Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Baseball Streaks

Baseball is a game of numbers, and some of the streaks are ingrained in our minds--Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, Orel Hershiser's 59-inning streak without giving up an earned run, etc. This post emphasizes some of those streaks, both good and bad. All data was obtained using the Streak Finder Play Index feature at ($36 a year, well worth it), and their defintion for inclusion is any game in which a player had a plate appearance. By their criteria, if the player had a day off in the middle of a streak, the streak was NOT broken. Streaks can also span more than one year, which is not my usual method. Since they did the work, that's good enough for me.

Today's post will be on individual hitting, and this first chart shows the players with the most consecutive games with a double:
 As a Cubs fan, I can state that I have absolutely no recollection of that feat by Derrek Lee. Of course that was back in the Stone Age when the Cubs were good.

Most consecutive games with a triple:

I wrote in a post on baseball hitting over time that I suspect triples are much rarer than in earlier times because the value of reaching third is less than the risk of making an out. For all but the slowest of runners, a well-hit single will score a runner from 2nd, and as baseball thinking has evolved to emphasize out prevention, I think teams don't believe it's worth it. I will be the first to say I was stunned to see Sammy Sosa on this list, but it was in the period when there was a LOT LESS of Sammy than in later years.

Most consecutive games with a home run:
I have no idea why I knew that Dale Long was on this list, but talk about your guy who got a late start--he had cups of coffee with the Pirates and Browns in 1951 at the age of 25, spent 1952-1954 in the minors where he hit a total of 91 homers, and then made the Pirates for good in 1955 at the ripe age of 29. He had three or four solid seasons after that, but he just got started too late.

Most consecutive games with a RBI:

Mike Piazza is going to be an interesting case for the BBWAA going forward. It's one thing to have proof of PED use for players  like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, but it's just speculation with Piazza. You can see where Piazza ranks amongst catchers all time, and this is despite his well-known defensive deficiencies. I'm still not sure how the PED Era is going to affect the Hall of Fame, because there's issues galore with the voters. As much as I believe that Ron Santo deserved induction into the Hall, it was a complete farce that it took 20-21 elections to get him enshrined. Bill James wrote an entire book on the subject, originally titled "The Politics of Glory," but re-titled "Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame?," which is an outstanding read. Since you didn't ask, I see three pressing issues for the Hall of Fame:
1. Acknowledge that more players are playing the game. It's one thing to enshrine one or two players a year when there were 16 teams, but we're 50 years into the Expansion Era now. The 2014 ballot features newcomers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent and Frank Thomas, not to mention holdovers with the PED taint. There is little doubt that all five players I listed are very credible HOF candidates, but I can almost guarantee that not all five will make it in in 2014, and there's no good reason for that.
2. Acknowledge that standards are moving. Just as 300 career wins for a pitcher is simply over unless pitching patterns dramatically change, I also suspect that 500 home runs as an automatic qualifier might also be passe. I've always been kind of "eh" with regard to Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire, since they seemed just a bit too one-dimensional for me, but I could be wrong. No matter what, standards change, and the BBWAA has to adapt or become a dinosaur organization heaped with even more derision than it already is.
3. Just say YES OR NO on PED players, state what the criteria is, and then keep players off the ballot. I personally have no problem with Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds being elected, because their careers prior to PED use were outstanding enough for me. What we have now is the shadowlands, where innuendo, hearsay and rumor are given equal weight to proof and career accomplishments. Make a policy, communicate it, stick to it and get over it.

And now, back to the streaks.  

Most consecutive games scoring a run:
Center fielders are really squeezed by the Hall of Fame--everyone compares them to either Mickey Mantle or Ken Griffy Jr. and says "Well, they weren't no Mantle (sic)" and summarily dismiss their careers. There are three center fielders up or coming up very soon for Hall of Fame consideration that I'm afraid will fall prey to this facetious argument: Kenny Lofton, Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones. Take a good look and see where they rank amongst center fielders of all time before you make snap conclusions. I'd probably go for Jones and relegate Edmonds and Lofton to the Hall of Very Good, because I think we forget just how dominant Jones was at the beginning of his career, and how YOUNG he was--he's pretty much been finished since 2008, and he just turned 36. He had a solid run from 1998-2005 where he was arguably the best center fielder in the game, and he ranks as the top fielding center fielder of all time by a margin so wide as to be ridiculous--FanGraphs credits his defense at 278.8 runs, and #2 is Willie Mays--at 185.0 runs. For those of you keeping track at home, that's a 50.7% difference.

Three more and I'm finished, but these last three are fun--they're streaks of futility. The first is the most consecutive games WITHOUT a hit, position players only:

 It's pretty obvious what these men were, pinch hitters that apparently couldn't pinch hit very well. There's a philosophical question buried in there somewhere...Craig Counsell's last year was in 2011, so I had to check to see if this is how he ended his career--it wasn't, which is good for him, because that would have been a real downer.

Same thing, but for pitchers:

I'm not sure it means anything that very few modern pitchers are on this list, which could be a simple function of fewer at-bats as more relief pitchers are used--I'll leave that to someone smarter than me. I'll be tweeting this out after I post--Len Kasper (@LenKasper), be sure to mention to your broadcast partner Jim Deshaies that he's tied for 46th in baseball history in pitchers with the most at-bats with no hits at 26 between 1989 and 1990.

Last, the most at-bats between home runs, position players only:

Talk about a bygone era--look how many of those players like Greg Gross, Roger Metzger, Al Newman and Jim Gantner played in the 70s and 80s--the PED Era may be over, but the no-hit-good-glove era is NEVER coming back. I knew there would be one name for sure on this list, and I was correct, but he was further down than I expected. Duane Kuiper hit one home run in his career, and the 1993 at-bats are every at-bat in the rest of his career, almost eight years without a home run. The pitcher who gave up that home run is current White Sox TV broadcaster Steve Stone, who will relate this story about once a year, and it's worth it.

That's enough for today. I'm going to break this into four posts and separate them out with some time, but the next will be on streaks of team success and futility in hitting, so keep your eyes open for that.

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