January’s Dream Team (kinda)

January’s Dream Team (kinda)

I had high hopes for myself when I started this whole process. I made a few goals. Personal goals. Goals designed to help me make it through 2017 (and subsequent years) with more sanity that I had leaving 2016. I didn’t care about who read any of this. I didn’t care about trying to have some sort of 80s sitcom life lesson for each post. I just wanted to spend more time thinking about something that I love, and less time on everything else.

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the stuff going on in the world. I’ve gotten very stressed. I’ve gotten angry. I’ve cried. I’ve punched things (nothing living, promise).

BUT, you don’t give up on something after missing the mark a few times. Especially when you’re trying to stay sane. Gotta keep moving.

I read an article last week in which the author put together the best 25-man roster than he could using only current free agents. It was an enjoyable article. Nothing mind-blowing. The type of post you find on all sorts of baseball websites during the post-Winter meeting, pre-Spring Training purgatory of the baseball calendar.

The idea of building a team out of a specific pool of players was fun one. It provides a nearly bottomless supply of thought experiment ideas. As long as you keep finding ways to redraw the guidelines for the player pool, you can keep making teams.

So, I stole the idea.

Basically what I am going to do is create a 25-man roster from the cards that I catalog each month.

I will pick the players based on the season from the year the card was printed. So, if I have a 1978 Gaylord Perry card, then I’m adding 1978 Gaylord Perry to my team (which I did). Only one season of each player can be used at a time. When I come to my page of Ichiro cards, I won’t be able to assemble an outfield of only Ichiros.

The goal is to create a coherent roster, not simply a list of the 25 best players. Each month I will fill in the following positions:

  • Six starting pitchers (5-man rotation + a long reliever/spot starter guy)
  • Six relief pitchers (no designated closer because closers are so 2002)
  • A starter for each of the other eight positions.
  • One designated hitter.
  • Four bench players (logical positions, not just 4 extra slugging catchers)

I’ll use various metrics for deciding on the players. I won’t go into each of those right now. That would probably bore most people, and the metrics may change. I will include the players’ wins-above-replacement (click here for an explanation of WAR).

I’m going to try and compose a team that plays to the strengths of the players I have available. If I don’t have any power bats, then it’ll be a scrappier team. If all of the pitchers are high contact guys, then I’ll try to focus on defense more. You get the idea.
Anywho. I’m going through all of this when I know few people will make it this far. Let’s get to the players.


Starting Pitchers

Position Player Year WAR
Starter 1 Fernando Valenzuela 1982 5.0
Starter 2 Tim Hudson 2002 6.9
Starter 3 Gaylord Perry 1978 4.3
Starter 4 Steve Avery 1993 3.8
Starter 5 Jerry Reuss 1983 3.4
Spot Starter Kevin Tapani 1996 3.2

Full disclosure: I’m not an expert on advanced pitching statistics. I know what the numbers are supposed to represent, but I’m not fluent. Take fielding independent pitching (FIP). The stat is designed to quantify a pitchers performance by taking into account things that he can control: strikeouts, walks, home runs. I know that a lower FIP is better than a higher one, but I’m not 100% certain just how much better Steve Avery’s 3.26 in 1993 is than Tim Hudson’s 3.60 in 2002.

I bring all of this up to ask for your patience as I figure things out. If I say that one season is better than another because of x, y and z, and my understanding of y is completely wrong, let me know (just try to be nice about it)

What I’ve done with the starting pitchers is build a solid rotation, not rank the players 1-6. It may be outdated, but I’m a big fan of rotating between left-handed and right-handed starters as much as possible. The stats may not show any advantage to that, but I don’t really care. Ultimately, I would be just fine with having either of my top three starters plugged in as the “ace.”

When I first made my rotation, I put far too much weight on the players WAR. I gave Kevin Tapani much too much credit. His 1996 season wasn’t great. He had a FIP of 4.85 with 34 home runs allowed and 76 walks.

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Relief Pitchers

Position Player Year WAR
Reliever Doug Jones 1992  2.8
Reliever Lee Smith 1996 0.2
Reliever Mel Rojas 1995 0.6
Reliever Gene Garber 1978 3.9
Reliever Duane Ward 1992 3.1
Reliever Pete Redfern 1979 2.3

Finding relief pitchers was the absolute worst part of this exercise. I wish baseball cards would always indicate whether a player is a starter or reliever, not just “pitcher.”


Lineup

Position Player Year WAR
2B Davey Lopes 1978 4.8
1B Albert Pujols 2003 8.6
SS Nomar Garciaparra 1999 6.6
RF Bobby Higginson 1996 3.6
LF Marty Cordova 1996 2.6
3B Buddy Bell 1979 6.9
DH Dave Winfield 1992 4.1
C Gene Tenace 1978 5.2
CF Devon White 1993 6.2

If finding six relievers was the worst part of this exercise, creating a lineup was the best. Picking the starters was relatively easy, but crafting the batting order was a little challenging. To start with, I assumed that Devon dsc_3489White would lead off. He is a fast center fielder. Fast center fielders lead off. He stole 34 bases in 1993. But, he strikes out a lot. That season Devon White struck out in nearly 20% of his plate appearances. You can’t strike out 1 out 5 times and bat lead off. Davey Lopes had very, very similar numbers to White in 1978 except in two areas: strikeouts, and steals. He only struck out in 10% of his plate appearances, and stole 45 bases. Lopes seems like the better table-setter for the rest of the lineup. Even though he had a pretty good season at the plate in 1993, I had to move White to the bottom of the lineup. There just wasn’t many other places to put him.

2003 Albert Puljos is second because he is hands-down the best hitter on this team. Some would argue that a slugger of his ilk has to hit third or fourth in order to rack up the RBI. In my mind, I want my best hitter to get as many at bats as possible. Plus, Puljos had more doubles than home runs that year, leading the league with 51 (he only had 43 HR).

American League shortstops were something else in the late 90s. Nomar’s 1999 season was great. He won the AL batting title hitting .357. He hit for power slugging .609 with 27 HR and 42 doubles. But he still only finished 7th in MVP voting. He wasn’t even the shortstop with the highest vote (Derek Jeter finished ahead of him).

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The rest of the lineup is pretty good. I was surprised to look into Buddy Bell’s 1979 season. I knew he managed, and that he played in the majors, but he was really, really good that year.

 


Bench

Position Player Year WAR
C Mickey Tettleton 1992 4.9
SS Cal Ripken Jr 1996 3.8
3B Ron Cey 1979 5.1
OF Dante Bichette 1993 2.9

The bench is strong. Some may recoil at seeing Cal Ripken Jr’s name here, but I don’t think anyone could honestly argue that his 1996 season came close to Nomar in 1999. I assumed Ron Cey would be my starting third basemen, but as I said above, I was surprised by Buddy Bell.


The team assembled was pretty good. It has a total WAR of 104.8. That’s about twice the total WAR of the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

In all, this exercise served its purpose well. It helped me spend a few hours diving into player statistics, and trying to compare across generations, and all that fun stuff. I look forward to doing it again. I hope that the posts become more enjoyable to read as I become more fluent in the various statistics used.

Feel free to share any constructive feedback that you have!

 

Searching for Chuck

Searching for Chuck

It was January 2008, and several Republican presidential nominees had converged on Myrtle Beach in the lead-up to a nationally televised debate. Candidates and their surrogates were speaking all over the area. Fred Thompson shook hands, and made Law & Order references. Rudy Giuliani spoke to the many older New Yorkers retirees that peppered the area.

You know, the normal politician stuff. 

Except one man.

Mike Huckabee. The bass-playing, two-term Arkansas governor.

He had the one thing that no amount of politicking could overcome.

Chuck Norris.

Embed from Getty Images

Maybe you have forgotten just how big of a deal Chuck Norris was in early 2008. For the previous year or so a series of yet to be disproved facts had been circulating around the tubes of the internet. T-shirts were made.

Forget Walker Texas Ranger days, Chuck Norris hadn’t been this hot since he brought about the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Huckabee/Norris caravan had several stops planned, but my insurmountable fear of rule-breaking prevented me from skipping school to make it to any of the events.

The debate, to which my US Government & Economics class had scored some tickets, was my last chance to catch a glimpse of the American hero.

I showed up early, and immediately began to scan the crowd for Chuck. There were no Communists lying in pain or any other obvious signs that he was near.

I walked closer to the entrance of the convention center, I noticed a tent surrounded by a group of loud young-ish people. Surely this was it. These guys looked exactly like the kinds of people who would love a good Chuck Norris joke.

A gentleman from this group saw my curiosity, and walked towards me with a pamphlet.

I was confused.

There picture of the old white guy on the handout matched the one on his shirt. It wasn’t the old white guy I was looking for. This geezer didn’t look like he could handle a single commie.

The pamphlet mentioned that he had delivered 4,000 babies over his career.

I tossed it in the trash on the way in. I couldn’t allow anything to distract me from today’s goal: find Chuck Norris.

Once inside a lot of things distracted me. Security. Crowds. Lines to get into the bathroom.

I found my seat, and tried to wrap my mind around the fact that for the next few hours I would be in the same room as Chuck Norris.

Six guys on stage argued whether a recession would or would not happen (oh those were the days), whether a man should be able to marry a man, and many other politic-y things.

Considering I this was happening forty days before I turned eighteen, and ten months before I would vote for president for the first time, you’d think that I would spend more time paying attention to what was being said.

But seriously, how do you concentrate on policy when CHUCK NORRIS IS IN THE SAME ROOM?

By the end of the debate, my Chuck-finding fervor had died down.

I was tired.

[insert joke about Republicans boring me to sleep]

We stood up, and gathered our things. The candidates stayed on stage to shake each other’s hands and waive to the cameras. Little children were taken up to have their foreheads kissed.

Then he just walked out. Chuck Norris came from backstage and walked towards Mike Huckabee. I tried to move towards him, but the crowd was already too thick.

I couldn’t touch him, but I saw him.

I like to think that he saw me too.

Back outside that tent that was handing out pamphlets before the debate still had a big crowd. I walked over, and again some guy thrust some paper my way. I declined his offer, but stuck around a bit to listen to what the old guy from the shirts, who was now in the middle of the crowd.

Ron Paul wasn’t a dominating figure, but he commanded the crowd. They cheered. He spoke. They cheered. It was bizarre because I found his answers during the debate kind of boring.

I shrugged and went home.

I hate talking about my experience at the debate that night. I feel guilty. I had the opportunity to take part in something pretty special. I had a chance to listen to one of the candidates – one I’d grow more sympathetic towards as I grew older – speak to a small crowd of devoted supporters. But all I cared about was getting Chuck Norris’s autograph.

I let the draw of a larger-than-life celebrity distract me from the important conversations that were happening.

If you look at it like that, I guess I don’t have anything to be upset about.

I was just a few years ahead of the curve.

Paul Reuschel

Paul Reuschel

For a few years it looked like Paul Reuschel was not interested in becoming a professional baseball player.

He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school, but opted to attend Western Illinois University where he played baseball and basketball.

Over the next thirty months he was drafted by the Washington Senators and California Angels, but refused to sign a contract with either.

There are always thousands and thousands of small variables that lead us to make the decisions we do. I often try to trace back the chain of choices that led to various major life developments.

I married my wife after dating her. I dated her because we had become friends. We became friends because we were at the same college. We were at the same college because I transferred from a different college. I transferred to be closer to family. I wanted to be closer to family because my grandfather was sick. I wanted to care for my grandfather because he and I were close. We were close because we spent a lot of time together. We spent a lot of time together because I worked at the family restaurant. I worked at the family restaurant so much because, unlike my sister, I didn’t have the desire to spend my summers doing anything else. I didn’t desire doing anything else because I didn’t like people.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. I married my wife because I don’t like people.

Every decision that we make emerges from a similar web of past experiences and choices. It is impossible to comprehend the steps that lead to our own choices, much less those of others.

Being ignorant of the vast, vast majority of Paul Reuschel’s life, I am in no place to pass judgement on his decision to turn down three opportunities to become a professional baseball player.

But still. How on earth do you do that?

Regardless, Paul Reuschel took a pass on professional baseball until the summer of 1968 when he was drafted by the team he had followed his entire life, the Chicago Cubs.


Reuschel, as far as I can tell, didn’t make much of an impact in the Cubs organization. I can’t find any mentions of him until the spring of 1972.

It was the first Cubs’ first spring training since 1953 that didn’t include Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. Despite losing the face of their franchise, three future hall of famers (Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, and Billy Williams) were still playing regularly, and team seemed to have a bit more optimism surrounding it entering 1972. Leo Durocher had managed them to top three finishes the past five seasons (two season they finished 3rd in the National League, in three seasons they finished the top three of the newly minted National League Eastern Division).

Paul was joined in spring training that year by his younger brother, Rick (also a pitcher). By all accounts it was a fairly normal spring. My quick scan of a couple newspapers’ coverage of team produced only two stories of note.

First, Leo Durocher let the team take a day off. Teams have scheduled off days throughout their season, but Durocher gave his boys a previously unscheduled day of rest. It may seem like a small gesture, but coming from the man credited with originating the phrase “nice guys finish last,” and known to start a fight or two with individuals he determined to be giving less than 100%, this was a big deal. Perhaps it showed a softening of Durocher. He would be removed as manager ninety games into the season.

The second involves our friend Paul Reuschel. On March 5th the Cubs held an intrasquad game. Paul threw two innings for one team in which he allowed a couple runs. Later, he switched sides and threw one scoreless inning. He ended up being the pitcher of record for both teams. He got the win, and the loss.

I spent at the majority of several lunch breaks attempting to find another recorded instance of this happening. The only other example that I could dig up happened in the Mexican league. It involved a game suspended due to weather, and a trade. So, to the best of my knowledge, Paul Reuschel is the only player to record a win and a loss on the same day in the same game (even if it was just an intrasquad scrimmage).

When the Cubs left Arizona that spring, Rick Reuschel made his way to Chicago with the major league team. Paul made the much shorter trip to Midland, TX, home to the Cubs’ AA affiliate.

Paul didn’t break into the major leagues until 1975. By that point he was 28 years old, and the Cubs were in the midst of a string of eleven consecutive losing seasons. Mediocrity reigned at Wrigley.

For the next three and a half years, Paul was an average to below-average relief pitcher. The lone highlight came on August 21, 1975 when Paul threw two and two-thirds scoreless innings in relief of his brother, Rick. That night they became the first, and only, set of major league brothers to combine for a shutout.

Quick aside. Rick (pictured below) actually put together a very nice major league career. He pitched for four teams over nineteen seasons, made three all star teams, won one gold glove, and finished in the top-ten in National League Cy Young Award voting three times (two of which he finished third). He also is tenth on the Cubs all-time leaderboard for career WAR.

Paul was traded to Cleveland in the middle of the 1978 season, and was released following the next season. He never played professionally again.

Everything about Paul Reuschel leaves you saying “meh.”
Not only did he appear in less than 200 games for two mediocre teams, but he looks like your uncle.

The more I think about him, to more I feel had an enviable career.

He was drafted by the team he’d loved since he was a toddler (I’m sure he got to meet Ernie Banks a few times)
He played the majority of his major league career on the same pitching staff as his brother, and they got to do something (the aforementioned shutout) that no one else has ever done in baseball history. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to do something that no one else has ever done in baseball history?
He got paid to live his dream.


One of the most beautiful things about baseball is its ability to mirror the world around us. We live lives filled with plodding through mundanity, anticipating the next jolt of excitement. We understand the grind of the long season. The ups. The downs.

Even when we feel that visceral connection to the rythem of the game, we experience it through big, memorable moments.

When we think of joy and euphoria breaking through after recent struggles, we go to moments like Kirk Gibson’s home run, or Sid Bream’s slide.

When we grapple with the reality of aging and death, we remember Lou Gehrig’s speech, or the striking image of a weary Babe Ruth bracing himself with his bat.

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When we relate to baseball, we choose to see ourselves in its heroes.

In reality, Paul Reuschel is a better mirror for our lives. He lived, did something he was passionate about, and was forgotten. No one, save the biggest of Cubs fans, remember his career. Even then he’s often remembered as Rick’s older brother who looked like an accountant.

Perhaps when we think of struggle giving way to joy, we should think of Paul, and when, after nearly a decade in the minor leagues, he stood on the mound at Wrigley Field for the first time.

Maybe getting older is more like the pitcher released without fanfare in October than a dramatic speech delivered in front of thousands.

I’m sure Reuschel dreamed of being a great baseball player, but knew he wasn’t. He didn’t try to be Tom Seaver or Bob Gibson. He was just Paul. He did his job as best he could for as long as he could.

When all is said and done, I think Paul is okay with being forgotten, or probably more likely never being noticed, by the masses.

I’d like to be more like Paul.