtered for players drafted out of short stop; and
- Looked into only the first round (as second round picks would rarely be a prospect of the level of Correa).
Here’s what I found:
38 players fit the requirements, including:
- Successful picks (WAR over 15): Chipper Jones (1/1 Braves, 1990), Derek Jeter (1/6 Yankees, 1992), and Alex Rodriguez (1/1 Mariners, 1993);
- Good picks (WAR over 5): Pokey Reese (1/20 Reds, 1991), Michael Cuddyer (1/9 Twins, 1997), and Felipe Lopez (1/8, Blue Jays 1998);
- Interesting picks (for various reasons): Josh Booty (1/5 Marlins 1994) and Sergio Santos (1/27 Diamondbacks, 2002);
- Colossal flops: Brandon Wood (1/23 Angels, 2003) and Matt Bush (1/1 Padres, 2004); and
- Players whose places have yet to be determined: BJ Upton (1/2 Rays, 2002), Justin Upton (1/1 Diamondbacks, 2005), and Mike Moustakas (1/2 Royals, 2007) – though both Upton Brothers are already successful with WAR over 11.
As you may notice, the success rate is exceedingly low, with only a few players who are even potential hall of famers and almost as many players are colossal flops as good players. A total of 13 never made it to the major leagues in any capacity and five appearing in under 100 games.
- Chipper Jones: Basically a third baseman from the start of his major league, though he played a little time in left field and even less at short stop. What’s most amazing is was not even supposed to be the #1 pick – more on that here.
- Derek Jeter: A short stop from day one and has not played another defensive position in the major leagues (unless you count his games at DH). Not the greatest range but sure hands and makes it look good.
- Alex Rodriguez: Historic talent and historic centaur.
- Pokey Reese: Basically a defense-only player but, wow, could he pick it.
- Michael Cuddyer: According to Baseball-Reference.com, he has never played short stop in the major leagues, primarily a right fielder (731 games), first baseman (214 games), and a third baseman (214 games). Stopped playing shortstop after making 61(!) errors while playing for the Fort Wayne Wizards of the Midwest League at the age of 19.
- Felipe Lopez: One good offensive year (291/352/486 in 2005), but appeared in 1185 games across 11 major league seasons. He was a better hitter – and a worse fielder – than I realized.
- Josh Booty: After signing a contract reported to be worth $1.2 million, Booty struck out a lot and hit for some power. Gave up baseball after 1998 and went to LSU to be their starting quarterback before being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 6th round… and never appear in the NFL.
- Sergio Santos: Santos was a good prospect who never hit enough and made a lot of errors; then he became a relief pitcher and is laughing at all of us.
Players Whose Places Have Yet to be Determined:
- BJ Upton: Doesn’t walk, power is streaky, good center fielder. Looks like he will stall out in the “Good Pick” category.
- Justin Upton: The better of the Upton brothers (so far), could be a perennial MVP candidate and on pace to join the “Successful Pick” category.
- Mike Moustakas: Too little time to judge, but hitting 278/346/480 is a very good start.
So what does this mean?
Out of the 38, 13 (34%) never made it to the major leagues, 17 made it and had WAR below 5 (45%), for a total of 30/38 (79%). Of the successful ones, only Derek Jeter (98.6%), Felipe Lopez (53.5%), and Alex Rodriguez (51.5%) have primarily been shortstops. Pokey Reese primarily played second base with a fair amount of time at shortstop, Chipper Jones only appeared at shortstop more than six times once (38 in 1996), and Michael Cuddyer is the definition of a defensive tweener.
In short (pun intended), Carlos Correa is probably not going to reach his potential, but then again, neither are the rest of the first round picks, so the Astros made a great pick by grabbing for the stars because, frankly, you seem to have about as good of a chance of drafting Matt Bush with the #1 overall pick as picking Alex Rodriguez.
Also, because someone actually asked, here’s WAR for #1 overall picks that were drafted out of High School:
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
I know, I know … “one cool cat” has to be the lamest descriptor ever, but I couldn’t help myself. From the moment I met Jon (as he prefers to be called) last weekend in Corpus Christi where he plays with the AA Hooks team, the phrase kept popping into my brain unbidden. From the Long Beach area, Singleton has a California mellow vibe about him. Don’t get me wrong. He works as hard as anyone else on the team, but you can tell he’s having fun with it.
And why wouldn’t he be having fun? Going into the 2012 season, he was rated the number one prospect in the Astros organization by most, including Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. At the ripe old age of 20, he is ranked first in runs scored, fourth in walks, and fifth in slugging, OPS and RBIs in the extremely tough Texas league. And that’s after he’s been through a bit of a slump in the month of June.
Hooks Manager Keith Bodie had this to say about Singleton, “He has a chance to be a very special player. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen a lot of great hitters. For me, he’s one of the best young hitters that I’ve ever come across. Bat speed, discipline at the plate, tremendous first baseman, quality person, totally committed to baseball … the sky’s the limit for him. Across the board, he’s a special player.”
Hitting Coach Joel Chimelis added this, “For him to be a 20 year old and hit fourth in the lineup at AA, that’s not an easy task. People forget that. He’s improved so much [since the start of the season]. He may not see it or feel it but I see it. It’s amazing. [He] is a very hard worker, very good aptitude, wants to learn, very eager to learn.”
Chimelis went on to tell me about the things he’s been working on with Singleton. According to Chimelis, Singleton doesn’t realize how strong he is and tends to do too much with his body to generate power. He needs to simplify his swing to become more consistent and effort free. And Chimelis is working with the left-handed hitting Singleton to improve his skills against lefty pitchers, “Once he has the confidence that he can stay in there a little bit longer on the lefties, I think he’s gonna be fine because he has a pretty good strike zone awareness.”
I asked Singleton about his experience getting drafted out of high school. His advice for the new draftees? “It’s definitely a learning experience. It’s three or four years of your life that you really want to enjoy and have fun so just take your time. You shouldn’t be in any rush.”
Take your time. Enjoy yourself. Be cool. Jon Singleton obviously heeds his own advice.
Last week I wrote about a number of big prospects who struggled early in their careers but went on to be successful, from Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt to Matt Wieters. But a prospect struggling might be a cause for alarm, as history is also littered with top prospects that got to the major leagues and failed miserably.
1. Brandon Wood. It seems that Brandon Wood fooled everyone. A top pick when drafted (#23) by the Angels, Wood impressed from the beginning, hitting 278/348/475 for the Provo Angels and 308/349/462 for the AZL Angels, both part of different Rookie Leagues. The following season, Wood hit 251/322/404 for the Angels’ A-level affiliate in Cedar Rapids, garnering Baseball America’s #83 prospect ranking. The following season, Wood absolutely destroyed the ball in High A Rancho Cucamonga, putting up a 321/383/672 line with 43 home runs and 51 doubles. Wood’s stock skyrocketed, especially after his (Warning: SSS) 19 plate appearance trial in AAA, putting up a 316/316/526 line. Wood was ranked #3 by Baseball America. After a 276/355/552 line in AA Arkansas in 2006, Wood was ranked the #8 prospect by Baseball America; then #16 after a 272/338/497 line in AAA. Wood’s struggles in the major leagues have been well documented. After hitting 200/224/327 with 43 strikeouts in 157 PA while playing both shortstop and third base in 2008, Wood was sent back down to AAA. Wood’s trials in the major leagues never seemed to get any better, including an amazingly bad 146/174/208 line in 2010 in 226 plate appearances that included 71 strikeouts with just six walks. Wood fooled everyone, including Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein:
Me on Brandon Wood in 2005: “He’s still going to get better,” San Jose manager Lenn Sakata said. “He looks like the next Cal Ripken to me.”—
Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) March 12, 2012
2. Paul Wilson. Wilson had it all: A dominating career at Florida State, a lightning fastball, a dominating slider, and a 6’5″ 235 lb frame. Wilson was the #1 pick in the 1994 Rule IV draft and was immediately ranked the #16 prospect in baseball by Baseball America. After struggling in his brief audition in 1994, Wilson dominated in his first full season of professional ball, putting up a 2.17 ERA for AA Binghamton in 120.1 innings followed by a 2.85 ERA for AAA Norfolk over 66.1 innings. After the season, Wilson was ranked the #2 prospect in by Baseball America (behind Andruw Jones). Wilson spent most of 1996 with the Mets, putting up a 5.38 ERA (75 ERA+) across 149 innings. Wilson missed time while being on the DL with “tendinitis” in his shoulder, then came back to pitch the rest of the season before being diagnosed with a torn labrum and needing shoulder surgery. Wilson made a few appearances at the end of 1997 in the low levels of the minor leagues before struggling in 1998 in the upper levels. In the spring of 1999, Wilson had his elbow rebuilt and looked pretty good for the Mets’ AAA affiliate in 2000 before being dealt with Jason Tyner to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bubba Trammell and Rick White. Wilson looked great as the swingman for the Devil Rays, putting up a 3.35 ERA (148 ERA+) for the Rays. Over the next four seasons, Wilson put up a combined 4.67 ERA (92 ERA+) across 124 games (111 starts) for the Devil Rays and the Cincinnati Reds before struggling further in 2005 (7.77 ERA in 9 starts) and having surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff. Wilson retired early in 2006 after struggling in the minor leagues.
3. Joel Guzman. Joel Guzman serves as the ultimate cautionary tale whenever any team drafts or signs a big shortstop. For every Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, and Alfonso Soriano (laugh all you want, he was really good from 2002-2008), there are another 50 Joel Guzmans. Signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic in 2001 for a then-record $2.25 million, Guzman played rookie ball at age 17 (hitting 245/329/370) and in A and High A at age 18 (hitting 241/271/387). Guzman’s breakout came in 2004, when he hit 307/349/550 for the High A Vero Beach Dodgers in 357 plate appearances, before putting up a 280/325/522 line for the Jacksonville Suns of the AA Southern League. Guzman’s prospect status jumped after 2004, Guzman’s age-19 season, being ranked #5 by Baseball America. In 2005, Guzman (then 20) put up a solid 287/351/475 line, again in AA. In 2005 Guzman, never a particularly good defensive player, made 25 errors in 99 games at shortstop and another four in 21 games at second base. Guzman was also getting absolutely huge, growing to 6’7″ and being (kindly) listed at 225 lbs, with his reported weight much higher. Despite his size, Guzman was still ranked the #26 prospect by Baseball America, which clearly still believed strongly in his bat. In 2006, Guzman was hitting 297/353/464 for the AA Las Vegas 51s before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with Sergio Pedroza for Julio Lugo. Guzman was assigned to AAA Durham, where he struggled, hitting 193/228/386. After that, Guzman never really put it all together, appearing in 24 games in the major leagues and putting up a 232/306/321 line while primarily playing third base. Guzman, plying in AA for the Baltimore Orioles, hit 279/344/519 in his age 25 season, but he will never amount to more than a very large cautionary tale, as is discussed in this article on TrueBlueLA.
4. Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens. Meulens had it all: size (6’4″, 200 lbs), power, and a truly amazing nickname. Unfortunately he also swung at everything and often missed, which, coupled with a complete inability to consistently field a baseball, doomed him. Muelens burst onto the prospect scene by hitting 285/376/510 at AAA Columbus, then being ranked the #30 prospect by Baseball America. Muelens got a long look at the major league level in 1991, putting up a 222/276/319 line with 97 strikeouts in plate appearances, primarily playing left field. For his major league career, Muelens hit 220/288/353 with 165 strikeouts in 549 plate appearances. Of course, Muelens is now the hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants, which may explain why the Giants are, as a team, hitting 260/320/380 as a team, good for the 12th highest OPS in the NL.
5. Dallas McPherson. Drafted in the second round out of the Citadel in 2001, McPherson was supposed to be a slugging third baseman, and exploded onto the scene in his second full season with a 308/404/606 line with 18 home runs in 77 games for Ranch Cucamonga and a 314/426/569 line with 5 home runs in 28 games for AA Arkansas in 2003. After the season Baseball America ranked McPherson the #33 prospect in baseball. McPherson began the season back in AA Arkansas, where he hit 321/404/660 in 68 games before being moved up to AA Salt lake, where he put up a 313/370/680 line in 67 games. Brought up for a cup of tea in September, McPherson hit 225/279/475. After the season, McPherson was rated the #12 prospect by Baseball America. In 2005, McPherson opened the season as the Angels’ starting 3B, putting up a weak 244/295/449 line (OPS+ of 96) and has bounced between the minor leagues and the major league ever since. A typical AAAA slugger, McPherson hit 42 home runs for AAA Albuquerque in 2008, but has only appeared in 62 games in the major leagues since the end of 2005.
6. Todd Van Poppel. Todd Van Poppel was the best prospect in the 1990 draft; Chipper Jones was the first overall pick in the 1990 draft (and the player in the 1990 draft who had the best career). With a fluid motion, a dynamite fastball, and an ideal 6’5″, 210 lb frame, Van Poppel widely viewed as the best pitching prospect in nearly a decade. Van Poppel dropped as far as he did in the draft because he committed to the University of Texas and used it as leverage to scare other teams off with record-setting bonus demands. After telling the Atlanta Braves not to draft him (they took Jones), the Oakland A’s drafted him and gave him a then-record $1.2 million major league contract. After being assigned to low A Southern Oregon, Van Poppel looked the part of the future ace, putting up a 1.12 ERA in five starts across 24 innings, striking out 32. Upon his promotion to full season A for three more starts, Van Poppel put up a 3.95 ERA across 13.2 innings while striking out 17. Van Poppel also walked ten batters, a fact that was largely ignored due to his strikeout numbers and projections. After being named the #1 prospect by Baseball America, Van Poppel was assigned to AA Huntsville, where he pitched generally well, putting up a 3.47 ERA in 24 starts across 132.1 innings while striking out 115 and walking 90. Van Poppel made one start for the A’s, pitching 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, walking two, and striking out six, while allowing five runs. After the season, Van Poppel was ranked the #2 prospect in baseball (behind 1991 #1 pick, Brien Taylor). Sent to AAA for 1992, Van Poppel put up a 3.97 ERA in nine starts across 45.1 innings while striking out 29 and walking 35 for AAA Tacoma. 1992 was a lost year for Van Poppel, as he spent the bulk of the year on the DL. Despite the plunging strikeout to walk ratio, Baseball America ranked Van Poppel the #7 prospect in baseball, behind Chipper Jones, Taylor, Cliff Floyd, Carlos Delgado (then a catcher), Tim Salmon, and Wil Cordero. Splitting time in 1993 between AAA Tacoma and Oakland, Van Poppel put up a 5.83 ERA in AAA and a 5.04 ERA in the major leagues. From that point on, Van Popple struggled, putting up a career 5.58 ERA in the major leagues across 359 games with only 98 starts.
So, in short, your top prospect may never ever become what you had hoped so you should trade him for Adam Dunn. Right now.
Until next time, @HypeProspect.
As the attention of the sports world turned to Flushing, New York (not New York, New York, no matter how many times Jon Miller incorrectly identified it) last week and Seattle Washington last night, I pondered a number of questions about no-hitters, one the most random and fascinating events in sports.
Question 1: What was the longest no-hitter?
Answer 1: The longest a pitcher ever had a no-hitter (or perfect game) was Harvey Haddix on May 26, 1959. Haddix had a perfect game for 12 innings (ending with a Don Hoak error) and a no-hitter for 12.1 innings (a Joe Adcock sort-of-double ended the game). Adcock actually hit a home run to end the game, but Hank Aaron left the base paths after touching second base, so only Felix Mantilla was credited as scoring. His opponent was Lew Burdette, who allowed 12 hits, no walks, and struck two batters out in his 13-inning shutout. As a side note, Haddix absolutely dominated a very, very good Milwaukee Braves team that day. On that team were Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews (who would hit 306/390/593 that year), Hall of Famer Hank Aaron (355/401/636), and Joe Adcock (292/339/535); plus the Braves went 86-70. Of course, MLB later invalidated Haddix’s efforts, so the answer becomes more complex, as it’s either (a) Sam Kimber, who threw an 11-inning no hitter on October 4, 1884 or, if you don’t consider records before 1901, (b) the record becomes Hooks Wiltse, who threw 10 no-hit innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1908; Fred Toney, who threw 10 no-hit innings against the Chicago Cubs in 1917; and Jim Maloney, who threw 10 no-hit innings in 1965 against the Philadelphia Phillies. So, the answer is “it depends.”
Question 2: What was the earliest into a career a pitcher threw a no-hitter?
Answer 2: On October 4, 1891, Ted Breitenstein threw a no hitter in his first major league start (at the time there was no American League, just the National League and the American Association). After that, 21 rookies have pitched no-hitters, but the quickest was Bobo Holloman, a 30-year old rookie who made 22 appearances in the Majors and 301 in the minors, on May 6, 1953. Holloman also went 2/3 with 3 RBI that day – the only times on base and RBI of his career.
Question 3: What was the quickest into a team’s existence that a pitcher threw a no-hitter? (H/T Melissa for the question)
Answer 3: The Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), when Bill Stoneman threw a no-hitter on April 17, 1969, in the NINTH game of their existence. Sam Kimber threw a no-hitter for the Brooklyn Superbas (now the Los Angeles Dodgers, more on them later) on October 4, 1884 against the Toledo Blue Stockings. A number of teams have had one thrown in their second year of existence, including the Los Angeles Angels (Bo Belinsky in 1962), Houston Astros (then Colt .45′s, by Don Nottebart), and Chicago White Sox (Nixey Callahan). See the image below:
Question 4: Have any great pitchers been the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter for a team or just a lot of random pitchers?
Answer 4: It appears to be a solid mix of both. I don’t pretend to have great knowledge of baseball before the 1950s (or the 1980s other than Hall of Famers and random things), but a number of great pitchers are on the list, such as Cy Young, Randy Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson … and the list is also littered with utterly forgettable pitchers (I have already mentioned Bill Stoneman). History is littered with Hall of Fame pitchers who threw no hitters, including Pud Galvin, Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn (who you should follow on Twitter, seriously), Cy Young, Big Ed Walsh (who was listed at 6’1″, 193), Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, James “Catfish” Hunter, Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro, Dennis Eckersley (1977, with the Cleveland Indians), Bert Blyleven, and Tom Seaver (with the Reds – ugh). I would imagine this list Hall of Fame list will shortly include Randy Johnson.
Question 5: You said Randy Johnson was the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter for his team. Was it for the Diamondbacks or the Mariners?
Answer 5: Both. June 2, 1990 for the Mariners (their 14th season) and May 18, 2004 for the Diamondbacks (their 7th season). Johnson is the only pitcher to be on this list twice, though Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, or Johan Santana could join him if they play for the Padres or baseball expands again, or Bob Gibson bucks up and makes a comeback.
Question 6: What is the longest amount of time between a pitcher throwing no-hitters?
Answer 6: Cy Young threw three, his first on September 18, 1897 and his last on June 30, 1908 – a span of more than ten years. Bob Feller threw his first no-hitter on April 16, 1940 and his last on July 1, 1951 – a span of more than eleven years. Randy Johnson threw his first on June 2, 1990 and his second on May 18, 2004, a span of nearly 14 years. Nolan Ryan threw his first no-hitter on May 15, 1973 and his seventh on May 1, 1991, a span of nearly 18 years. Think about that – he went nearly 18 years between no-hitters when the average MLB career is ONLY 5.6 years.
Question 7: What is the shortest time between no-hitters?
Answer 7: For a single pitcher or a team, Johnny Vander Meer threw no hitters on June 11 and June 15, 1938 (more amazing is that, in those two starts he struck out 11 and walked 11). Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi caught them both. During a season, Gaylor Perry (with the San Francisco Giants) no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals (beating Cy Young and MVP Bob Gibson) on September 17, 1968. The following day, Ray Washburn of the Cardinals returned the favor, no-hitting the Giants (his pitching counterpart, Bobby Bolin went eight innings, allowing only two runs. Frank Linzy pitched the ninth after Bolin was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 8th).
Question 8: Has a team ever lost a no-hitter?
Answer 8: Amazingly, it has happened twice. The Houston Colt .45′s (now Astros) lost Ken Johnson‘s no-hitter on April 23, 1964 due to an error (by Johnson, no less), a groundout, and another error (this time by the second baseman). The winning pitcher was Joe Nuxhall, who pitched two-thirds of an inning in 1944 at the age of 15, allowing five runs on two hits and five walks. On April 30, 1967, Steve Barber walked TEN en route to picking up a 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Barber only went 8.2 innings, walking three in the ninth before Stu Miller came in to end the game. (Actually, that’s sort of false. Miller came in, got a FC with the batter reached on an error then got another FC, this time 5-6, to end the game.)
Question 9: Wasn’t Babe Ruth part of a no-hitter? He’s a Hall of Famer! Why didn’t you mention him?
Answer 9: Well, it was a weird game and Babe Ruth was in the game for zero outs. See, Ruth started the game by walking leadoff hitter Ray Morgan on four pitches. Ruth then argued with the umpire (he felt the umpire’s strike zone was incorrect), and was thrown out of the game. Ernie Shore came into the game and Morgan was caught stealing. Shore then retired the next 27 batters en route to a no-hitter. As a side note, Ernie Shore was absolutely huge for his era (and rather large for today). Don’t believe me? Check out this picture with the 6’2″ (listed) Ruth:
Question 10: So only the Padres who have not had a pitcher (or pitchers) throw a no-hitter?
Answer 10: That is correct; 6,896 games and counting – they’re in their 44th season.
Random things I noticed: Teams used to change names a lot, often going back and forth between names and using multiple team names at the same time.
- The Boston Red Sox were known as the Boston Pilgrims and the Boston Americans at the same time.
- The Los Angeles Dodgers were known as the Brooklyn Atlantics (1884), Brooklyn Grays (1885-1887), Brooklyn Bridegrooms (1888-1890), Brooklyn Grooms (1891-1895), Brooklyn Bridegrooms (again, 1896-1898), Brooklyn Superbas (1899-1910), Brooklyn Dodgers (1911 – 1912), Brooklyn Superbas (again, 1913), Brooklyn Robins (1914-1931), and Brooklyn Dodgers (again, from 1932 to 1957), and Los Angeles Dodgers (1958 to present).
- The Chicago White Sox have been known as the White Sox since 1901. The Detroit Tigers have been known as the Detroit Tigers since 1901. These appear to be the longest any team has been named the same thing and played in the same city.
- There were no teams added to the Major Leagues between 1901 and 1961.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
Last season, 19-year old RHP Mike Foltynewicz pitched for the LoA Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League. His record was 5-11 in 26 starts with a respectable, if unspectacular, ERA of 4.97 and WHIP of 1.493. This season, the 20-year old Foltynewicz is a Sally League All-Star with a 7-1 record, a 2.14 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP in 12 starts for Lexington. Batters are hitting only .218 against him (RHB .208/LHB .231).
A little background on “Folty” as he is often called ~ Folty was a first round pick by the Astros in 2010 out of high school in Minooka, Illinois, and was ranked by Jonathan Mayo as the number 5 prospect in the Astros system before the season started. When I talked to Folty in late April, his fastball was hitting 93-94 regularly, sometimes touching 96; he had a 4-seam circle change up that was “coming along real nice;” and a curveball that was night and day from the prior season.
When the season first started, I anticipated that Folty would repeat at LoA Lexington and spend the vast majority, if not all, of the season in that venue. But as I have seen him simply dominate the competition so far this season, I started to wonder whether an earlier promotion might be in the offing for him. He still needs to pitch deeper into games with more regularity and I’d like to see his walk rate tick down, but aside from that, I’m hard-pressed to see anything of significance that he has left to prove at the LoA level in terms of results.
However, what would normally be a fairly straightforward decision for the Astros brass gets a bit complicated because the next level would be HiA Lancaster in the California League. I only half jokingly refer to Lancaster as the place where pitcher’s dreams go to die. Desert winds of 40 mph routinely blow out to right field as demonstrated by Dirk Hayhurst of Bullpen Gospels fame in this video. Unless a pitcher has impeccable command and/or is an extreme groundball pitcher, pitching at Lancaster is not for the faint of heart.
Hence the question becomes, can Folty handle the Lancaster effect without it hurting his development or is he advanced enough to skip HiA altogether and be promoted to AA Corpus Christi in the very tough Texas League? He does have good command and he does have a tendency toward groundball outs (although I certainly wouldn’t classify him as an extreme groundball pitcher) so he might not be fazed by Lancaster. The Texas League, on the other hand, is a very talented league and a direct promotion there would not be easy by any means. Those are the questions. I don’t have the answers.
But in the meantime, I thought that I would go to the source and find out what Foltynewicz thinks he has accomplished so far this season and what he feels he still needs to improve upon to merit a promotion. This is what he told me via email earlier this week.
Season Accomplishments: “I can bear down and get out of jams, and get out of an inning to help my team get a W. Another thing is that I have been throwing my change up a lot more for strikes and an out pitch. I’m also [learning] how to basically attack hitters and read swings from batters, but there is always room to learn and improve and get better. I think I have come a long ways since I got drafted, with help from [Pitching Coach] Dave Borkowski and a lot of others.”
What He Still Needs to Improve Upon: “I need to improve on getting into the later innings, to save the bullpen and work my butt off to get out of the game with my team winning. Also I think I need to be striking more people out and walking less people. But I’ve been working on my fastball command every bullpen, and also trying to make my curveball sharper. But hard work will pay off. And it’s all coming together for me.”
Oh, and about that 93-94 fastball he was throwing in April? He’s getting a little more juice on it. “I don’t really know my velos that well. But some guys have been saying I sit 93-94 and hit 96-98 early innings and sometimes hit 96-97 in the late innings. The catcher from Hickory said I hit 99 that game on their gun, but I don’t know if that is accurate or not. But I’ve been feeling well lately and hope to continue my success.”
There you have it. Mike Foltynewicz is a very good young pitcher. He has the talent. He has the work ethic. He has a plan. He is executing that plan. The Astros brass may need to start figuring out what’s next for Folty because he’ll be ready sooner rather than later.
One of the most frustrating things is when a top prospect comes up and does not just fail, but falls flat on his face. One of the most recent, and frustrating, examples is San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt. After being drafted in the fifth round in the 2009 draft out of the University of Texas at Austin, Belt was assigned to High A and absolutely destroyed the ball, putting up a 383/492/628 line in 333 plate appearances before being promoted to AA, where Belt kept on hitting to the tune of a 337/413/623 line across 201 plate appearances. Belt was promoted to AAA for a brief 61 plate appearances, putting up a respectable 229/393/563 line to end the season. In 2011, Belt spent time in the major leagues, being played inconsistently by Manager Bruce Bochy while failing to produce with a 225/306/412 line and destroying AAA pitching to the tune of a 309/448/527 line. In 2012, Belt has had similar issues in the major league, putting up a much-improved 230/347/340 line while making an adjustment to stand more upright during his at bats.
But take heart Giants fans (or Royals fans for Eric Hosmer, or Rays fans for Matt Moore), there is a long, long list of great baseball players who were top prospects and struggled early on, eventually becoming great baseball players.
1. Michael Jack Schmidt. Chances are if you know more than three males born from 1975 through 1985, one of them will be named Michael or Jack (or Michael Jack) and there is a really good reason for this: Mike Schmidt was an amazing baseball player. Before he began putting up Hall of Fame numbers, Schmidt put up a putrid 196/324/373 line in 1973. Schmidt’s learning curve was steep, as he put up a 282/395/546 line, leading the National League with 36 home runs, 138 strikeouts (the following year he would strike out 180 times), and a .546 slugging percentage.
2. Matt Wieters. Matt Wieters was supposed to be the next big thing after he was drafted #5 overall by the Baltimore Orioles out of Georgia Tech in 2007. After being ranked the #12 prospect by Baseball America before playing a single professional game and #1 after putting up a 345/448/576 line in High A and a 365/460/625 line in AA in 2008. In 2009, Wieters put up a 305/387/504 line in AAA before being promoted to the major leagues. Wieters struggled his first few seasons in the major leagues, but has since turned into a consistent All-Star and Gold Glove winner who is consistently in the discussion for the best catcher in the league.
3. Edgardo Alfonzo. Before becoming one of the best second baseman in the league from 1999-2002, Alfonzo was a top prospect in the Mets organization, being ranked as the #74 prospect by Baseball America after the 1992 season and #31 prospect by Baseball America after the 1993 season. Alfonzo put up a 278/301/382 line in 1995 and a 261/304/345 line in 1996 before figuring it out in 1997 to the tune of a 315/391/432 line. Alfonzo’s peak was short due to back problems, but he was one of the most underrated baseball players, and a key cog for the Mets, in the late 90s and early 2000s.
4. Adrian Beltre. Beltre is one of the more fascinating career paths, from a top prospect (Baseball America ranked him the #30 prospect after a 1996 season where he hit a combined 284/366/519 at full season A and High A age 17 and then the #3 prospect after he hit 317/407/561 in High A in 1997). After putting up a 321/411/581 line in 64 games in AA as a 19 year old in 1998, Beltre hit 215/278/369 in 77 games for the Dodgers. Beltre played with varying levels of success for the next five years, putting up a combined 265/323/432 line before breaking out with an amazing 334/388/629 line in 2004, his contract year. After signing a five-year, $63 million contract with the Seattle Mariners, Beltre seemingly returned to his previous level, putting up a combined 266/317/442 line over five years. In 2010, Beltre finally put it all together for the Boston Red Sox, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense while putting up a 321/365/553 line, a level he has generally maintained during his season and two months with the Texas Rangers.
5. Jayson Werth. After being the #22 pick of the 1997 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Werth hit in every stop in the minor leagues and was consistently a highly-regarded prospect. Baseball America ranked him #52 after 1998 and #48 after 1999. After an off season in 2000, Werth bounced back after being dealt to the Blue Jays for Jason Bale and Baseball America ranked him #70 and then #94 after 2002. Werth then spent the next few years raking in the minors and struggling in the majors (albeit often with injuries), including being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jason Frasor. After having the Dodgers not offer him a contract, Werth signed with the Phillies as a free agent and finally broke out.
6. Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg was a 20th round pick by the Phillies in 1978, so he was not exactly the most highly regarded prospect until he hit 310/403/469 as a 20-year old in AA and 293/352/397 as a 21 year old in AAA, while stealing 32 bases both years, primarily as a shortstop. After being traded by the Phillies with Larry Bowa for Ivan de Jesus, Sandberg won the National League Rookie of the Year with a 271/312/372 line followed by a 261/316/351 line in his second year. Sandberg broke out in 1984, winning the MVP with a 314/367/520 line, cementing himself as the Cubs second baseman of the future.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Belt, Hosmer, and Moore will all bounce back and become great players (or even good ones, history is littered with top prospects who never panned out), but it should be noted that prospects often struggle early on and have very productive careers – not everyone can start a career like Ralph Kiner.
Of course, Giants fans can just keep checking for Brandon Belt trade rumors at MLBTradeRumors.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
The fastest player in the California League, if not all of professional baseball, is Cincinnati Reds shortstop Billy Hamilton.
Hamilton’s speed has long been viewed as both his calling card and his biggest assets. While attending Taylorsville High School in Taylorsville, Mississippi (also the hometown of Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jason Campbell), Hamilton signed a letter of intent to play baseball and football (as a wide receiver) at Mississippi State University Bulldogs. While at Taylorsville High School, Hamilton also starred on the basketball team, averaging 35 points per game. While his hitting approach was considered raw, Hamilton’s elite speed, bat speed, and athleticism earned considerable praise. Watch Hamilton hit and throw here:
After taking Arizona State right-handed pitcher Mike Leake with their first round pick (#8), the Reds took Southern California right-hander Brad Boxberger in the supplemental first round (#43), the Reds took Hamilton with the 57th overall pick. Shortly after the draft, Hamilton was asked if he was planning to attend MSU or sign with the Reds, and he replied: “I think I’m going [with] baseball. I really don’t know yet, but I’m pretty sure I am, though. I’d rather start my whole career off now rather than later.” Hamilton continued, saying that baseball was his first love and he was anxious to grab hold of the opportunity to play professional baseball.
Hamilton signed and was assigned to the Rookie Level GCL Reds of the Gulf Coast League and immediately struggled in his first experience in professional baseball, hitting a putrid 205/235/277, striking out 47 times in 43 games. One area where Hamilton had success was in stealing 14 bases despite only getting on base 45 times, showcasing his world-class speed. After the season, Hamilton was viewed as little more than a speedster with impressible tools and tremendous upside who was far from actualization. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Hamilton the #10 prospect in the Reds’ system, commenting that Hamilton is “far more of an athlete than a baseball player at this point” and Hamilton had “little feel for the strike zone,” as was evidenced by his high strike out total. Baseball America ranked Hamilton the #11 prospect, echoing many similar comments to Goldstein’s.
In 2010, Hamilton was held back in extended spring training for extra instruction before being assigned to the Rookie Level Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League, where the improvement was stark. In 69 games, Hamilton put up a 318/383/456 line with 13 doubles, 10 triples, and two home runs. More amazingly, Hamilton stole 48 bases in 57 attempts and struck out 56 times, or approximately three every five games. While in Billings, Hamilton played 13 games at shortstop and 55 games at second base, fueling speculation that the Reds did not view Hamilton as a shortstop in the long-term. After the season, the accolades began rolling in. Baseball America ranked Hamilton the #2 prospect in the Reds’ system, behind only Cuban fireballer Aroldis Champman, along with naming Hamilton the “Fastest Baserunner” and “Best Athlete,” and projecting him as the starting second baseman for the 2014 Reds. BP’s Kevin Goldstein ranked Hamilton the #3 prospect in the Reds’ system, behind Chapman and Devin Mesoraco, stating that “[i]f one could give a grade higher than 80 for speed, Hamilton would certainly earn it. He is arguably the fastest prospect in the game, with the kind of blinding speed that turns any ground ball to the left side into an adventure. He’s already a potent basestealer who swiped 48 bags in just 69 games and was safe on 29 of his last 30 attempts.” Goldstein questioned Hamilton’s ability to stay at shortstop, but commented that his value as a second baseman who bats leadoff was incredible. Goldstein ranked Hamilton the #46 prospect in all of baseball, comparable to Baseball America, who ranked Hamilton #50.
Around now is when I became aware of Billy Hamilton, from episode 19 of Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast, where Goldstein and Jason Parks each picked three prospects that they felt would have breakout seasons in 2011. While there were other players picked that were more universally renowned (Goldstein would later pick Bryce Harper) and Parks joked (maybe not as much of a joke) that he “wanted to pick all Royals.” After Parks picked Yankees’ catcher Gary Sanchez, Goldstein picked Hamilton as his “speed guy,” though Parks did not select that way. Goldstein stated that the issues with Hamilton were that he was from a small town in Mississippi and was very thin and not a classic athletic frame. Calling Hamilton “raw like sushi,” Goldstein discussed Hamilton’s issues in his first season in professional baseball and the work done by the Reds to make Hamilton into a better player, specifically pitch recognition, making contact, and using his speed to get on base. Projecting Hamilton as the type of guy who would hit .300, draw some walks, hit tons of triples, and steal 60 bases, Goldstein extolled his virtues while cautioning that Hamilton may never develop enough strength to become a good enough hitter to use his speed.
Assigned to the Full Season A Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League for 2011, Hamilton caused a buzz, hitting 278/340/360 with a mind-boggling 103 steals in 123 attempts. Hamilton’s season is more amazing when broken down by month or by half.
By Half (approximate – April through June and July through September):
The differences are stark: Hamilton hit 228/284/315 in the first half and 333/396/410 in the second half. While his isolated power was never impressive (and many of his doubles and triples were a direct product of his crazy speed), Hamilton’s batting average spiked in the second half as he showed improved plate discipline and improved contact rates. This can be shown by his improvement in SO/PA rate by month and half:
Hamilton’s strike out rate was higher for the first three months of the season than for any of the final three months, which coincided with his increased batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and nearly any other simple metric used to measure performance. Amazingly, Hamilton’s rates in July and September were lower than his overall rate, and his August rate was only slightly above his season average, truly splitting Hamilton’s seasons into two separate halves.
Unlike many young players appearing in their first grueling full season of professional baseball, Hamilton did not decrease his stolen base rate (0.75 SB/game in the first half and 0.77 SB/game in the second half) as the season wore on, even spiking in rate in September as he went all out in an attempt to steal 100 bases, stealing eight in his final four games.
After the season, the prospect prognosticators took note, as Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus ranked Hamilton the #22 prospect in baseball and the #1 prospect in the Reds organization, saying that Hamilton “has been known to go from first to third on singles to left field, has scored from second on sacrifice flies, and is a threat to steal both second and third whenever he reaches base.” Baseball America agreed, ranking Hamilton the #48 prospect in baseball and #2 prospect in the Reds organization (behind Devin Mesoraco). Baseball America further named Hamilton the “Fastest Baserunner” in the Cincinnati Reds’ system and the Midwest League, along with the “Best Athlete” in the Reds’ system, and the “Best Baserunner” in the Midwest League, all in 2011.
Entering 2012, there was a lot of focus as to how well Hamilton would be in the High A California League. While the California League is one of the most hitter-friendly leagues, if not the most hitter-friendly league, many hitters often abandon their approach in search of the long ball, causing many hitters to increase power numbers while increasing strikeout totals. Hamilton started the year by blasting a home run in his second plate appearance for the Bakersfield Blaze in the season opener. Through his first two months of the season, Hamilton put up a robust 319/395/448 line with an astonishing 57 stolen bases in 69 attempts. Despite only the single home run hit in the first game, Hamilton’s slugging percentage has been fueled by ten doubles and seven triples. Flying around the bases, Hamilton has been lighting up the California League while decreasing his strikeout rate (.8 per game for the season, down from 1 per game in 2011) while increasing his walk rate (.5 per game, up from .39 per game).
In responding to a question about Hamilton turning into Joey Gathright (basically an athlete with great speed who never put it all together despite being able to jump over a car), Goldstein responded, “He’s way better than Gathright, and faster. Almost zero chance to stay at SS, and I think they should move him to CF today.” Moving Hamilton to centerfield has been a common refrain, with Ben Badler of Baseball America stating “I think the Reds will try to keep him [at shortstop], but when you have the fastest player in all of baseball, I’d just put him in center field and let his speed take over.” Matthew Eddy of Baseball America echoed similar sentiments but for a slightly different reason, stating that Hamilton is “facing a likely shift to center field if he plays his way off shortstop.”
But how fast is Billy Hamilton?
From Baseball America’s Jim Callis:
From the ever-entertaining duo at Productive Outs:
From Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein:
Of course, if you don’t believe them, check out a few amazing facts unearthed by Baseball Prospectus’ Sam Miller:
- Pitchers have committed three balks while Billy Hamilton was on base.
- Billy Hamilton has scored from third when the catcher threw to first to complete another batter’s strikeout.
- And Billy Hamilton scored the walk-off run on April 20 on a sacrifice fly. To the second baseman.
Of course, what’s most amazing is that it appears that Billy Hamilton has no nickname. I have seen a few referring to him as “Sliding Billy” in reference to Hall of Famer Billy Hamilton, but he played more than 100 years ago (though he was also a great base stealer – stealing 100 four times and 914, good for third all time, for his career) in an entirely different era. Hamilton needs his own nickname and I think this is as good as a situation as any to come up with one.
I’m going to propose a few, please feel free to vote for one or tweet at me and I will add your suggestion to the list.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
By Chuck Vanderbilt
For baseball fans that follow prospects closely, there are few days better than draft day. Tonight the 2012 MLB Draft will be televised on MLB Network at 7pm eastern. It’s easy for fans to get excited about the draft and speculate on the future of their favorite team. As a life long Astros fan, draft day has been marked on my calendar since the last regular season game of the 2011 season knowing that they would make the first selection in tonight’s draft. Being a fan of a team that lost 106 games in 2011, and is currently 7.5 games out of first in the NL Central, there will be few days during the 2012 season better than today.
Tonight’s draft allows fans of poorly performing teams, like myself, to take the focus off the current record or farm system rankings and instead allows us to look ahead at better days to come. However, drafting productive baseball players is far from a science. Despite the trending use of statistical formulas, algorithms, simulated projections, and heavy abacus usage, there are simply too many human elements that can’t be measured much less predicted.
Tonight Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and his team of scouts will have the pleasure of making the first selection in the 2012 MLB Draft, a previlage many general managers don’t want too often. While this could be considered a great situation to be in, it surely places Luhnow in a tight spot. With a depth chart that cries for immediate help, the Astros organization can not afford to be wrong with their draft selections, much less the first pick overall. Luhnow also has to weigh the decision to go with the popular philosophy of drafting the best talent available versus drafting a player that can quickly reach the Major Leagues. Either way, no one will really know if the decision that is made will be the right one for quite some time.
As the draft unfolds, fans must also keep in mind that first round picks are not locks to become solid Major League contributors. Plenty of prospects that were considered to be future stars fizzled out somewhere along the way. On the other hand, there have been plenty of players drafted in later rounds that have become perennial All-Stars. Whether your favorite team is in a state of rebuilding, or simply missing pieces to get over the hump, being right on draft day is necessary to have an organization that wins on a consistent basis.
With all that in mind, for tonight let’s sit back and watch as some of the game’s best college and prep prospects hear their name called and have their dreams realized. This will certainly be a night they won’t soon forget. For tomorrow, and each day after, check back with us here at The Futurists.
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ChuckVanderbilt
As I walked back to my apartment from dinner Friday night, I noticed that I had a lot of text messages – a rarity as I do not text much – and I realized that Johan Santana had thrown the first no-hitter in the history of the New York Mets.
Though many people know Santana’s exploits in the major leagues – the Cy Young awards, the sub-1 WHIPs – Santana’s path was anything but ordinary. In 1995, the Houston Astros signed Santana out of Venezuela as a center fielder. Due to his arm strength, left-handedness, and perceived inability to become a major league hitter, Santana was soon converted to a pitcher. After finally being granted a visa, Santana was assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Astros, where he put up a 7.93 ERA across nine games (five starts) and 36.1 innings. Promoted to the Short Season A Auburn Doubledays of the New York Penn League, Santana made one four-inning start to end the season, allowing just one run and one hit, walking six and striking out five.
To start the 1998 season, Santana was held back in extended spring training, and was sent back to Auburn in June, striking out 88 while walking 21 in 86.1 innings over 15 starts, putting up a 4.36 ERA. At the end of the season, Santana made two appearances for the full season A Quad Cities River Bandits of the Midwest League. Santana struggled in his two appearances, putting up a 9.45 ERA over 6.2 innings.
In 1999, Santana had his best season pitching for the Michigan Battle Cats of the Midwest League, putting up a 4.66 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) over 160.1 innings, striking out 150 and walking 55 in his age-20 season.
After the season, the Astros left Santana unprotected in the Rule V draft, and, just two years after losing Bobby Abreu in the 1997 Expansion Draft, the Florida Marlins selected Santana with the second pick of the 1999 Rule V draft. The Marlins then dealt Santana to the Minnesota Twins for Jared Camp, the first pick of the 1999 Rule V draft.
The Rule V draft is fascinating, as to be eligible for the Rule V draft, a player:
- Is not included on the 40-man roster of the organization holding his contract; and
- Has been in the minors and/or majors for at least four years, if he was signed after his 19th birthday; or
- Has been in the minors and/or majors for at least five years, if he was signed before his 19th birthday.
In short, to hold onto Santana, all the Astros had to do was put him on the 40-man roster. However, to hold onto Santana, the Twins were required to keep Santana on their major league roster for the 2000 entire season, something that is difficult to do when a young player has not played at a level even close to the majors. The Twins, sensing the talent in Santana, kept him on the roster as the entire season as the long man and a spot starter, appearing in 30 games, pitching 86 innings with a 6.49 ERA. In 2001, Santana served in a similar role, pitching 43.2 innings with a much-improved 4.74 ERA before straining his left elbow flexor and missing two months.
In 2002, Santana was to be turned back into a starter and opened the season in the minor leagues for the first time in two years, putting up a 3.14 ERA across 48.2 innings for the AAA Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League before being brought back to Minnesota. Santana started to show his talent, putting up a 2.99 ERA in 27 games (14 start) for the Twins, striking out 137 and walking 49.
In 2003, Santana opened the season as a middle reliever for the Twins, putting up a 1.59 ERA in his first 11 appearances. Santana made a spot start, going five innings against the high-powered offense of the Boston Red Sox, allowing no runs in five innings. After seven more relief appearances with a 6.52 ERA, Santana became a starter for the duration of the season, putting up a sparkling 3.22 ERA across 92.1 innings, putting up an 8-2 record. During the 2003 season, Santana put up a 3.07 ERA across 45 games (18 starts) while striking out 169 batters and walking 47 batters. Despite the seemingly pedestrian statistics (though the 3.07 ERA was good for a 148 ERA+), Santana picked up one fifth-place Cy Young vote.
In 2004, Santana dominated, putting up a 2.61 ERA across 228 innings, striking out 265 with a 20-6 record. Even more amazing was the second half of Santana’s season. After putting up a 3.78 ERA in 19 starts across 123.2 innings, Santana overwhelmed opponents with a 1.21 ERA across 15 starts over 104.1 innings while averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Even more amazing was Santana’s final six starts of the season, all in September. Across 40 innings, Santana allowed only two runs (both earned), while striking out 52. After the season, Santana was awarded the American League Cy Young award.
Over the next three years, Santana established himself as one of the most reliable and dominating pitchers in the major leagues, winning another Cy Young, coming in third place and fifth place one time each. From 2004 through 2007, Santana put up a 70-32 record, striking out 983 while walking 198 and allowing 705 hits. In 2005, Santana went 16-7 with a 2.87 ERA. In 2006, Santana went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 245 to lead the league in strikeouts for the third consecutive season. Additionally, Santana won the pitching triple crown, leading the American league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. In 2007, Santana seemed to take a step backwards, put up a 3.33 ERA across 219 innings and had his first WHIP higher than 1.000 since 2003.
After the season, the Twins, fearing Santana would leave as a free agent after his contract expired after 2008, looked for a team willing to give up multiple top prospects. Rumors swirled around multiple large-market franchises, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees. The Yankees were rumored to be offering a number of packages involving different prospects, including Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, Jeffrey Marquez, Ian Kennedy, and Jhonny Nunez. The Red Sox were dangling a number of packages as well, including packages that included a combination of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, and veteran Coco Crisp. The Dodgers were dangling packages involving prospects Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, who was viewed as the best pitching prospect at the time.
While the Mets were rumored to be involved, they refused to part with top prospect Fernando Martinez, thereby significantly decreasing the possibility they would acquire the ace. In the end, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers were unable to acquire Santana and it was the dark-horse Mets who acquired Santana for Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, and Kevin Mulvey.
The Mets, fresh off one of the largest collapses in baseball history (at that point, possibly only eclipsed by the 2004 Yankees in the ALCS and the 1964 Phillies), needed to acquire another arm and make a splash. Without giving up their top prospect, Fernando Martinez (#20 in Baseball America), the Mets were able to acquire one of the best pitchers in the game. In the deal, the Mets paid a high price, as Deolis Guerra (#35 in Baseball America) was fresh off a season in High A St. Lucie as an 18-year old, an age most people are finishing up High School, Carlos Gomez (#52 in Baseball America, after being #60 in the previous year) showed significant upside in his brief trial with the Mets, Humber struggled in AAA after being the #3 overall pick in 2004, and Mulvey showed a lot of promise in AA after being a second round pick in 2006. In short, while the Mets did not give up their top prospect, they gave up a lot of talent to acquire Santana.
In 2008, Santana did not disappoint. Leading the National League with 34 starts, 234.1 innings, and 964 batters faced, Santana put up a 2.53 ERA and capped the season with one of his best starts of the season in the 161st game of the season, a sparkling 117-pitch complete game shutout, allowing three hits and walking three more, striking out nine against the Florida Marlins. Unfortunately, the Mets struggled to complete the season yet again, missing out on the playoffs in the final day. After the season, Santana had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.
In 2009, Santana pitched well, putting up a 3.13 ERA across 25 starts before being shut down in late August due to bone chips in his throwing shoulder after the Mets fell out of contention. Santana would return in 2010, putting up a 2.98 ERA in 29 starts across 199 innings before being shut down in September due to an Anterior Capsule Tear. A capsule is a soft tissue envelope that helps to attach to the scapula, humerus, and the head of the bicep. Due to this injury, Santana missed nearly the entire 2011 season, only making two appearances at High A St. Lucie.
In 2012, Santana returned with a vengeance, striking out 68 in 68 innings, and leading the National League with 11 starts and two complete game shutouts, including the no hitter on June 1, the first in Mets history – 8,020 games.
After the game, Santana addressed the Mets, saying, “[t]onight we all made history, that’s all that matters. I give it to you guys, because you guys made it happen.” Santana’s game was amazing for a number of reasons, it was the first time he had fewer than three hits in a complete game and the most pitches he ever threw in one game, with his 134 pitches amounting to nine more than he had ever thrown in a professional baseball game.
By sheer coincidence (or was it?), the next day I attended a Baseball Prospectus event at CitiField where I, along with a number of other baseball fans, had the opportunity to hear a number of baseball writers including Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks and Ben Lindbergh; BP and SI.com’s Jay Jaffe; and MLB.com’s Corey Schwartz. Additionally, there was a 30-minute question and answer session with Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson. Alderson opened by discussing Santana’s outing, discussing Manager Terry Collins’ decision to allow Santana to throw 134 pitches despite only recently coming back from shoulder surgery. Alderson, while showing a clear preference for not allowing Santana to throw 134 pitches, commented that “probabilities, mathematics take a back seat to emotion,” showing his support for Collins’ decision.
In the end, Santana’s no hitter, the first in Mets’ history, was something that he will remember for years and so will a great a number of Mets, former teammates, and sports fans. But the best comment is from Johan Santana himself:
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.