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Behind the Plate: Phenoms and flops

Remember the prevailing thought among fans that the Dodgers’ pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto was going to be a bust? How could the Dodgers give him a 12-year, $325 million deal without throwing a pitch in the major leagues?

However, there were plenty of veteran scouts who believed Yamamoto would be the real deal.

So far, the scouts have the edge.

Through his first eight starts, Yamamoto had a 4-1 record with a 0.96 ERA. The 30-year-old is the current leading candidate for the NL Rookie-of-the-Year award.

Back in 1971, scouts believed Atlanta catcher Earl Williams would be one of more dominating players for the next decade (more on him later).

In this week’s version of my Behind the Plate column - past and present trends with the Phillies, Mets, and Yankees as well as the overall game – I’ll take a look at the game’s leading rookie candidates and also some of the phenoms and flops over the years.

In the Hunt: Yamamoto had notched 53 strikeouts and 10 walks in 46.2 innings. Besides Yamamoto, the Cubs’ Shota Imanaga had a 5-0 mark with a 0.96 ERA through his first eight starts. Imanaga had allowed just eight walks and recorded 51 strikeouts in 46.2 innings.

Pittsburgh pitcher Jared Jones had a 3-4 record with a 2.89 ERA. He had 63 strikeouts and seven walks.

Ironically, the last Dodgers’ pitcher to win the top Rookie honor was another Japanese pitcher, Hideo Nomo, in 1995.

In the American League, Oakland’s Mason Miller appears to be the front runner. Through May 18, Miller had a 0.98 ERA through his first 14 games. He had eight saves with 38 strikeouts and five walks.

Texas outfielder Evan Carter helped the Rangers down the stretch of last year’s regular season and in the postseason toward their title. He has been struggling (.214 average, five homers, 15 RBIs), but Carter is expected to make an impact.

Boston’s Wilyer Abreu has been a big reason for the Red Sox resurgence this season. Scouts believe Abreu had a big upside as he was hitting .264 in the team’s first 39 games.

How about the Yankees’ Luis Gil? The 25-year-old righthander had a 5-1 record with a 2.39 ERA through his first nine starts with 62 strikeouts in 49 innings. His presence has helped the Yankees stay on top and fill the void left by the injured Garrit Cole.

Besides Aaron Judge in 2017, other Yankees to win the award were Derek Jeter (’96), Dave Righetti (’81), Thurman Munson (’70), Stan Bahnsen (’68), Tom Tresh (’62), Tony Kubek (’57), Bob Grim (’54), and Gil McDougald (’51).

There’s also the Mets’ Christian Stott, who had an 0-2 record after three starts, but the Mets have high expectations for him. The Mets to win the honor were Tom Seaver in ’67, Darryl Strawberry in ’83, and Dwight Gooden in ’84.

What Happened?: In 1971, Williams had a breakout year with the Braves, smacking 33 homers, driving in 87 runs, and hitting .324. He followed that with a 28-homer season the next year, but Williams never returned to his rookie status.

Over the next six years, he spent time with Baltimore, Montreal and Oakland, hitting 77 homers in that span.

In 1976, the National and American League winners both were eventual flops. Butch Metzger took the top NL honor, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych captured the AL prize.

Metzger had 16 saves and a 2.92 for the Padres, but he never regained his form after a stint with St. Louis. Fydrych was the zany Tigers righthander who was 19-9 his first year, but a mysterious arm ailment - that turned out to be a rotator cuff issue – had him out of baseball three years later after a 10-9 slate over the time period.

Due to the injury, Fydrych could get a pass here.

In 1980, “Super” Joe Charboneau, who quickly gained legendary status, made a splash with the Indians with his 23 homer, 89 RBI, .289 campaign. But he was out of baseball three years later dealing with his share of injuries and slumps.

Unknown to many, Charboneau was a 1976 second-round draft pick of the Phillies, and he spent two seasons in their single-A spots before he was traded to Minnesota.

Remember Jason Bay? He was the NL Rookie-of-the-Year with the Pirates in 2004, who had the same honor with second baseman Johnny Ray in 1982. Bay had 26 homers, 82 RBIs, and a .282 average in his rookie campaign.

Bay was a two-time all-star with the Pirates, but he began to slowly erode. In 2010, he signed a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets. However, Bay couldn’t match his homer number with his paycheck, as he hit just 26 homers with the Mets.

Phillies Flops: Over the years, the Phillies have had their share of rookies who failed to reach their true potential. There also have been those who lived up to their billing.

Jack Sanford won the Rookie award in 1957, Richie Allen did it in ’64, Scott Rolen gained it in ’97, and Ryan Howard copped the 2005 hardware. Former Phillie Gary Matthews won it with the Braves in 1973 and Bake McBride won it with the Cardinals in ’74.

Those whose careers had their share of blemishes (mostly pitchers) were Scott Reid, Joe Lis, Lowell Palmer, Ken Reynolds, Billy Champion, Gary Sutherland, Dave Downs, Mike Anderson, Marty Bystrom, Bob Walk, Clay Dalrymple, Jim Essian, Wayne Gomes, Jesus Hernaiz, Steve Jeltz, Carlton Loewer, Brad Brink, Adrian Cardenas, Eric Valent, Gavin Floyd, Brandon Duckworth, and Reggie Taylor to name a few.

If you think of any, please let me know.

Readers Write:

Hi Jeff!

Two utility players played an important role for the Phillies during the 1960s. Although he was primarily a second baseman and outfielder, Cookie Rojas played ALL positions during his tenure with the club, including catcher and pitcher. He pitched one inning in 1967 without giving up a run. His best years at the plate were 1964 & 1965 when he hit .291 and .303.

Ruben Amaro, Sr. played the outfield and ALL infield positions. He could really flash the leather wherever he played. His best year at the plate was in 1964 when he hit .264.

The Phillies current utility player is Whit Merrifield, who had decent stats in the AL. He has played 1B, 2B, 3B, and OF. If only he could have matched or come close to those stats this year. He is, however, 35 years old.

Remember, Scott Kingery? He would have made a good utility player. He had one decent year in 2019, despite piling up a lot of strikeouts,

He could play anywhere in the outfield or infield. He probably could have been the club’s 3rd string, emergency catcher. If he could only hit. He is five years younger than Merrifield, so who knows what will happen.

By the way, I think Bryson Stott is doing a great job at SS, while Turner is on the DL. I see that Kody Clemens has played 1B, 2B, and 3B with the club this year, I wonder if he’ will take a turn in the outfield?

Richard Ochs


Time Passages: While pursuing online, I found below this interesting assortment of team descriptions. I do remember seeing most of them through the years.

Also back in the day, I remember going to the liquor store with my father and grandfather during the season and finding the “Seagram’s baseball guide.”

It was a small, free booklet that contained all of the team’s rosters, schedules, and a season outlook. When I was in my preteens, it was yet another item that I loved to collect.

Feedback: Your thoughts, ideas, and comments are always welcome at tnsports@tnonline.com.