The Best Players from Each State (California, Colorado, & Connecticut)

As we roll on through the great states of the USA, we’ve come to the C’s.

California

Not surprisingly, the state of California has produced a large number of high quality players. Before we even get to the Hall of Farmers, there are so many names of players who appeared in multiple All-Star games…

Graig Nettles, CC Sabathia, Dwight Evans, Chase Utley, Mark McGwire, Keith Hernandez, Dave Stieb, David Wells, Jason Giambi, Ryan Braun, Nomar Garciaparra, Darryl Strawberry, and on and on the list goes. But, ahead of this list are the 24 Hall of Famers from The Golden State.

On the list from California, you have everything from the really old-school greats (like Frank Chance, the player/manager of the game’s first dynasty – the Chicago Cubs who went to 4 of 5 World Series from 1906-1910) to much more modern iterations of baseball greatness (like Dennis Eckersley and Trevor Hoffman who were inducted primarily for pitching one inning per game). On the pitching side, you have some of the absolute best there ever were. Randy Johnson, who struck out more than 4,800 batters in his career – the 2nd most all time. Tom Seaver, who won 311 games with a career ERA of 2.86.

But, for the absolute greatest, I have to go with a batter from California. No, it isn’t Barry Bonds, even though he technically has the highest WAR among all of them, and technically hit more HR than anyone. I just don’t think his pre-steroids numbers are quite as good. And, no, it isn’t even the great Joe DiMaggio, who only had 8 more strikeouts in his career than home runs.

For me, the greatest player to ever come out of California was a contemporary of DiMaggio – which turned out to be unfortunate for him, because his demeanor wasn’t as nice as Joe’s, which cost him more than one MVP award. I have to go with the last man to hit .400 for a season…

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Ted Williams – a career .344 batting average, with over 500 HR, and 2600 hits. 2 MVP’s (should have been about 5), 2 Triple Crowns, and holds the highest career OBP in history (.482). It’s hard to fathom what his total numbers might be had he not lost essentially five years to service in the military during WWII and Korea. For my money, Williams is the best pure hitter the game has ever seen. Which made this an easy choice, in spite of all the great players from California.

Colorado

The state of Colorado hasn’t produced a ton of major league talent. Just 94 players have come from The Centennial State. And only 7 of those have ever appeared in a single All-Star Game.

But, despite this seeming lack of quality production from this state, there are two Hall of Famers from Colorado. And, the choice of the greatest definitely came down to these two. It was a somewhat difficult choice, because they are both pitchers, but pitchers from very different eras, with very different roles.

Ultimately, I did not choose Rich “Goose” Gossage, in spite of his 300+ saves, 9 All-Star Games, and World Series championship in 1978. Instead I went with the only other pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the postseason, besides Don Larsen‘s perfect game in 1956…

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Roy HalladayHalladay won 2 Cy Young’s, and was runner-up on two other occasions. He led the league in shutouts on multiple occasions, as well as strikeout-to-walk ratio. He finished as high as 6th in MVP voting, and has an impressive career win pct. of .659. He was also selected for 8 All-Star games, and was inducted into the HOF just last month.

Connecticut

Can you believe that the little state of Connecticut has produced more than twice as many major league players as Colorado? And, many of them had decent careers – Mo Vaughn, Charles Nagy, Brad Ausmus, Dick McAuliffe, and Jim Piersall.

But, there are only three Hall of Famers from The Constitution State. And every one of them played in the dead-ball era. So, for now, the greatest player to come from the state of Connecticut is…

Connor Roger 751.86 PD

Roger Connor – this Waterbury native played from 1880-1897 for the Troy Trojans, New York Gothams, and St. Louis Browns. Connor was a power-hitter, leading the league in SLG multiple times, and finished 2nd in the league in HR in multiple seasons. He finished his career with an impressive … 138 career HR, which was actually the all-time record. It was a record that would stand for 23 years after his retirement. And, in spite of the fact that he didn’t hit what we would consider to be a lot of home runs, he still had a career OPS of .883 – higher than the likes of Jackie Robinson, Sammy Sosa, Mark Teixeira, and Jose Canseco.

But, Mr. Connor may not hold his grip on this title much longer. There’s a young right fielder born in New Britain, CT that is charging up the leaderboard, by the name of George Springer.

The Best Players From Each State (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, & Arizona)

If you’ve ever been to places like Texas or South Carolina, you know what I mean when I say … some people are VERY proud of their home state.  Some might even say, a little TOO proud?  But, that’s neither here nor there.  The purpose of the next series of posts will be to highlight the best players from each of the 50 states in the USA.  It will be based on the state the player was born in, so there may be some argument from those who know that a player graduated from high school in a state that was different from his birth state.  Be that as it may, we will begin today with all of the A’s.

Alabama

The state of Alabama has produced a surprising number of major league players, and several Hall of Famers.  Even a couple of the more dominant pitchers of this era can trace their roots to the Yellowhammer State – Corey Kluber and Craig Kimbrel.  But, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how many names are on plaques in Cooperstown from a state known more for college football…

Satchel Paige, Don Sutton, Joe Sewell, Heinie Manush, Monte Irvin, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Early Wynn, and Ozzie Smith, to get us started.  These are some great names in the history of the game.  But, as great as these are … they aren’t the best.  In fact, there are two names that stand out ahead of all these.  And, it was a terribly difficult decision.  Runner-up in the state of Alabama goes to…

Hank Aaron.  That’s right.  The man who holds the all-time record for RBI, total bases, and legitimate home runs is the runner up.  I think if he’d been born in pretty much any of the other 49 states, he would be #1 in that state.  But, it just so happens that Hank Aaron was born in the same state as…

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Willie Mays – Yes Aaron has more career HR and RBI than Mays.  But, did you know Aaron also has about 1500 more plate appearances?  The equivalent of more than two years’ worth of playing time.  And, Mays missed the entire 1953 season, serving in the military, which was right at the prime of his career.  These two players have nearly identical career batting numbers, with Aaron having the slight edge in batting avg. (.305 to .302), while Mays has the edge in OBP (.384 to .374).  And, even though Aaron has the lead in HR, Mays has the higher SLG.  For me, it came down to speed and awards.  Mays stole 338 bases, compared to Aaron’s 240.  It was also Mays’ speed that allowed him to play an amazing CF, and win 12 Gold Gloves at one of the most important positions on the field.  Mays also won ROY and 2 MVPs, while Aaron won just one MVP.  What a crazy choice to have to make right off the bat!  I have a feeling it will only get easier from here.

Alaska

Not surprisingly, the largest state in our country has actually produced very few major league ballplayers.  Only 12 players to don a professional baseball jersey were born in “The Last Frontier.”  And, of those twelve, only one is currently on a major league team’s 40-man roster (Tony Barnette – Chicago Cubs).  The most prolific batter to come from Alaska was Josh Phelps, who really only spent about 5 seasons at the major league level, primarily with the Blue Jays.  He showed some promise as a rookie, winning AL rookie of the month in August and September of 2002.  But, he never produced as a consistent major league player.

Which leaves us with pitching options, and the obvious choice for the best player from Alaska …

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Curt Schilling – In my opinion, this Anchorage native belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Considering his contributions to two different World Series teams, including co-MVP of the 2001 champion Diamondbacks, he belongs in the Hall.  But, for now, he can claim the title of greatest from the state of Alaska.  With 216 wins, 3,116 strikeouts, 6 All-Star appearances, and three runner-up finishes in the Cy Young, Schilling stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

Arkansas

The Natural State has probably produced more quality baseball players than you would expect, considering the size of the state.  Even among those who aren’t enshrined in Cooperstown, there are some very good players here:  Torii Hunter, Preacher Roe (a fellow alum of my alma mater), Cliff Lee, Rick Monday, A.J. Burnett, and Johnny Sain.

Six Hall of Famers hail from Arkansas, including Dizzy Dean, Travis Jackson, Arky Vaughan, George Kell, and Brooks Robinson.  It turns out that not picking Robinson here was every bit as difficult as not picking Aaron in Alabama.  Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves at 3B, an MVP in ’64, two World Series championships with the Orioles in ’66 and ’70, and was the World Series MVP in ’70.  But, as impressive as those numbers are, I have to give the nod to…

Cards Brock

Lou Brock – I would dare to say that both Brock and Robinson’s careers are remembered primarily for one particularly amazing skill.  Robinson for his defense at third, and Brock for his ability to steal bases.  And since these two men set the gold standard in those categories (two categories that are impossible to compare), the decision had to come down to something that could be compared.  And, when you compare overall offensive production, Brock comes out on top.  He has more hits than Robinson (3,023), more doubles and more triples, in spite of having about 500 fewer plate appearances.  Brock has the higher batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS.

Arizona

I was shocked by the numbers I saw from the state of Arizona.  Alabama and Arkansas rank 24th and 33rd, respectively, in the nation in population.  Both have produced a large number of high-quality, and even Hall of Fame worthy baseball players.  So, when I turned to Arizona, knowing that it is the 14th largest state by population, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that there have only been 115 players to even come from this state – only 8 of whom have even appeared in a single All-Star game.

Choosing the best player produced by The Grand Canyon State was actually quite easy.  He has more All-Star Game appearances (4), hits (1,998), 2B (416), 3B (41), HR (256), RBI (907), and stolen bases (243) than anyone else.  And, since he is an active player, his claim as the greatest from Arizona should hold up for a while (or, so one might think).  For now, I give you…

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Ian Kinsler – in addition to his offensive production, Kinsler, born in Tucson, has won two Gold Gloves.  But, how long will his numbers remain at the top?  Because lurking not far behind him, with just 3 years under his belt is …. Cody Bellinger.

Don’t Be the 2017 Royals

As we’re coming out of the All-Star break, and we are nearing the trade deadline, there are always those teams that are right there on the bubble.  And, it seems as though there are always a couple teams that miss their chance to capitalize on the opportunity to build for the future.  Teams like the 2017 Kansas City Royals who decided to hold on to several players that were headed to free agency, only to finish the season below .500, and 5 games out of the Wild Card race.  And, today, they have the worst record in the AL, and they don’t have a single prospect in the top 100.

Imagine what the Royals could have picked up in trade for the likes of Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.  But, because they thought they still had one last playoff run left in them, they missed out on their chance to begin building a team that could compete sooner rather than later.  And, the way I see it, there are two teams that are in danger of making the same mistake in 2018.  I would have included the Angels and Cardinals here, because they both probably need to admit they aren’t in legitimate playoff contention. But, they also don’t really have tradable pieces that would make a significant difference to a contender, with perhaps the lone exception of Ian Kinsler.  So, here are the two teams that – barring an incredible run in the next week – need to stop fooling themselves, and plan for the future.

San Francisco Giants

Yes, they currently have a winning record.  But, they’re in 4th place in the division, and are trailing by 4 games in the Wild Card with 5 teams ahead of them.  Meanwhile, they have some very appealing pieces that, if traded, could give this team a boost into the next year or two.

Andrew+McCutchen+San+Franciso+Giants+v+Los+GTZAcN0EeYplAndrew McCutchen plays a premium position, and currently has a .764 OPS in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark.  Nick Hundley would be a nice pick-up for a team needing some help at catcher.  Derek Holland hasn’t been lights out, but he could add depth to a contender’s bullpen.  All of these will be free agents at the end of this season.

If you really wanted to go into rebuild mode, and start planning for 2020, can you imagine the haul the Giants could get for Madison Bumgarner (who has one year left after this one before becoming a free agent)??  Relievers Will Smith and Tony Watson would also fetch a nice price on the trade market, and they will be free agents after 2019.  The Giants have a nice long-term core in Posey, Longoria, Cueto, Crawford, and Belt.  But, they also have a payroll over $190 million, and only one prospect in the top 100.  If now isn’t the time to start building momentum for the future, then I’m not sure when is.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals, more than any other team, are almost exactly where the Royals were a year ago.  They have several key pieces that will be free agents at the end of the year.  They have recent postseason experience.  And, they’re not technically out of the race this year.  But, let’s be realistic…

They’re 5.5 games behind the Phillies, who are likely going to make a trade to get even better before the trade deadline.  They’re 5 games out of the Wild Card, with half a dozen teams ahead of them.  And, since the end of May, they’ve gone 15-25.  This is not a team that is headed in the right direction.

But, take a look at the players that will be free agents at the end of this year:

  • Gio Gonzalez
  • Daniel Murphy
  • Ryan Madson
  • Shawn Kelley
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Matt Adams
  • Jeremy Hellickson
  • And … hmmm … I keep thinking I’m forgetting someone … oh yeah … BRYCE HARPER!

19623203605_914875df50_kWith the exception of perhaps Madson and Murphy, every one of these names would be appealing to contending teams.  The Nats have a great young core in place with Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Michael Taylor.  Plus, Victor Robles is on his way.  Add to that the prospects they could rake in by trading away these names … never mind “rebuild.”  The Nationals could be ready to compete again in 2019!

Well, that is, if they don’t make the same mistake as the 2017 Royals.

Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

Greatest Single Season in History at First Base

There are some amazing offensive seasons by first basemen. And, it’s all over the board, regarding what made that particular season so impressive. George Sisler had 257 hits in 1920, batting .407 (the second highest average ever at first base – second only to Sisler’s .420 in 1922!). Stan Musial led the league in runs, hits, doubles, and triples in 1946. How great might Jeff Bagwell’s ’94 season have ended up being, had it not been for the strike? He already had 39 HR, 116 RBI, and a 1.201 OPS in just 110 games.

But, as great as those seasons are, there were a couple names that showed up time after time after time. In fact, before I reveal who they are, let me put this in perspective. Albert Pujols is easily the best first baseman of his era. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and will go down as one of the greatest sluggers of all-time. In his best seasons, he had an OPS over 1.100, hit 45+ HR, drove in 130+, etc. He has some great seasons under his belt. But, when you sort the best seasons at first base by OPS, or OPS+, there are a couple guys whose names appear multiple times before you even get to Pujols’ best season.

Honorable mention, here, goes to Jimmie Foxx. A guy that I’ve always felt was under-appreciated, because he just happened to play in the shadow of the Yankees during their dynasty of the ’20’s and ’30’s. Foxx has two seasons with an OPS+ over 200 (201 in ’33, and 207 in ’32). He won the MVP in ’32 with a 1.218 OPS, 58 HR, 169 RBI, and 438 total bases – all of which led the league. But, as amazing as that was, the best overall season at first base has to belong to . . .

Lou Gehrig – 1927

Gehrig has so many incredible seasons, it was difficult to choose. He has six seasons in which his OPS is higher than Pujols’ best year. SIX! He has three seasons in which he bat over .370. Seven in which he drove in 150+ runs. Five seasons with 40+ HR. Eight seasons with 200+ hits. And, not once did he strike out as many as 85 times in a season. In fact, his average full season was a .343/.452/.640 slash line with 36 HR, 147 RBI, and just 56 K’s.

So, for his best season, I went with the one in which he posted the highest OPS ever by a first baseman – 1.240 in ’27. He also bat .373 (7th best at first – behind 2 of his other seasons), hit 47 HR, drove in a league best 173 (4th most in history at 1B), and led the league with 52 doubles, while collecting 218 hits. All of which led to 447 total bases – the most ever by a first baseman.

Imagine facing a team in which Gehrig puts up those kind of crazy numbers . . . and he’s the second best player on the team. Yikes.

Next up: Greatest Single Season at Second Base.

Greatest Single Season in History (Catcher)

Giancarlo Stanton is approaching 60 HR’s.  For much of the year, Justin Turner was batting .380 or better.  Chris Sale was just the 4th pitcher in history to reach 200 K’s in his first 20 starts of the season.  There’s no question we are seeing some amazing things in 2017.  I only hope that the postseason is every bit as exciting.  All of these individual accomplishments got me to thinking about some of the great individual seasons I’ve seen in my lifetime – Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown in 2012; Alex Rodriguez’s 40/40 season in 1998; Pedro Martinez’s incredible season in 1999.  But, to put those seasons in context, I decided to do a little research into the greatest single seasons in baseball history.  Not surprisingly, there were some names that appeared multiple times (Ruth, Williams, etc.). So, I decided to dig a little deeper – who has had the greatest single season at each position?

Naturally, this may stir some debate, as the definition of the “greatest” season will vary, depending on which statistics you emphasize.  But, based on the research I have done, there will be 10 posts in the coming days covering the most impressive seasons by any player at each position (splitting pitchers into starters and relievers).  And, today’s is…

Catcher

While this isn’t always one of the best hitting positions in the game, there is no shortage of great offensive seasons at catcher.  Joe Mauer won a batting title, and the MVP, while also leading the league in OPS (1.031 – including the highest OBP by a catcher since 1935) in 2009.  Mike Piazza had two 40-HR seasons, and drove in 100+ six different times.  Buster Posey won a batting title in 2012, and had the highest single-season OPS+ by any catcher not named Piazza.

But, offense isn’t the only metric needed to measure a catcher’s success.  Certainly, to be considered here, offense matters.  But, a catcher’s defensive capabilities are every bit as important.  And, when you have a catcher with a great bat and glove, you have something really special. Which is why honorable mention here goes to Gary Carter.  In terms of dWAR, he owns the best season by a catcher in history, and it really isn’t even close (4.0 in ’83).  He also has some great offensive seasons in his career, driving in 100+ five times, hitting 25+ HR’s five times.  But, the greatest single season in history belongs to:

Johnny Bench – 1972Johnny Bench

From an offensive perspective, it was the best season of his career.  He led the league in HR (40), RBI (125), and even in IBB’s (23 – the 2nd most ever by a catcher!).  He had a .920 OPS, and a 166 OPS+ (tied for the 6th highest in history by a catcher with at least 100 games behind the plate).

But, in addition to all of this – Bench was incredible behind the plate.  He led all catchers in caught-stealing percentage (53%), and in defensive WAR (2.4), which played a part in him winning his 5th of 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.  His overall WAR was 8.6, which among catchers is second only to Piazza’s 8.7 in ’97.  It’s no wonder he won his second MVP in ’72, as he led the Reds to their 2nd of 4 World Series appearances during his career.

Up next:  Greatest Single Season at First Base.  Pujols?  Gehrig?  Foxx?  We’ll see.

3 Up 3 Down

As we’re heading into the final stretch of the season, there are some teams making a push for the playoffs, some teams sitting comfortably at the top of their division, and some teams starting to show some chinks in the armor. So, let’s take a look at three teams that are looking like they could make a legitimate postseason push (3 up), and 3 teams that may be primed for a late-season swoon (3 down).

3 UP

  • St. Louis Cardinals – this is a team that has underperformed in a pretty significant way. Despite the fact that they have outscored their opponents by more than 40 runs, they have only played to a 57-56 record. Their Pythagorean record is 62-51. So, what has happened? Well, they’re 5 games below .500 in 1-run games. They’re batting .262 with runners in scoring position (8th in the NL). So, with a little better luck, and some more timely hitting, this is a team that can capitalize on the fact that they have several games coming up against the Braves, Giants, Padres, and Reds.
  • Colorado Rockies – this might not seem like such a stretch to say that the Rockies are headed in the right direction. They’ve played to a .571 win pct. both before and after the break. And, it isn’t as if they have any chance of catching the red-hot Dodgers. But, consider this – they have already played most of the games they will play within their division. And, they have yet to play teams like the Marlins, Tigers, and Braves. Oh my.
  • Baltimore Orioles – at the time, I thought they made the worst trade-deadline decisions. A team that seemed clearly out of contention, and with players headed to free agency – they obviously should have been sellers, right? Well, don’t look now, but the offense in Baltimore has woken up. They’ve outscored their opponents by almost 30 runs since the break, and are now just 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up ground, too, as they will play several games against the teams right around them in the standings the rest of the way (like Tampa Bay, Seattle, and New York).

3 DOWN

  • Kansas City Royals – the Royals are 57-55. But, that record is a bit deceiving. Their Pythagorean win-loss record is 54-58, because they’ve actually allowed 21 more runs than they’ve scored thus far this season. And, while they went on a tear in June & July (33-19), they played an awful lot of games those months against the likes of the White Sox, Padres, Blue Jays, etc. They’re 2-6 thus far in August, and just lost their leader (Salvador Perez) for at least 10 days. I say they’re in position to have some mediocre days, and fall out of contention.
  • Seattle Mariners – yes, they’ve played to a 15-9 record since the All-Star break. But, they’ve managed to do that, in spite of actually being outscored by their opponents. They’re also an unsustainable 19-10 this season in 1-run games. So, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to sustain the run that has put them in a tie for the second Wild Card spot. They have middle-of-the-pack pitching, and rank 9th in the league in OPS. Not exactly the kind of stats that should make Mariner fans excited.
  • Milwaukee Brewers – the pitching that looked so good in the first half of the season (4th best team ERA in the NL), has begun to look more like what we should have expected (7th in the NL since the break), leading to a 9-15 record, and being outscored by 25 runs. But, even more telling is the fact that the Brewers racked up a ton of wins against some very bad competition in the first half: a 19-6 record against the Reds, Marlins, Mets, and Padres. They have series coming up against the Rockies, Dodgers, and Nationals, which is very likely going to push them out of serious contention.