20 April 2023

Lehigh's Levi Looking to Last

My mother-in-law called me excitedly Wednesday afternoon to tell me that her physical therapist's brother - a minor league pitcher - was getting promoted to the majors with the Reds.  His brother is Levi Stoudt.  What's more, she thought I would take a particular interest, which of course I did, because Stoudt is a graduate of Lehigh University, my alma mater.  

Lehigh is not exactly a pipeline for famous of MLB players, or, really, any fame, for that matter, outside of engineering.  Our most famous alumni are, in the order I can think of them, Lee Iacocca, CJ McCollum and Don Most (Ralph Malph from Happy Days, though he never finished his degree), which is about as weird a trio as you could hope to conceive.  As for baseball, well, basically nobody.  A cold-weather school, Lehigh cannot hope to produce the numbers and quality of players that come from places like Texas, California, Florida and Arizona, to name a few.  

There is only a handful of players in the minors right now from Lehigh, none of whom seems especially close to making the majors, including Stoudt, for that matter.  He had given up 9 walks and 8 hits, including 3 homers, in just 11 innings at AAA before his callup yesterday, so it really was kind of a surprise that they picked him for this spot start.  The next best former Lehigh "prospect" is probably Mason Black, another pitcher taken in the 3rd round of the draft, like Stoudt, but just getting his first taste of AA ball as a 23-year old this year, so he's a ways off, at best.  

For Stoudt's part, well, he did not exactly cover himself in glory yesterday, getting roughed up by the powerhouse Tampa Bay Rays for 7 runs on 9 hits - including Yandy Diaz' 6th homer - in just 4 innings of work.  He walked one and struck out 3.  His bullpen did surprisingly well, allowing just one more run in 5 innings of work, but the offense didn't score a run, so he took the loss.  

His StatCast page tells the tale: He evidently has decent stuff, a fastball that averaged 93mph with good spin and a curve at 78, plus a slider at 83 and a changeup at 80mph, but he had trouble locating them.  He allowed 10 "hard-hit" balls, including seven at more than 100mph, which means they were generally coming back at him harder than he was throwing them in, always a recipe for trouble. His slider and fastball seem to have good movement, but the curve and change were flat and did not fool anyone, and even the slider seemed to get hung up in the zone quite a bit, like the one Diaz hit into the left field stands.  He allowed an average exit velocity of 95.1 mph.  For comparison, only Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez had a higher AvgEV last year.  The launch angle of 18 degrees and barrel rate of 11.8 he allowed must have made it a bit like watching, say, Paul Goldschmidt come to the plate... for every at-bat.  

So...it was not a great start, by any stretch, but then, the Reds are not a great team, by any stretch!  They're "only" 7-12 right now, but nobody would be surprised if they lost 100+ games again this year, I don't think.  The Cincinnati team has a collective 5.36 ERA that is somehow only 5th worst in the majors right now, so it's not like most of the competition is particularly stiff.  Plus, if the "scramble" you see in the video to get that home run ball that Diaz hit is any indication, there are only a few thousand folks in attendance at Great American Ballpark most nights anyway, so it's not like there are many people there to boo him if things get out of hand.  He should get a few more chances to prove himself before the year is out.  

Lehigh History Lesson:

Before Stoudt debuted yesterday, the only Lehigh alumnus to make the majors in almost the last 40 years was Matt McBride (no relation to Bake, to my knowledge).  Matt had attended Liberty High School in Bethlehem, PA, a few blocks from where I lived from 2002-2013, and then went to Lehigh in the early 2000s and just dominated Patriot League competition, especially in 2006, when he hit .417 with power, patience and speed.  He had 19 doubles, 12 homers, 21 walks and 22 steals in just 56 games, and as a catcher, no less!  Five-tool catchers tend to get noticed by scouts, even in the Patriot League.  

McBride got drafted as a supplemental 2nd round pick by Cleveland, ahead of Chris Davis, Justin Turner and Doug Fister, among many others who went on to much better careers in MLB.  (Other than McBride, Stoudt and Black, nobody from Lehigh has ever been drafted higher than the 10th round.)  

McBride only spent as couple of seasons in the minors as a regular catcher.  He caught only 16 of 110 would-be-base-stealers and had 16 passed balls at Single A and AA in 2007.  As a result, the organization turned him into a corner outfielder and firstbaseman, where his bat did not play as well.  He hit for average and some power in the high elevations of the PCL, but it never translated to the majors.  In the end, McBride got fewer than 200 total major league at-bats, spread out over four seasons between 2012 and 2016.  He hit .201 with 4 HR despite playing more games at Coors Field than anywhere else.  He finished up his last two years playing for his home-town Lehigh Valley IronPigs, not very well, but still showing flashes of the power that got him drafted, hitting .235 with 19 HR in just 108 games combined in 2018-19.  

The last, possibly only good MLB player before that was Paul Hartzell, who somehow has a ~6,500 word bio on SABR's website, despite really only being a decent swingman for 3 of his 4 full seasons in the 70s.  Among his top 10 comparable players listed on Baseball-Reference, most have no SABR bio at all, and the three who do have less than half as much written about them.  They do have some great nicknames, though:

Similar Pitchers
  1. Speed Martin (975.7)
  2. Peaches Davis (971.4)
  3. Gene Schott (968.8)
  4. Henderson Alvarez III (965.9)
  5. Willie the Knuck Ramsdell (965.1)
  6. Jim Willis (964.6)
  7. Steel Arm Tyler (964.4)*
  8. Tom Poholsky (963.4)
  9. Bill Parsons (962.7)
  10. Little Joe Yeager (959.2)

 * Not to be confused with Tungsten Arm O'Doyle.  

Hartzell got injured in 1979 or 1980 - he blamed having to go back and forth from starting to relief all the time - and was soon out of baseball, but tried a brief comeback in 1984.  

Hartzell was coached at Lehigh by another alum, the only other Lehigh player to appear in the majors for the previous half-century: Craig Anderson.  Anderson has the ignominious distinction of being arguably the worst* player on the 1962 Mets, which, for a team that famously lost 120 of 160 games,  is really saying something.  [For the record, Anderson amassed -2.7 bWAR, far below the second worst player (Gus Bell at -1.5) and pitcher (Ray Daviault, at -1.2)].   

* Realistically, Anderson couldn't have been the worst player on that team, or even the worst pitcher, or they would not have allowed him to pitch 131 innings.  He just managed to do the least to help the team win with all the innings he was given.  But if Herb Moford or Larry Foss or Vinegar Bend Mizell had actually had a better chance of getting batters out, I'm sure Casey Stengel would have handed the ball to one of them a lot more often than he did.  

Anderson was their "closer", before anyone knew what that was, going 3-17 with 4 Saves in 10 chances, though this was years before the Save stat would be codified.  Starter Roger Craig had 3, and the whole rest of the team had only three combined, one each for three different pitchers. Anderson pitched in parts of three other seasons in the majors outside of that year with the fledgling Mets, going 3-6 and allowing 31 Earned Runs in about 61 innings of work.  He finished his baseball playing career in the minors, having some up and down years in places like Buffalo and Indianapolis, but never made it back to the majors after age 25 and was out of baseball at 27.   

For what it's worth, apparently Lehigh's athletic department hands out the Anderson-Hartzell Pitching Award to its best pitcher each year, so I guess these two are still thought highly of on South Mountain.  Hartzell in particular has helped with a group that assists players in their transition from pro sports back into the "real world" which is pretty cool.  

 And, basically for the last century, that's all there is. Someone named Whitey Ock made one start in 1935, going 0-for-3 with a walk.  About a dozen players in the 1920s and before hailed from Lehigh, most of them for only a handful of games.  No Lehigh alum has played even 100 games in the majors as a position player in over 100 years, and as for pitching, outside of Anderson and Hartzell, the other 5 pitchers who have ever pitched after attending Lehigh - including Stoudt - have not totaled 100 major league innings.   

The last Lehigh alum to play 100+ games in the majors was Babe Twombly, presumably so-called because he was the younger brother of George Twombly (not a Lehigh grad), who spent parts of five seasons in the majors, mostly during World War I.  Babe was actually pretty decent, hitting .377 one year and .304 overall in about half the games of the 1920 and 1921 seasons with the Cubs, but he evidently liked the West Coast better and spent most of the rest of the decade playing for Los Angeles or Hollywood or Seattle in the Pacific Coast League.  Fellow Lehigh alum, the somehow-unrelated Cy Twombly, also pitched in the majors in 1921 - briefly and poorly, though he was proud of the fact that he retired Babe Ruth both times he faced him - before playing several seasons in the minors and eventually going on to become a beloved head of the athletic department at Washington & Lee in Lexington, VA.    

Harry "Moose" McCormick reaped a modicum of success from major league fields in his time, playing over 400 games spread out among five seasons between 1904 and 1913.  He appears to have only attended Lehigh briefly in 1904, graduating from there despite spending most of his college years at Bucknell.  He was a pinch hitter and spot starter in the outfield for John McGraw's Giants, and even got to play in a couple of World Series, both in losing efforts.  I believe he's the only Lehigh man to ever play in the Fall Classic.  

The most prolific, if not the best, player to ever make the majors from Lehigh's hallowed halls was Charlie Carr.  He played just over 500 games in the early 1900s and jumped to the Federal League as a 37-year old in 1914 despite being out of the majors for almost a decade at that point.  He leads just about all Lehigh grads in most offensive counting stats, except walks and caught stealing, and the latter only because his career was so long ago that they didn't yet think to count those.   

And that right there is the whole of Lehigh's legacy to major league baseball.  Here's hoping Levi Stoudt is on his way to changing that.  

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