Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
January 26, 2001
BASEBALL: The New Strike Zone

(Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website)

One of the hottest topics coming into this baseball season is what the new strike zone will mean. Word has it that the powers that be (i.e., Sandy Alderson) want the umps to enforce a strike zone that is much higher – extending all the way to the letters on the batter’s uniform – but also narrower, extending only so far as the edges of home plate. In other words, it's the strike zone in the rulebook, rather than one shaped like Eric Gregg. Peter Gammons reports that, at least for now, the umps are actually taking this seriously.

Personally I’ll believe this when I see it. We’ve heard about new strike zones before, and they tend to drift downward and outward after a little while. The last really big new-strike-zone initiative, in 1988, was never formally repealed but drifted gradually into disuse.

This much is certain: at least at the start of the season, the zone will be different. And the effect on the game of baseball will be dramatic. The strike zone is baseball’s central battlefield; control of the strike zone is to baseball what control of the line of scrimmage is to football, what control of the boards is to basketball. With enough talent you can lose that battle and still win the war, but you are swimming upstream something fierce.

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January 25, 2001
BASEBALL: Link From The Prospectus

My Hall of Fame column mentioning Dave Parker and Lou Whitaker (now here) got a link from the Baseball Prospectus.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:45 AM | Baseball Columns • | Writings Elsewhere | TrackBack (0)
January 18, 2001
BASEBALL: Random Notes Column

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.

This week: a series of random thoughts on recent events; the "notes" in Baseball Weekly contained a number of gems recently, and the trade wires were hot:

I was appalled at the idea that the Mets would trade Glendon Rusch (let alone a package with Rusch in it) for David Wells. Wells' statistical profile (consistent workload, great control record and K/BB ratio) suggests a guy who puts little stress on his arm and will be around awhile, but the reality is that a guy his age (38) who's that out of shape is not a good bet to last much longer, particularly given how many hits he gave up and how badly he flamed out in the second half. It's an arguable point who was the better pitcher last year - Rusch had awful run support, while Wells pitched with lots of big leads, and while Rusch had a better ERA that was in an easier park and league - but Rusch is clearly a better bet for 2001. Never mind that Rusch is 13 years younger and makes a fraction of Wells' salary.

This is mostly a gut feeling - although Rusch's great K/BB ratio (157 to 44) backs it up - but he seems primed for a breakthrough season in '01. Rusch struggled after a hot start last year, but he appeared to be learning as the season went on, trying out new approaches to left-handed hitters in particular, and in the postseason he was deadly, repeatedly getting out of man-on-third-less-than-two-out jams he was brought into. His development reminded me of David Cone in 1987; I can still remember Cone, a rookie the Mets got from Kansas City for not much more than they gave up for Rusch, using his curveball to strike out Dale Murphy in one jam in April of that year and then strike out Jack Clark with the bases loaded in a key game later that week. The next year Cone was 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA.

The White Sox, though, had different needs than the Mets; they have a better offense but no Al Leiter. Mike Sirotka is a good pitcher, maybe better than Wells and certainly younger and cheaper, but he's injury-prone and not the workhouse of Wells' caliber; with a staff in shambles and no postseason experience, someone like Wells looks a whole lot better. The White Sox needed a rotation anchor, and Wells can certainly provide ballast. Plus, they’ll love Da Boomer in Chicago.

The Jays, of course, get rid of a whining headache (Wells can be a pain when he’s unhappy) and a fat salary and bring in a pitcher who’s 8 years younger. A good deal all around.

Note: Another team that could have used Wells or Pat Hentgen or Kevin Appier (neither of whom I’m all that enthused about for their new teams) is the Phillies. Philadelphia has a number of talented young pitchers (Bruce Chen, Randy Wolf) but nobody able to soak up 230 innings and keep on ticking.

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January 11, 2001
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame: Blyleven, Morris, Kaat, John, Tiant

My look at the Hall of Fame concludes this week with the starting pitchers. The burning questions: what matters more, brilliance or longetivity? Getting guys out or winning?

The two most-touted starting pitcher candidates on this year’s ballot are Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris. Personally, I came into this process having touted Blyleven, Morris and Jim Rice for the Hall, but each of their cases seemed weaker on closer inspection than I thought, while the cases for Luis Tiant and Ron Guidry seemed stronger. All four are close calls.

The ironic thing about Blyleven and Morris is that their cases rest on almost diametrically opposed arguments. Blyleven often had outstanding ERAs and mediocre records; Morris often had outstanding records and mediocre ERAs. Blyleven supporters point to his great career totals and ignore the early-70s AL he pitched in, when lots of others put up similar numbers; Morris backers point to his superiority to his contemporaries and ignore the unimpressive way his numbers stack up to the Hall’s usual standards. Blyleven never pitched a really memorable masterpiece in the postseason, but his postseason records (5-1, 2.47 ERA with his teams winning 6 of his 7 starts) are most impressive; Morris didn’t have staggering career numbers in October (7-4, 3.80 ERA) but pitched some of baseball’s greatest postseason victories. Blyleven’s fans argue that his teams dragged him down; Morris’ fans ignore the many great players who took the field behind him.

Looming in the background of Blyleven’s case is the specter of Tommy John and Jim Kaat. If you put in Blyleven on the strength of 287 career wins, the argument goes, you have to honor John (288) and Kaat (283). But seriously, who thinks those guys were Hall of Famers?

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January 4, 2001
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame: Gossage, Sutter & Other Relievers

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.

The starting-pitcher analysis is taking longer than I expected; look for me to wrap up the Hall of Fame debate with an overview of Morris, Blyleven, Tiant, John & Kaat next week. For now I’ll take a brief look at the relief pitchers on the ballot.

Let’s start with the basics: There have been two Hall of Famers elected as career relief pitchers: Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm. Until about the 1950s (with rare exceptions like Fred “Firpo” Marberry), outstanding pitchers rarely spent a significant period of their careers in relief. The top relief pitchers of the 1900-1955 period do include a number of Hall of Famers, but those were starters who closed games between starts (including Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson) or old guys playing out the string (Satchel Paige, who was a highly effective reliever in the majors, and still a strikeout pitcher, in his mid-40s). Because of this we have no established standards for what is and is not a Hall of Fame reliever. What we do have is Fingers and Wilhelm.

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