José Cardenal

As is often the case in these kinds of leagues, the team that I inherited in the CBA was terrible.  Last time I looked at potential Triple Crown seasons; rest assured none of my Iowa Owls were a threat to win that kind of award!  When you run a bad team in a draft league, you learn to take pride in marginal things, and in little-ball stats.

The Owls played in the Astrodome.  I picked that stadium because my team had very little power, so the distant outfield walls didn’t hurt the home boys much.  Two of my first acquisitions, Brian Hunter & Delino DeShields, were players whose poor on-base skills made them cheap to obtain.  But their speed skills seemed well suited to the Astrodome’s artificial turf, and they were both young enough (25 and 27 in 1996)  that one could hope for that elusive upside.  In this case, Hunter would ultimately disappoint but DeShields turned into a rock-solid performer.  Here are their averages  and steal numbers during my initial rebuild period, 1996-1998:

Year   Brian Hunter    Delino DeShields 
1996   .276, 35 SB     .224, 48 SB
1997   .269, 74 SB     .295, 55 SB
1998   .254, 42 SB     .290, 26 SB

Hunter played a decent CF and had a good arm, but his on-base was below .300 in two of those three seasons so I was fortunate to be able to replace him with Mike Cameron (also fast, but better power and on-base).  I don’t recall who took over for Delino at second — this seems like a position where players come and go fairly quickly — but he was definitely one of my favorites!  His peak season was 1997, and part of the fun that year was his high triple total, a league-leading 14.  Triples are definitely one of the categories where a bad team can claim some small measure of fame.

In the IBC action, we are now done with the month of June.  With the all-star break approaching fast, let’s shine a light on what I think of as the Little Ball categories: high numbers for steals, triples, sacs, and low numbers for grounding into DP and caught stealing.  It’s a made-up category, but one that I have been subconsciously looking at ever since the halcyon days of my 1997 Owls.  Below are the top-scoring players thus far:

Name                 3B  SAC   DP   SB   CS   (3B+SAC+SB)-(DP+CS)
Lou Brock, DPK        4    1    4   38   10      29
B. Campaneris, CBF    2    6    3   25    9      21
Willie Davis, CRS     1    5    1   18    6      17
Matty Alou, ALC       0    6    2   17    5      16
Cesar Tovar, CRS      5    5    5   19    9      15
Jose Cardenal, SCC    3    1    0   15    5      14
Vada Pinson, SCC      4    2    3   11    1      13
Glenn Beckert, DMS    2    8    5    6    1      10
Joe Foy, ICR          2    6    0    4    2      10
Don Buford, ALC       4    0    3   15    7       9
Jim Fregosi, WMM      8    4    5    4    2       9
Roy White, DMS        3    0    4   13    4       8
Tom McCraw, WLS       6    2    0    7    7       8

To a man, this list represents the kind of player for whom I’ve developed an affection.  They aren’t known for the kinds of things that lead to a high OPS; in this group, White’s 17 homers and Buford’s 57 walks are definite statistical outliers.  Instead what we mostly have are the Hunters and DeShields of their day, typically outfielders and middle infielders with a skill set that has become rare in today's game (where the focus is on power and getting on base).  A few of the players on the list are maybe worthy of an extra line or two.

Willie Davis

Willie Davis had been on those Koufax-led Dodger teams that I followed during my baseball infancy.  He was fast but had a relatively low OBP; this made him a pretty typical CF guy in this era.  It is interesting to note that one of Davis’ Top 10 Similarity names is also on the list above, Vada Pinson, another good glove out in center who hit left-handed.  For his career, Willie Davis posted a fine +60 WAR value. But he coulda-shoulda have been even better.  Unleashing perhaps the cruelest epithat in sports, GM Buzzie Bavasi said he “could have been a Hall of Famer, but he had million-dollar legs and a 10-cent head.”  Essentially, Davis had a problem with making bone-headed plays — he would lose balls in the sun at key moments, etc.  He would go on to win his two gold gloves in the early 1970s, when he was in his early thirties, so maybe he was just slow in maturing.  But everything else about him was fast, including his death at age 69.   

Jose Cardenal

When I think of José Cardenal, I think of how hard it must have been to put a cap over that big Afro.  One of my classmates at Regina, Jack Thoman, had an awesome white-guy Afro.  This was back when a 6-footer could still be a center on the basketball court, and my chief memory of Jack was his leaping ability.  Cardenal was part of the Cuban wave jumping to America in the years prior to the revolution.  He was still a bit green in 1968, his 24th year, and was a long-time coach in the majors after retiring in 1980.  Jose’s best seasons would come later, but in 1968 he turned not one but two unassisted double plays (tying a record for outfielders), something no one else has done since back in 1931.  His Top Ten Similar players includes Roy White, who is also on the above list (and who I remember as a much better player, but who am I to argue with baseball-reference.com?).

Tom McCraw

The last player on the list who caught my eye, Tommy McCraw, was only a career +9 WAR.  I use the tag “only” at my peril, I suppose, but McCraw was never an all-star and never topped 500 ABs, the general yardstick measure of a regular.  In 1968 he banged a dozen triples and stole twenty bags, which goes to show he belongs on the list, but like Davis and Cardenal would need another fifty points of batting average to really be a star.  What’s interesting about McCraw is that he mostly played first base, but wasn’t a great fit for the position due to the lack of power.  He’s also sort of a poster boy for the adage “those that can’t do, teach,” in that he was the hitting coach for various teams for twenty years after he retired.  It is interesting to see his Top Similarity Player is Mike Lum, a teammate of his on the Waterloo Sailors and a player for whom I have no feeling for whatsoever.  But there are hundreds of players every year, and who can really say why or how a McCraw sticks in our memory.

Here is a link to the Strat-O-Matic league file after 12 weeks of play, and the current standings.  Des Moines remains hot, going 7-3 to inch past Waterloo in the standings.  On the flip side, Cedar Rapids has had a rough time, going 3-7.  Front-runner Council Bluffs withstood head-to-head challenges from Davenport and Ames this past week, going 4-2 against them to extend the lead a bit.

1968IB-4-5-2019.lzp

6/30/68 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      52     27    .658     —
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)         45     31    .592    5.5
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)   44     32    .579    6.5
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)      40     37    .519   11.0
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)      39     39    .500   12.5
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)      39     40    .494   13.0

Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)       35     43    .449   16.5
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      34     44    .436   17.5
West Metro Maroons (Angels-Mets)         33     47    .413   19.5

Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators-Astros)  28     49    .364   23.0

That’s all for this week.  We’ll look at some lesser pitchers next time!

© John Kisner 2019