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ALCS Golden Sombrero: Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson's ALCS Game 5 Golden Sombrero
Bottom 1: Austin Jackson called out on strikes against C.J. Wilson

Bottom 3: struck out swinging against Wilson

Bottom 5: struck out swinging against Wilson

Bottom 7: struck out swinging against Koji Uehara

Final Line: 0-for-4, 4 K

Notes: Jackson’s golden sombrero during Game 5 of the ALCS was his second of the 2011 season, and the first by any player this postseason.

He has been an interesting case this postseason, as Jim Leyland continues to use him as the leadoff hitter despite his propensity to strikeout. Thus far, he has recorded a multi-strikeout game in six of the Tigers’ 10 postseason games, and has fanned in 18 of his 46 plate appearances – a 39.1% rate. But despite his lack of overall contact, Jackson has still posted a .311 OBP this October thanks to a walk rate of 15.2%, which is well above his career rate of 7.7%.

After playing in 304 regular season games for Tigers over his first two seasons, Jackson has fanned at least twice in 102 games, or 33.6% of the games he’s played in. Normally such a whiff rate would discourage a manager from hitting such a player at the top of the order, but because he is the owner of a career .331 OBP and .369 BABIP, and also possesses 20+ stolen base potential, he has remained a fixture in the leadoff spot. However, due to his declining wRC+ (104 in 2010; 90 in 2011) and wOBA (.333 in 2010; .309 in 2011), perhaps Jackson would benefit from a drop in the batting order next season – or as I like to call it, the B.J. Upton treatment.

Total 2011 Golden Sombreros: 124

Total 2011 Postseason Golden Sombreros: 1

Changeups and Screwballs: A Southpaw’s Perspective for 9/7/11

-  As a former student of the University of Nevada, I saw my fair share of drugged out women of the night.  Watching CJ Wilson last night brought back memories.  His cutter and curve were as nasty as the workers of Reno’s 4th street corners.

-  Speaking of the Rangers, who put firecrackers inside David Murphy?  Homeboy is blowing up right now; making the Rangers say “Nelson who?”

-  I really have to wonder what is in those cigs that Jim Leyland smokes.  Detroit has pulled away from the rest of the division by going 15-4 since August 19th.

-  Erik Bedard has been scratched from his next start…well of course he has, he is Erik Bedard.

-  Jordan Pacheco made it onto Baseball Tonight last night as part of the Rockies highlight.  Big ups to the kid who is a fellow New Mexican.  He was part of the La Cueva High School (Abq, NM) Bears baseball team that held the national record for consecutive wins.

-  Did anybody else realize that since June 18th, the Vanimal, Vance Worley, has made 14 starts, and the Phillies have won every single one of them?  I hadn’t realized that either.  Impressive.

-  And I don’t care who you are, watching Stephen Strasburg pitch last night was fantastic.  And to think it was a mere 12 months and 3 days since he was cut on.  Mind-blowing to think about.

Golden Sombrero: Kosuke Fukudome

Bottom 1: Kosuke Fukudome grounded out to short against Doug Fister

Bottom 4: Fukudome struck out swinging against Duane Below

Bottom 7: Fukudome struck out swinging against Daniel Schlereth

Bottom 10: Fukudome called out on strikes against Phil Coke

Bottom 12: Fukudome struck out swinging against Joaquin Benoit

Bottom 14: Fukudome hit by pitch by David Pauley

Final Line: 0-for-5, 4 K, HBP, RBI

Notes: A week ago, Fukudome was a hit by a pitch in the 14th inning to drive home the game-winning run and secure a 3-2 victory over the Tigers.  With a potential platinum sombrero on the line, Fukudome wisely stuck out his elbow and wore the David Pauley fastball.

Total 2011 Sombreros: 87

The ‘ol Hot Foot: Justin Verlander pranks Don Kelly

Justin Verlander revived a decades-old dugout tradition Sunday afternoon by giving teammate Don Kelly the ‘ol “hot foot.”

Perhaps Verlander just felt the need to bring Kelly down to earth after the career .236 hitter (.628 OPS) was spotlighted by the New York Times as the only active major leaguer to have played innings at each defensive position around the diamond.

The hot foot has been in pranksters’ repertoires since at least the 1980s. The Mets blog Hot Foot credits former Miracle Mets Roger McDowell and Howard Johnson with originating the trick.

Here’s an explanation of their technique in this clip from “1986: A Year to Remember.”

Where are they now? Vance Wilson

That's me - amazed in the summer of 2006 that I had just netted the autograph of my all-time favorite backup catcher: Vance Wilson.

Backup Catcher Edition

What has Vance Wilson been up to in his post playing days?

Vance Wilson now manages the Kane County Cougars.

Even for baseball fans of the hardest core,  that’s a seldom-asked question. Why would anyone ask about the former Met and Tiger catcher, forever a backup, who never played in more than 96 games in any of his eight years as a player?

But I had to smile today when I discovered that Wilson has stayed in baseball, now as manager of the Kane County Cougars (Low-A, Kansas City Royals).  (Though I was disappointed in myself for failing to realize I was in his midst at a Cougars game in May.) Because for reasons I still don’t completely understand, Wilson was my all-time favorite player.

Maybe it was because he was the true unsung hero on his teams. Not just a under-appreciated catcher, but an unheralded backup catcher. He could come into games late and produce results – a hard-to-do task after a full day sitting on the bench.

Though his sporadic playing time rarely allowed him to get into a rhythm, he had a solid .250 career batting average, and he threw out a whopping 40 percent of would-be base-stealers. That’s awesome.

But even better, the guy I inexplicably called “Vance the Pants,” provided me with one of my all-time favorite baseball memories.

On a sunny summer day before a Tigers-White Sox game in 2006, Wilson was signing autographs down the left field line. I ventured down a few rows at Comerica Park to see if Wilson would sign the Paul Konerko foul ball I had gloved during batting practice.

There wasn’t much of a crowd around Wilson, so the task was easy. I handed him the ball and, emboldened by what seemed like a once in a lifetime chance to chat, said: “Vance, this is going to sound really weird, but you’re my favorite player.”

“Kid, you’ve got problems,” Wilson said, handing me back a newly-inked baseball that had just become a prized possession.