Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
October 26, 2001
BASEBALL: Notes Before The 2001 World Series

Originally posted on Projo.com

A few thoughts as we come to the end of the second extended break in this bizarre baseball autumn . . .

+Yankees in five. Yeah, I've given up picking against them. No, I don't have a rational explanation, I just think they aren't going back to the desert once they get to the Bronx - unless Curt Schilling can do to this Yankee team what Mickey Lolich did to Bob Gibson's aura of unbeatability in 1968. Arizona's offense has two flaws that go badly together: a lack of guys who get on base and a lack of team speed (other than the frightening Tony Womack). Yet, they finished third in the NL in runs scored, and scored more runs than the Yankees did even with the DH. In any normal year, you would look at that and just give Luis Gonzalez the MVP award in a walk.

+Looking at the numbers, one of the huge factors in the Yankees' improvement this season as compared to last has been Andy Pettitte's command of the new strike zone. Pettitte cut his walks in half this year, and had his best season since 1997. Curt Schilling, obviously, has also shown he knows how to take maximum advantage of the higher zone.

+Imagine how miserable Mariner fans must be right now, after expecting some vindication for the disappointments of the nineties. Win 116 games, have the media on your bandwagon all year - and then all of a sudden it's just another Yankee year, for the 38th time in the past 81 AL seasons. It would have been your dream year; now it will be just another pennant that Yankee fans won't even remember 5 years from now except as part of a blur, anymore than they remember the difference between the 1950 team that squashed the Phillies' first pennant winner after emerging from 31 losing seasons in 32 years, and the 1951 team that crushed the Bobby Thompson Miracle Giants. The Mariners won't be forgotten, but like the 1954 Indians they will always be a footnote in the discussion of all-time great teams (unless, like the 1906 Cubs, they can reel off a few World Championships after this one, which I doubt).

While the 116 wins may have been a bit of a fluke, the Mariners' "Pythagorean record" (i.e., the number of games they would be expected to win based on their runs scored and allowed) was 109-53, still a staggering mark. Another of their secrets, besides those I examined back in July, was health: while Edgar got hurt, their other top 4 hitters (Boone, Olerud, Ichiro and Cameron) nearly never came out of the lineup. Only 3 bench players got more than 100 at bats, and of their top 12 hitters only one (backup catcher Tom Lampkin) was really awful.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:41 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
October 19, 2001
BASEBALL: GOTTA GET TO MO

Originally posted on Projo.com

Well, they’re doing it again. The Hated Yankees knocked off the A’s, stifling yet another threat to their title defense. Now, they’ve got the hammer ready to fall on the Mariners. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed this – it’s like having sand poured down your throat watching it – but one of the things I love about baseball is watching a story develop, watching history unfold, if you will, and seeing where it seems to be headed.

Maybe the mind plays tricks on us, and there are always twists you can’t anticipate, but the whole “team of destiny” thing doesn’t come from nowhere. Baseball is a game in which talent creates probabilities, and the team with the odds on its side usually wins out in the end. But sports is also an emotional business, a confidence game. Emotions are volatile, particularly when magnified by all the things sports does to magnify them – the roaring crowd, the lack of time to reflect or seek a moment’s peace, the fact that everything rides on just a few at bats, the inevitable stretch of days and years ahead rehashing split-second decisions. Sometimes, that confidence can be fragile as emotions run high.

All this is to say that part of the fun of tight September races and the postseason – and the maddening part, to analysts of the game – is putting aside the logic and the probabilities and getting on the emotional roller-coaster. And waiting for that storyline you see playing in your head to play out.

Here’s what I see: the single biggest advantage these Yankees have had over the past few years in the postseason is the bullpen: Rivera and Stanton, Nelson, Mendoza – but mostly Rivera.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:11 AM | Baseball Columns | TrackBack (0)