The Amazing, Yet Unnoticed, Feats of 2008
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
You can do great things in baseball without anyone much noticing. A season takes in so many games, so many players, and so many teams that most of what goes on just disappears into a hazily remembered blur. Do something really unusual, and baseball nation will probably pay some mind, but there’s always a chance it won’t and that the attention you should be getting will instead be paid the burning question of whether Ryan Howard or Carlos Delgado are better than Albert Pujols. (The answer is, “No.”)
Just ask Oakland designated hitter Jack Cust. In early July, back when Chipper Jones was still making a credible run at .400, we noted here that Cust was making a far more credible run at the even rarer feat of leading his league in both walks and strikeouts. Going into last night’s games, as it turns, Cust had drawn 107 walks, eight more than Nick Markakis, and struck out 191 times, 30 more than Carlos Pena. This makes the man a cinch to become the ninth man to pull the trick, joining, among others, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Mike Schmidt. If you have a plaque or trophy to spare, you can send it his way care of the Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, Calif.
Impressive as Cust’s achievements are, though, they’re nothing on those of Philadelphia’s Jamie Moyer. His record — 15-7, with a 3.78 ERA — would be impressive for most anyone, but Moyer turns 46 in November and deals a fastball with an average velocity of 81 mph. Even more ridiculous, he’s a left-hander pitching his home games in a park that’s rated as the best home run park in the majors for several years now, routinely inflating longball totals for right-handed hitters by 30% to 40%.
Given that context, Moyer’s campaign has been outright historic. In baseball history, this is the third time someone 45 or older has pitched at least 162 innings with an average or better park- and league-adjusted ERA. It’s also the first time anyone other than a knuckleballer has done it. Cust deserves a trophy, but Moyer deserves a car. Or a spaceship.
Moyer, at 45, is the oldest player in the majors; Arizona’s Justin Upton, who turned 21 in August, is the third-youngest. His year hasn’t been as historic as the old man’s, but it hasn’t been as far off as you’d think.
Upton, a former no. 1 overall draft pick, seemed to have broken out at the beginning of the year, hitting .375 AVG/.416 OBA/.650 SLG through April 21 and putting on a devastating display of what exactly is meant by the word “tools.” Predictably enough, he quickly cooled, hitting .191 from April 23 through July 8, and reached a nadir in May, when he at one point struck out 17 times in 24 hitless at-bats. This left the public figuring that hot start or no, Upton wasn’t yet ready. A strained oblique muscle and a two-week rehab stint in the minors kept him out of Arizona until August 29, but since then he’s torn the cover off the ball, hitting .302/.389/.571 and helping keep his team close in the race. Overall, Upton is hitting .253/.359/.459, which compares well with what Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Joe Torre, among others, did at the same age. He may not be the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr., as seemed true in April. But then again, he may be.
With young turks like Upton and Toronto’s Travis Snider running around, it’s easy to forget that former prodigy Miguel Cabrera is still only 25. Widely touted as a possible MVP candidate before the year, he hit just .281/.351/.460 in the first half and was forced to move from third base to first as his Detroit Tigers turned in perhaps the most disappointing season in baseball. The team hasn’t done anything in the second half, but Cabrera has, relatively quietly, put on a monstrous display of power that should end any questions about how much of his greatness he left in Florida, slugging .624 and driving in more than a run per game. Not only shouldn’t you be surprised if he’s surpassed Alex Rodriguez as the best hitter in the league by this time next year — he may already have done so.
Past these four, there are plenty more players who aren’t really getting their just due, even stars such as David Wright and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. (Did you know that only Sudden Sam McDowell and Dwight Gooden struck out more batters per inning through age 22 than King Felix has? Now you do.) It’s part of what’s so great about baseball — there’s just too much of it for anyone to take in. Moyer has one more start, though, and Cust has several games to go before he can wear his double crown. The season isn’t done, and there’s plenty of time to bask in history.