Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 12, 2002
BASEBALL: 2002 All-Star Break Musings

Originally posted on Projo.com

I've been absent from this space for too long due to other commitments. Let's run down some random thoughts:

+For a couple of years there, Jim Rice was just about as good a hitter as Brian Giles is.

+It's ridiculous that the All-Star Game ended in a tie, but realistically it was the only decision they could make. Bud Selig looked like he wanted to crawl under a rock (maybe Joe Torre should have talked Giuliani into making the announcement). What's scandalous is how they got there - the managers can take a pitching staff full of superstars, you'd think they can find a few people to throw 2-3 innings at a stretch without getting hurt or tired. If 4 starting pitchers each throw 2 innings, you're entering the ninth with 6 or 7 pitchers on hand. They're pitchers, for crying out loud; the rest of them aren't going to complain if they don't pitch.

I know, it's an unfair comparison in several ways, but I can't resist: In the 1933 World Series, screwball pitcher Carl Hubbell pitched a complete game in Game 1 - then came back on two days' rest -- TWO DAYS -- and tossed an 11-inning complete game 2-1 victory.

+I was one of the biggest boosters of Derek Lowe as a starter, but even I didn't picture him starting the All-Star game. Let's update some of the numbers, and throw just a little cold water on him:

Hits/9 IPHR/9 IPBB/9 IPK/9 IP
19996.910.582.066.59
20008.870.592.177.78
200110.110.692.858.05
20026.180.312.145.64

Lowe has cut down on the longball, but when you combine the lower strikeout rate and the lower hits/9IP, what you get is simply a dramatic improvement in the rate of balls in play becoming hits. Experience suggests that while improved team defense may help that hold up, it's not a great bet to continue. His rate of groundballs to flyballs, at 3.57 the highest in baseball last season, has jumped to 3.87; I'm not sure if that's sustainable, but it does suggest that the defensive improvements that have helped him the most have been the return of Nomar, the addition of Sanchez (and, improbably enough, Baerga) at second, and the maturation of Shea Hillenbrand, rather than the addition of Johnny Damon . . . I noted before the season that Lowe's walk rate should improve because he wouldn't be issuing so many intentional passes; in fact, Lowe's unintentional walk rate has risen slightly from 1.96 to 2.14, but he's cut his walks because he hasn't intentionally walked anyone all year . . . the Sox have also caught a third of all base thieves against Lowe and there have been far fewer attempts, a key improvement from the last two seasons and leading to a dramatic increase in GIDP (one every 12.9 groundouts as opposed to every
17.5 last season) despite having far fewer men on base. Also, he's caught the other trouble spot I identified before the season: a great part of his improvement has been against lefthanders, who are hitting .209 against him
compared to .317 last season. The bottom line: as long as he keeps being as effective against lefties as righties, as long as the Sox infield stays solid, and as long as he holds runners on, Lowe should remain effective. But 6 hits per 9 innings? Don't bet the ranch on it.

+Trading Bartolo Colon and not trading Vizquel, Thome, Finley, Wickman, Burks, Lawton and what's left of Travis Fryman - that's just silly. Trading Colon is a sign the Indians are really serious about rebuilding - except that they're not. Instead, they are doing it halfheartedly, the way they tried this past offseason to play it halfway between rebuilding and contending. Omar Vizquel was in the All-Star game - you're telling me you can't trade him?

+Will Barry Bonds ever see his reputation rehabilitated the way Ted Williams' has been? Partly, but not entirely. Williams mellowed with age, partially because he reached a stage in his life where he could put on a pair of pants without getting a microphone stuck in his face. Most anybody is happy to talk to reporters three times a year, and unhappy to do it twice a day. But he also benefitted from changing times: when Williams played, players who were surly with reporters, distant with teammates and obsessed with their personal accomplishments were considered unusual. Players (and sportswriters, for that matter) who served their country in wartime were common. Both of those things changed; the younger generation of writers came to see Williams' virtues as being exceptional and his vices as being ordinary. Bonds does have his virtues - he works hard, generally shows up ready to play and he's never had significant off the field problems - but I don't see the same shift happening.

One of the things that irritates me about Barry Bonds' defenders, notably Joe Sheehan of the Baseball Prospectus, is their tendency to assume that Bonds' bad reputation stems entirely from being unpleasant with reporters. This is a whitewash. I went over this ground last year - Bonds has a long history of shooting his mouth off and feuding with teammates. The writers don't make this stuff up.

+The Mondesi and Jeff Weaver deals. What these deals really do is to lay bare the Yankees' financial advantage. I mean, Raul Mondesi is clearly a better ballplayer than Shane Spencer, and is healthier (if less productive) version of Rondell White, but is Mondesi a huge upgrade for the Yankees? No, not particularly close. And Jeff Weaver has more of a track record of success than Ted Lilly, but again, is he a big-time upgrade? Heck, the Yankees didn't seem 100% sure they had room for Weaver -- the best player on the Tigers -- in their rotation.

But this, in a nutshell, is the difference between the Yankees and everyone else. Any other team, even the "big-market" teams, given the ability to pay Ted Lilly peanuts, would be crazy to take Jeff Weaver's contract. WHY? Because the extra money spent on Weaver is money the team couldn't spend to
upgrade somewhere else. But to the Yankees, there is no such cost -- they'll just spend more. Yankee fans love to point to the home-grown talent -- Jeter, Bernie, Posada, Rivera, Pettitte, Soriano -- and say that shows the Yankees don't buy success. Yeah, but look at the home-grown talent of any other team, or the list of players acquired by trades, and inevitably you will come across a bunch of people who left town for greener pastures. Alone among major league teams, the Yankees never lose anybody they want to keep - the last guy they had some interest in keeping and didn't was John Wetteland. Look, the Yankees are a well-run ship, and have been for nearly a decade. If they were as stupid as they were in the '80s, they wouldn't win anyway. But the financial advantage is part of the story, it has to be.

The Weaver deal makes some baseball sense for all three teams, and also emphasizes the cost of stupidity: the A's got Carlos Pena cheap, and the Yankees got Lilly for Hideki Irabu. Both teams cashed those guys in for something better. The Rangers and Expos got the shaft.

As for the Blue Jays, I understand that they think dumping Mondesi is addition by subtraction, but why give a guy who's still a potentially good player in his prime to the perennial powerhouse in your division, and for almost nothing? As with the Clemens deal, this just stinks.

+Adam Dunn. Man, is that guy built like a brick wall. Reminds me of old pictures of Mantle or Gehrig. What's amazing about Dunn's progress this year is his patience, which was already considerable - he's on a pace to draw 145 walks, and he's 22 years old . . . Better get used to seeing Mike Sweeney at the All-Star game. Better not expect to see Randy Winn there again . . . Robin Ventura's having a fine year, but I still expect him to finish around .245. He hit .253 in April, .222 in May and .258 in June if you take away that crazy series at Coors Field. Ventura has not finished well in recent seasons.

+The Fish send Cliff Floyd & Ryan Dempster packing. The Marlins assure us that it's not a fire sale if you give away a bunch of good players for next to nothing, as long as you get expensive stiffs or the walking wounded in return. Turns out Jeffrey Loria really did want to build a winner in Montreal, just not until he owned a different team.

+Charlie Manuel has bitten the dust, and Jerry Manuel may also get the axe for the underachieving White Sox. Doesn't Ron Gardenhire have to be manager of the year if he succeeds in getting all the other managers in his division fired in the same season?

+A little trivia: on 8 occasions, a major league pitcher has thrown 300 innings in a season without allowing a home run, all of them between 1904 and 1916:

1. Walter Johnson, 1916, 369.2 IP. Of course, Johnson holds the record.

2. Jack Coombs, 1910, 353 IP. This is the year he was 31-9 with a 1.30 ERA
for the "$100,000 infield" A's.

3. Ed Killian in 1904, 331.2 IP. Killian would go two more full seasons
without allowing a home run, 794.2 IP without being taken deep. In those
days, a good defense was a key to this, since most homers were inside the
park, and Killian had Sam Crawford and Matty McIntyre, who would in later
years be joined by Ty Cobb in a 3-time pennant-winning outfield.

4. Babe Ruth, also in 1916, 323.2 IP. Ruth also cracked 3 homers that
year, his best on the mound. (Johnson also hit one in 1916).

5. Hall of Famer Vic Willis in 1906, 322 IP. Consistency? In his 4 years
with the Pirates, Willis went 23-13, 21-11, 23-11, and 22-11.

6. Rube Vickers, 1908, 317 IP. Vickers is also remembered, if at all, for
throwing a 5-inning perfect game on the last day of the 1907 season, in the
second game of a doubleheader in which he tossed 12 innings of relief for
his first major league win in the opener.

7. Killian again in 1905, 313.1 IP.

8. Jake Weimer in 1906, 304.2 IP. Weimer, even I hadn't heard of.

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