Tag: Walter Johnson

Joe Judge’s Third-Place MVP Finish Produced Disorder in the Sport

Sixth in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

Never a superstar, Joe Judge spent 20 years as a solid, dependable first baseman. Still in the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins top 10 of most batting categories more than eight decades after last playing in the nation’s capital, he has remained in the shadows not only of Hall of Fame teammates Goose Goslin and Sam Rice but of the heavy-hitting behemoths who shared the same position—George Sisler, Lou Gehrig and, later, Jimmie Foxx.

Even away from cavernous Griffith Stadium, the smallish Judge was not a prototypical first baseman (to this day, he holds the franchise mark for sacrifice bunts—a tactic virtually unthinkable for a first sacker since the live-ball era); Judge belted only 57 home runs in more than 1,000 road games.

Yet, like many Senators players, he took advantage of his home park’s deep alleys, legging out 157 triples. And Judge was swift enough to swipe 213 bases during his career.

A lifetime .298 hitter, Judge exercised excellent bat control, drawing twice as many bases on balls as he struck out, giving him a healthy on-base percentage of .378. Judge helped his perennially also-ran Senators to consecutive pennants, spearheading Washington to its lone championship, in 1924, with a .385 average in the World Series—where, as usual, he was overshadowed, this time by the great Walter Johnson.

After 18 years in the nation’s capital, the Brooklyn native went home and put in 42 ineffective games with the Dodgers before being released. Quickly signing with the Boston Red Sox, he eked out another 45 games over two seasons, ending his career with 2,352 hits, 1,184 runs scored and 1,034 RBI.

Despite ranking, upon retirement, seventh all-time in putouts, fourth in assists and holding the highest fielding percentage for a first baseman in baseball history, Judge may be best remembered as the man who hastened the end of Walter Johnson’s career, when he smashed a line drive off The Big Train’s ankle in spring training of 1927.

This is an unfair label for Judge, as the 40-year-old Johnson recovered from the fracture to pitch 107.2 innings, although he was no longer effective—which one would expect of even a healthy 40-year-old.

Judge’s worth was recognized in his own time, collecting MVP votes in four seasons. Yet the fourth of those seasons rings peculiarly. In 1928, Judge tied for third with Tony Lazzeri in the AL MVP vote—well ahead of some big-name players.

That Lazzeri placed third is, in itself, a surprise—although a key member of Murderers’ Row, injuries limited him to 116 games. Why writers shunned George Pipgras (a league-high 24 wins and 300.2 innings) is a mystery.

Perhaps they figured Pinstripes pitching coasted on New York’s battering-ram offense. (It didn’t—New York owned the second-best team ERA in addition to the AL’s best offense.)

Judge came in far ahead of the only two other Yankees to garner MVP votes: Earle Combs (118 runs scored, an AL-high 21 triples) and Waite Hoyt (23-7, 3.36 ERA). (At the time, any American League player who had already won the MVP since its inception in 1922 was not eligible for future MVP awards. This eliminated Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who, between them would have carted off the lion’s share of MVPs during the decade.)

One wonders what voters were thinking in 1928—the 98-win Philadelphia Athletics saw only two of their players make the ballot. And although the A’s Mickey Cochrane took home the MVP (just edging out Heinie Manush and his 241 hits), Lefty Grove and his Pipgras-tying 24 wins did not earn a single vote. (Incredibly, neither did Grove in 1930, when he won the pitching triple crown.)

With the Senators finishing a remote fourth—Washington was out of the pennant race before summer began—it’s hard to comprehend how a player from a team with a 75-79 record outpolled so many players from the contenders. (For the 1928 vote, only Ruth and Gehrig, among the Yankees and Athletics, were ineligible.)

Yes, Judge finished in the top 10 in walks, RBI, on-base percentage and stolen bases—yet he didn’t come close to leading in any of them.

And although he enjoyed another sterling year in the field, Judge hit a relatively pedestrian .306, with only 44 extra-base hits and 78 runs scored (trailing even such renowned table setters as Earle Combs and Joe Sewell in slugging percentage).

Judge did put together a strong second half, batting .336 and racking up an OPS of .896, but Washington fell 20 games off the lead before July. If anyone from the mediocre Senators deserved to scale the MVP vote so high, it was Goose Goslin, who snared the batting crown with a .379 average and slugged a mighty .614.

With the possible exception of Manush, Goslin was the most dangerous AL hitter after the MVP-ineligible Ruth and Gehrig (he led all vote-getters in WAR). Yet, enigmatically, Goose collected fewer than half the votes as did Judge.

Likewise, it’s outright baffling that no St. Louis Brown besides Manush made an appearance on the ballot. St. Louis improved by 23 victories over the previous season, yet voters completely ignored General Crowder, whose 21-5 record on a club that played only .532 ball should have put him right in the thick of the award race with Cochrane and Manush. 

Freshly traded from the ascendant Athletics, first-year Brownie Sam Gray, who fashioned a 20-12 record and a fine 3.19 ERA, also should have gotten votes. Didn’t any of those writers pay attention?

For all I know, Joe may have been thoroughly popular throughout the league with beat writers looking for quotes—which could have served him well come voting time. Yet considering that, in 1924, Judge received nary a vote despite hitting .324 while helping Washington to its first pennant (nor did Goslin, despite an AL-high 129 RBI—go figure), finishing third in the MVP race during a lost season is more than a little hard to fathom.

Ironically, Judge may well have been earmarked for a trade that season. The previous December, Washington owner Clark Griffith had bought George Sisler, St. Louis’ slowly fading superstar of a first baseman, for a pricey $25,000.

No longer the batting wizard he had been before losing a full season to sinusitis in the early part of the decade, Sisler was still a productive hitter—and a better one than Judge. Coming off a 200-hit campaign, his acquisition could only have meant that Griffith was looking to move the longtime Senator.

Calls for action about the logjam at first base became an open matter as early as two weeks into the season, even though Sisler had barely left the bench. Yet, strangely, Sisler never got a chance in Washington, pinch-hitting sporadically for a month before Griffith sold him to the Boston Braves at a $17,500 loss, while Judge went on to play all but one of Washington’s games that season.

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MLB Opening Day: Bob Feller and the 10 Most Amazing Opening Day Performances

On Thursday, March 31, baseball will make its long-awaited return with its traditional Opening Day.  It will be a day when fans just sit back, relax and enjoy the game before the divisional rivalries cause battles in the bleachers.  With the epic pitching matchup of CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander kicking off the season, it’s sure to be a great 2011.

In other games, careers will be made while others may end due to injury.  Fans will laugh, cry and cheer as their favorite players have (hopefully), amazing first games.

Some Opening Day performances have been good enough to be marked in the annals forever, including one notable one by Bob Feller (pictured at left).  To celebrate this long-standing tradition as well as Feller’s accomplishment, here are the top 10 most amazing Opening Day performances in history!

Begin Slideshow

CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright and Cy Young

Can we really look through the historical legacy of Major League Baseball and say that out of all of the great arms that have stymied hitters for the past century that Cy Young was the greatest of them all? I, personally, don’t think so. That is completely up to debate, as is almost all things baseball, and especially the Cy Young award and how it has evolved into the most prestigious pitching award given away in the Major Leagues.

Cy Young had the most wins of any pitcher to have ever played professional baseball in the United States of America. That total would reach a gargantuan, never to be duplicated nor approached, 511. Cy Young also had the most losses of any pitcher to have ever played professional baseball in the United States of America. However, as this year’s Cy Young award is heating up to a serious debate, deservedly so, let’s look at this a little bit further. 

The pitcher with lowest career ERA in baseball’s history is Ed Walsh who posted a ridiculous 1.82 career average. To his discredit, he only won 195 games over his 14 seasons – 13 of those played with the White Sox. Addie Joss is second with a 1.88 career ERA that he posted over 9 seasons playing in Cleveland. He only won 160 games. 

Now if we were to take this debate a bit further and look at only those pitchers that won 300 plus games and looked at their statistical careers in comparison to that of Cy Young’s, we might consider changing the name of the award. 

The top 3 positions in wins are Cy Young, Walter Johnson (417), Pete Alexander (373) and Christy Mathewson (373). Before I go further, I am in no way trying to diminish what Cy Young did as a pitcher because it is truly a remarkable thing, and … I’m biased toward guys who played for Cleveland, anyway. (wink, wink). 

However, if we look into this a bit, we find that Cy Young had a career 2.63 ERA. Great by any standard that you can produce because that’s still giving up less than 3 runs per game and even some of our contemporary greats were not as brilliant. For instance, Greg Madduxs’ career ERA is 3.16; Roger Clemens, 3.12; Tom Glavine, 3.54; Randy Johnson, 3.29. Each of these men, as you know, one over 300 games. So, Cy Young’s 2.63 career earned run average is still statistically superior than most. 

But, his career ERA is not statistically superior to either Walter Johnson (2.17), Christy Mathewson (2.13), or Pete Alexander (2.54). How about career walk/hits per innings pitched? Cy Young posted a career WHIP of 1.13, higher than Johnson (1.06), Mathewson (1.06) and Alexander (1.12). 

Strikeouts? Walter leads all four of these gentlemen with a very respectable 3509, with Cy Young a distant second with 2803. I say a “distant second” because Cy Young pitched 149 more games than Johnson. 

Another stat that I think is pretty telling is that Walter Johnson also holds the record for the most career shutouts with 110, directly ahead of Alexander (90), Mathewson (79) and Young (76). Conversely, Walter had the lowest winning percentage of the four (.599), while Mathewson had the highest (.665)

King Felix Hernandez deserves the Cy Young award solely on what he was able to do with limited run support on a Seattle Mariners team that was supposed to be much better than they showed this year. However, let’s be clear. Using the criteria that I stated above, the Cy Young award is clearly about winning. Because outside of innings pitched, batters faced, games started and complete games … Cy Young was statistically inferior to the other aforementioned greats. 

We could go throughout history and find many times when pitchers had statistically superior years to pitchers and lost because they did not have as many wins. However, if it is called the  Cy Young award then it is clearly about winning because that was the area of his superiority. 

This is why CC Sabathia deserves the award. But, not only does he deserve the award because he has the most wins, and good statistics, but he has clearly been the ace and anchor of a pitching staff that has been suspect most of the year in New York. Furthermore, he has pitched in high pressure games in a tight pennant race the entire season, whereas Seattle has just been … well … playing. 

It does not need to be pointed out that Felix leads in all other categories besides runs, but, the fact remains … he plays for a really bad team that has not scored runs and it would seem ridiculous to give the award to a guy who may win 13-14 games, instead of a guy who may end up with 21-22 wins, that has pitched well all season. 

Also, moving onto the National League, why is Adam Wainwright considered a dark horse candidate to Roy Halladay, when they both have 20 wins, plus very close statistics. Do I sense a little Roy Halladay favoritism? Let’s take a look. 

Wainwright’s statistics: 20-11, 2.42 ERA, 230 innings, 1.05 WHIP, 230 strikeouts, .224 BAA, 5 complete games and 2 shutouts.

Roy Halladay? 20-10, 2.53 ERA, 241.2 innings, 1.07 WHIP, 213 strikeouts, .250 BAA, 8 complete games and 3 shutouts. 

I’d say that they are pretty even, but Roy has the one-up on Wainwright in the fact that he threw one of 2 perfect games this season. 

Why is all of this important? CC had the most wins in the American League last season, as did Wainwright in the National League. Not only did they have the most wins, they went to the post-season and had solid statistical seasons. But, they lost out to two guys who had better numbers, and less wins (Greinke had 16, while Lincecum had 15). 

I like statistics as much as the next guy. I can look at www.baseball-reference.com all day long and get lost in looking at the history of the game and the men that made it great.

But, the fact still remains when it comes to the Cy Young award; it’s about winning … plain and simple.

It is not the Christy Mathewson award, although you could argue for it. It is not the Walter Johnson award, although I would be the guy arguing for that. It is the Cy Young Award, named after the pitcher with the most wins in baseball’s lustrous history.

It would be a shame for a 20+ game winner to lose to a guy with less than 15 wins because he had better numbers. 

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