Weird seasons: 1974, plus game thread: May 23, Braves at Pirates

1974 Atlanta Braves Batting, Pitching, & Fielding Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com.

Since the Pirates are almost totally uninteresting, I figured I’d talk about something else. First, here’s a video.

While checking Henry Aaron’s stats for the season he broke the home run record, I noticed how out of context that season was for the Braves of that era. The previous season, the Braves had led the league in runs scored while finishing tenth in ERA, which was not particularly noteworthy. But in 1974, they fell to eighth in the league in runs scored, but allowed the fewest runs in the league. (Because they played one more game, they actually allowed two more runs for the season than the Dodgers, and the ridiculous “unearned” runs system gave the Dodgers the ERA title as well; the Braves still were the best pitching/defense combination in the league, particularly when you keep the parks in mind.) If the Braves had hit in 1974 like they had in 1973, they surely would have won the division, despite the presence of superteams in LA and Cincinnati.

The offensive decline was in part just players coming down to earth after fluke seasons. Davey Johnson’s 1973 is one of the most famous fluke seasons in history; it’s no surprise that he returned to his normal levels. Darrell Evans went back as well, though in his case there was every reason to believe he had reached new levels. It’s hard to call Aaron’s 1973 a “fluke” as it fits right in with his career, but still he was a 39-year-old who was finishing a record chase, and it’s not too surprising that after passing Ruth a 40-year-old Aaron declined to merely being a good player (for the first time in twenty years). Mike Lum had an Age 27 year in which he was for once a useful hitter; he was back to being useless in 1974. And so forth. Ralph Garr had his big year in 1974, hitting .353, and yet he scored only 87 runs because there wasn’t anyone to drive him in.

Still, this was exacerbated by some… peculiar choices in giving playing time. I speak in particular of Craig Robinson, the everyday shortstop, who got 506 plate appearances despite hitting .230/.280/.265 and having a below-average range factor and fielding percentage. I’m sure they had a reason to not at least try Richmond shortstop Larvell Blanks, but I don’t know what it was. Johnny Oates was at least a good defensive catcher, and has to get some credit for the pitching staff, but he did hit .223/.278/.268. Johnson played first base half the time despite slugging .390, probably because the other options slugged .366 (Lum) and .272 (Frank Tepedino).

The pitching staff was sensational. That was the year that Buzz Capra won the ERA title at 2.28. What’s not often pointed out is that Capra may have cost Phil Niekro the Cy Young Award. That was one of Knucksie’s finest seasons, 20-13 with a 2.38 ERA and 195 strikeouts. The wins led the league, and the ERA was second. If Capra had been a bit worse and Niekro had won the ERA title, it’s hard to justify not giving the award to the league leader in wins and ERA even if Mike Marshall is pitching two innings every day. Carl Morton had a 3.15 ERA as the third starter. The bullpen (once Capra moved to the rotation) was a bit shaky beyond Tom House (11 saves, 1.93 ERA) but it was probably the best staff the Braves had in Atlanta before 1991.

And, of course, it all fell apart the next season, and the offense was still terrible, and they lost 94 games. Baseball is weird.

71 thoughts on “Weird seasons: 1974, plus game thread: May 23, Braves at Pirates”

  1. last thread – about getting McCutchen from the Pirates

    everyone has a cost, but would we be willing to offer them something like Teheran, Delgado, Schafer, ++? Id say hopefullly not

  2. Not Rowland Office? This was his major-league debut (except for two games in 1972), and a season that could stand for all his others: mediocre average, little power, few walks, little idea how to use his speed. Replacing Dusty Baker with Office was a big part of the offensive malaise that lasted for the rest of the ’70s.

  3. Prado 2b
    Infante 3b
    Heyward rf
    Glaus 1b
    Escobar ss
    Cabrera cf
    Ross c
    Clevlen lf
    Medlen p

  4. Hilarious nugget from Pete van Wieren’s book:

    At the end of Caravan week, there would be a big autograph show at one of Atlanta’s malls. By this time, everyone was a little punchy from the two-cities-a-day schedule we’d been on all week. A classic example occurred one year in the early 1980s.

    At that autograph session, a very attractive teenage girl, with her mother in tow, came through the autograph line. Several of us were at the table and signing, including Steve “Bedrock” Bedrosian. The girl was too shy to speak for herself, so her mother spoke up.

    “Oh, Mister Bedrosian! You’re my daughter’s favorite ballplayer!” the mother said. “It would mean so much to her to have your autograph. Would you sign my daughter’s jeans?”

    “Sure,” Steve said.

    So the girl turned around and sat on the table, and Bedrock signed one of her back pockets.

    The girl was still speechless, but the mother seemed more excited than the daughter.

    “Oh, Mister Bedrosian, thank you so much!” the mother squealed. “She’ll never take those jeans off again!”

    “She will if she goes out with me,” Steve said.

    This time, it was Bruce Benedict and I who had to get up and walk away from the table for awhile before we finally stopped laughing.

  5. Not the first such story about Bedrock I’ve heard. I don’t think he put much credence in the “half your age plus seven” rule….

  6. Heyward scratched–just a late-decision day off. Apparently Bobby thinks some guys need two off-days in a row.

    McLouth cf
    Infante 3b
    Prado 2b
    Glaus 1b
    Escobar ss
    Cabrera rf
    Ross c
    Clevlen lf
    Medlen p

  7. I trust his instinct on that, as much as I don’t like that lineup. The first half of the season must have been pretty grueling, so I’m sure the regulars appreciate the luxury of two days off.

  8. May the force be with Medlen!!! How amazing it would be if we can actually win this game?

  9. Now they are saying Heyward was scratched with a sore thumb.

  10. This is the kind of game you want to win. I hate giving bums a puncher’s chance.

  11. 5th win last night for Lowe? Good thing for Chip that numbers don’t matter in baseball. For it’s one, two, three, four strikes…

  12. Joe said Melky’s HR was a no doubter last night. Huh, I remember it bouncing off the top of the wall

  13. Well, last year, they tore down the team for at least the fourth time since Sid slid. And while McCutchen looks like a good player, they don’t have much to surround him with, so they’ll be tearing down again soon enough.

  14. you’d think teams like the Pirates or teams like Detroit in the NFL would eventually get better. When you get a top 5 pick every year something has to pay off right?

  15. Not if you can’t develop those second, third, and later round picks into major leaguers. Not if you keep making bad choices (or none at all) in the free agency market. Not if you can’t attract fans because your marketers stink, your city’s dying around you, or both.

  16. Two GIDP from Prado. Martin, that’s what all these other guys in today’s lineup are for!

  17. The Pirates are looking to build around Pedro Alvarez, Timothy Alderson, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln and of course, McCutchen. None of those guys save McCutchen are close to a Hanson/Heyward type slam dunk prospect, but it’s certainly better than what they’ve got.

  18. Problem is they will (going by history) have traded away McCutchen before most of the others are ready.

  19. It wasn’t really a tag. Doumit collided with Ross, who was right on the plate and was able to hold on to the ball.

    To answer your question, the ball beat him there by quite a few steps, so probably he’s just that slow.

  20. Whole team is ornery. Weird to see that in the midst of a winning streak.

  21. I guess that happens when the 2-3-4 hitters are all taking the same day off.

  22. They played The Hulk’s “sad walking away music” when Medlen was pulled. I sorta love that.

  23. 2-3-4-6 all off today

    sad that you’ve won 5 straight and then Bobby punts on a game, then you leave town on a loss with an off day tomorrow

  24. I like him resting everyone at once, but I’d prefer it to be against a good pitcher than we probably wouldn’t beat anyway.

  25. Heyward and McCann would have sat anyway. The only surprise off day to me is Hinske.

  26. I’m not a Bobby Basher, but I have to say these Sunday lineups that seem to throw up the white flag and say we don’t care, give me some heartburn.
    Does anybody have stats that show the Braves win % on Sundays vs. the rest of the week over a few years?

  27. @40 – I totally agree! It drives me crazy to see Cox manage some games like they don’t matter. I’m glad to see Infante in the lineup but it should have been to sit the ice-cold Escobar. If Heyward is hurt, I definitely wouldn’t sit Hinske and start Clevlen and Melky to make up for the loss of his bat.

    The sad thing about Melk-Dud’s recent home run and scattering of soft singles is that Bobby will REALLY feel compelled to play him now.

  28. MikeMC, how far back do you want to go?

    2010: 3-3 Sunday, 20-17 all other days (before today)
    2009: 14-12 Sunday, 72-64 all other days
    2008: 10-16 Sunday, 62-74 all other days

    I don’t see much of a difference here.

  29. Watching the Pirates FSN feed. I’m suddenly very grateful that our “greatest moments in franchise history” clips are from 1992, 1995, 2000… The Pirates had a moment from 1901 just now.

  30. @27, We’ll be seeing Alvarez, Lincoln and Tabata this season. Maybe even in a couple weeks.

  31. Common knowledge says an MLB team is comprised of twenty-five of the best players in the world. Even if you do go with a skeleton-crew lineup every once and a while, it should still be a competitive one.

  32. 48, Chipper’s 3-HR game or something like that. That might have been 2005 or 06 come to think of it.

  33. I’m sure Zach Duke is thinking “Well I could have done that”.

  34. Why do you hit Chipper for Infante?

    /edit – Omar Infante says “well I could have done THAT.

  35. Sure would be nice to be leading off the inning with a high OBP guy. You know, like Chipper Jones or something.

  36. That was literally all my fault. I walked in the door, said ‘Ooh, extras.’ and Doumit went deep.

  37. You start the JV lineup you risk losing to a JV team. I don’t understand why you do that with an off day tomorrow anyway. Let a bad team hang around and that is what happens

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