Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The "42" Trailer: Shot By Shot

We now present an even closer examination of the series of events that apparently depicts a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher beaning Jackie Robinson in the head during the trailer for the movie "42". Fritz Ostermueller is the culprit. We know this from newspaper reports on the filming in Birmingham, Alabama earlier this year. However, Ostermueller may not be the only Pirates pitcher shown. There may be someone else. Watch the trailer one more time. The initial sequence of events involving the Pirates begins around the 1:00 mark of the trailer.

Now, let's take a closer look at the sequence of shots involving the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This is the first Pirates pitcher we see in the trailer for "42", but it may not be Fritz Ostermueller.
The next shot shows Jackie Robinson in a Montreal Royals uniform, but it appears this is from another scene.
That's because the next shot is most certainly Robinson in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. You can see the loop of the "g" just under his left arm. 
The cutaway during the swing shows that we are at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. You can see the iconic scoreboard in left field. It is 1947, Robinson's rookie season.
Looks like a home run, even though records show Robinson didn't have any extra base hits during his first series as a Dodger at Forbes Field. Regardless, Robinson casually tosses aside his bat. The #21 on the back of the pitcher's uniform is the clue that led us to discover that the character is real-life Pirates pitcher, Fritz Ostermueller.
The next shot shows that Ostermueller is not amused. He is played by actor Linc Hand. Also, look at the attention to detail in this shot. You can see the roof of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History over the left field wall in the background. The scene was shot at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. There is no such building there in real life. It was added during post-production.
At this point, the trailer goes off on a bit of a tangent. It returns to the scene seconds later.

A Pirates pitcher delivers. Is it Fritz Ostermueller, or someone else? Compare the pitcher in this shot to the one we know is Ostermueller in the shot directly above. To me, it looks like someone else. Specifically, it looks like the pitcher in the very first shot at the top of this article.
The pitch is traveling directly at Jackie Robinson's head.
Certainly not trying to make light of the situation. The trailer shows the ball striking Robinson directly in the head. That contradicts at least one report from the time, which stated that Robinson appeared to get his arm up to protect his face. Perhaps the reporter meant to say that Robinson tried to get his arm up to protect himself, but was unable to do so.

As far as a second Pirates pitcher, I'm not sure what to believe. It makes sense for it to be Ostermueller alone. Perhaps I'm looking too closely. Take a look for yourself and share your own feedback. It's always appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who's That In The "42" Trailer?

I had heard some good things about the trailer for "42", the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic.

Then, I watched it. You should too. It's really cool. The fun for Pirates fans begins at the 1:00 mark.

My first reaction: Oh boy! Meet the most evil player in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates!

I think Warner Bros. must have missed the memo stating that only the New York Yankees are
to be used as the embodiment of pure evil in major motion pictures about baseball.

Who is that pitcher seen beaning Jackie Robinson in the head? Did this really happen?

The trailer provides us with the clue we need. When the pitcher turns his back you can clearly see his jersey #21. It didn't take long to learn the mystery pitcher being portrayed on screen is a real person.

Fritz Ostermueller pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1944-1948. Over those five season the southpaw started 106 games, posting a 49-42 record and a 3.48 ERA. It was the final stop of his 15 year career, that previously included time with Branch Rickey's Brooklyn Dodgers.

The actor playing Ostermueller in "42" is Linc Hand. The beaning scene was filmed in Birmingham, Alabama earlier this year. A local newspaper reported on Hand's role, and added a few details on the scene we see in the trailer.
Ostermueller hit Robinson with a pitch early in his groundbreaking rookie season and was also on the mound in June 1947 when Robinson led his team to a 4-2 victory against the Pirates by stealing home.
A quick look at Baseball Reference located the first game referenced in the article.

On May 17, 1947, Ostermueller scattered 12 Dodger hits in a complete game shutout victory at Forbes Field. The Pirates scored 4 runs on 4 hits to create the winning margin. The box score shows Robinson went 2-4, and was hit by a pitch, the fourth HPB of the season for him.

Was the incident as violent and mean-spirited as it appears in the "42" trailer? The 2008 book, "Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season", includes the original reporting of the game by the Pittsburgh Courier's Wendell Smith.
...pitcher Fritz Ostermueller threw a fastball up and in. Robinson, unable to duck it in time, raised his arm to protect his face and fell to the ground. 
"When the ball hit him a deathly silence hovered over the entire park," Smith wrote. "Jackie was on the ground grimiacing in pain." The Dodger bench emptied as teammates checked to see if he was all right. As soon as Robinson got up and ran to first, some of his teammates began shouting threats at Ostermueller. 
Though the taunting was profane, Smith interpreted the Dodgers' attacks on the pitcher as "expressions of their regard for Robinson." Later in the game, Frankie Gustine singled and went to first, where he apologized to Robinson on Ostermueller's behalf. "I'm sure he didn't mean it," Gustine told Robinson, adding that he, too, was happy to see the rookie getting on well in the big leagues.
The trailer seems to indicate that the beaning incident involving Ostermueller is some kind of retaliation against Robinson, but there's nothing I can find to support that being the case.

The box score for the game on the Retrosheet website shows Robinson was hit by the pitch in the top of the first inning, after the Dodgers lead-off man had grounded out. It's Robinson's rookie year, and the first series of the season between the Dodgers and Pirates. Safe to assume, Jackie Robinson and Fritz Ostermueller had never faced one another on the diamond previously. Smith's report also indicates that Ostermueller was apologetic after the incident.

Most of us understand that any movie based on actual events is going to take some liberties with the truth in the interest of pacing or simply telling a better story. However, if Fritz Ostermueller is indeed portrayed as a  villain in "42", I wonder if it would have been better to simply make up a fictional name for the Pirates pitcher who beans Robinson.

Honestly, I had never heard the name Fritz Ostermueller until my curiosity about the "42" trailer led me to him. I'm now wondering how much the line between truth and fiction is blurred in this movie. Whether a forgotten, yet successful, Pirates pitcher from the past is having his name dragged back into the spotlight for the wrong reason.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Time Machine: Rebuilding The Pirates

I guess you could call it "Draft Remorse".

I hear folks talking all the time about where the Pirates have made mistakes in the draft, and how different things could be today if just a few decisions were changed.

Let's examine this, shall we?

Why not begin with the most egregious, painful error in the recent history of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club, Dave Littlefield's decision to draft low-ceiling relief pitcher Daniel Moskos over stud catching prospect Matt Weiters.

Let us presume that we have a time machine that allows us to transport ourselves back in time and somehow incapacitate Littlefield before he can draft Moskos. Instead, the Pirates thrill fans by selecting their catcher of the future.

2007: Matt Weiters, C

No need to change the decision made the following year. I don't think many would have chosen differently then, though you can make an argument that they may choose differently now. I remain optimistic.

2008: Pedro Alvarez, 3B

The 2009 draft is where things get interesting. The Pirates went with a unique draft budgeting strategy, spreading their spending throughout the draft. That meant a conservative pick in the first round, catcher Tony Sanchez. Well, in our alternate timeline, there's no longer any need to select Sanchez because the Pirates already have Weiters. So, who do the Bucs select instead with the 4th overall pick?

There was a run on pitching right after the Pirates selected Sanchez at #4, the next eight picks were all pitchers. The following two picks were a pair of super talented high school prospects, Matthew Hobgood (selected by the Orioles) and Zack Wheeler (Giants). Considering the fact that Neal Huntington selected Jameson Taillon with the #2 overall pick the following year, I think it's safe to assume he would go with a high school pitcher here. Wheeler has proven to be a strikeout machine in the minor leagues. If Huntington had to choose between the two, I'm guessing he goes with the youngster posting a 10.3 SO/9 during his professional career.

2009: Zack Wheeler, RHP

Taking Zack Wheeler gives the Pirates their best starting pitching prospect in a generation, precisely what Jameson Taillon would become the following year. But since we're in the alternate timeline, where Wheeler is already scorching overmatched hitters in the minors, the Pirates can address another glaring need on their organizational depth chart. Why don't we get a top prospect in the middle infield? Seems like a simple pick, but perhaps not in Huntington's eyes. Since his first draft as Pirates general manager in 2008, he's steadily drafted fewer high school position players. Take a look at his track record for selecting such prospects in the first 25 picks of the draft.

2008: Robbie Grossman, OF (6th Round); Robert Gardner, OF (13); Wes Freeman, OF (16); Jarek Cunningham, SS (18); Patrick Palmeiro, 3B (22); Brian Litwin, 3B (24)

2009: Joey Schoenfeld, C (10); Walker Gourley, SS (13); Aaron LaFountaine, OF (25)

2010: Jared Lakind, 1B (23)

I'm not sure why Neal Huntingdon seems to be shying away from high school position players as the years go by, but the trend is there. So, as badly as I want to say the Pirates would have selected Manny Machado with their 1st round pick in the alternate timeline, I think the draft history of Neal Huntington tells us it would be someone else.

2010: Christian Colon, SS

That brings us to last year's draft. With Wheeler and, presumably, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia in the farm system and more depth up the middle than they have right now, there's no reason to think the Pirates would do things differently than they did.

2011: Gerritt Cole, RHP

So, does all this actually leave the Pirates in a better place than they are right now? Referring to BaseballAmerica's prospect rankings for 2012, I was able to put together the following:

2012 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospect Rankings (Alternate Timeline Edition)
1. Gerritt Cole, RHP (BA #12)
2. Zach Wheeler, RHP (BA #35)
3. Josh Bell, OF (BA #60)
4. Starling Marte, OF (BA #73)
5. Luis Heredia, RHP
7. Robbie Grossman, OF
8. Stetson Allie, RHP
9. Jeff Locke, LHP
10. Alex Dickerson, 1B

I'd love to let Christian Colon have the #10 slot, but it's frankly not deserved. He entered 2011 as #51 on BaseballAmerica's prospect rankings, but his season was a disappointment. He was unranked by BA coming into this season, and barely hanging on in the organizational rankings I looked at for the Kansas City Royals. He no longer appears to be part of that franchise's long-term plans. No doubt, there is much angst among Pirates fans in the alternate timeline over this selection.

There's good news. Matt Weiters is in Pittsburgh, along with fellow super prospect Pedro Alvarez. Weiters has been occupying the 5th spot in the Orioles batting order for most of this season, so I'd assume that's where he'd land in the Pirates lineup once Alvarez worked out his early season slump. The Pirates batting order probably looks something like this:

2012 Pittsburgh Pirates Batting Order (Alternate Timeline Edition)
1. Jose Tabata, RF
2. Neil Walker, 2B
4. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
5. Matt Weiters, C
7. Alex Presley, LF
8. Clint Barmes, SS
9. (Pitcher)

I'm sure you'd get some platoon situations involving Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro as we move forward.

The fallout from the alternate timeline 2010 draft is interesting. I find it hard to believe the Orioles would pass on Jameson Taillon at #3. He'd be the O's #2 prospect according to BaseballAmerica, behind pitcher Dylan Bundy. That leaves the Royals to select Manny Machado at #4. He'd be their top ranked prospect today, according to BA, and probably would've cost Alcides Escobar that nice contract extension he signed during the offseason.

So, what do we take from this exercise? You can almost make the argument that this scenario plays out worse for the Pirates than the one we're all witnessing in the "prime" timeline. In this scenario, the huge draft bust that set back the franchise isn't all the way back in 2007, it's fresh in everyone's minds. By now, fans in the alternate timeline are realizing Christian Colon probably wasn't the right selection in 2010. They're hating the fact that the other three players taken in the top four picks of that draft are all top prospects: Bryce Harper, Taillon and Machado.

Zach Wheeler's arrival is still probably at least a season away, as is Gerritt Cole's. Still, there's a big hole in the middle of the Pirates' lineup that's been filled and appears stable for years to come. The decision not to draft Matt Weiters haunts the Pirates, and unless you have a time machine lying around, there's no way to undo the damage.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Did I Invent A New Baseball Stat?

Now for something slightly different.

I'm taking a little time to write a post that has nothing to do with Arky Vaughan or the Pittsburgh Pirates. This one is about fantasy baseball. I'm doing research for my upcoming draft, and one of my goals is to reduce risk in players. My league docks points for strikeouts, hitting into double plays and being caught stealing.

The base stealing issue is what brings me to this little effort. Simply looking up a list of the league leaders in caught stealing in 2011 was not enough for me. There were indications of a stolen base percentage stat out there, but my searches of, and other sites didn't give me the results I was looking for. So, I created my own stat.

The formula is simple, and probably a little crude as it doesn't factor in things like catcher indifference. It does show how efficient the most aggressive base stealers are. I read somewhere online that anyone stealing bases at a lower than 75% success rate would be better off not trying at all. I'm not certain where to draw the line, but this effort was useful in showing which players are doing too much harm while putting up high stolen base totals. It also shows some added value for elite players that fantasy owners may not be aware of. I limited my pool of players to those with a minimum of 30 stolen base attempts in 2011.

2011 Stolen Base Success Rate (Stolen Bases/Caught Stealing) - Minimum 30 Attempts

Ian Kinsler - 88.2% (30/4)
Eric Young - 87.0% (27/4)
Ichiro Suzuki - 85.1% (40/7)
Jose Reyes - 84.7% (39/7)
Ryan Braun - 84.6% (33/6)
Coco Crisp - 84.4% (49/9)
Jason Bourgeois - 83.7% (31/6)
Erick Aybar - 83.3% (30/6)
Cameron Maybin - 83.3% (40/8)
Angel Pagan - 82.0% (32/7)
Michael Bourn - 81.3% (61/14)
Drew Stubbs - 80.0% (40/10)
Brett Gardner - 79.0% (49/13)
Ben Revere - 79.0% (34/9)
Jimmy Rollins - 78.9% (30/8)
Emilio Bonifacio - 78.4% (40/11)
Matt Kemp - 78.4% (40/11)
Dee Gordon - 77.4% (24/7)
Dustin Pedroia - 76.4% (26/8)
Elvis Andrus - 75.5% (37/12)
Rajai Davis - 75.5% (34/11)
B.J. Upton - 75.0% (36/12)
Alcides Escobar - 74.2% (26/9)
Jacoby Ellsbury - 72.2% (39/15)
Ian Desmond - 71.4% (25/10)
Curtis Granderson - 71.4% (25/10)
Starlin Castro - 70.9% (22/9)
Peter Bourjos - 70.9% (22/9)
Chris Young - 70.9% (22/9)
Justin Upton - 70.0% (21/9)
Jason Bartlett - 69.6% (23/10)
Andrew McCutchen - 69.6% (23/10)
Jeff Francoeur - 68.7% (22/10)
Willie Bloomquist - 66.6% (20/10)
Melky Cabrera - 66.6% (20/10)
Hanley Ramirez - 66.6% (20/10)
Jemile Weeks - 66.6% (22/11)
Juan Pierre - 61.3% (27/17)

Pretty interesting to see players like Kinsler and Braun at the top of this list. Fantasy owners don't need many extra reasons to draft them, but knowing how efficient they are on the base paths doesn't hurt.

I'd love to hear your feedback on this. How much value is there in these numbers? Are there other factors to bring into the equation? Let me know. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Swinging And Rarely Missing

It was recently brought to my attention that Arky Vaughan struck out only 276 times in his 6,662 career at-bats. For a little perspective, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs led all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts in 2011 with 205. Back when Vaughan was playing, it was rare for a hitter to record more than 100 strikeouts in a single season. Still, Vaughan's ability over his career to put balls in play and get on base puts him in some exclusive company. Somewhat surprisingly, that company is littered with other greats who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here's a lovely table of all-time leaders in strikeout percentage compiled by Baseball-Almanac.

1. Joe Sewell - 1.6
2. Lloyd Waner - 2.2
3. Nellie Fox - 2.3
4. Tommy Holmes - 2.4
5. Andy High - 3.0
6. Sam Rice - 3.0
7. Frankie Frisch - 3.0
8. Dale Mitchell - 3.0
9. Johnny Cooney - 3.2
10. Frank McCormick - 3.3
11. Don Mueller - 3.3
12. Billy Southworth - 3.4
13. Rip Radcliff - 3.5
14. Edd Roush - 3.5
15. Pie Traynor - 3.7
16. Doc Cramer - 3.8
17. Carson Bigbee - 3.8
18. George Sisler - 4.0
19. Paul Waner - 4.0
20. Sparky Adams - 4.0
21. Lou Finney - 4.0
22. Irish Meusel - 4.1
23. Red Schoendienst - 4.1
24. Vic Power - 4.1
25. Arky Vaughan - 4.2

Out of the 25 players on this list, 5 played a majority of their career with the Pittsburgh Pirates - Lloyd Waner, Pie Traynor, Carson Bigbee, Paul Waner and Vaughan. There's a virtual tie when it comes to the career of Billy Southworth, between the Pirates and the Boston Braves.

That's 6 Pirates on this list of some of the all-time toughest hitters to strike out. The tie for distant second place is shared by four franchises, with three players each - the Boston Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics.

What's interesting about the former Pirates on this list other than Vaughan is the fact that their careers all intersected as the franchise was building up the team that won the World Series in 1925 and the National League pennant in 1927.

There were a lot of interesting things that happened as the Pittsburgh Pirates roster evolved during the 1920's. I'm finishing up a full post on that which should be published in the near future. In the meantime, enjoy the fact that a bunch of Pirates hitters during the 1920's were historically difficult to strike out.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Best Hitting Shortstops Of All Time

Offensively, Arky Vaughan is one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history. Statistics show him to be second only to Honus Wagner himself. We're not just talking about the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. We're talking about the history of baseball. In a time when pitchers and hitters competed on a more even playing field, Vaughan excelled. When looking at his career, only a handful of players at the shortstop position can compare.

Career Batting Average
1. Honus Wagner - .327
2. Arky Vaughan - .318
3. Derek Jeter - .313

Career On-Base Precentage
1. Arky Vaughan - .406
2. Luke Appling - .399
3. Honus Wagner - .391

Career On-Base Plus Slugging
1. Nomar Garciaparra - .882
2. Arky Vaughan - .859
3. Joe Cronin - .857