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Buster Olney’s top 10 second basemen



If you’d like a peek into the future of catching once the electronic strike zone is implemented, just consider how quickly second base has changed since the rules against aggressive slides was adopted in 2016.

Back then, one skill separated good second basemen from the bad ones — the ability to take a throw with a runner bearing down, quickly transferring the ball from glove to hand and then firing an accurate throw to first to perhaps complete a double play. When fielders moved from other positions to second base, this was what almost all of them found to be the greatest challenge — learning how to do this adeptly.

But because of what is known as the Chase Utley rule, there is little value attached to this practiced flurry of hands and feet because the middle infielders almost never get dumped anymore.

Increasingly, teams treat second base much the way they do first base — as a spot to mine offensive potential through matchups. In yesterday’s series piece, it was mentioned that the Dodgers deployed 10 different players at first. The volume was almost as high for L.A. at second: Enrique Hernandez, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux and Chris Taylor were among the eight second basemen deployed by Dave Roberts, at the helm of one of baseball’s best and most progressive teams.

The Brewers provided a classic example of where the position stands with their handling of second base in 2018. After acquiring Mike Moustakas, they shifted Travis Shaw to second base, a position at which Shaw had played exactly zero innings professionally. But Milwaukee wanted a way to shoehorn Moustakas and Shaw into the lineup, rather than choose between the two, so Shaw learned how to play big league second base … in the big leagues.

He started 36 games in that spot as the Brewers surged to win the NL Central, and in 2019, it was Moustakas who made the move to second, for 359⅔ innings. Milwaukee reached the playoffs again with some new middle infielders getting significant time at a spot where, generally, high-caliber defense was once a priority.

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Athletics vs. Angels – Game Recap – August 10, 2020



ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mike Trout is beginning to believe there might be something to the notion of having added power after the birth of a child.

The reigning AL MVP has certainly been on a tear since son Beckham was born. Trout homered twice Monday night, including a tiebreaking shot in the eighth inning, as the Los Angeles Angels rallied from an early five-run deficit for a 10-9 victory that snapped the Oakland Athletics‘ nine-game winning streak.

“People ask me about this Dad power. I guess it is a thing,” Trout said. “There’s nothing like being a Dad.”

With three hits in the series opener, Trout is 11 for 30 with six home runs and 11 RBI in the past seven games. He rejoined the team in Seattle on Aug. 4 after his wife, Jessica, gave birth to Beckham on July 30.

“I am a little more relaxed. Leading up to it I was extremely worried about the coronavirus,” Trout said. “I didn’t want to have it and come home. But we have been keeping it safe in the Trouthold and everyone in the organization has been doing a good job.”

Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani also homered for the Angels.

Trout’s solo drive off Yusmeiro Petit (1-1) in the eighth helped Los Angeles stop a three-game skid. It was the 20th multi-homer game of Trout’s career, which tied Tim Salmon and Vladimir Guerrero for the franchise record.

“We had a rough weekend. We weren’t doing our jobs when we had our chances,” Trout said. “But this is a new homestand and we got a huge win against an Oakland team that was coming in hot.”

Los Angeles trailed 9-4 in the fourth before Trout began the rally with a two-run drive into the Angels’ bullpen in left field. Ohtani had an RBI double in the inning to bring them to 9-7 and then tied it with a two-run homer to center in the sixth.

It was Ohtani’s 44th career home run, which tied Tadahito Iguchi for fourth in the majors by a Japanese-born player.

The Angels’ bullpen, which has struggled this season, allowed only two hits over the final five innings.

Noe Ramirez, Keynan Middleton, Felix Pena (1-0) and Ty Buttrey held Oakland scoreless. Buttrey earned his second save.

“They struggled early in the season, but hopefully the issue has resolved itself,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Normally it takes a month to get a bullpen in order and we are trying to do it more quickly.”

Matt Chapman homered twice and tied a career high with six RBI for AL West-leading Oakland.

After the Angels got three runs in the first, Chapman put Oakland on the board as he lined Julio Teheran‘s fastball over the wall in left-center leading off the second. Chapman gave Oakland a 5-3 lead an inning later with a two-run drive to center for the fifth multi-homer game of his career.

Chapman’s bases-loaded triple in the fourth extended the Athletics’ lead to 8-4. But after Chapman scored when Mark Canha‘s shallow fly to left popped out of Justin Upton‘s glove, the A’s managed only two hits over the final five innings.

“We had a couple of bad pitches, plus pretty good hitting lineup on their part, too,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “Our guys have been pretty good this season and it was just a tough night. Tonight was an offensive night and hitters got their due. For a bullpen that’s been as good as we have been, we just gave up some runs tonight.”


Teheran retired the side in the first but ran into problems after that. The right-hander went only two-plus innings and allowed five runs on five hits.

Oakland’s Sean Manaea also ran into early problems. The left-hander went 2 2/3 innings and was charged with four runs on seven hits.


Rendon had two hits to reach 1,000 for his career. The Angels’ third baseman — who signed a seven-year, $245 million contract during the offseason — reached the milestone in the sixth inning with a line-drive single to center.

Rendon came into the game in an 0-for-21 slide but quickly snapped that with a two-run drive to left to extend Los Angeles’ lead to 3-0 in the first.


Angels: SS Andrelton Simmons (ankle) took batting practice and did some running before the game. Maddon said Simmons is getting closer to returning but didn’t have a definitive timetable. … LHP Jose Suarez was taken off the injured list due to an undisclosed injury and optioned to the alternate training site.


Oakland RHP Mike Fiers (1-0, 5.63 ERA) has won his past two starts at Angel Stadium. He will be opposed by right-hander Dylan Bundy (2-1, 2.08), who threw the Angels’ first complete game since 2018 last Wednesday at Seattle.

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Here’s what happened last time Buffalo hosted a big league baseball game … 135 years ago



On May 23, 1885, a dispatch from Montana by a New York Sun correspondent went national, declaring that the American buffalo had been hunted into extinction. The writer went on to describe the thundering herds that once roamed the great expanses of the plains as far as the eye could see but had subsequently been wiped out thanks to the demand for their valuable hides.

Coincidentally, a few months later, big league baseball went extinct in Buffalo, New York — then one of the 15 biggest cities in America. The National League team in Buffalo was called the Bisons, the most common moniker for Buffalo teams all the way to the present day. As with its namesake from the animal kingdom, news of the extinction of big league ball in Buffalo would prove to be greatly exaggerated, as 19th-century writer and baseball aficionado Mark Twain liked to say.

All it took was a little patience: On Tuesday, after nearly 135 years, major league baseball (this time of the official MLB variety) will once again be played in Buffalo. The drought will end when the Toronto Blue Jays begin their home schedule at Sahlen Field, home venue of the Triple-A Bisons.

In what is arguably the most abnormal year in the long history of baseball, a sport that has known many times of upheaval, we are left with an outcome that no one could have possibly foreseen when 2020 began: Big league baseball in Buffalo. Under the circumstances, it’s hardly a time for celebration. If the Canadian government had approved of baseball’s plan to have the Blue Jays host games in Toronto, Sahlen Field would be sitting dormant. So too would it remain dark if any other big league city had been willing to take in the Jays.

That Sahlen Field turned out to be the Blue Jays’ only option beyond becoming a full-time travel team is unfortunate. However, it is also historic, as big league baseball returns to a city that hasn’t seen it since the president of the United States was one of its own. When the majors last called Buffalo home, in the midst of his first year in the White House was the city’s former sheriff and mayor, Grover Cleveland, whose connection to baseball has always been defined by the fact that a future Hall of Fame pitcher (Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, born in 1887) was named after him.

To mark the occasion of big league baseball’s return to Buffalo, let’s hearken back to Oct. 7, 1885, the date of the last home games for the National League version of the Bisons, a doubleheader against the Providence Grays. (The Bisons did play two more games that year designated as the home team, but those games were not played in Buffalo.) In particular, we’ll note how much things have changed in baseball since then but we’ll also, because of the odd circumstances that have defined the 2020 season, point out a few things that would be oddly familiar to anyone who witnessed both contests. (Which would of course be impossible.)

MAJOR LEAGUE ADJACENT: Ever since the NL Bisons went under, Buffalo has always circled in the perimeter of markets that were almost, but not quite, a fit for the majors.

There are two short-lived leagues recognized by MLB as major league that had Buffalo entrants. One was in the Players League, a circuit that sprang up out of a revolt against tight-fisted owners. That league operated in 1890. The other was the Federal League, which operated in 1914 and 1915. If you want to look at those Buffalo squads as major league, then you are free to do so.

Such distinctions are debatable. The TPL was certainly major in terms of talent but certainly was not in terms of administration. The Federal League bequeathed to us the ballpark that we now know as Wrigley Field and, in a roundabout way, baseball’s bizarrely intact antitrust exemption, but it’s far from consensus that it should be considered major. (Though, we should emphasize, both leagues officially are considered major.)

What we can say is that of all those early leagues, the survivors are the National League and the American League. From 1879 through 1885, Buffalo was a member of the former. And it was very nearly a charter member of the latter.

Buffalo played in the first season of the American League — 1900 — the last year in which the former Western League was still a part of the minors. League honcho Ban Johnson had redubbed the league before the 1900 season as he positioned it for a jump into the majors. By then, Buffalo had risen to become the eighth-largest city in the United States and seemed like a perfect fit, especially since there would be no National League rival there.

After initially hoping to avoid too many direct clashes with the established league, by early 1901, Johnson resolved to go toe-to-toe with the NL wherever he could. He dispatched Connie Mack — once the catcher for the TPL version of the Bisons — to Boston with instructions to find a spot for a ballpark. Soon, Huntington Avenue Grounds was born, and just months before the American League launched itself into the big leagues, the Bisons became the club that we now know as the Boston Red Sox.

And so the beat goes on. Buffalo will host a big league club but, of course, it’s not really its team and fans in the city are almost certainly not going to be allowed to go in to watch. Again, Buffalo is left just on the outside looking in at big league baseball.

Obviously, the ranking of American cities by population has changed dramatically over 135 years, and there are a lot of ways to illustrate that. But here is a pretty stark example: The Blue Jays’ opponent on Tuesday will be the Miami Marlins. On Oct. 7, 1885, the city of Miami was still 11 years away from being incorporated.

TWO-DIMENSIONAL FANS: As has happened all over the 2020 majors, the Blue Jays launched a campaign to sell cardboard cutouts to occupy the otherwise empty stands at Sahlen Field. This will not be the first time baseball has been played before cardboard fans in Buffalo.

Remember “The Natural”? You know, it’s the inner-circle member of baseball’s cinematic pantheon, starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs and based on Bernard Malamud’s very different novel of the same name.

The film was largely shot in Buffalo, with the old War Memorial Stadium serving as the home park for the fictional New York Knights. The Bisons played there from 1961 to 1970 and again from 1979 to 1987. (Buffalo did not have a team from 1971 to 1978.) The stadium was opened in 1937 and retained many of its old school ballpark characteristics, though it was large enough to be the original home of the Buffalo Bills. Still, it gave “The Natural” the old-timey feel the filmmakers were going for.

While numerous citizens of Buffalo were used as extras in the movie, they had to augment the humans in the stands with — you guessed it — cardboard cutouts. And because everything becomes a collector’s item these days, those cutouts have indeed become collector’s items.

From back on Oct. 7, 1885 — the last day of big league Buffalo — there are no surviving reports about two-dimensional fans. But if some enterprising promoter would have thought of it, there would have been plenty of room. Which brings us to our next fact about that last day …

(ALMOST) NO FANS IN THE STANDS: Before this season, there was one no-fan game in baseball history, played April 29, 2015, in Baltimore. Fans were held of that contest because of civil unrest in Baltimore. They are being kept out this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, those are extreme circumstances.

Beyond that, it’s hard to say what the big league record is for lowest attendance or the worst box office take for a game. But it might well be those final two games in Buffalo. According to the following day’s Buffalo Times, “less than a dozen paying spectators were present.” (There are differing accounts of an 1882 game between Worcester and Troy that quote an attendance figure as low as six. And, yes, Worcester and Troy were once members of the National League.)

The gate for that meager headcount has been listed at $4.50, perhaps the lowest take in the history of the majors. That would buy you about 35% of a beer in some big league ballparks in 2021.

Why did so few fans bother to show? Well, it was October in Buffalo, and the doubleheader — which started at 2 p.m. local time at long-gone Olympic Park, at the corner of Summer Street and Richmond Avenue, was played on a day when the temperature topped out at 51 degrees. (The park was not all that far from Ulrich’s Tavern, which opened in Buffalo in 1868 and remains there to this day.) If there was a breeze blowing off nearby Lake Erie, it might not have been a good day to take in a couple of ballgames.

But that wasn’t it. The Bisons had been a highly successful franchise on the field. The star player was Pud Galvin, who was the only player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965. Galvin, baseball’s first 300-game winner, died in 1902, but two of his 11 children were still around to attend the ceremony in Cooperstown, and his plaque, as much as anything, helps keep the flame of Buffalo big league ball alive. Gentle Jim (or Jeems) also was a personal friend of the President Cleveland, who inquired after him when hosting a contingent of players at the White House a few years into his second term.

In both the 1883 and 1884 seasons, Galvin won 46 games under what were obviously very different conditions. (For one thing, you couldn’t replace a pitcher during a game with anyone except one of the other players already on the field.) The Bisons finished a strong third in 1884, their fourth straight winning season and fifth out their first six NL campaigns.

Unfortunately, attendance wasn’t great, and after being forced out of their old ballpark, Buffalo’s directors spent $6,000 on the construction of Olympic Field before the 1884 campaign. This also was a tumultuous time for baseball finances (as per usual), and numerous commentaries at the time decried rising player salaries as an existential threat to the sport.

Galvin was not the only star player on the Bisons. There were two other Hall of Famers — Big Dan Brouthers (who was 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds) and Deacon White, whose 20-year career began in the National Association in 1871. Those two along with catcher Jack Rowe and second baseman Hardy Richardson became nationally prominent as the “Big Four” and stayed together as a unit after their Buffalo days.

With the 1885 season off to a poor start, Galvin struggling and gate receipts dwindling, the popular (and portly) pitcher was released on July 13, thanks in large part to a payment by the American Association’s Pittsburgh Alleghenys to procure his services. Galvin spent most of the rest of his career toiling in Pittsburgh.

Then the final straw came in late September, when Buffalo’s president — Josiah Jewett — sold the entire team, including the Big Four, to the owners of the Detroit Wolverines for $7,000. The Buffalo owners defended the decision by claiming the team needed to draw an average of 800 fans to break even but were only bringing in 500. (Capacity at Olympic Park was around 4,000.)

The Big Four, however, balked at the idea of going to Detroit, and trouble ensued. After the season, chatter in The Sporting Life was that they would be split up among the remaining NL clubs. Ultimately, they did not, and all ended up in Detroit. The 1886 Wolverines went 87-36 with a lineup up half comprised of the previous year’s Bisons.

By selling off the roster rather than folding, Buffalo ownership kept alive the possibility of the franchise continuing and played out the rest of the schedule with castoffs, wannabes and never-weres. (But not from a 60-player pool with players at an alternate site.) Galvin’s replacements at pitcher were a pair of 18-year-olds who were summoned to the majors to finish the season.

That fiasco is why by the time the season finally ended, Buffalo fans had completely given up on a franchise that only one year earlier appeared to be on solid footing. After the season, the Bisons were disbanded.

But first, there were those last two games. As an early version of Ernie Banks would have said, let’s play 1.1 … because the games were part of a …

SHORTENED DOUBLEHEADER: Sorry Ernie. Just as the 2020 version of a doubleheader (14 innings) is really just 1.56 games, on Oct. 7, 1885, the Bisons and Grays played a pair of five-inning tilts. In the less-sensitive prose of the day, the Buffalo Courier described the twin bill as such: “It was a meeting of cripples, but the Bisons seemed to lean heavier on their crutches and dropped both contests.”

Providence won the first game 4-0 on a no-hitter — again, just five innings — and the Grays completed the sweep with a 6-1 win. Over the five innings of the second game, Buffalo managed to commit 11 errors. The 10 innings were completed in a combined one hour, 53 minutes. And as the paper alluded to, it was not exactly a clash of titans, only one year after a rivalry between the Grays and Bisons (and Galvin and Providence legend Old Hoss Radbourn) burned hot.

The lone run scored that day was a first-inning tally by center fielder Jim Lillie, who started the game with a single and whose nickname was “Grasshopper.” Grasshopper Lillie died five years later in Kansas City at the age of 29 from typhoid fever. Reportedly, his last words, uttered to a friend who attended him at bedside, were, “I am afraid, Charlie, it is three strikes and out.”

You gotta love baseball.

Anyway, for 135 years, Jim Lillie has been the last player representing Buffalo to score a run in a surviving major league. Sorry Grasshopper, but your reign will end sometime this week.

FUNNY RULES: Well, this year’s season is being played with a number of rules that are unfamiliar and probably (maybe?) temporary — and despite their possibly ethereal nature still have managed to stir plenty of debate.

All you have to do when plagued with thoughts about the immutability of baseball’s rulebook is look up any timeline of rule changes through history. Here’s one. The rate of change over time has slowed, probably too much. But it has never ceased, and it’s a process that has always been on going.

The 1885ish versions of the extra-innings runner or the three-batter minimum were instituted the year before and surely still hotly debated at the time. In 1884, restrictions on a pitcher’s delivery were removed, and the “full arm” pitch was born.

Galvin’s career is remarkable when viewed through this prism. He excelled when pitchers had to throw underhand, continued to excel when the range of motion was extended to sidearming and kept winning when all such regulations were removed. In fact, he attributed his remarkable durability to having his arm saved by the limited motion early in his career.

Also in 1884: The numbers of balls needed to constitute a walk was lowered to six. The number moved to five in 1887 and four in 1889, where it has remained since. Rulemakers hated pitchers, even back then.

So if you’re the ghost of Gentle Jim “Pud” Galvin and you’ve been wandering the streets of Buffalo since Oct. 7, 1885, waiting for the return of big league ball to the city (or 105 years, if you are gracious to the Federal Leaguers), your wait is finally over. Things might look a little different, but some of it will look eerily the same.

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Fact-checking the Houston Astros’ slow start



The numbers stand out more than they normally would after 16 Major League Baseball games — for reasons we are all too familiar with that involved banging garbage cans and other Houston Astros-related nonsense in 2017 and into the 2018 season:

Jose Altuve: .183
George Springer: .182
Alex Bregman: .224

Those were the batting averages for three of the Astros ‘ All-Stars following Monday’s win, and let’s just say those numbers — along with Houston’s 7-9 record — were putting smiles on the faces of baseball fans across America, even if those fans can’t attend games to boo the Astros.

Do those low batting averages mean anything after barely two weeks of action? Other than giving fans a chance to scream “Cheaters!” at their television sets, that is? After all, Anthony Rendon is batting .143, Eugenio Suarez is hitting .132, Gleyber Torres and Christian Yelich are both at .157, Rafael Devers is at .175, and Cody Bellinger is at a meager .176 with little power output. All superstar hitters last year and bums so far in 2020. Nobody is calling them cheaters.

“It’s definitely a tough spot for us right now,” outfielder Josh Reddick said after Sunday’s brawling loss to the A’s to complete Houston’s getting swept. “We really haven’t hit our stride yet this year. Our offense is also struggling. We’re trying to work around a lot of these injures we have where our pitching staff has taken a hit. That can’t be a crutch we can lean on right now.”

The Astros warrant a closer look, however, given the scandal that erupted in the offseason. Even though the commissioner’s final report proclaimed that nothing untoward happened in 2019 — when the Astros led the majors in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage — a cloud hangs over any struggling player. Let’s dig into some of the numbers (through Sunday’s game) and see what we find.

Jose Altuve

The three-time batting champ is coming off a 2019 season in which he hit .298 with a career-high 31 home runs, but he is striking out 20.6% of the time, well above his career mark of 11.5% and the 15% rate of last season. Fewer balls in play are going to hurt his batting average, but using data through Sunday’s action, let’s check out two advanced metrics to see how much bad luck he has been hitting into: expected batting average (based on the quality of his balls in play) and hard-hit rate (percentage of balls hit at 95 mph or better).

Expected BA: .226
Hard-hit rate: 33rd percentile

Altuve has hit into a little bad luck — the difference between .182 and .226 in 66 at-bats is just three hits — but he’s also not hitting the ball hard. But you know what? He doesn’t usually hit the ball that hard, ranking in the 28th percentile last year, even with those 31 home runs. What he does is put the ball in play, find gaps and pull his home runs over that short porch in Houston (18 of his 31 home runs came at home).

Altuve had an even worse stretch last season, batting .162 with one home run from April 20 to May 10. In 2017 and 2018, however, he had no 15-game stretches in which he hit under .200, so a bad two-week stretch from him is unusual. Keep in mind, though, that Altuve was reportedly one player who didn’t partake in the sign-stealing scandal. He’s swinging and missing a little more than normal and hitting a few too many balls in the air.

Alex Bregman

Expected batting average: .230
Hard-hit rate: 38th percentile

Like Altuve, Bregman’s batting average isn’t really the result of too much bad luck. Like Altuve, Bregman doesn’t rank particularly high in hard-hit rate, but he didn’t last year either, when he ranked in the 42nd percentile of major league hitters. Bregman and Altuve don’t rely on raw power to do their damage, but they do rely on putting more balls in play than your typical 2020 slugger. Bregman also has a keen eye at the plate and was one of a handful of players last season with more walks (119) than strikeouts (83). Through Sunday, however, he has more strikeouts (11) than walks (seven).

The one number that stands out: His chase rate on pitches out of the strike zone is up slightly, which isn’t good, but his contact rate when chasing is down significantly — from 71.7% last year to 64.3% this year. That means a few more swinging strikes, a few fewer balls in play and a few fewer at-bats in which he’s ahead in the count. Sure, knowing what pitch is coming will help a hitter zone in, but these are all easily correctible issues that aren’t a concern yet in a small sample.

George Springer

Expected batting average: .241
Hard-hit rate: 44th percentile

Springer has had a little more bad luck. He should be hitting .241 instead of .182. He also missed his fourth straight game on Monday because of a sore wrist. His hard-hit rate, however, is down from the 82nd percentile in 2019. Springer had a slow start (1-for-21 to begin the season) but started heating up before the injury. Given the lack of game action before the season started, a slow start in 2020 is more excusable than in a normal season. Springer’s average launch angle is up quite a bit, so it looks like he was failing to barrel up some balls early.

The Astros snapped their five-game losing streak with a 6-4 win over the Giants on Monday. They hit .193 in the streak, dragging down the stats of the entire lineup — a lineup still without Yordan Alvarez, by the way. Altuve went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts. Bregman went 1-for-3 with a walk and a soft, line-drive double down the left-field line. Of the three, Altuve is the one in the deepest struggles right now, and given that he’s 30 years old, you have to worry slightly about his age and some of the injuries he has dealt with the past two seasons. But let’s just call it a slow start — even if any slump from Altuve is out of the norm.

It’s too early to be concerned about an offense that was one of the best of all time in 2019. The bigger concerns for the Astros are a bullpen that has featured nine pitchers making their major league debuts so far and a rotation without Justin Verlander. It isn’t a good sign that Josh James, who began the season in the rotation before being moved back to relief, had another terrible outing, allowing four runs in his inning of work.

“A lot of the guys, myself included, have to step up and start driving in some runs and giving the pitching staff a break,” Reddick said. “We need to have a blowout game where we give those guys a break and take the pressure off, so to speak.”

Monday’s win helps. Even in the short season, there is still plenty of time to get things turned around and prove that this is still the lethal lineup we’ve seen the past three years.

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