July 21, 2000
BASEBALL: Ranking The AL Contenders
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website
The next three weeks or so should be decisive in the pennant races. The close races are decided in September, often in head-to-head games, and to some extent they can turn on freak happenings, bad bounces and the like. But itís the stretch after the All-Star break that decides which races will be close and who drops out of the pack. Plus, the trading deadline is less than two weeks away.
Itís a tough time of year, if you're a ballplayer. By late July, many pitchers have been saddled with a bunch of losses, guys who started hot have slumped, a lot of players know that this won't be a great year for them, and nearly every team has lost some big guys to injury. The three-day vacation is over, the last interleague matchups are gone with the All-Star hype, even if the All-Star Game itself has turned into a cross between the Pro Bowl and the lowest levels of Little League ("But Joe, little Johnny will cry if he doesn't get to play!"). Days off get few and far between from here to September. Even fans can have it tough if vacations mean being out of radio or TV range of hometown baseball coverage.
With the AL race shaping up, itís time to rate the contenders. Astonishingly, only two AL teams (the White Sox and Mariners, no less) are on a pace to win 90 games, and only one (love those Devil Rays!) is on track for 95 losses. Baseballís economic/structural problems haven?t been magically solved in four months, but predictions that the standings would remain static throughout the new millennium, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, seem a bit overwrought at the moment. Things always change.
I ranked the eight contenders in the AL position-by-position. I would have left out the Angels, who I just can't see as serious contenders with their pitching, but right now they are second in the wild card race and just percentage points behind the Yankees, so I had to include them.
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I gave each team points based on the number rankings, but combining a few positions: 1B and DH (most of these teams use a first baseman at DH anyway); the three outfield slots (Iíll give extra credit for good defense in CF, or extra off for bad defense there); 2B-SS-3B (the three positions are more comparable than ever); the top 3 starters (I list the big 3 separately since thatís who will mostly get the call in head-to-head series).
I ranked players solely on the basis of how well I expect them to play the rest of the way, although of course this yearís performance so far is a big factor in that. Anyway, the rankings are subjective and the system is fairly arbitrary, but no matter how you slice it itís useful way to force yourself to look at how strong these teams really are. As a result, this column is less an argument than an urgument starter.
I've been busy at work this week and I'm going on vacation next week (far rom my computer, so there will be a hiatus in this column), so you will forgive me if I skimp on the stats and just go straight through the rankings:
1. Darrin Fletcher, Blue Jays
Steady and underrated. His health is a concern, and even with a big second half his numbers may not match Posadaís, but I expect Fletcher to be the better player from here through September.
2. Jorge Posada, Yankees
Danger sign: only Brad Ausmus and the indestructible Ivan Rodriguez have logged more innings behind the plate than Posada among AL catchers. Given
that Posadaís never had this kind of workload before and has been inconsistent in the past, you do have to wonder if he will fade somewhat down the stretch.
3. Jason Varitek, Red Sox
4. Sandy Alomar/Einar Diaz, Indians
Alomarís too breakable, but the Indians have a fairly good second option.
5. Ramon Hernandez, Aís
Also very fragile, and the Aís canít really afford to have Sal Fasano in the everyday lineup.
6. Bengie Molina, Angels
Molinaís numbers are real good so far, and heís played well in the field, but heís playing over his head. Rookies who start out overly hot are a good bet to just hit the wall.
7. Brook Fordyce/Mark Johnson, White Sox
Johnson canít hit, period; he hasnít even carried over his high walk totals to the majors. Fordyce is the better of the two, but still no star, and he hasnít hit a lick this season.
8. Dan Wilson/Joe Oliver, Mariners
Wilsonís had it. Oliver was washed up years ago. At least the guys in Chicago can play some defense.
1. Manny Ramirez, DH, Indians
Appears to be settling in at DH for now, at least until heís 100%.
2. Edgar Martinez, DH, Mariners
3. Carlos Delgado, 1B, Blue Jays
4. Jason Giambi, 1B, Aís
5. Frank Thomas, DH, White Sox
6. Jim Thome, 1B, Indians
7. John Olerud, 1B, Mariners
Has to be the odds-on favorite for the AL Gold Glove.
8. Mo Vaughn, 1B, Angels
9. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
10. David Justice, DH, Yankees
11. Brian Daubach, 1B, Red Sox
12. Brad Fullmer, DH, Blue Jays
13. Tino Martinez, 1B, Yankees
14. Jeremy Giambi/Olmedo Saenz/Adam Piatt/John Jaha, DH, Aís
Giambi and Piatt are real close to being better hitters than Tino, but Art Howe keeps the door revolving
15. Morgan Burkhart, DH, Red Sox
Show me. He could easily eclipse four or five guys ahead of him, but he could also just flame out.
16. Scott Speizio/Orlando Palmiero/Edgard Clemente, Angels
Somebody needs to tell Scioscia that the AL is a DH league.
1. Nomar Garciaparra, SS, Red Sox
The A-Rod injury means I'd rather have Nomar in the second half. By a hair. I've been waiting through the offensive explosion of the past 7 years for someone to seriously challenge .400, especially at sea level; Nomar is a worthy candidate.
2. Alex Rodriguez, SS, Mariners
3. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
4. Troy Glaus, 3B, Angels
5. Roberto Alomar, 2B, Indians
6. Tony Batista, 3B, Blue Jays
7. Ray Durham, 2B, White Sox
8. Eric Chavez, 3B, Aís
9. Travis Fryman, 3B, Indians
The injury bug still worries me. Frymanís hitting over his head, too, but heís a good veteran player, so it would not be that unreasonable to expect him to keep the pace in the second half.
10. Omar Vizquel, SS, Indians
11. Randy Velarde, 2B, Aís
12. Miguel Tejada, SS, Aís
13. Jose Valentin, SS, White Sox
Fine defender. Bat could head back to .220, but heís hit well of late
14. Chuck Knoblauch, 2B, Yankees
Can still hit.
15. Adam Kennedy, 2B, Angels
A better bet to keep playing OK than Molina, but still a rookie.
16. Herbert Perry, 3B, White Sox
Can hit .300 from a wheelchair. Often has to.
17. Jose Offerman/Jeff Frye, 2B, Red Sox
One thing that jumps out here is how hard it is to decide who goes in what slot to describe the Red Sox. Every week seems to bring a new alignment.
18. Scott Brosius, 3B, Yankees
19. Ed Sprague, 3B, Red Sox
Duquette had to make sure Gaetti wasnít available first.
20. Alex Gonzalez, SS, Blue Jays
21. Mark McLemore, 2B, Mariners
22. David Bell, 3B, Mariners
McLemore and Bell may not be as bad as Bush and Gonzalez, but they do an awful lot to drag down Rodriguez and Olerud to just a league-average infield.
23. Benji Gil/Kevin Stocker, SS, Angels
24. Homer Bush, 2B, Blue Jays
Second and short is where Toronto has serious problems. An everyday player with a .260 slugging average? When there are 36 everyday players in the AL over .500? Ugh.
1. Bernie Williams, CF, Yankees
Bernie is 100% right now, and I'm just not sure about Ramirez? hamstrings.
2. Ben Grieve, LF, Aís
3. Magglio Ordonez, RF, White Sox
4. Darrin Erstad, LF, Angels
Erstad is another guy whoís known for fast starts and weak finishes, but heís also a first rate talent and by far and away the best defensive left fielder in the AL
5. Carl Everett, CF, Red Sox
Well, now Red Sox fans have seen the Carl Everett we know and love in New York. I seem to remember about 10-15 years ago somebody on the Sox --
Clemens? -- getting so mad on the field that he had to be carried off horizontally by three or four other guys. I?m knocking Everett a few slots here because the Red Sox will probably be without his services for almost 15% of the remaining games. If I remember correctly, I believe the longest suspension ever handed down to a player for an on-field incident was a month-long vacation given to the normally mild-mannered Bill Dickey for breaking Carl Reynolds' jaw in a 1931 fight.
6. Shannon Stewart, LF, Blue Jays
Hasnít done much but hit for average so far this year.
7. Mike Cameron, CF, Mariners
Heís got glove, and away from Safeco heís a fine hitter, too
8. Tim Salmon, RF, Angels
9. Raul Mondesi, RF, Blue Jays
10. Paul O'Neill, RF, Yankees
I was surprised to see that O'Neill, even at age 37, has the highest range factor of any AL right fielder (although the "zone rating," a competing measure of fielding efficiency, puts Jermaine Dye at the top of the chart). By the way, you can find range factor and zone rating leaderboards at cnnsi.com. O?Neill is having a fine season, but will he hit .340 against lefthanded pitching the rest of the way?
11. Jay Buhner, RF, Mariners
His health is one of the big question marks, but his bat has come back.
12. Kenny Lofton, CF, Indians
Having an awful year.
13. Carlos Lee, LF, White Sox
Leeís early-season plate discipline was a mirage
14. Trot Nixon/Darren Lewis/Izzy Alcantara, RF, Red Sox
Obviously who is playing here makes a big difference
15. Garret Anderson, CF, Angels
I was disappointed in Anderson, who I had expected to have his best year this season. I always figured him as a guy who would have one breakout, star-quality year and then sign a huge contract the Angels would regret. I still expect him to rebound somewhat in the second half.
16. Troy Oíleary/Bernard Gilkey, LF, Red Sox
Call me an optimist, but I expect Oílearyís revival to hold up.
17. Russell Branyan/Ricky Ledee, RF, Indians
A guy slugging over .650 who has struck out in almost half his at bats . . . youíre kidding, right? I could have listed Ramirez with the outfielders.
18. Jose Cruz jr/Vernon Wells, CF, Blue Jays
Wells will only join the lineup if Cruz gets traded for pitching help
19. Terrence Long, CF, Aís
20. Matt Stairs, RF, Aís
Stairs traditionally turns into a pumpkin in September, which is not a good sign seeing as heís already hitting around .215. I expect better than that, but Stairs is 32 and not exactly a fitness fanatic; he may be following in the footsteps of other undersized power threats like Howard Johnson, Steve Garvey, and Don Mattingly, who all burned out around that age. Guys who generate all their power with their forearms tend to lose it early, because quick arm reflexes are the first to go.
21. Rickey Henderson, LF, Mariners
Rickey has proved he has some bat left, and he has even put up half-decent defensive numbers. Heís still a pain, though, and not the best bet to perform in the fall.
22. Richie Sexson, LF, Indians
Cory Snyder Part II. Needs to get on base more.
23. Chris Singleton, CF, White Sox
Poor manís Darren Lewis
24. Ryan Thompson/Felix Jose, LF, Yankees
Will Bob Zupcic be next?
One look at the DH slot tells you they are loaded, and loaded down to the farm system. Other useful bench players like Menechino and Fasano (whoís OK as a #2).
2. Red Sox
Most everyone on the Sox bench can at least do something well. Thatís more than you can say for the Yankees.
Usually very deep, but mostly just Ledee and Cabrera these days.
4. White Sox
Stan Javier is a good bench player, but look at the people in the starting lineup and tell me they have good backups.
Clay Bellinger? Wilson Delgado? Vizcaino strengthens the bench, but they are still very thin. Promoting Nick Johnson would help when he gets healthy, but after all that time recuperating he may not be ready this year.
8. Blue Jays
See Seattle, but without Javier.
NUMBER 1-3 STARTERS
1. Pedro Martinez, Red Sox
2. EMPTY. Pedro is that much better than the field.
3. Bartolo Colon, Indians
4. Tim Hudson, Aís
Hudson is the real deal, but I would still rate Colon as a steadier bet for the stretch run.
5. Denny Neagle, Yankees
Neagle turned the corner midway through last season, and is back to his old nasty self.
6. David Wells, Blue Jays
I suspect Wells has pretty much shot his wad for the season. I'd still like him on my staff, but do you think he will win 30 games? I didnít think so.
7. Jamie Moyer, Mariners
8. Chuck Finley, Indians
Man, the top lefties in the AL are old.
9. Mike Sirotka, White Sox
Sirotka is getting hot at just the right time, when the air is coming out of the rest of the Sox rotation.
10. Freddy Garcia, Mariners
His return is huge for the Mariners, and should help them survive the temporary loss of A-Rod. But only if itís very temporary.
11. Roger Clemens, Yankees
I still suspect that, like Ted Williams in 1960 or George Brett in 1990, he has one last great run of 2-3 months left, but I could be wrong. May not be this year. But a Clemens hot streak could screw his two ex-teams -- what do
you think will happen?
12. Aaron Sele, Mariners
13. James Baldwin, White Sox
See David Wells. Baldwinís notorious for atrocious first halves and hot
second-halves; if he reverses that this year the White Sox are in big trouble. And the slide has already started.
14. Orlando Hernandez/Dwight Gooden/Ramiro Mendoza, Yankees
Injuries, injuries . . . Gooden taking this slot will weaken the Yanks significantly until El Duque is ready to return.
15. Gil Heredia, Aís
16. Kevin Appier, Aís
17. Jim Parque, White Sox
See James Baldwin, although Parque hasnít shown signs of caving in yet.
18. Dave Burba, Indians
Steady. Real steady. Should be good for a 4.60 ERA the rest of the way, which is OK these days.
19. Ramon Martinez, Red Sox
I'm still not convinced he will make it through the year.
20. Pete Schourek/Bret Saberhagen, Red Sox
Itís not 1995 anymore, but Schourek had shown signs of holding up until the last few outings. If he continues to falter, Sabes may take his place, leaving the fifth slot open for Duquette and Kerrigan to fart around with.
21. Brian Cooper, Angels
Fairly good young pitcher, but if this is your best pitcher, this is not your year.
22. Kelvim Escobar, Blue Jays
23. Esteban Loaiza, Blue Jays
Chris Carpenter had fallen off so badly in the past month or so that I'm convinced heís pitching through an injury. Loaizaís no great shakes but at least he figures to do better than the 13.89 ERA Carpenterís posted over the past month.
24. Kent Bottenfield, Angels
The Angels keep threatening to bring back Ramon Ortiz
25. Ken Hill, Angels
1. Andy Pettite, Yankees
2. John Halama, Mariners
I'd rather have Halama myself, but Pettite has been underestimated too often, and I've probably rated a few of the Yankees too low.
3. Tim Wakefield, Red Sox
4. Mark Mulder, Aís
5. Frank Castillo, Blue Jays
Ranks ahead of Eldred only because Eldred is hurt. Both are highly flammable.
6. Cal Eldred, White Sox
With his history, thereís always the chance he wonít come back.
7. Jarrod Washburn, Angels
8. Jim Brower, Indians
1. Paul Abbott/Gil Meche, Mariners
The Mariners have major league pitchers here, nobody else does. Brett Tomko could fill in well here too. My, how times change.
2. Seth Etherton, Angels
Downgrade this slot significantly if Tim Belcher returns. Belcher would rank about twelfth.
3. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
4. Grab Bag (Ariel Prieto/Omar Oliveras/Barry Zito), Aís
5. Grab Bag (Jeff Fassero/Paxton Crawford/The Asian Mob), Red Sox
6. David Cone, Yankees
Cone was probably one more decent 12-9 year from the Hall of Fame. It doesnít look so good now. The Yankees should just send him home for a month and see if his arm, his command, and his confidence come back. Just looks finished.
7. Grab Bag (Kip Wells/Jon Garland/Mark Beuhrle), White Sox
The Sox have yet to get any consistency from the rookies, and they will need it if Eldred is really hurt.
8. Grab Bag (Tim Drew/Paul Rigdon), Indians
They tried Jaime Navarro. Nuff said.
1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
2. Derek Lowe, Red Sox
I expect him to bounce back soon.
3. Billy Koch, Blue Jays
Better than Lowe, but Lowe works harder so he has a bigger impact. Kochís surgically repaired elbow wouldnít survive Loweís workload.
4. Keith Foulke/Bobby Howry, White Sox
Hey, two is better than one.
5. Kasuhiro Sasaki, Mariners
Sasaki, after a rough stretch, has been quietly unhittable lately. Given his spectacular track record in Japan, I?m inclined to think he really is as good as heís been so far.
6. Steve Karsay, Indians
tick ... tick ... tick . . .
7. Troy Percival, Angels
The Java Man just isnít what he used to be. Not a good late-season guy,
8. Jason Isringhausen, Aís
1. White Sox
Depth. The Yanks are close.
Jeff Nelson, Grimsley, Mendoza
3. Red Sox
Would be better off if they just sacked Mesa just relied on Rhodes and the underemployed starters, with Paniagua as the number five man.
5. Blue Jays
Now, to add them up. I rated each position by the whole number ranks, but gave just 0.8 credit for fifth starters, who donít work as much and wonít be seen in crucial head-to-head matchups, and for closers. In Pedroís case I inserted an extra space to account for a really big gap between two players. Closers probably make an even smaller impact than that, since while they work only in close games, most of them face less than 400 batters a year. Through Monday, Mariano Rivera has faced 686 batters since the 1998 season started; Neifi Perez has batted 1807 times in that stretch, 732 times last season alone. Rivera is as big a factor in the postseason as an everyday player, but in the regular season itís guys like Perez who put their teams in the playoffs (or in Perez' case, keep them out).
The totally unscientific result: well, I scored the teams by position and here they are:
1. Yankees 140.6
2. Indians 143.2
3. Mariners 145.8
4. Aís 152.6
5. Red Sox 154.6
6. White Sox 154.8
7. Blue Jays 172.8
8. Angels 196.2
Conclusions? Well, I may be overrating some of the veterans, like Clemens and Vizquel, but the Yanks and Indians are still the strongest teams. In the case of the Yankees, that strength is almost entirely due to balance: except for the leftfielders, Cone and the bench, the Yankees have no severe weaknesses. Seattle also comes out surprisingly strong, by this measure, due to a deep pitching staff.
The White Sox still seem, by this ranking, likely to finish with the best record; after all, they have a big lead. And head-to-head comparisons suggest that the Jays are outclassed and the Angels are lucky to have gotten as far as they did, although as the team with the most obvious weaknesses, Toronto could help itself a lot with even some small trades. Pitching, pitching, pitching. Boston is the hardest team to pin down, unsurprisingly, because who knows what the lineup and rotation will look like a month from now. Will Burkhardt still be mashing the ball? Will Saberhagen be in the rotation?
My prediction? Out of sheer pessimism I would take the Yankees to go to the World Series again. At this point I would say, Yanks in the East, White Sox holding on in the Central, Mariners in the West despite the huge holes in their lineup, and Cleveland to take down Oakland for the wild card. Barring big trades or injuries, thatís the likely ending here. The ballís in Dan Duquetteís court to change that.
QUOTE: "WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR"
-- Boston Herald back page headline the day after Alan Trammell homered off Lee Smith to defeat the Red Sox in extra innings, Opening Day 1988.
TRIVIA QUESTION: What pitcher holds the career record for most intentional walks issued?
ANSWER TO LAST WEEKís TRIVIA QUESTION: The losing pitchers in Roger Clemens' two 20-K games were Justin Thompson and Mike Moore.
¬ę Close It
July 13, 2000
BASEBALL: Remembering 1986
(Originally posted 7/13/00 on the Boston Sports Guy website; reposted here with a link to a Bill Simmons column on Bill Buckner)
WARNING: DO NOT CONTINUE IF A COLUMN BY A METS FAN ON THE 1986 WORLD SERIES WILL BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR PHYSICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
In preparing for this weekís Mets-Red Sox matchup -- subtitled, "Who Wants To Be Knocked Out Of The Pennant Race In July?" -- I happened to mention that I could write a column on the 86 World Series in my sleep if Sports Guy Nation could handle it. Strangely, my host on this website actually encouraged this. I think heís trying to get me killed. Still, knowing when to keep my mouth shut has never been one of my virtues.
One other note: Upon beginning this column, I promise not to mention B___ B_______. Here we go...
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Top Ten Things People Forget About the 1986 World Series:
Everyone who watched at least part of the '86 Series remembers the basic sequence of events:
--1. Bruce Hurstís brilliance;
--2. Tim Teufelís error in Game One (ground ball rolling right between his legs, costing the Mets the game);
--3. Roger Clemens was mediocre, and Dwight Gooden stunk;
--4. The Metsí home run barrage in Games 3-4;
--5. The Boston fans taunting Strawberry in Game 5, and Strawís revenge in Game 7;
--6. One strike away, with NBC handing out the MVP Award and the Shea Stadium scoreboard congratulating the Sox;
--7. The wild pitch;
--8. The ground ball in the 10th inning of game 6.
A few other plays are remembered by one side or the other, like Evansí clutch throw, Keith Hernandezí botched throw on a Clemens bunt in Game 2 and the infamous rundown where Hernandez and Carter both got to the bag safely. There were some tremendous at-bats we don't remember, like one battle between Don Baylor and (if I remember right) Roger McDowell late in Game Four, and a few other big defensive plays. But there were a lot of other key moments, lowlights, laughs, tears and what-ifs lost in the 14 years since. So, without further fanfare, here are my Top Ten memories:
10. The Angels
Live by the sword, die by the sword; you could say the same about the grounder through Teufelís legs. Donít forget that the Red Sox were one lousy strike by Donnie Moore against Dave Henderson away from making it a Mets-Angels World Series (Reggie back in New York in October, Gene Mauch finally getting the monkey off his back, etc.). At least Calvin Schiraldi hasnít shot himself, last I heard (insert sound of numerous Sox fans saying "Why not?").
9. Mazzilliís foul ball
Bottom of the ninth, Game Six, tied 3-3, Schiraldi on the mound, Lee Mazzilli pinch hitting. Mazzilli crushed a ball into the right field seats, and it went just foul by a few feet. Not inches, not shoulda-been-called-a-homer close, but close enough to get you out of your seat. What if? If that ball stays fair, there is no tenth inning, no ground ball, no wild pitch - but the Mets still win. And Mazzilli, not Mookie, becomes the guy who symbolizes the Metsí long journey from the helpless depths of the Joe Torre era to the pinnacle of a World Championship. Sometimes the strangest memories are the ones where nothing memorable happened.
8. Frank Cashen and Kevin Elster
The postgame celebration produced one of the great baseball quotes of all time: Mets GM Frank Cashen is being interviewed, and Kevin Elster (who was 5 for 30 in the regular season and 0 for 1 with a damaging error in Game Six in the Series) comes up from behind and douses him with champagne. Without missing a beat, as Elster walks away, Cashen turns to the interviewer and says, "You know, it's always the guys who contribute the least who spray the most champagne."
8. Rich Gedman stank like hot tar in August
I have mentioned Bob Stanley in passing before, in reference to the wild pitch, but the real goat of the series for the Sox was Gedman. Not only did he combine with the Boston pitching staff for a passed ball and three wild pitches, not only did he reach base just six times in 30 plate appearances while striking out ten times, but the Mets ran wild on Gedman, swiping seven bases in nine tries (the Sox stole none). Gedman really never recovered from the offensive and defensive tailspin that started when he couldnít catch Charlie Hough in the All-Star Game.
7. Jesse Orosco's ribbie
Uncle Jessie had his big batting moment in Game Seven, which would be better remembered as a classic game if Game Six hadn't preceded it. Orosco has pitched in more games than any other pitcher in major league history. His RBI in Game Seven was the fifth and almost certainly last RBI of his major league career.
6. Mookieís vertical leap
On the famous wild pitch, Mookie was airborne when it flew under him. I am hard pressed to think of anyone on either team who would have gotten out of the way of that pitch. He gets hit, itís 5-4 Sox, bases loaded, two outs, and Howard Johnson at the plate. Again, a very different story.
5. El Sid
The really critical turning point in Game Seven was when the Mets brought in Sid Fernandez from the bullpen in the fourth. I have seen many better pitchers than Sid in my lifetime, but with the possible exception of Bruce Sutter, I have never seen anyone so unhittable when he was in a groove. I mean, guys didnít just not hit Sid, they flailed around like blindfolded drunks chasing a pinata. Sid made Rice and Gedman, with their Walt Hriniak swings, look like the last kids taken on a Little League team (as he had done to Rice in the All-Star Game that year). Two and a third innings, no hits, four Ks, and one electrified Shea Stadium crowd later, the Mets were back in the game.
4. Clemens was burned out
Far be it from me to defend Roger Clemens at this point. This is off the topic, but remember two things about last weekís Piazza incident: Clemens put the ball exactly where he wanted to, and where he put the ball was where Piazzaís face had been. It was funny to see the same Yankee fans defending Clemens who had claimed just two years ago that he was a nose-bone-wearing, shrunken-head-carrying headhunter for throwing at Derek Jeter... the same Yankee fans who wanted Armando Benitez lynched for hitting a guy in the back. But I digress.
Clemens has had a number of postseason disasters, sometimes intentionally of his own making. And maybe he should have shown more toughness in wanting to stay in the game. But the charge that Clemens should have pitched better, or longer, in Game Six is unreasonable.
Roger Clemens was 23 years old in 1986. Prior to that season, he had never thrown as many as 140 innings in a major league season; I donít have his minor league numbers, but Iíd be shocked if he had ever thrown 190 innings in a year at any level. In 1985, his season was ended prematurely (after 15 starts) by an arm injury. Coming off surgery, Clemens had his 20-K game (a complete game) in late April, and McNamara rode him hard, finishing nearly a third of his starts. To the credit of Clemensí strong arm, he held up remarkably well, way, way past his career high to that point in innings, until he was hit on the elbow by a line drive in September.
It was obvious in the playoffs that Clemens was not the same pitcher. He looked tired. His pitched lacked any movement. By the time he got to Game Six, Clemens had (counting the All-Star Game) started 38 games -- completing 10 -- and thrown 284 innings. A 23-year-old coming off surgery, remember, who had been running on fumes for more than three weeks. When he started the game like a house on fire, my brothers and I - who had been discussing Clemensí struggles and anticipating that it would come to this - patiently waited for the Mets to wear him down. Get to the bullpen; any Mets fan who remembered 1985ís 26-7 Phiasco in Philly wanted to see Schiraldi or Sambito out there.
And, come the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, the Metsí veterans started fouling off and fouling off and fouling off pitches. They didnít get much off him at first, but they knew they would get to see the bullpen. I wish I had the pitch counts for those innings; as Bill points out in a related column, Clemens threw 135 pitches that night in seven innings, even though he was barely touched in the early going. 39 starts, 291 innings, 135 pitches. He was completely out of gas, and the Mets had a lot to do with it; proof that even a strikeout can be a valuable at-bat. If he stayed in the game, it never would have reached the tenth inning.
3. The rainout.
If it hadn't rained the day after Game 6, the Sox would have been back on the field at Shea 21 hours after the Game Six fiasco, emotionally distraught . . . with Oil Can Boyd on the mound. Remember Game Seven in 1985? Joaquin Andujar? John Tudor punching an electric fan? It could have been like that. With an extra day, the Sox composed themselves; even the fans at Giants Stadium for the Monday Night game against the Redskins were glued to the game on their transistor radios.
2. Seaverís injury.
The Sox had three good starters for most of the season, granting that Oil Can Boyd was suffering from a wounded mojo by October. Trading for Tom Seaver, in the last year of his legendary career, made it four. Seaver had been a real good pitcher in 1985, going 16-11 with a good 3.17 ERA; with the Sox he pitched respectably, with a 3.80 ERA (the league ERA was 4.19), and better than his 5-7 record shows, although he couldnít finish games anymore. If Seaver hadnít missed the postseason with an injury, he would have started Game Four over the execrable Al Nipper. Seaver would also have been available and probably would have been the first guy out of the pen at Shea in Game Seven. Wow.
1. The Mets were a better team
Not to brag, not to talk smack, just the facts: the Mets won their division by 21.5 games; only two teams since 1910 have won more games in a non-expansion season than the 1986 Mets. They were an outstanding team for four straight years from 1985 to 1988. The Red Sox had a very good team, but to qualify for the Choke Hall of Fame, you have to be the better team and lose. Like the 1960 Yankees, for instance; my dad, who was - gasp! - a Yankee fan before marrying into a Brooklyn Dodger family, still swears that he knew Ralph Terry would give up a home run when Casey brought him in. The '88 Mets, the '54 Indians and the '88 A's are three other great examples.
1986, like 1975, was a lost opportunity for Boston to beat one of the great teams of all-time. The Sox missed it, and as ugly as the end was, it should be remembered in the same vein as 1975: what might have been, not what should have been.
As a postscript, I will close with a mental image: Channel 5, WNEW-TV in New York, for many years had a well-known film/theater critic named Stewart Klein. The now-deceased Klein was dry, fussy, sophisticated and had a droll and bitingly sarcastic wit; the quintessential New York theater critic. Apparently Klein lost some sort of a bet when the Mets won the Series, and he came on the next night and performed a boisterous, if not enthusiastic, rendition of "The Mookie Wilson Song," to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus from Handelís Messiah:
Keeeeeith Hernandez! Siiiiiiiiid Fernandez! Mookie Wilson! Mookie Wilson! Hallelujah! Daaaavey Johnson! Hoooooward Johnson! Mookie Wilson! Mookie Wilson! Hallelujah!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Itís like living with a family all year and getting thrown out of the house on Christmas Eve." Ed Lynch, veteran of many bad Mets teams, after being traded to the Cubs in July 1986.
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July 7, 2000
BASEBALL: The NL Outfielders
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.
I was going to do a column with my NL All-Star team picks to follow up on last week, but frankly a lot of the NL roster is uncontroversial (the only bona fide head-scratcher is Darryl Kile), and the major controversy (second base) is one where I am not certain I can be impartial. There are very few active players whom I have watched play more baseball games than Edgardo Alfonzo and Jeff Kent, and no matter what the evidence (which is a close call) says, I find it impossible to conceive of Kent as a better player.
The one position that interested me was the outfield. The NL has a remarkably balanced mixed bag of outfielders, and ranking them is really an intriguing endeavor. I set out to rank the top ten, regardless of who they play for.
Let's look at the 2000 hitting stats of the top 11 outfielders in the league. To keep this manageable, I left a number of guys out here because they are having seasons out of context (Klesko), are not established players (Hidalgo), have been hurt too much (Larry Walker), or are just playing at very high altitude (Hammonds):
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Player Avg Slg Obp R RBI
Bonds .310 .731 .438 68 57
Griffey .237 .544 .391 54 64
Sosa .306 .569 .392 56 69
Guerrero .363 .695 .434 52 70
A. Jones .324 .586 .406 69 51
Sheffield .339 .678 .447 62 71
Edmonds .342 .658 .455 77 56
Finley .297 .601 .380 61 66
Giles .318 .623 .427 59 68
S. Green .303 .520 .415 53 58
Abreu .317 .528 .411 50 42
One major offensive number I left out here is GIDP, but none of these guys has hit into a ton of them (Andruw Jones has the most, with 9). Also, base stealing is not a big issue; Shawn Green is the best with 14 in 17 attempts, Guerrero the worst with 6 in 14 attempts.
So far this season, it's pretty obvious that Bonds is off on another planet communing with Ted Williams, while three others (Edmonds, Guerrero and Sheffield) are also in a class ahead of the field. Sheffield has to be one of the game's most forgotten men this year; you hardly hear him mentioned with the others. Green, Abreu and Griffey are lagging, although in Green's case his numbers are more impressive for playing half his games in Dodger Stadium.
This year's numbers are all good. But Ken Griffey isn't on anyone's All-Star ballot for hitting .237 in early July. Let's look at their established levels of performance, 1998 to the present.
Quick explanation: Established performance levels is another Bill James creation. Basically, you get an established level for, say, Griffey's RBI like this: Griffey drove in 134 runs in 1999, 146 runs in 1998, and 147 in 1997. So, entering this year the formula would be ((134 * 3) + (146 * 2) + (147 * 1))/6 = 140. The formula just weights the most recent year the highest and so on. This season, Griffey has 64 RBI, so the formula is ((64 * 3) + (134 * 2) + (146 * 1))/4.5 = 135 I divided by 4.5 because the season is only half over so we aren't comparing full seasons. That's how some of these guys seem to have "established" performance marks higher than their career highs].
Here we go -- EPL's for the past three years -- adding on Plate Appearances (AB + BB + HBP + SF) to measure durability:
Player Avg Slg OBP R RBI PA
Bonds .291 .655 .420 112 102 552
Griffey .270 .574 .382 117 135 714
Sosa .298 .615 .377 118 144 727
Guerrero .333 .629 .395 104 129 673
A. Jones .293 .526 .372 109 91 690
Sheffield .315 .577 .426 103 111 648
Edmonds .311 .557 .404 92 68 478
Finley .271 .523 .343 106 105 673
Giles .309 .593 .419 100 111 618
S. Green .300 .548 .483 118 116 705
Abreu .324 .531 .427 101 86 649
The first thing that jumps out at you here is, man, standards like 100 RBI aren't what they used to be. These guys have monster numbers, and there's almost as many of them as teams in the NL. Bonds is still in a league all his own, although his Runs and RBI numbers are less than spectacular because of injuries; he averages about 150 fewer plate appearances per year than Griffey, Sosa, or Green. Finley and Edmonds fall away from the pack here because Finley's on base percentage is barely above the league average (below, if you exclude pitchers) and Edmonds just hasn't stayed in the lineup enough.
I don't have time to run 3-year defensive numbers, but here are the seasons; I've broken them down by position:
RF Range F%
Guerrero 2.277 .966
Giles 2.022 .987
Sosa 1.999 .970
Abreu 2.275 .994
S. Green 2.015 .981
Edmonds 2.525 .978
Giles 2.467 .981
A. Jones 2.645 .995
Finley 2.328 .989
Griffey 2.808 .987
Bonds 1.927 .976
Sheffield 1.652 .943
Giles is listed twice because he has split time evenly; surprisingly enough, he holds his own at both positions. Sheffield is a butcher, near the bottom of NL left fielders. I was surprised that Andruw Jones wasn't the dominant center fielder, although the season's not over yet and he did lead the NL in range last season at 3.15 (placing among the best 10 or 12 figures of the past two decades, but second in the majors to Chris Singleton). Griffey, meanwhile, has obviously recovered from the bad knee and general malaise that hampered him in the field last season.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
So, how do I rank the outfielders?
1. Guerrero. The man to have for the next few years is already the man to beat. His mistakes (errors, caught stealing) are outweighed by his combination of production and durability.
2. Bonds. Give the devil his due, Bonds is still the most dangerous bat in the NL besides McGwire. Only Maddux can seriously challenge him for Player of the 1990s, and Bonds tops it off now by having one of his best years. Bonds' real competition now is Williams and Musial, not these guys. I rank him behind Gurerrero only because Guerrero stays in the lineup a lot more and plays a more demanding defensive position.
3. Griffey. The percentages say Griffey isn't the deadly hitter that Bonds and Sheffield are, but staying in the lineup with a variety of nagging injuries over the years will do that to you. Add in the guys who play in the absence of Bonds and Sheffield and the numbers will be much closer to those of Griffey or Sosa. And Griffey is still a Gold Glove caliber centefielder, although over the course of the season I would rather have Jones in the field than Junior.
4. Sosa. Would rank higher with these numbers elsewhere; while he's hit well on the road, his totals over the years are inflated by Wrigley. Still, you have to admire a man who can sustain a level of 144 RBI and 390 total bases over two and a half years; Sosa is always in the lineup.
5. Green. He's come a long way from the rookie who couldn't field and couldn't hit lefties. Another guy who almost never calls in sick. His speed on the basepaths is a plus and part of why nobody here tops him in scoring runs.
6. Sheffield. The Dick Allen of the 21st Century. He gets hurt sometimes, has been a bad fielder at every position he's been tried, and can be generally a pain in the butt, but boy can this guy hit. And in Dodger Stadium (and before that, Florida), no less.
7. Jones. Now I know what people meant about DiMaggio in the field: a guy who can catch anything, anywhere and never look like he's running hard. Of course, Jones is black and has a tropical-islander's who-me-care demeanor, so he gets branded a loafer rather than an icon. And he's really just
learning to hit.
8. Giles. Would you trade this man for Ricardo Rincon? Giles is another small-market player who doesn't get his due as a beastly hitter. He may be better than Jones, actually; it's very close.
9. Abreu. Another product of boneheadedness; the Devil Rays would be far better off if they had fired Chuck LaMar on the spot when he traded Abreu for Kevin Stocker in 1998. Note that he gets on base more than any of the others.
10. Edmonds. A great talent, but his absence was the first strike that torpedoed the Angels last year. He's often been compared, rightly, to Fred Lynn.
11. Finley. A fine outfielder and another example of the Diamondbacks successfully playing with fire by getting big production from a guy who should be in his declining years. They will pay for this eventually, but Finley is a big part of why they may claim back-to-back division titles. Just out of his class in this company.
"Now that Kevin McReynolds doesn't work for the Kroc family anymore, can we just call him Kevin Reynolds?"
- Mike Lupica in 1987
Name the only two players to have 100 extra base hits in a season twice
ANSWER TO LAST WEEK'S TRIVIA QUESTION
The only non-mustached pitcher to win the AL Cy Young Award between 1977 and 1984 was Steve Stone.
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