Results tagged ‘ New York ’

No Hitters – Quickest First No Hitter, Slowest to First, and So Much More

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:

First No Hitters List

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, 1968The 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:

Ernie Shore, Babe 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.

  1. The Boston Red Sox were known as the Boston Pilgrims and the Boston Americans at the same time.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. There were no teams added to the Major Leagues between 1901 and 1961.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


Post Hype Prospect – Bobby Abreu

When the Angels placed Bobby Abreu on waivers on April 27, I wondered if this would be the end of the line for one the most successful players in baseball history.  Fortunately, or unfortunately if you watched Abreu leave three runners on base in two at bats on May 4, the Dodgers picked him up and immediately placed him on their major league roster.
In the interest of full disclosure, Bobby Abreu has always fascinated me.  He never really looked like a great athlete (though he clearly is in great shape), he never looked like he was trying, and he never put up monster numbers, but at the end of nearly every season for 13 years he ended up with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.  He drove in at least 100 eight times, scored 100 another eight, and went 30/30 twice. He was a great right fielder, but was notoriously allergic to walls, and stole bases whenever the pitcher was not paying enough attention.  In the end, Bobby Abreu was a truly singular baseball player whose talents were never fully appreciated – unless you were playing fantasy baseball.

Bob Kelly Abreu was signed by the Houston Astros as an international free agent out of Venezuela in August 1990, just months after his 16th birthday.  Assigned to the GCL Astros of the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, Abreu put up an amazing 301/358/372 line.  While that line may not look amazing at first blush, had Abreu been born in the U.S., Puerto Rico, or Canada, Abreu would be about to start his senior year of High School, not playing professional baseball.  In 1992, Abreu was assigned to the Astros’ full season A Level Southern Atlantic League affiliate, the Asheville Tourists.  Abreu more than held his own, putting up a 292/375/402 line as the third youngest player in the Southern Atlantic League.  Tough Abreu only hit eight home runs in 549 plate appearances, he displayed a mature approach by walking 63 times and hit 21 doubles.  Baseball America took notice after the season, ranking Abreu the #95 prospect in all of baseball despite being 18 and having just completed his first full season of professional baseball.

In 1993, Abreu was sent to the High A Osceola Astros of the Florida State League where he put up a 283/352/430 line across 530 plate appearances.  Abreu’s line for 1993 is, to say the least, fascinating.  He hit 21 doubles, 17 triples (which lead the FSL, but the home park may have been a factor, as Abreu was one of six Oscola Astros who had at least six triples), and five home runs (down from eight in 1992).  Abreu stole 10 bases, but was thrown out 14 times.  Abreu walked 51 times (17th in the FSL out of 100 players with at least 149 PA), but struck out 90 times (tied for 9th most).  Abreu was still viewed as a top prospect, but was not ranked by Baseball America in their top 100.

In 1994, Abreu broke out – putting up a great 303/368/530 line across 451 plate appearances for the Jackson Generals of the AA Texas League.  Though his walks further decreased to 42, Abreu hit 25 doubles, 9 triples, and 16 home runs – finally appearing to realize his power potential.  Abreu’s stock as a prospect was spiking, as Baseball America rated him the #52 prospect in baseball.

In 1995, Abreu spent the entire year playing for the Tucson Toros of the AAA Pacific Coast League, putting up a solid, if not spectacular, 304/395/516 line while hitting 24 doubles, 17 triples, and 10 home runs.  He still got caught stealing too much (14 in 30 attempts), but there was significant offensive growth and actualization.  Baseball America rated Abreu the #29 prospect in all of baseball (and immediately ahead of Jermaine Dye) with many prospect prognosticators praising his plate approach and defense, along with his power potential.

Despite the Astros’ mediocre outfield in 1996 (Brian Hunter, Derek Bell, and James Mouton had the most plate appearances, with significant playing time from Derrick May and John Cangelosi), Abreu returned to Tucson for another season in AAA.  Abreu put up a 283/389/459 line, showing improved plate discipline (83 walks in 573 plate appearances) and a better approach to base running (24 stolen bases in 42 attempts), with 14 doubles, 16 triples, and 13 home runs.  Abreu was called up to the Astros in September, putting up a 227/292/273 line across 24 PA.  While the overall line does not look good, it is important to note that, at 22 years old, Abreu was one of the youngest players in the major leagues and, more importantly, 24 PA is such a tiny sample size that it is statistically insignificant.  Unconcerned with the poor big league showing, Baseball America rated Abreu the #38 prospect in all of baseball after 1996, behind Eli Marrero.

In 1997, Abreu began the season with the Astros, appearing in 20 out of the Astros’ first 26 games, putting up a 271/386/457 line while primarily playing right field.  Abreu struggled in May, and went on the disabled list on May 25 with a fractured right hand.  Abreu was on the disabled list until July 3, when he returned to the Astros for almost two weeks, putting just seven plate appearances across five games.  Abreu was sent down to the minors, where he put up a combined 262/329/379 in AA and AAA (the AA portion appears to be part of his rehab, but I cannot find game logs to confirm this).  Abreu returned to the Astros on September 1, putting up a 294/333/471 line over 14 games to close out the season to finish with a 250/329/372 line at the major league level.  All told, 1997 was not a successful year for Abreu.  Despite spending most of the 1997 season with the Astros, he had not performed particularly well and missed significant time with an injury.

On November 18, 1997, Major League Baseball held an expansion draft in order to put major league players on the rosters of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Each team was allowed to protect a number of players, and the Astros decided to protect Richard Hidalgo instead of Abreu.  With the 6th overall pick, the Devil Rays selected Abreu and, immediately after the draft, traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Kevin Stocker.  The Devil Rays GM, Chuck LaMar, wanted Stocker, who was known for his strong defense and complete lack of offensive ability, and was willing to give up the soon-to-be 24 year old Abreu for the soon-to-be 28 year old Stocker.  The Phillies’ GM, Ed Wade, should be commended for this move.  Though the 1998 Phillies would have to use Desi Relaford as their shortstop, Abreu would hit from day one (literally, he went 2/6 on Opening Day against the Mets) for the Phillies.

In 1998, Abreu put up an impressive 312/409/497 line (with 14 intentional walks), beginning his long and successful career.  Abreu has put up an OPS+ of at least 104 in every season from 1998 through 2011, but has struggled so far in 2012.  Playing without a position for the Angels, Abreu put up a 208/259/333 line in eight games before being released.  The Dodgers picked up Abreu, with formerly-mustachioed Manager Don Mattingly stating that Abreu “gives [the Dodgers] a chance to be a little bit better.”

In the end, Bobby Abreu pretty much turned out to be the player he was projected to become, with a career 293/396/480 slash line (129 OPS+), with 284 home runs, 393 stolen bases, 2390 hits, 1414 runs, and 1330 RBI.  Abreu’s ability to hit line drives and patience at the plate have been his calling card, racking up 558 doubles in his career, good for 25th all time and 2nd amongst active players (only 3 behind Todd Helton).

So is this the end for Abreu?  At this point, Abreu has become a “lefty bat off the bench” who can occasionally play the outfield.  While he has put up great career numbers, he lacks the “wow” factor that voters often require when voting someone into the Hall of Fame, and he was only elected to two All Star Games, awarded one Silver Slugger, and awarded one Gold Glove.  This lack of awards, despite winning the 2005 Home Run Derby, will doom Abreu to being part of the Hall of Very Good – which is quite an accomplishment.  Abreu is currently 98th with 9,703 career plate appearances – a place surrounded by Hall of Famers and legends, such as Ted Simmons (100), Willie McCovey (99), Julio Franco (97), and Richie Ashburn (96).

How will Abreu be remembered?  As a very good player who put together a long, successful career in baseball and the fact that he has made in excess of $115 million in his career while flying under the radar.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


Non-Hype Prospect – Lucas Duda

Lucas Duda – Where did he come from?

One of the most fascinating things in baseball prospecting, at least for me, isn’t the top prospect who becomes the great player (though that is pretty cool).  For me, one of the most fascinating things is when the non-prospect, the non-top-pick makes a splash in the major leagues.  One of the sudden splashes over the past few years is Mets OF/1B, Lucas Duda.

After attending Arlington High School in Riverside, California, Duda was not selected in the Rule IV draft and went to the University of Southern California, where he, well, played for three years.  The vast majority of people who play professional baseball, even ones who never make the major leagues, dominated in college, putting up numbers more associated with video games than reality.  Duda was not one of them, as he put up a 208/322/299 slash line as a freshman in 2005, a 298/391/398 as a sophomore in 2006, and a 280/378/468 line as a junior in 2007.  While his numbers look good as a sophomore and a junior, the USC Trojans team hit a composite 313/398/423 slash line in 2006 and 286/369/399 in 2007.

Nevertheless, Omar Minaya and his staff saw something and drafted Duda with the 29th pick of the 7th round (243rd overall) of the 2007 draft, signed him for $85,000, and assigned him to the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season A affiliate in the New York Penn League.  Duda put up a tremendous 299/398/462 slash line in 67 games, resulting in Baseball America ranking Duda the #29 prospect in the Mets system.  In 2008, the Mets assigned Duda to the St. Lucie Mets, their affiliate in the High A Florida State League, a league that is traditionally difficult on hitters.  Duda had a solid year in St. Lucie, putting up a 263/358/398 line with 11 home runs.  For context, only three hitters hit more than 15 home runs, Ryan Strieby, Brian Dopirak, and Juan Francisco; Brennan Boesch hit 7 in 461 PA, J.P. Arencibia and Logan Morrison hit 13 each.  After the season Baseball America rated Duda the #20 prospect in their system.

In 2009, Duda was assigned to the Binghamton Mets in the AA Eastern League, where he put up a 281/380/428 line across 110 games.  In mid August, Duda strained his knee, keeping him out for the next two weeks.  Though Duda’s line showed impressive patience, it lacked power, something a slow-footed 1B/OF must show in order to get promoted.  Duda failed to make Baseball America’s list of top 30 Mets prospects and returned to Binghamton to start 2010.  Primarily playing left field with Nick Evans, Josh Satin, and Marshall Hubbard manning the first sack, Duda crushed AA pitching, putting up a 286/411/503 line across 45 games before being promoted to the International League’s Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ AAA affiliate in mid-June.  Duda hit even more in AAA, putting up a 314/389/610 line in 70 games in Buffalo, while primarily playing left field, with Mike Jacobs and Nick Evans (he was promoted in early July) primarily playing first base.  The Mets brought Duda up when rosters expanded in September, showing patience, power, and a massive hole in his swing while putting up a 202/261/417 line across 29 games, all in left field.  Suddenly, baseball writers took notice, with Baseball America ranking Duda the Mets’ #7 prospect and’s Jonathan Mayo naming Lucas Duda the Organizational Player of the Year for putting up a 304/398/569 line across AA and AAA with 23 homers and 87 RBI.

2011 started with Duda playing for the Mets as Jason Bay missed the first part of the season.  After being sent back to Buffalo on April 10, Duda returned to the Mets for two days in early May, but for the most part remained in Buffalo for two months with Jason Bay in left field and Ike Davis at first base for the Mets.  Duda put up an impressive 302/414/597 line with ten home runs in 38 games while playing 16 games in right field, 18 games in left field, and 8 games at first base.  Called up by the Mets on June 9, Duda proved that he belonged in the big leagues.  Splitting time between first base (43 games, 37 starts) and right field (42 games, 38 starts), with a little bit of left field mixed in (4 games, all starts), Duda put up an impressive 292/370/482 line before being shut down for the season in late September after crashing into a wall.

In 2012, Duda has been the Mets primary right fielder, putting up a 256/337/436 line while playing some of the worst outfield defense in the league with a -7.2 UZR and a -50.4 UZR/150 (according to Fangraphs), which would absolutely destroy Manny Ramirez’s -28.3 UZR/150, which is the worst defender since 2002, as calculated by Fangraphs.  I don’t mean to pick on Duda, but having seen outfields of Endy Chavez, Carlos Beltran, and Cliff Floyd or Shawn Green, or Beltran, Floyd, and Mike Cameron, it is stark how little ground Duda covers and how poor his routes to batted balls often happen to be.   That being said, Duda is being paid large sums of money to hit, and that he has done at a rate higher than the average major leaguer.

So what should we expect from Duda going forward?  I think Duda will be a solid #5 or #6 hitter going forward, but I don’t think he will ever become an elite #3 or #4 hitter, and if a team is forced to rely upon his bat too much, they could be in for a lot of trouble.   As big as Duda is, and as long as his swing appears to be, Duda does not strike out that much, only striking out 57 times in 347 PA in 2011.  Of course, in Duda’s slower start in 2012, he has struck out 21 times in 22 games, meaning that his low strike out rate in 2011 may have been a mirage due to pitchers not being familiar with Duda.

That being said, any contribution from Duda is impressive – he is one of three 7th round picks from the 2007 draft to make the majors, with Orioles outfielder Matt Angle (#219 overall) appearing in 31 games in 2011, and Diamondbacks pick Bryan Augenstein (#223) appearing in 7 games with the Diamondbacks in 2009 and 5 games with the Cardinals in 2011.  It’s also important to note that Duda is one of the two Mets picks in the first 20 rounds (23 overall) of the 2007 draft that made the major leagues.  The other is Mets’ supplemental first round pick (#42 overall) Eddie Kunz, who has, to put it mildly, not pitched up to his draft status.  Of course, before saying that Duda was the best pick in the 2007 draft for the Mets, it’s necessary to note that Duda has produced 0.8 WAR (according to Baseball Reference), but 21st round pick Dillon Gee has produced 2.3 WAR.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


Non-Hype Prospect – Heath Bell

It is often said that Americans love the narrative of the underdog.  That is only partially true: the whole world loves the underdog.  We root for the upset; we root for the improbable; we root for the statistically improbable.  There’s nothing the world loves more than David taking out Goliath (unless, of course, we have Goliath on our fantasy team).  The prospect equivalent to David is the undrafted free agent.  A player so undesired, whose desire to play professional baseball is so unrequited, that no team values them highly enough to say their name on a conference call.  Many of these players are signed and never make it out of A ball, but a select few make the show and become stars including, but not limited to, Larry Bowa, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Leyritz.

Much has been made about how Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988, but he was drafted (albeit as a favor to his father by his godfather, Tommy Lasorda).  The subject of this article is three-time All-Star Heath Bell, a pitcher who placed 8th in the 2010 National League Cy Young Award vote.  Despite lettering in football, basketball, and baseball while attending Tustin High School in Tustin, California, Bell failed to impress scouts and was not drafted.  Bell attended Santiago Canyon College and was named a freshman All-American in 1997.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected Bell in the 69th Round of the 1997 draft.  The 69th round had a total of three picks (neither of which appeared to play any professional baseball at any point), the final of which was Bell.   Bell didn’t sign with the Devil Rays and made two appearances for the El Dorado Broncos in the National Baseball Congress World Series.  Alas, Bell was not drafted in 1998 and signed with the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998.

Bell impressed from the start, a 2.54 ERA and 61 strike outs in 22 games (46 innings) at Kingsport of the Rookie Level Appalachian League in 1998 earned him a promotion to the Mets full season A affiliate for 1999, the South Atlantic League’s Capital City Bombers.  In Capital City, Bell put up a 2.60 ERA with 68 strikeouts across 62.1 innings.  In 2000, Bell appeared in 48 games for the St. Lucie Mets, the Mets’ affiliate in the High A Florida State League.  In St. Lucie, Bell continued to excel, striking out 75 in 60 innings while putting up a sparkling 2.55 ERA.

Bell hit his first bump in 2001, when he was promoted to the Mets’ affiliate in the Eastern League, the Binghamton Mets.  Bell appeared in 43 games, striking out 55 and putting up a 6.02 ERA.  Bell returned to Binghamton in 2002 and put up an electric 1.18 ERA while striking out 49 in 38 innings.  Bell was promoted to the Norfolk Tides, the Mets AAA affiliate in the International League, and pitched reasonably well, putting up a 4.26 ERA with 28 strike outs in 31.2 innings.  In 2003, Bell put up a lackluster 4.71 ERA at Norfolk, while striking out 44 in 49.2 innings.  After the season, it was revealed that Bell had a stress fracture in his right arm that Mets team doctors failed to diagnose.

After one two-inning appearance in Binghamton to start 2004, Bell was promoted to Norfolk, where he put up a 3.12 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, earning Bell a September call up to the Mets where he put up a respectable 3.33 ERA with 27 strikeouts across 24.1 innings.  In 2005, Bell began riding the “Heath Bell Express”, as he was shuttled between AAA Norfolk and New York as the Mets whenever the Mets needed another bullpen arm.  Bell put up a 1.69 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.59 ERA for the Mets.  Bell clashed with Mets’ Pitching Coach Rick Peterson, who put the kibosh on Bell’s weight-losing in-line skating that helped him lose weight during spring training.  In 2006, Bell resumed riding the “Heath Bell Express” as he put up a 1.29 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.11 ERA for the Mets.

In mid-November, the Mets dealt Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the San Diego Padres for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins.  Acquiring Bell paid immediate dividends for the Padres.  After putting up a 2.02 ERA over 93.2 innings in 2007, Bell put up a 3.58 ERA over 78 innings in 2008.  In 2009, longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and Bell became the closer, racking up a National League-leading 42 saves to go with his sparkling 2.71 ERA.  Bell’s success has continued, as he put up 47 saves to go with a 1.93 ERA in 2010 followed by 43 saves and a 2.44 ERA in 2011.

After the 2011 season, Bell became a free agent for the first time and signed a three-year contract worth $27 million (with a vesting option for a fourth year worth another $9 million based upon games finished) with the Florida Miami Marlins.  While Bell has not been perfect to start the season (or, even, particularly good), there is no reason to suspect Bell will be anything other than the top-tier closer that he has been for the past three seasons.  On a personal note, I must say I am happy for him.  I always felt that the Mets misused him, though some of that may have been a result of his outspoken ways, as first reported in an article by Tim Kurkjian:

“Everything in New York was so serious,” Bell said. “I should keep my mouth shut, but I never do. In 2005, I didn’t pitch for 28 straight days. I don’t know if I did something to Willie [Randolph, then the manager of the Mets]. I didn’t always get along with [then pitching coach] Rick Peterson. I don’t know if they wanted to make me the scapegoat. It was a bad situation. I was an undrafted player. I was a walk-on. I was the last guy to get to the big leagues. I came in with [former manager] Art Howe, then went to Willie. I was with [former general manager] Steve Phillips, then [former GM] Jim Duquette, then [current general manager] Omar Minaya. No one really saw me. But they heard about me in the papers.”

Alas, the first question is: What happened?  How did every team miss on Bell (twice, as he was not drafted in the 1998 draft)?  The answer is that drafting baseball players is incredibly difficult and the level of play between high school and college are an ocean away from the level of play in the major leagues.  This difference of play requires scouts to make projections about players four to six years into the future, a difficult task at best. The Mets should get credit for giving Bell a chance, but should be severely dinged for the fact that, once he showed the ability to thoroughly dominate AAA, never giving Bell a chance to succeed at the major league level.  Further, former Mets General Manager Omar Minaya should be excoriated for his trades prior to the 2007 season.  Dealing Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for non-factors Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins was just the start of the problem.  Minaya continued by dealing relievers Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom to the Marlins for Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick (which would have worked out well had Minaya not dealt the solid Vargas to the Seattle Mariners in the ill-fated J.J. Putz deal), then dealing reliever Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos, who pitched poorly, got hurt, then committed a number of crimes (assaulting his girlfriend, hit an run, then kidnapping and poisoning his ex-wife).

The second question is: How did Bell figure it out?  Clearly the Mets felt Bell was little more than a middle reliever or, possibly even gave bell the dreaded 4A label.  Maybe Bell was better than the Mets believed, but I feel that Bell learned a lot from one of the greatest closers of all time, Trevor HoffmanAs Bell put it:

“Trevor taught me a lot, including, ‘let’s have fun,'” Bell said. “He taught me that we have to be serious, but we’re allowed to have fun before and after games. Before the position players arrive every spring, the pitchers play games with comebackers [balls hit back to the box] and we play a game where we hit in the cage with fungos. It’s fun. San Diego has allowed me to be me. When the game starts, I want to tear your head off, but I’m one of the nicest guys I know. In Philadelphia last year, a fan screamed at me from the stands, ‘How many cheesesteaks did you have today, four?’ I yelled back, ‘Only three, why don’t you get me a fourth?’ Another guy yelled, ‘Hey, fatso.’ I yelled back, ‘Tell me something I don’t know. C’mon, this is Philly, you’re supposed to be better hecklers than that.'”

In the end, Heath Bell made it his own way and we should all be rooting for him, the true underdog.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


%d bloggers like this: