Tagged: SB

Sacrificing

Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run. 

Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.

A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team. 

In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.

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Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)

In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat. 

Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint. 

On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy. 

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Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)

The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.

The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3. 

San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)

The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series

Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team. 

As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.

DJ

To Catch A Thief

Christmas is not the only cause for celebration on December 25th. One of the most unique players in baseball history celebrates his birthday around the Christmas tree, Rickey Henderson. The career leader in Runs, Stolen Bases, Caught Stealing, and Self-Confidence turns 58 today.

The legendary speedster terrorized opposing pitchers and catchers for 25 seasons. Rickey Henderson’s game was built upon speed, confidence, and skill. Henderson had a career .279 BA and .401 OBP. Simply put, he got on base and then used his speed to help his team win.

Getting on base by a walk or a hit did not matter to Henderson, his job was to just get on base any way he could. The ability to know the strike zone means not chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Avoiding bad pitches forces the pitcher to throw strikes if they are serious about getting the batter out. However, his speed on the bases meant pitchers did not want to give Henderson a free pass which led to 3,055 hits and 297 career home runs. Force is mass times acceleration and Rickey Henderson had enough speed to spare for some added power. Pitchers were forced to decide if they wanted to play with speed or power, neither was a good option.

Ricky Henderson
Ricky Henderson never needed any extra advantage on the base paths. (www.90feetofperfection.com)

Rickey Henderson is second all time with 2,190 walks. He led the American League four times in walks and had seven seasons of 100 or more walks. A walk for a player with the speed and skill of Henderson was just as good as a hit. Henderson averaged 0.456 steals per game in his 25 season career. A walk meant a high probability of a man on second in the near future, so there was not much difference between a walk and a double.

The speed that made Henderson a Hall of Famer was never in short supply. Henderson stole 50 or more bases in 14 seasons and for three of those seasons he stole more than 100. He led the league in steals 12 times, and holds the all time record for most career steals with 1,406. Hall of Famer Lou Brock has the second most career steals with 938; Brock’s career total is about two-thirds of Henderson’s career total. It took Lou Brock 19 seasons to collect his 938 steals, whereas it only took Henderson 13 seasons to catch and pass Brock. Henderson played 12 more seasons after surpassing Brock’s record. The longevity of Henderson’s career has made the task of breaking the steals record among the most difficult records to break in all of baseball. Henderson first led the American League in steals in 1980 with 100 steals at 21 years old. He led the American League for the 12th and final time in 1998 with 66 steals at 39 years old. Even as he approached the twilight of his career, Henderson continued to run, he stole 109 bases after turning 40 years old.

Getting on base and stealing bases is exciting, but scoring runs is what matters most to the team. Henderson led the American League five times in runs scored, scored 100 or more runs in 13 seasons, and holds the all time career record with 2,295 runs scored. Getting on base means opportunities to score runs. Stealing a base or taking the extra base only increases the chance to score and puts pressure on the pitching and fielding.

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The self-proclaimed Greatest of All Time. (www.SI.com)

Examining the career or single season numbers for Rickey Henderson from now until eternity can only do so much to convince a person of his greatness. The true test of greatness is continued success despite the opponent knowing what you are trying to do. Much like Mariano Rivera throwing the cutter, the opposition knew when Henderson was going to steal and were mostly powerless to stop him. Henderson was successfully in 80.75% of his stolen base attempts; a success rate above 65% is considered good. Everyone in the ball park knew Henderson was going to steal when he got on, yet opposing pitchers and catchers could do little to prevent him from running wild. Henderson’s speed on the bases meant pitchers had to pay attention to him otherwise a walk could result with a man on second or third.

Rickey Henderson was elected to 10 All Star games, won the 1990 American League Most Valuable Player award, and was a first ballot Hall of Famer in an era that placed the emphasis on power not speed. He was not a return to the dead ball era of baseball where speed carried the day; rather Rickey Henderson was something baseball had never seen, and most likely never will again. Many players arrive in the Majors with the ability to steal bases and develop their home run power later. Only a select few have the ability to maintain their speed while developing that power. It’s a rare sight to see them causing havoc on the bases for 10 seasons, much less 25.

Happy Birthday to the Greatest of All Time

DJ