Saturday, April 12, 2008

#352 Billy Ripken

Why this card is awesome: Because of tough expectations. As I've mentioned this, was the first set of cards I ever collected. This particular card was the one that made me realize that brothers and other family members sometimes all played MLB. (Before that, I assumed that making MLB was so difficult that you enver saw more than one person from any given family make the bigs.) And I remember assuming that since this guy was Cal Ripken's brother, he must be an awesome player too. Of course, he wasn't, but he probably also wasn't as bad as we all remember. It's tough to be Cal Ripken's brother, I'm sure.

Cool stat: Well, Ripken does make the top 25 for lowest OPS+ among players with at least 3000 PAs over the last 50 years. Oh well.

#351 Cardinals Leaders

Why this card is awesome: Because any card with Red Schoendienst on it is a good card. I'm not sure what Schoendienst's role was with the team at this point, but he's a welcome sight. And Tony Pena ain't too shabby either.

Cool stat: The 1987 Cardinals led all of baseball in stolen bases by a wide margin. Check out this list, though, ranking 1987 by number of players with at least 5 stolen bases. A bunch of teams had more than St. Louis, thanks mainly to the fact that Vince Coleman himself had 109 SB and Ozzie Smith had 43.

Schoendienst is 85 years old, still alive and (hopefully) kicking.

Hall of Fame count: 23

Cryptogram answer

My last post yesterday was a basic cryptogram. Here is the interpretation of what it said:

Jxqziuim sfkozp zxjna
Giveaway number eight

Uny niw anz cyfpan kyva vitpxcxtz nxav xs KGO xs sxszazzs zxjnam zxjna?
Who had the fourth most sacrifice hits in MLB in nineteen eighty eight?

Eyva myfp isvuzp xs anz tykkzsav ay uxs anz giva ysz nfswpzw tipwv eyvazw.
Post your answer in the comments to win one last one hundred cards posted.

After several tries, Matt eventually posted the correct answer:
_xk Jisaszp. That works out to _im Gantner, where the first letter is unknown because my original post didn't contain an encoded J.

Incidentally, Matt's first guess worked out to Marty Barrett, who had the most (not fourth most) sacrifice hits in 1988.

So that, my friends, was Giveaway #8.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jxqziuim sfkozp zxjna

Uny niw anz cyfpan kyva vitpxcxtz nxav xs KGO xs sxszazzs zxjnam zxjna?

Eyva myfp isvuzp xs anz tykkzsav ay uxs anz giva ysz nfswpzw tipwv eyvazw.

#350 Will Clark

Why this card is awesome: Because as much as I admire Clark's on-the-field accomplishments, I don't care for the guy, and I like that he's got a doofy photo on his card. For pretty much every other major star card in this set (cards divisible by 50,) Topps went to the trouble of collecting a great action shot of the player. But not for The Natural. Ho ho ho!

Cool stat: Clark had an incredible season in 2000, his last. He hit well with Baltimore, but when he joined St. Louis for the final 51 games, he was absolutely on fire, slugging .655 with 42 RBI in those games. For the year (the whole year), he finished with a 144 OPS+ over 507 PAs. Guess how many guys have had at least a 140 OPS+ over 500 PAs in their final season? Just four. And Clark was the worst of the four (which is really saying something) AND two of them finished their careers early because they were banned from baseball. The only other guy to end his career naturally on such a high note was Mickey Mantle.

#349 Bob Walk

Why this card is awesome: Because, I swear, this photo of Walk looks like the kid in high school who is either buying or selling drugs. Right?

Cool stat: Walk was not a terribly good pitcher, and he ended up with a record well over .500 despite an ERA well under league average. In fact, for pitchers with a minimum of 125 decisions and a W-L% of at least .560, Walk has the lowest all-time ERA+. That list is littered with overrated pitchers.

#348 Jim Eisenreich

Why this card is awesome: Because what a great pickup off the waiver wire for Kansas City! Eisenreich had some well-documented challenges to overcome and he did just that, becoming a good player for the Royals and a member of World Series teams with Philadelphia in 1993 and Florida in 1997.

Cool stat: Eisenreich was a good hitter and a smart player. For non-active guys since 1950, Eisenreich makes the top 15 for fewest times caught stealing with a minimum of 100 successful stolen bases. Interesting to see Pokey Reese at the top there. Although I know he was a fan favorite in both Cincinnati and Boston, I never thought of Reese as particular good at any baseball skill.

#347 Joe Johnson

Why this card is awesome: Because there's a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look about Johnson. Perhaps he knew that by the time this card came out, his major league career would be over.

Cool stat: Here are the guys that Johnson faced the most. Ryne Sandberg practically made it to the HOF based just on his ABs against Johnson.

#346 Vance Law

Why this card is awesome: Because this card never gave me confidence in Law as a major leaguer. Doesn't he look a little nervous there?

Cool stat: Law had a whopping 7 walk-off hits (actually one was a fielder's choice) despite a relatively short career. One was a grand slam against the Pirates.

#345 Scott Fletcher

Why this card is awesome: Because of the awesome dirt cloud shot!

Cool stat: Ten guys had at least one triple every year from 1983 to 1995 and Fletcher was one of them.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

#344 Tony LaRussa

Why this card is awesome: Because I think this card has aged the best out of all the cards in the set. Why? Because LaRussa managed the A's for years, and has now managed the Cardinals for years, and to me this photo seems like it could have taken yesterday (except that he's not wearing red.)

Cool stat: LaRussa didn't have much of a playing career, but he did manage 2 three-hit games even though he only had 35 hits in his career. I wonder if that's a record.

It seems pretty likely that LaRussa will make the HOF as a manager one day. He has the 3rd most wins all-time, and while he also has the 3rd most losses, he's got a good winning percentage. He's been to 5 World Series and won two.

#343 Greg Gagne

Why this card is awesome: Because the trade mentioned on the back reminds us that this is one of those bad Yankees trades that people forget. They remember Fred McGriff, Doug Drabek, and sometimes even Willie McGee, but Gagne was a pretty good shortstop. Current fans should know that his last name is not pronounced like that of current pitcher Eric Gagne, but rather with two hard g's, hence my own Bermanism for this guy: Greg Gagne "with a spoon."

Cool stat: Gagne has one of the worst BB/K ratios for any batter in history, especially considering he wasn't all that much of a slugger. He's tied for second all-time with 8 seasons having 30 or fewer walks and 70 or more strikeouts.

#342 Larry Andersen

Why this card is awesome: Because of that crazy 'stache and gold chain. Let's hear some of your ideas on what you think his name should have been based on this photo.

Andersen catches some flak for his silly sense of humor, but he's a pretty smart baseball guy. I've heard a lot of his broadcasts with the Phillies, and he knows the game very well, including the physical and psychological sides of it.

Cool stat: Andersen was awesome at NOT allowing home runs. Over the last 30 years, among guys with 900 to 1100 IP, he's allowed the 4th-fewest homers. Mariano Rivera is currently ahead of him but will probably fall behind by allowing more homers (and also off the list by going over 1100 IP.) Our man Greg Minton leads the way.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

#341 Carmen Castillo

Why this card is awesome: Because of amazing stats on the back. He was incredibly productive as a part-time player, routinely slugging well over .400 and knocking in lots of runs. Why didn't he get to play every day?

Cool stat: Castillo is tied for most seasons all-time with 220 or fewer ABs but at least 8 homers.

#340 Jack Morris

Why this card is awesome: Because you wanna talk about caterpillars? Check out that thing crawling above his lip.

Cool stat: Talk about fluke years! In 1992, Morris was 21-6 with an ERA very close to league average. In fact, among pitchers with 21 or more wins and 6 or fewer losses, Morris had the lowest all-time ERA+.

Hall of Fame someday maybe, but he's got only an outside shot.

#339 Kurt Stillwell

Why this card is awesome: Because it's a nice action shot. Presumably he's taking a throw from 3rd base, practicing turning the double play.

Cool stat: Seventeen players had at least 4 triples every season from 1987 to 1990. You'd guess a lot of them, but probably not Stillwell. (Or Dave Martinez, Jose Uribe, Ozzie Guillen, or Mitch Webster.)

#338 Brian Holton

Why this card is awesome: Because of Ishpeming MI. Sounds like pig Latin.

Cool stat: Holton was a bad pitcher who had an incredibly fluky 1988. For one thing, he allowed way fewer hits than IP, the only year of his career that he had a ratio under 1.0. For another, in the last 30 years, he had the 15th most IP for a guy allowing 0 or 1 HR. It's been well established that pitchers have a tough time controlling percentage of balls put in play that turn into hits, or percentage of fly balls that turn into homers. That year, Holton happened to end up very lucky, but it caught up with him again in 1989.

#337 Jim Gantner

Why this card is awesome: Because with those shades and the laid-back shot, Gantner looks like one cool dude.

Cool stat: Gantner was a good player, as far as middle infielders from the 70s and 80s go. I like the fact that he spent his entire career with one team. Let me use him as an example of some cool new data on Check out Gantner's splits page and scroll down to the "Count/Ball-Strikes" section. You can now see on which counts Gantner attempted stolen bases. For example, we can see that he got 29 stolen bases on the first pitch or with a count of 1-0. You can also see that he was 7-for-7 when attempting to steal on 0-2 pitches. (NOTE: the pitch data is not yet complete before 1988, which is why not all of Gantner's career steals are accounted for.)

#336 Ed Lynch

Why this card is awesome: Because I like that wrenched lip look on his face.

Lynch became a baseball executive after his playing days and was GM with the Cubs. This was his last card as a player.

Cool stat: Lynch pitched pretty decently against HOFers, particularly Ozzie Smith and Ryne Sandberg, who batted under .200 combined in 71 ABs against Lynch.

#335 Claudell Washington

Why this card is awesome: Because of pretty great consistency. He may not have been the greatest player, but he had very consistent BA and SLG for a lot of years up to 1987.

Cool stat: Washington had 164 career homers but 2 three-homer games.

#334 Dave LaPoint

Why this card is awesome: Because this is the damn ugliest card in the set. It doesn't help that LaPoint isn't exactly the best-looking guy. But the White Sox color scheme for 88 Topps is pretty awful. I mean--when you think of the White Sox, what two colors spring to mind? Pale green and hot pink, definitely. For more on why this card is so ugly, check out what the Ugly Baseball Card had to say about it. You might want to empty your bladder first, though.

Cool stat: LaPoint was a slightly below-average pitcher who stuck around for a long time because he occasionally threw some great games, and of course because he was a lefty. Check out his top career game scores--some nice ones in there.

#333 Wally Backman

Why this card is awesome: Because of an incredible dropoff in performance from 1986 to 1987. His BA dropped by 80 points, and his SLG by nearly 100 points. Wowers.

Cool stat: From 1984 to 1989, Backman had the most seasons in baseball with exactly one homer. Interestingly, the guy right behind him was pitcher Don Robinson.

#332 Jerry Reed

Why this card is awesome: Because this card looks like the players are chatting with fans, which is nice. The guy in the background definitely seems to be signing something for a fan just out of the frame.

Cool stat: Since 1978, Reed is one of just 18 pitchers to throw between 450 and 500 innings in their careers and have an ERA of 4.00 or less. It's a strange list, including some guys who couldn't continue due to injury.

10 cards

Hold on tight, I am posting a whopping 10 cards today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

#331 Brian Downing

Why this card is awesome: Because Downing was signed as an undrafted free agent. By all accounts, Downing was a guy with little natural ability who ended up excelling in MLB through very hard work and sheer determination. Nice!

Cool stat: From 1982 to 1988 (7 seasons) there were 3 guys who hit at least 19 homers every year but never drove in 100 runs. If you're a baseball fan from that period, you might come up with Freddy Lynn or Tom Brunansky, but you'd probably never get Brian Downing, who also did it.

Downing is a pretty underrated player in my opinion. His 1987 was great. A .400 OBP with 110 runs scored. And his career OPS+ is 122.

#330 Eddie Whitson

Why this card is awesome: Because, damn it, I am starting to get pissed off with these card numbers. Whitson was coming off 3 years of well-below league average ERA and yet he got a card ending in zero. No good.

Cool stat: Whitson is tied for most seasons since 1901 with an ERA+ in the 80s. He was a substandard pitcher. (Note I mean literally the 80s--not the 1980s.)

#329 Chris Speier

Why this card is awesome: Because that's gotta be a posed shot. He's looking way up, as if it's a popup and yet doesn't have his legs or glove positioned properly. Boo.

Speier is the proud papa of current major league pitcher Justin Speier, who has had a very nice career.

Cool stat: Speier was a very well-liked player but he was not very productive offensively. For players from 1971 to 1989 with at least 2000 games played, he had the 3rd-fewest total bases. And he had more games played and plate appearances than the two guys behind him.

#328 Greg Cadaret

Why this card is awesome: Because of the yellow pullover. Love it!

Cool stat: Cadaret had some good years, but he really wasn't all that good of a pitcher. It's true that he had an above-average career ERA, but for all pitchers from 1987 to 1998 with an ERA+ over 100 and at least 200 games pitched, he's got the 3rd-worst WHIP. And the guys ahead of him are Mitch Williams and Heathcliff Slocumb. Oops.