by Phoenix Desertsong, Baseball Fanatic
On September 17th, 2019, Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski and his grandson Mike reunited at Fenway Park for the first time in awhile. It’s a dream come true for the 29-year old rookie outfielder for the San Francisco Giants who hails from Andover, MA. After playing four years at Vanderbilt, Mike has spent seven seasons in the minors, all for the Baltimore Orioles system until this year. His ascent to the Major Leagues was years in the making, and now he makes his debut at Fenway in left field, the position his grandfather roamed for many years for the Red Sox.
While it’s highly unlikely that we’re seeing the beginning of a Hall of Fame career for Mike Yastrzemski, his numbers in 2019 are pretty solid. Through 96 games, Mike hit .265/.324/.509 good for a 115 OPS+. Mike Yaz also had 19 home runs and 51 RBI. In his minor league career, he had decent, but sort of average numbers. In fact, the projection systems all saw Mike Yastrzemski as more of a 4th outfielder with some pop.
On that very first game at Fenway Park, Mike Yastrzemski hit his 20th home run of the season. It was a home run broadcast everywhere, a league-wide sensation. "Little Yaz" would finish the 2019 season hitting .272/.334/.518 with 21 HR. With the sudden success of a Hall of Famer's descendant, it's little surprise that Mike Yastrzemski rookie cards have been hot since that special moment at Fenway.
So, why is Mike Yastrzemski so good all of a sudden? Part of his success is fueled by a much better batting line on the road vs home and success against lefties as a left-handed batter. His 2019 season BABIP was .325, which isn’t incredibly high. Outside of a brutal month of June and some back issues, "Little Yaz" has actually been even better than his overall batting line would suggest for most of the season. But, is it sustainable success?
What Does StatCast Say About Mike Yastrzemski?
While Mike Yastrzemski is indeed related to Carl, it’s not fair to compare him to his Hall of Fame grandfather. But because his numbers don’t seem fluky on the surface, we need to look at his actual quality of contact. Right off the bat - pun not intended - StatCast shows us that he may be a bit lucky after all. But, it’s not that drastic. Mike’s expected batting average is .251, which is certainly significantly lower than his actual mark of .272. But, his expected slugging percentage of .484, when you filter out the loss in batting average, isn’t much off his current performance.
While Mike Yastrzemski may not develop into the slugger his grandpa was, StatCast’s expected wOBA of .341 isn’t that far off of his actual .357 wOBA, and still quite above league average. There are a couple of other things in his favor, too. StatCast tells us that Mike has above average sprint speed on the bases and an above-average jump on the ball in the outfield. While he has only stolen two bases, he’s been running the bases well, and he’s been a plus defender in the outfield, mostly in left and right field.
Although he’s hit some weak balls, he’s been barreling the ball well, and his hard hit percentage is in the 74th percentile. Having above average power and a respectable on-base percentage while adding above average baserunning and fielding to the mix is a decent package. Right now, Mike Yaz really looks like a league-average corner outfielder. He’s not blowing anyone anyway, but he was a really nice pickup for the Giants.
Why Did the Orioles Give Up on Mike Yastrzemski?
I’m not so sure that the Orioles expected Mike Yastzemski to become a solid regular all of a sudden. He was invited as a non-roster player in spring training and obviously showed enough to the Giants scouts that they wanted to trade for him. The Giants surrendered starting pitcher Tyler Herb, who would go on to pitch fairly well in AA Bowie for the Orioles before struggling mightily in AAA. It’s clear that the Orioles made a mistake with this deal.
Credit goes to the Giants scouting in clearly selecting a player who was ready to breakout. Soon as he went to AAA for the Giants, he tore the Pacific Coast League to pieces. Even though it’s an offense-friendly league, his .316/.414/.676 slash line with 12 HR in 40 games was obviously impressive. With the Giants outfield situation a mess for most of the year, Mike Yaz has found a home in left field alongside brilliant defensive outfielder Kevin Pillar.
It’s safe to say the Orioles regret making that trade, because it’s very possible that Yaz would be roaming Camden Yards with Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander right now. While it’s not clear that Mike Yastrzemski is going to become much more than what he is right now - a very useful player - the Orioles have to be kicking themselves. The Giants are more than happy to have him, as he’s a legitimate MLB starting outfielder.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Red Sox Fanatic
Brandon Workman has enjoyed a stellar career year for the Boston Red Sox. He’s been such a fantastic relief pitcher, in fact, that he’s become the Red Sox closer. His strikeout rate is off the charts and he’s allowed just one home run in 66 ⅓ innings! Perhaps even more incredible is despite seemingly unsustainable BABIP and HR/9 marks - and a high walk rate - Workman’s incredible season isn’t just a mirage.
It’s time to turn to my favorite statistical analysis tool for baseball: StatCast. Just look at these numbers:
Barrel Rate: 0.8% (Top 1% of league)
Expected Batting Average: .174 (Top 2% of league)
Expected Slugging Percentage: .237 (Top 1% of league)
Actual wOBA: .209 (Top 1% of league)
Expected wOBA: .256 (Top 5% of league)
Expected wOBA on contact: .311 (Top 5% of league)
Hard Hit Percentage: 28.9% (Top 6% of league)
Strikeout Rate: 35.5% (Top 4% of league)
(Note that all numbers are as of 9/16/2019)
The only bad number that StatCast spits out? His walk rate, 15.5%, which ranks in the bottom 1% of the league. Workman is simply not allowing much hard contact and he’s striking guys out, both things you really want a pitcher to do.
According to FanGraphs, the fielding-independent pitching metrics suggest that even with that high walk rate and miniscule HR allowed rate, his FIP is 2.52 and his expected FIP - which uses an average HR/9 rate - is 3.44. Obviously, those are all acceptable numbers for a closer. Overall, FanGraphs rates Workman as earning 1.9 WAR. Not bad for a guy that the ZiPs projection system saw as a barely above replacement-level middle reliever.
But Wait, It Gets Better for Brandon Workman!
By Baseball-Reference’s WAR, which instead uses Runs Allowed per 9 innings, and not the FIP metric, Workman has been worth 2.8 WAR to the Red Sox in 2019. When you realize that Workman has been worth 2.9 WAR in his entire career including 2019, you realize what an incredible breakout this has been.
So, what’s changed about Workman? Here’s a guy who had a decent rookie season back for the eventual 2013 World Champion Red Sox as a relief pitcher. Then, he had a brutal 2014 season as a starter, after which he missed all of 2015 and 2016 (except for a few brutal rehab appearances in the minors in ‘16) with arm injuries. But, Workman bounced back nicely in 2017, pitching excellently for Pawtucket and pitching pretty well between AAA and MLB in both 2017 and 2018.
In 2013 and 2014, Workman had a sinking fastball and a change-up in addition to his four-seam fastball, cutter, and curveball. After arm troubles, when he returned to full health in 2017, those sinker and change-up were taken out of his repertoire. But he has the same three pitches in 2019 that he did in 2017 and 2018. So, what’s the difference?
One obvious thing that’s different is the average fastball velocity. Workman’s four-seam fastball has averaged 92.8 MPH this year. That’s up a lot from 2018 when it was 91.2, and even higher than 2017 when it was 92.2. The added velocity is definitely a big part of it, but what’s more incredible is the spin rate.
The spin rate on Workman’s fastball is 2121 rpm, up from 2003 and 1982 the previous two years. Those increases in velocity and spin rate have led to a whiff rate of 35.9 percent, a huge jump from 18.3% in 2018 and 17.0% in 2017. That nearly doubled whiff rate has made Workman’s fastball practically unhittable, with a measly .129 batting average and .145 slugging percentage against. StatCast agrees with those numbers with .135 and .174 expected marks.
Brandon Workman Loves to Throw You a Curveball, A Lot
Interestingly, Workman only throws the four-seamer 33.1% of the time, down from 38.9% in 2018 and 51.2% in 2017. What’s replaced many of those fastballs, and a few of his cutters, is his curveball. It’s pretty much the same pitch as 2018’s curveball, although with more spin than 2017. Despite a lower whiff rate of 28.9%, batters have only hit .133 against it. While StatCast sees that as unsustainable, it still expects a batting average of merely .193. You can’t go wrong with that curve.
The most interesting part of this StatCast pitch arsenal data has to do with his cutter. Despite only throwing it 19.8% of the time, it clearly has been the culprit of many of Workman’s issued walks in 2019. His cutter has a whopping 20.4% walk rate. And if that sounds high, it should, as his cutter has never had higher than a 10% walk rate since StatCast began tracking pitches in that way. But, there are a couple of upsides to the cutter. It has a whopping whiff rate of 43.6%, and despite only having a K% of 26.5, has been an effective third pitch overall. Batters have only hit .083 against it, although StatCast expects a .178 batting average. Still, that’s pretty good - even with all the walks it’s ended up creating.
What this data tells us is that Workman has thrown the curve more than ever in 2019, and it’s helped both his fastball and cutter play up. While it’s clear that we may not be able to expect him to replicate this success going forward, it is clear that Workman has found a really nice pitch mix that works for him.
How Will Brandon Workman Do in 2020?
Workman was eligible for arbitration in 2019, and settled for a $1.15 million contract. That’s turned out to be a massive bargain for the Red Sox. Going into his final year of arbitration, Workman should easily expect a substantial pay raise. Through 9/16/19, Workman has a 9-1 win loss record with 14 saves and 15 holds. He does have 6 blown saves, though, but not all of those were as a closer. You may not think wins hold as much water as they once did, especially for a reliever, but that does look awfully nice on his baseball card.
Of course, if Workman’s agent does his homework, there’s a lot to like about Workman going forward. All of this pitch data is very easily accessible. Being credited for 9 wins and 14 saves means something, too - in fact, Workman’s WPA+ (Win Probability Added) on the season through 9/16 is 8.98. Of course, there are two components to WPA (WPA+ and WPA-) and his overall WPA is 2.18, which is still quite good. That mark isn’t far behind one of the best relievers in baseball - Josh Hader - at 2.36, and just ahead of Liam Hendricks, the solid A’s reliever, at 2.16. So, Workman has been a very valuable reliever.
The advanced stats keep working in Workman’s favor in terms of StatCast expected stats, too. His expected wOBA of .256 ranks right in between the Houston Astros’ top relievers in Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. Also, he’s not far behind his own teammate, Darwinzon Hernandez, at .253. That’s good company. His actual wOBA, though? Get this, it’s the lowest of any pitcher with 100 Plate Appearances. Workman’s performance has literally made Workman the most dominant reliever in baseball in 2019.
Talk about an arbitration case in Workman’s favor! Even if he stumbles a bit in the last couple weeks of the season, Workman has still been incredible. Should he be the Boston Red Sox closer going into 2020? There’s absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be.
Of course, there is Darwinzon Hernandez, who Jhoulys Chacin memorably compared to his former teammate Josh Hader. As the StatCast data shows, Chacin is right. If you believe the StatCast metrics - and there’s little reason not to - the Red Sox have one of the best 8th and 9th inning combos in the game going into 2020. Not a bad setup.
Because of this, it’s possible that the Red Sox explore a contract extension with Workman this offseason. It’s also equally possible that the Red Sox lean on his good, not great past performance and go into 2020 with Workman on a one-year deal to prove he’s for real. But as we’ve broken down here in great length, Workman is definitely a changed pitcher. If he can work on reducing the walks on his cutter, he could, in fact, be the best closer in ALL of baseball. That’s pretty incredible stuff.
Is Brandon Workman the Boston Red Sox Closer of the Future? Perhaps. Brandon Workman IS the Boston Red Sox Closer of RIGHT NOW, though, for sure. That future title may go to Darwinzon Hernandez, but you never know. Workman is only 31 years old, very young for a relief pitcher. As long as he’s not overused or overworked, Workman likely has a very nice late-inning career ahead of him.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Red Sox Fan
The Red Sox had some pretty good players back in the 1970’s. But, one you may not have heard nearly as much about was Sonny Siebert. A starting pitcher who was better known for his years with the Cleveland Indians, Siebert was mediocre in two of his four full seasons with the Red Sox. However, he was quite good in 1970, and won 15 games with a fine 3.44 ERA. He would be much better in 1971.
The Sox acquired Siebert along with Vicente Romo and Joe Azcue for Dick Ellsworth, Ken Harrelson, and Juan Pizarro. As Red Sox trades go, this was actually a good one for Boston. Azcue and Romo were replacement level, but Harrelson and Pizzaro only had one good year for Cleveland and Ellsworth never really did much after that. Pizzaro would have another good season later with the Cubs. Of course, that means the Red Sox won this trade, because although Siebert was mediocre in 1969 and 1973, he was quite good in between.
A lot went right for Sonny Siebert in 1971. Not only did he pitch very well, winning 16 games with a 2.91 ERA, but Sonny also had a great year with the BAT. That’s right, folks. American League pitchers still had to come to bat until 1973. What’s particularly incredible about Siebert’s 1971 season with the bat is that in no other season did he come close to being that good. In 1971, he hit .266/.289/.532 with 6 HR and 15 RBI. His career marks? .173/.204/.270 with 12 HR. Crazy fluke or not, it was a really nice year for Sonny.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Red Sox Fan
Red Sox Trivia Time! Who was the best Red Sox player in 1993 by Wins Above Replacement? If you guessed Roger Clemens, you’d be wrong. Heck, even if you’d guessed young shortstop John Valentin you still won’t be correct. It was a 37-year old starting pitcher. His name: Danny Darwin.
Along with Frank Viola and a young Aaron Sele, Danny Darwin helped pick up the Red Sox pitching staff from an unusually poor season from Roger Clemens. Yes, Clemens was about merely average in 1993. Unfortunately, despite a pretty good starting staff, Paul Quantrill kept losing games - despite actually being a pretty decent reliever for most of his career.
Also, despite Mo Vaughn having a good year, Mike Greenwell putting up one of his typically good years, and John Valentin being a very nice young player, the lineup wasn’t great. That’s with future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson at DH, being, sadly, rather mediocre. Those Red Sox finished 80-82 under Butch Hobson.
Of course, none of that was Danny Darwin’s fault.
Danny Darwin’s Career Before the Red Sox
Actually, Darwin had a very interesting career. He actually only made 371 starts in his career out of his 716 career appearances. He actually spent a good deal of his career in the bullpen and was bounced back and forth from the starting rotation and bullpen for most of his career. However, after a nice run with the Texas Rangers, he went to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he had one and a half above-average seasons before being traded to the Houston Astros. He pitched very well and returned as a free agent.
In Houston from 1986 to 1990, Darwin would be worth 13.4 WAR, 5.3 of that coming in his 1990 season when he won the NL ERA title with a 2.21 mark. Darwin started 17 games that year with 3 complete games while also finishing 14 games and saving 2 games. Still, the Astros saw fit to see him leave as a free agent. The Red Sox were only too happy to add the solid Darwin to their pitching staff.
Danny Darwin with the Red Sox
By the time he got to the Red Sox in 1991, the “Bonham Bullet” had already put together a pretty nice career as a “swingman” - a guy who worked both as a starter and a reliever. Unfortunately, Darwin’s first season with the Red Sox didn’t go so well. In 12 starts, he delivered a 5.16 ERA while dealing with shoulder problems and battling pneumonia. Fortunately for both the Red Sox and Darwin, this would not be a free agent bust.
In 1992, Darwin rebounded with one of his typical swingman seasons. He started 15 games and finished 21 more, appearing in 51 total games over the season. Overall, his efforts were worth 2.6 WAR. But where Darwin truly excelled in 1992 was in the starting rotation in the season’s second half. He pitched only one game out of the bullpen. In his 15 starts, he had a 3.50 ERA and 2 complete games. It was a precursor to his best season in the major leagues, 1993.
In 1993, Darwin started 34 games, pitching 2 complete games, 1 of them a shutout. Despite a solid 3.26 ERA and 1.068 WHIP, his 4.29 FIP was a harbinger of things to come. Darwin had a really nice season, but things would go south after that.
In the strike shortened 1994 season, the wheels fell off for Darwin. He started 13 games, and while he went 7-5, had a miserable 6.30 ERA. He was up and down and had a couple of clunkers mixed in between brilliant performances. But arm trouble led to him blowing up in June, after which he was shut down. It looked like the beginning of the end for Darwin, and it was certainly the end of Darwin’s Red Sox career.
Danny Darwin’s Last Hurrahs
After an awful 1995 season split between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers, Darwin caught on with the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 40. He actually pitched pretty well with a 3.02 ERA in 19 starts! Darwin was good enough to net relief pitcher Rich Loiselle from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline. That trade actually was a win for Pittsburgh, who got a very good rest of 1996, a solid rookie campaign as closer in 1997, and decent returns in 1998 before he forgot where the strike zone was and was never good again. Meanwhile, the Astros, who’d been happy to reacquire Darwin, watched him struggle and get released at season’s end.
But, that wasn’t the end for Darwin. He’d catch on with the White Sox in 1997, pitching 21 games, 17 of them starts. His 4.13 ERA was a bit of a mirage, but it was good enough for the Giants to acquire him along with Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez in a trade that famously didn’t work out well for the Giants. The White Sox ended up with a solid closer in Keith Foulke and a decent set-up man in Bob Howry. Darwin and Alvarez would both be mediocre, Hernandez would be fine, but Alvarez and Hernandez would end up with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays next season.
Darwin would hang around with the Giants for 1998, getting into 33 games, 25 of them starts, and wasn’t particularly good at all. In fact, Darwin was “worth” -1.1 WAR that season. That was the end of Darwin’s playing days. However, Darwin has hung around the game and as recent as 2019 is still a minor league pitching coach.
Danny Darwin’s Career Overview
Overall, Danny Darwin was worth 39.8 WAR over 21 seasons. That includes some really awful seasons where his WAR totals were negative. He was actually significantly better as a reliever, although overall he was a decent slightly better than league-average starting pitcher when he got the call.
Starter: 371 starts, 2396 ⅓ innings, 4.04 ERA, 53 complete games, 9 shutouts, 2.2 K/BB ratio
Reliever: 345 appearances, 620 ⅓ innings, 3.06 ERA, 171 games finished, 32 saves, 2.29 K/BB ratio
The obvious knock against Darwin were his platoon splits.
Vs Right-Handed Batters: 6216 PAs,.234/.281/.361 - .641 OPS
Vs Left-Handed Batters: 6500 PAs, .277/.338/.437 - .775 OPS
In today’s analytically-driven game, Darwin probably would’ve been limited against left-handed batters and probably relieved much more than he started. It’s also possible he would’ve faced fewer batters per season, which may have saved him some of the arm trouble. Darwin was indeed “Dr. Death” on right-handed batters and more analytically-inclined deployment may have made Darwin one of the greatest swingmen of all time.
Of course, Darwin’s career was just fine as it was. He gave Red Sox fans a great 1993 effort and along with his above-average work in 1992 made that 4 year contract at least mostly worth it. He’s still in the game today passing on his extensive knowledge of pitching to younger pitchers. Here’s to a great baseball career that hasn’t even yet ended. Thanks for all your efforts, Danny!.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
The last team captain of the Boston Red Sox, Jason Varitek spent parts of 15 seasons with Boston. He made his major league debut with a base hit in his first and only major league at-bat in 1997. Varitek was acquired by the Red Sox along with pitcher Derek Lowe in the infamous trade for relief pitcher Heathcliff Slocumb. It’s not even close who won that deal, even if Lowe had never done anything. Varitek was the starting catcher in 10 different seasons for the Red Sox and only wasn’t in 2001 due to injury.
Varitek was also one of the most popular players in recent Red Sox history. He was loved by the pitching staff and anecdotally was an above-average defensive catcher. While he was a bit below average in throwing out opposing base stealers, I can say that he worked with some pitchers that were notoriously slow to the plate. The defensive metrics see him as an overall defensive negative, but a lot of those negatives came from his brutal final season in 2011. From all the years I watched him play, I’d say he was at worst perfectly average behind the dish - but above average as a pitch receiver.
Jason Varitek Was Mr. Average
While being average is really not exciting, in baseball being average is extremely valuable. If you look at Jason Varitek’s 162 game average, you’ll see that would he hit 20 HR and drove in 79 RBI in an average season. Those are solid baseball card stats, especially for a catcher. Because of his solid work behind the dish, though, those league-average offensive stats allowed him to be an above-average regular by WAR in 6 out of his 15 seasons.
2001: 1.4 WAR (in only 51 games)
2002: 2.1 WAR (132 games)
2003: 3.0 WAR (142 games)
2004: 4.0 WAR (137 games)
2005: 3.9 WAR (133 games)
2007: 2.3 WAR (131 games)
He wasn’t bad in his first full season in 1999, either, with 1.9 WAR in 144 games. But, Varitek did have some poor seasons with the bat. His rookie year of 1998 wasn’t too hot, and neither was 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, or 2009. But with a career OPS+ of 99, you can see that on the balance, he was perfectly average offensively. The good news is that Varitek’s dWAR (WAR from Defense) is a positive 8.8 for his career. So, in fact, Varitek was ever so slightly better than average, before you count his “intangibles” such as team leadership.
Why Jason Varitek and His 2004 Season Were His Career Best
Most fans may believe 2005 was Varitek’s best year in the Major Leagues. He won the Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and made his second American League All-Star Game roster! OK, he did deserve the Silver Slugger.with a 122 OPS+. However, 2005 was also one of Varitek’s worst defensive seasons if you believe the defensive metrics from Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved. Still, his overall contributions were worthy of an All-Star appearance and were worth 3.9 WAR to the Red Sox.
Of course, in 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years! Best season ever!
OK, that’s not why, but yes, Varitek was a big part of the Red Sox success that season. Despite no accolades, he was worth a career-high 4.0 WAR to the regular season 2004 Sox. He also hit a career high .296 and a career high on-base percentage of .390. His offensive contributions amounted to a 121 OPS+. Defensively, Varitek was 3 runs above average by Total Zone’s metrics and perfectly average by DRS.
In the postseason, Varitek was OK in the Division Series. But, he was a major contributor in the classic ALCS against the Yankees. While Varitek was a non-factor in the World Series, it didn’t matter.
Speaking of the postseason, in 2007, Varitek’s bat didn’t show up in the Division Series, but it did in the League Championship against the Indians and in the World Series versus the Rockies. So, Varitek really did help the Sox win their 2nd ring in 4 years.
Jason Varitek’s Legacy
Various injuries and trouble in his personal life did affect Varitek’s on-field performance at times. But, Varitek was loved by his teammates and is anecdotally one of the more underrated catchers of his era. In fact, I can’t think of another catcher that was as consistently league-average as Varitek.
The only ones better I can think of offensively are Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza. “Pudge” and Piazza are Hall of Famers and Posada has a case for a plaque. “Pudge” was easily the best defensively of his era. Joe Mauer was obviously great early in his career, too, which started towards the end of Tek’s own career.
Sure, Tek isn’t a Hall of Famer. But, he did have a very nice peak and hit better than you’d expect from your typical catcher.The defensive metrics also mostly show that Varitek was in fact a very good catcher on defense. We don’t have pitch framing metrics for that time period, but I can almost guarantee he would’ve been among the league leaders. In fact, had Varitek not played in the same era as Pudge Rodriguez, it’s likely he’d be remembered as one of the best of his era without question, behind only Jorge Posada.
It’s an old baseball saying that great teams are great up the middle. So, it’s no surprise that the Red Sox and Yankees had two of the best catchers in the game during their respective eras. Sure, Varitek didn’t come close to Hall of Fame standards. But, he was at least the #3 or #4 overall catcher in the American League in his peak years. Catchers like Tek don’t come along everyday, and you’d be hard-pressed to ever expect another one to come along.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Christopher Trotman Nixon, better known as “Trot,” was a first-round selection of the Boston Red Sox. Despite how highly Nixon was regarded, his first few seasons in the minor leagues weren’t all that exciting. Nixon did get called up to the Major Leagues in 1996, and got 2 hits in 4 at-bats. His 1997 season at AAA Pawtucket was merely OK, although he did hit 20 HR and steal 11 bases.
But, it wasn’t until 1998 when he broke out at AAA in a big way, hitting .310/.400/.513 with 23 HR and stealing 26 bases. Trot was rewarded with a cuppa coffee in 1998 and didn’t do much to impress. The 1999 season, however, his true rookie season, would be a very good one.
As 1999 was the first season in which I personally began to watch MLB on a regular basis, Trot Nixon was a young star that I enjoyed watching play. In 126 games, Nixon hit .270/.357/.472 with 15 HR, 51 RBI, and stole 3 bases. Those Red Sox teams didn’t really run, after all. Also, despite 7 errors, Nixon flashed the leather with defense worth 15 runs above average thanks to his above-average range.
Trot finished only 9th in Rookie of the Year voting, although it was a pretty stacked year in 1999. His own teammate, Brian Daubach, in his own first full season finished 4th. It was also Carlos Lee’s rookie year, although he didn’t outperform Trot, although Chris Singleton, who finished 6th in voting, actually did. The winner that year was Carlos Beltran, which was honestly a smart decision, especially considering the career Beltran would have.
Trot Nixon’s Solid Numbers and 2003 Career Year
Because of various injuries, Trot Nixon never would display his once above-average speed in the major leagues. So, while he was once thought as a 20 HR/20 SB threat, that never came to be. What did come to be was that Trot translated his spectacular plate discipline and above-average power to above-average major league performance. Injuries would also limit his range in the field, but he’d still be an above-average defender overall for the most part until the tail end of his career.
However, from 1999 to 2005, Trot was never a below-average player. Keep in mind that 2 WAR is a roughly average regular in the major leagues playing a full season.
1999: 2.9 WAR in 124 games
2000: 2,5 WAR in 123 games
2001: 3.8 WAR in 148 games
2002: 2.9 WAR in 152 games
2003: 5.1 WAR in 134 games
2004: 0.9 WAR in 48 games
2005: 3.4 WAR in 123 games
Trot’s best year was 2003, a year that many expected the Red Sox to make the World Series. Of course, Aaron Boone made sure that didn’t happen… But Trot posted a career best slash line of .306/.396/.578 for a 152 wRC+ with 28 HR and 87 RBI. Those results were partially fueled by a slightly high .334 BABIP, but he did have a truly good year. He also hit very well in the playoffs and may have been the ALCS MVP that year had the Red Sox not been eliminated.
Nixon wasn’t a below average player until 2006, when he posted only 1.1 WAR in 114 games. Injuries finally caught up to him and he was never the same player again. He was truly awful after leaving the Red Sox for the Indians in 2007. and didn’t fare too well in 2008 with the Mets, either.
Trot Nixon’s Ability to Drive in Runs
There were a couple of knocks against Trot Nixon that limited his overall numbers. Firstly, he was dreadful against left-handed pitching (.630 career OPS vs LHP, ..872 career OPS vs RHP). The other major knock against him was that in the “clutch” it seemed like Trot was more likely to draw a walk rather than get a big hit. This may sound like a silly knock in today’s game where walks are much more highly valued. But, it is true that in high leverage situations, Trot hit just .256/.348/.433. That’s compared to .290/.380/.480 in medium leverage plate appearances and .270/.359/.466 in low-leverage PA’s.
However, I argue Trot was much more “clutch” than some commentators suggest. After all, Trot had 223 RBi in 864 plate appearances and 711 at-bats. That means Trot had an RBI for every 3.87 plate appearances and an RBI for every 3.19 at-bats. Those ratios are pretty spectacular. So, he made the hits he did get count! Trot was also an extremely good hitter in the 8th inning, with a career .879 OPS in that inning.
The reason he has a poor reputation in the clutch? He was below average in the 9th inning, hitting merely .220/.332/.390 (.722 OPS), and he hit a dreadful .200/.304/.300 (.604 OPS) in extra innings. Those things being said, not all of those 9th inning plate appearances were high leverage situations and 71 PA’s in extra innings is an awfully small sample size. He also has positive career marks in WPA (Win Probability Added) and WPA/LI (Win Probability Added in Late Innings). The one downside is that his “Clutch” score was negative in every season except 2004 and 2005.
So, was Trot Nixon bad in the clutch? Perhaps, as far as the leverage indexes are concerned. What I can say is that Trot helped his teammates trot across home plate in high leverage situations on a regular basis. In that way, I’ve always felt he was underrated.
Trot Nixon’s Time with the Indians & Mets, Retirement, and Career Overview
Somewhat ironically, it was Trot Nixon who played for the Indians that the Red Sox came back to beat down three games to one in the 2007 ALCS. After a lousy regular season, Nixon was actually a good contributor for the Indians in the ALCS. It was a strange feeling for him, especially when he came back to Boston, where he received a very warm welcome.
Nixon retired before the 2009 season after a subpar stint with the Mets and a failed comeback in early 2009 with the Brewers. Trot went home to Wilmington, North Carolina to spend more time with his two children. He now serves as a co-host for a high school football highlight show called “The 5th Quarter” for a local channel.
As it turned out, the Red Sox turned to J.D. Drew to replace Nixon. Somewhat ironically, Drew took Nixon’s #7 with the Sox. While it was a frustrating five years for Drew, who dealt with many nagging injuries, overall he was actually a very similar player to Nixon. Drew, of course, had a great 2007 playoffs and helped the Sox win the World Series. But, replacing the popular Nixon, he never really endeared himself to fans.
Trot Nixon wasn’t just a fan favorite for his consistent production, often underappreciated by non-Red Sox fans. He was a great teammate and his explosive temper actually endeared him to fans. Most of all, Boston fans loved him for his hustle and enthusiasm for the game. He constantly was getting his uniform dirty making great plays and hard slides on the basepaths. Trot became the inspiration for the term “Boston Dirt Dogs.”
Had Nixon been a bit better against left-handed pitching, he may have posted even better numbers; the Red Sox often spelled Nixon against lefty starters for guys like Gabe Kapler, Wily Mo Pena, and other lefty mashers. Still, from a sabermetric standpoint, Nixon was an above average player for a long time, even playing through injuries and ineffectiveness against same-side pitching.
Trot, hope you’re having a great time with your new career and with your family!
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
When I began following baseball around the turn of the 21st century, the Red Sox and New York Yankees rivalry was as hot as ever. One of my favorite players to watch right from the beginning was Bernie Williams…of the Yankees. That's right. The long time Yankees center fielder spent all 16 major league seasons in the Bronx. I saw him right towards the end of his prime. Today, I feel like he's become vastly underrated.
For eight seasons, 1995 to 2002, Bernie Williams was consistently one of the best players in baseball. His counting stats were never that impressive, but someone who consistently hits 20 HR, 100 RBI, steals 10 to 15 bases, and hits over .300 is going to be damn valuable. Whether coincidence or not, it so happens that Bernie's peak almost perfectly coincided with the Yankees eight year Dynasty. What held him back, interestingly enough, was his "Gold Glove" defense.
That's right. The 4 time Gold Glove winner was actually a below average center fielder. Sure, he made the plays. The problem was that he didn't really have great range as a center fielder. I certainly never thought of Bernie as bad a fielder as the defensive metrics have him. In retrospect, he was probably better suited to a corner, but staying in center field is what gave him such impressive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers. He finished with 49.6 WAR according to Baseball Reference. That is nothing to sneeze at, but well short of the Hall of Fame standard.
However, Bernie was a postseason hero on several occasions and probably a better fielder than Total Zone would lead you to believe. He also won FOUR World Series with the Yankees and hit very well even in losing efforts. I always thought of Bernie Williams as a future Hall of Famer? Will he ever get a plaque in Cooperstown? It's highly unlikely, but he is on the Today's Game Committee ballot for 2022.
Then again, Chris Bodig makes an excellent case for Bernie Williams as a Hall of Famer on his excellent website Cooperstown Cred. I happen to agree with his arguments. But while I am usually a stats oriented guy like he, I'm going to look back at his peak performance merely as a fan…
Of course there will be some stats and a particular focus on his breakout career year. But, mostly, observations extrapolated from my experience and memories as a teenaged fan. Of course, even then I was obsessed with stats…
Bernie Williams and His Early Career
Like many baseball stars I grew up watching, Bernie Williams' career began in the Junk Wax era of card collecting. In fact, Bernie's first cards debuted in 1987, the widely considered beginning over the Junk Wax overproduction. It's also the year of my birth.
Anyway, 1987 ProCards was the official cardboard debut for Bernie Williams. Several other minor league issues would follow in 1988 and 1989. Bernie's first official rookie card was 1990 Bowman, which thankfully has a glossy Tiffany version if you're looking for his key rookie card to collect. It's a great card. Bernie also appeared in 1990 Donruss, Topps, and Score.
Bernie's major league debut wouldn't come until 1991, but by 1992 he would become an above average player in MLB. Bernie would post a 2.0 WAR Mark in just 62 games in 1992 and a 2.5 WAR Mark in 139 games in 1993. Building my "Junk Wax" Dynasty, I would be very happy to fill out my roster with a young Bernie Williams.
Bernie's Breakout Season of 1995
After a strong showing in the strike shortened 1994 season, Bernie would have his best season in the Majors by WAR. It would be the beginning of his 8-year peak. He would amass 6.4 WAR, with the best defensive season of his career by defensive WAR (1.7)... Ok, enough stats…
I wasn't watching baseball at that time, but 1995 was the year that Bernie was becoming the player I'd later admire. His 18 HR and 82 RBI were nothing to sneeze at. He did steal 8 bases, but was caught 6 times. However, he also hit .307. Keep in mind this is back when batting average was still far, far more important than on base percentage. These were stats that fans were excited about.
The Yankees were getting really good, too. While the hobby was going into decline around this time, what kid didn't want to have some Bernie Williams rookie cards? He was a young star, and he was legit.
Bernie Williams: The Best Hitter of the Late '90s Yankees Dynasty, Who Was Almost a Red Sox...
Chris Bodig goes into it in great detail in his piece on Bernie Williams on Cooperstown Cred, but even as a more casual fan in the late 90's, I knew just by watching him that Bernie Williams was the best hitter on the Yankees. I often wished he played for the Red Sox. Well, ironically, it almost happened just as I was getting into following the sport seriously…
After the 1998 season, the Boston Red Sox actually made Bernie Williams a six year offer for $90 million - with a seventh year option on the table. Keep in mind, Mike Piazza signed a seven year $91 million deal with the Mets not long before that, at the time, the largest contract in baseball history. Arguably, that one worked out pretty well…
The great news for the Yankees is that they decided to offer a seven-year deal worth $87.5 million, which he accepted. The even better news is that the Yankees would've instead signed Albert Belle… and we all know where his career went after that. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they not only lost Mo Vaughn to the Angels, but they essentially replaced Vaughn with.Jose Offerman (who actually was quite good in 1999, believe it or not).
There's a non zero chance that had Bernie gone to Boston, the Sox may have won both the 1999 and 2000 World Series. In retrospect, the Yankees should consider themselves very fortunate that Bernie returned to the only organization he'd ever known. They likely would have won in 2003 and 2004, as well. (No one was beating Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001.)
Oh, what could’ve been…
Is Bernie Williams a Hall of Famer?
From my observations, Bernie Williams was absolutely, positively a Hall of Famer. He had as many, if not a couple more, big hits in the postseason as Derek Jeter - who is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Yankees not only may not have won all four of those rings - they may not have even gotten to the postseason some years without the consistent bat of Bernie Williams. As the Yankees primary cleanup hitter, he was the centerpiece of their offense. Period.
It also helps that Bernie Williams is also one of the most likable people to ever play the game of baseball. His second career as a jazz musician has also been a phenomenal success. Since he made so much money in his career, Bernie uses his musical talents mostly for charitable causes. If he’s not a Hall of Fame ballplayer, Bernie’s a Hall of Fame human being.
Bernie Williams is one of those guys who I’ll just throw WAR out the window and put him in the Hall of Fame anyway. As it is, modern center fielders are vastly underrepresented in the Hall. If he’s not elected into the Hall by the Today’s Game Era Committee in December 2021, I will be greatly disappointed.
Bernie, I wish you continued success in all you do!
You can visit Bernie’s official website: www.bernie51.com
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
J.D. Drew hit .278/.384/.489 with 242 home runs over a 14-year career. His glove was worth 69 runs in the outfield according to TotalZone. For his solid bat and above-average glove, Drew was worth a substantial 44.9 WAR. That’s comparable to Hall of Famer Edd Roush and Indians & Tigers legend Rocky Colavito. He has more career WAR than early 20th-century hall of famers Hugh Duffy and Roger Bresnahan. I’m not saying that J.D. Drew belongs in the Hall of Fame. But, at one time, there is a possibility that he could’ve gotten there.
Drew’s 1998 Fleer Update Rookie Card is a really nice looking piece. His card #U100 in the set got plenty of attention from prospectors in the baseball card hobby. As a can’t miss prospect, over six thousand J.D. Drew Fleer Update cards were sent in to PSA. As of May 2019, there are 819 PSA 8, 3477 PSA 9, and 2066 PSA 10 copies in existence. Today, you can buy a copy of a PSA 10 graded J.D. Drew rookie card for $4 to $5 plus shipping. What happened?
J.D. Drew and the St. Louis Cardinals Years
Actually, J.D. Drew turned out to be extremely good. After murdering AA and AAA in 1998, Drew had a torrid 14 game introduction to the major leagues, hitting .417/.463/.972. But, in 1999, after hitting well in AAA, his first rookie season was actually pretty mediocre with the bat (91 OPS+) but exceptional with the glove in center field (17 runs above average). So, in real life, he was worth 2.7 WAR, but that had to be a let down for everyone who had invested in his rookie card.
The 2000 season was a good one, though, for Drew. He’d hit 18 HR, steal 17 bases, and have a .880 OPS, good for a 121 OPS+. 2001 was a monster year, as he hit for a 160+ OPS. But even then, he started missing games here and there with nagging injuries. This would be a theme throughout his career. He would only play more than 140 games in a season three times. Even so, he racked up 18.1 WAR in 6 seasons with St. Louis.
J.D. Drew and His Career Year With the Atlanta Braves
After the 2003 season, Drew was traded along with Eli Marrero for Ray King, Jason Marquis, and Adam Wainwright. It would be a good trade in the end for the Cardinals as Wainwright blossomed into an ace pitcher. But it was also good for the Braves, who got Drew’s biggest season and the only season in which he hit more than 30 HR - .305/.436/.569 with 31 HR and 12 steals for 8.3 WAR.
Drew was looking pretty good at this point with 26.4 WAR in 7 seasons Interestingly, though, Drew had zero All-Star game appearances, despite being an All-Star level player in all but 2003, and he only played 100 games that year and still collected 2.5 WAR. That’s because his power numbers were good, but not great, and he missed a lot of games with nagging injuries.
J.D. Drew, the Dodgers, and the Red Sox
A two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers proved fruitful as he posted 3.2 and 4 WAR seasons. What’s most impressive is that his 3.2 WAR season was in an injury-marred 2005 campaign in which he played only 72 games. The Red Sox really liked what they saw in 2006 and gave Drew a five-year, $80 million contract.
While many Red Sox fans seem to remember only the beginning and end of that contract ,Drew actually was pretty good with the Red Sox. After an injury-marred 2007 in which he still managed to play 140 games but diminished at both the plate and the field, he was actually an important piece of the Red Sox’s run to winning the 2007 World Series. In 2008, Drew played very well and earned his first All-Star game appearance, and then he got hurt again...
Fortunately, Drew managed to be just as good in 2009 and actually played 140 games. But in 2010, despite playing 139 games, his nagging injuries were clearly eroding his ability at the plate, although he was still a 3 WAR player thanks to still being above league average and very good on defense. In his first four seasons with the Red Sox, he collected 12.2 WAR. That’s not a horrible return on investment for $64 million over four years.
Unfortunately, at age 35 in 2011, the wheels just fell off for Drew. He would actually be “worth” -0.9 WAR for the Red Sox in 81 games, a season in which the wheels fell off for the Red Sox in general. Had he not been hurt, Drew could’ve helped save that 90-win season. But, he was clearly a washed-up player at that point. A lot of people remember the broken down Drew, and it’s too bad because he actually was a pretty good player.
Could J.D. Drew Have Ever Gotten Into the Baseball Hall of Fame?
The problem is that being “pretty good” doesn’t get you in the Hall of Fame, nor does it help you do well in the baseball card market. Drew was a very calm and quiet player and many people had the impression that he refused to play unless he felt one hundred percent. But, as someone who watched Drew a great deal, I can say that when he did play, he played very hard. He had a great batting eye and a great swing that could do a lot of damage when he was locked in.
Drew was also a very underrated fielder, I feel. His power numbers such as home runs and RBI weren’t eye-popping, but he made up for those with his on-base skills and overall ability to hit for extra bases. He was a perennial All-Star level player that just missed too much time and never really became beloved by any fan base.
Had Drew not missed substantial time in several seasons, it’s quite likely that he would be on the Hall of Fame bubble, right? It’s more likely that Drew’s quiet demeanor and unimpressive power numbers would’ve pretty much eliminated any chance of people seriously considering him for the Hall. Drew actually had a great career, considering how many injuries he suffered.
Still, he suffered his injuries playing hard and he stuck with the game he loved for nearly a decade and a half in the Major Leagues. That’s worth remembering. So, his rookie card being worth only $5 in top condition is actually quite a shame, although as far is the card market is concerned, it’s probably correct.
Still, J.D. Drew is a better baseball player than you may remember. I know he was better now than I realized back then. But, from a sports card investment standpoint, wow, did he let a lot of people down. Of course, it’s not Drew’s fault that over 6000 copies of a piece of cardboard were submitted to PSA for grading. (Plus who knows how many more to Beckett?) He just played the game he loved hard, and made the Cardinals look pretty good for choosing him fifth overall in the draft.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Digging through all those generally worthless “junk wax” baseball cards of 1987 to 1993, you’ll occasionally find a card that commemorates a great season of a not so famous player. However, to celebrate Bob Tewksbury becoming the Mental Skills Coach of the Chicago Cubs, we take a look at his finest season, which happens to fall right in the Junk Wax era. In building a “Junk Wax Dynasty” it’s important to consider Tewksbury’s 6.4 WAR season with the 1992 St. Louis Cardinals.
The 1992 Cardinals didn’t do much; at 83-79, they placed 3rd in the NL East. Ozzie Smith, Ray Lankford and even Bernard Gilkey were all-star level players that year, but it wasn’t quite enough for them to make the playoffs. Tewksbury pitched like an ace that year, and he never again had a season quite like it, although he was decent in 1993 (2.7 WAR) and had two 3+ WAR years with the Twins at the end of his career.
Interestingly, FanGraphs sees Tewksbury’s 1993 season more favorably than his 1992 season. That’s because FanGraphs uses FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) for its WAR calculation rather than ERA. But for purposes of “Junk Wax Dynasty” we are focusing on results, which is why we’re using Baseball Reference’s ERA/RA9 (Runs Allowed/9) based WAR. FanGraphs has Tewksbury’s 1992 season being worth 4.0 WAR and his 1993 season at 4.3 WAR, thanks to an inflated BABIP (batting average on balls in play).
One thing that FanGraphs does show us, though, is that Tewksbury was probably a better pitcher than his Baseball Reference page may suggest. On Baseball Reference, Tewksbury was worth 21.3 wins in a 13 year career, 10 of those full seasons. But FanGraphs sees him as worth 31.3 wins. That’s because in his “worst” years, he actually pitched better than the results would suggest.
Tewksbury only had a career strikeout rate of 4.04 K/9, but a walk rate of merely 1.45 BB/9. He rarely gave up homers (0.71 HR/9), but with a batting average of balls in play of .300, he relied heavily on his defense. His career ERA of 3.92 belied an FIP of 3.65. So, in reality, he was actually a slightly-above average pitcher who just had some bad luck with defense behind him.
In retrospect, Tewksbury’s 1993 season is actually better peripherally than his 1992 season. In 1992, he had a strikeout rate of merely 3.52 K/9 but a walk rate of only 0.77 BB/9. His strand rate was a high 80.8% and his BABIP only .257, which are big reasons why his 2.16 ERA was a mirage compared to his 3.14 FIP. His 1993 season featured a 4.09 K/9 and a 0.84 BB/9. But he suffered from a .316 BABIP and a more “normal” 70.3% strand rate (career 68.5%).
Still, Tewksbury was actually the pitcher that a lot of teams thought that he was, a workhorse that kept you in games. Suffice it to say, the Yankees should’ve never traded Tewksbury for Steve Trout to the Cubs. Unfortunately for Tewks, he didn’t pitch well for the Cubs and spent a lot of time in the minors until the Cubs let him go and the Cardinals picked him up. He pitched quite well for the Cardinals at AAA, and the rest is history.
If you’re looking to build a team with players from only 1987-1993, consider adding a 1992 Bob Tewksbury to your pitching staff. Heck, even a 1993 Bob Tewksbury would make a fine fourth or fifth starter. At the very least, you know he’ll do all he can to keep you in the game. He was definitely a mentally skilled pitcher, and perhaps, was actually pretty underrated in his time.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Relief pitchers are hardly a big deal in the baseball card hobby. Of course, guys like Dennis Eckersley and Lee Smith have their fans and collectors. But, a lot of the best relief pitchers out there, even the most consistent, don’t have much of a following. Still, when you’re building a dynasty baseball team out of cards from the Junk Wax era from 1987-1993, it’s good to find some diamonds in the rough, guys like Dale Mohorcic.
Who? Sure, Dale Mohorcic was never a household name. But in 1987, his efforts in relief for the Texas Rangers earned him 3.1 Wins Above Replacement for the Texas Rangers. That was a follow-up to a decent 1986 in which he earned 2.2 WAR. I’m sure you won’t hear people wax nostalgic about Dale, but he did have a couple of pretty good seasons as far as results are concerned.
Of course, with a strikeout rate of 4.3 K/9, that leaves a lot of your success up to the defense. Mohorcic’s FIP of 3.98 and FanGraphs WAR of 1.0 in 1987 (and 0.9 WAR in 1986) gives you more of an idea of the pitcher Mohorcic really was. Indeed, both his 1986 and 1987 seasons were fluky. He had a strand rate of 81.1% in 1986 and 80.1% in 1987, both of which are very high. He also had a BABIP of only .248, which is crazy low - although it was a more sustainable .295 in his good 1986 season.
So, who is Dale Mohorcic? Where did he come from, and what happened to him?
Dale Mohorcic the Journeyman
Mohorcic began his quest through the minor leagues began in the short-lived independent Northwest League with the Victoria Mussels. He was the ace of their staff in 1978 with a 2.02 ERA! Dale caught the attention of the Toronto Blue Jays, who purchased his contract. He was underwhelming in their farm system, though, and was released.
The Pirates were intrigued by Mohorcic, though, as a reliever. He actually enjoyed a fine season in 1980 mostly as a closer. The Pirates held onto him until after the 1984 season, trying him again as both a starter and a reliever, but he never really caught on. They let him go before the 1985 season.
He caught on again with the Texas Rangers and enjoyed a decent 1985 season in relief at AAA. He returned in 1986 and found his way to the majors.
After his strong 1987 season, he scuffled early on in the 1988 season. The Rangers decided to move on from him, deciding to try out Mitch Williams - who himself would struggle but become a pretty good pitcher soon after. Williams himself would be traded to the Cubs after the season in an otherwise underwhelming package for Jamie Moyer and Rafael Palmeiro, The Rangers won that trade. The Yankees picked up Mohorcic for Cecilio Guante, formerly a pretty strong reliever, but he only gave the Rangers 0.3 WAR for the rest of 1988 and 1989.
Mohorcic, on the other hand, actually pitched very well for New York, and gave the pinstripes 0.8 WAR in only 22 and two-thirds innings. He was dreadful in 1989 though, being “worth” -1.2 WAR. Mohorcic even spent time in the minors, where he actually pitched very well. Probably because of those good minor league innings, he did catch on in 1990 with the Montreal Expos, pitching well at AAA, and had OK results with 0.6 WAR in 53 innings with the big club. He hung up his cleats after that.
Dave Mohorcic as a Closer?
To be fair, Mohorcic isn’t really someone you’d consider a prototypical closer type pitcher. He walked guys liked a power pitcher, but struck out guys like a finesse pitcher. When he limited the walks, he was pretty successful. But, like a lot of relief guys that pitched to contact, you rely so much on the defense that it’s hard to stay consistent for long periods of time.
Mohorcic hearkens back to the old days of grinding out game after game. This is before bullpens became more specialized. You were either a mop-up guy or a back-end guy like a set-up man or a closer. Mohorcic gained a reputation in the minors as being a shutdown relief pitcher. While he didn’t blow anyone away with peripheral stats, it’s actually possible that Mohorcic could’ve kept pitching and ate some late innings for a few more years.
For my Junk Wax dynasty, I’d consider Mohorcic as a great candidate to serve as a middle reliever or a late inning guy strictly against right-handed batters in a 3+ run game. His platoon splits weren’t great (.247/.309/.364 against RHB and a whopping .305/.351/.446 against LHB). This was a guy who tied Mike Marshall for the major league record of pitching in 13 straight games. It’s hard not to want a guy like that on your team. He showed up and gave his best. In an age of bullpen specialization like today, he’d actually probably have fared a lot better.
In Junk Wax Dynasty, we look at players from the “Junk Wax” era of baseball cards and find the hidden gems from 1987 to 1993. For this installment, we take a look at the career year of a San Diego Padres utility player by the name of Randy Ready.
How many Randy Ready cards from 1987 were put into bicycle spokes? Probably a lot. Funny thing is, utility infielder Randy Ready actually had a career year in 1987. According to Baseball Reference, his performance that year netted the San Diego Padres 5.8 Wins Above Replacement. To put that in perspective, that’s the same number that a young Barry Bonds put up that year. Considering that the Padres acquired Ready in 1986 for a player to be named later that had a career War of -0.1 WAR, the Friars were quite pleased with his performance.
Before we get into that career year, though, it’s important to know what was going on in Randy’s life at the time. This dude dealt with tragedy the year before.. Check this out:
“On June 13, 1986, the day Ready played his first game as a Padre after having been acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, [Randy’s wife] Dorene collapsed on the floor of their home in Tucson. She was unconscious for 7 to 10 minutes. During much of that time, her brain was deprived of oxygen.”
Oh, boy. That ended Ready’s season right there, so he could go be with his wife and three young sons. His wife had suffered a heart attack that left her with permanent brain damage, and she never recovered from it, So, Randy and his sister Cindy had to raise the children. Later, it would be found that some diet pills that his wife was prescribed were what gave her the heart attack. A few years later, a jury awarded the family more than $25 million in a settlement.
Of course, that eventual money couldn’t make up that loss. Baseball became Randy’s escape. So, it makes what happened that next season even more special.
Ready was a patient hitter who regularly walked more than he struck out. But in 1987, his bat exploded for a .309/.423/.520 batting line for a .943 OPS. That's a 153 OPS+ or 53 percent above league average. He hit a career high 12 home runs and batted in 54 runs. He added 7 steals but was caught three times, so he only added a bit of value there.
In 1987 he played second base, third base, left field, and right field. Ready was a steady average fielder at both second and third base and a bit below average in the outfield. But in 1997, Ready was worth 5 Total Zone runs above average in only 52 games at second base and 3 runs above average at third. He was even 3 runs above average in left field in only 16 games, partly thanks to an outfield assist. In all, he amassed 1.2 defensive WAR.
Unfortunately for Ready, a lot of this success was due to a .325 batting average on balls in play. His .211 ISO or isolated power was backed up by career highs in doubles with 26 and triples with 6. He'd never show that level of power again. So, with eventual career marks of .280 BABIP and .127 ISO, this was a major outlier.
Was Randy Ready in 1988?
Ready was not bad in 1988 but he would be traded to the Phillies along with John Kruk for outfielder Chris James. Obviously, Kruk would go on to be very good. But, it got worse for the Padres. James would be OK, but the Padres would trade James along with Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga for Joe Carter. Alomar and Baerga would go on to be very good for the Indians, and even Chris James had a strong year in 1990.
Of course, Joe Carter was a good player, but he went on to be terrible for the Padres. So, he was flipped along with Roberto Alomar (future hall of famer) for infielder Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff. McGriff would be good, but Fernandez would be underwhelming offensively. Imagine if the Padres had Kruk, both Alomar, Baerga, and Ready still… Somewhat hilariously, Fernandez would be part of what could have been an unassisted triple play started by - you guessed it - Randy Ready!
Fernandez would actually never be the player he was in Toronto again (with 2.2 WAR in 1991 and 1.1 WAR in 1992), but he would end up having a late career resurgence, ironically with Toronto in 1993, with Cleveland in 1997, and again very ironically with TORONTO in 1998 and 1999. Of course, the Padres only got one good year out of Wally Whitehurst (2.7 WAR). Man, the Padres made a lot of bad moves…
Anyway, back to Randy...
Randy Ready and the Rest of His Career
Anyway, Ready was never quite as good again after 1987. It’s not hard to imagine why, though, especially with what he had to deal with in his home life. His last really good year was 1991, in which he posted a 1.3 WAR in only 76 games. In that year, he hit .249/.385/.322 for a roughly league average .707 OPS. That batting line included a dreadful .207/.294/.207 (.501 OPS) against right-handed pitching, but a .265/.418/.367 (.785 OPS) against lefties.
The rest of Ready’s career was plagued by some inconsistency with the glove - having some good defensive seasons and some bad - that overshadowed his strong plate discipline. The good news is, he stuck around in the majors until 1995 and played in Japan for a year in 1996. But looking back now, the real thing that held Ready back from being an above-average super utility player were his platoon splits.
Career vs RHP: .246/.341/.356 - .697 OPS in 1180 PA
Career vs LHP: .271/.375/.415 - .790 OPS in 1308 PA
In today’s analytically driven game, Ready would have been strictly a platoon bat that could play second base, third base, and the outfield corners. He would’ve probably been worth 1.0-1.5 WAR in part time duty and perhaps he would’ve settled in at one position, either at second or third base with occasional starts in Left Field or Right Field against a left-handed pitcher. He was also not utilized nearly as much as a pinch hitter as he likely should have, especially in the National League. Still, he cobbled together a decent career as a 25th man, which is hardly something to sneeze at. It’s just interesting that he wasn’t utilized better.
Randy Ready as a Coach and Manager
Randy never really left the game, either. He returned to the game as a minor league manager in 2002 and served as the Padres hitting coach for a bit. That stint as hitting coach proved disastrous as the Padres had one of the worst lineups in baseball. Was that his fault, though? Probably not. Anyway, he has continued in the game as a minor league coach and manager. In 2017, he became a minor league manager in the Marlins system.
Ready is definitely well-liked in the game. The teams he’s managed have often made the playoffs and he’s been an overall winning manager. It’s a shame that his playing career really only had a couple of bright spots (1987 and 1991), but he did have quite a ride.
So, the next time you come across a Randy Ready baseball card, especially from 1987 or 1991, don’t be so quick to dismiss them. In fact, he’s the top utility player in my Junk Wax Dynasty. He deserves to be remembered, even if it’s just for that amazing 5 WAR season in the wake of family tragedy.
by Phoenix Desertsong
Baseball fans love talking about career years for their favorite players. The 2018 A’s had a lot of good years from a lot of their players. But one of those players, Marcus Semien, had a lot better season that his baseball card stats would suggest. In fact, what drove Semien’s career year success was not his offensive stats, but rather his defensive stats.
According to FanGraphs, Marcus Semien compiled 3.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2018. This beat his 27 home run “breakout” season in 2016, in which he earned 2.1 WAR. So, what took Semien from an average major league shortstop to an above average one? The key to his value lay in drastically improved defense at shortstop.
Marcus Semien has always hit for power. But he’s always suffered from low batting averages (career .249 BA), low on-base percentages (career .319 OBP), and erratic defense. He actually wasn’t bad on defense in 2015, but he was “worth” -15 defensive runs between 2016 and 2017. So, what changed?
Marcus Semien and His Improved Defense and Defensive Stats
A lot of people are skeptical of defensive statistics, as they tend to fluctuate significantly from season to season. However, consistently excellent defenders and consistently bad defenders usually are bore out over the course of a player’s career. Erratic defenders are harder to pinpoint. As we’ve learned over the years, defense is actually a quantifiable asset. It comes down to what plays a player “should” make.
In his career through 2018, these were Semien’s defensive stats broken down by the likelihood of a play being successfully made:
Impossible (0%) 0%
Remote (1-10%) 0%
Unlikely (10-40%) 11.3%
Even (40-60%) 15.7%
Likely (60-90%) 61.1%
Routine (90-100%) 95.9%
In 2018, these are his numbers
Impossible (0%) 0%
Remote (1-10%) 0%
Unlikely (10-40%) 12.5%
Even (40-60%) 21.1%
Likely (60-90%) 61.9%
Routine (90-100%) 96.8%
While those percentages are definitely better than his career averages - which are boosted by his 2018 numbers - they don’t seem like that much. Still, all you need are a handful of made plays in those 10-40% and 40-60% ranges to make a big difference in your defensive value.
Those numbers made Semien worth 9 Defensive Runs Saved and 6.4 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games played). That’s well above-average, although not quite Gold Glove calibre. But what stands out about Semien’s year is how my OOZ (Out of Zone) plays he made: 133. Previously he had made 106 in 2016. His RZR (Revised Zone Rating) was .869, far above his career average of .803, which includes 2018.
This is definitely an improved defensive player. Will he keep this up? It’s completely possible, as defense is a skill that can be learned and improved over time.
Marcus Semien Batting in 2018
For a career year, you’d expect Semien to have a breakout with the bat. That’s not what happened at all. Marcus Semien had a batting average of .255, right in line with his career stats. His on-base percentage was merely .319 and his slugging percentage a fairly low .388. That’s not a great batting line. However, as he plays in Oakland, notoriously not a good pitcher’s park, that batting line of .255/.319/.388 is nearly league-average. He also was a positive on the basepaths with 14 stolen bases, although he was caught 6 times.
There are a couple of interesting things to point out, however. Semien saw more pitches at the plate in 2018 than ever before in his career: 2881. He also saw far more balls, 1102, than ever before. He also hit more line drives and fly balls than ever before, and had a career high 19 infield hits.
Is Marcus Semien Poised for a Better 2019?
When you see improvements across the board like this, it’s very likely you have an improving player. Marcus Semien is only 28 years old and in his prime. The Oakland A’s may enjoy even better results from their shortstop moving forward. If he’s able to produce even half of the defensive value that he did in 2018, he could be an above-average shortstop going forward.
While StatCast seems to think that Semien was a bit lucky with only a .299 expected on-base average (xwOBA) and .329 expected on-base average on contact (xwOBACON), he also had more batted balls in 2018 than ever. If Semien squares up just a few more fastballs going forward, this is a sneaky good, very underrated player.
While Marcus Semien may not be your first choice at shortstop for a fantasy baseball team, or even your fourth or fifth, he’s possibly not seen his best year yet.
by Phoenix Desertsong
On May 24th, 2018, card collector Adrian Proietti bought a PSA 10 Derek Jeter rookie card from PWCC through eBay for $99,100. This Derek Jeter card is from the highly sought-after 1993 Upper Deck SP set. Ironically, Adrian was offered a similar card, also PSA 10, ten years ago for $25,000, which he turned down. While that price sounds extremely high, it came only a week after another Derek Jeter rookie card sold for $54,576. At nearly $100,000, Adrian’s purchase was the highest price ever paid for a modern baseball card. With Derek Jeter a likely shoo-in for the 2020 Hall of Fame class, just how high will Derek Jeter rookie card prices go?
Sure, other modern-era sport cards have fetched higher prices, but they’re in basketball and football. You may have heard of LeBron James rookie cards and Tom Brady rookie cards selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. They, too, are graded by PSA/DNA, the leading card grading company in the world. Beckett Media also has a highly-regarded grading system, known as BGS. There are a few other grading companies, but none are as highly regarded. When graded and authenticated by PSA or Beckett, cards always fetch a higher price than ungraded "raw" cards.
For those unfamiliar with card grading, a PSA Gem Mint 10 or BGS Pristine 10 is the best you can get, a perfect example of a card in perfect condition. There are very few 10’s of any given card. At the time of the $99,100 sale, there were only 22 PSA 10 Derek Jeter rookie cards in existence. PSA said that they had graded 560 as a 9, or mint, and over 8000 graded as an 8, or near-mint. The SP foil rookie card of Derek Jeter is particularly tough to get in high grade as foil cards tend to show wear and/or damage far more easily than nonfoil cards.
While the differences between PSA 8, PSA 9, and PSA 10 may not be obvious to casual observers, they make a huge difference when it comes to collectible value. This makes sense because, of course, who doesn’t want their collectibles to be in perfect condition? There are also just so few cards worthy of a PSA 10, which is what makes them so rare. Even cards pulled straight from packs and immediately stored in a soft sleeve then hard plastic sleeve (also known as a top-loader) often grade as an 8 and sometimes a 9.
The only things that determine the price of graded cards are the scarcity of a given graded card and how much someone is willing to pay for it. Graded vintage baseball cards have been selling for big numbers for years, even those PSA 7 and below. But with how many cards are being printed today, grading is really the way to distinguish one card from another. Grading has always made cards valuable, and now they’re more valuable than ever.
So, just how high will the prices go on graded rookie cards? Even rookie cards from the “junk wax” era of baseball cards from the late 80’s to early 90’s are worth a few bucks if they’re graded highly. But the 1993 Upper Deck Baseball SP set is far from being a junk wax set. Sets since then have continued to have lower print runs on purpose to make the cards purposely more scarce. With a resurgence in baseball card collecting and sports card collecting in general, we could be seeing rookie cards of other stars start selling for six figures.
Unsurprisingly, there was a bit of a run on this particular card, but there are still fine examples out there for sale if you have the cash. You can find similar Derek Jeter rookie cards, graded and otherwise, for sale on Amazon, eBay, and the like.
Who do you think will have the next high priced rookie card?
Aaron Small has one of the best baseball stories you'll hear. It took him sixteen years bouncing back and forth between the minor leagues and multiple Major League teams to finally find success at the Major League level. Whenever he'd start to find success, injuries and front offices would set him back. When he did finally get a real shot, he won his first ten games as a pitcher in Major League Baseball for the New York Yankees. Although he was out of Major League baseball after a poor season in 2006, it was still quite a rollercoaster of a career.
Small's Early Career
Aaron Small played both baseball and basketball in high school. He was great at both, but decided to focus on baseball, ultimately. At South Hills High School in West Covina, California, Small actually played baseball with Jason Giambi, Jason's brother Jeremy, and Cory Lidle. (He'd play with Jason later in the Major Leagues, in fact.)
Small was drafted in the 22nd round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989. He would get into one game for the Blue Jays in 1994, after a decent season in the minors. In that game, Aaron gave up two runs, including a home run, in 2 innings. He'd be traded for a player to be named later to the Florida Marlins.
His 1995 minor league season, exclusively out of the bullpen, was another good one. He actually enjoyed some success in 7 games for the Marlins, but he walked 6 batters in 6 innings, which demonstrated control issues, The Marlins would put him on waivers, where the Oakland Athletics would pick him up and give him another shot.
Small's Early Success
Small's next Major League chance came after a 1996 season in which he mostly started games. While his ERA wasn't great (4.29), his control had improved, 83 strikeouts to only 28 walks in 120 innings. These peripheral stats prompted Oakland to give him a major league chance. He bombed as a starter in 3 games, but regained himself as a reliever.
To Oakland's credit, they gave Small another chance in 1997! Besides one successful minor league start, Small spent the year in the Oakland bullpen as a mop-up man. While he was at the back of the bullpen, he got into 71 games and pitched 97 innings. His control issues returned, with 40 walks to 57 strikeouts. Still, he was effective enough to provide 1.3 Wins Above Replacement of value while eating some innings. That is nothing to sneeze at.
Small's Rollercoaster Begins
The 1998 season is when the rollercoaster really got started. He bombed for the A's to the tune of a 7.24 ERA in 24 games. He was put on waivers, and the newly formed expansion team Arizona Diamondbacks picked him up. Once again, he found his 1997 form and was decent in 23 games. His 8 walks in 32 innings were acceptable. He was worth 0.3 WAR to them, after being "worth" -0.9 WAR to Oakland.
Then, he bombed in Spring Training for the Diamondbacks and was released. He wouldn't taste the Major Leagues again until 2002. Injuries and ineffectiveness would plague him during that time. He bounced between the minor league teams of the Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Anaheim Angels, and Atlanta Braves.
There was a ray of hope in 2001, though. After bombing with the Angels' AAA team, the Atlanta Braves gave him another chance as a relief pitcher, and he did well. While he didn't make the Majors, the Braves gave him another shot in 2002. Injuries destroyed his season and he floundered yet again as a starter. Returning to the pen, he showed enough to get into one Major League game for the Braves. He gave up two runs in one-third of an inning, while walking two.
So, after being let go by the Braves, he caught on with the Cubs. But he was cut at the end of Spring Training. Fortunately, the Florida Marlins came calling. They wanted to use him as a starting pitcher. While he was knocked around in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, some success at AA, and very solid walk-to-strikeout numbers prompted the Marlins to keep him around in 2004. He had a better season, but when he got his Major League callup, he lost his pitch control once again and bombed.
Small's Last Chance?
Would he get another chance? Fortunately, yet another team, the New York Yankees, saw some promise. He would start out at AA in 2005 for the Yankees and move up to AAA. His ERA wasn't good at all, 4.83 between the two stops, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio was solid: 24 strikeouts to 9 walks. The Yankees gave him a spot start on July 20th. He was OK, allowing 3 runs in 5 1/3 innings, and picked up the win. His next game was out of the bullpen on July 23, and he pitched a scoreless inning.
His success was about to begin. The Yankees gave him another start on July 28. He gave up 3 runs again, but this time pitched seven innings, and picked up another win. Although he struck out only a single batter, he walked none and scattered six hits.
On August 5, he pitched an even better game: 6 2/3 innings allowing only 1 run on 7 hits and 2 walks. He only struck out 2 batters, but pitched out of trouble on multiple occasions. He won that game. However, the next start on August 10th was his best yet. He struck out seven batters in seven innings, allowing only a single run With only four hits and two walks, Small's command of the game was clearly improving.
Small's next four games would be out of the bullpen. He would pick up the win in the first of those four by pitching a scoreless inning. His next game would actually be his worst yet, blowing a lead after a poor inning. The Yankees inevitably lost that game, although he wasn't charged with a loss. He followed that up with a rather poor outing in 2 2/3 innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk. However, the Yankees won that game. The fourth of those games was actually in relief of an uncharacteristically bad outing from Mike Mussina. Small pitched OK in four innings, although he gave up 3 walks and a hit, but no runs. He would earn the win in that game as the Yankees came back and won.
Small's Success Continues
Small's season only got better from there. His next start was a complete game shutout! His next three starts weren't that great, allowing 4 runs in two of them and 5 runs in another. However, the Yankees offense exploded for a total of 29 runs in those games, so he won them all. This gave him 9 wins on the season, out of nowhere.
His second to last start of the season was a bit sad for Small, because he pitched brilliantly for 6 2/3 innings without allowing a run. But after walking none, giving up only four hits and recording three strikeouts, he pulled from the game. The Yankees went on to lose the game 7-4.
Small's final start of the 2005 season was a mixed bag. He only gave up 2 runs, but allowed 5 walks and 4 hits, including a home run. But four strikeouts and a little bit of luck allowed him to win that game, too. He finished the season with 10 wins.
However, the season wasn't actually over for the New York Yankees. Aaron Small would get one more appearance: Game 3 of the American League Division Series. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good one. He'd follow an ineffective Randy Johnson out of the bullpen and gave up the 2 runs that proved to do in the Yankees in Game 3 against the Angels – taking the loss. The Angels would go onto win that series. It wasn't really Small's fault that they lost the series, but it was a sad way to end what was a magical season for him.
Small's Big Payday
The good news for Aaron Small, however, was that his 2005 efforts would be rewarded. He would earn $1,200,000 for the 2006 season. This was big money for someone who'd spent most of his career in the minor leagues and had endured financial hardship on numerous occasions. Small's 2.7 WAR in only 15 games was incredible, the same amount of value that an above-average Major League pitcher would offer a team in an entire season of work. That looked to be an immense bargain for the Yankees, but it was more money than Small had ever seen in one place.
It was good timing for that payday, too, as 2006 would be Small's last in the Major Leagues. A mix of ineffectiveness and injuries would spell the end of Small's baseball career. He would be "worth" -0.7 WAR. He would start only 3 games for the Yankees in 2006 and only 11 total games. Aaron would never win another game in the Majors, although he would have a couple of decent starts in 2006. Small would be designated for assignment and spend the rest of his season in AAA.
Small would be nearly as bad in his 8 starts and 3 relief appearances in the minor leagues, as well. He would be released by the Yankees after the season. Before the 2007 season, the Seattle Mariners did give Small a minor league contract with a big league invite to spring training. But it didn't work out, and Small hung it up for good.
Small's Other, Even Bigger, Miracle Story
His big league "field of dreams" baseball story is definitely one worth telling. But then, in 2009, Small had an even better story when he miraculously recovered from a near-fatal case of encephalitis. He was in a coma for eight days. It was so bad that he had to learn to walk again. Miraculously, he would recover and be able to live a full life!
A devout Christian, Aaron Small would tell you that his Christian wife, Macy, and God were his greatest benefactors throughout his career. He likely also believes that it was divine intervention that saved his life in 2009. Whether or not you believe in the power of prayer, his wife's support and his faith in his own abilities as a pitcher definitely were major factors in his eventual success.
The goodwill of the Yankees fans that watched his incredible 2005 season probably helped, too Many of them turned up at the last Old Timer's Day at the Old Yankee Stadium to cheer for him. His rollercoaster career, flash-in-the-pan, and return to life are definitely things worth cheering for!
After baseball, Aaron Small became a leader at the Fairview Baptist Tabernacle in Sweetwater, Tennessee. He and and his wife minister to students. It's no surprise that he's remained devoted to his faith and family. He's a good guy who finally got rewarded for all of those years playing the game he loved.
Aaron, we wish you and your family well!
Lyn Lomasi is founder and owner of the Brand Shamans Content Community. Services include ordained soul therapy and healing ministry, business success coaching, business success services, handcrafted healing jewelry, ethereal and anointing oils, altar and spiritual supplies and services, handcrafted healing beauty products, and more!
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