Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
June 30, 2000
BASEBALL: 2000 AL All-Star Ballot

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.

To figure out who belongs on the All-Star team, you first have to decide what kind of players you want to pick. In theory, I prefer to see the All-Star Team populated by the best players in the game, regardless of whether they happen to be having the best year. After all, nobody looks back and says, "gee, Willie Mays shouldn't have been on the All-Star Team in such-and-such year because Jim Hickman had a great month of May." The opposite method leaves you with Jack Armstrong starting the All-Star Game. In practice, though, I look at this year's stats as much as anyone.

I guess we have to accept that the real question is this: Who would we pick if the All-Star Game were voted on in September? It seems wrong that guys like Albert Belle and Ken Caminiti (who wasn?t on the team in 1996 when he was NL MVP) get punished for saving their best work for the stretch drive.

If Nomar is hitting .280 at the break and Mike Bordick is hitting .390, it's a safe bet that Bordick will wind up pretty close to Nomar at the end of the year, so we can fairly honor Bordick for being a better player in 2000. If Bordick is hitting .330 and Nomar is hitting .310, though, I'd rather have Nomar; let's be serious about which one of them will hit below .260 after the break and which will hit around .330 (we will get to the real numbers on the shortstops below).

You know the rules: 30 roster spots (too many, really, but necessary because we have to take team representatives) and one player from each team. I will pick my own starting squad since the balloting's still open. I will also leave players off the roster if they are on the DL. A note on stats: I usually write my column over a few days, so the stats here may not all be updated through today. But I don't compare players based on different days' stats.

Before I fill in the lineups, let's start by making room on the roster for the guys the All-Star Game exists for: great players in their prime, having seasons that adequately reflect their greatness. The game would be a farce without the following guys: Pedro, Nomar, Jeter, Alex and Ivan Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina, and (although I don't see them as Hall of Famers) Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams. Manny Ramirez would fit this bill if he was healthy, but he's not.

Then there are good players having monster years: Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi, Edgar Martinez, Troy Glaus, Derek Lowe, Darrin Erstad.

That leaves us with 14 more roster spots to fill, and four teams to account for: Kansas City, Minnestota, Tampa Bay and Detroit.

Now for the lineups:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:44 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 23, 2000
BASEBALL: Sammy Sosa For Trot Nixon?

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.

This column is a companion piece to Sports Guy's feature on in-season trades from last Friday. My own take on such trades is that you usually make the Mike Boddicker and Doyle Alexander trades to push for a division title -- even though they both sounded pretty dumb around 1996, when John Smoltz was the Cy Young, Brady Anderson hit 50 homers, and Curt Schilling was emerging as a dominant power pitcher.

As a Mets fan in the 1980s, I used to be more down on dealing prospects because prospects are a cheap, renewable resource; use them as the Indians and Braves did in the mid-90s (Chipper, Thome, Manny, Javy, Millwood, Colon) and you can basically replace an aging contender with a younger one without missing a beat. The alternative, I thought at the time, was the 80s Yankees: forever bringing in Winfields and Griffeys and Hendersons and Don Baylors and Jack Clarks, shipping out young pitchers like Doug Drabek, Bob Tewksbury and Jose Rijo and forever mired in second place until they gradually sunk back into the cellar.

Experience has changed that view. First of all, I watched almost every Mets prospect of the past 6 years (other than Alfonzo) be destroyed by injury, often at the AA or AAA level. (Cue up the theme music, to the tune of the Go-Gos “Vacation”: “Jay Payton on the disabled list! Jay Payton needs to have surgery!”) I was less upset when the Mets made the Hampton trade (giving up two potential stars for a free agent pitcher and an outfielder who might or might not have one last good year left), because who knows whether Octavio Dotel can stay healthy?

Today’s high-offense environment -- in which pitchers throw more pitches per inning to increasingly-selective, ibcreasingly-powerful hitters -- has made it more difficult to break in talented young pitchers without injury or horrific ineffectiveness (Jeff Suppan anyone?). And the increase in homers has extended the productive phase of power hitters’ careers into their thirties. As a result, trading young arms and injury-prone outfield prospects for established stars is a more sensible gamble than it was ten years ago. If I was the Yankees, I’d even have to consider dealing Nick Johnson, who looks for all the world like a young Jeff Bagwell and has even drawn comparisons to Lou Gehrig, because Johnson has never been healthy for a full season and may never be (ditto the Mets and Alex Escobar).

As Mets fans learned after 1990 and Mariners fans may see after 2000, even teams with a core of young talent can see their window of opportunity close in a hurry for many reasons. True fans would rather live with the championship and the consequences than spend years afterwards wondering “what if we’d added one more bat...”

There are still three exceptions:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:35 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 16, 2000
BASEBALL: Shoeless Joe and Charlie Hustle

This is a slightly edited version of a column on Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose that first ran on the BSG site in June 2000.

You might remember that a number of prominent members of Congress shepherded through “commemorative” legislation in the fall of 1999 urging Major League Baseball to honor Shoeless Joe Jackson with induction into the Hall of Fame. (Warning: the link is to a PDF file. There was also a companion bill that passed the South Carolina Legislature in 1998, but I've mislaid the link since this article first ran.) It seems like a big contrast to the events of the last few years, as baseball continues to refuse Pete Rose permission to be honored for his accomplishments -- they barred him from the 25th anniversary festivities of the '75 Big Red Machine and continue to insist on keeping him out of Cooperstown.

Putting Shoeless Joe in the Hall of Fame would be outrageous; the people involved with this legislation should be ashamed of themselves. While Rose is also deserving of sanction, his case is a much different story; I will explain below why he should be allowed into Cooperstown.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:20 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
June 9, 2000
BASEBALL: Semi-Random Notes

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.

A few semi-random notes:

* Continuing last week's theme about the toll of Pudge Rodriguez's heavy catching workload, we need to incorporate that dreaded phrase, "At this pace ... " Paces are pretty meaningless -- particularly in April -- except maybe to demonstrate precisely how far (or not far) out of whack a player is with his past performance. Once you move into June, however, paces will at least provide an early heads-up that certain records might be challenged this year.

For instance, through Tuesday, Pudge was on pace to ground into 42 double plays, easily breaking Jim Rice's single season record of 36. Detroit's Deivi Cruz (who bats at the bottom of baseball’s worst lineup) is also ahead of Rice’s pace (38), and two others are on a pace to tie the record: Ben Grieve and Garret Anderson. Rodriguez grounded into a major-league leading 32 DPs last year and was caught stealing 12 times, thus giving back about as many outs on the basepaths as he created with his throwing arm ( he’s been caught 3 times in 4 tries this year). Somebody should keep track of the record for "Most outs given back."

* Years from now, if you ask me when I knew the home run explosion of the late 1990s had finally gone too far, I will probably point to the moment in last Sunday's Mets-Devil Rays game when the Rays got back-to-back homers from Felix Martinez and Esteban Yan. Yan's homer came on the first pitch thrown to him as a professional baseball player. He hadn’t swung a bat in a game of any kind in ten years.

* A CBS Sportsline column claimed that some people say that Antonio Alfonseca has “an unfair advantage” in having six fingers to grip the ball. Who are these people? Randy Johnson has an advantage in being 6’10” and throwing 98 miles an hour. Ted Williams had an advantage in having insanely good eyesight. Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown had an advantage because a greusome childhood accident left him with a mangled right hand, which he used to put movement on his pitches that no one without his “handicap” could duplicate. Is that unfair? Get over it.

* Where are they now? In case you missed it, ESPN.com reported in a May 19, story about Terry Steinbach that Dana Kiecker is still pitching, throwing amateur "town ball" in his native Minnesota. There... now you can sleep at night.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:09 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 2, 2000
BASEBALL: Catchers and Graveyards

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website

Here in NY, where the Baseball Crank resides, the question comes up often: should Mike Piazza be moved from behind the plate? The issue is front and center again after Piazza suffered his third concussion in three years Wednesday night, in a bloody mess. All three were as a result of being hit in the head with a bat.

Piazza's a defensive liability, the argument goes, the team will never go far if he wears down in October every year and he'll last longer at the bat. In the AL, the issue is the same, albeit for different reasons: should Ivan Rodriguez move, and if so when? Piazza says he wants to stay a catcher as long as he can. Rodriguez, who doesn't get asked the question as often, says in a few years he'd like to move to 2B to prolong his career.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:41 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)