August 24, 2008
Twins Notes: Sub-1.00 ERAs, 100 RBIs, and Two Strikes
YEAR IP ERA
Dennis Eckersley 1990 73.1 0.61
Jonathan Papelbon 2007 68.1 0.92
Chris Hammond 2002 76.0 0.95
Joe Nathan 2008 55.0 0.98
That's the whole list. Four pitchers in 90 years and all of them in the past two decades. Like Nathan, Dennis Eckersley and Jonathan Papelbon both had their sub-1.00 ERA seasons as closers. Chris Hammond had zero saves in 2002, as his 0.95 ERA came as John Smoltz's setup man after sitting out three straight years with injuries. Interestingly, if the innings cutoff moves from 55 to 50, Dennys Reyes and his 0.89 ERA in 2006 crack the list (along with Bill Henry in 1964 and Rob Murphy in 1986).
Comparing a great year from Nathan to Eckersley's ridiculous 1990 season struck me as familiar and sure enough a look through the archives shows that the topic was covered in this space way back on August 5, 2004. That was Nathan's first season with the Twins and his ERA was under 1.00 as late as August 18, when he had a 0.82 ERA (and 34 saves) in 54.2 innings. Here's a look at how Nathan's current numbers compare to where he stood on August 18, 2004:
YEAR G SV IP ER ERA SO BB HR OAVG
2004 53 34 54.2 5 0.82 66 18 2 .174
2008 55 35 55.0 6 0.98 61 13 4 .185
After allowing just five earned runs and blowing just one save through 54.2 innings in 2004, Nathan proceeded to cough up seven runs and blow two saves in his next three appearances. His ERA more than doubled to 1.74 before ending up at 1.62. Even if Nathan can avoid that same fate this season, he may have some company in the 55-inning, sub-1.00 ERA club. Side-arming A's rookie Brad Ziegler has a 0.41 ERA in 44 frames after his career-opening 39-inning scoreless streak ended last week.
G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI
Killebrew 466 1998 .267 .409 .534 .943 118 372
Morneau 443 1895 .299 .368 .520 .888 85 343
Morneau is great, but Killebrew was a monster. In fact, the 55-point gap in OPS is actually wider than it looks because Killebrew posted those numbers in an environment that was much less conducive to big offense. From 1969-1971, the AL as a whole hit just .248 with a .319 on-base percentage and .371 slugging percentage, as the average team scored 4.04 runs per game. From 2006-2008, the AL as a whole has hit .272 with a .338 OBP and .427 SLG, as the average team scores 4.88 runs per game.
In other words, compared to Killebrew, Morneau is playing in an environment that boosts slugging by 15 percent and ups overall scoring by 21 percent. If you take Killebrew's production from 1969-1971 and adjust it to the offensive levels that Morneau has experienced from 2006-2008, his line jumps to .295/.435/.615 with an average of 150 RBIs per year, giving him a 160-point edge in OPS. And those weren't even the three best years of Killebrew's career. Not even close. Here's Morneau on Killebrew:
He's a Hall of Famer, 573 homers. He's the guy who's got all the power records in our organization. To have my name next to him is pretty nice, but I've still got a long way to go to come close to what he did.
Baseball-Reference.com has a stat called OPS+ that takes a hitter's production and compares it to the offensive environment that he played in. A 100 OPS+ is exactly average, Babe Ruth holds the all-time career record at 207, and Barry Bonds set the single-season record at 268 in 2002. Morneau's career OPS+ is 121 and he had a personal-best 140 OPS+ in his MVP-winning 2006 season. Killebrew has a 143 OPS+ for his 22-year career and topped a 140 OPS+ nine times. Killer could hit just a little bit.
In other words, everyone is awful once they have two strikes, but Gomez is really awful. He's 27 percent worse than the league average while striking out 40 percent more often. Actually, not everyone is awful once they have two strikes. Joe Mauer is hitting .272 while striking out in just 18.6 percent of his 210 plate appearances with two strikes and if you remove Gomez's awful two-strike work from the mix the rest of the Twins are hitting .218 on two-strike counts.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.