Hidden Ball Trick
The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For
Vol 1: 1876-1919 and Vol 2: 1920-1969
Jeremy Frank and
Jim Passon Jr.
The publishing info:
Released May, 2019
Rreleased May 2, 2020
The links: At Amazon.com: Volume 1 and Volume 2
The review in 90 feet or less
Consider the independent sources of this dependent material.
Jeremy Frank is a 19-year-old from Illinois studying data science at Purdue. He began his Twitter account, MLBRandomStats, in October 2015 as a freshman at Stevenson High School, near his hometown of Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
The Purdue school paper caught up with him for a story last April, and since then, the Lafayette (Indiana) Journal & Courier tracked him down as well to work something up.
It goes back to how this Twitter account seemed to blow up in July, 2018 after Frank posted something rather randomly interesting about Joey Votto’s pop-up rate. It now has 13,000 retweets and 33,000-plus likes.
In May 2019, the CBS affiliate in Chicago also did a piece on “the phenom” who admits he’s “just really good at math.” He’s got more than 56,000 followers now – still rather modest by some measures. Jayson Stark, for example, has 596,000-plus. But …
“I’ve used quite a few Jeremy Frank notes in my Useless Information column over the last couple of years,” said Stark, who currently works with MLB Network and is senior baseball writer for The Athletic. “One I remember is a note about how Yu Darvish had struck out 24 hitters in his last nine innings pitched, with a breakdown of how many strikeouts he stuffed into each inning. I then used his note to do more investigating, and it turned out no starting pitcher had ever struck out 24 hitters in any nine-inning span. That’s amazing, but I would have missed that if Jeremy hadn’t noticed and tweeted about it. So I think I need to tell him: Thanks!”
Frank now has a podcast at Purdue.
Passon is a passionate 42-year-old cable tech from Montana, now in Tacoma, Wash. His podcast, “Romantic About Baseball,” with Adam MacKinnon (who recently did a book for Rockridge Press called “Baseball For Kids” release last April).
Frank and Passon are no doubt discombobulated at this point with no 2020 MLB data to process or road trips to pursue.
Yet they put their heads together a few years back and decided, from the blurb on the back cover of these two books, “One doesn’t have to be a statistics professor to appreciate the game from a numerical perspective.”
A format that’s deceivingly simplistic ends up speaking volumes about what you can discover and precociously slip into any record-keeping book about the history of Major League Baseball.
Frank and Passon have now put together two of three volumes of material on, well, stuff they’ve found and, as the cover suggests, never thought to look for.
As the first volume handles the game’s dead-ball era going back to its 1876 roots (actually, it precedes that with a discussion of how The National Association of Professional Base Ball from 1871-75 laid the groundwork) and ending with the eventful season of 1919 – The Black Sox Scandal, a national pandemic that shortened the season, and the emergence of Babe Ruth, the newest edition that is now out takes on a 50-year stretch from 1920 to 1969, which in itself was another noteworthy season – the divisions split into West and East, the league adds on four new teams and it’s a huge adjustment of the rules after a pitcher-dominated ’68 season.
The plan for a third volume will likely cover 1970-2020 – should that last season even happen.
“While it may be a little bit annoying to someone who would need to get all three, trust us, the quality of the content inside each book is greatly enhanced thanks to this decision,” they say in the intro to the first book.
Crediting the Baseball Reference’s Play Index took as a vital part of their research, they’re also obliged to Fangraphs, Baseball Almanac, SABR and the Baseball Hall of Fame for material to cull. The chapters on each season are formatted similarly:
== A review of who won the championships, major awards and notable achievements.
== Highlights of what future MLB stars were both that year, what noteworthy players made their MLB debuts, and which of them ended their careers.
== “Interesting numbers” from that season.
Therein lies the noteworthy nuggets of distinction …
Five ways how this book can work in today’s world
Maybe the best way to show how much fun one could have with the research from this year-by-year compilation, we extracted five things from these two volumes that maybe we think we once knew but likely forgot, never knew and merrily went on our way to seek more info, or couldn’t possibly be expected to know and retain if asked about it sometime in a couple of months, plus anything we could additionally dig up that might add some context:
Vol. 1, 1884 season, page 55: “With his 20.5 pitching WAR season for the Buffalo Bisons, Pud Galvin puts up arguably the most valuable season by a pitcher in the history of baseball. He would finish the year with a 46-22 record, 369 strike outs, 12 shutouts and a 1.99 ERA. Galvin is recognized today as the first player to be known for using performance enhancing substances. Galvin was actually applauded for his use of the Brown-Sequard Elixir, which contained monkey testosterone, before a game. Despite his known attempt to gain a competitive edge, Galvin would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965.”
We’ll I’ll be a monkey’s elixir.
Galvin, the sport’s first 300-game winner when that milestone meant nothing (he was 365-310 with 646 complete games) also threw the first perfect game on record.
Perfect. So does that mean Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero, Alex Rodriguez … who else? … should use the Galvin Defense when defending their Hall entry? Seems more should be read up on the pudgy Charles Hausberg Galvin whose abilities tended to turn batters into pudding?
Vol. 1, 1907 season, page 163: “Nick Maddox, at 20 years and 10 months of age, became (and still remains) the youngest player in MLB history to toss a no-hitter. Maddox finished his age 20 season with a 5-1 record and 0.83 ERA in 54 innings pitched; he’s the only player 25 or younger with an ERA that low in 50+ innings in a season in MLB history.”
Maddox, no apparent relation to Greg Maddox since the older was born Nicholas Duffy, pitched all four of his big-league seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a 23-game winner in his age 21 season of 1908. The no-hitter for Maddox came in his third start, at home in Exhibition Park against the Brooklyn Superbas, during a 2-1 win. There is a box score but no play-by-play data of that game at Retrosheet.com. He threw six complete games that September/October in his six starts, including a 4-0 shutout against St. Louis in his debut. Maddox’s name came up in recent times – he was the only Pirates pitcher to win in his first four career starts until Gerrit Cole matched it in 2013. Maddox’s Wikipedia page also notes that Maddox was described by William F. Kirk of the New York American as “a well formed youth with a face like a dried apple.”
Vol. 1, 1917 season, page 212: “Walter Johnson recorded his third consecutive season with a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) under 2.00. Clayton Kershaw is the only pitcher since to manage even back-to-back such seasons.”
Kershaw’s FIP was 1.81 in 2014 Cy Young/MVP season of 2014 (21-3, 1.77 ERA, 0.857 WHIP, six complete games, 10.8 SO9 and 7.71 SO/W, all league leaders) and he followed it with a 1.99 FIP in 2015 (16-7, 2.13, a league-high 232.2 IP and 301 strike outs, and 11.6 SO9, but was only third in Cy Young voting). Kershaw actually had a third year in a row of under 2.00 FIP – working on a career-best 1.80 FIP in 2016 when he was limited to 21 starts (and still a league-best three shutouts and ridiculous 15.64 in SO/W with just 11 total walks in 149 IP, to go with a 12-4 record and 1.69 ERA that didn’t qualify for league leaders).
Vol. 1, 1939 season, page 106: “On Sept. 17, Johnny Gee made his Major League debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 6’9” lefthander broke the record for tallest player to play in the majors by 2 inches, a record originally set by Slim Love in 1913. Just a week later after Gee appeared, Mike Naymick made his debut for the Indians but unfortunately for the 6’8” righty, he fell just a little short of his place in history books. It would be nearly 49 years to the day until Randy Johnson would make his debut for the Montreal Expos and push Gee’s record down an inch in the record book.”
Johnson, at 6-foot-10 in 1988, would still be active when Jon Rauch, who pitched for eight teams between 2004 and 2014, broke his record for tallest MLB player now at 6-foot-11. As a rookie with Montreal, he hit a home run off the Astros’ Roger Clemens, making him the tallest man ever to hit a homer in the majors. In 2012, Rauch, pitching for the Mets, faces Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, and the 18-inch height difference between the two is believed to be the greatest between a pitcher and hitter – aside from the 1951 stunt when 3-foot-7 Eddie Gadel, officially on the roster of the St. Louis Browns, drew a walk from 6-foot Chicago White Sox pitcher Bob Cain.
Hold on. … We can’t forget Edward Haughton “Slim” Love, actually born in Love, Miss. He led theleague giving up 116 walks for the 1918 New York Yankees. He also threw for the PCL’s Los Angeles Angels from 1914-15 and the Vernon Tigers (in L.A.) in 1921-22 and was referred to in The Sporting News as “the human giraffe.” According to Love’s official Wikipedia page, he was the tallest MLB pitcher for 69 years until Stefan Weaver (6-foot-8) made his debut in 1982. According to Wever’s official Wikipedia page, there is no mention of the one-time UC Santa Barbara pitcher ever being listed as the tallest player when he made his one-and-only MLB appearance for the Yankees on Sept. 17, giving up eight runs in less than three innings and taking the loss.
Vol. 2, 1951 season, page 170: “Infielder Jackie Robinson set a career high with 9.7 WAR. He batted .338/.429/.527, played elite defense and stole 25 bags. He’s the only position player in Dodgers franchise history to post 9+ WAR in multiple seasons, as Robinson finished the 1949 season with 9.3 WAR.”
Robinson was the NL MVP in that ’49 season, the only time he won that award. But in that career-season performance of ’51, he was only sixth in the NL MVP voting, behind teammates Roy Campanella (who won it) and Preacher Rowe (fifth) in the total votes for the honor. As for the Dodgers’ non-position player to post 9+ WAR in multiple seasons: Sandy Koufax, with a 10.7 in 1963 and 10.3 in his final season of 1966 (two of his three Cy Young Award winning seasons). Note: in 2004, the Dodgers’ Adrian Beltre had a career-best 9.6 WAR at age 25, the last of his seven seasons in L.A. before leaving for free agency.
Wait, two more local references …
Vol. 2, 1959 season, page 210: “Jim Baxes debuted and retired in 1959, finishing his career with 17 home runs in 88 games between the Dodgers and Indians. His 17 career homers are the most by a retired player with fewer than 100 games played.”
Dimitrois Speros “Jim” Baxes was in the minor leagues starting in 1947 with the Cal League’s Santa Barbara club. He was part of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ roster in 1951 and ’52, but spent it in the military. Back with the L.A. Angels of the PCL in 1957, and the Dodgers’ Spokane Triple A team in ’58, Baxes would hit .303 with two homers in 11 games for the Dodgers in April.
His first homer was noteworthy now, but not so much at the time. It came against the Cardinals rookie Bob Gibson, throwing to the very first MLB batter he faced. It was one of only three homers Gibson gave up that season. When the Dodgers were making roster cuts and the third baseman was considered expendable. The 29-year-old considered quitting, but the Dodgers sent him to Cleveland for $10,000 and Fred Hatfield. He got 77 more games in for the Indians and was on the Topps All-Star Rookie team.
But he was back in the minor leagues in 1960 after the Indians sold him to the Chicago White Sox, who then traded him to Portland of the PCL. He already had 12 years in the minors. He quit after that ’60 season.
But Baxes will also have a film un-credit: Playing for the PCL’s Hollywood Stars in 1949-50, Baxes was a third baseman in the 1950 movie “Kill The Umpire” starring William Bendix.
In 1996, Baxes died in Garden Grove.
Vol. 2, 1968 season, page 256: “Mike Mussina, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Roberto Alomar, Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Jeff Kent and Sammy Sosa were all born in what may be the most successful year of births in MLB history. … Sheffield posted a 1.000 OPS or higher in a season with three different franchises, and holds the highest single season OPS in Marlins franchise history and the highest in Los Angeles Dodgers team history (Babe Herman’s 1.132 OPS is the only one higher in Dodgers franchise history, but he played all in Brooklyn.) … Piazza’s 1.070 OPS in 1997 is next behind Sheffield as the highest by a Los Angeles Dodger.”
Sheffield’s L.A. Dodgers OPS record, by the way, is 1.081 in his age 31-season in 2000 (where he hit a career-best 43 homers in 141 games). Sheffield came to the Dodgers in the Piazza trade of May, 1998.
Hang on, another crazy one one …
Vol. 2, 1962 season, page 226: “In possibly one of baseball’s most obscure records, Tom Cheney struck out an MLB-record 21 opposing hitters in his September 12 start against the Baltimore Orioles. Cheney had 13 strikeouts through nine innings and struck out eight over seven extra-innings.”
To clarify: Cheney pitched for the Washington Senators and in that game, he threw a complete-game 16-inning, 2-1 win. He threw 228 pitches that night “fueled by adrenaline and chain-smoking between innings,” according to his SABR bioproject piece.
OK, last chapter, last note …
Vol. 2, 1969 season, page 264: “Seattle Pilots player Tommy Harper’s 73 stolen bases are the most in a season in Brewers’ franchise history, as Seattle would relocate to Milwaukee just a season later. Incredibly, those 73 stolen bases are also the Seattle (city) record, as no player in Mariners history has stolen that many bases in a season.”
Harper also led the AL in caught stealing (18) that season in 148 games, but hit just .235. He later had an AL-best 54-steal season for the Red Sox in 1973. With 408 career steals, Harper is tied with Johnny Damon on the all-time MLB list at No. 68. Ichiro Suzuki is the Mariners’ career stolen-base leader with 438 from 2001-12/2018-19, but his highest total was 56 as a 27-year-old rookie in 2001. Suzuki has 509 career steals, tied for 35th all-time.
How it goes in the scorebook
Hidden? It’s out in the open now.And we believe we’re so stir crazy, we’re addicted to all this.
Thus, we feel highly qualified to continue reading these as we await Volume 3, when we can see more about Joey Votto (born in 1983) and his lack of ability to pop out?
(For what it’s worth, this tweet also drew a lot of attention in Aug, 2019 … Votto-related, but … jeepers)
We also found it interesting in the Vol. 2 entry on the 1962 season that when discussing how the National League switched from 154 games to 162 to catch up to the American League, there was the note: “Besides strike-shortened seasons, this schedule length has been in use every season until the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.”
Maybe better wait for Vol. 3 until 2020 gets sorted out.
As long as we’re talking hidden balls
== There’s this book from 2015: “Finding the Hidden Ball Trick: The Colorful History of Baseball’s Oldest Ruse,” by Bill Deane, the senior Research Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame from 1986 through 1994.
Also for what its worth
Frank Tanana is a known quantity, despite what some may think.
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