Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 17, 2001
BASEBALL: The 2001 AL Pennant Race Outlook

Originally posted on Projo.com

At the three-quarters mark, with scarcely more than 40 games left on the schedule and major roster overhauls unlikely, the pennant races are now set: barring injury, teams will either win with who and what they have, or they will lose. What lies ahead for the new man at the Red Sox helm?

Let’s look at how the AL contenders stack up by position grouping similar positions together. (I’m being generous in considering the Angels as a "contender," but stretching the definition out to the White Sox seemed a bit too far, plus trying to evaluate how good the White Sox new starting rotation really is made my head hurt) I’m rating the players on one simple standard: who would you rather have on the roster from now through October? Thus, I’m not interested in what Bret Boone or Nomar has done so far this year, except insofar as it shows where they are headed. Nonetheless, this year’s performance so far does bear some serious weight in that discussion.

CATCHER

1. Jorge Posada, Yankees
Miles and a half ahead of the competition; in the scoring system explained below, I’m giving the Yanks an extra point here for the gap between Posada and the other catchers. That said, Posada is also having as bad a year behind the plate as you can imagine: opposing base stealers are running more frequently and successfully against the Yankees than against any AL team besides Boston (the Orioles are about even with the Yanks). Posada is tied for the major league lead in errors and leads in passed balls. This may not mean much in head-to-head competition with the Red Sox, but it could be a serious problem if the Yankees face Seattle in the postseason.
2. Einar Diaz, Indians
3. AJ Pierzynski, Twins
Diaz and Pierzynski are fairly interchangeable singles hitters in the Manny Sanguillen mold. Flip a coin for your preference; Diaz is having the better year at bat and throwing out more runners, so he gets the nod here.
4. Shawn Wooten/Bengie Molina, Jorge Fabregas, Angels
Wooten has been one of baseball’s quietest success stories this season, batting over .300 with power and strangling opposing running games. He’s been out of the lineup lately due to the death of his father, but should resume his role as Mike Scioscia’s answer to all problems. Molina, by contrast, has regressed in every facet of his game, and Fabregas is well past his prime, which lasted for about six weeks in the summer of 1994. I’m ranking them below Diaz and Pierzynski mostly because Wooten is an even less proven commodity and because Scioscia’s habit of using him at multiple positions gives too much playing time to Molina and Fabregas.
5. Scott Hatteberg, Doug Mirabelli, maybe Jason Varitek, Red Sox
Both Sox catchers have hit well lately, but . . I’ve always liked Hatteberg as a hitter, but one of the advantages of being a role player is that opposing teams are less apt to plan their game day strategies around you. When you become the regular catcher (on a team with the likes of Nomo in the rotation, no less) and you can’t throw, word gets around. And Hatteberg hasn’t lit it up offensively, either. With Varitek’s return uncertain at best (not that Varitek has had the greatest record against the running game), it may be necessary to play the usually light-hitting Mirabelli for most of the 7-game September showdown against the Yankees just to keep from getting completely robbed blind.
6. Dan Wilson/Tom Lampkin, Mariners
Wilson has arrested four years of offensive decline and has revived from a July swoon to play his best ball of late. He’s still years past being a credible offensive threat, and Lampkin’s still waiting to recover the glory of 1999-2000, when he slugged .508.
7. Ramon Hernandez, A’s
If you wanted to diagnose the A’s offensive weak points, you can’t ignore the continuing decline of Hernandez into a serious offensive liability. At last check, he’s one of just 12 AL hitters with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title (of 77 qualifiers) and an OPS (on base plus slugging %) below .700. While Hernandez had showed some pop in the minors and flashes of the same when he first arrived on the scene, he batted just .241/.387/.311 in 2000, and only a recent hot streak has pushed him to comparable numbers this year. Unfortunately, Oakland doesn’t seem to have a good catching prospect on the near-term horizon to replace Hernandez.

ESPN.com ranks the 77 qualifiers by “offensive winning percentage,” (i.e., what would a team’s record be with an average pitching staff and a lineup of 9 guys who hit like this). Of the 16 players below .450, 10 play for one of the top six contenders; only the Angels have avoided employing at least one true offensive sinkhole. Then again, 14 of the top 19 are on the same 6 teams, but no Angel ranks higher than #27. From the bottom up, the list runs: Luis Rivas, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Guillen, Hernandez, Jose Offerman, David Bell, Omar Vizquel, Chuck Knoblauch, Johnny Damon (!), and Torii Hunter.

FIRST BASE/DH

1. Jason Giambi, 1B, A’s
The Yankee fan reaction to Giambi has been predictable: don’t get upset when the guy beats up on our team, just go out and buy him in the offseason.
2. Jim Thome, 1B, Indians
Here’s your dark-horse AL MVP candidate, folks, leading the league in slugging and homers after an awful start. Giambi won’t win the award again, Pedro is out of the running, A-Rod is on a dead-end team, has never been a favorite of the voters, and has slowed after a hot start, and there are too many candidates on the Mariners. That could leave Thome and Manny, although you never count out old fave Juan Gonzalez when he’s leading the league in RBI again.
3. John Olerud, 1B, Mariners
Not flapped easily.
4. Edgar Martinez, DH, Mariners
Martinez is finally showing his age, and in fact he should probably rank even lower than this when you consider that Piniella will be resting him whenever possible to ensure that he’s healthy for the postseason. He’s still the Mariners’ best hitter. I’m handing out an extra point here for the gap between Martinez and Ortiz.
5. David Ortiz, DH, Twins
Ortiz has been on a feast-or-famine home run streak since returning from the DL. He’s been a letdown so often in the past that he gets little respect, but Ortiz is a dangerous, dangerous hitter.
6. Doug Ment-KAY-vich, 1B, Twins
In retrospect, the Olympics seems to have been a great learning experience, as guys like Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets slid easily into major league roles, and Mentkiewicz has been 1000 times improved over his first go-round. He’s not really a .330 hitter, long term, but he’s kept on hitting all through the summer and if not for Olerud he’d be the favorite for the Gold Glove he was robbed of in 1999.
7. Jeremy Giambi, Olmedo Saenz, DH, A’s
8. Tino Martinez, 1B, Yankees
9. David Justice, Shane Spencer, DH, Yankees
10. Brian Daubach, Morgan Burkhart, 1B, Red Sox
11. Ellis Burks, Russ Branyan, DH, Indians
I’m ranking Burks and Branyan here and listing Gonzalez, Cordero and Cordova in the outfield rather arbitrarily. Manuel has kept them all on the move.
12. Dante Bichette, Troy O’Leary, DH, Red Sox
I know I’ll get a lot of grief for these last six rankings, but bear with me here. Giambi has been on a tear, finally living up to his minor league numbers. He’d rank even higher except for the fact that he’s still largely a platoon player and Olmedo Saenz is having a crummy year. Tino has a dismal .311 on base percentage, which is why he can’t rank higher; he’s doing less than nothing to help the guys behind him in the order put runs on the board. Like Giambi and Daubach (though less so), he’s struggled against lefthanders. His offensive skills are basically the same as Daubach’s, but Tino is a better baserunner and fielder, he’s been on a tear lately and in a close call he gets some credit for his extensive postseason experience and a lot of big hits this year. Plus, Daubach’s on the DL, leaving the Sox in the very uncertain hands of Morgan Burkhart. This is a bad sign, since the difference between Daubach’s blazing August in 1999 and his ice-cold second half last season was the difference between the Sox making and missing the playoffs those two year. Justice and Burks have also been hurting and shadows of their former selves of late; I really don’t know what to expect of Justice at this point. If you smell something funny, it’s because the sell-by date on Bichette was around July 4; he’s currently having his fourth lousy month out of five.
13. Orlando Palmiero, Shawn Wooten, Scott Speizio, DH, Angels
14. Scott Speizio, Benji Gil, Shawn Wooten, 1B, Angels
When you hear the phrase “playing first base, Benji Gil,” you know the home team is not a serious pennant contender. With expansion still relatively recent, there are fewer professional hitters floating around unemployed than there used to be, but there are still guys out there who will work cheap and can hit better than Gil or Scott Speizio or Orlando Palmiero. What would it have cost the Angels to get Izzy Alcantara at the deadline? Not much, I’d imagine, since the Red Sox can’t even find room for him. Heck, the Mets would probably have paid the Angels to take Todd Zeile.

2B/SS/3B

1. Roberto Alomar, 2B, Indians
A great player having his best year at bat, hitting .350 with power, walks and steals. Defense has slipped substantially.
2. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Take your pick; while I usually prefer Nomar, the difference isn’t huge and there’s still the chance that Nomar won’t stay 100% healthy the rest of the way. Jeter’s been another red-hot Yankee. He’s having another terrible year with the glove, but I’m not going to change anyone’s opinion on that score at this point.
3. Nomar Garciaparra, SS, Red Sox
4. Troy Glaus, 3B, Angels
Not having a year like last season, but still a fine glove man and as dangerous a home run threat as there is in the AL. I’m giving an extra point here for the gap between Glaus and Boone.
5. Bret Boone, 2B, Mariners
Sometimes guys just have career years, and when they get this far into the season you stop waiting for them to cool off completely and accept that they’ve temporarily relocated to another level.
6. Corey Koskie, 3B, Twins
Koskie remains obscure, one of baseball’s best-kept secrets, but he handles his position well and is a very productive hitter, raising his numbers with a recent hot streak to .280/.494/.371.
7. Eric Chavez, 3B, A’s
Chavez’ foot injuries have scared me away from projecting him to have an outstanding career, and his thumb has also bothered him. He’s still a good player.
8. Miguel Tejada, SS, A’s
One thing that really impressed me watching the A’s recently is what an aggressive team this is on the basepaths. It’s a real turnaround from the “slo-pitch softball team” reputation they built in 1999. That season, Matt Stairs, John Jaha and Ben Grieve averaged 34 homers and 100 RBI apiece in the middle of the batting order . . . and they’re all gone now.
One big hurdle the A’s have had to face this year: Tejada and Chavez, the two sluggers who were supposed to fill the void left by the departures of Grieve and Stairs and the retirement of Jaha, have each dropped 30 points off their on base percentages this season, resulting about evenly from lower batting averages and fewer walks. The result has been that, beyond the Giambis, the A’s just don’t have the same battering-ram sequence in the middle of the order they used to (they’re still second in the AL in walks, though).
Tejada has cooled off again, but his record as a second half hitter still makes him a good bet to play well down the stretch.
9. Alfonso Soriano, 2B, Yankees
Soriano’s not my kind of player, an undisciplined hitter (.311 on base percentage) and really more an athlete than a ballplayer, but he’s also been one of the hottest hitters in the league for some time now, and guys like this can get awfully hot – remember Benito Santiago’s 34-game hit streak down the stretch in 1987?
10. David Eckstein, SS, Angels
Another no-name Angel – the Disney folks need to work on marketing this team.
11. Frank Menechino, F.P. Santangelo, 2B, A’s
Menechino’s had a marvelous year at the plate, really absorbing Oakland’s lessons about patience and turning his fairly marginal talents into a major asset. He’s tailed off since the break.
12. Omar Vizquel, SS, Indians
Call me a heretic, but at this stage of his career, what does Vizquel do better than David Eckstein? Finally showing some signs of life.
13. Adam Kennedy, 2B, Angels
Good glove, but falling into bad old habits at the plate.
14. Chris Stynes, Shea Hillenbrand, 3B, Red Sox
Stynes is a big improvement over the guys who held this position previously, but still nothing special.
15. Russell Branyan/Travis Fryman, 3B, Indians
Fryman finally cracked his home run slump, but this has not been one of Cleveland’s strong points this season, and I would hate to send one of these two to the plate with the season on the line.
16. Carlos Guillen, SS, Mariners
Won’t make anyone forget Rodriguez. Still working on eclipsing Felix Fermin, for that matter.
17. Scott Brosius, Enrique Wilson/Luis Sojo/Clay Bellinger, 3B
The injury to Brosius was a blow to the Yankees, since he’d been having one of his Dr. Jekyll years this year, in contrast to the last two. Brosius has always been Hubie Brooks-like in his inconsistency. The stand-ins have performed respectably.
18. Christian Guzman, SS, Twins
Guzman would have ranked ahead of a bunch of people here before he got hurt. With Denny Hocking injured, I dread to think who inherits the shortstop job – the first guy Kelly tried is Jason Maxwell. Guzman’s timetable for return still seems uncertain, but the Twins desperately miss him.
19. Luis Rivas, 2B
Another guy who looks good compared to his predecessors, but is a long way from contributing with the bat. A model number 9 hitter, but the injury to Guzman and the Lawton trade have increasingly led to his appearance at the top of the order. Funny thing: he’s hitting .321/.464/.367 in the leadoff spot, but .207/.333/.239 batting second. That’s probably a fluke, but maybe Rivas needs to get settled as a hitter in his own right before he gets asked to hit behind runners or take pitches to let people steal.
20. David Bell, 3B, Mariners
.194/.280/.262 over the past month. Yecchhhhh.
21. Mike Lansing, Jose Offerman, Chris Stynes, 2B, Red Sox
Did you know that Offerman has driven in more runs the past month than John Olerud, Ivan Rodriguez, Darin Erstad or Raul Mondesi? I remain unimpressed with Mike Lansing, who was the ringleader of the Sox’ recently ended futility at short, but Offerman has just been so bad for so long that the Sox need to try someone else. With Stynes only able to play one position at a time, that leaves the choice between Lansing and Hillenbrand, and when those are your options you can't blame Jimy for having just stuck with the hot hand. It remains to be seen who will hold down 2B under Kerrigan.

OUTFIELD

1. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
The real Monster in the Sox outfield. Where would the Red Sox be without healthy, productive seasons from Pedro, Nomar, Everett, Varitek, Lowe and Offerman? Second place and still in the race, thank you.
2. Bernie Williams, Yankees
Like Bichette, Bernie’s June has been most of his season. But his early struggles were obviously tied to his father’s illness, and Bernie is still one of the most versatile talents in the game. With Alfonzo crippled by a bad back and the other contenders struggling in the field, Bernie can (for now) claim the title of best ballplayer in New York.
3. Juan Gonzalez, Indians
Gonzalez’ resurgence this year was predictable enough under the circumstances; what a steal at a 1-year deal for the Indians. He hasn’t quite filled Manny’s shoes, but he’s close.
4. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Before the season, many observers compared Ichiro to Johnny Damon. They are indeed very comparable players, except that Ichiro’s fine throwing arm beats Damon’s limp noodle any day. I was going to give Damon a slight edge just because Ichiro has never played 140 games in a season before and could still wear down, but Ichiro’s swinging such a hot bat that banking on him to run out of gas seems like a stretch.
5. Johnny Damon, A's
On June 17, for the first time all year, Art Howe gave Johnny Damon the day off. Benched him, if you prefer. The next day he went 0-for-3, dropping his batting line to .211/.295/.286. On June 19, though, Damon had the first of six straight 2-hit games. In the 53 games between June 19 and Wednesday, he's started every single game and hit .316/.465/.366.

That's a staggering difference; for 67 games, Damon hit like Rey Ordonez, and he was batting 4-5 times a game at the top of the order. It's a wonder the A's are still in the race at all. They had replaced Ben Grieve, who hit .279/.487.359 and driven in 104 runs, with a complete offensive sinkhole and gave him all the at bats he needed to ruin the offense. Only the collapse of the Royals and Grieve's nightmare season in Tampa Bay were any consolation to those of us who saw the Damon deal as a heist that made the A's the favorites to capture the AL crown.

One interesting thing about Damon's resurgence is that he has been walking less since he started hitting again. Perhaps, one wonders, Damon was putting too much pressure on himself to fit in with the A's philosophy of patience at the plate. This is normally a good thing, but it is harder than you think for a 27-year-old ballplayer to change his spots at the major league level, and maybe Damon is one guy who's just better off playing the game his way, which means staying aggressive at the plate. In fact, Damon walked less in last season's second-half turnaround as well, which may undercut the idea that the new environment was the cause of his struggles, but supports the notion that freer swinging suits his style.
6. Jermaine Dye, A’s
His numbers with Oakland are a dead ringer for his 1999 season, when he hit .294/.526/.354 and drove in 119 runs. And in this lineup, there’s always opportunities for a right-handed hitter.
7. Trot Nixon, Red Sox
Every year there seems to be a new debate about Trot Nixon’s role – is he a star? Is he a role player? Should we trade him for Sammy Sosa? (Remember that one?). Right about now, Nixon looks an awful lot like Paul O’Neill did before he came to the Yanks – good glove, developing hitter, still weak on left-handed pitching. Nixon is a big beneficiary of Fenway.
8. Mike Cameron, Mariners
Cameron has gone in the tank lately, perhaps predictably after being over his head in the first half. His glove in center field is still a big asset, and he should start hitting again, if not at his first half clip.
9. Carl Everett, Red Sox
Has the Red Sox’ window of opportunity closed already? Maybe, maybe not, but for Carl Everett it increasingly looks like the moment has passed. A full year’s worth of unimpressive play has soured Everett’s ability to silence his critics by deeds alone.
10. Paul O’Neill, Yankees
Nobody symbolizes the revival of the Yankee running game – and the smarts behind it – more than O’Neill. The Yanks are on pace for their highest team steal total since 1916 (although they won’t approach the team record of 288 steals in 1910), and to average more than a steal a game for only the second time since then, the other being 1976, Mickey Rivers’ and Willie Randolph’s first years with the club, when they and Roy White each stole more than 30 bases.
11. Mark McLemore/Stan Javier/Al Martin, maybe Jay Buhner, Mariners
Martin has been the hot one of late. The Mariner leftfielders have been a patchwork this season, but put them all together and they have more than held up their end.
12. Tim Salmon, Angels
Injuries have sapped Salmon’s power, but he’s still 20th in the AL in OBP. Man, this guy has played through a lot the past few years.
13. Marty Cordova/Wil Cordero, Indians
OK, I just don’t trust these two guys, good years that they are having. Cordova has stayed hot, while Cordero has gone cold.
14. Darin Erstad, Angels
Erstad’s better than half the guys ahead of him, but he’s having a terrible year, and Erstad’s history is that his streaks and slumps can last a season or more at a stretch.
15. Torii Hunter, Twins
Is the glove mightier than the sword? I was going to rank Hunter up with Dye, Everett, Nixon and O’Neill, even though he has no business in that company as a hitter, since he’s just such a spectacular outfielder . . . but how good is he? We can see, watching him, that he covers a lot of ground and has a great arm. And his range factors are unearthly: he’s made about 60 more outs in fewer innings than Bernie Williams, a record that makes up for a multitude of offensive sins. But then, with a flyball staff in a ballpark where great range factors have been rung up by unlikely suspects before (remember Kirby Puckett’s 1984 season), is Hunter just the beneficiary of a huge number of opportunities? Here, the defensive measures are in conflict, because the Zone Rating measure (balls caught as a percentage of balls hit into the player’s “zone” on the field) rates Hunter below average in the AL, behind even Carl Everett and a washed-up Kenny Lofton and miles behind Johnny Damon and Chris Singleton. Without some clearer evidence that Hunter really is a game-altering force in the field, I can’t promote him that far beyond where his bat can carry him.
16. Terrence Long, A’s
17. Jacque Jones, Twins
Jones and Long have been fairly identical thus far this season, but Long was better last year.
18. Garret Anderson, Angels
Garret Anderson is 73d in the AL in on base percentage. Despite being second in the league in at bats, he is 55th in the AL in runs scored. This is not a coincidence. Yeah, Anderson will drive in 100 runs again, but he’s 33d in batting and 40th in slugging, so we’re not exactly talking Juan Gonzalez here. Remember the year the Indians had two guys like this batting in a row (Joe Carter and Cory Snyder), and the next hitter in the lineup (Brook Jacoby) hit .300 with 32 home runs . . . and 69 RBI? Starving your teammates of RBI opportunities is not winning baseball.
19. Chuck Knoblauch/Shane Spencer, Yankees
A corner outfielder who bats .249 with 6 homers better draw a ton of walks and play great defense. Knoblauch does neither; he’s a reasonably patient hitter but not Rickey Henderson, and while his on the job training in left field has been a success in avoiding serious embarrassments, he hasn’t made anyone forget Dave Winfield. Besides his base stealing, the one statistical (if not real) bright spot, amusingly, has been his frequently challenged (insulted) throwing arm: Knoblauch leads all AL left fielders in assists.
20. Kenny Lofton, Indians
Lofton is painful to watch. Can this be the same guy who returned from injury last season to score 107 runs? Sometimes it ends that fast, when you’re 34 and make your living with your legs.
21. Bobby Kielty/Brian Buchanan, Twins
Kielty is supposed to be a halfway decent prospect, but neither of these guys is really the kind of corner outfielder you want in a pennant race. Nor is Chad Allen, if he were healthy.

STARTING PITCHERS

Last year I split off fifth starters, but that doesn’t really seem feasible with some of these starting rotations.
1. Tim Hudson, A’s
As he did in 2000, Hudson wrecked his ERA early with back-to-back April shellings - Boston and Cleveland last year, Texas and the Yankees this year. In fact, he’s dodged the Indians so far this season, against whom his career ERA is 10.89 (it’s also 6.50 against the Yanks). Hudson’s 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA since May 1; he’s given up more than 2 runs just 4 times in 20 starts since then.
Other than the won-loss record, which as Art has pointed out is heavily driven by run support, what advantage does Clemens have over Hudson? PLEASE, don’t say experience. Three dollars and Roger Clemens’ experience in big games will buy you a cup of coffee.
2. Roger Clemens, Yankees
CNNSI notes that the first 5 pitchers to win at least 16 games before their second loss of the season wound up a combined 16-29 the rest of the way. Clemens has a mixed record in September; he had the great stretch runs in 1996, 1998 and 2000, but ran out of gas in 1997."
3. Mike Mussina, Yankees
Has had some disastrous outings, but has had 15 quality starts, including six in which he got a no decision or loss. Apparently, the run-support gods weren’t going to let Mussina’s move to a better team avoid his repayment obligations for 1992-99. You don’t go 19-11 with a 4.81 ERA and 14-6 with a 4.41 ERA and not expect the rent to come due some day. Meanwhile, the Rocket is still getting payback for 1996, 1994 and that whole 1988-92 period . . .
4. Andy Pettitte, Yankees
Pettitte is pitching his best ball in many years, and he’s one guy who really does have a hard-earned rep as a big game pitcher.
5. Freddy Garcia, Mariners
Seattle’s ace. I like Milton better than Garcia, when you take account of the difference in parks and run support, but Milton’s struggles since the break give me pause (then again, he may be a different pitcher when Guzman comes back).
6. Eric Milton, Twins
7. Pedro Martinez, Casey Fossum?? Red Sox
Obviously Pedro ranks well ahead of #1 if he’s healthy, and the mere possibility of a healthy Pedro is worth a lot. I expect him to be back at 100% quality, but it’s not clear if he will be able to stretch out past 5 or 6 innings when the Sox need him against the Yankees. That hurts.
8. Barry Zito, A’s
9. Mark Mulder, A’s
Zito recovered after running his ERA to 5.89 on May 10, but he still has struggled for consistency, and a pitcher of his type can go a whole career on that search. When he’s on, though, he’s devastating. Mulder has justified the scouts’ love affair with him, despite an unimpressive first turn around the league last season.
10. Rick Reed, Twins
Reed, like former teammate Al Leiter, is living proof of what separates the good from the mediocre and the great from the good in pitching: health. With his pinpoint control, when he’s at full strength, Reed is an elite-level starter – not in the class with Randy Johnson or Clemens, but the next tier. Too often in his career, though, he’s had months on end of struggling with various ailments that leave him vulnerable.
11. Aaron Sele, Mariners
Workhorse who’s been helped a ton by his defense, park, offense, and the new strike zone. Also a reminder (on the positive side) that 75% of pitching is just showing up in one piece.
12. Brad Radke, Brad Thomas, Adam Johnson, Twins
Radke should only miss 1-2 more starts. The Twins need him, because the alternatives are desperate. Probably still the team’s ace, ahead of Milton, and has to be for the percentage of the team’s budget he consumes.
13. Bartolo Colon, Indians
Pedro, Clemens . . . that about exhausts the list of guys here with more talent than Colon. He seems to struggle more when the Indians don’t have someone else to fill the #1 role, as Finley did last year.
14. Joe Mays, Twins
Mays is returning to earth, but he should be on his way to a solid career if the Twins can keep a good defense behind him and score enough runs to hang around .500 for the next few years.
15. Hideo Nomo, Red Sox
16. Jamie Moyer, Mariners
Proof that having nothing left doesn’t mean you can’t keep winning. Except for 1996, Moyer’s 4.55 K per 9 IP is the lowest of a career that hasn’t exactly been Ryanesque, but he’s still at it, still frustrating hitters.
17. Corey Lidle, A’s
I had fond memories of Steamboat Corey from his Mets days, but never expected the success he’s had this season. Lidle’s weakness is that he often doesn’t go very deep into games, but he’s been doing that more as the season goes on.
18. Ramon Ortiz, Angels
Has great stuff, but the health issue is rearing its head again.
19. Jarrod Washburn, Angels
May be losing some steam, but Washburn has really had a breakout year.
20. Paul Abbott, Mariners
Like Lidle, and Reed for that matter, Abbott is a scrap heap pickup who has turned in a nice run as a rotation starter for a contending team.
21. CC Sabathia, Indians
The Indians’ most reliable starter was born while George Brett was chasing .400. I’m cutting him a few points for age and lack of experience this deep into a season, but remember that Dwight Gooden, 9-8 with a 3.42 ERA entering August 1984, went 8-1 down the stretch with an ERA around 1.
22. Ismael Valdes, Angels
Valdes went straight from promising youngster to broken-down vet, and skipped the part in the middle where he was supposed to be a star. Has pitched well this year, increasingly so of late, but needs to go deeper into games.
23. Joel Piniero/John Halama, Mariners
Piniero is probably the guy, and could still be one of the season’s top rookies if he stays hot. Has allowed just 19 baserunners in his last 5 starts, while striking out 26.
24. Scott Schoenweis, Angels
Another of Anaheim’s anonymous success stories, if less so as the season has worn on.
25. David Cone, Red Sox
Still plays with fire too much for my taste.
26. Eric Hiljus/Gil Heredia, A’s
Hiljus doesn’t have much of a track record, but he has some nasty stuff.
27. Tim Wakefield/Bret Saberhagen/Rolando Arrojo, Red Sox
The injuries seem to guarantee Wake a slot in the rotation, whether the Sox like it or not.
28. Pat Rapp, Angels
You could do a lot worse than Pat Rapp. Ask the Indians.
29. Chuck Finley, Indians
Finley’s actually pitched well at the Jake, and his K/BB ratios were still good before he went on the DL, but we are a long way from seeing the old Finley.
30. Frank Castillo, Red Sox
Castillo’s another guy who has a history of long-running funks, and he looks like he’s in one now. Who takes his rotation spot if it gets worse? On their good days, the Sox have 6 or 7 good starters – but would it kill them to hire some people who you can depend on more than a month at a time?
31. Ted Lilly/Orlando Hernandez, Yankees
I like Lilly’s long-term outlook, moreso if he can get out of the Bronx for a few years.
32. Sterling Hitchcock, Yankees
33. Kyle Lohse, Brad Thomas, Adam Johnson, Twins
34. Steve Woodard, Jake Westbrook, Dave Burba, Your Name Here, Indians
35. Charles Nagy, Indians

CLOSER

1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
2. Troy Percival, Angels
Fairly indistinguishable from Rivera, but not traditionally a good late-season pitcher and without the postseason experience.
3. Kazuhiro Sasaki, Mariners
Seems unfazed by a few disastrous outings. Add an extra point for the gap over the next pen.
4. Bob Wickman/John Rocker, Indians
I give the Indians the edge here; the last 4 are all unraveling before our eyes, but Cleveland has two options to get it right.
5. Jason Isringhausen, A’s
Could just be in a slump. Has pitched well most of the season.
6. Derek Lowe, Red Sox
What a difference a year makes.
7. LaTroy Hawkins, Twins
No longer a disaster waiting to happen . . . it happened.

SETUP MEN

1. Mariners – Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes, Jose Paniagua
I’m giving Seattle an extra point here – these guys are awesome.
2. Yankees – Mike Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza, Jay Witasick
Stanton’s been tremendous, and Mendoza is a valuable contributor even though he’s had some rough patches this year. Witasick is frightening.
3. Red Sox – Rich Garces, Rod Beck, Ugueth Urbina
Obviously, the ranking is hurt by recent events.
4. A’s – Jeff Tam, Jim Mecir, Mike Magnante, Mark Guthrie
The A’s have a lot of pitchers I like – Tam, Mecir, Chad Bradford – but the setup crew still looks like one of the team’s weak points right now.
5. Angels – Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Ben Weber, Al Levine
Hasegawa’s not having his usual year, but these guys are still solid.
6. Indians – Rocker/Wickman, Paul Shuey, Danys Baez, David Riske
The Rocker deal doesn’t look great right now – they sure miss Karsay – but in the Indians’ defense, Rocker is a lot younger than the guys they gave up, and healthier as well. Watching Karsay stuck in the bullpen is like watching Bill Walton when his knees confined him to being a backup center. What might have been . . .
7. Twins – Todd Jones, Bob Wells, Eddie Guardado
Be very afraid.

OTHER: BENCH/BULLPEN DEPTH/MANAGER/TEAM EXPERIENCE

I’m just awarding an extra point here to the Mariners, who have depth and experience, and the Yankees, who have no depth but have Joe Torre and the confidence of 4 rings behind them, and subtracting a point for Minnesota, which despite Tom Kelly’s 2 rings has little depth, no momentum, and nearly nobody who’s been there and done that. Everyone else was too much the mixed bag to declare a real advantage. I will NOT discuss the departure of Jimy Williams at this stage.

CONCLUSION

I scored 1 point for each difference at each position. Last year when I did this I gave less credit for closers, but closers matter more in tight head-to-head matchups, of which there will be many down the stretch between the contenders. I awarded extra points where indicated. Here’s the final tally:

229 A’s
218 Yankees
215 Mariners
172 Red Sox
166 Twins
148 Angels
147 Indians

That’s not the final answer: schedule strength will also be a factor down the stretch (see Sean McAdam’s analysis), as of course will who has pole position in the standings. All an exercise like this does for us, really, is force us to focus on how we evaluate the talent stacking up by position.

Clearly, the Mariners are going to win the West, and it says here that their talent makes them competitive with the A’s and Yankees but certainly not dominant. For the Yankees – well, the big three starters are everything, and if El Duque comes back at some point and returns to form, or if Justice or Shane Spencer starts to step it up at bat, they could be deadly once again. The A’s, up and down the lineup, still look like the strongest team to me, as they did before the season, but I may be underestimating here the hazards posed by Oakland’s bullpen.

The big surprise was how badly the Indians fared in this scoring system, reflecting the dismal state of their starting rotation. Maybe the White Sox aren’t out of this race yet after all.

For Boston, though, look position by position and you’ll see the cumulative impact of too many injuries. The Sox have to catch either the Yankees or the A’s, but unless they can dominate the head to head matchup with the Yanks – and those 7 games in September are more than enough to even the scales, but only if the Sox win 5 or 6 times – the road is all up hill from here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:17 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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