"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Baseball 2004 Archives
December 31, 2004
BLOG: Turning Over A New Leaf
As I've done in the past, I'm creating brand-new categories for the new year. You'll now go to Baseball 2005 for new baseball entries, Politics 2005 for new politics entries, War 2005 for new war entries, and Law 2005 for new law entries (the Law category hadn't needed an overhaul last year). I'll shortly be updating the link to baseball-only posts at the top of the page as well to send you to Baseball 2005.
Happy New Year!
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:18 PM | Baseball 2004 | Baseball 2005 | Blog 2002-05 | Law 2002-04 | Law 2005 | Politics 2004 | Politics 2005 | War 2004 | War 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 30, 2004
BASEBALL: Check, Please
David Pinto notes the $85 million bill the Yankees have to cough up between the luxury tax ($25 million) and revenue sharing ($60 million). Ouch. Still, considering their free agent and Big Unit pursuits this offseason, it's hard to say that's put a crimp in the Yankees' budget. But you have to wonder how many more Giambi-sized mistakes they can eat before the team's behavior is affected (assuming they can't get out of contracts, as they may with Giambi).
December 23, 2004
BASEBALL: Miller to Mueller to Millar
December 22, 2004
BASEBALL: Tooling Around
Mac Thomason rips Baseball America a new one over its preference for toolsy high-upside prospects over guys who have less upside but more likelihood of developing into useful contributors. I'm woefuly deficient in following the minor leagues myself, so I can't judge who's right on the particular prospects in question, but Mac's point is worth considering.
BASEBALL: Armers' Market
Perhaps the most striking feature of this baseball offseason, coming during an era when effective starting pitching would seem to be in short supply, is the large number of starting pitchers with substantial track records - many of them quite successful in recent years - who have gone on the market. I'm probably missing someone here, but I count 30 starters - 20% of the starting jobs in the big leagues, and more than that as a proportion of guys with any kind of major league track record - who have either been traded or been free agents this off season (this is counting free agents who re-signed or, like Roger Clemens, are now committed to one team, as well as guys in the Randy Johnson deal who were publicly traded before the deal fell through). Of course, with so many pitchers available, it behooves buyers in this market not to overpay out of a concern for scarcity. To make sense of the available options, it's therefore useful to look at them as a group.
In the past, I've found "established performance levels" to be a useful way to organize information about a player's record, including my continuing "Established Win Shares Levels" studies. In that spirit, here are the established performance levels, Win Shares included, for those 30 pitchers, ranked by ERA+ (which I computed as a weighted average); I listed "U" next to the team for guys who are still unclaimed:
Of course, this chart is just past performance; it doesn't show the severe injury risks associated with a large number of these guys, most notably Pedro and Brad Penny . . . Just a few more quick thoughts for now:
*You can clearly see that the Mets overpayed for Kris Benson. While I'm not a fan of Benson, I wasn't opposed to re-signing him, which seemed like a necessary move to avoid opening a hole in the rotation. But it's now clear that there were many other available alternatives of comparable quality, and the Mets should have relied on that to avoid overpaying and, if necessary, sign or trade for someone else.
*The difficulty of sustaining a serious workload in this day and age is apparent from the fact that only Hudson and Vazquez have been able to establish a level of 210 or more innings over the last three-year period.
*Context matters: Carl Pavano's numbers look better than those of Vazquez because he was pitching in a friendlier evironment last year. Derek Lowe's ERAs are actually better than those of David Wells, when you adjust for Fenway.
*Matt Clement is indeed a useful pitcher, and his power would have made him especially valuable to the Mets, but the guy does have weaknesses (mainly walks) that will be exposed at Fenway.
*I continue to think that Billy Beane will be vindicated in his decision to deal Mark Mulder now rather than later as far as Mulder's declining performance and uncertain health/durability is concerned - but that doesn't justify the trade, because it doesn't look like Beane got enough value in return. Good strategy, bad tactics. The same applies to a lesser extent to the Hudson deal.
*Matt Morris' performance no longer lives up to his reputation.
*Somebody could still really make a quiet impact on their rotation by snagging both Odalis Perez and Wade Miller.
December 21, 2004
BASEBALL: Keep Me In The Briar Patch!
So, after all the speculation about Javier Vazquez not being able to pitch in New York, Vazquez apparently scuttles the Randy Johnson deal by refusing to report to the Dodgers for a physical. Of course, it could be that he or the Yankees have something to hide about his physical condition, and it could be that Vazquez is trying to squeeze some extra money out of the deal. But for now, he seems to have decided that he'd rather try to make it here, and prove he could make it a-ny-where . . .
BASEBALL: On and Off in Houston
Miller's a good pitcher who's been scarred by injuries and Minute Maid Field; if he's healthy, he'd be a great pickup for someone.
Clemens can certainly still pitch, so it's more a matter of motivation. If he does return, Clemens - the winningest righthander since Grover Alexander - could become only the second pitcher (after Warren Spahn) to break 330 career wins in the post-1920 lively ball era.
BASEBALL: Chavez vs. Bonds
The Baseball Savant gets carried away with Eric Chavez, comparing his numbers through age 26 to Barry Bonds:
Link via Pinto. Of course, Bonds through age 26 had won back-to-back MVP awards; Chavez has never placed in the top 10 in the balloting. That's because the offensive context Chavez plays in is radically different; for example, the rough measure of OPS+ shows Chavez at 131, 122, 132 and 132 the past four years, compared to 147, 125, 170 and 161 for Bonds.
Even if you ignore context, though, the comparison doesn't hold. Chavez missed 37 games to injury last season, something that didn't happen to Bonds until he was 34. And the comparison totally overlooks a factor of great significance in projecting player development: speed. Chavez has stolen 14 bases and grounded into 35 double plays the past two years, compared to 97 steals and 16 GIDP for Bonds at the same age. (As to the plate discipline, Chavez has drawn 90+ walks once; Bonds had done it three years running). Even with just the raw numbers, you could see several reasons why Chavez' future as a hitter - even ignoring the post-2000 Bonds surge, which is entirely without precedent - shouldn't be compared to Barry Bonds.
December 20, 2004
BASEBALL: The Saga Continues…
Details are still emerging about the new agreement between Cropp and Williams, but the full 13-member council will be asked to vote on an amended plan today…
Hopefully, they have better options on the table than just this.
BASEBALL: Wrist and Reward?
Looks like Mike Cameron is going to be out for the start of next season. The Mets shouldn’t need an extra incentive to pursue Carlos Beltran, but this would seem to be it.
BASEBALL: Some Things Never Change
As you can imagine, I got a nice chuckle out of that one. I also wondered about someone like Luis Rivas becoming "stale." I mean, if you have a bucket of, say, feces, and you leave it out for a week, does it become something worse than a bucket of feces? Does it become "rancid feces" or something? And how big of a bucket would you need to fit Rivas into it, exactly?
Q of the Day: Of the 15 Harvard alums to play Major League Baseball, name the only one to make the Hall of Fame.
Answer in the extended entry:
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December 18, 2004
BASEBALL: Unit Adhesion
Well, you knew Steinbrenner had to do something to top Pedro coming to Shea, and there was only one pitcher out there (well, other than bringing back Clemens) who fit the bill. Just wait for the first time Pedro and Randy Johnson square off in the regular season . . . although Joe Torre traditionally tries to duck the head-to-head matchups of aces.
Short term - over the next two seasons, maybe three - this deal is a bonanza for the Yankees, who give up the struggling Javier Vazquez and bring in the dominating Johnson plus, apparently, as of the latest report, Kaz Ishii, who can also be potentially useful. I'll have to digest the broader pitcure for the Yankee pitching staff later, but the minimal changes to the everyday lineup, combined with the addition of Johnson, Ishii, Pavano, Wright, Stanton and Rodriguez leaves no doubt where the Yanks felt they needed to improve.
If Vazquez isn't nursing an undisclosed injury - a very real possibility- I envy the Dodgers getting him out of the Bronx, where Torre had lost confidence in him, and into Dodger Stadium, although the Daily News suggested this morning that he could be headed to the White Sox . . . of course, the deal is still cotngent on Brad Penny passing a physical with Arizona, among other things (think the D-Backs ever thought when they traded Penny for Matt Mantei that they'd need to part with the Big Unit to get him back?)
The rationale for dumping Johnson and bringing in Penny makes sense for Arizona, and Shawn Green is still young enough, but Green's injuries and high salary obviously make him a less than ideal return on Johnson.
More to follow on all this, as well as Tim Hudson to the Braves, Beltre to the Mariners, and Renteria and Clement to the Red Sox . . . the moves are just coming too fast to make sense of them all.
December 16, 2004
BASEBALL: Pixels On Paper
You can now buy the departed Redbird Nation blog, starring our old friend and fellow Crusader Brian Gunn, in handy book form here. I've already ordered my copy.
December 15, 2004
BASEBALL: Pray They Don’t Alter It Any Further
I’m sympathetic to the argument that D.C. taxpayers shouldn’t get stuck with the whole tab for a new stadium, but the City Council should honor the city’s original agreement with MLB. Doing otherwise only gives baseball an excuse to look elsewhere for a less inept city government that won’t renege on its deals.
UPDATE: David Pinto has a different take, which I agree with in principle, except to say that, if D.C. wanted to draw a line about demanding private financing, the time to do that was when it first made a deal. With baseball already committed to moving and renaming the team and local baseball fans prepared to support it, I think it’s wrong to reverse course like this. Hopefully, an owner or investor will ride in to pony up the money, but the track record of D.C.’s local government can’t be much of an incentive.
SECOND UPDATE (from the Crank): I like the image of Bud Selig as Lando . . . Eric McErlain has been all over this story, and has links aplenty here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Chris Lawrence makes a valid point.
BASEBALL: Grand Slam Trivia
A reader emailed me this question:
Well, I didn't know the answer, and haven't yet been able to verify that it happened that way (maybe someone can confirm this in the comments). But assuming that there is, in fact, precisely one such player, I think I found the answer.
This link lists the 12 major leaguers to hit both a pinch hit grand slam and an inside the park grand slam in their careers:
Of the 12, precisely one player had just one career home run: Pete Milne of the 1949 New York Giants. Milne batted 29 times in 31 games for the Giants that year while making just one appearance in the field, so it stands to reason that he was used mostly as a pinch hitter. (The list above identifies the date of his grand slam as April 27, 1949, a game the Giants won 11-8 over the hated Dodgers, so it's not surprising that it won him a job as a pinch hitter). So that appears to be the answer.
BASEBALL: San Pedro de Shea
As you can tell from my commentary the past few days, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the Mets' signing of Pedro Martinez to a four-year, $50 million contract. Some thoughts, some original, some not, in no particular order:
1. Four years is obviously too much guaranteed time for a guy with Pedro's injury history. On the other hand, the cost of the deal is money ($50 million), players (the draft picks the Mets give up) and opportunity cost (the innings Pedro takes away from other players). Given that Pedro seems unlikely to reach the point where he's pitching a lot of innings but pitching ineffectively, an extra year only costs the Mets one of those, the money. On the other hand, you can hardly blame the Red Sox for deciding that this was crazy money.
2. In the same vein: finding good young hitters is not that hard; finding good young pitchers these days - guys who can consistently take 30 turns in the rotation with a better-than-league ERA - is next to impossible. And Barry Bonds notwithstanding, in general, hitters decline much more predictably with age than do pitchers. And, a starting pitcher usually does much less to block the progress of good young arms, since few teams are so glutted with pitching that they can't quickly find room for a good youngster. All of which are a way of explaining why, as a general matter, I'm more willing to see even a rebuilding team take on an expensive starting pitcher in his 30s, as compared to a Sammy Sosa-type declining slugger.
3. Pedro is, as I discussed yesterday, a pitcher of historic levels of greatness. If you are going to gamble, better to gamble on a guy who's an inner-circle Hall of Famer than on . . . well, on Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano, for example. Given his track record, I view Pedro as much more of a proven commodity, and not a significantly greater injury risk, than Carl Pavano or Jaret Wright, both headed to the Bronx after precisely one year of being healthy and effective. (Of course, all pitchers are greater injury risks than almost all everyday players).
On the durability front, well, Pedro is replacing Al Leiter, who is six years older and was never an iron man himself. Leiter, working for an average salary the past 3-4 years of about $2 million per year less than Pedro will make, averaged 194 innings a year in his seven seasons at Shea, only once throwing more than 210 (Pedro threw 217 last year, but with diminished effectiveness compared to 2001-03). If we get about the same from Pedro, I'll be happy. I don't expect 230 innings.
4. Shea is a great place for a power pitcher, especially with Mike Cameron in center field, and facing a pitcher instead of some Frank Thomas/Edgar Martinez type DH every nine hitters is a great way to cut down the number of stressful pitches thrown. Both of which are a way of saying that Pedro may wind up being more valuable with the Mets than he would have been with the Red Sox. Bringing a power pitcher to Shea is like bringing a power hitter to Wrigley (see, Dawson, Andre; Alou, Moises).
5. Of course, none of this should be viewed as a substitute for the long-term strategy the Mets need to develop young talent. But frankly, I'm not about to hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Given the existing strategy of trying to half-rebuild while continuing to prop up the team with veterans, Pedro is a decent fit in that context.
6. I know the market has changed a lot, but $50 million really doesn't look like an extraordinary amount of money compared to past contracts given to Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, Kevin Appier, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Chan Ho Park . . . yeah, there's a lot of bad decisions there, but this isn't a Mo Vaughn style 7-year $100-mil-plus millstone here; it's basically one Kris Benson plus one Kaz Matsui. If this deal deters the Mets from two more middle-market contracts like those, where's the harm?
7. Just for a little perspective, if you look at the most similar pitchers at the same age, Pedro is around the same age at which Tom Seaver went to the Reds, Roger Clemens to the Blue Jays, Mussina to the Yankees, and Lefty Grove to the Red Sox. Most of the guys on that list had their ups and downs in their mid-30s, but in general they had some real high points as well. Of course, physically, Martinez resembles Mussina, Grove, Greg Maddux, Whitey Ford or Juan Marichal much more than he does Seaver or Clemens. On a more sobering note, Pedro is also about the same age Frank Viola and Bret Saberhagen were when they left the Mets.
8. Can we finally have a no-hitter now, please?
9. Dan Lewis asks Five Questions:
1) Will this guy improve the team next year?
Go see his answers; I do think there's a missing factor here: the deal has upside. Although I don't regard it as the most likely possibility, it's certainly one of the plausible scenarios to get 800 innings, 800 strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 from Pedro over the next four years. Given the scarcity of highly effective pitchers these days, that would be worth more than $12 million a year, in my view. (A return to something close to vintage Pedro, which is not going to happen, would be worth much more). That's one thing that distinguishes this from the contracts that a lot of mid-30s hitters get, where you are paying them a salary equal to the best value they are likely to give you. Hey, you win in baseball by taking risks. This deal is a big risk, but then Vladimir Guerrero last year was a big risk too. This is one that could pay off. Better that than give out more $25 million contracts to guys who are a safe bet to turn in a 4.25 ERA.
December 14, 2004
BASEBALL: The Very Best
Long-time readers will recall my Translated Pitcher Records project from four years ago. Hopefully, I'll get back to that one some day. But a simpler way of comparing the very best pitchers over time is ERA+, baseballreference.com's comparison of a pitcher's career ERA to a park-context-adjusted league average. There are two problems, however, with the baseballreference.com leaderboard: it has a very low innings pitched threshold, and thus is loaded at the top with relief pitchers; and, unlike my Translated Records, it isn't translated back into a recognizable ERA benchmark.
So I thought I'd do both; I separated out the pitchers by groupings of innings pitched, and translated their ERAs back into a uniform context of a league ERA of 4.50, which is around midway between the NL and AL ERAs in 2004:
3000 Career Innings or More
You can see why I stick to the view that Walter Johnson was the greatest of all pitchers, as he stands second only to Lefty Grove here, and in 40% more innings. This list is dominated by pre-1920 and active pitchers, other than Grove and Ford. While I knew he was on the edge of making a Hall of Fame case, I was as surprised as anyone to see Kevin Brown on a list this elite. And this is also further confirmation of precisely how great Kid Nichols was, and why he really gets a raw deal when the great pitchers of old are being ranked.
2000-3000 Career Innings
This second list is guys who have had fairly substantial careers but not a full, 15-years-at-200-innings career:
You can see here why, for all my mixed feelings about the warning signs and the Mets overpaying, I'm still excited about the possibility of Pedro coming to Shea: he's been head and shoulders above anybody else who's ever pitched, he's still just 33, and a guy that good is worth a gamble. . . Noodles Hahn? Yeah, I'm not too sure about that one either, but Hahn's the classic forgotten type of pitcher, a guy whose big years came with the turn-of-the-century Reds, a dismal franchise in a quiet period in the game's history. . . Curt Schilling is close to qualifying for the next list up, although he's also close to dropping off the bottom if he finishes with a few bad seasons.
The rest of the guys in the under-2000 IP bin fall into three groups: relievers, starting with Dan Quisenberry at 3.08 and including John Franco, Bruce Sutter, John Hiller, Lee Smith, Kent Tekulve, and Doug Jones; very-short-career starters, from Smoky Joe Wood at 3.08 down through Jim Devlin (who was banned from baseball for throwing the 1877 pennant race), Harry Brecheen, Spud Chandler, and Dizzy Dean; and one active starter, Tim Hudson at 3.26.
December 13, 2004
BASEBALL: Following The Glavine Trail
Well, this would put the Mets one Mike Mussina acquisition from ensuring that no active pitcher wins 300 games . . .The fourth year for Pedro strikes me as the one year too many. I'm more encouraged by the fact that they're pursuing Delgado and Sexson, especially now that they wouldn't need to surrender draft choices to get Delgado (I'd rather have Sexson, although he may be close to signing with Seattle).
UPDATE: At least the Mets aren't doing anything nearly as stupid as trading Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik. The mind staggers at that one.
SECOND UPDATE: It certainly looks like this is happening, given Larry Lucchino's email referring to Pedro's Red Sox tenure in the past tense.
December 12, 2004
BASEBALL: Hudson Crossing
Another era is ending in Oakland, just as the first Beane Era ended with the departure of Matt Stairs, Ben Grieve, John Jaha, and Jason Giambi. It seems increasingly likely now that Tim Hudson will be traded in accordance with his demand for a new contract by March 1, bringing the era of the Big Three starters to a close.
Hudson, of course, is one of baseball's true elite pitchers, has been since he arrived in the majors in the last century. He's been durable - 2004 was the first time he missed significant time to injury - and unbeatable, 92-39 in his Oakland career.
Of course, I've long been a devotee of Bill James' belief that one thing you have to watch in evaluating pitchers is their strikeout rates; a dropping rate is both a signal (diminishing effectiveness) and has a direct effect on performance, increasing the number of balls in play that can potentially become hits. On the other hand, there are ways for a pitcher to compensate for a loss of strikeouts, at least temporarily, mostly by throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park.
Tim Hudson in recent years has been one of the most extreme examples of those coping mechanisms you will ever see. Let's look at his season-by-season rates in a number of categories:
It's not an unbroken chain in every category, but the overall pattern is crystal clear: a broad-based improvement in every other aspect of Hudson's game but strikeouts since 1999. You have to admire Hudson's determined adaptability, relentlessly cutting walks and home runs, getting more ground balls, and revolutionizing his ability to set up the double play by eliminating his vulnerability to the stolen base almost overnight in 2002. He's even made just 3 errors the past three years compared to 10 the prior three.
That's the good news. The bad news is, his strikeout rate has been sinking like a stone, and Hudson has all but run out of room to squeeze further improvements out of the rest of his game to compensate. Lefthanders are particularly catching up to him, batting .298/.422/.352 against Hudson in 2004.
It's very possible that the smart, gifted and driven 29-year-old ace will come up with new ways to trick batters and reverse the downward trend in his strikeout rate, keeping him at the elite level to which he's grown accustomed. But any team forking over big bucks and top prospects to get him should understand that, if he doesn't, Hudson's days as one of the league's elite may be numbered.
UPDATE: I recognize, of course, that Hudson's alarmingly low 2004 K rate may have been a function of pitching through injuries. The downward trend is still worrisome.
December 9, 2004
BASEBALL: The Winners
One quick thought on the Yankees' acquisition of Tony Womack (no relation to Dooley). Yes, he's had a big hit or two, but for his career, the 35-year-old Womack has played in 38 of his teams' 39 games in the postseason; here's his postseason career record projected out to a full 162-game season:
Come to think of it, let's check out Jaret Wright's career postseason record; Wright has made 15 appearances in 27 postseason games played by his teams:
Well, OK, Wright's numbers - which include a 15.63 career postseason ERA against the Red Sox - are spread over almost two different careers in Cleveland and Atlanta, and the postseason does wacky things to pitcher workloads. Still, if you believe in the Yankee postseason magic, these guys haven't had it in the past.
December 7, 2004
BASEBALL: Perspective on Schilling
I was looking over Curt Schilling's career, and two thoughts come to mind:
1. One of the great underrated terrible trades in recent baseball history is the Astros' decision, on April 2, 1992, to trade Schilling straight up for Jason Grimsley. Schilling and Grimsley were both young pitchers trying to establish themselves at this point - Grimsley was 24, Schilling 25 - and both had followed some success as rookies in 1990 (a 3.30 ERA in 57.1 IP as a starter for Grimsley, a 2.54 ERA in 46 IP as a reliever for Schilling) with struggles in 1991 (1-7 with a 4.87 ERA in 61 IP as a starter for Grimsley, a 3.81 ERA in 75.2 IP as a reliever for Schilling). But it should have been obvious at the time not only that Schilling threw harder but that he was closer to breaking through: 103 K and 58 walks for Schilling in 121.2 IP over the previous two years - including 71 K in 75.2 IP in 1991 - compared to an abysmal record of 83 K to 84 walks for Grimsley (and 16 wild pitches) in 118.1 IP. And the results were immediate and dramatic: Schilling posted a 2.35 ERA in 226.1 IP in 1992 for the Phillies - 4th best in the NL - and would pitch a shutout in the World Series by the end of 1993, while Grimsley never pitched a game in an Astros uniform and was released a year later.
It's not clear to me, years later, what Houston was thinking; with Pete Harnisch, Darryl Kile, and Butch Henry, Houston had no shortage of young starters, and Schilling had started in the minors. Perhaps Grimsley had options left and Schilling didn't (after all, the deal was April 2)? Either way, the Astros don't get nearly enough grief for this one in the annals of catastrophically bad trades.
2. If there's one guy whose career path Schilling's resembles, strangely enough, it's Tommy John, and not only because both of them were pioneers in bionic baseball. Through age 33, due to a variety of injuries and misfortunes (including lousy support from their teams) over the years, both Schilling and John had a lot of good baseball behind them and not much to show in the win column: Schilling had 110 lifetime wins at the end of 2000 (when he went 11-12), following his mid-season arrival in Arizona, despite a league-average-or-better ERA 9 times in 11 years; John had 134 wins after his first post-surgery season, in 1976, when he went 10-10, despite a league-average-or-better ERA 11 years in a row. Each had seemingly given his arm in the service of a dismal franchise - Schilling throwing 254.1 and 268.2 IP in 1997-98 with the Phillies, John 269.1 IP in 1970 with the White Sox.
Then, each suddenly reeled off three 20-win seasons in four years, and went to the postseason with two different teams, Schilling the D-Backs and Red Sox and John the Dodgers and Yankees.
Of course, the parallels aren't perfect. Schilling is most unlikely to match John's durability (pitching to age 46) or win total of 288 (John through age 37 was up to 214 wins, while Schilling now stands at 184). On the other hand, Schilling's teams haven't failed in the postseason as John's did in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982 - despite solid efforts from John (a 2.65 career postseason ERA), and Schilling had been the difference for both Arizona and Boston. And John couldn't quite match Schilling's level of dominance - from age 34 to 37, John went 80-35, Schilling 74-28, and John's career winning percentage through age 37 stood at .586 compared to .599 for Schilling (this before John went 23-20 over the next two years pitching mostly for division-winning teams). To say nothing of the fact that Schilling is an overpowering strikeout pitcher who alreadly has 500 more strikeouts than John did in nearly 2000 more career innings.
As you can see, though, the parallels are actually fairly strong, a factor to consider down the road in evaluating both pitchers' Hall of Fame cases.
BASEBALL: Tale of the Tape Measure
SI.com writer Peter McEntegart repeats a slightly different variation of a stat I saw Peter Gammons citing the other day:
The most astounding number to come out of the Barry Bonds steroid controversy is not that 93 percent of the 40,000-plus voters on a SI.com poll don't believe Bonds' claim that he was unaware he took steroids. The more intriguing number comes from Stats Inc., which reports that Bonds had never hit a home run longer than 450 feet before the 2000 season, when he turned 36. Since then, he's hit at least 21 homers of 450 feet or farther.
Either way…well…it seems like telling circumstantial evidence.
December 6, 2004
BASEBALL: The Bonds Defense
Bonds said that Anderson had so little money that he “lives in his car half the time.” Asked by a juror why he didn’t buy “a mansion” for his trainer, Bonds answered: “One, I’m black, and I’m keeping my money. And there’s not too many rich black people in this world. There’s more wealthy Asian people and Caucasian and white. And I ain’t giving my money up.”
and asks the relevant question:
So, Bonds now says he took what Anderson gave him but didn't ask what it was. Are you kidding me? Here you've got a guy walking around with the Scarlet "S" tattooed on his head, he knows he's taking a variety of supposedly unidentified substances . . . Absolutely everyone who followed baseball the past five years either (1) thought Bonds was using the stuff or at least (2) was aware of the charges. You thought Bonds was on steroids. I thought Bonds was on steroids. But it never even occurred to Barry Bonds himself that he should look into the stuff he was taking? If so, he was the only guy in the game who wasn't thinking it. He has to know it won't pass the smell test.
BASEBALL: Traxler Dies
BASEBALL/LAW: Big Daddy Hits Back
In a follow up story Oct. 21, Fielder told the News he planned to repay his debts, saying: "I'm going to be a man about it. I'm going to take care of all my responsibilities."
From the story reported on ESPN, it doesn't sound as if Fielder is disputing many of the key allegations against him - that he gambled away millions of dollars and had lost his Florida mansion as a result of inability to pay gambling debts - and is instead attacking charges that are harder to pin down, like the extent to which he was "in hiding" or in contact with his family. Those are facts as to which it will be hard to show that the News recklessly disregarded the truth if they relied on what somebody told them or on the fact that they couldn't find him, and Fielder will have a tough time proving $25 million in damages if the thrust of the story - massive gambling debts, loss of his house - is true.
BASEBALL: Smear Job
I thought what the NY Daily News did to Jason Giambi on Sunday was just reprehensible. Giambi has a lot of well-deserved grief coming over his use of illegal and against-the-rules steroids and his lies to cover up that use. But the Daily News splashed a huge story across the back page about Giambi's love of Vegas nightlife:
Um, why would that be? What does Vegas have to do with whether the guy cheated and - the question of the hour - how seriously we should take that cheating? And what do you mean, "reckless"? Drugs? Sex? Gambling? Something else entirely? The News never precisely says, burying us instead in innuendo and a bunch of truisms about Sin City:
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"Great guy," the bouncer says. "He's not cheap with his money. He likes to make sure everyone around him has a good time."
Giambi, who is married, is free to spend his nights as he wishes, of course, but his lifestyle has become a public matter after a season in which he was sidelined by a mysterious parasite, then a benign tumor that neither he nor the Yankees would discuss, all of it accompanied by suspicion regarding steroids use that has now been confirmed.
Basically, it seems, his body has been breaking down ever since he became a Yankee, and whatever role steroid use and perhaps withdrawal has caused, you have to wonder if there are other factors involved, and whether he is having trouble coping mentally as well.
A friend of his in New York has told the Daily News of wild parties that Giambi has thrown in his upper East Side apartment, and that Giambi went on a two-day binge in the city after the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the ALCS. Though Giambi has told the friend he no longer goes to bars in the city as much as he once did because Yankee fans question him about his declining performance, he offered no indication that his physical ailments have caused him to change his partying ways.
Giambi has never tried to hide his enjoyment of the nightlife. In Oakland, where he became a star as the long-haired, anti-establishment leader of the young and rowdy A's, Giambi used to have a saying that eventually became a slogan the players wore on T-shirts under their uniforms:
"Party like a rock star, hammer like a porn star, hit like an All-Star."
OK, so Giambi likes to party and go to strip culbs, and cheats on his wife. The partying bit is maybe sorta relevant to his performance, although we could have been told with a bit less sensationalism if the story is just that he likes a drink and a late night. The sex is, frankly, none of my business, however much I may disapprove. Ballplayers like to go to strip clubs? This is back page news?
Lisa Olson piled on in the same issue, blaming Giambi's father and hinting darkly about Giambi's "destructive lifestyle habits."
I've stressed this before: if you've got the goods on a guy, that's one thing - but the press has no business spreading dirt it doesn't have. The News just didn't have nearly enough facts to justify a story that was clearly meant to imply much worse things about Giambi than it said.
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December 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Mr. Bright Side
Well, one positive development from all this steroid business is that the Mets have apparently decided to pass on Sammy Sosa.
Jason Mastaitis has picked up on this too and has some other juicy…err…interesting Mets news.
BASEBALL: Legalize It?
In a post about Pete Rose and Barry Bonds, David Pinto has some provocative thoughts about steroid use and baseball, basically asking why is it wrong:
We want to watch big guys hit home runs. That sells baseball. That helps our teams win. That's exciting. Why do we care so much about how they sculpt their bodies to become those hitters?
After all, we don't see to care so much about actors and actresses having plastic surgery. We go see them in movies because they look good, and when they stop being beautiful, we stop watching. Should there be a rule that only "natural" actors be allowed to make movies? Should Hollywood ban everyone who gets a face lift or tummy tuck?
Of course not. Becuase these people are hurting no one but themselves. And the same is true of baseball players.
It’s a very good question, the fundamental kind people too rarely ask. Like in international relations, why is it wrong for countries like Iraq and Iran to pursue nuclear weapons? Asking such questions doesn’t necessarily mean that you will come to a different conclusion, but it does help prevent you from blindly following conventional wisdom. In terms of steroids, there are several reasons why they should be banned and why their usage should be proscribed. Here are just a few…
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First, as pointed out in Pinto’s comments, most steroids are illegal and it is wrong for baseball to look the other way at illegality that is fundamentally tied to performance. None of those forms of surgery are illegal. This is, of course, a circular argument and drug legalization advocates might ask why steroids need to be illegal. But for now, it suffices to say they are; baseball does not exist in a vacuum.
Second, there is the fairness issue. Baseball games should not be decided by which players are most willing to take drugs to enhance their performance. Even if steroids were not illegal in broader society, they should be banned in a competitive, zero-sum environment such as Major League Baseball. Some players wisely choose not to take steroids for health reasons. Should they be penalized for that? Do we want to see baseball degenerate into some kind of freak show like SNL's All-Drug Olympics? (“His trainer has told me that he's taken anabolic steroids, Novacaine, Nyquil, Darvon, and some sort of fish paralyzer. Also, I believe he's had a few cocktails within the last hour or so. All of this is, of course, perfectly legal at the All-Drug Olympics…”)
Third, there is the issue of setting a bad example for children and aspiring athletes. Again, is the message we want to send that you need to destroy your body and health in order to succeed in baseball? Allowing steroid use at the highest level of baseball encourages its use at every lower level, including many, many young people who will never achieve the types of offsetting riches that people like Barry Bonds have. Some libertarians would argue that it is still an individual choice, even at lower levels, and if young people are stupid enough to take steroids just to make their high school or college teams, without a real chance at the pros, that is their own stupid fault. Maybe so, but MLB can draw the line at the highest level and have a real impact on people’s lives. That is good enough for me.
There are plenty of other reasons. Just because steroid use harms the people who take them, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also harm the integrity, popularity and aesthetics of the game. I see no good reasons why steroid use should be tolerated by MLB and why cheaters should not be punished to the full extent of its rules.
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December 2, 2004
BASEBALL: Spilling The Juice
No time to blog this morning, but I'll point you to Jeff Quinton, who picks up the NY Daily News report on Jason Giambi admitting to the BALCO grand jury that he used steroids and human growth hormone. Of course, if this story gets confirmed in the public eye - not that anybody'd be all that surprised - it would reduce Giambi's vulnerability to blackmail by the Yankees.
Of course, the Yankees also have their hands full with not paying their
UPDATE: Fixed the reference above. Also, note that Jeremy Giambi also admitted using steroids, which is unsurprising in light of his brother's admission:
The younger Giambi testified that he knew testosterone was a steroid but that Anderson had described "the clear" and "the cream" only as undetectable "alternatives to steroids."
"For all I knew, it could have been baby lotion," Jeremy Giambi told the grand jury.
Jeremy Giambi, 30, also told the grand jury that he had taken several different-colored pills provided by Anderson even though he didn't know what they were.
Nedrow asked Jeremy Giambi why he trusted Anderson.
"I don't know, I guess -- I mean, you're right," Jeremy Giambi testified. "I probably shouldn't have trusted the guy. But I just felt like, you know, what he had done for Barry [Bonds] and, you know, I didn't think the guy would send me something that was, you know, Drano or something, you know, I mean, I hope he wouldn't."
December 1, 2004
BASEBALL: Be Careful Who You Wish For
The Giants have to be planning on drifting gradually to a safe distance from the pennant race as the Marlins did this season if they are looking to entrust their closer job to Armando Benitez. As the AP item notes:
Yeah, and that doesn't count meaningful regular season games in pennant races. Brian Sabean is falling back on the "everybody blows games" defense:
November 30, 2004
BASEBALL: Charley Steiner Gets Traded To Melrose Place
Well, not quite, but the erstwhile Yankee radio man and SportsCenter anchor is off to Chavez Ravine, where he'll replace Ross Porter and share a booth with Rick Monday for Dodger broadcasts; they will alternate with Vin Scully, who works alone. From MLB's report:
Link via Bookworm, who speculates that beat reporter Suzyn Waldman may take Steiner's place in the booth; I'm fairly certain she'd be the first woman to broadcast games on a regular basis for a New York baseball team.
BASEBALL: San Pedro de Flushing?
The Daily News claims that the Mets have offered Pedro Martinez a three-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $37-39 million (about $12-13 million per year), and are contemplating a fourth year guaranteed. While I'm not a fan of the overall strategy of committing more money to expensive stars in their thirties, Pedro is at least a sufficiently high-quality starter - a rare enough thing these days - that it would not be a terrible move, although adding a fourth year guaranteed, with Pedro's health and durability concerns, would be a Very Bad Idea. That fourth year is only worth it if you are - unlike the Mets - willing to risk writing off an extra season of salary to get over the top in the short run.
Anyway, amidst all the gnashing of teeth about Pedro's decline, a little perspective is in order:
That's Pedro in 1996, 1998, and 2004; as you can see, Pedro's performance this season wasn't greatly out of line with seasons he had in his mid-20s. Yes, we'll never see the Pedro of 1999-2000 again (in our lifetimes, we may never see any pitcher that dominating again), and yes, he's lost some gas off his fastball, but the numbers say there's still plenty of gas in Pedro's tank if he can stay healthy.
BASEBALL/HISTORY: Alibi Ike
For reasons that are unclear to me, I got a free sample issue in the mail of "At The Yard," a magazine following the minor leagues. What caught my attention was an article on how Dwight Eisenhower apparently told reporters in 1945 that he had played minor league ball under an assumed name ("Wilson") in 1909 when he was 19. Grantland Rice reported that Ike played center field in the Central Kansas League (presumably a fairly low-level minor league), batting .288, scoring 43 runs and stealing 20 bases in a season of a little over 200 at bats. (Here's what little else I could find on this online).
(A side note: am I the only one who thinks Grover Alexander, a Nebraskan who was three years older than the Kansan Eisenhower also entered pro ball in 1909, bore a striking resemblance to Ike?)
Anyway, as the article (not available online, so far as I can tell) points out, Eisenhower abruptly stopped talking about his pro baseball career after that, and with good reason: he played football and baseball at West Point, which he entered in 1911, and to do so he would have had to sign an NCAA eligibility card stating that he had not played professional sports - and if he signed that card falsely, it would be a violation of West Point's honor code, something Ike would not want to admit to once he was embarked on a career in politics. In today's atmosphere, of course, it's unlikely he would have gotten away with this without someone digging this up.
But if there's some enterprising SABR type out there who would like to dig up the old minor league box scores, this sounds like a fun project to look into.
BASEBALL: Boggs and Who?
Wade Boggs leads the new nominees on the Hall of Fame ballot, but while a few of the other new candidates, like Darryl Strawberry, Chili Davis and Willie McGee put together pieces of a Hall of Fame case, nobody else new is a serious candidate, whereas Boggs should and will skate in with little or no debate. I think my favorite Wade Boggs fact is in 1987 when he somehow must have sensed that the ball was livelier, and he announced in spring training that he was going to try to his more home runs. As it turned out, homers were up around the league, and Boggs hit 24 of them (up from a career high of 8; he would hit double figures only once more, with 11 in 1994).
Anyway, there's the usual lively debate about who else goes in; you can go here for a link-filled roundup of my past writings on the returning candidates, and why the only ones I would support are Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage and Ryne Sandberg (although I may return at some point for a closer look at Sandberg and Alan Trammell).
November 29, 2004
BASEBALL: Age and Established Win Shares
One of my major projects of late has been plugging the 2004 Win Shares data from the Hardball Times into a series of spreadsheets to (1) analyze the usefulness of my Established Win Shares Levels figures from earlier this year and (2) run similar EWSL numbers for 2005. EWSL is explained here; in a nutshell, it's an application to Win Shares of Established Performance Levels, which take a weighted measurement of a player's accomplishments in a given category over the prior three years. I ran an EWSL analysis of each team starting here, listing 23 players (13 non-pitchers and 10 pitchers).
As I've said before, EWSL is just a compilation of the past, not a projection of the future, although past performance is always a useful thing to have in projecting a ballplayer's future. Anyway, one issue with EWSL, especially on a team level, is that it tends to overrate older players and underrate younger ones by relying on established track records.
That, we already knew. But by how much? I had used a number of adjustments to deal with this issue, and I'll return to those later, but first I wanted to take a look at how the unadjusted EWSL fared as a predictor. So I broke down by age each of the 678 players I had listed to compare their unadjusted EWSL entering 2004 to their 2004 Win Shares, and grouped the results by age. The Average EWSL and Average 2004 Win Shares columns are rounded off; the % column shows the total 2004 Win Shares for that age group (un-rounded) divided by the total EWSL (also un-rounded), with 1.00 meaning the group matched its EWSL, numbers above 1.00 showing an increase and below 1.00 showing a decrease. I grouped the 20-21 and over-40 groups because they were so small (20 was just Edwin Jackson, who never did get a shot in 2004).
Although the overall aging pattern is hardly a surprise, I was struck by how vividly the pattern came out even over a relatively small sample size. (The breakdowns of numbers of players by age is interesting in its own right). The 40+ crowd, of course, was dominated by Clemens and Randy Johnson, which is what throws that off. Since Established Performance Levels acts as something of a multiplier of inexperience, it's not surprising to see the average player doubling or tripling his past track record at a very young age, when many in the group are rookies, and that time-lag may also contribute to why the break point for decline starts at 29 rather than 28. I was also struck by the overall stability of the numbers, as there was relatively little variance in the 2004 quality of production over age groups, although of course the mid-30s crowd did underperform the mid-20s crowd even though the mid-20s contingent included a much larger number of marginal players who won't last past 30.
The wipeout of the 35-year-olds was especially gruesome, and can be attributed partly to having a small sample and the highest starting point in the range. But there were more than just a few disasters in that group: Tim Salmon (down from 18 to 2), Bret Boone (29 to 9), Shigetoshi Hasegawa (10 to 3), John Olerud (20 to 10 - the Mariners had way too many of these guys), Mike Mussina (18 to 10), Paul Quantrill (10 to 6), Pat Hentgen (6 to 0), Fernando Vina (12 to 1), Sammy Sosa (27 to 14), and most egregiously of all, Hideo Nomo (15 to -6).
Anyway, there's more work still to be done, but clearly to be useful as a predictive tool EWSL needs to be adjusted for age in some fashion.
November 28, 2004
BASEBALL: A Word From My Sponsor
Baseball-Reference.com page sponsorships can get pretty rough on the sponsored player from time to time, but this is a new one: check out Wil Cordero's page:
According to a 2000 UNICEFstudy, 20-50% of females worldwide will be victimized by domestic violence.
November 26, 2004
BASEBALL: Kendall Gets Beaned
What's interesting about the A's apparently acquiring Jason Kendall for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes is not the Pirates' end of the deal, which involves getting some face-saving pitching help while getting out from under Kendall's oversized contract, but rather the A's being willing to take on salary to get a catcher (replacing the departing Damian Miller) who gets on base. For all the notoriety of the A's OBP obsession, the team had in recent years been losing ground in that department. Kendall helps turn around that trend (which had gotten a bit better this season).
Good deal for Oakland, in spite of Kendall's cost, age and lack of power.
November 24, 2004
BASEBALL: Radke on the Block
I wonder whether it would be worthwhile for the Mets to take a look at Brad Radke, although it sounds like his asking price is fairly steep. (Then again, I loved this line: "Radke has said he wants only a two-year deal, but Simon [his agent] said that wouldn't necessarily be the length he proposes." Yeah, the agent will have a lot of credibility on that score.)
On the plus side, Radke's an extreme fly ball pitcher who would profit from pitching at Shea in front of Mike Cameron. And I'm less concerned about signing a free agent pitcher in his 30s as opposed to hitters, given (1) that you need a lot of innings on a pitching staff, so there's less sense that old guys are blocking the development of youngsters, and (2) age is less of a straight-line predictor of career path for pitchers (pitchers in their 20s are a crapshoot anyway). On the other hand, the Mets do need to keep cash free to develop the everyday lineup, and Radke is a guy who gives up a lot of hits.
November 23, 2004
BASEBALL: Leiter Out, Clement In?
(Via Jason Mastaitis).
BASEBALL: Rivera for Guillen
I have to say the Angels got the better end of the deal that sent Jose Guillen to the Washington Nationals for Juan Rivera and prospect Macier Izturis (younger brother of Cesar Izturis). I don't know much about Izturis, but Guillen and Rivera are both the same general type of player - relatively free-swinging right-handed sluggers with a good arm - but Rivera is two years younger, makes a fraction of the money, and doesn't come with Guillen's clubhouse headaches. And Rivera finished with a flourish last year; in his first extended action as an everyday player, he batted .358/.526/418 after the All-Star Break. Given that Guillen himself has only been a productive regular for two seasons, I'd rather have Rivera even before you factor in the money, let alone when you toss in a 24-year-old shortstop who batted .338 in AAA last year.
November 22, 2004
BASEBALL: Pavano With Caution
Nobody doubts that Carl Pavano is a talented pitcher, but I've been hearing people talk about Pavano as if he was a potential substitute for Pedro Martinez in Boston or Javier Vazquez or Kevin Brown in New York. Hold on there, people. Pavano may be just coming into his own, or he may be just coming off a career year. Either way, I don't see a #1 starter.
First off, there's his lack of a track record; Pavano's thrown 100 innings in a season 5 times, and 2004 is the first time he's been better than a league-average pitcher. Then there's the core of the problem: strikeouts. 28-year-old pitchers who don't get a lot of strikeouts do not, in general, become stars. And look at Pavano's K per 9 innings the last four years: 7.59, 6.09, 5.96, 5.63. Certainly not forward progress.
This is not to say that Pavano is doomed as an effective pitcher, or even that it's impossible that he will follow the footsteps of Kevin Brown and Mike Scott and similar pitchers who bucked the trend of history by becoming big strikeout pitchers in their 30s. After all, he had a fine year in 2004 by slicing his walks to less than 2 per 9 innings and avoiding the home run ball, both critical skills. But the odds on the latter are not strong. Consider the ten men identified by Baseball-Reference.com as the most-similar pitchers to Pavano through age 28:
As you can see, the similarity scores are fairly high - and these guys averaged 41 career wins after age 28. Nagy and Wegman both had their best years at 29, and Stottlemyre had a big strikeout year at 30, but not one of these guys was really on his way up entering his thirties.
I'd put Pavano on the level with Jon Lieber and Brad Radke, both similar pitchers in some ways, although Radke in particular is homer-prone. But Pedro Martinez, who's four years older and with a lot of mileage on his arm, still struck out 9.41 men per 9 innings in 2004 with only a slightly higher walk rate than Pavano. There's no comparison.
November 21, 2004
I can't say I'm ecstatic about seeing Kris Benson in a Mets uniform for another three years, but re-signing him was clearly a necessity once the team let Al Leiter go. The real proof in the pudding on the acquisitions of Benson and Victor Zambrano will come next year (although the costs will take longer to weigh as we watch the development of Scott Kazmir and the other prospects in the deals). Benson should, if healthy, be at least about a league-average pitcher, which isn't nothing.
Of course, yet again, all of this is just window dressing if Mets management still thinks that the club's problems can be rectified by the elderly and expensive likes of Sammy Sosa.
November 19, 2004
BASEBALL: Friday Roundup 11/19/04
*The Tigers sign Troy Percival for 2 years, $12 million. Yes, it's just a 2-year deal, but that's elite closer money, and Percival's just not worth it anymore.
*Thank you Mike Cameron? Baseball Prospectus' latest stab at team defensive stats (subscription only) lists the Mets as #4 in the majors for 2004.
*How did I miss this one when it happened? From September, Mike's Baseball Rants has some fun with John Kruk calling Chone Figgins - Chone Figgins - "the most valuable player in the game today."
November 17, 2004
BASEBALL: M V Vlad
If you look at the Win Shares numbers from the Hardball Times, you can see that the AL MVP race was, for all intents and purposes, a dead heat between the top five candidates, each of whom was worth approximately 10 wins to his team:
In a race like that, the more intangible factors - that Guerrero's team was unusually dependent on him (unlike the big Yankee sluggers, who could feed off each other) and that he closed with a bang to push the Angels over the top in the AL West in September, are good reason to give Guerrero the benefit of the doubt. Specifically, in 12 September-October games against Oakland and Texas, Guerrero scored 13 runs, drove in 14, hit 8 home runs, and batted .478/1.087/.547. Interestingly, the "Win Shares Above Average" figures - comparing each player to an average player with similar playing time - give a slightly different picture:
This would seem to support breaking Sheffield away from the pack a bit, especially since I'm not sure that WSAA is a valid basis for a straight-line comparison of a starting pitcher to an everyday player. It's still close enough that I'd give Guerrero the benefit of the doubt, though. I'm particularly suspicious that WSAA seems to favor players with little or no defensive value. For what it's worth, the Baseball Prospectus (subscription only) rates Guerrero #1 in the AL by a fairly decisive margin by its "VORP" (Value Over Replacement Level) rating for position players:
I'm not sure I understand VORP, one of BP's famously intricate measurements, well enough to figure out (1) why Vlad takes such a leap forward by its calculations or (2) why all the Yankees take such a beating (the big three all clock in below 65, with Matsui down around 55). One thing Guerrero did very well this year was slash his usually high number of caught stealings (3 in 18 attempts, compared to an average of 13 in 37 attempts the prior four years); he also grounded into 19 DPs, down a bit on a per-at-bat level from prior years, by cutting his ground ball/fly ball ratio to a career low. These are little things, but the caught stealings in particular had been a quiet drag on Guerrero's production in the past, and Mike Scioscia should get some credit if he's the one who convinced Guerrero to run less.
Another random note: Guerrero's patience at the plate did not fall off as dramatically as it might have appeared; his intentional walks dropped to 14 from an average of 25 a year his last four years in Montreal, but his rate of unintentional walks/at bats was 6.2%, as compared to 7.5% those prior four years.
BASEBALL: Closing the Chapter
Sad but encouraging news yesterday, as the Mets let Al Leiter go after a desultory attempt to re-sign him on the cheap. Leiter will be remembered well by Mets fans not only for quality pitching but also for being an all-around gritty, emotional guy who took his job seriously, bonded with the fans and was always accessible to the media. No game he pitched was bigger or better than the utterly dominating 2-hit shutout he threw at the Reds in a 1-game playoff for the Wild Card in 1999.
On the other hand, the team needs a new direction, and tossing overboard a 39-year-old who's been known to meddle in the GM's business is a must. Leiter was still very effective this season, but his durability is questionable - he's thrown less than 190 innings three of the last four years - and he's playing an unsustainable game by nibbling around the corners, walking more batters and striking out fewer:
It's to Leiter's credit that he's managed the guile and guts to stay effective against such an evident pattern of declining ability, but he can't keep it up much longer. Let the Yankees have him back.
November 16, 2004
BASEBALL: New Year, Same MVP
I can remember, back in the 1980s, when there used to be exciting and interesting arguments over the NL MVP Award - arguments about Gary Carter and Dale Murphy and Mike Schmidt and Pedro Guerrero and Andre Dawson and Ozzie Smith . . . these days, it's just the same old thing every year - Bonds, Bonds, Bonds. There really wasn't a way to deny him the award this season, not with an OBP over .600.
November 15, 2004
BASEBALL: Blog 'Em and Leave 'Em
Jon Weisman has a great piece up on the longetivity and replaceability of baseball bloggers in light of the departures of Brian Gunn and Edward Cossette and the death of Doug Pappas. (Link via Pinto). Two thoughts:
1. At least bloggers go away when (and sometimes before) they run out of things to say; by contrast, professional sportswriting is chock full of people who repeat themselves endlessly and have lost the love of what they do, but keep going paycheck to paycheck.
2. My own focus on a variety of topics is what keeps me going here, in my fifth year doing this; I can always put down baseball for politics, politics for baseball, or go write about law or pop culture or just anything. It's liberating and helps alleviate the need to say something fresh about the same topic every day.
November 11, 2004
BASEBALL: Around the Horn 11/11/04
I haven't done a trip around the baseball blogosphere in a while; here we go:
*Brian Gunn hangs up his cleats at Redbird Nation. The Holy Cross sportswriting contingent loses one of its best, as Brian becomes yet another blogger to decide that blogging is just too all-consuming. It's a shame; the only problem with Brian's site was that, like Aaron Gleeman's writings, there were never enough hours in the day to read it all if you were reading other sites as well. Let's hope we see him back in print soon, but in the meantime, good luck.
*USS Mariner has a good rundown of dates to keep in mind this offseason, starting with today's opening of teams' ability to initiate formal talks with other teams' free agents.
*Jay Jaffe studies the Yankees' most recent cost-cutting moves, from declining options on Jon Lieber and Paul Quantrill to letting Fred Hickman (!) go, and concludes that the Yankees do, in fact, have limits to how much money they will spend. Me, I'll believe it when I see it. I think of the bumper sticker slogan used by supporters of New Jersey Senate candidate Bob Franks in 2000 against multi-millionaire Jon Corzine's self-financed campaign: "Make him spend it all, Bob." Make him spend it all, Omar and Theo and the rest. At the moment, however, it looks like a familiar process is starting whereby other teams are already getting scared off from bidding against the Yankees for Carlos Beltran while Yankee players woo him.
*Jon Weisman discusses a Mike Piazza for Shawn Green rumor, which sounds like a really bad idea for the Mets; Green's not that young, plenty expensive, and appears to be damaged goods (he had a very disppointing 2004), and at that point you might as well just stick with the one who can get behind the plate. I can see why the Dodgers are desperate for catching help, though.
*I'm way late in linking to Wizbang, which sends you to the sad tale of how gambling wrecked Cecil Fielder. By the way, I've seen Fielder's house in Florida, and it is indeed gigantic; it's a sign of the guy's foolishness that he managed to lose the house, when part of the reason why rich people buy big mansions in Florida is because of legal protections against losing your house there if you file for bankruptcy.
Or is it just that everyone nods their head and says “Oh, dead on!” when I write about baseball?
Actually, the irony is this: most of the major baseball bloggers agree on the basic ideas they are promoting, there's a lot of agreement and civility among baseball bloggers, in contrast to the acrimony and the adversarial nature of political blogs. But one side effect of that is that it sometimes seems that baseball bloggers (other than David Pinto) don't link to each other enough precisely because we're not attacking each other. And I say that being as guilty of that as anybody.
November 9, 2004
BASEBALL: Let's Play Hardball
November 8, 2004
BASEBALL: Not Really Free
Type B: Mike DeJean
Type C: Kris Benson, Ricky Bottalico
For a Type A player, the compensation is the signing team's first-round pick plus a supplemental first-rounder. For a Type B, it's the signing team's first-round choice. For a Type C, it's a supplemental second-rounder. However, if the signing team picks in the upper half of the first round, that choice is protected and it loses its second-round selection instead.
I'd mostly agree with his suggested dispositions, although I think I'd offer arbitration to Bottalico as well. Clearly, the Mets should be looking to keep Benson and get compensation for Leiter, unless Benson's demands are too high or Leiter's very low. I'm more hesitant to offer arbitration to Hidalgo, although he could yet be useful.
The full list of free agents by type, with asterisks denoting the guys who may still have a team or player option to exercise:
Type A Moises Alou (ChC), Wilson Alvarez (LA), *Tony Batista (Mon), Carlos Beltran (Hou), Adrian Beltre (LA), Armando Benitez (Fla), Jeromy Burnitz (Col), Orlando Cabrera (Bos), Miguel Cairo (NYY), Vinny Castilla (Col), Royce Clayton (Col), *Roger Clemens (Hou), Rheal Cormier (Phi), Carlos Delgado (Tor), J.D. Drew (Atl), Cal Eldred (StL), Steve Finley (LA), Nomar Garciaparra (ChC), Mark Grudzielanek (ChC), Chris Hammond (Oak), Dustin Hermanson (SF), Richard Hidalgo (NYM), Jeff Kent (Hou), Steve Kline (StL), Corey Koskie (Min), *Al Leiter (NYM), Esteban Loaiza (NYY), Derek Lowe (Bos), Matt Mantei (Ari), Edgar Martinez (Sea), Pedro Martinez (Bos), Mike Matheny (StL), Kent Mercker (ChC), Dan Miceli (Hou), Damian Miller (Oak), Kevin Millwood (Phi), Matt Morris (StL), Jeff Nelson (Tex), Magglio Ordonez (CWS), Russ Ortiz (Atl), Carl Pavano (Fla), Troy Percival (Ana), Odalis Perez (LA), Placido Polanco (Phi), Brad Radke (Min), Joe Randa (KC), Edgar Renteria (StL), Richie Sexson (Ari), Paul Shuey (LA), *Ugueth Urbina (Det), Jason Varitek (Bos), Omar Vizquel (Cle), David Wells (SD), *Woody Williams (StL), Scott Williamson (Bos), Jaret Wright (Atl).
Beltran, of course, is the big prize among the everyday players, as well as Ordonez. Either one would be a good acquisition; Beltran would be better, but Ordonez could come cheaper. Richie Sexson - who like Ordonez is coming off an injury - would also be a nice fit. As much as I like John Olerud and think his glove would be a big help, I don't see him having enough gas in his tank at the plate to be useful. Carlos Delgado is still a monster, but he'll be 33 next year and showed the first signs of decline this season; I'd stay away if I were a team as in need of youth as the Mets. Another guy who looks interesting on that list is Matt Clement; power pitchers have always had good fortunes at Shea.
BASEBALL: Backman Out
Well, I admit I was wrong to say the Mets should have hired Wally Backman to manage, after the Diamondbacks fire him after discovering past arrests for DUI and domestic violence. Lesson for fans: sometimes, the insiders do know things we don't. Lesson for Arizona: do your background checks first. It's a shame, because Backman had the hallmarks of a successful manager. A lot of great managers have had off-field issues, of course, but it's just not acceptable anymore to look the other way at them.
November 5, 2004
BASEBALL: Meet the Nats, Greet the Nats…
I thought I had deleted this old post, but it looks like I was ahead of the curve for once. DC’s major league team will reportedly be called the Washington Nationals:
(Via The Corner).
November 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Meet The Met
I hadn't planned on getting back to baseball this week, but of course I can't ignore the Mets' hiring of Willie Randolph as manager.
Of course, first impressions of a first-time manager can be misleading or pointless. On the positive side, Randolph has been with a lot of winning teams and was a smart player himself; he seems like a level-headed, even-keeled guy; he's not the same old retread; and the Mets apparently are not paying him all that much money. On the negative side, he seems a bit too much like Art Howe, there's probably a reason why Randolph has been turned down for so many managerial jobs in the past (although it's true that the "you must interview a minority" rule means Randolph has been interviewed for a lot of jobs where the team already had someone else in mind), and he does continue the sense of the Mets as the second-class organization in town.
Time will tell. I would have preferred Wally Backman myself.
November 1, 2004
BASEBALL: Caminiti Died of Drug Overdose
I've been on a break from baseball news about these parts; I'll be looking to refocus on my post-season wrapups after the election. One item of note: a medical examiner's report has attributed Ken Caminiti's death to a cocaine overdose. Of course, the contrubuting causes - "[c]oronary artery disease and an enlarged heart" - can't entirely be separated from Caminiti's other problems, including steroids, but it would seem that the major culprit here was drugs of a non-performance-enhancing nature.
October 28, 2004
BASEBALL: To All Those Who Missed It
I liked this comment from Shannen Coffin about the Red Sox:
UPDATE: Also, leave poor Bill Buckner alone!
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Schilling for Bush
I'm going to offer a perhaps-unexpected (to new readers, at least) point here and say that now is not the time, and a puff-piece interview on Good Morning America was not the place, for Curt Schilling to stump for President Bush. The stakes in this election are indeed life and death, and of course I welcome Schilling's endorsement. But:
1. I've long been infuriated by entertainers who stick their politics into a venue (interviews, concerts, etc.) where I'm expecting to just be entertained, as opposed to presenting a political argument in a political context. That should go for conservatives in sports and entertainment just as much as liberals. There's a reason why, despite the baseball/politics mix on this site, I labor to keep the two types of content clearly marked.
2. Sox fans are celebrating right now, and, let's be frank, a lot of them are Democrats. Don't spoil that with politics, no matter the cause; just don't (more on that idea here).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:55 PM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Quote of the Day?
BASEBALL: The Day After
I have to admit it: try as I might, it's awfully difficult to find anything to add to the moment from last night, just the perfection of the moment of fans and a franchise who'd been denied and cruelly taunted - by fate and by Yankee fans - for eight decades - finally making it to the top of the mountain. Just a few thoughts:
*The Cards had to do the most staggering roll-over-play-dead in the World Series since the 1999 Braves or maybe the 1990 A's. It looks like Game One really was the turning point; after the Cards couldn't get over the hump, they just never got anything going. For a team that took the National League by storm, that was shocking, especially on the offensive side.
*Nice job by Jason Marquis to keep the Cards in the game last night; I'm skeptical of Marquis because he's a high-walk pitcher who doesn't compensate by overpowering people, but after getting on the ropes early he did manage to avoid the KO.
*More, much more on this (and other bigger-picture questions) later in November and December - after this morning, I will probably shift into politics-only here through next Wednesday or whenever it is that the election is resolved - but you have to figure Curt Schilling is suddenly, improbably closing in on a pretty solid Hall of Fame case. Of course, you would have said the same thing (and I know I did) about Jack Morris after Game Seven of the 1991 Series.
*Manny Ramirez matching Hank Bauer's record 17-game postseason hitting streak and winning the Series MVP just feels odd - Manny never did bust out with the big longball, and didn't even drive in a run against the Yankees. Yet again, as always, his overall postseason numbers were less impressive than his regular season stats. Yet, somehow, he just kept poking a hit here and a hit there, and it added up to good things.
*If you own stock in Dan Shaughnessy, sell. (Bruce Allen has the full Boston media roundup)
October 27, 2004
BASEBALL: YOUR WORLD CHAMPION BOSTON RED SOX
Never thought I'd live to write that. The dog finally caught the bus; Charlie Brown kicked the football; Gilligan got off the island. Not being a hockey fan - I remember the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup, but I wasn't really able to appreciate it - the closest thing I can compare this to is the fall of the Berlin Wall in terms of the "never thought I'd see the day" factor. Wow, just wow.
Technically, the 21st century began in 2001, not 2000. Which means, of course, that the Red Sox have won a World Series in this century. And the Yankees have not.
BASEBALL: Song of the Yankee Fan
BASEBALL: Birds on the Brink
Well, after what we saw last week, and in light of Red Sox history as well as the dire condition of Curt Schilling's ankle, it's hard to say that we should count the Cardinals out just yet. But things look pretty grim. I have to say, even though I'm pulling for the Red Sox, I feel awfully bad for Cardinal fans (which must be a sign that I'm finally over my bitterness from 1985 and 1987), who had a genuinely great team this year; that's a rare treat, and one that's spoiled if they don't go all the way, as fans of the 2001 Mariners could tell you.
Pedro may not have been the San Pedro de Fenway of old last night, but he did a tremendous job shutting down the murderous Cardinal lineup. I expect the Cards to come out and finally pond the stuffings out of Derek Lowe, but it will probably be too late.
One memory that came back watching Larry Walker get thrown out at the plate was back in Walker's rookie year, 1989, when the Expos dropped to two games back in the pennant race on August 23, in a game they lost 1-0 in 22 innings when Walker was called out in the bottom of the 16th for leaving third base early on a sacrifice fly. I have to wonder if he's been more tentative about breaking for home on a fly ball ever since.
BASEBALL: Let Down
Even though I know this site has a bunch of Red Sox fan readers, from the perspective of a neutral fan, mainly looking to watch entertaining, competitive baseball, I must confess to being pretty disappointed in this World Series. Thus far, it’s been one-sided, sloppy and anti-climactic.
Of course, I’m sure I would feel differently if my team was on the verge of its first championship in 86 years. Or maybe I’m just grumpy because I had such high hopes and because my prediction now appears to have been far off. But it is looking like it’s over – we all know teams can’t come back from down 3-0…right?
October 26, 2004
BASEBALL: Voice for the Ages
Sad news for baseball fans and music lovers: Robert Merrill, former national-anthem-singing institution at Yankee Stadium, has died at 85. What a great voice he had.
If you read the front end of the column, Lupica is laying the groundwork for his preferred storyline that blames everything on A-Rod, totally absolves Derek Jeter, and makes it out like the Yankees' ability to import an endless line of superstars is somehow a burden they have to carry. Well, of course.
October 25, 2004
BASEBALL: A Tough One
A few days old, yet still worth reading: Drew over at Longhorn Mafia has a new #1 on his personal list of toughest sports losses.
BASEBALL: Two Down, But Can The Sox Go?
Random Game Two thoughts:
*Speaking of Willis Reed (see below), during last night's start by Curt Schilling, I thought back to some of the great or memorable performances by injured players: Reed, Kareem in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Nolan Ryan pitching on a fractured ankle in Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS, Kirk Gibson's home run in 1988. What most great performances like this have in common is, they're one-day-only things. Schilling has pressed his luck twice, and there are real questions about whether he can go a third time.
*Tim McCarver said last night that Manny Ramirez is an "outstanding two-strike hitter." Well, I don't generally accept things like this on faith if they can be checked, especially concerning the two-strike hitting of a guy who struck out 124 times this year, so I looked at Manny's numbers the last three years, from ESPN.com:
The "Two Strikes" line adds up his 0-2, 1-2, 2-2 and 3-2 numbers. At first glance, Manny is a terrible two-strike hitter until he gets to 2-2, and only really good at 3-2. But nearly everyone is horrible on those counts; the fact that Manny slugs nearly .400 even on 0-2 and 1-2, .469 on 2-2 and over .500 on 3-2 is not bad at all, both absolutely and in comparison to his usual spectacular production. The average AL player batted .269/.431/.337 this season, but .195/.300/.266 with two strikes, a 26.3% dropoff in OPS; Manny falls off by 24.9% over a three year-period, which is visibly but not outstandingly better.
*Entering Game Three of the World Series, the Cardinals are 29-10 in postseason games at Busch Stadium since 1982, and 16-26 on the road; since 1996, the breakdown is 14-6 at home, 10-14 on the road.
*I wonder what Bill James thinks, being associated with a team that bats Orlando Cabrera second. Repeat: "I am just a consultant, I'm not the manager."
*Are the Green Monster seats now officially the cool seats now that Hollywood stars like Tom Hanks sit in them?
*I liked the way Cal Eldred went high and outside after Ortiz' foul homer; a lot of guys love to follow those up by jacking one out, and Eldred tried to get him to bite.
*Well, you get your bombs with Mark Bellhorn, and you get your boots. I still think he's worth the tradeoff as compared to Pokey Reese.
*Unless I heard wrong, Joe Buck described Jason Marquis as being "infestive" in this postseason, but then again that sounds about right.
*Buck was also doing a way-premature Sox-finally-win-the-championship victory lap in the 7th, before two wins were in the books. The announcers seem to have forgotten about the Cardinals, even after they posted the best record in baseball and dominated the National League. Coming from a crew of one guy whose dad was the Voice of the Cardinals and one who played in three World Serieses for the Cards, that has to grate on St. Louis' fans.
BASEBALL: No Pepper
A doctor weighs in on what went wrong to cause a pepper spray projectile fired by Boston cops to kill a young woman celebrating the Red Sox' ALCS victory.
UPDATE: My bad; I really just skimmed this before I linked to it, since the writer appears to have some useful knowledge on the subject, but I don't necessarily endorse the implication some people have drawn from this that the Boston PD doesn't deserve a good bit of the blame for this. I absolutely don't think that the Boston PD should be let off the hook here, and I say that as a great believer in giving cops the benefit of the doubt in dealing with difficult situations. One of the first rules of policing is, either you shoot to kill or you don't shoot. Projectiles like this shouldn't be fired directly at people if there's no reason to use deadly force.
October 24, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Field of Dreams
Nice article here on Iraq’s national baseball team. It is truly a shame, however, to hear that so many of the players enjoy playing the game, but fear its association with America. That fear is indicative of the climate of terror which some hope to permanently reinstate in Iraqi society and which is anathema to the spirit of the joyful pastime we often take for granted.
BASEBALL: Ring My Bellhorn
This game felt rather anticlimactic, as Game Ones often do after an exciting LCS, even as dramatic as the game was. I don't know, I just kept feeling like the Sox had this one, even when it was tied (and yes, I'm rooting for the Red Sox, not least for the effect a Sox championship will have on Yankee fans). Although the point when Manny - well, I was taking sporadic notes, which just say "Ack! Manny can't field!" That point was not a good feeling for Sox fans.
Speaking of Manny, breathes there a man alive who would not be mortified by that Stevie Wonder "That's What Friends Are For" montage FOX Sports did of slo-mo scenes of Manny with his Sox teammates?
Obviously, your moments of zen were the Bellhorn home run and Foulke freezing Jim Edmonds in the 8th with the bases loaded. And, of course, the relentless David Ortiz.
I spotted a guy in a "Cedeno" jersey on the Cardinals, and the announcers kept calling him "Roger Cedeno," and I even recall the Roger Cedeno being on the Cardinals this year. But then I saw him get a hit in an important situation, and concluded that it had to be a different guy.
Captain's log: it turned 10 p.m. in the bottom of the fourth inning. Way to reach out to young fans.
Kelly Clarkson, singing "God Bless America," looked like either somebody played a prank with lampblack around her eyes, or she got her nose broken in the last 24 hours.
You lives by the knuckleball, and sometimes it goes away. Wakefield has decent stuff early, but just stopped throwing strikes. Pirates and Sox fans will recall that sometimes this goes on for years. Hopefully, he'll find the zone again.
No, I'm not doing a prediction this series, because I'm not a doctor and can't predict the status of Schilling's ankle, on which all turns.
McCarver thought Varitek did a good job blocking the plate on Jason Marquis' Enos Slaughter imitation in the 8th inning, and McCarver does know a thing or two about how hard it is to block the plate. But it looked like a lousy job to me, or at best a valiant but highly ineffective effort.
As I've noted before, a good Game One sets the stage for a series. Sometimes in ironic fashion - like in 1986, when the Red Sox won a 1-run game on a ball that went through Tim Teufel's legs (and it looked like the Mets couldn't touch Bruce Hurst), or in the 1988 NLCS, when the Mets rallied in the ninth to break Orel Hershiser's scoreless streak. Tonight's dramas - Wakefield's control, Manny's fielding, Womack's collarbone, the Cardinal bullpen, the Fenway home cooking.
October 23, 2004
BASEBALL: It's Papi's World
At this point, if you suggested to me that David Ortiz arrives at the games after a stroll across the Boston Harbor, I don't know that I could disbelieve it.
BASEBALL/POP CULTURE: To Win Just Once?
Poking my head around on the web site of the Saw Doctors, one of this site’s favorite bands, I had to laugh at this paragraph from a review of an August 12 performance by the band in Cape Cod:
With a tip of the hat to Massachusetts, [Leo] Moran introduced “To Win Just Once” off “Sing A Powerful Song” CD saying, “people keep telling me we should dedicate this song to the Red Sox. I don't know anything about baseball” [Link added]
If he did, he would see just how applicable are the song’s words (originally written for an Irish boxer who qualified for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics). Submitted for your consideration, here are the lyrics:
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To win just once…
To win just once against the odds
To win just once…
So come all ye full-time, small-time heroes
To win just once…
Seems like a good theme song for Red Sox Nation. It’s a great song to boot.
Â« Close It
BASEBALL: Sox-Cards History
While we're doing the memory lane stuff, consider this: The Red Sox franchise still has a winning record all time in World Serieses, having won 5 in the 1903-1918 period and lost 4 between 1946 and 1986. What's interesting is when you look at it another way: the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals were the first team ever to beat the Red Sox in a World Series. And the 1967 Cards were the second.
Among the teams that have faced the Sox in the Series since 1918, those 1946 Cardinals are unique in another way: they didn't win 100 games. Since then, you have the 1967 Cards (101 wins), the 1975 Reds (108 wins), the 1986 Mets (108 wins), and the 2004 Cardinals (105 wins). The Sox sure know how to pick 'em.
BASEBALL: The Next Big Baseball Scandal
You heard it here first (I think):
1. The Yankees now have an enormous incentive to convince Jason Giambi to retire so they can get out of his contract (have the insurance company pay it, maybe get relief on the luxury tax).
2. The Yankees are, presumably, in possession of Giambi's medical records, which may indicate things Giambi doesn't want publicized.
3. As you may remember from the Dave Winfield/Howard Spira saga, Steinbrenner is not above getting involved in some pretty seedy things, potentially including extortion and blackmail, when he has a grudge against one of his own players.
October 22, 2004
BASEBALL: Redbirds & Red Sox
This should be a great World Series. Brian Gunn over at Redbird Nation has a typically excellent recap of last night’s game, including this line:
And I liked these comments about the Astros:
For the Sox side, you’ll probably want to read Bill Simmons if you haven’t already.
UPDATE (From the Crank, who's been very happy to see the Mad Hibernian at least temporarily back on the blog): You can get more on Bob Gibson, the hero of that 1967 series, in my extended comparison of Gibson to 1926 World Series hero Grover Alexander.
BASEBALL: Stretch Run
This is hardly news, but if you look at the standings after the July 31 trade deadline, the postseason runs of the Red Sox and Astros become a good deal less surprising. The best record in baseball after the deadline? The Sawx, at 42-18, a .700 clip. Second best? The Astros, 40-18 (.690). The Cardinals, who had wrapped up the NL Central already by late July, also actually picked up the pace, going 39-20 (.661), tied with the Braves for the third best record. The Yankees were sixth at 36-23 (.610). The Runs Scored and Allowed breakouts for the Sox and Yanks are even more dramatic. Runs Scored per game: Sox 6.27, Yankees 5.63. Runs Allowed per game: Sox 4.55, Yankees 5.15.
Of course, I didn't put any stock in rational analysis before this series; like a lot of people, I stuck with the idea that the Yankees would beat the Red Sox because they always do. No more.
(On a side note, until I looked at these standings, I hadn't grasped quite how complete was the late-season collapse of the Brewers, who had looked so promising in the early going. Folks, it's a long season).
BASEBALL: Dewey Beats Truman Again
I'd missed this - this time it was Newsday that jumped the gun, and Allan Wood nails them. Link via Armchair GM, where Dan Lewis and friends are back and blogging again.
October 21, 2004
It's gonna be a long, angry and expensive off-season for the Yankees. If George fires Cashman, the Mets should immediately sack the rest of their front office and hire him. But there will be plenty of time for recriminations. For now, it's just enough to savor a remarkable comeback. Check out my live blog of Game Seven below.
BASEBALL: My Two Cents
Congratulations to the Red Sox on their historic comeback. They sure earned this series victory, especially with epic wins in Games Four and Five that will be long remembered. Check out the Crank below for his definitive commentary.
Watching this game, two rather obvious things struck me about the Yankees:
1) Their pitching just wasn’t that good. On paper, it looked good, but it just wasn’t. In the playoffs, you win with pitching and the Yankees flat got out-pitched in the second half of this series. (Roger Clemens really would have helped.)
2) They miss the Jason Giambi they thought they were getting. In the 7th when it looked like they were coming back, up stepped John Olerud and Miguel Cairo. I like Olerud, but he is near the end. Giambi was supposed to be a pillar of the offense, but he’s been out for so long and was so weak earlier this year that it’s easy for people to forget what was expected from him.
Should be an interesting World Series. Do not count out the National League though – that’s been a truly excellent series in its own right. In fact, I hate to bring up 1986 - well, no I don’t - but the Red Sox had a mighty stirring win in that ALCS as well (remember Dave Henderson?).
We shall see, but these Red Sox have certainly earned their place in the sun.
October 20, 2004
LIVE-BLOGGING: THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED WHEN POSSIBLE
Peter Gammons is on the pregame show . . . he's trying to fudge, but you can hear it: he thinks this is finally the year.
These are the saddest of possible words, Matsui to Jeter to Posada.
Yes, Simmons is right. They will rename it Papichusetts. 2-0 Sox.
Most similar player to David Ortiz through age 28: Tony Clark. You know it's coming: At the end of his next contract, Ortiz will be signed by the Yankees.
Yankees had 61 come from behind wins - that means they were trailing in 122 games this year. That's a lot, isn't it?
John Sterling goes out on a limb: "I'd say Ortiz has been the toughest batter the Yankees have faced all year."
It just cracks me up that one of the Yankees' major radio ad sponsors is Johnnie Cochran.
Brown drills Cabrera to load the bases. Mister Brown is out of town. After 1.1 innings. Hide the walls!
Grand slam Johnny Damon. 6-0 Sox before the Yankees have a hit. Game Seven of the 1934 World Series comes to mind, when the home town Tigers got blown out 11-0 and the Detroit fans started pelting Cardinals left fielder Joe Medwick with bottles, rotten fruit, and auto parts (said Medwick: "I know why they threw it at me. I just don't know why they brought it to the park.").
Sterling: "The crowd, really, in stunned silence." Charlie Steiner compares Ortiz to Frank Lary. A work colleague emails: "I think we've seen Brown's last pitch in pinstripes."
20-20-24 outs to go, I wanna be sedated . . .
Reality check: 24 outs against these Yankees is a lot.
No hits for the Yanks in the first two innings. Game One comes to mind. The symmetries are hypnotic . . .
Jeter singles in Cairo. 6-1. Meyers and Leskanic are up in the Boston pen already. Get real: 5-run lead, exhausted bullpen. You gotta give Lowe some rope here if you want to win the game.
Lowe gets out of the inning. Pedro is getting ready to get warmed up anyway. All hands on deck.
We know this much: if the Sox win, the odds of Clemens beating the Cards tomorrow increase exponentially.
I guess Johnny Damon's slump is officially over. 8-1 Sox.
Javier Vazquez goes down like a tree struck by lightning!
When you are the Red Sox playing the Yankees, leaving the bases loaded with a 7-run lead feels like cause for genuine concern, rather than pure piggishness. It's not paranoia when they are really out to get you.
Dr. Manhattan emails: "Well, the first part of 1999 NLCS Game 6 is going according to schedule..."
Yankees still have only one hit. Maybe we won't see the Derek Lowe Face tonight.
Top of the 7th, Gordon and Heredia warming in the bullpen. Sterling and Steiner are thanking people - it seems to have just hit them that this may be their last broadcast of the season.
Pedro's coming in. Why? This could be a volatile situation. I'd rather bring in Mendoza while you have enough lead to have a margin for error.
Sterling is talking up 2005 season tickets. Lowe leaves after just 69 pitches, Matsui smacks a 2-0 double off Pedro. Cue "Jaws" music.
Bernie doubles, 8-2. Lofton singles, 8-3. Olerud hobbles up to the plate.
Olerud whiffs, Lofton on second, two outs. Crowd chanting "Who's Your Daddy" over and over and over.
Bellhorn homers, 9-3. People are starting, slowly, to realize why Bellhorn was one of the stars of the Red Sox this season. Homer is reminiscent of Strawberry's homer off Al Nipper in Game 7 in the 1986 World Series.
Al Leiter apparently said on TV that Pedro wanted in. Um, who is the manager?
I hear "Let's Go Red Sox" chants as Timlin sets them down in the 8th. Where are the Yankee fans?
Cabrera hits a sac fly off Gordon to make it 10-3; Gordon needs the winter to rest. Mariano's coming in, for the same reason Gagne was on the mound at the end of the Cards-Dodgers season; why not go down with your best guy, no matter how hopeless the odds?
This still seems like it can't be happening.
Well, it's over. The Yankees Lose! Theeeee Yankees Lose! The Sox have extracted revenge for last season; the Yankees, gigantic payroll, stacked roster and all, have choked in a way no baseball team has ever choked. The series starts Saturday at Fenway.
The story of the 2004 Yankees is a remarkably simple one. The Yankees' team ERA after the All-Star break was 4.95, putting stress on the team's top relievers to keep them in games. Rivera, Gordon and Quantrill combined to throw 111.2 innings in 107 appearances in 76 games after the break. None of the three were as effective in the ALCS as you'd like; Gordon and Quantrill were terrible, and Rivera mortal. And Brown and Vazquez, the Yankee starters who collapsed in the second half after looking like their 1-2 punch early on, were shelled in this series. That's all you need to know.
BASEBALL: To The Brink
Astros have just tied Game 6 of the NLCS 4-4 in the ninth against Jason Isringhausen.
RUNNING UPDATES: Somehow, Izzy got out of the jam, and we go to the bottom of the ninth with Albert Pujols leading off against Brad Lidge. What will FOX do if this game goes extra innings and runs into the Sox-Yankees game?
You have to say Jeff Bagwell has redeemed himself in this postseason, the game-tying hit here being another example.
OK, I don't think I'll be updating this one - still got too much else to take care of before the AL game. Bottom of the 11th.
One more: Take that, Jeff Kent. Two-run walk-off homer by Jim Edmonds to send this to Game Seven, just minutes before the opening of the ALCS Game Seven. I'm wondering if any postseason series has seen walk-off homers by both teams - I'll probably think of one later if it's been done.
PATRIOT GAMES: View of the Sox-Yanks War From Iraq
Fifth in a series of reflections on sports by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
October 20, 2004, 3:45 AM
I just woke up for Round 14 of the Red Sox-Yankees title fight. I turned on the
It’s been a long, painful, tiring ride, just to get to this point. Not only have the games started at the ludicrous hour of 3 AM here in the Fertile Crescent, but for a while it looked as if the Yankees were just going to steamroll my beloved Sox. This series has been highly anticipated for a year, now. For the first couple of days, though, it seemed as if it was all hype.
The Division Series against the Angels was easy enough -- both for the Red Sox and for me. It started with an early, 11 PM start time and an easy Game 1 win for the good guys. I asked the company I fly with to put me on the late night/early morning schedule, so I’d be able to watch the games when I’m not flying. It backfired for me during Pedro’s 5 AM start in Game 2, though, as I drew a mission with a 6 AM takeoff time. The game was on TV during our mission planning, but it was only the 2nd or 3rd inning when we walked out to the aircraft. Of course at the same time, the Twins had taken a lead in the top half of the 12th in a classic Yankees game. As I took off for the mission I thought that the Yankees were down two games to none with their backs against a wall. The Twins’ loss didn’t really matter all that much, though, since it really was inevitable that we’d have a classic rematch between the two bitter rivals. The Yankees did their usual comeback routine with very little attention from me. In fact, I was having a hard enough time watching the Sox. After missing Game 2 for a mission, David Ortiz hit his walk-off homerun in Game 3 against the Angels while I was walking back from the bathroom. Feeling that this one was in the bag, I took my toothbrush with me to the bathroom during the pitching change so I could go right to bed when the Sox won it. Ortiz wasted no time proving me right, hitting Francisco Rodriguez’s first pitch out of the park.
The sweep gave the Sox a couple of days to get their pitching rotation in order and me a couple of days to make sure I had my sleep schedule down. Still on “deep nights,” as we call it, I’d been going to bed around 8 AM and waking up around 4 or 5 in the evening. I’d maintained this schedule for about a week by the time Game 1 rolled around, so I was primed and ready to roll.
Looking back at what could become one of the greatest series of all time, I realize that I need to record my own personal view of this bit of baseball history. As I sit here and watch Game 6, I’ll create a daily log of personal events during this series. I’ve got to warn you, though, this reflection may be as long and as rambling as the series itself.
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Tuesday October 12th
Tuesday, October 12th may mean game one to you and the history books, but to me, it was still a day away. See the games all take place after midnight Iraq time, so though my watch says Tuesday, I have to remind myself that the game is really the next day. It’s kind of like sailing back and forth across the international dateline, but different.
Around 1 AM (about 26 hours prior to the first pitch of the series), I was playing some Playstation College Football with my roommate, Josh Burton. I clapped my hands a couple times, pulled my Red Sox hat down low, and exclaimed, “Sox-Yankees, baby! This is it!” He asked what time the game started and then laughed when I told him that the series didn’t start until the next day.
Wednesday October 13th, Game 1: 3 AM start
I spent the few hours right before the game really just looking for something to do. I ended up in our “internet café,” chatting with my wife, checking my on Fantasy Football teams, and downloading pictures of Jason Varitek crushing Alex Rodriguez. I found Lieutenant Adam Heppe, from Princeton, MA, in there on eBay. As soon as he was done buying a 1999 Porsche 911 (seriously), I invited him over to watch the game.
By the time Adam showed up, it was 6-0 Yankees, but I was pretty sure this one wasn’t over. Varitek hit his homerun only seconds after Adam had commented that the Sox were always a big homerun threat and I commented that while, Varitek was 0 for 35 in Yankee Stadium this year, “now was as good of a time as any.” That cut the lead to 8-5 and Adam and I woke up Josh celebrating. When he asked what had happened, we were brought back to earth a bit when we had to tell him the score and we realized we were still down by three.
The Sox put 7 runs on the board but couldn’t pull it off. A 10-7 loss wasn’t terrible, considering it started out 8-0. Of course the injury to Schilling loomed large, but being the optimistic (naďve, maybe?) Red Sox fan that I am, I figured we’d just sub in Derek Lowe and everything would be ok.
Thursday, October 14th, Game 2: 3 AM start
An email response from my cousin Josh, a huge Yankees fan, assured me that this is going seven games. I believe him… he’s been doing this for a little bit longer than me and he is a pro baseball scout.
This night/morning, I was eating at about 1 AM in our dining facility. They serve a late night meal for people who have to fly or work in the middle of night – or watch sports. I sat with Lieutenant Mike Ferlazzo, a Long Islander who likes to speak his native Strong Island tongue out the side of his mouth. This guy’s a good friend of mine, but he’s got Yankee Fan written all over him. So of course, I invite him over to watch Game 2.
As I was hanging on every pitch from Pedro, realizing that if Pedro doesn’t beat Lieber, the Sox are in some serious trouble, all Mike wanted to talk about is how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he runs. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he catches a ball. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he throws a ball. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he swings a bat.
At some point during the game, a pitching coach went to the mound and all Mike could muster was “when’s baseball gonna do away with the satin jackets?” Yankees fans… always focused on the important details.
Then when, John Olerud poked his homerun that eventually won the game, Mike commented on how nerdy John Olerud really is. Couldn’t he see that I was concentrating? Pedro needed me to concentrate. Typical Yankees fan. It must be nice to not have to sweat each and every game.
Oh yeah, in other news… it looks like Schilling’s done for the year. Good. That’s what we need.
Friday, October 15th, No game scheduled
After flying until 6:30 AM, I had a meeting during lunch. I stayed awake for it and didn’t get to sleep until almost 4 PM. Any sleep schedule that I’d established went out the window, and I was just hoping to wake up for the 3 AM start. This was the first time I contemplated not watching that game.
Saturday, October 16th, Game 3: rained out at 3:30 AM
No game. Good. Our bullpen’s tired. I woke up at midnight and I’m tired. Smart move: just calling the game and not dragging this out or trying to start it.
Oh yeah… the only one playing any baseball today was Curt Schilling. I knew I smelled foreshadowing, but I thought that’s what the rain was all about.
Sunday, October 17th, Game 3: 3 AM start
What a sight for sore eyes! Back at Fenway, this would surely be the turning point. We were sending our best Key West Fighting Conch to the mound to face the aging and completely beatable Kevin Brown. Ah the optimism, the hope!
The reality. This turned out to be the single most painful game I’ve ever watched in my life. It seemed that the Sox could hold their own in a slugfest, but apparently they couldn’t hold their own against the Bad News Bears this week. As the game dragged on past 7 AM, I had to go to bed. I was catching a Black Hawk down to FOB Danger (on the other side of Tikrit) at noon, where I’d be working for the next couple of days.
As soon as I laid down, the Sox scored twice and almost tricked me into caring again. This one was over. The series was over. Who cares? At least I was in Iraq, where I can just turn off the TV and not have to hear about the Yankees anymore. As I turned the TV off, I realized how nice that silence was. The Sox? Who are they?
When I woke up a few hours later, I went to the TOC around 11 AM to make sure I had a flight. CPT John Manfra (a Mets fan from New Jersey) asked me if I was going to be able to watch Game 4. I told him I’d rather not watch the Yankees celebrate on the field at Fenway, and began mocking the most obnoxious call in all of sports. You know the one, “Theeeeeeeee Yankees Win! Theeeeee Yankees Win!” I think that was Rock Bottom. It was so comical, the idea of the Yankees celebrating in the Fens, that I just kept repeating that chant and it’s been “stuck in my head” ever since. It’s kind of soothing, actually, when chanted in jest.
Being down 3-0, though, wasn’t too bad. It was almost ok that we’d get swept and this would all be over. I’m in Iraq. I won’t have to hear that awful call. I can avoid sports for the next two weeks until the World Series is over.
By Sunday evening, though, my Karma started changing. I made it to an internet zone and found an Army score, learning that they added to a winning streak for the first time since my sophomore year of college. That was the same year Randy Moss hurdled an Army defensive back that was standing upright. Remember when you first heard Randy Moss’s name? That’s the last time Army won two games in a row.
I also got to watch the Patriots continue their winning streak against the Seahawks. The Pats had won 20 in a row, Army won two in a row and the Yankees were about to win their fourth in a row. I was not getting up at 3 AM for that.
Monday, October 18th, Game 4: 3 AM start
I was hoping to wake up Monday morning and have found that the Sox died peacefully in my sleep. Instead I woke up to Johnny Damon walking in the bottom of the 11th. At the house that I was staying in at FOB Danger, on the other side of Tikrit, there were three pretty big Red Sox fans. All of us had the same reaction, when we saw that the game was still on in the morning, “C’mon, don’t drag this out.” Since my ride to breakfast and then work was leaving, I found out the Sox won by watching Sportscenter in the Dining Facility.
In case I wasn’t aware that the series record was still 3-1 Yankees, the office in which I’d be working, came complete with a couple of Yankees fans. It didn’t take long for the conversations to shift to the Sox-Yankees series. I had no fight in me. To be honest, at this point, I just didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to admit that with Pedro and Schilling pitching the next two games I felt like we had a chance.
Tuesday, October 19th, Game 5: 12 AM start
FOB Danger is one of Saddam’s old palace complexes on the Tigris River in Tikrit. We’ve turned it into a pretty impressive base, now. The main palace is really amazing. Surrounding the main palace is a small city of smaller palaces and houses that must have housed Saddam’s guards and all the people that were required for upkeep. This walled in base is pretty unique. Some people live in palaces along the river and others live in smaller houses.
The house I’m staying in is the home to about 15 people on the Operational Law Team. There are four bedrooms and a big living room in the middle where they have some couches and a TV set up with AFN satellite. I really lucked out in this temporary lodging, because finding a place to watch the games in the middle of the night isn’t always easy.
There’s even a phone in the living room, so for a few minutes, early Tuesday morning, I was able to talk to my wife on the phone and watch the game. It’s not quite the same as watching it together in our own home, but it was nice, none the less.
This was not a game I was going to miss. Especially since it only started at midnight and any rational person would probably figure that I could watch it and then get some sleep afterward. Similar to the Sox bullpen, my sleep schedule was completely shaken up. I got to bed about 9 PM and woke up at 1230 AM to a 2-1 Red Sox lead with Pedro on the hill. This was it. Pedro had the chance to redeem himself from last year’s disaster.
I sat in the living room watching this marathon of a game. At different points throughout the six hour game, people came in from a guard detail, woke up for PT (physical training – running and working out as a unit), and got up to get ready for work. All of these people passed through the living room, checking in casually with the game.
SFC Nebelkopf, a Sox fan from Dartmouth, MA, stayed and watched the last 4 innings with me, wearing his Superbowl XXVI Champions t-shirt. He’d missed the first 10 innings because he worked until 11 PM, only an hour before the first pitch and he was still pretty worn down from getting up in the middle of the night to watch the first three games.
Neither of us felt the least bit tired at 6:13 AM, though, when David Ortiz came to bat in the 14th with Johnny Damon on second. For six innings, now, this game had remained in a precarious tie which was bound to broken soon. When Big Papi had his second walk-off hit in less than 24 hours there was no “acting like you’d been there before.” So much for going back to bed after this one. By the time all of our celebrating and post game analysis was done, it was 6:30 AM.
The rest of my day was filled with Yankees fans quoting stats to me about the number of series in which a team’s gone down 3-0 and not come back to win it. And all day long I explained to them that it’s no longer about coming back from 3-0, it’s about coming back from 3-2. Oh yeah, and Curt Schilling is pitching Game 6. I’m so sick of Yankees fans telling me… wait, I’ll just stop at Yankees fans. I’m so sick of Yankees fans. But this is what the rivalry is all about.
Wednesday, October 20th, Game 6: 3 AM start
When my alarm went off at 3:15, I had a hell of a time getting out of bed. The part of me that wanted to sleep was trying to convince the Red Sox fan part of me that they were just going to lose and it wouldn’t be worth it. For close to thirty minutes, I wrestled my alarm clock and had weird dreams about what that beeping was until finally a sane thought shattered my drowsiness: Schilling’s pitching Game 6!
When I saw Schilling pitching, a calm came over me. He looked great. This was perfect. SFC Nebelkopf joined me in the fifth inning with the Sox leading 4-0. As we watched the game, the four run lead seemed so fragile. Had we seen this before? We wondered who’d come out of the bullpen if needed and how Francona would find a way to mess this up. Of course, when Schilling came out after 7 innings, we second guessed the manager, but still felt strangely confident. It couldn’t happen again, could it?
By the time the Police were lining the field in riot gear, there were four or five interested viewers at any one time. Some just paused long enough to sit and put their combat boots on, as they headed out the door to work, but many got hooked and if they couldn’t stay and watch, they’d return after shaving or getting dressed.
In the bottom of the ninth, though, it was just me, SFC Nebelkopf, and Major Hayden, a Sox fan from Springfield, MA. We were the only ones still around to watch Foulke strike out Tony Clark. With the final out and assurance of a Game 7, there was at first an overwhelming feeling of joy. That was quickly put in check by a strange sense calm and accomplishment.
Sox fans are weird like that. It’s not that I’m satisfied just to get to a Game 7. And it’s not so much that I expect the Sox to blow Game 7 tonight (or early tomorrow morning, depending on which side of the International Date Line you’re sailing). But if they do, I’ll have to wonder, what if the Sox had died peacefully in my sleep on Sunday night? Wouldn’t that have been easier? Damn them for sucking me back in.
As MAJ Hayden pointed out last night, though, we never start talking about “next year being our year,” until the end of the season. So, by that reasoning, this is still could be Our Year.
LET’S GO SOX!
Â« Close It
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:00 AM | Baseball 2004 | Patriot Games | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL/POLITICS: World Series Election Trivia
There would indeed be a little bit of humor, in this election season, if we were to see an Astros-Red Sox World Series, Texas vs. Massachusetts. Here's a little quickie trivia (answers to follow later):
1. Who was the last team from a major party presidential candidate's home state to make the World Series in an election year?
2. Who was the last team from a successful major party presidential candidate's home state to win the World Series in an election year?
("Home state" here meaning the conventional view - the state where the candidate spent his adult life and won elective office, rather than, say, considering Bush from Connecticut and Kerry from Colorado, the states of their birth)
UPDATE: The first commenter gets it, so think of your answer before you check the comments.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:26 AM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: What Would Hurt The Most?
As I suggested in an unsuccessful prediction back in September, the most reliable guide to predicting what would happen to the Red Sox is, "what would hurt the most?" My older brother suggests winning the ALCS, finally getting past the Yankees, and getting shut down by Roger Clemens in the World Series. That's certainly a possibility right now. Of course, staging a historic comeback - the first team down 3-0 ever to force a Game Seven - only to end with just another loss to the Hated Yankees would rank pretty high, especially since only three days ago Red Sox Nation was swearing it wouldn't believe again. Who knows? Maybe some new cruel symmetry will emerge, as in 1986 when the Sox won Game One of the World Series on a ground ball through Tim Tuefel's legs . . . karma they got back in spades a few days later (and on the subject of 1986, I did think it unfair to lay out the Sox' long string of Game Seven losses without noting the 1986 ALCS, when Jim Rice & Co. pounded John Candelaria as a visibly exhausted Clemens shut down the Angels 8-1 in Game Seven).
Turning to last night, I enjoyed the irony, after pregame predictions of rampant early bunting by the Yankees against the sore-ankled Curt Schilling, of Jason Varitek dropping a bunt single in the second that caught A-Rod napping at third. I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on Varitek.
The umps, led by Cowboy Joe West (best known for body-slamming Dennis Cook in an early-90s brawl between the Mets and Phillies) did a good, tough job last night, having the good judgment to reach collective decisions - even if it meant reversing themselves - in the face of a hostile crowd that wound up requiring cops in riot gear to line the field (the NYPD doesn't fool around these days). But, not being a rules afficionado, I'm still puzzled - on the play where A-Rod was called out for whacking Bronson Arroyo's wrist to knock the ball away at first base - why they sent Derek Jeter back to first instead of second after recalling his run. Had the play not been interfered with by Rodriguez, after all, Jeter would have been at second.
That play, by the way, reminded me of the horrific collision at first between Todd Hundley and Cliff Floyd (back when Floyd was a young first baseman for the Expos) that shattered Floyd's wrist, set his development back several years and almost wrecked his career. Rodriguez and Arroyo were very fortunate to get out of that collision unscathed. Yankee fans, meanwhile, did themselves no credit with their response to the play, although as Yankee booster Tim McCarver rushed to point out, Sox fans had had a similarly bad reaction to Jose Offerman being called out for running out of the baseline in the 1999 ALCS.
This was one of those classic examples of a game where you keep expecting another shoe to drop, and it never does. I just had a feeling early on that the Sox were never going to get that fifth run, and it was all going to come down to whether or not they could hold the lead and avoid a replay of Game Seven from last year (another one of those symmetries - I may be all in favor of rational analysis of the regular season, but there are more things in heaven, earth and postseason baseball than are dreamt of in our philosophies). Still, it may catch up to the Sox tonight that they had to use Foulke again - he seemed to be losing steam rapidly just in his one inning of work - while Rivera and Gordon got the night off (me, I would have left Schilling in - Al Leiter felt the same way - although Francona undoubtedly knew things I didn't about Schilling's ankle, and of course Francona wouldn't have been the first manager to get ripped for leaving Schilling in too long in a big game).
Anybody still upset that the Sox didn't have Pokey Reese's bat in the lineup last night?
October 19, 2004
BASEBALL: Weather Report
If you're wondering, it's gray and damp but not raining yet here in New York, and WCBS has been saying the weather is "go" for tonight's game at Yankee Stadium.
BASEBALL: Knuckling Down
Now, the Red Sox have really been pushing the limits of what they can expect from Tim Wakefield, and they've had some tense moments with Jason Varitek's problems trying to catch him. But does anyone doubt that they would be toast now if they didn't have a knuckleballer who's almost immune to the fatigue concerns that plague normal pitchers?
UPDATE: Aaron Gleeman has the must-read analysis of the day, a breakdown of the number of pitches thrown by the various Red Sox and Yankees pitchers the past three days.
BASEBALL: Doubling Down on Schilling
Last night's action almost defies belief, let alone explanation - what unbelievable baseball. I mean, here we have two teams playing 26 innings in 27 hours, and as soon as the Sox-Yankees game ended, it was on to the 8th inning of a 0-0 tie in Houston. Dr. Manhattan emailed this morning to compare this to the 1999 NLCS - a comparison I'd been thinking of last night myself - when the Mets fell behind 3-0, rallied to finally beat John Rocker in Game Four, won the classic rain-soaked "grand slam single" game in 15 innings the next day at Shea, and then lost Game Six - after coming back from 5-0 and 7-3 deficits - in 11 innings two days later. That series involved the home team coming back from a deficit in extra innings twice in as many games, and ended with Kenny Rogers walking in the winning run. 1986 also comes to mind - especially with the parallel of two heart-stopping serieses running at the same time - with the Mets and Astros playing a 12-inning classic at Shea followed by a 16-inning topper in Houston the next day (again due to rain).
David Ortiz has been the anti-Manny, raising his game in the postseason as much as Manny's falls off; he's in George Brett territory right now. The two teams seem to have almost given up hope of stopping Ortiz and Matsui. It's Poppy vs. Godzilla!
The Red Sox can eschew the bunt all they want - the Yankee announcers said only 12 sacrifices all year, which sounded low to me but I'm in too much of a hurry right now to check - but if that's the strategy, they really need to use better judgment trying to steal bases. The caughts by Damon and Ortiz in the late innings last night were devastating.
Assuming no rainout tonight - and the day is certainly off to a rainy start here in NY - everything will turn on Curt Schilling. The Yankee bullpen is exhausted as well, but the Yankees are at home, they can still afford to lose one, and there's no reason Jon Lieber can't at least go 6 innings. If Schilling's ankle holds up, he may be able to give the pen a serious rest; if he goes down in the first three innings again, I have trouble imagining this one being close.
As for the NLCS, I hope you saw a happy Jeff Kent last night, a rare sight indeed.
Predictions for the rest of the serieses? You think I'm crazy? Well, maybe. I'll say this: I still, in my guts, expect the Yankees to face the Cardinals.
October 18, 2004
BASEBALL: On the Ropes Again
After Pedro gets lit up in the top of the 6th, the Sox find themselves down 2 with 8 outs left. The good news: Mark Bellhorn's on second, Tanyan Sturtze is in, and Mariano and Gordon will be tired when and if they get in. And that means hope.
RUNNING UPDATES: Sturtze walks Cabrera - not an easy thing to do, as we saw last night - and Gordon's coming in to face Manny with the tying runs on base. Gordon has thrown 3 innings the past two days, including two late last night.
Gordon gets Manny to hit into a double play. Rally over. Ugh.
Sox are probably 1-2 outs away from seeing Rivera again.
Cairo doubles off the ubiquitous Timlin. And remember, he's the weakest of the Yankee hitters.
Jeter bunts him to third. Timlin needs to whiff A-Rod here.
And he does!
Sheffield intentionally walked, Timlin's out, in comes Foulke. Game on the line here, the ace is in to face Matsui.
Foulke gets him to fly out weakly to Manny.
David Ortiz goes deep off Gordon to lead off the 8th. He could run for mayor right now and win in a walk.
Gordon walks Millar. Roberts in to run for him again. Enter night, exit light?
Nope, Mel leaves him in.
0-1 on Trot, 0 out, Roberts on 1st.
3-1, crowd's on Gordon something fierce, Yankee announcers depressed.
Roberts running 3-1, Nixon singles him to third. Varitek will face Mariano. Kapler running for Trot, who I suppose still isn't 100%? He used to run well.
2-0. Is Rivera sharp? Yankees playing back for the DP, ceding a tie.
Sac fly ties it.
Mueller grounds out to first, Kapler to 2d, Bellhorn up.
1-2 to Bellhorn.
Bellhorn whiffs. 4-4 going to 9th, bullpen cupboards are pretty close to bare. Due up top 9: Bernie-Posada-Sierra. Bottom: Damon-Cabrera-Manny. Foulke and Rivera both tired, Foulke sounds sharper, Sox are at home. Odds favor the Red Sox here, but only slightly. Odds really favor a 10- or 11-inning game.
2-out walk to Sierra. 1-2 to Tony Clark.
Ground rule double to right for Clark, Sierra has to stop at third. Cairo up, 2d and 3d and two outs.
Cairo pops out. Progress, of a sort, that you wouldn't hit for him there, but aside from Lofton there's nobody left on the Yankee bench to hit. Foulke's thrown 22 pitches, he will likely be done now if this goes to a 10th. Can Rivera be beaten a third time in one postseason?
Infield hit for Damon on Rivera's 15th pitch. Winning run on first, nobody up in Yankee pen. Can Cabrera bunt here or at least take a pitch?
Damon caught stealing. We will probably go 10 now.
Groundout on a 2-0 pitch. Manny up with 2 outs and bases empty; he will probably swing for the fences and whiff.
Rivera can be tough to bunt on, but man does that decision to have Damon run look bad right now. 2-0 to Manny, Yankee announcers moaning about call of check swing.
Fly to center, we go 10. Bronson Arroyo is in, Jeter up.
Jeter pops out, A-Rod whiffs, 1-1 to Sheffield, Felix Heredia warming up.
Sheffield whiffs. David Ortiz will lead off the bottom of the tenth. Dare to dream again? If Ortiz hits one out here, they'll make him an honorary Kennedy.
Called strikeout on check swing. Calls are even now? Minky up, Quantrill warming in the pen.
3-0 to the Mighty Mink.
Minky doubles. Kapler up, 1 out, Quantrill coming in, his 266th appearance in the past three years.
Kapler grounds out, Varitek up with 2 out, man on 3d.
Varitek pops out. I've got to get in the car, so I'll wrap this later.
BASEBALL: Viva Ortiz
I can't be the only one dragging badly this morning from staying up to 1:30 to see the end of the Yankees-Sox game. I know they needed a later start to avoid conflicts with football and the Cards-Astros game, but this is ridiculous . . . what a thrilling finish, enough to suck back in all the Red Sox fans who had written off the series, enough to put the history 3-0 deficits out of mind until the end of tonight's game - at the end of which, if Boston wins, the series looks much more like a battle. And, of course, the most staggering fact of all - the vulnerability of Mariano Rivera, who's now blown as many saves in this postseason as in the prior nine years.
I was really amazed by the ingratitude of Sox fans towards Mark Bellhorn, who was taunted with the "Pokey, Pokey" chants when he bobbled a grounder in the 6th inning. Bellhorn has had such a great year, yet Boston fans only focus on the negative.
I feel like if I went out in my front yard last night and threw some pitches, Orlando Cabrera would swing at them.
Remember: after tonight, if he loses, the next time you see Pedro Martinez he may be in a Yankee uniform. Which only makes Yankee fans' taunting of Pedro - for showing the Yanks respect, no less - all the more inexplicable.
BASEBALL: Don’t Look Back
Over the weekend, John Heyman of Newsday analyzed the status of the Mets’ managerial quest:
Minaya interviewed highly respected Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo on Friday and will interview beloved Yankee Willie Randolph when he returns from Boston. In between those two, Newsday has learned that Minaya will squeeze in a meeting with Bobby Valentine, the one encore candidate we'd enthusiastically endorse for his New York track record…
Valentine's candidacy is an intriguing plot twist, though one person with ties to the Mets said he believes it's still largely a "two-horse" race between Jaramillo and Randolph, with Valentine and former Angels and Astros manager Terry Collins under consideration but less likely.
I confess to knowing nothing about Jaramillo, have always admired Randolph and would actually be receptive to a comeback by Valentine. I don’t have strong feelings about Collins.
Anyway, if you’re looking for more Mets analysis, Jason Mastaitis has a two-part prescription here and here. His recommendations include a farewell to John Franco, Al Leiter, Cliff Floyd and Richard Hidalgo, signing Carlos Beltran and starting Victor Diaz in left field next season, among other things. Also, check out this picture for a trip down memory lane.
October 17, 2004
BASEBALL: The Net Tightens on Bonds
The evidence pointing to steroid use by Barry Bonds continues to build:
Trainer Greg Anderson, 38, who is Bonds' longtime friend and a defendant in the BALCO steroids conspiracy case, also said on the recording that he expected to receive advance warning before the San Francisco Giants superstar had to submit to a drug test under what was then baseball's new steroids-testing program.
The recording is the most direct evidence yet that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs during his drive to break the storied record for career home runs. Major League Baseball banned the use of steroids beginning with the 2003 season. It has long been illegal to use them without a doctor's prescription.
"The whole thing is, everything that I've been doing at this point, it's all undetectable," Anderson said on the recording of the drug he was providing Bonds. "See the stuff I have, we created it, and you can't buy it anywhere else, can't get it anywhere else, but you can take it the day of (the test), pee, and it comes up perfect."
There was another reason the trainer was confident that Bonds' drug use would escape detection: Anderson said he would be tipped off a week or two before Bonds was subjected to steroid testing.
"It's going to be in either the end of May or beginning of June, right before the All-Star break, definitely," he was recorded saying. "So after the All-Star break, f -- , we're like f -- ing clear."
Now, if this tape is authentic, that would certainly strongly suggest wrongdoing on Anderson's part, and the high likelihood that Bonds was in on it (he certainly benefitted from it). Anderson's and Bonds' lawyers are denying the tape's authenticity, as you would expect. I regard this as the first sign that we have enough to move the debate about Bonds - which has thus far seemed to me to be based on speculation rather than evidence, even if it's speculation I tend to sympathize with - into the open.
Bonds is rapidly approaching one of baseball's most hallowed records. Hopefully, if the evidence surfaces to show that he has used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, MLB can stop him before he gets there, rather than have the record tainted. On the other hand, one wishes there was some way that, if Bonds is actually clean, he could be definitively cleared of all this. But we are rapidly reaching the point where the skeptical fan may start to believe the charges.
BASEBALL: Fire in Their Wake
Utter humiliation for the Red Sox tonight, as the Yankees pour on 19 runs in their own house. After coming so close last season, Sox fans may now have to lament an offseason of having been destroyed by the Yankees. Horrendous. I'm not at the point where I can discuss this rationally, and I'm not even a Sox fan.
October 15, 2004
BASEBALL: Cardinal Flush
Holy Cross alum Brian at Redbird Nation has a fine writeup of last night's action in St. Louis, with bonus points for saying the weather was "Worcestering" out. I still haven't read enough about the game yet to find out who was shooting off the fireworks in the pouring rain in the middle of the 7th inning.
Oh, and: yes, I know I'm against big free agent signings, but I do want Carlos Beltran for Christmas (and yes, that's a baseball-reference.com link with 2004 stats, hooray!). He's the type of free agent worth pursuing - a top-of-the-market player, broad base of skills, showing rapid improvement in patience and power the past two years, runs well, plays great defense, and he's only 28 next season. And just imagine a defensive outfield with Beltran and Cameron.
October 14, 2004
BASEBALL: Just Say No
Jeff Quinton wonders about reports that the Mets might be looking to deal Cliff Floyd for Sammy Sosa. Now, there are two possible ways for me to react to this. One would be to take a rational look at the two players, break down their age, productivity, injury histories and remaining contracts.
I choose the second way. No. The Mets simply need to break their addiction to bringing in expensive old guys. Even if they may be better or cheaper or younger than some other expensive old guys they are shipping out. The first step is recognizing you have a problem. If you can't dump Floyd's salary for younger talent, then eat the contract. And Glavine's, too, and the rest. (I'm OK with keeping Piazza, given the difficulty of replacing him, but Leiter has to go). A GM who can't stop the importation of old, expensive players simply has no business with this team.
BASEBALL: Deja Vu
As you can tell from my debate summary, I missed most of the ballgames last night. Of course, that's aside from the fact that Major League Baseball scheduled the two games to run against each other . . .
On the Yanks-Sox side, Pedro running out of gas has become a theme. You may have been surprised when it was John Olerud who delivered the knockout blow, given Olerud's struggles the past two seasons; even in his rejuvenated form with the Yankees, Olerud didn't hit for power. But the unflappable Olerud has long had a knack for big hits against top pitchers, especially when the rest of the team is hitting. On the NL side, any series with the Cardinals in it will be a long one for pitchers on both sides.
October 13, 2004
BASEBALL: Closer to Perfect
Mike Mussina's shot at perfection fell pretty far short last night. Here's a look back at the night in September 2001 when he came just one batter (Carl Everett) short of a perfect game at Fenway.
BASEBALL: Setting The Stage
In the movies, or in a novel or a play, the ideal opening act is one that introduces all the major dramatic tensions without resolving any of them. In an action film, you want a gripping opening, but one that won't overshadow what comes later.
That's what we saw last night. We weren't treated to a historic comeback, or a perfect game, or a game-breaking ninth-inning rally, or vengeance for past defeats, or a beanball war. But we got a tantalizing taste of each. Dramatic themes have been introduced: Will Curt Schilling bounce back in his next start, or is he ailing? Can the Red Sox stop Hideki Matsui? Will Joe Torre ever be dumb enough to use Tanyan Sturtze again? How much gas is in Joe Frazier's car? (Well, maybe not that last one).
Stay tuned tonight - same bat time, same bat channel.
October 12, 2004
BASEBALL: How The Yanks and Sox Got Here
Before the season, I evaluated each of the teams around the majors based on Established Win Shares Levels (see here for a discussion of EWSL and here for the team method). Over the offseason, I'll be taking a look back at how teams matched up against those established levels, both to explain where things went right or wrong and to fine-tune EWSL's usefulness (within its natural limitations) as a predictive tool. For now, in advance of their playoff showdown, let's look at how the Yankees and Red Sox stacked up to their preseason predictions. You'll note some variance from the preseason numbers I ran because I did the Yankees before the A-Rod trade.
Adjusted EWSL: 323.3 (108 wins)
Not a lot of things you didn't already know here: the Yankees actually underachieved this year, due to major fall-offs from Giambi, Mussina, Vazquez, and Kenny Lofton, while the main guys who stepped way up to pick up some of the slack were Matsui, Cairo, Gordon and Lieber. There's also the guys I hadn't listed in the preseason:
Five guys also contributed one Win Share each. You will note that Olerud's 6 Win Shares, like Contreras' total, is only for his time with the Yankees. . . and yes, I know 38 is an approximate age for El Duque, but I have to use something.
Adjusted EWSL: 307.3 (102 wins)
A real tribute to the Sox here for surviving the big dropoffs from the contributions of Nomar (even before he was traded), Nixon, Lowe and Kim. Ellis Burks, of course, never did get a role on the team, so his inclusion here is more a feature of February. The two guys who picked up the most slack were Ortiz (who had 15 win shares in 2003) and Bellhorn; the Sox went far this year by ignoring Bellhorn's 177 whiffs and cashing in on his cheap (less than $500,000 this year) production. But the team's additions, including one guy I totally overlooked in February (Bronson Arroyo) made a difference:
Plus, Dave Roberts and Brian Daubach with two Win Shares apiece, and six other guys with one Win Share apiece, including the disappointing Doug Mentkiewicz (19 EWSL entering the season). Cabrera, clearly, was a useful pickup, and the Greek God of Walks, with his .367 on base percentage, gave the Sox some valuable fill-in work.
October 11, 2004
BASEBALL: Houston, We Have Liftoff
After a 42-year wait and more heartbreaking playoff losses than you can count, the Astros are apparently, at long last, about to win a postseason series. Of course, nothing was more epic than their first two losses, the 1980 series (following their victory in the 1-game playoff with the Dodgers) that concluded a best of 5 series against the Phillies with four consecutive extra inning games, and the 1986 classic with the Mets, with a walk-off homer in Game Three, a 12-inning heart-stopper in Game Five (with Nolan Ryan matching Doc Gooden with a 2-hit 12-K performance despite breaking his ankle in the third inning) and the unforgettable 16-inning seesaw affair in Game Six. And, of course, I'm glad to see Bagwell and Biggio finally taste some success in October.
It's wierd to see Jose Vizcaino out there; it seems like a generation ago that he was with the Mets (I was still in law school then), and he was neither outstandingly good nor outstandingly young then. . . am I the only one who keeps expecting Lance Berkman to break into an ad for Little Chocolate Donuts?
BASEBALL: Dodgers Down
One entertaining moment from last night's game was during the confrontation between Eric Gagne and Albert Pujols in the 9th; it was a fine illustration of the focus that has made Gagne such a lights-out closer. Pujols fouled a ball viciously off his foot, and was hopping around in agony - and while he's writhing in pain, Gagne calmly steps forward, takes the ball and talks to his catcher without paying Pujols the slightest notice. Then, maybe two pitches later, Gagne throws a curveball that sails up and in just above Pujols' head. An accident? Maybe; not too many people throw a curveball as a purpose pitch, especially one that was almost a wild pitch with a man on first. But for a guy who's still in enough pain that he's barely able to plant his feet, the curveball sealed the deal as far as making Pujols uncomfortable in the box, and he hit weakly into a double play shortly thereafter.
Other thoughts: Man, the Astros outmaneuvered themselves in using Brad Lidge for only 2/3 of an inning and leaving Russ Springer to take the loss; does someone at FOX Sports stay up at night thinking of annoying ways to distract from the game? The dirt-level "Diamond Cam" is silly enough, but that "Scooter" guy explaining things reminded me way too much of the paperclip guy from Microsoft Word; Game Two of the Yanks-Twins series was the first time Mariano Rivera blew a save in the postseason without costing the Yankees a series.
BASEBALL: Caminiti Dies
Ken Caminiti has died, at age 41, of a heart attack. Caminiti's death may well be a wake-up call to the major leagues about the hazards of steroids, which he admitted using during his career. Or not; he had apparently been battling a cocaine addiction recently, and cocaine, of course, is not exactly good for your heart either. In any event, a terrible tragedy for a guy who loved the game and gave it everything he had.
I first saw Caminiti when he debuted with the Astros; he drew comparisons to George Brett after a hot first week or two, then didn't hit like that again until the steroids. A lot of people will remember Caminiti as a heavily-muscled slugger, but the memory I'll always have is of him in his Houston days, endlessly diving over railings and into dugouts to catch errant foul popups.
October 10, 2004
BASEBALL: Wasn’t That Also The Title of Brian Cashman’s Autobiography?
Watching the playoffs, I must say, even as a sworn enemy of reality TV, I had to laugh at some of the promos for Fox’s “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss.”
I'm not thrilled with the Mets repatriating Omar Minaya instead of finally bringing in someone with a fresh perspective and the authority to make decisions without much input from ownership. Minaya was previously marinated in the Mets' decisionmaking process, which is terribly broken.
A commenter named Wally, over at Avkash's place, rounds up a complete list of Minaya's moves in Montreal. Go check it out (scroll down).
Has Andruw Jones' home run come down yet?
BASEBALL: Lima Time
Tremendous, tremendous performance tonight by Jose Lima, a guy who's been given up for dead many times in his career, and often for very good reasons. Of course, as is well known, Lima's usefulness is in direct proportion to the size of the ballpark he's pitching in. I was dubious about leaving him in to finish the game with Gagne ready to go, but he slammed the door quite efficiently. Reminded me a lot of Bobby Jones' performance against the Giants in the 2000 NLDS, a guy who's had a checkered career just putting together his best-pitched game at exactly the right moment. And you just have to love a guy like Lima, frankly; he's one of the game's true characters.
October 9, 2004
BASEBALL: Scrambled Schedule
The invaluable Jim Baker has a column over at Baseball Prospectus (subscription only) carving up an assertion by Frank DeFord that there should be more teams in the baseball playoffs. As Baker points out, the current Divisional Series schedules have already forced most of us who work for a living to abandon hope of being able to see all the games, and he gives a little bit of hypothetical scheduling to demonstrate how awful a schedule might look if you doubled the size of the first round and still wanted to have no overlapping game times. (Baker also does a quick number-crunching exercise to show that Derek Jeter is a solid playoff performer, compared to a number of playoff veterans (notably Manny Ramirez) who have failed to perform to their regular-season level, but that Jeter can hardly be said to have raised the level of his game in October, unlike, say, Pete Rose or Reggie Jackson.
BASEBALL: Reality Bites Back
Well, someone forgot to tell David Ortiz and the Red Sox that they aren’t “living in a world of reality” if they think they can win it all.
David Pinto, in his pre-game comments, noted that this would be Boston’s first sweep of a post-season series since 1975 against Oakland. (He also had some interesting comments regarding Kelvim Escobar’s torso.) Anyway, Ortiz’s Todd Pratt-style walk-off home run over the Green Monster advances Boston to what is probably an inevitable showdown with the Evil Empire.
Should be fun, or as some might say, wicked awesome.
October 8, 2004
BASEBALL: The Redbirds
Color me unsurprised that (1) the Cardinals are crushing the overmatched Dodgers but (2) they will likely be without the services of perennially injury-prone Chris Carpenter for the rest of the postseason.
Following up on something I wrote about repeatedly in the regular season, the Cards' starting infield finished with 113 Win Shares, tied for fifth all time with the 1982 Brewers (Cooper, Gantner, Yount and Molitor) and 1913 A's (with Eddie Collins and Frank "Home Run" Baker) and behind the 1914 A's, 1908 Pirates (Honus Wagner and co.), 1912 A's and 1934 Tigers (who had four guys each drive in 100 runs), and ahead of the 1975 and 1976 Reds, the 1927 Giants, and the 1946 Cardinals.
If you aren't reading Redbird Nation on a regular basis, you are missing a lot. Brian Gunn has an interesting analysis of the importance of ace pitchers in the postseason - frankly, it's the sort of thing I used to write and hope to get back to again some day - as well as a fascinating analysis of marginal relative attendance figures that shows how St. Louis draws more fans compared to its market size than any other team. Brian only does a top 10, but I'd love to see the whole list.
October 7, 2004
BASEBALL: Shallow Thoughts
I'm too late into the game to do LDS (gag) predictions, so let me offer a few totally unoriginal thoughts before we go further:
*Can the Red Sox go all the way? Only if they don't face the Yankees. No, there's no point in analyzing that rationally at this stage. It just will not happen.
*Can the Yankees go all the way? I just don't see it. I know I go back and forth on the Yankees every year, but let's be realistic - they don't have the pitching. The bullpen isn't deep, not since Quantrill's arm finally fell off in August, and the starting rotation, even with three #1 starters, lacks a single pitcher you can genuinely bank on at this point in the season. They may go far, but eventually that has to catch up with them. Alex Belth's pre-season comparison to the 1987 Mets looks a lot better now, although as I said at the time, the better analogy is the 1999 Indians.
*On the Yankee front, by the way, A-Rod fell four RBI short of 110, so his streak of consecutive seasons of 110 runs and 110 RBI ends at six, one short of tying Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx for the third longest such streak of all time.
*The Cards, although they have their own pitching issues, are just way, way too strong for the rest of the NL field. The only team I thought could have derailed them was the Cubs, given the possibility of a sudden hot streak by the Cub pitchers.
*Go read Simmons on the Red Sox if you haven't yet.
October 5, 2004
BASEBALL: Lurching to the Right
Last year, I thought the Twins' best postseason bet rode on Johan Santana dominating the Yankees in a short series. That didn't really work out. Obviously, it still does. But these Yankees are no longer vulnerable to lefthanded pitching; just look at new acquisitions Gary Sheffield (.314/.550/.423 against lefties this season) and Alex Rodriguez (.311/.659/.422). Combine those guys with a big year for Jeter against lefties (.314/.532/.378), and suddenly you have a team that looks more like lefty-mashers.
October 3, 2004
BASEBALL: Proceed With Caution
The Twins look, on paper, like a pretty solid team. But let's not forget that these guys were 46-30 this season against the weak AL Central. Against the AL East and AL West? 35-33, an 83-win clip. Not so impressive. Compare that to the Yankees, 71-41 against the same two divisions (albeit without playing themselves), a 103-win clip, or the Red Sox, 70-42, a 101-win pace.
October 2, 2004
BASEBALL: Ichiro's Record
So Ichiro finally broke George Sisler's long-standing hits record of 257, going 3-for-5 last night against the Rangers. But that's not all: if he manages two more 5 at bat games today and tomorrow, he'll also break Willie Wilson's single-season at bats record of 705. At a minimum, unless Ichiro takes both days off, he'll be just the third major leaguer to notch 700 at bats in a season. For a guy whose durability was questioned when he arrived here as an undersized outfielder from short-season Japan (where his career high in at bats was 546), that's impressive work.
So the season's longer. It's been longer for 42 years. Sisler had a longer schedule to work with than Jesse Burkett, who had 240 hits in a 135 game season in 1896 (288 per 162 games). (Ty Cobb broke Burkett's record in 1911). The original record of 138 hits was set by Ross Barnes, in the NL's inaugural 1876 season, in 66 games (339 per 162 games). Yes, that puts Ichiro in perspective, but don't cry for Sisler; it's the way the game's history has gone.
September 30, 2004
Mark Prior came up huge today, with 16 K and only 3 hits and a walk allowed in going 9 innings against the Reds, with the three main wild card contenders now tied in the loss column. Unfortunately for the Cubbies, one hit was an Austin Kearns homer that tied the game 1-1 in the 7th. Still tied in the 10th at last check, with Ryan Dempster in a 2-on 2-out jam.
UPDATE: Still tied after 11.
UPDATE: Bottom 12, 2-1 Reds after Valentin doubled in Dunn, man on first, Nomar up, 1 out.
UPDATE: Reds win.
UPDATE: A's win, Angels lose to Rangers; all tied up again in the AL West. Texas is 3 back with 3 to play, but with the A's and Angels facing off for the last three games there's no way for them to tie it up. Barring a big Dodger collapse against the Giants, the only races left are the AL West and the NL Wild Card.
September 28, 2004
BASEBALL: "[S]tats Nazis"
I noted a few years ago the similarity between (1) the battles between conservatives, particularly bloggers, and the mainstream political media and (2) the battles between statistical analysts of baseball and the mainstream baseball media. Peter Gammons has given us yet another example of this attitude:
Cabrera is a dashing, 78 rpm defender who sometimes almost plays too fast. But he gives himself up when necessary, pounds high fastballs and clearly loves playing on a Red Sox team that is in contention and sold out every game all season. . . Roberts is right about Cabrera, and the same thing can be said about Derek Jeter -- who the stats Nazis will insist from their garages isn't an exceptional shortstop -- and Brian Roberts. On the other hand, there are some star-type players that are not as good on a pennant contender.
"Stats Nazis in their garages" does have about the same ring as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas." (For the record, I blog in the basement, not the living room or the garage). Ironically, of course, this comes just a little over two weeks after Gammons wrote a warm endorsement of the very types of new statistical analysis of defensive stats that have long supported the case against Jeter's defense and that led the Red Sox to trade for Cabrera. In fact, in that column, Gammons cited Cabrera as a prime example of the value of such stats. As I've noted repeatedly, we have yet another example of how Gammons gives vent to the views of different sources with diametrically opposite world views.
September 27, 2004
BASEBALL: Beating the House
Studes notes that the Yankees are likely to finish around ten games better than the record that would be projected, via Bill James' Pythagorean theory, from their runs scored and allowed. He notes the teams qualifying for postseason play since 1900 that have exceeded their projections by the most: 1970 Reds (11 games), 1961 Reds (10), 1997 Giants (10), 1931 Athletics (9), 1930 Athletics (8), 2002 Twins (8).
See a pattern? How about their postseason records? 1970 Reds (4-4), 1961 Reds (1-4), 1997 Giants (0-3), 1931 Athletics (3-4), 1930 Athletics (4-2), 2002 Twins (1-4). Total: 13-21, one World Championship (the 1930 A's, who played a Cardinals team with a nearly identical Pythagorean record).
September 26, 2004
BASEBALL: Unsportsmanlike Conduct
Much as I dislike Barry Bonds and don't want him breaking the home run record, I'm constrained to agree with John Perricone and Bud Selig that we have long since passed the point where opposing managers aren't just being foolish in walking Bonds all the time, but downright unsportsmanlike. Let the man hit.
September 24, 2004
BASEBALL: Rampaging Bears
Stat of the day: the Cubs are batting .272/.480/.327 since the All-Star Break. Of course, a .480 team slugging percentage for a full season would be most impressive by historical standards. For the starting lineup, the numbers are even more impressive:
Once again, the Cubs have a team that's long on home runs and short on patience. But when you've got this kind of wall-to-wall power, it hardly matters. While Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Matt Clement have struggled, it's been the less-vaunted Cubbie offense - even adjusting for the fact that it's been a good hitters' year at Wrigley - that's carried the load as the Cubs stay in the wild-card hunt down the stretch run. And while Nomar and Sammy may be the biggest names here, they haven't been particularly close to the biggest bats, as Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez and the long-awaited breakout of Michael Barrett have made a much bigger impact.
September 23, 2004
BASEBALL: Despair and Rebirth
Eric McErlain has a couple of good posts, one lamenting how the Mets not only destroyed their credibility with their fans by trading Scott Kazmir but completely failed to anticipate or understand why people were so upset, the other discussing the development of a baseball stadium in Washington to house Les Expos (See here for a photo of the likely site).
BASEBALL: Singles Record
ESPN and the Associated Press botched this one on Friday:
With a hit in the seventh inning for his second single of the game, Suzuki bettered the mark of 198 singles set by Lloyd Waner of Pittsburgh in 1927.
Of course, as I noted in a column about Ichiro three years ago, the major league record at the time was 206 set by Wee Willie Keeler in 1898, and the AL record was 185 by Wade Boggs in 1985. Ichiro broke that AL record in 2001, extending it to 192, and has now broken Keeler's record as well, with 211 singles through last night. But a little halfway competent research would have indicated the right record.
September 22, 2004
BASEBALL: Road to 300, And Beyond
In early 2002, I took a look at the pitchers who won 300 games and where they stood relative to Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine at the same age, finding that Maddux was ahead of every modern (post-1920) pitcher who had won 300, while Glavine was also well-situated. As the two near the end of their age-38 seasons, let's update the chart, and add Mike Mussina into the mix:
* - And counting
First of all, ignore Phil Niekro, who's the outlier here. As you can see, a lot of these guys hit the wall right around 36-37, although the effect is exaggerated by the fact that several of the more recent pitchers were around that age in the 1981 strike season. Maddux remains well-situated to rack up a truly impressive number of career wins without having to have any more great seasons, although perhaps not as well situated as Clemens, who stands two wins from becoming only the second pitcher (Spahn was the last one) since the 1920s to win 330 games.
Glavine is still in the game, but frankly he needs to get out of Queens (which would probably help the Mets as well). As for Mussina, his struggles of late don't portend well, but he's ahead of Ryan, Spahn, Wynn, Perry and Niekro at the same age, and with the Yankee offense behind him he should have a few more years of smooth sailing if he gets straightened out.
For comparison, let's run the chart of the remaining 300-game winners from the 1890-1930 period (the 1880s guys are not even worth comparing):
Alexander, at least by this age (in the mid 1920s), is actually a decent comparison to Maddux. Mathewson retired at age 35, and at 37 was in Europe serving in World War I.
September 20, 2004
BASEBALL: Bonds Rising
A new feature over at Baseball-Reference.com: the site has long had Similarity Scores so you could compare a player's most comparable players through the same age. Now, at least for batters, you can look over the list of the ten most comparable - and their stats after that age. Here's the numbers for Barry Bonds from age 36 (in 2001) to 2003, compared to the average from 36 on for his most comparable players through age 35:
The list of comparables includes three active players - Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas and Rafael Palmeiro - but the numbers are even lower if you remove them. The others' average numbers are not that bad for old guys, but they give you a sense of how truly unique what Bonds has done is. Lest you think this an unfair comparison, the other seven are all in the Hall of Fame, including Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Mel Ott.
All of whom were in increasingly steep decline at Bonds' age.
BASEBALL: Neyer in Hot Water Again
Somehow, I managed to miss this story.
BASEBALL: Reversion to Form
Looks like my prediction isn't holding up too well, as the Yankee-Red Sox series reverted to form with the Yanks' mauling of Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez, leaving the Sox to pick up a game and a half on the Yankees in their remaining 11 other games even if they sweep next weekend's series at Fenway. Of course, that's not impossible (the Sox play 8 games against Baltimore and three against Tampa Bay, while the Yankees have 1 against the Rays, three vs. the Twins and six against the woebegotten Blue Jays), but don't bet on it.
September 18, 2004
Well, this is the first time in my lifetime - or at least my memory - that anybody has cracked 700 homers. Savor the moment . . . even if, like me, you can't find much to like about Bonds. It's still a unique one.
September 16, 2004
BASEBALL: Mets at Bay
The invaluable Jason Mastaitis reminds me of something I either hadn't known or had forgotten (unsurprising, given how poorly I follow the lower minor leagues): Jason Bay used to be a Mets farmhand until he was traded in the deal that brought in Steve Reed to throw 26 innings in the all-important 2002 stretch drive. Could the Mets use a 25-year-old outfielder who makes $305,000 and has career averages of .293/.563/.382?
Don't answer that.
I also agree with Mastaitis that Wally Backman sounds like he would be a fine choice to replace Art Howe.
BASEBALL: Getting Younger Every Day
Jonah Keri has an interesting look, over at BaseballProspectus.com (subscription only), at the sudden development the last two years of two over-30 utilitymen (Mark Loretta and Melvin Mora) into major star-caliber players. He includes a chart of players who took major leaps forward after age 30, from a database going back to 1972. (Side note: here's an example of BP's insistence on using its own proprietary stats, in this case VORP, hampering its studies - they could have used Win Shares without any substantial change in accuracy and been able to run the study back another 100 years).
Anyway, I found the distribution of these leaps forward by older players over time interesting:
1973-78: 5 in 6 years. OK, we can discount that some due to the
1979-92: 13 in 14 years, two of which were in the high-offense 1987
1993-2004: 30 in 11 years.
Logical inference? Well, could just be a small sample size. But it
September 15, 2004
BASEBALL: Howe Sacked
To no one's surprise, the Mets have fired Art Howe, but will be asking him to manage out the balance of the season rather than hand the reins to a Moose Stubing-style caretaker. Which is pretty classless, but then, for the money they are paying Howe, he can suck it up.
More [please] later [not] on [Larry] possible [Bowa] replacements.
BASEBALL: You Wanna Play, You Got To Pay
Mike Carminati will no longer be performing his relentless and often hilarious fiskings of Joe Morgan's chat sessions on ESPN, on account of ESPN deciding to move Morgan's chats behind the wall of "premium" content you have to pay to get. Of course, paying for the Morgan chats is like when PT Barnum got people to pay admission to see "the Fabulous Egress". While I have my theories, it's never been entirely clear how such a smart player can be so stupid about the game he mastered. If another Joe Morgan came up today, Morgan probably wouldn't think he was any good.
That horse was dead anyway; I gave up about a year or two ago arguing with people who think batting average and RBI are important but statistics aren't. But Carminti's posts were entertaining nonetheless.
BASEBALL: How Did I Get Here?
How do teams go about developing or acquiring the best players in baseball? Well, for a snapshot from the 2004 season, I thought I'd take a look at the top 20 players in each league, by Win Shares, and how they got where they are. Where players were acquired by trade, I tried to break out the factors that led them to be traded - i.e., trading veterans for prospects, trading a prospective free agent, just making a bad deal, etc.:
Of course, I should note that the Pirates got a very good deal for Giles, economic factors and my own skepticism at the time notwithstanding. I'm also willing to call the Drew-Marquis deal a fair one for now, whereas the Derrek Lee-Hee Seop Choi deal was clearly motivated by economics even though Choi is a fine young player. And yes, I'm as amazed as you are to see Mark Loretta on that list. Also, I could be mistaken about whether economics were a big mover in the Jim Edmonds deal.
Yup, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora and Lew Ford are still hanging in there. And yes, the Yankees have the top three players in the league. Wonders never cease.
Let's group these, putting the foreign and domestic free agents in one category, as well as lumping together the various types of trades made principally for baseball reasons rather than financial ones.
Leaving aside the fact that big organizations like the Yankees and Cardinals have an advantage in being able to sign anyone they draft, you've got 45% of star players coming either through free agency or through deals where a big factor was the other team's need to either dump salary or avoid losing a prospective free agent (on the other hand, some free agents, like David Ortiz, were acquired without breaking the bank in a bidding war). For obvious (ahem, Yankees and Red Sox) reasons, the proportion is much higher among AL teams. But savvy trading and scavenging (the Twins stand alone here in stealing Santana off the Rule V draft, but I can't think of a more idiotic and unjustified deal than the Devil Rays trading the rights to Bobby Abreu, acquired in the expansion draft, for Kevin Stocker) is still a close second as a way of striking gold. Just a quarter of the Top 40 are truly home-grown products.
September 14, 2004
BASEBALL: The Guilty Parties
How to explain the Mets' second-half collapse in three easy lessons?
1. Here are the combined post-All-Star Break stats for Mike Piazza, Cliff Floyd, and Richard Hidalgo:
Bear in mind that this is the middle of the Mets' batting order (Jason Phillips and Todd Zeile have been worse). Full second-half batting stats are here.
2. Here are the combined post-All-Star Break stats for Tom Glavine, Al Leiter and Steve Traschsel:
Bear in mind that these are the aces of the Mets' staff; Jae Seo and Kris Benson are worse. Full second-half pitching stats are here.
3. Games played by Todd Zeile after the break: 46. Games played by Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui combined: 43. No, you don't want to see Zeile's numbers, or the Mets' defense without Reyes. You just want to see Zeile retired, and the season over.
BASEBALL/POLITICS: The Ownership Society
Following up on an earlier post, a few diligent readers sent me links to this AP story observing that President Bush - unlike Senator Kerry - has raised a lot of money from baseball owners and, to a lesser extent, baseball players. Of course, given that a lot of these people know Bush personally from his days as owner of the Rangers, that's not all that surprising, nor is it surprising that the owners would, as a result, view Bush as being sympathetic to their interests.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:32 AM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 13, 2004
Bill James - yes, Bill James, writing a guest column over at the Hardball Times - makes the obvious-when-you-really-think-about-it point, though to a surprising extent, that the 162 game schedule increases Ichiro's odds on breaking George Sisler's hits record by something like a factor of 9-to-1, whereas it less than doubled Roger Maris' odds of breaking Ruth's home run record (as a matter of probabilities; in practice, you either break the record by Game 154 or you do not).
Link via Pinto.
BASEBALL: Defensive Stats Go Mainstream
Peter Gammons can be very frustrating for sabermetrically-inclined readers; he clearly understands and enjoys sophisticated analyses of the game, but he's also prone to Luddite anti-stathead diatribes. As I've often noted, the reason for this is that Gammons will repeat basically anything his sources around the game's front offices tell him, and many of them remain contemptuous of statistical analysis on anything but the most rudimentary level. To give a political analogy, Gammons is David Broder and Bob Novak rolled into one, dispensing the insiders' views from both sides of a raging debate with equal vigor. In fact, given how closely Gammons' columns reflect conventional wisdom, you can measure the influence of sabermetric ideas within the game by how often they show up in Gammons' work as opposed to how often he bashes them.
So, it's welcome to see Gammons picking up on the Hot New Thing, the pursuit of sophisticated defensive statistics and their role in the reshaping of the Oakland and Boston rosters. And, of course, he throws us sabermetric types the ultimate bone at the end:
Too true; read the whole thing.
Also, Jim Baker looks at the historical performance of wild card teams in the playoffs, with some surprising results - including the fact that baseball's wild card teams have won more playoff games than they have lost, with a record of 85-79 (or 78-72, if you exlude the 2002 World Series matchup of two wild card teams).
September 10, 2004
I think there's a simple reason why the Red Sox are going to pull down the Yanks from behind, even trailing by 3.5 games, and win the division:
Then they lose to the Wild Card Yankees in the ALCS.
September 8, 2004
BASEBALL: Choke Me, Choke You
Answering a question I asked in late July, the Mets radio announcers noted that tonight's save by Armando Benitez against the Mets, his 11th of the season, established a new record for saves by one pitcher against one team in the same season.
Shoot me now! I demand that you shoot me now!
BASEBALL: The Wreck of the 7 Train
The Mets have been absolutely unwatchable (or unlistenable, as the case may be) the past few weeks; with the exception of David Wright's at bats, each game seems to fade in my memory almost immediately into a blur of despair. This blog was necessarily going to be tilted more in a political direction than usual in the stretch run to the presidential election, but that's been exacerbated of late by the need to avert my eyes from the train wreck that has been the Mets of late.
September 5, 2004
BASEBALL: Lowe No Longer
It could be a coincidence that uber-groundball pitcher Derek Lowe turned his season around immediately upon the Red Sox ditching Nomar and bringing in glove wizards Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. Could be, but not likely.
When the deal was made a month ago, I looked at the Hardball Times' Fielding Independent Pitching numbers, which seek to project a pitcher's ERA as if he had an average defense behind him (FIP) compared to the pitcher's actual Runs Allowed, and found significant underperformance by the major Sox pitchers, particularly those with high numbers of ground balls allowed and especially Derek Low:
Now, the individual numbers at such small sample sizes are bound to be flukey, although it's clear that Lowe is no longer getting completely murdered by his defense. But the overall conclusion is clear: since the deal, the Sox pitchers are pitching slightly better (as Peter Gammons and others have noted, Lowe's walk rate has dropped dramatically since the deal, perhaps due to greater confidence in his defense), but their defensive support has been dramatically better, as their FIP has dropped by 0.20 R/9IP while their Runs Allowed-FIP margin has dropped by 0.59. Maybe, just maybe, Theo and Bill James & co. know what they are doing.
* - There may be an error in the Hardball Times numbers for Lowe, but I can;t fix it without comparing apples to oranges.
BLOG/BASEBALL: New Blog Roundup, 9/5/04
Like many bloggers, I often get emails from people who have started new blogs. I have less and less free time these days to check these out and less and less room on my blogroll for new additions, and frankly - if you're thinking of doing this - while I'm sympathetic to new bloggers, I'm much more interested in getting an email with a link to an interesting post than just "look at my blog."
That said, here's a roundup of people who asked me to pass on a link, most of them baseball blogs; if you're in the mood to go exploring, check them out:
Bijan Bayne (the author of "Sky Kings: Black Pioneers of Professional Basketball")
Ump Is Blind (a humor site)
The Torch (a political site)
Balls, Sticks, & Stuff (Comments on sports...and other stuff too)
I'll have more in part two of this tour in the next few days.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 AM | Baseball 2004 | Blog 2002-05 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Cardinal Infield Update
As I've noted before here and here, the Cardinals' infield is making a run at the all-time record for Win Shares amassed by one starting infield, which is 119 by the 1914 A's (Connie Mack's "$100,000 infield" of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and Frank Baker; you can find the full list in the Ken Boyer comment of the New Historical Baseball Abstract). Through Thursday's action, Pujols, Womack, Renteria and Rolen were up to 33, 15, 16 and 35 Win Shares, respectively - 99 total, and a pace for 121 on the season if Tony LaRussa doesn't start sitting them more down the stretch run. (Of course, Mack's team had a shorter season to work with). In fact, 99 Win Shares already puts this crew even with the 1973 Big Red Machine (which would have scored higher if NL MVP Pete Rose had been playing third instead of .191-hitting Dennis Menke) and the 1990 Detroit Tigers (Cecil Fielder, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Tony Phillips) for 21st place all time, and just six more Win Shares between them will pull them into the top 10.
September 1, 2004
BASEBALL: Slow Boat
Chris Dial over at the Baseball Think Factory has an intriguing but ultimately inconclusive look at whether slow-working pitchers - which he mainly defines as "Steve Trachsel" - get poor defensive support. The study as conducted proves nothing, but it's a good analytical start down a road towards being able to measure two things (a pitcher's pace and the quality of his defensive support relative to his team's defensive abilities) and see if they correlate.
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Leaning Right
Marty Noble of Newsday notes the political tilt of baseball players in general and the Mets in particular towards the Republican party:
"But I'd be surprised if it isn't 4 or 5 to 1 Republican in the game," Mets catcher Vance Wilson said last week. "Not everyone is involved or up to date on what's going on, but of the ones who are, I'm sure it's heavy Republican."
(Link via Baseball Primer). Of course, Noble can't resist this dig:
Would Noble say the same thing about the overwhelmingly Democratic tilt of, say, movie stars? I'm sure making big money and paying big taxes does have something to do with it, but professional athletes have always been a conservative lot, since long before they made a lot of money, and I suspect that's been doubly true in times (like the present) when the principal political issue was war and peace.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:47 AM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
August 31, 2004
BASEBALL: Win-Now Watch
Since July 30:
Smells like victory . . .
* - Includes HBP
Well, this much is certain: the one decision the Mets made that has helped them win a few ballgames now was the one that involved giving an everyday job to a 21-year-old prospect.
But hey, at least Rick Peterson can say that Victor Zambrano hasn't walked anyone in two weeks . . .
August 26, 2004
BASEBALL: Why Give Up On Kinney?
Start with the reasons why they did. He’s now on his fourth organization; the Red Sox traded him to Minnesota for Greg Swindell back in 1998, and the Twins dealt him to Milwaukee two years ago when they ran out of room on their 40-man roster. He’s got a 5.18 career ERA, which isn’t good. Like far too many Royals’ pitchers, he’s a little too prone to flyballs (0.83 G/F ratio, 55 HR in 361 career IP).
Now here are all the reasons why they shouldn’t have. He’s not that old (27). He’s cheap ($400,000), although I think he’ll be arbitration-eligible this winter. He can miss bats, and he’s getting better at it. His K/9 ratio is 6.80 for his career, and consider this progression: 5.10, 6.14, 7.18, 7.51. Last season, he struck out 152 batters in 190 innings. Do you know how long it’s been since a Royals pitcher struck out 152 batters? Try 1997, by a pre-injury Kevin Appier.
And most importantly, he appears to have taken a big leap forward this season. His strikeout rate is the best of his career…and so is his walk rate (3.32 per 9). His ERA this season is 5.78, but most of that damage was done in the season’s first six weeks. His ERA on May 15th was 8.61; since then, this is his line:
31.2 IP, 35 H, 4 HR, 7 BB, 30 K, 3.13 ERA.
Plus, it’s worth noting that he’s been awfully hit-unlucky this year, surrendering 8 hits more than expected, which is a pretty margin in just 62 innings.
And we’re not talking about a soft-tosser; Kinney throws in the mid-90s, and was considered a top prospect in the minor leagues.
So why did the Brewers flat-out release him? Damned if I know. He was definitely getting torched by lefties (.379/.443/.543). While his platoon splits have never been as dramatic as they were this year, that may always be a problem for him. And the turnaround to his season corresponds to the time he was demoted to the bullpen. He had a 9.72 ERA as a starter this season, and even though he’s been pitching well in relief, I suppose the Brewers may be disappointed by what Kinney hasn’t become, as opposed to what he has.
What he has become is a pretty damn good reliever, with the stuff and sudden breakout in his K/BB ratio to suggest continued upside. The Royals plan to use him in middle relief, and maybe that’s all he’ll ever be good for. But it’s sure as hell worth giving him the roster spot to find out.
Point, Allard Baird.
August 25, 2004
BASEBALL: Things I Wish I'd Seen
Red-hot man mountain Calvin Pickering - now batting .364/1.364/.417 in three games since his Sunday callup to replace the injured Mike Sweeney - hit a bases-clearing triple last night in Anaheim. Pickering looks like he may finally be living up to his long-ago promise, having had a huge year in AAA.
August 24, 2004
BASEBALL: Cross Balls
I just noticed a new feature at Baseball-Reference.com: lists of baseball players by the colleges they attended. My alma mater, Holy Cross, is well represented with 77 major league players, albeit the great bulk of them real old-timers, and the last guy (former Twins pitcher Mike Pazik) retiring in 1977. Notables include 19th century star Cubs outfielder Jimmy Ryan; Lou Sockalexis, the Native American supposed namesake of the Cleveland Indians (who was kicked out of HC for drinking - I guess the place was rather different then); Andy Coakley, a successful pitcher for Connie Mack's pennant-winning 1905 A's; Jack Barry, the shortstop in Mack's "$100,000 Infield," who later coached baseball at the Cross for decades; "Jumpin' Joe" Dugan, the third baseman for the 1927 Yankees; Rosy Ryan, a starting pitcher for the Giants when they won four pennants and two World Series between 1921 and 1924; and Mike Hegan, a journeyman catcher who played for the 1964 Yankees, 1969 Seattle Pilots, and 1972-73 A's.
Not a bad crew. Barry or Jimmy Ryan was probably the best player of the bunch.
BASEBALL: Wright's Patience
August 23, 2004
BASEBALL: Wright to Dream
David Wright hasn't missed a game yet since arriving at Shea; here are his numbers projected to a full season:
Well, we Mets fans need something to dream on. Wright's flyball/groundball ratio of 0.78 bodes particularly well for him as a power hitter, although it hasn't stopped him from hitting into double plays. Ironically, Wright has been missing the two elements - steady defense and patience at the plate - that were his predecessor Ty Wigginton's two most conspicuous weaknesses. But Wright is 21 and showed both in the minors, so there's hope for the future.
Now, if we can ever get Jose Reyes healthy . . .
August 20, 2004
BASEBALL: More Ichiro
If the season ended today, the AL division winners would be the Yankees, Twins and A's, and the Red Sox would take the Wild Card. Ichiro is hitting .428 against those four teams (68/159). Wow. (The overall scalding hot streak continues: .394 since May 1 (163/414), .483 since the All-Star Break (70/145)).
August 19, 2004
BASEBALL: Snakes, Bit
How bad are the Diamondbacks? You probably know that they're on pace for more than 110 losses and that, entering last night's action, they'd lost 46 of their last 55 games. Mike's Baseball Rants has some historical perspective; even the 1962 Mets and last year's Tigers never lost more than 44 of 55 games (the 1916 A's, however managed a 4-56 slide).
How about this: before last night's victory over Pittsburgh, the D-Backs were 0-14 against the Tigers, Expos, Devil Rays and Pirates.
Opposing lefthanded batters are hitting .299/.486/.395 - against a team that sends Randy Johnson to the hill every fifth day. Take out Johnson (.171/.261/.244) and that goes to .309/.503/.405. With men on base, opposing teams are hitting .289/.495/.385 against Arizona.
August 18, 2004
BASEBALL: The Team That
The 1994 Montreal Expos are one of baseball's great "what-if" stories - what if they'd played out a full season? What if they'd won the World Series? Would they have been able to hold together such a talented team? Would they have saved baseball in Montreal?
Well, we can't answer those questions precisely . . . although we can approximate an answer to the first question, and without resort to "what-ifs." I was playing around with the Streak Reports on Baseball-Reference.com some time ago, and noticed that from August 19, 1993 through May 5, 1995 - a full 162-game schedule including the entire 1994 regular season - the Expos won 110 games and lost just 52. (The Expos finished the 1993 season on a 31-10 tear in a futile attempt to catch the Phillies, went 74-40 to post the best record in baseball in 1994, and opened 1995 with a 5-2 spurt before slumping to a last-place finish with a depleted lineup. For that stretch, they were, in plain sight, a great team for one full season's worth of games, similar to, say, the 1975 Reds (108 wins), the 1986 Mets (108 wins), or the 1984 Tigers (104 wins). And now, thanks to the magic of Retrosheet, we can not only see that 110-win record; we can flesh out the picture by reconstructing the individual stats of the players who made up a great team. Let's take a look:
One thing that really jumps out at you about the Expos' offense is its incredible balance. The team leader in homers hit 26, but they managed
Walker and Alou, of course, were the offensive stars, and would go on to distinguished careers elsewhere. The hidden big year here was Grissom, who was dazzling - playing by far the best baseball of his long, erratic career - down the stretch in 1993, batting .353, scoring 34 runs and stealing 24 bases in 25 attempts in 41 games. And, of course, all the way down the depth chart (see more below) you see guys who have had long, productive major league careers.
As you can see, the Expos had an unusually poor-hitting pitching staff; if you break the numbers down (see below), the mainstays of the rotation were especially awful, while guys like Butch Henry, Denis Boucher and the relievers did OK in limited action.
What's striking here is that, even for a modern team, this staff never finished its starts. Felipe Alou had a great bullpen (and a deep roster to pinch hit for his helpless-hitting starters), and made extensive use of it. . . Ken Hill and Dennis Martinez went in opposite directions down the stretch in 1993, as Martinez salvaged what had been an awful year, while Hill had the swoon some were expecting again in 1994 when the strike hit . . . Wetteland was incredibly lights-out in 1993, and even moreso the end of the year.
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No what-ifs about it: when the Expos are gone from Montreal, this team will be worth remembering.
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BASEBALL: Dr. Bronx
Dr. Manhattan has a rundown on the Yankees. Check it out.
BASEBALL: Zambrano Down
Well, so much for optimism: Victor Zambrano walked off the mound in the second inning with an inflamed elbow, and is listed as day-to-day.
August 15, 2004
BASEBALL: The Mark of Zambrano
Now, I haven't seen Victor Zambrano pitch for the Mets yet. And I continue to believe that they way overpaid for him. And I continue to be skeptical of Rick Peterson's reported boast that he could turn Zambrano around "in 10 minutes."
That being said, I am optimistic about Zambrano's future with the Mets, and his performance in his first two starts (2.92 ERA, 12 K, 5 BB, 10 H, 0 HR and 0 HBP in 12 innings) does nothing to undermine that confidence. Hopefully, Mets fans won't hold against Zambrano the front office's foolishness in dealing for him. And, of coure, people should be patient if he gets shelled in his next start - in Colorado.
August 11, 2004
BASEBALL: No Boone
I was mildly surprised that nobody took a chance on Bret Boone at the trading deadine, given that it was only last season that Boone was third in the league with 117 RBI, scored 111 runs, won the Gold Glove and finished tenth in the MVP balloting, and given some of the weak-hitting second basemen fielded by contenders: the Twins' Luis Rivas (.247/.399/.274); the Yankees' Miguel Cairo (.286/.418/.332 being way over his career averages of .271/.367/.319); the Angels' Adam Kennedy (.257/.366/.327); the Phillies' Placido Polanco (.277/.385/.340); and the A's' Marco Scutaro (.280/.386/.306). Sure enough, Boone - who averaged .301/.526/.358 with 106 runs and 122 RBI the past three seasons, and who I ranked before the season as the 8th best player in baseball by Established Win Shares (with 29) - is batting .305/.467/.368 since the All-Star Break.
Not that I think Boone is a superstar at this juncture; he's 35, and he had a horrid first half, and frankly I haven't really seen him play this season. I suspect his defense may have deteriorated badly; the Hardball Times' Win Shares numbers (granting that in-season Win Shares are not the best way to evaluate defense) show him with 1.5 defensive Win Shares compared to 4.0 for Rivas, 2.6 for Cairo, 2.9 for Kennedy, 3.2 for Polanco, and 3.9 for Scutaro. Boone's Range Factor and Zone Rating this season are 4.32 and .755, career lows and down from 4.54 and .814 just last season. And frankly, while the other second basemen listed above are all offensive weak links, none but Rivas - possibly the best of the bunch with the glove - has really been horrendous. So maybe it's no surprise that the highly-paid Boone ($8 million salary this season) just couldn't be shopped despite pretty good odds that he'd provide an offensive upgrade for a contending team.
August 10, 2004
BASEBALL: Mass Defection
August 9, 2004
BASEBALL: Walker, St. Louis Cardinal
Watching the Mets get completely dismantled by the Cardinals this weekend was not fun - let the record reflect that just 8 days after trading their best prospect and several other key blue chips to shore up theirn rotation for the 2004 stretch run, the Mets stand 11 games out of first place and 8 1/2 games back (in 9th place) in the wild card race. It's over.
The Cards, meanwhile, had a real strike of genius in acquiring Larry Walker to join Jim Edmonds and . . . well, Jim Edmonds in their outfield. Even for all his injuries and Coors and everything else, Walker is still a formidable offensive threat (.279/.494./.392 on the road the last three years, and .317/.780/.508 in 58 plate appearances on the road this year). For St. Louis, this is the time to go for the jugular, and that's exactly what the Walker acquisition represents.
I'm less clear, at this distance, why Ray Lankford (.258/.425/.353) got his walking papers rather than, say, Reggie Sanders (.252/.476/.297); Brian at Redbird Nation thinks other reserve outfielders, notably So Taguchi, should have been the odd men out.
August 7, 2004
BASEBALL: Ichiro On Fire
This is just amazing: Ichiro is now batting .481 (51/106) since the All-Star Break, and is running a career-best .398 OBP. Perhaps equally interesting is the persistence of a huge home-road split, especially as far as hitting for power: .367/.473/.407 on the road, compared to .344/.394/389 at SafeCo.
BASEBALL: Rare Ferdie Schupp Sighting
August 5, 2004
BASEBALL: Trivia Question of the Day
Since 1911, 11 pitchers have won 25 or more games in a season (some of them more than once) while starting less than 35 games. Most of these are familiar names - seven are Hall of Famers, and three of the others played for multiple World Championship teams.
Bonus question: Name the pitcher who holds the record for fewest starts in a season by a 20-game winner. Answer at the top of the page here. Hint: He's also the only man to win 20 games while throwing fewer than 200 innings. Another hint:
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He was a rookie at the time.
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August 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Stinks Like Old Fish
You know, the Dodgers have gotten a lot of entirely undeserved grief for Paul DePodesta's imitation of the 1987 Giants, turning over a big chunk of the roster and dealing popular team leader Paul LoDuca. But even if you buy into the idea that "chemistry" is too fragile a thing to mess with, how can you possibly argue that the Marlins made a good deal by dumping Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi for LoDuca, Juan Encarnacion and Guillermo Mota? I mean, LoDuca could win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and that still doesn't even the scales with Penny, who after all won two brilliantly pitched games against the Yankees in the World Series last year.
More seriously, what the heck were the Fish thinking? LoDuca is indeed having a fine year, batting .308/.460/.360, compared to career averages of .287/.430/.342, but he's notorious for wearing out in the second half (not a characteristic usually associated with team leaders on successful teams), and at 32 he's unlikely to change that pattern. Hee Seop Choi, by comparison, is just 25, already batting .270/.495/.388, and only likely to improve. (It's true he's had the advantage of platooning thus far this season). Encarnacion, of course, is likely to be no help at all with the bat (.235/.415/.290), while Penny was the team's second-best pitcher this season (3.15 ERA, 105/39 K/BB ratio), is only 26, and is still learning how to harness his Grade A fastball.
The only way to make sense of the deal is to look at Florida's desperate situation at catcher, where Mike Redmond and Josh Willingham have both been offensive and defensive busts. But that still makes this a panic trade; you don't give up young stars like Penny and Choi to fill a single hole with an unspectacular 32-year-old. Fools.
BASEBALL: Avkash Goes Ballistic
I finally got around to adding the marvelous Mets blog The Raindrops to my blogroll, and here's a good reason why (via Always Amazin) - Avkash, who follows the Mets minor league system much more closely than I do, tears into Mets management over the Benson and Zambrano deals.
August 3, 2004
BASEBALL: Voice of the Mets, Rest in Peace
Bob Murphy has died, at age 79, just about a year after announcing his retirement after 42 years as the voice of the Mets. Murphy had apparently been battling lung cancer. You can read my "happy recap" of Murphy's broadcasting career, on the occasion of his retirement, here. He was a fine man and a terrific broadcaster, and will be missed.
BASEBALL: All You Need Is Glove?
I don't have the quote handy, but Bill James has told interviewers in recent months that the Red Sox have their own, proprietary defensive statistics that show some pretty impressive things. I kept thinking of that, as the Sawx traded Nomaaahhh for two guys - Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz - who have made particularly large impressions with the glove. Do the Sox know something the rest of us don't about the size of the impact of these players? (The fact that the A's have similarly been stocking up on glove men the past few years suggests that there may be something up here as far as non-public evaluations of defensive value).
Second James quote that comes to mind is his defense of the Ted Simmons trade upon Whitey Herzog's arrival in St. Louis, on the grounds that (1) the team wasn't winning with Simmons anyway and (2) Whitey's willingness to deal Simmons after Simmons refused to play third base was necessary to establish who was in charge. Lesson: yes, sometimes the manager's need to motivate the players really is a legitimate factor in making a deal.
This brings us to the competing interpretations of the Nomar trade: is this a disastrous abandonment of a win-now Sox team? Is this, like the Cardinals trading Simmons, importing Darrel Porter, and dealing Garry Templeton for Ozzie Smith, part of a needed restructuring in which declining properties (who lack plate patience) are shipped out and more defensive-oriented players brought in?
Joe Sheehan argues, persuasively, that Mientkiewicz was basically available for free, having lost his job to Justin Morneau, so effectively the Sox traded Nomar for the inferior (.298 OBP this season ) Cabrera. Bill Simmons counters that every team in the league had scouts watching Nomar, and given his poor defensive play and attitude, the deal the Sox got was probably all they could get for a declining Nomar in his walk year. Bill is probably right: the real issue is, if this is the best deal you can get, and Nomar's hitting well and you're contending for the Wild Card, do you make a deal at all?
Sheehan: "Chemistry is a three-game winning streak."
Again: they're both right here, to some extent; I don't much believe in "chemistry," but then there really is such a thing as a guy who's so miserable and insubordinate that you need to ship him out and stick with people who actually want to win some ballgames. I'm afraid I'm not close enough to the Sox to judge.
Still, the deal-breaker is exactly how much the Sox stand to gain from Cabrera's and Minky's defense. Entering this year, owing in large part to Nomar's injuries but also their defense, my Established Win Shares system rated Nomar only slightly ahead, with 22 EWSL to Cabrera's and Minky's 19 apiece. Of course, that doesn't account for the fact that Win Shares is biased towards players who are close to replacement level but get a lot of playing time. This season, Nomar has 6 Win Shares (2 above an average player with his playing time), while Cabrera has 7 and Minky has 4, but 4 each below average - not a flattering picture. So it's hard to get a good feeling about this deal on the Win Shares ledger, though Cabrera gets 4.5 defensive WS to Nomar's 0.8 - even with the difference in playing time, that's something.
Step back, though: Sheehan contends that the Red Sox staff is so flyball- and strikeout-dominated that infield defense won't make much of a dent. The Hardball Times' Fielding Independent Pitching numbers - which seek to project a pitcher's ERA as if he had an average defense behind him - seem to bear that out: other than Derek Lowe, none of the Sox major pitchers has a significantly worse FIP than his actual ERA (San Pedro de Fenway is trailing a bit, 4.15 to 3.96, but it's not a large difference). However, the splits widen when you compare Runs Allowed as opposed to ERA:
I know FIP is supposed to approximate ERA, not RA, but 0.74 runs/game seems like a big deal for your top 8 pitchers . . . it comes to something like 63 runs. And while I don't have the numbers to compare here, 1.46 ground balls per inning pitched seems like plenty of opportunities for the infield defense to make a difference. If nothing else, the Red Sox have a lot invested in Derek Lowe - and might some day in the future want to have the option of adding other pitchers who get a lot of ground balls - and with their defense as it was, that was a lost cause.
I'm running low on time here, so I'll just say: no, I don't think this deal really helps the Sox, but given the financial realities, the fact that they're not going to catch the Yankees in the regular season and the fact that there's a good case that this team needed to upgrade its defense, I'm not going to rip the Sox for taking a bad situation, identifying a way in which their team needed to be upgraded, and executing a strategy that is aimed directly at the problem.
August 1, 2004
From Jayson Stark: Rick "Peterson reportedly told the Mets he could get [Victor] Zambrano straightened out 'in 10 minutes.'"
If he's wrong, that will sounds like George Tenet telling Bush that finding WMD in Iraq was "a slam dunk case."
Stark also thinks the Marlins got by far the better of the deal with the Dodgers . . . more on that later. The short answer is, "um, no."
BASEBALL: As Bad As Advertised
I tuned in late to last night's Mets game hoping to give a fresh look to Kris Benson, only to discover that he'd already been driven from the game, allowing seven runs in five innings. I've got a feeling this won't be the last time.
July 31, 2004
BASEBALL: Back To Square One
The Mad Hibernian is horrified at the deals that exchanged Scott Kazmir and Justin Huber for Victor Zambrano and Ty Wigginton and Matt Peterson for Kris Benson.
On the first count, I have to agree. I'll admit I'm no expert on the minor leagues, and it's true that pitching prospects are a crapshoot, but Kazmir has consistently been projected as a potential ace, and Huber is also a highly-regarded catching prospect. This, for a 28-year-old pitcher who's walked 202 batters in 316.1 innings the past two years. Zambrano's not a star now - heck, I have him on one of my Rotisserie teams and have had him on the bench all season - and I don't see a great likelihood that he's going to become one. It's true that he's still relativley young and cheap, so the Mets haven't broken the bank for a guy who'll be gone soon, but the deal still seems all but impossible to justify other than as a panic move in support of a pennant race that's rapidly slipping away (unless, of course, it's part of a larger deal with some greater fool - which I doubt).
I'm a little less appalled at the Benson deal, in theory - I was all in favor of cashing in Wigginton while his stock was up, although I do like the guy and his competitive fire will be missed - but Benson's high upside from 1999-2000 has never returned, and he's ranged from mediocre to bad to injured the past three years since missing the 2001 season. He's basically a sore-armed has-been - while he appears to be healthier now and may yet reclaim a little more ground, the hope of improvement is just not what you cash in your chips for.
Bottom line: the Mets have suffered a major setback in their rebuilding program, they've sought immediate help in guys who won't be worth it unless they show significant mid-career improvement, they haven't fixed their biggest short-term problem (the bullpen), they're still highly unlikely to win the division and even less likely to go anywhere in October, and fan sentiment - the usual reason for deals like these - is likely to be almost unanimously against these deals.
July 29, 2004
BASEBALL: Cycle of Valent
The increasingly impressive (though not so young - he's 27) Eric Valent hit for the cycle in this afternoon's 10-1 thrashing of the lowly Expos; the finally red-hot Mike Cameron also chipped in a pair of home runs, giving him an impressive 20 homers to go with his pitiable .231 batting average. Cameron's not a high-average hitter, but he needs to hit at least .245 to be contributing with the bat, preferably around .260.
BASEBALL: Not Winning The Close Ones
As any former Roger Clemens fans in Boston could attest, there's no frustration quite like having a guy who consistently chokes in big situations and then leaves the team, only to thrive in big situations. I'm not sure what the record is for saves by one pitcher against one team in a single season is - Ugueth Urbina saved seven games in the Expos' 12 matchups with the Mets in 1998, Dennis Eckersley had 8 saves against Seattle in 1992 - but Armando Benitez already has 6 saves against the Mets this season. Ugh.
The Mets are falling behind in a seesaw four-way race in which they are matched up against the division favorite Phillies, the defending division champion Braves, and the defending World Champion Marlins, so it's not a shock that they're the odd men out. But how it has happened has been intensely frustrating. With the current unbalanced schedule, head-to-head matchups are hugely important, and close games can be a big factor. Let's look at how the four contenders have fared against each other this season in games decided by one or two runs:
Ugh, ugh, ugh. You can see the bullpen's baleful influence right here, as well as why the Phillies haven't walked off with the division as they should.
July 27, 2004
BASEBALL: The New Batting Practice Pitcher
I'm not enjoying the Scott Erickson era. Bear in mind, these are the Expos we are talking about.
July 26, 2004
BLOG/BASEBALL/POLITICS etc.: Here n' There
Thoughts upon my return from vacationing in Lake George, NY:
*Saw a bunch of Bush/Cheney and W'04 bumper stickers. Saw tons of those yellow ribbon support-the-troops stickers. Did not see a Kerry or Kerry/Edwards sticker anywhere. Blue state, red country. Also on the sticker subject, I bought one of those magnetic Bush stickers advertised over at Smash's place; they're a great thing if (like my wife) you don't want permanent sticker residue on your car after the election (downside: the fear of the sticker getting swiped). I also saw a Bush TV ad, which seemed odd, given that the New York/Vermont TV market isn't exactly a swing state market.
*Ever have one of those stretches when you just keep having instant problems with stuff you buy? We had this - inedible/undercooked hot dog, corkscrew that won't open a bottle, overcharge for a food order, take-out entree that gets home without an essential element - and the solutions are always bad: I don't want to sit back and accept getting ripped off, but I also hate to be one of those people who goes back and complains about stuff all the time.
*Ricky Williams is retiring. Ricky Williams was born in 1977. Yes, I feel old.
*The Mets appear ready to decide that this team is worth making a few tinkers around the edges but otherwise be neither a buyer nor a seller in the summer deal market. Which is depressing, given how close they have come in so many games blown by the bullpen lately, but makes sense. Sometimes a pennant race just has to be enjoyed on its own terms, without high expectations.
*On Sandy Berger's pants-gate: man, Clinton scandals are just the gift that keeps on giving, aren't they?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:45 AM | Baseball 2004 | Blog 2002-05 | Politics 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 16, 2004
BASEBALL: Olerud on the Block?
The Mariners have designated John Olerud for assignment, which makes lots of sense given that he's having a lousy year and the team needs to blow up their aging roster and rebuild. I suspect they may still trade him, but if they can't, Olerud becomes a free agent - one with a good glove and a .354 on base percentage (.383 away from SafeCo). Surely, that's still a useful player for a team looking to plug a gaping hole at first.
Would the Mets be interested? He's still probably a better hitter than Jason Phillips, who's currently stuck at .214/.341/.290. But giving Olerud any significant playing time would shove Piazza back behind the plate (I'd like to see him catching half time or less at this stage), plus Olerud was terribly slow when he was with the Mets the first time. In short, there are probably other teams who could use his services more.
July 15, 2004
BASEBALL: Card Counting
Few developments have been more surprising over the past month or so than the sudden movement of the Cardinals to put away the NL Central. Not that the division is done for, but some serious countermoves will be required to get the rest of the division back in the game.
With the exception of the Astros, however, the Cards' division rivals haven't played that badly; instead, the Cardinals have just outdone themselves, running their record to 54-33, a .621 clip and a 101-win pace.
Let's look back at my Established Win Shares estimates, compared to the 2004 Win Shares pace for each Cards player (I'll just double them for simplicity):
Adjusted EWSL: 257.0 (86 wins)
Top Win Shares paces for players I didn't list before the season: Kiko Calero (4), Yadier Molina (4), Hector Luna (4), and Mike Lincoln (2). In other words, the Cards are dancing with them that brung 'em.
What jumps out at you, of course, is Rolen, although frankly I'm quite not sure why his numbers (.339/.599/.415) add up to such a staggering total of 20.1 batting Win Shares. When you look up and down the list, most of the rest of the team is pretty much on target, with bench players down from their projections due to reduced playing time and Tony Womack enjoying an unexpected (and unlikely to continue) resurgence at .319/.427/.364. You will also note something I noticed in my earlier EWSL analysis of the NL Central: the Cards' infield is presently right around on pace for the all-time record for Win Shares by one starting infield, which is 119.
The bullpen has also been hot (Ray King has a 1.41 ERA and has been touched for just 22 hits, none of them homers, in 32 innings in 45 appearances, and Steve Kline has a similar line - 42 games, 32 IP, 25 Hits, 1 HR, 1.97 ERA), and the team's biggest preseason question mark (the back end of the rotation, with Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis a combined 18-8 with ERAs of 3.87 and 3.88 and a combined K/BB ratio of 167/59.
Can they keep it up? That will be the big question for the second half (I remain skeptical of Carpenter, who's had great hot streaks before but shows no sign of being capable of throwing 200+ innings without some serious wear and tear).
UPDATE: I forgot to include the link to Brian Gunn at Redbird Nation, who ran a similar analysis with PECOTA projections.
July 13, 2004
BASEBALL: Successes and Failures
Some good stuff over at ESPN.com, including Page 2's list of the ten most overpaid players and John Sickels' analysis of one of the most surprising and significant improvements this season, by Braves catcher Johnny Estrada, a .332-hitting doubles machine thus far this season (the Win Shares board over at The Hardball Times has Estrada ranked in the top 10 players in the NL this season):
In Estrada's case, he hit for average in the low minors, but showed poor strike zone judgment and not much power. He struggled at times in the upper levels, and was awful for the Phillies in 2002. But then he showed major improvement when he was 26 years old in Triple-A. Few hitters show real, genuine, sustained improvement in their numbers at that age. But it does happen sometimes, and in Estrada's case it looks like the optimists (the Braves and their fans) were right, and the pessimists (people like me who worried about his low walk rate and weird Triple-A performance spike) were wrong.
As to the Page 2 list, of course, I'd rate guys like Roger Cedeno, Higginson or Chan Ho Park above, say, Carlos Delgado or Bartolo Colon, who still seem like decent bets to be their old selves in the second half.
July 9, 2004
BASEBALL: Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side
Dr. Manhattan sends along news of additional seductions.
July 8, 2004
BASEBALL: Curtains for Raffy?
David Pinto asks whether it's time for Rafael Palmeiro to hang it up. I wondered a month ago whether the sudden spike in Palmeiro's walk rate, combined with a drop in his power numbers, spelled trouble; since then, the bottom has dropped out, with Palmeiro batting .194/.347/.291 in June and July.
But a closer look at the numbers suggests the real problem: like a lot of older players, Palmeiro needs to be platooned. This season, he's batting .159/.261/.230 against lefthanded pitching, while keeping a healthy .279/.468/.402 clip against righthanders. Plus, Palmeiro has played nearly every game (80 out of 82) for the Orioles, a wearying grind for a 39-year-old player; sitting him against lefties would undoubtedly give him a needed breather. Granted, Palmeiro hasn't had big platoon splits in the past, but age does funny things to hitters. Platooning added years to the careers of guys like Harold Baines, Lou Whitaker and George Brett, and it could help the O's squeeze another productive season or so out of Palmeiro.
BASEBALL: [Cue "Jaws" Music]
Suddenly, the Fourth of July is in the rear view mirror, the All-Star Break is just three games away, and guess what?
Between today and the trade deadline, the Mets play the Marlins 5 times, the Braves 5 times, the Phillies 4 times and the Expos (not visible with the naked eye from the rest of the standings) 6 times. (The Mets are also just 2.5 back in the wild card standings, but I don't regard that as a realistic possibility, whereas the unbalanced schedule gives the team a shot against a wobbly division).
July 7, 2004
BASEBALL: Go Deep
The Mets just hit three home runs off Brett Myers in the second inning (Floyd, Wigginton and Cameron), giving them 24 round-trippers in the past 10 games.
BASEBALL: Short Notes
*Aaron Gleeman is campaigning for Bobby Abreu for his first All-Star Team; you can vote online until tonight. Of course, you can vote in the AL as well, and I cast my ballot for Frank Thomas, who's had no shortage of honors in his career but clearly deserves to be on this year's team, as his .271/.563/.434 numbers are his best since 2000 and (on the Slg and OBP fronts) closely in line with his surefire Hall of Fame career averages.
*Really odd to see Barry Bonds pass Rickey Henderson's career walks record while Rickey's still out there playing ball.
*Through just past the midpoint of the season, Mike Piazza has appeared in all but one of the Mets' games and is on pace for career highs in games and at bats while batting .310/.531/.399, close to his career averages, while catching in only about half of his appearances. Obviously, the move to first base has been a success on that score, and his glove work has been visibly improving. You can still see the catching instincts; I've never seen a first baseman do so many splits and I've certainly never seen one block throws in the dirt with his legs.
*Richard Hidalgo's season slugging average is now .506. Just thought you should know that.
*Bret Boone has some unusually large splits this season: .246/.557/.361 vs. LHP, .237/.353/.286 vs. RHP, .284/.556/.348 in day games, .221/.333/.286 at night. What does that mean? Maybe nothing. But maybe it's a sign of declining reflexes and/or vision.
July 6, 2004
BASEBALL: Who to Buy
I'm still unconvinced that the Mets ought to be buyers in the trade market this year unless they can get more players as cheaply as they got Richard Hidalgo. On the other hand, it's July, and if they can rebound and play well against the Phillies and the Marlins over the next 12 games even without help, the race will be close enough that you have to start thinking in those terms, as long as you don't compromise your long-term plans.
One high-level scout believes the modest list of available arms ultimately will include Atlanta's Russ Ortiz and Jaret Wright, Colorado's Jason Jennings and Shawn Estes, Milwaukee's Ben Sheets, Pittsburgh's Kip Wells and Toronto's Pat Hentgen, Miguel Batista and Ted Lilly. Anaheim's Ramon Ortiz also could pique the Mets' interest.
I'm not so sure about Jennings, who's been appalling even on the road this year. Most of those guys wouldn't even offer a short-term benefit, and I agree that I can't imagine the Brew Crew dealing Sheets. On the other hand, if Lilly didn't come too expensive, I could see being interested in him; Lilly pitched solidly for Oakland last season and is striking out nearly a batter per inning with a 4.01 ERA this year.
July 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Broom, Broom, Broom, Let's Go Get Out Those Brooms
Extremely impressive victory by the Mets today to complete the sweep of the Hated Yankees. What particularly impressed me was this: the Mets took the first two and got our hopes up by grabbing the early 4-1 lead today through three innings, but the game had the feel of one of those clinics on why great teams put people away when they're on the ropes, and teams . . . well, teams like these Mets don't. They played sloppy defense in the field while the Yankees had some electrifying moments on the bases and in the field (Derek Jeter snagged one key ball up the middle in the spot where we've seen so many hits go by him in years past - is he cheating towards the middle more with a Gold Glove shortstop playing third?). Naturally, the Yankees came back to tie it up 4-4 and tie it up again 5-5. Yet, somehow, Ty Wigginton managed to hit his second homer of the game (it could easily have been his third), and they hung on. Of course, nobody's perfect, and as this series displayed, the way to beat this Yankee team is to go yard on them early and often against a longball-prone staff (it helps that Richard Hidalgo is now slugging .746 in a Mets uniform, and setting one awfully high bar for Carlos Beltran in the process, not that Beltran hasn't responded).
Meanwhile, this series showed yet again why Tony Clark continues to be a valuable bench player - yes, he's still not going to hit above .250, and the old Clark is gone, but what you want from a guy like that is that sometimes he'll come up with the big hit; yesterday he had plenty.
Anyway, a 3-game sweep against what is, let's face it, still the best team in baseball is a great building block to go into the next set with the NL East. The Mets still need work getting the top of the order on and getting the defense in order, but if they can keep the middle of the order healthy, they need no longer fear a power outage. They can slug.
July 2, 2004
BASEBALL: Raindrops Keep Falling
Avkash over at the Raindrops has all sorts of bloggy goodness; check out his look at how some of the Mets' less well-known prospects are doing in the minors (including one teenager named Yusmeiro Petit who walked 10 and struck out 85 in 77.1 innings last year and has followed up this year by striking out 122 and walking 22 in 83 innings in the Sally League - 13.2 K/9 IP, if you're keeping score). He's also got some appropriate observations on Tom Glavine's consistency, as well as linking to "Farenheit 1918," which is one of the funniest things I've read in some time ("Mike:
BASEBALL: Ups and Downs
So, are we seeing an unusual number and extent of teams showing sudden improvement or decline this season? Mike Carminati has the answer.
July 1, 2004
BASEBALL: What The Foulke?
The Red Sox just brought in their closer, Keith Foulke, to start the bottom of the 8th of a tie game at Yankee Stadium. Charlie Steiner announced this as if the Red Sox were planning to use voodoo to beat the Yankees.
Kudos to the Bill James-influenced Sox for recognizing that sometimes you need to use your relief ace when the game is most in the balance.
UPDATE: Well, this has been a wild one. Foulke and Rivera each threw two scoreless. Right now, the Red Sox have Dave McCarty at second base, and the Yankee announcers are discussing whether the Yanks might have to use Posada at second at some point.
UPDATE: Sheffield winds up at third. Manny homers in the 13th.
UPDATE: Cairo doubles in Sierra to tie it again in the 14th. Red Sox had been one strike away . . .
UPDATE: Never bet against the house. John Flaherty drives one to the wall to drive in the winning run.
June 29, 2004
BASEBALL: Following Freddy
Baseball teams tend to be unfortunately half-hearted in cutting bait on hopes of contention at times - consider Arizona's decision to retain Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley even after the departure of Curt Schilling set them firmly on the rebuilding track - so we can't read too much into the Mariners unloading free agent-to-be Freddy Garcia. Still, with the aging Mariners in last place 10.5 games behind their nearest competitor, it's interesting to look at what's left. Leaving aside the rather pointless catcher swap of Ben Davis for Miguel Olivo, the primary bounty from the deal was Jeremy Reed, a high-average hitting outfielder (the Mariners also got minor league SS Michael Morse). The logical next steps would be dealing Jamie Moyer, Eddie Guardado, Mike Myers, and John Olerud (although Olerud's fine .374 OBP isn't really enough to deserve a starting job on a contender for a 1B who's slow and has no power).
UPDATE: Derek Zumsteg and friends at the USS Mariner are pretty pumped about the deal, partly in light of having watched Garcia's struggles in recent years; start here and scroll down. Unsurprisingly, David Cameron doesn't think Jamie Moyer's going anywhere. More interesting is whether some contender with a hole to fill will take a flyer on Bret Boone. Gee, I wonder who has money to burn and Miguel Cairo playing second base?
June 28, 2004
BASEBALL: Lost Sunday
Not much to say about the first game Sunday, as Yankee longballs gave Jose Contreras' storybook reunion with his family all the help he needed. The second game was much more frustrating, since the Mets did a number of good things, including some massive home runs (Richard Hidalgo going deep to dead center, Eric Valent blasting an upper-deck job to right), and good pitching (like John Franco striking out the side in the eighth). But the hole Matt Ginter got into with some first inning dribblers and a hit batsman (Jeter) leading up to Ruben Sierra's 2-run shot was just too much.
Leiter and Glavine may be able to handle the likes of the Yankee lineup, but I'm doubtful as to the rest of the staff.
Oh, and Mike Stanton still sucks.
June 26, 2004
BASEBALL: The Admiral Goes Down With The Ship
Time to lower that level to yellow.
Sadly, I got rained out of my chance to see Friday night's game (I was there with people from work). Tomorrow's matchups - Traschsel/Contreras and Ginter/Mussina - look promising if you're pulling for a split.
June 25, 2004
BASEBALL: No, Just Outs
Larry Mahnken at Hardball Times does a number on ESPN's bogus "Productive Outs" stat. A must-read.
June 24, 2004
BASEBALL: Beltran Goes South
Well, for all you fans of the Mets - or anybody else - hoping to land Carlos Beltran, the jig is up as Beltran goes to the Astros, in a three-way deal that explains a lot about Houston's willingness to donate Richard Hidalgo to the Mets for David Weathers. With a strong team, a tough division and heavy reliance on oldsters like Clemens and Bagwell, the Astros are definitely in go-for-broke mode, so acquiring Beltran is a worthwhile gamble.
What Houston gave up, though, will cost them: Octavio Dotel. This presumably makes Brad Lidge the closer, but leaves the team short in the pen (not that this is an unacceptable cost for a big star like Beltran). Dotel had some off days this year, mainly due to the longball, but he should greatly improve the closer-less bullpen in Oakland, which can now move Arthur Rhodes back to the setup role. Kudos to Billy Beane on weaseling his way into another three-way swap. He even managed to wheedle some cash out of the poor-mouthing Royals. Wanna bet Beane's not done yet?
As for KC, giving up on this season had come to make sense, even though this team looked before the season like a legit contender. They got three prospects from Houston and Oakland: third baseman Mark Teahen and right-hander Mike Wood from Oakland, and catcher Joe or John Buck (sources seem unclear on this; if it's Joe, he has a colorful history of broadcasting and prostitution behind him) from the Astros. I checked the Baseball Prospectus and they had unimpressive numbers for Buck and Wood and nothing on Teahan, but I'm sure we'll see commentary soon enough from some of the experts on minor leaguers.
BASEBALL: Texas Standoff
Quite the classic battle going on in Texas - the Mariners and Rangers were tied 7-7 entering the bottom of the 15th at last check.
UPDATE: Rangers have loaded the bases against Jamie Moyer with one out in the bottom of the 15th.
UPDATE: Moyer gets Hank Blalock to ground into a 1-2-3 double play. On to the 16th.
LAST UPDATE: 9-7 Rangers on a walk-off homer in the 18th by Alfonso Soriano.
BASEBALL: I Did That. That's My Fault
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that last night's Mets loss was Kaz Matsui's fault. First and third, one out in the bottom of the ninth - after a hustling Todd Zeile went first-to-third on a Jason Phillips single - and Matsui, after running the count to 3-1, strikes out diving at a pitch that was way low and outside. The Mets wouldn't get another chance as good to win the game.
As the Mets announcers were pointing out, the team was also in the unusual position where they regretted sending home today's starting pitcher (Tom Glavine) early - because they needed him as a pinch hitter in extra innings, and instead had to send up Steve Trachsel.
June 23, 2004
BASEBALL: Not So Much Glove
I'm not as down on Kaz Matsui as some people, but I can't help wondering: who scouted this guy and came back with the universally glowing reports about his defense? And was it the same guy who scouted Frederic Weis for the Knicks?
June 21, 2004
One quick Mets thought: not only are Tom Glavine (2.07), Al Leiter (2.14), Braden Looper (1.83), Matt Ginter (2.79), Orber Moreno (3.20) and Ricky Bottalico (2.01) all pitching thus far to career-best ERAs, but through 68 games, several Mets pitchers are on pace for career highs in innings pitched, including Glavine (249), Steve Trachsel (218), Looper (93), Ginter (92), and Mike Stanton (85). We'll see how they all hold up.
June 19, 2004
BASEBALL: Quotes of the Week
"He was crushed," Weathers said. "He told me, 'you can be an Astro. I'm gonna be a Met.' And then he didn't come out of his room for almost an hour."
June 18, 2004
BASEBALL: Hidalgo Gold
All trades involve a certain amount of risk; you just have to weigh the upside against the downside and the cost and compare that to doing nothing. And the Mets' trade of David Weathers and B-grade pitching prospect Jeremy Griffiths for Astros outfielder Richard Hidalgo looks like a great gamble:
1. Weathers is 34; Hidalgo is 28. So, you can't view this as compromising the future for a win-now posture.
2. Hidalgo has just one year left on his contract, which the Mets can buy out for $2 million:
So, this isn't a deal that ties the Mets' hands much beyond this season.
3. Weathers has been terrible (see this analysis from Avkash at the Raindrops, which I linked to last week).
4. Even when you factor in that he's leaving Minute Maid Field, Hidalgo's a guy who can put up some serious power numbers. Hidalgo had a huge year last year, slugging .572 in more than 500 at bats, and started this season like a house afire before sliding into a slump at the end of April that he hasn't shaken yet. Here's his numbers for 2003-04:
Now, that is indeed one horrendous slump, and if you're Houston and paying Hidalgo $12 million, it looks twice as bad. But in a lot of ways, Houston's decision to drop Hidalgo after a bad six weeks looks suspiciously like the White Sox' abandonment of D'Angelo Jimenez this time last season in the midst of a similar slump; I questioned that move at the time here and showed how badly it worked out here. It's possible that something's seriously wrong with Hidalgo that was fine in April (he has been battling some shoulder problems lately), but if this is just a slump, the Astros could really regret dealing him. Recall that Baseball Prospectus had Hidalgo projected for this season at .278/.498/.358, and thought he would probably exceed that (the Established Win Shares method lists him as a 15 Win Shares player entering this year, which is quite solid).
I'll take this bet any day.
June 17, 2004
BASEBALL: The High Hard One
Looking at Rob Neyer's overall list of the best fastballs, I might rate Robin Roberts - who was the best pitcher in baseball for several years throwing nearly nothing but fastballs - ahead of Clemens, even though Clemens in his early-90s prime was a better pitcher (he's not so shabby today, of course, but since 1996 or so the heater really hasn't been his strikeout pitch).
Personally, I'd say the two best fastballs I've ever seen in my lifetime - on their own merits, as opposed to how they set them up with other pitches - are Mariano Rivera's cut fastball and Dwight Gooden's heater in his prime. Gooden's high riser was a classic "oh, that's just not fair" pitch even when the hitter was looking for it, let alone when he set it up with the big arching curveball. (Of course, Nolan Ryan's fastball was plenty intimidating, but Ryan was also quite wild at his peak). Gossage isn't far behind, though.
June 16, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Neither Here Nor There
Apropos of nothing: Walter O'Malley catching a game at Ebbets Field with King Faisal of Iraq in 1952.
June 14, 2004
BASEBALL: Slicing The Pie
OK, I've been on something of a Win Shares kick lately, playing around with the latest data. Here's something else I came up with from looking at The Hardball Times' tables of in-season 2004 Win Shares: the players who are contributing the greatest share of their teams' Win Shares (through Thursday's action). I broke the list between contending and non-contending teams (using .500, for now, as the break, since a team under .500 can't contend unless they improve), and, due to the DH, between AL and NL. I also used un-rounded Win Shares rather than the rounded-off numbers, since it's still early enough in the season that the rounding makes a significant impact. So, who's carrying the biggest load for their team?
Bonds, as always, dominates these lists . . . You can certainly see that the Reds are heavily dependent on three players for nearly half the team's value, two of whom have underachieved in recent years and the third of whom has been injury prone. Fingers crossed . . . Johnny Estrada? . . . .
No surprise that Guerrero tops this list . . . As with the NL leaders, there are still some pretenders here (Lew Ford, Hatteberg). There are also fewer winning teams in the AL to pick from. In general, AL teams are less dependent on their stars at this stage, partly due to the concentration of stars on the Yankees.
Like some of the NL leaders, a few of the bad teams are also top-heavy with a few decent contributors.
Interestingly, these are all up-the-middle defensive players.
June 13, 2004
BASEBALL: 500 With One Team
So, Barry Bonds today hit his 500th home run as a Giant (I noted the approaching milestone a few weeks back). I guess that "who's the greatest free agent signing ever" debate is pretty much over, huh? There's no question that Bonds would be a Hall of Famer without his career with the Pirates.
June 10, 2004
BASEBALL: EWSL - The Pitchers
When I started the Established Win Shares project, I ran a list of the top 25 players in baseball by EWSL. But there were no pitchers, and it was justifiably asked, who are the top-ranked pitchers? Well, having covered all the teams, I can now line them up (I broke ties by age rather than pore over the decimal places as I did with the original list):
Hey, I was as surprised at some of these names as you are . . . you can really see the domination of a few teams (Red Sox, A's, Yankees) on this list.
June 9, 2004
BASEBALL: Raining on Art's Parade
Avkash Patel at The Raindrops has an outstanding analysis of the Mets bullpen (link via David Pinto). I think he perhaps gives short shrift to the fact that the Mets bullpen just doesn't have the talent to get the job done right no matter how they're used, but it's true that more Orber Moreno and less John Franco, for example, would be nice in key situations.
BASEBALL: 2004 NL Central Established Win Shares Report
Finally, at long last, I've completed my division-by-division walk around the major leagues by Established Win Shares Levels with the biggest division, the NL Central. Some time in the next week or so, I'll have to go back and pull together an overall summary of the results for all six divisions. To review, you can go back over my previous efforts:
A few recurring notes on the method: Recall that the projected win totals below are probably a bit on the low side, in part because I only list 23 players, and that these aren't really projections at all, so much as estimates of how much established major league talent is on each roster. Also, as before, I've indicated the players who are ranked only on 2002-03 with a #, players ranked only on 2003 with a *, and rookies with a +. For rookie non-pitchers with everyday jobs, I've arbitrarily pencilled in 10 Win Shares , 5 WS for rookie pitchers with rotation slots, 3 for bench players and 2 for relievers.
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Adjusted EWSL: 276.0 (92 wins)
I tried as much as possible to stick to the pre-season rosters; there's actually been relatively few dramatic changes in who each NL Central team plans to play at each position, if only they can get healthy. EWSL concurs with the general preseason consensus that the Cubs had the most loaded roster in the National League, although the reasons for their underachievement thus far this season are fairly obvious, primarily the rash of pitching injuries. EWSL does tend to overvalue teams that have guys on the bench who played regularly recently, and that's true here with Walker and Grudzielanek, although both would have played significant roles this season if Grudzielanek wasn't ailing.
St. Louis Cardinals
Adjusted EWSL: 257.0 (86 wins)
The preseason favorite for the wild card, by EWSL calculations. That infield is just scary, even with Womack: a collective EWSL of 94, and 36 thus far this season through June 3, a pace for 110 even with Renteria playing poorly. In the Ken Boyer comment in the New Historical Abstract, Bill James notes that the record for Win Shares by one infield is 119 (the 1914 A's), and just 41 teams all time with 95 or more. That's pretty good company.
You can see here that pitching is what separates the Cubs from the Cards and to a lesser extent the Astros; St. Louis' staff starts out with what should be the middle of the rotation and goes downhill rapidly from there.
Even without casting any aspersions, the Cards have to lead the league in guys who seem like they ought to be older than they are. Izzy and Tavarez are only 31? Pujols, 24? Cedeno, 29?
Adjusted EWSL: 253.1 (84 wins)
I gave the Astros a bit of the benefit of the doubt on some of the judgment calls for what years to count (Everett, Ensberg). To an even greater extent than the Cubs and Cards, the Astros' big issues are age and injuries.
Adjusted EWSL: 139.7 (47 wins)
Hoo boy, is there a dropoff here - granted, AL teams get a slight advantage from the DH (sort of), but EWSL rates the Brewers, Reds and Pirates as the three weakest teams in the Major Leagues entering 2004. Let's remind ourselves what that means: the least proven major league talent on the roster. In Milwaukee's case, improvement has come partly from guys who had not had a full major league opportunity before (principally Lyle Overbay), and partly from young players finally pulling it all together (Ben Sheets, Doug Davis). But I'm not that optimistic on this team finishing close to .500, since I don't see Overbay hitting 70 doubles and I really don't see who will step up when Overbay and possibly Sheets and Davis start to cool off.
Adjusted EWSL: 134.5 (45 wins)
Nothing like making pre-season predictions, as it were, in June to make you look stupid. The Reds depend heavily on people who just haven't gotten the job done in recent years, but things have gone extraordinarily well so far (other than Kearns batting .195) to give them the division lead. Of course, if you seriously think these guys are going to win this division, take three Reds pitchers and call me in the morning.
Sean Casey continues to follow the John Olerud career path with a huge breakout season after several years of imitating the performance that got Olerud, at the same age, traded for Robert Person. I've been particularly surprised by Paul "Mr. February" Wilson, who's perfected his pinpoint control, although I'll believe Wilson holding up for a full season in the rotation when I see it.
Adjusted EWSL: 123.9 (41 wins)
EWSL is a bit unfair to the Bucs - really, Tike Redman looked a lot better than a 2 Win Share player in limited action last season, but he'd played enough in past seasons and he's far enough into his twenties that I couldn't pretend those years didn't happen. Benson is also a guy giving some upside on his return from injury, and Oliver Perez is looking like a guy ready to join the NL's elite starters (although he is young yet, and could wear down). The good news is that neither they nor the Brewers are wasting their time with old guys anymore. Verdict: the Pirates should be better than the win total above, but don't expect them to come roaring back from their current slump.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:00 AM | Baseball 2004 | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)
June 8, 2004
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Reagan and Baseball
I thought I'd take a quick look at some of the 40th president's baseball connections:
*Straight out of college in 1932, Reagan got a job with radio station WOC in Des Moines, Iowa; within a year, following the station's merger with WHO, Reagan was installed as the station's broadcaster for Chicago Cubs games, a job he would hold for five seasons, until he landed his first Hollywood job in 1937. You have to recall that, in those days, the technology didn't exist to broadcast games live from the ballpark to a coast-to-coast or even a regional audience. So, Reagan wasn't the Cubs broadcaster - just the broadcaster for Des Moines and the surrounding area reached by WHO. But to people who lived there, he was the voice of the Cubs for those years.
What that meant was, Reagan would sit in front of a ticker reeling off the play-by-play and re-creating the game as it was happening. Imagine doing this by watching the play-by-play on the internet and you get the idea. I recall Bob Costas doing a demonstration on the pregame show for the NBC Game of the Week back in the 80s showing what this process was like; among other things, the broadcaster would click two sticks together to make a bat-hitting-ball sound, and play a tape of canned crowd noise. Once, the tape jammed and Reagan just improvised the batter fouling off pitch after pitch until they fixed the feed.
Reagan often said that his biggest baseball thrill was the last month of the 1935 pennant race. It's not hard to see why. Reagan was a 24-year-old broadcaster that season, and the Cubs were chasing the defending World Champion Cardinals of "Gashouse Gang" fame. On the morning of September 3, 1935, the Cubs stood in third place, 2.5 games behind the Cardinals (but 5 back in the loss column). The Cards would go on to have a fine stretch run, going 17-11. But what the Cubs did the rest of the way was remarkable, winning 21 straight, including three straight (culminating with a doubleheader sweep that kicked off by beating 28-game-winner Dizzy Dean) from the Cards to clinch the pennant before dropping the final two games to St. Louis.
*Reagan was born in 1911. Of course, this means that even without the Alzheimer's, at 93 he was too young to remember a Cubs world championship (they lost to the Tigers in the 1935 Series, including three 1-run games). What baseball players were born in 1911? You could look it up; the better-known names on the list:
What do these guys have in common? Well, among other things, other than Galehouse (who died in 1998), all of them were dead by the time Reagan left the White House in 1989.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:22 AM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: At First
Twins Fan Dan at All-Baseball.com asks, reviewing the current crop of first basemen, "Has the position ever been this deficient in greatness?" The commenters note that we're nearing the end of a golden era, so the premise is a bit faulty. But there have certainly been darker times.
The 1900-1919 period was pretty slim for first basemen. Hall of Famers for that period are mostly guys ending their careers (Jake Beckley), starting out (Sisler), or touching first on the way out the door after they were already washed up (Wagner, Lajoie). My initial assumption was that the best first baseman of the period was probably Frank Chance (who had a short career), and if not him some nondescript type like Fred Merkle or Stuffy McInnis, or a crook like Hal Chase.
The Win Shares system rates the top first basemen for the 1900-09 decade as Chance (209 WS, 17th among all players for the decade); Harry Davis (189 WS, 23d) and Fred Tenney (165, 43d). For 1910-19, tops are Ed Konetchy (204 WS, 12th among all players for the decade); Jake Daubert (182 WS, 21st); and Merkle (176 WS, 28th). Konetchy, a guy I've barely heard of, seems to top out the group with 287 Win Shares between 1907 and 1921.
By contrast, my "Established Win Shares" list of the top players in baseball entering this season lists four first basemen in the top 10 (Giambi, Thome, Helton and Delgado; five if you count Pujols). And there are a couple of active first basemen, still productive players, who are well past Ed Konetchy in terms of career totals: Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, and Frank Thomas all cleared 300 WS years ago. (Even John Olerud's career stacks up fairly well with the Konetchys and Frank Chances).
So no, we are not at a historic low ebb for first basemen. Far from it.
June 5, 2004
BASEBALL: Matt LeCroy Redux
Will Carroll (subscription only) notes the severity of the knee surgery Joe Mauer had and concludes, "I would be stunned if Mauer can stay at catcher for the next six years." As usual, I suggest you cough up the money to subscribe and read the whole thing - Carroll's injury analyses are worth the price of BP Premium by themselves.
(On the other hand, I was skimming his book "Saving the Pitcher" in Barnes & Noble last week, and it looks way too medical-detailed for me).
June 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Bad Non-Investment
I agree completely with David Pinto that the teams that didn't bid on Vladimir Guerrero - or, in the Mets' case, teams that bid halfheartedly - are looking pretty dumb right now, as Guerrero is singlehandedly keeping an injury-riddled Angels team in the race. Baseball Prospectus rates him fourth in the major leagues in VORP (Value over Replacement Player), behind only Bonds, Sean Casey, and, er, Melvin Mora, and Hardball Times has him first in the AL with 14 Win Shares (behind only Bonds, Casey and Scott Rolen in the NL and tied with Mike Lowell). Guerrero, need we be reminded, is 28, the same age as Karim Garcia and four years younger than Shane Spencer. Who are not leading the league in anything.
BASEBALL: He's Ba-ack
Reports of Barry Zito's demise seem premature; with another spectacular outing last night, Zito's line since May 1 is a 3.21 ERA, 7.50 H/9 IP, 0.64 HR, 3.21 BB, and 7.07 K. In his last four starts, Zito has allowed just 1 home run and 19 hits in 29 innings of work.
BASEBALL: Tale of Two Sluggers
Barry Bonds is closing in on another home run milestone: he's four homers from 500 as a Giant. Which is pretty impressive, seeing as he was already a two-time MVP when he got to San Francisco.
Rafael Palmeiro is also still plugging along, batting .280/.446/.403. A closer look at the numbers, though, reveals some possible danger signs. Palmeiro's walk rate has spiked sharply upward this season - he's on pace for 126 walks compared to 84 last year and a career high of 104 - while his power has dropped off very sharply. I recall a Bill James thesis that an old player who starts walking a lot more may be compensating for slower bat speed, and will usually be found out soon enough by the pitchers. Then again, it wasn't a systematic study, and Palmeiro's strikeouts are at their lowest rate since 1989, while players showing this pattern typically start striking out a lot more as well. We shall see.
BASEBALL: Shea It's Seo
I made it out to Shea last night for what turned out to be a remarkably fast-moving game, nosing the Mets above .500 with a victory over the defending champs. Jae Seo was in fine form, somehow surviving a brutal defensive infield with Piazza at first, Wigginton and second and Zeile at third. AJ Burnett was unimpressive in his return from surgery, getting cuffed around (with the help of Miguel Cabrera, who botched a key Ty Wigginton triple in the second inning, letting it roll past him to the wall).
Cliff Floyd attempted two stolen bases, which tells me two things: his legs are healthy again after last weekend's collision with Mike Cameron, and the Mets have very little respect for the Burnett/Mike Redmond battery.
I have to say, the Mets would really be in some deep trouble if they hadn't signed Kaz Matsui - not that he's been great, but with Jose Reyes shut down from rehabbing his hamstrings due to a bad back, it's a good thing the Mets weren't more reliant on Reyes. The team ought to just plug in Danny Garcia at second and see where it goes from there.
June 3, 2004
BASEBALL: Mister Clutch
As numerous studies have told us, clutch hitting is a result, not a skill. But it sure is nice to get those results, as Todd Zeile followed Tuesday's game-winning hit in the 10th inning with a 2-run 10th inning homer that put last night's game out of reach. Of course, the Wagner-less Philadelphia bullpen had a bit to do with that, as Tim Worrell ran out of gas in his second inning of work Tuesday and Roberto Hernandez was serving up meatballs last night. Still, any time you can win consecutive extra inning games on the road against the strongest team in the division, you take what you can get.
It's a long season yet, and I'm still no believer in Zeile, but it's starting to look like a respectable ending to his 16-year major league odyssey since his arrival as a catcher with Whitey Herzog's Cardinals.
June 2, 2004
BASEBALL: Battery Up
News reports are expressing surprise at Alfonso Soriano leading the AL All-Star balloting, but this should be no big surprise; he's probably got loyal backers both in NY and Texas, and there's precious little competition among AL 2B. (The Win Shares leaders at second right now are Juan Uribe, Ron Belliard and Mark Bellhorn, none of them household names).
The fun story: with Mike Piazza leading among NL catchers, the likely starting battery for the NL will be Piazza with either Randy Johnson . . . or Roger Clemens.
June 1, 2004
BASEBALL: Bizarro Home Field Advantage
His first three years in the majors, Juan Uribe had a fairly large home-field advantage, batting .288/.468/.324 at home and .227/.345/.271 on the road. Which was to be expected; he was playing his home games at Coors Field. Uribe was nonetheless a disappointment, since he was expected to be better than a .227 hitter with minimal power, and was expected to take much greater advantage of Coors.
So, this season, Uribe goes to Comiskey Park, no bandbox. So what happens? His road numbers have, in fact, improved substantially across the board without the compression effect of playing on the road after having a homestand at high altitude: .277/.400/.347. But the really spectacular improvement is at home: a guy who was nothing really special at Coors is batting .371/.638/.416 in Chicago (oddly, he's also had nearly twice as many at bats at home, since the White Sox have played 27 home and 22 road games, and Uribe didn't have a firm grip on the everyday job until the end of the season-opening road trip).
The effects of Coors can be complex. For whatever reason, Uribe doesn't seem to have taken advantage. Contrast this with Vinny Castilla, up to his old tricks after three years away:
BASEBALL: Down, and Up
A high note yesterday to cap off an otherwise depressing weekend for the Mets, including Cliff Floyd's return to the lineup and a game-winning hit for Mike Cameron; Floyd really looked pretty severely injured after colliding with Cameron in the first inning on Saturday. The Mets seem to be matching up better with the Phillies than the Marlins this season, likely due to their inability to hit Florida's pitching.
May 29, 2004
BASEBALL: Ty One On
Jason Mastaitis at Always Amazin' notes that the hype over Armando Benitez closing out the Mets last night ignores the man's history: "remember, the great Armando doesn't blow games in June. His mental breakdown comes during the stretch run."
He also floats a trade theory:
McEwing's trade value is virtually nil but Wigginton has value, especially if he's additionally shopped as a second baseman. While I love Wiggy, imagine if the Mets made this trade:
Ty Wigginton and either Heilman, Yates, or Ginter for Jason Schmidt and Edgardo Alfonzo.
The Giants are looking for someone to take Fonzie's salary off their hands and they would need a third baseman in return. While this certainly is not a trade to make them younger, Fonzie would only be a stopgap third baseman for the next four months (who is still tremendously popular in NY) and they'd get a bona fide #1 starter to stabilize the rotation. Seems like a fit to me.
Well, as to point #1, Wigginton's now a semi-established major league regular who is 100% certain to lose his job the minute David Wright is ready, so of course he's trade bait. But the trade proposal doesn't hold water. First of all, why would the Giants be looking to dump veterans? Yes, they've started slowly, but when there's a guy in your lineup who is hitting .361/ .825/.613 and will be 40 in July, the future is now.
Also, even if the Giants wanted to deal Alfonzo for Wigginton - a dubious proposition, given Wiggy's career .259/.417/.318 numbers and sometimes erratic glovework - why on earth would they deal their #1 starter, Jason Schmidt (who's 31 and as far as I know doesn't have any contract issues) for Yates (an unproven youngster who hasn't shown he can throw 6 innings on a consistent basis), Heilman (who was pounded by major league pitching in his debut last season), or Ginter (a retread the Mets got for Timo Perez)?
I've been thinking the team that might be desperate enough to spring for Wigginton could be the Angels after the Glaus injury, but Chone Figgins has hit awfully well filling in at third. I gather Figgins' glove work hasn't won raves, though. But I can't see Anaheim giving up much to "upgrade" from Figgy to Wiggy.
May 28, 2004
BASEBALL: You Are Getting Sleepy
One reason I've never liked Olympic Stadium in Montreal is the quality of baseball that seems to be played there, or at least the way it comes through on TV. It always seems like games there are quiet, sedate affairs, with the innings sliding by until the game just stops. Florida, ever since the Marlins were founded, has been even worse: with the heavy South Florida air and the Mets' and Marlins' historic tendency towards strong pitching and weak offenses, the games are often quite low-scoring, and add in the scores of empty seats you often see in Miami and you've got a recipe for some seriously sleepy baseball. Tonight was a perfect example of this, with a few runs early and nothing off Dontrelle Willis or Tom Glavine to alter the end 2-1 result.
BASEBALL: NL FIP Leaders
This is a followup post to the one immediately below; courtesy of the Hardball Times, we have the National League "Fielding Independent Pitching" leaders, the (slightly longer) list of NL pitchers with a FIP below 4.00 in 45 or more innings through last night (the stats have now been updated):
Yes, that's Johnson and Schilling atop their respective leagues, with Roger Clemens close behind; good time for the oldsters. And the youngsters too, like Jake Peavy and Oliver Perez. Yyou can see here why the Peavy injury will hurt the Padres badly, as none of their other starters are in his class (as I noted before the season) . . . Kerry Wood (3.50) missed the innings cut by a third of an inning . . . the three Braves on the list all would have missed the cut a week ago; Atlanta's pitching is just now rounding into shape.
Caution: some guys on this list, notably Weaver and Davis, have repeatedly underachieved what their K/BB and HR numbers say they should do.
Yes, Tom Glavine (tonight included) has been far better than I had any reason to expect (sell high!).
BASEBALL: AL FIP Leaders
The Hardball Times has some great stat reports that, among other things, absolve me from trying to calculate Defense Independent Pitching Stats in-season as I did last year. I decided to take a stroll through the American League "Fielding Independent Pitching" leaders - Hardball Times' latest riff on a pitching metric based on HR, BB and K, yielding "an approximation of what the pitcher's ERA would be with an "average" defense behind him." Looking solely at guys who have thrown 40 or more innings this season (a pretty low cutoff, just below the qualifier for the ERA title, but high enough to keep the list to starting pitchers who have been in the rotation most of the year), here's the short list of AL pitchers with a FIP below 4.00 through the end of last week (the last time they updated):
Yes, that's The Gambler in third place. The man gets no respect (albeit for good reasons). But he's definitely been a factor in the Rangers' resurgence. And one of the quiet stories of the season thus far has been the emergence of a competent pitching staff in Cleveland with Lee, Westbrook and CC Sabathia (4.33) all pitching OK. If you're wondering, the Yankees' Big Three all seem to fall off this list due to allowing too many home runs. For Mussina and Vazquez, at least, that's a perennial problem. Meanwhile, Rich Harden looks like he's ready to supplant Barry Zito in Oakland's own Big Three (Mulder is just shy of the list at 4.03).
Shea Hot Corner, with links to Jason Stark and others, broaches the subject of moving Kaz Matsui to second base when/if Jose Reyes comes back, in light of Reyes' youth and great range compared to Matsui's thus far deeply disappointing glove work. Like the Yankees with Jeter and A-Rod, the Mets may be stuck by the difficulty of getting the inferior player to move, in this case because they promised Matsui he could play short when they signed him. Of course, a manager worth what they're paying Art Howe could make it happen - but putting the fear of God into a veteran player is just not Howe's style.
May 27, 2004
BASEBALL: Wolf At The Door
I'm not ready to write about tonight's Mets game, which completely wasted a brilliant outing by Matt Ginter, who threw six shutout innings at the Phillies. Let's talk about something else we'll see with the Phillies.
There's been a lot of attention paid to Dontrelle Willis' batting this year (not that his pitching of late has lived up to his bat), but there's another NL pitcher hitting the tar out of the ball: Randy Wolf, who's batting a booming .294/.588/.333 this season, after driving in 11 runs last year in 33 starts. Then, of course, there's Roger Clemens (4 RBI in 9 starts) and Tom Glavine (.263 and 3 RBI). (Brooks Kieschnick doesn't count).
At the far end of the scale, I'm not sure who's the worst hitting pitcher in the business; Al Leiter is pretty helpless looking up there, and his career line is .087/.107/.147 with 255 strikeouts in 469 at bats. But even worse is Ben Sheets. Hitless in 17 tries this season, Sheets is now batting .073 for his career, with an .078 career slugging percentage and a .118 career OBP. No wonder the Milwaukee staff ace is five games under .500 for his career.
May 26, 2004
BASEBALL: Around The League
*An auspicious start for the Mets' string of games against NL East contenders, as Steve Trachsel shuts down the Phillies. You really could not ever have asked more from Traschsel than what he's given the Mets since recovering from a rocky start in the first months of 2001. Of course, I'll believe that this is a contending team when I see it; more on that to come.
*Through April 20, Bobby Abreu, one of the Phillies' stable of notorious slow starters, was batting .108 with just two extra base hits. His numbers over the 30 games since then, actual and projected to 162 games:
That's a month; in fact, that, my friends, is a ballplayer. Nobody gets less respect for being a great player than Abreu.
*Jimmy Gobble continues his experiment in not striking people out. Through last night's matchup with K-impaired Mike Maroth, Gobble has struck out just 13 batters in 54.2 IP, 2.14 per 9 innings. Gobble has showed good control and kept the ball in the park, but it's really, really hard to win with that strikeout rate.
*I forgot to link to this earlier, but if you have any way to help the son of the late Gonzalo Marquez find memorabilia from his father's career or the 1972 A's, Bruce Markusen tells you how you can help.
May 25, 2004
BASEBALL: Mora The Same
Aaron Gleeman, writing at The Hardball Times, has some astonishing numbers showing Melvin Mora's last five healthy months, amounting to a .367/.597/.466 line. He also explains why "there's a good chance that Esteban Loaiza's 2003 season will go down as one of the strangest, completely-out-of-nowhere seasons in baseball history."
Also, Brian Gunn takes on Chris Kahrl's endless negativity on the St. Louis bench. I do enjoy Karhl, but I agree with Brian that he does ride the same hobbyhorses endlessly, and he packs so many inside references into each sentence and clause that his columns can be like reading a statute.
Then again, a note to Brian and his commenters who hold out some hope for a Roger Cedeno revival: trust me, I spent the past two years watching the guy. It ain't happening. Although it wouldn't hurt to get in better shape and have his eyes checked.
May 24, 2004
BASEBALL: Learning To Take
I've lately been reading Allan Wood's marvelous book Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox; more on that later. One point that fascinated me from Wood's book is his portrayal of Ruth, in his first season spending significant time as a position player, as a tempermentally impatient hitter, one who loved swinging at first pitches, something his teammates usually avoided and for which he was sometimes reprimanded.
Take a look at Ruth's batting numbers broken down in three parts: 1914-17, when he was a full-time pitcher who got extra at bats mostly by pinch hitting; 1918, when he was new to the lineup; and 1919 and 1920, his first two years as a regular; I'll run a projection to 600 at bats so you can really see the changes:
Actual Batting Stats
Projected to 600 At Bats
When you look at these numbers in light of the portrait painted by Wood, two things emerge: (1) the rapid rise in Ruth's walk rate is a compelling testimony to how quickly fear of the Babe's power caused pitchers to work around him; and (2) the very quick improvement in both Ruth's BB and K rates shows what a quick study Ruth was. This wasn't a guy who gloried in waiting out the pitcher; Ruth learned to wait. And he learned that lesson in just a few years, while lesser players can take their whole careers to get the point.
BASEBALL: Not The Same
I haven't seen him enough to diagnose the problem, but there is something seriously wrong with Johan Santana (btw, didn't his first name used to have two "n"s?) - after his shellacking yesterday, the league is hitting .301 against Santana. His K/BB ratio (48/17 in 54.2 IP) is just fine, but he's been tagged for 10 home runs in 10 starts (1.6 per 9 IP) and averaging less than 6 innings a start.
May 23, 2004
As The Mad Hibernian notes below, yet another chance missed for a Mets no-hitter. (As you may recall, Tom Glavine also had another, more tenuous brush with a no-no for the Mets last August). It would have been ironic indeed to see the Mets' first no-hitter thrown by Glavine, who had a great career with the Braves but never threw a no-no there. After all, recall that Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone all had their best years at Shea but went on to throw no-hitters for other teams - Seaver and Gooden in their first years for a new team, Gooden and Cone for the Hated Yankees. Nolan Ryan, who spent four full seasons in Flushing and started 74 games for the Mets, threw four no-hitters in the four seasons after leaving the Mets. Here, as far as I can assemble it, is the full list - check here and correct me if I've missed someone:
Pitchers Who Threw No-Hitters After Leaving The Mets:
Pitchers Who Threw No-Hitters Before Coming To The Mets:
BASEBALL: Quite Contreras
Jose Contreras yesterday had his second good outing in the last three: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 7 K, and 1 run on a solo homer. As bad as Contreras started the season, I wonder how many other teams would have pulled him from the rotation and sent him to the minors; the Yankees have particularly little tolerance for struggling pitchers, and always have. (Then again, the Mets have also used such early-season demotions to straighten out guys like Steve Trachsel and Bobby Jones). It's debatable which is the better approach, but Contreras does seem to be in the process of righting the ship.
May 22, 2004
BASEBALL/OTHER SPORTS etc.: Great Sports Moments
Michele asks for greatest sports moments. I'll repost my thoughts here. I'll agree with some of the moments cited by her commenters - Jose Canseco getting hit in the head with a ball and turning it into a home run is still the funniest thing that's ever happened. Bill Mazeroski's homer - ten years to the day before I was born - is tough to top for sheer instant drama and finality, especially when you consider the aura of invincability of those Yankees and the back-and-forth nature of that game and that series. And yes, I once had a poster on my wall of the famous Starks dunk over Jordan.
My personal favorite, of course, is still the bottom of the tenth inning of Game Six, 1986 World Series, specifically Bob Stanley's game-tying wild pitch. Close behind are Robin Ventura's "grand slam single" in the rain in 1999 and virtually every minute of the 1991 Super Bowl.
Probably the most electric moment from a sport I don't follow or, ordinarily, even like that much was Sarah Hughes' gold medal winning figure skating performance, because she single-handedly did what I thought couldn't be done in figure skating: overcome the expectations and grab victory through the sheer brilliance of a single performance. In other words, for one night, she actually made figure skating a real sport.
The most memorable ones I've seen in person: (1) Game Six of the Knicks-Heat series in 1997, when half the team (including Patrick) was suspended and the MSG crowd just tried to will the skeleton roster to victory; (2) Brad Clontz' wild pitch in the last scheduled game of the regular season in 1999 to send the Mets to a 1-game playoff with the Reds.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:22 AM | Baseball 2004 | Basketball | Football | Other Sports | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 21, 2004
BASEBALL: He Will Be Missed
Doug died while taking part in one of his passions, traveling the country and taking pictures of it for his Roadside Photos web site.
That's scary; Pappas was only 43. Pappas did great work; I never met the man, but I enjoyed his writing, which often broke new ground. You can check out his Business of Baseball blog here (last entry was Tuesday), and his article archive at Baseball Prospectus (last article, part of a series on ticket prices, ran Monday) here.
Hopefully, someone will take up responsibility for preserving his writings on his blog; it's the least that can be done.
BASEBALL: Rocky Finish
Yes, I'm aware that this blog has been (a) a bit too quiet lately and (b) in particular, quite short on baseball blogging of late. What can I say? I've been traveling the past two weekends and busy at work.
Tonight, i got to watch some actual baseball for the first time in a bit, specifically the Mets and Rockies. A few random thoughts:
*The Rockies pitching staff . . . not good. Not at all good. The Mets looked like they were taking batting practice out there.
*Is Royce Clayton auditioning for Milli Vanilli? (Well, Rob's dead, after all). Like the Vanillis, Clayton can't get a hit without a lot of help . . .
*How sad is this? The Mets radio announcers were waxing nostalgic for the one week last season when Jose Reyes, Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza were all healthy at the same time.
*Matt Ginter is not terrible. Which is about all you could ask from him, but it's better than, oh say, giving a game ball to James Baldwin every fifth day (the Mets signed Baldwin because Scott Ruffcorn was unavailable).
*Tonight, we saw the Braden Looper we all remember from his Marlins days, wild and living on the edge. In fairness, two of the ninth inning baserunners got on on fluke bad bounce grounders that ate up Kaz Matsui and Ty Wigginton. But he did manage to get out of the jam.
May 20, 2004
BASEBALL: Jose The Slugger
Take a look at this box score and tell me what's wrong. Yes . . . that's right . . . that's Jose Offerman, batting cleanup.
May 18, 2004
BASEBALL: What They Threw
A little glimpse of discarded extras from the new Bill James/Rob Neyer book (due in June) on pitchers and what they threw.
BASEBALL: Perfection in Progress?
Randy Johnson is perfect through 7 innings, with Andruw Jones due up to start the 8th. Johnson's thrown 91 pitches through 7.
UPDATE: Jones flied out to center. Estrada whiffs. Every pitch thrown so far in the 8th is a strike. 1-2 pitch, Drew grounds out. Three outs to go.
Ninth inning, one down as DeRosa grounds out on a 1-2 pitch. Nick Green up, a pinch hitter for Hampton on deck.
Green whiffs on a 1-2 pitch.
1-1 to Eddie Perez. Mets rallying, by the way.
Cliff Floyd wins the Mets game with a 9th inning hit.
Perez whiffs. RANDY JOHNSON HAS THROWN A PERFECT GAME. 117 pitches.
Floyd to Ed Coleman: "I just want to win so bad, man."
May 17, 2004
BASEBALL: Hot Properties
More random thoughts:
*Troy Glaus being out for the season would be just a huge blow to the Angels.
*Heard on WFAN tonight: a Yankee fan speaking optimistically about Tanyon Sturtze. Yes, there is a God.
*Rich Harden: 37.1 IP, 2 HR, 17 BB, 40 K. Yes, he's allowed 39 hits, but Harden shows every sign of joining the elite of the Oakland rotation.
BASEBALL: Exciting Baseball
Pennant contention? Don't be silly. Development of exciting young players? Hold off on that for now. Right now, all the Mets can hope to offer, with a mediocre and veteran-laden roster, is exciting baseball. But this last 7-game road trip to Arizona and Houston provided that in scads, topped off by yesterday's 13-inning thriller, in which Mike Piazza homered off Octavio Dotel, down 2-0 and down to his last strike, to take the win away from Roger Clemens (oh, boo hoo) and Jason Phillips was defrosted from his season-long slump long enough to hit the game-winning home run.
May 14, 2004
BASEBALL: What Wins In October
The Hardball Times carries a great look at what types of teams have prevailed in playoff serieses since 1995 (hat tip to Matt Welch). The answer (other than "teams with Mariano Rivera"), roughly: (1) pitching, (2) starting pitching, (3) pitching and defense, (4) speed and contact.
This partially gibes with Bill James' prior studies - I'm rushing this morning and don't have time to look it up, but I believe his various studies have found that what wins World Serieses, at least, is frontline starting pitching and home run power.
The advantage in the current study for steals is unusual, since historically, great stolen base teams (think of the 1985 Cardinals or 1911-13 Giants) get killed in the World Series. The relationship isn't strong enough to generalize, but I can take a guess: the stolen base is more of an advantage today precisely because it's rare. Thus, in the past, there were teams that reliead heavily on steals (Whiteyball!), and they didn't fare well, but nobody plays like that now. Whereas in today's game, a steals advantage is more likely to be negative - that is, one team can't run at all. And with the higher caliber of pitching in the postseason, a complete inability to manufacture runs may be a handicap more than the ability to do so is an advantage.
May 13, 2004
BASEBALL: O-Dog Patience Watch
I noted over a month ago that Orlando Hudson seemed to be showing improved patience at the plate, and wondered if it would pay off with increased power. Checking back in now that the season's well underway, I've thus far been right on target; Hudson's still seeing 4.02 pitches per plate appearance compared to 3.65 and 3.76 his first two seasons entering last night's action, and the payoff (including last night) has been a .286/.518/.369 line, including a pace for 44 doubles and 25 home runs. Go Dog Go!
BASEBALL: Knuckle Under
An alert reader points me to this charming New Yorker article on the knuckleball, focusing on Tim Wakefield and Red Sox prospect Charlie Zink (given the Bill James influence on the organization, it's unsurprising that there's a pro-knuckleball and pro-sidearm bias at work in Boston; I'm a big fan myself). I hadn't known that Toad Ramsey was considered the primeval knuckleballer.
This anecdote about Zink was amusing:
“My first double-A game, I was pitching in Binghamton against the Mets,” he said. “And the second hitter I faced pulled a rib-cage muscle from swinging so hard. He had to get taken out of the game. I mean, that was one of the funniest things I’ve seen.”
May 12, 2004
BASEBALL: Nothing Lost in Translation
Give Kaz Matsui this much credit: the guy knows how to make a first impression. Tonight, Randy Johnson got the rude awakening about the wiry shortstop's power, as Matsui leads the game off with a homer on Johnson's second pitch of the game.
UPDATE (Thursday Morning): And 1-0 is how it ends. I have to admit that Braden Looper and Tom Glavine have both been far better than my preseason skepticism indicated (both have had improved control, Looper dramatically), although I still don't trust either one of them. There have been too few positive surprises this season, although Orber Moreno has looked good at times and Eric "Prince" Valent has shown an enticing combination of patience and power.
The real test comes if Glavine is still pitching well in July and contending teams start inquiring about taking him and maybe half his contract off the Mets' hands. Will they be able to pull the trigger even if it means writing off a multimilliondollar loss?
BASEBALL: The Origins
John Thorn has found evidence of baseball being played as early as 1791 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. No word on how the Pittsfield team fared against teams from New York . . .
May 11, 2004
BASEBALL: Baldwin Bad
News flash: James Baldwin is still bad.
BASEBALL: Darin Pipp?
The overpaid and perenially underperforming Darin Erstad may really live to regret his latest injury, as the Angels have responded by bringing up top prospect Casey Kotchman from AA to take his place. Kotchman was batting .368 with power in Arkansas. At this point, Erstad's contract is really the only reason he still has a job anyway, but eventually the Angels may realize that the money is a sunk cost and send him somewhere where Erstad's decent batting averages, good glove in the outfield, speed and versatility can make him a useful bench player rather than a subpar everyday player.
BASEBALL: Mondesi Done
Looks like Raul Mondesi is sitting out the rest of the season due to a legal dispute back home in the Dominican Republic; although one report says that "Mondesi believed his wife or four children may have been in jeopardy, and he returned home to insure their safety," perhaps the more telling quote is this one:
"I've played 20 straight years of baseball all year round," Mondesi said. "I deserve a rest even if it's only for a few months. Today I took my children to school for the first time in my life. It was an amazing feeling."
There have been questions for some time about how dedicated Mondesi really is; he's hardly the first ballplayer to decide he just isn't enjoying the game anymore. Hopefully, after some time away, he'll be ready to make the game a priority again.
May 6, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Mr. Met, Patriot
He’s serving in the U.S. Army now and has gone from wearing a baseball as a head to keeping the ball rolling at a prison camp for terrorists.
Of course, the Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are sure to confess when he walks into the interrogation room in the Mr. Met head . . .
BASEBALL: A Word To The Wise
May 5, 2004
BASEBALL: Catching The Record
Mike Piazza's first-inning homer tonight breaks Carlton Fisk's career record for homers as a catcher. Good to see the record behind him, thus avoiding the Gary Carter-in-1988 problem, where Carter slumped horribly as months passed with him stuck on 299 career homers.
May 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Power Up
Adam Dunn certainly seems to have regained his lost power stroke without cutting his strikeouts - Dunn's 9 homers trail only Barry Bonds, yet his 32 walks and 29 whiffs put him, at present, on a pace for around 200 of each.
Another guy to watch in the early going: Oliver Perez, having what certainly looks like the kind of breakout year that will give Pirates fans hope of breaking even on the Brian Giles trade. With 29 whiffs and just 5 walks in 25.2 IP, Perez is starting to feel his oats - but then, he's thus far faced only the Reds (twice), Mets and Brewers. Something more needs to be proven yet.
BASEBALL: Wright Stuff
Via Jason Mastaitis at Always Amazin', Baseball America takes a look at David Wright, who may be the Mets' third baseman in the very near future. Wright, who almost invariably draws comparisons to Scott Rolen, may well be the franchise's most valuable property; he doesn't have Jose Reyes' injury history and, unlike Scott Kazmir, he's not a pitcher (pitchers are always a risk - who would you rather bet on for the next three years, Albert Pujols or Mark Prior?).
May 3, 2004
BASEBALL: 2004 NL East Established Win Shares Report
In the grand tradition of half-finished serieses on this website, I am at long last returning to the next installment of my division-by-division walk around the major leagues by Established Win Shares Levels. It's still early enough that it feels worthwhile to cover the NL East, although we'll see how long the last division (NL Central) takes; I may resort to running one team at a time. (Now that I have the routine down pat, I'll try to get them all done before the season next year). Here's my previous efforts:
A few recurring notes on the method: Recall that the projected win totals below are probably a bit on the low side, in part because I only list 23 players, and that these aren't really projections at all, so much as estimates of how much established major league talent is on each roster. Also, as before, I've indicated the players who are ranked only on 2002-03 with a #, players ranked only on 2003 with a *, and rookies with a +. For rookie non-pitchers with everyday jobs, I've arbitrarily pencilled in 10 Win Shares , 5 WS for rookie pitchers with rotation slots, 3 for bench players and 2 for relievers. So, with the defending champion Marlins off and running, how does the EWSL method stack up the division?
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Adjusted EWSL: 265.8 (87 wins)
Unfortunately for the Phillies, it looks like you can add Marlon Byrd to the list of baseball's perennial slowest starters, about half of whom are already on this roster (although Thome's bucking the trend this year; beware of injury when a slow starter starts that quickly!) . . . the Phillies really are and should be the division favorites, regardless of the inertia of success in Atlanta, regardless of the flag flying in Miami, and yes, regardless of their 11-12 start. They've wisely loaded up with usable veterans (you will note that the Phils needed almost no adjustments for players with less than 3 years of big league experience), because this is a team whose moment is now.
New York Mets
Adjusted EWSL: 217.3 (72 wins)
Before you jump on me for the Mets' high ranking here, notice the "wins" figure - EWSL just figures them to be the best of a crappy bunch trailing the Phillies. Of course, the odds on us seeing the entire Mets lineup on the field at once are pretty long. It's tough to be rebuilding and still have, by a goodly margin, the oldest team in the division. It's just tough to be optimistic about the Mets given Reyes' injury problems and the organization's history over the past decade and a half of churning out young players who can't stay healthy long enough to develop their talents.
Adjusted EWSL: 209.2 (70 wins)
Bill James, 1988 Abstract:
I suspect . . . that Whitey is . . . reaching the end of his effectiveness in St. Louis. It's been a long run, but people have begun to think that Herzog is magic, that he can solve all the problems of this team just by sending the baserunners and pulling all the right levers. That's a dangerous sign, I think, a sign that Herzog's run is about over; whenever largue numbers of people start saying that you're a genius, you're about to have problems.
I couldn't put my hands on the reference, but I believe James made a similar point about Buck Rogers in Montreal: once the management decides that you are such a brilliant manager that they don't have to pay decent players to play for you, you have problems. Hence, your 2004 Atlanta Braves, the last remnants of a dying order. There are just a few too many holes in the lineup here to win with the kind of pitching the Braves have now.
Defending World Champion Florida Marlins
Adjusted EWSL: 192 (64 wins)
On the one hand, the Marlins are the very picture of the kind of team the EWSL method underrates, since they are heavily reliant on talented young pitchers and hitters (Cabrera, Choi) who have yet to get a full season's at bats. If he's healthy, you expect more than 8 Win Shares from Josh Beckett, for example. On the other hand, that has to be a reminder that these guys are still loaded with risky, unproven players, and no matter how high your confidence in youth, those players can fail. Choi looks great so far, although Derrek Lee left big shoes to fill (23 EWSL); they miss Pudge (18 EWSL) even more, given the shaky solutions left behind. . . . without casting aspersions on his birthdate, it still amazes me that Wil Cordero is only 32. Seems like he's been hanging on forever . . . Dontrelle Willis' slugging average is now down to 1.000 on the year.
Montreal/San Juan Expos
Adjusted EWSL: 190.4 (63 wins)
Hamlet II would have brought back more returning talent than these Expos, notwithstanding one of baseball's best double play combinations. Last season, when Guerrero and Vazquez were on hand, was the time to sell the team.
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May 2, 2004
Maybe I'm overreacting to last night's game, when he served up a 2-run moonshot to Brian Giles - I don't think so, since this sort of thing has become all too common this season - but I'm about ready to conclude that John Franco is, finally, finished. He's had a good run, but I just don't see him fooling anybody anymore.
May 1, 2004
BASEBALL: Move Over Steve Bartman
You just have to see what happened in the sixth inning of game 2 of the Braves-Rockies doubleheader at Coors Field this evening - you won't believe it if you don't. Vinny Castilla, who's back with the Rox, went into the first row of the stands to catch a foul ball, and banged into a fan (presumably a Rockies fan) who was reaching for the ball. As Castilla is turning to try and convince the umpire that he caught the ball, the fan reaches in and takes the ball out of Castilla's glove, resulting in the ump (who didn't seem to see what happened) blowing the call and ruling no catch.
Unbelievable. Like I said, watch tonight's highlights for this one.
April 30, 2004
BASEBALL: We Get Letters
A reader, surveying worst-case scenarios, writes to ask:
Do you know what the best record for a team in April was, without then making the postseason? I am asking as a Red Sox fan, and looking at possibly finishing April at .727
Well, I don't have a definite answer, but I've got a pretty good guess. The 1987 Brewers went 18-3 in April, including the famous 13-0 getaway highlighted by Juan Nieves' no-hitter (they were 18-2 when Paul Molitor pulled his hamstring and missed a month), and stood at 20-3 on the morning of May 3, the day they started their 12-game losing streak. The Brew Crew finished third, albeit only 7 games back.
BASEBALL: More Olney Baloney
Buster Olney is back with another ode to "productive outs," yet again taking a simple notion - that there can be a benefit at times to sacrificing an out to improve your chances of scoring one run - and blowing it out of proportion as if it's the main reason for certain teams' successes and failures. Bizarrely, Olney's Exhibit A this time in support of his "Smallball vs. Moneyball" rant (ESPN's title, not mine) is a Yankees-Red Sox game last week in which the Red Sox won 2-0, with the only runs scoring on this sequence in the Boston fourth:
-Top of the 4th inning -M Bellhorn walked. -D Ortiz struck out looking. -M Ramirez homered to left, M Bellhorn scored. -K Millar lined out to shortstop. -J Varitek flied out to center.
Yup, the game turned on a walk (by Mark Bellhorn, the main target of Olney's scorn) and a home run, with the only intervening out being the least productive kind, with David Ortiz' strikeout being rendered moot by Manny's home run. Productive outs, indeed. See here for more on Olney's misguided attempt to pass off his pet theory as if it were a meaningful form of statistical analysis, notably the fact that his theory completely ignores the fact that teams that move a lot of baserunners are better than teams that don't because teams that have a lot of baserunners in the first place are better than teams that don't.
UPDATE: Well, this one certainly brought out the long knives. Check out Derek Zumsteg, David Pinto, and the Primates on Olney's folly. By the way, I also enjoyed how Olney quoted Paul O'Neill saying, in essence, how the Yankees were better when they had Paul O'Neill.
April 29, 2004
BASEBALL: Stripe-ed Tigers
Things are looking up for the Detroit pitching staff. This is all relative; although they won't be mistaken for Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in their primes, the early returns on three of Detroit's young starters show a few signs for cautious optimism:
Maroth's numbers are particularly encouraging, and show a guy who's maturing into a dependable starter with great control, although with his low strikeout rate he'll always get hit. Robertson's numbers are your basic Nolan Ryan stat line - don't expect that to keep up, and don't expect him to finish with a 2.78 ERA if he keeps walking 6 men per 9 innings. But the exceptionally high strikeout rate is a very good sign.
Bonderman is still a long way off, but his high K rate is also a sign that he's starting to fool some people, which he did precious little of last season.
BASEBALL: Do They Come In Sets of a Billion?
April 28, 2004
FOOTBALL/BASEBALL/BASKETBALL: Lighting Up The Scoreboard
If you're wondering why New York Giants fans are so excited about Eli Manning, well, let me offer some perspective here. Consider my somewhat-typical experience. I'm a Mets/Giants/Knicks fan, and I'm 32 years old. Manning gives me, potentially (if he lives up to billing), the opportunity to see my favorite team develop an offensive superstar. Now, if you're a Red Sox fan or a Lakers fan or, even, a Detroit Lions or Montreal Expos fan, that may not sound like anything terribly novel. But consider the top homegrown offensive stars of my three favorite teams over the past 30 years or so, at least based on their performance in NY:
1. Patrick Ewing
That's a top-of-the head list (feel free to quibble - this one's a natural argument-starter), and after Ewing, it's pretty weak; plenty of individual franchises could do better. And neither of the corresponding lists will knock your socks off, either - the top guys who were brought along in NY but bloomed elsewhere (Rod Strickland, Ed McCaffrey, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Gregg Jefferies), and the top guys who arrived from elsewhere (a list that starts to fall off after Mike Piazza, Bernard King and Bob McAdoo - meaning no disrespect to Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez - and on which the top Giants are creaky old guys like Ottis Anderson and Fran Terkenton).
Looking at the list above, it's no surprise that the Mets have never had an MVP or a batting champ, the Knicks haven't had an MVP or scoring champ in the past 35 years, and I couldn't find the last time the Giants had a league leader in passing, rushing or receiving yards. My New York, at least, is a defensive town. That's why people went crazy for Stephon Marbury, who seems no more likely to bring home playoff glory than King or McAdoo, and why Mets fans are so hopeful about Jose Reyes if he can ever put together a healthy season.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:21 AM | Baseball 2004 | Basketball | Football | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
April 26, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Men of Honor
I have little to add about the death of Pat Tillman that hasn't been better said elsewhere, although a quote from General George S. Patton I'd seen used elsewhere lately seemed a fitting tribute: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
It is worthwhile, at such a time, to remember that Tillman is not the first professional athlete to put his athletic career aside and put his life on the line for his country. The sacrifices of the World War II generation, like Ted Williams, is also a tale that's been better told elsewhere, including the contributions of Williams, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, Ralph Houk, Phil Rizzuto, Cecil Travis, Mickey Vernon, Dom DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Johnny Pesky, Dick Wakefield, Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller, Alvin Dark, Sam Chapman, Buddy Lewis, Hank Sauer, Sid Gordon, Virgil Trucks, Hank Bauer, Barney McCosky, Ferris Fain, Eddie Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Wally Judnich, Enos Slaughter, Pete Reiser, Elbie Fletcher, Terry Moore, Al Rosen, Ralph Kiner, Pee Wee Reese, and others.
But baseball's sacrifices in the First World War need remembering, too, including:
*"Harvard Eddie" Grant, formerly an everyday third baseman for the Phillies and Reds, killed in action October 5, 1918 in the Argonne Forest.
*German-born Robert Gustave "Bun" Troy, who made a brief appearance with the Tigers in 1912, killed in action October 7, 1918 in Petit Maujouym, in France.
*Christy Mathewson, who suffered severe health problems from which he never recovered - possibly contributing to his death in 1925 at age 45 from tuberculosis - after inhaling poison gas in a training accident. (Ty Cobb also served in the same unit).
*Grover Cleveland Alexander, who as I explained here, would probably have made it to 400 wins or close to it if he hadn't lost a year at his peak to World War I, and who suffered lasting trauma from seeing combat with an artillery outfit.
*Sam Rice, who as I explained here, missed a year following his first big season after being drafted into the Army in World War I; Rice also got a late start in the majors because he’d joined the Navy at age 23 after his parents, wife and two children were killed by a tornado (Rice saw combat in the Navy, landing at Vera Cruz in 1914). Without those interruptions, Rice could easily have had 3500-3700 hits in the major leagues.
*Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville also missed a year to the Great War, as did several others I've overlooked here.
Perhaps not quite on the same level as a guy like Tillman, who volunteered for some of the Army's most hazardous duty, but in the long run those are just details. Heroes all.
April 25, 2004
BASEBALL: The Day I Met Ted Williams
There are baseball heroes, and then there are just plain heroes. And then there are guys who were both. More on that subject later. For now, it seems an appropriate moment to tell a story I've been meaning to get to for some time: the day I met Ted Williams.
Now, for a variety of reasons, I've been fortunate to meet a number of famous ballplayers and political figures, and even managed to get my picture taken with some of them. But there's nothing quite like meeting the Splendid Splinter in person.
This was back in the fall of 1992, my senior year of college, and I was an officer in the College Republicans at Holy Cross. We were in Boston for a Bush/Quayle '92 event, filled with the sort of enthusiasm that no one over the age of 21 could possibly have had for the Bush/Quayle ticket, in Massachusetts, in the fall of that year. The Mets had a better year in 1992.
I was with Shawn Regan, a friend and the head of the CR group at the time, and one of us (Regan, I think) had thought to bring a camera. Early on, I believe, we managed to snag a picture with Bill Weld, then the governor of the state (politicians, wisely, are pretty generous with having their pictures taken with young volunteers, even if we weren't really all that useful to the campaign). But Williams was the evening's big attraction; he was speaking to a fairly modest-sized conference room full of people (us included), raising money and enthusiasm for the first President Bush's re-election. This being 1992, of course, the politics of military service were about the opposite of what they are today, and Williams' brief talk focused heavily on George H.W. Bush's distinguished service as a World War II fighter pilot in the Pacific, an experience Williams himself famously shared, and on the contrasting service record (or, rather, the absence thereof) of Bill Clinton. Teddy Ballgame, to put it mildly, did not think much of Clinton.
Williams was then still in great health and vigor - as he would remain until his stroke two years later - and that night he was in full John Wayne mode, wearing a bolo tie and pressing on through his speech with more force than eloquence. Of course, it was tribute enough to hear a speech from a man who so visibly did not enjoy giving them.
The chronology escapes me now, but I believe it was before Williams' speech that we ran into him (almost literally) as he was coming out of the men's room, with a fairly small group around him. Regan, who had a bit more presence of mind than I did at this juncture, managed to get out, "Mr. Williams, do you mind if we get a picture with you?" So, each of us got to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great hitter himself. As we posed for the photo, Williams said something along the lines of "two fine fellows," to which I believe I responded something like "urk". I mean, how can you not be in awe of Ted Williams? And I still have a copy of the picture to this day (not the original photo, which was in my office at the World Trade Center, but a copy of my parents' copy; it'll do).
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(I've gotten a better pair of glasses since then . . . so I'm only about 95% as dorky-looking. On the other hand, that was back when I was lifting weights 5-6 days a week. But hey, that's me with Ted Williams! Who cares what I look like?)
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BASEBALL: Overmatched, Part II
Mets are fielding an even worse lineup today, with Guitierrez and Zeile in the infield and a AAA outfield of Karim Garcia, Jeff Duncan and Eric "Prince" Valent.
The results thus far have been predictable - drop what you're doing and go check out what's in progress at Wrigley.
UPDATE: Jinx worked; Matt Clement lasted one more inning with the no-hitter before surrendering a homer into the foliage in dead center by Garcia and, for good measure, a single by Valent (Mike Piazza gets an assist for an 8-pitch at bat before Garcia came up). But Clement's still in with 12 whiffs and a 3-run lead with one out in the top of the 8th.
April 24, 2004
Your New York Mets starting lineup today against Kerry Wood:
Kaz Matsui, SS
You just aren't going to win much with that; is it any surprise they got shut out? And while we're at it, why have Zeile hit second and Cameron sixth? At least Cameron can run if he manages to get on base; Zeile was slow 15 years ago. Actually, despite a few lapses in the field, Cameron has basically been exactly what he was cracked up to be, batting .236/.418/.348 after hitting .253/.431/.344 last season and .239/.442/.340 in 2002.
BLOG/BASEBALL: New Blog City
Like most bloggers, I get emails from time to time asking me to check out new blogs. Generally, like most bloggers, I'm more interested in someone sending me an interesting post they've written rather than a general "look at my blog" or "let's trade links." But I also remember when, not so long ago, this was a small blog in internet nowhere, so I hate to just blow people off.
My two cents, by the way, on getting linked? Here's a few tips:
1. Write regularly. Regular content is huge in getting noticed.
Anyway, presented without further introduction, here's a list of blogs who have dropped me a line the past few months, mostly baseball blogs and also some message boards, if you're looking for new content to read; some of these are no doubt good sites and some are not, but I haven't had time myself to tell the difference:
The Bug (Mudville Magazine Blog)
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:28 AM | Baseball 2004 | Blog 2002-05 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Wilson Rides Again?
Michael Fishman, a new contributor over at Dan Lewis' new site, demands to know why Jose Lima is starting for the Dodgers and Wilson Alvarez isn't.
April 23, 2004
BASEBALL: Gwynn and Raines, Part II
Following up on yesterday's review of Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines . . . there are a variety of statistical metrics out there to measure a player's career value. Let's mix and match, with a hearty helping from the Baseball Prospectus, sticking to the same comparison group of Gwynn, Raines, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, Pete Rose, and Ichiro.
Holy acronyms, Batman! See below for explanation. You will notice a few things:
*Again, these players look pretty similar, at least as hitters, once you adjust for context.
*If you're wondering, Raines earns 51 fielding Win Shares to Gwynn's 45, which helps even the score a bit despite Gwynn's offensive advantage.
*The BP stats - which love Wade Boggs - prefer Raines to Gwynn with the bat despite Gwynn's higher batting average. That "XO" category tells a big part of the story - Raines made very few unnecessary outs (he rarely hit into DPs and was the greatest percentage base thief of all time, almost 85% in nearly 1000 attempts), while Gwynn and Rod Carew made the most such outs of anyone in this group.
*Gwynn's high batting average gives him the best translated slugging percentage in the group, although Molitor had the most power.
*Ichiro, even just on three seasons of his prime, barely keeps pace with the rest of the group. He's an outstanding player, but he's not Gwynn or Raines or the others.
*Yes, Tony Gwynn was a great player. But if you can find a dime's difference between Gwynn and Raines, you are stretching. Raines should be every bit as much the no-questions-asked Hall of Famer as Gwynn.
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WS= Win Shares (includes defense)
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April 22, 2004
BASEBALL: Valuing Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines
Geoff Young at Ducksnorts has some well-deserved fun at the expense of Baseball Prospectus' comment that Ichiro Suzuki "is the player people think Tony Gwynn was." Now, it's true enough that Gwynn's high batting averages led many casual observers to overrate him over the years. But BP's disdain for Gwynn goes overboard, and shows a real lack of appreciation for the man's talents, as well as for the broader point: the value of batting average.
Which presents two questions. The first is about batting average itself. As I noted three years ago in my tribute to Ichiro, the hallowed place of batting average in the minds of sportswriters can be traced to the fact that, back when the game began in the 1870s and early 1880s, the ability to "hit 'em where they ain't" really was the game's one and only really critical offensive skill.
Guess what? For all the uses of power, speed and patience, it's still the most important skill. Don't believe me? Simple math tells the story. Let's look at the league totals for 2003:
Yes, I know this is a crude calculation, but it makes the point (in fact, Hits still outweight Extra Bases if you add the number of home runs to the latter and subtract it from the former, even in our homer-happy era). While there are exceptions (like the extreme case of Barry Bonds), the ability to get hits is still the most valuable single skill in the offensive toolkit.
(The other major objection to batting average, set out at some length in the Orioles team comment of this year's Prospectus, is that the ability to hit singles, doubles and triples is a more volatile and less dependable skill from year to year. That's a valid objection, but it's a far cry from showing that it's not a statistically significantly measurable individual skill).
Anyway, the other question raised is about Tony Gwynn himself - how good was he? I've been looking at Gwynn in the context of comparing him to Tim Raines, for purposes of explaining Raines' Hall of Fame candidacy, and I'll admit that I was surprised myself to see how well Gwynn stacks up. Rather than a systematic analysis, let's just show how a variety of different career offensive measures stack up both Gwynn and Raines against four other similar recent players of undeniable Hall of Fame credentials - Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, and Pete Rose. I'll throw Ichiro's numbers through 2003 in the mix just to fill things out.
Let's look at the raw numbers first:
(TOB=Times on Base)
At first glance, aside from the massive size of Rose's career and Boggs' superior OBP and lack of steals, what's remarkable is how similar these guys look. Continued tomorrow - some more sophisticated measurements.
April 21, 2004
BASEBALL: Shut The Door
I have to say, at this point there just isn't anybody in the Mets' bullpen I would trust. Tonight's game was yet another fiasco . . . I suppose Weathers has been reliable at times in the past, but he's probably the best they've got, and that's not saying much (Looper can be dominating when he's on, but he's basically just a cheaper, wilder Benitez). I know spending money on the bullpen is justifiably a low priority for a rebuilding team, but that doesn't make it more fun to watch, and it does make me appreciate Bobby Valentine, who whatever his other faults always managed to put together a pen that could hold leads.
Cleaning out old emails, a reader had sent me this WaPo article forever ago - it's got some interesting lore on baseball bats.
April 20, 2004
A reader writes to ask, "Omar Vizquel is about to get his 2000th hit. How many players who have achieved such a milestone have been worse offensively?" I think we have an answer, at least on the question of who was the worst.
Vizquel - who stands at 1998 hits entering tonight's action - has been, on balance, a pretty mediocre hitter, albeit a good one in his best seasons and more than productive enough to go with his slick glove at short. His career averages are .273 batting, .356 slugging and .340 OBP.
According to Aaron Haspel's invaluable search engine, thirty players have (like Vizquel) notched 2,000 hits without either a career OBP of .350 or a career slugging % of .400. Aaron's search engine hasn't been updated with stats beyond 2001, but the only other recent entrant to the 2,000 hit club who approaches this level of futility is Marquis Grissom, who last season became the 24th player to clear 2,000 hits with an OBP of .330 or less.
The leading contenders for worst of the bunch are the five players with career OBPs below .310 and career slugging percentages below .400 - Tommy Corcoran, Frank White, Larry Bowa, Bill Mazeroski, and Garry Templeton. Each has his own merits - Bowa has the lowest slugging percentage of the group at .320, White struck out twice as much as the others and had the lowest batting average (.255) plus playing in a DH league, and Mazeroski was the only one who didn't steal bases. But it's nearly impossible to argue with Corcoran; the former Dodgers and Reds shortstop had the lowest OBP of the group (.289) and a poor slugging percentage (.335), while being an everyday player through the 1890s, the highest-scoring offensive era in baseball history. In 1895, for example - not a particularly atypical year for Corcoran - he batted .265 with a .299 OBP while the National League as a whole batted .296 with a .354 OBP, and the average team scored 6.58 runs/game. After the offensive bonanza of the 1890s turned to the low-scoring 1900s, Corcoran was even worse relative to the league, a .240 hitter with no power who regularly drew less than 20 walks a year. Given that he played regularly for many years, mostly on winning teams, Corcoran must have been contributing something with his glove; he sure wasn't helping with the bat.
BASEBALL: Bury My Heart at Le Stade Olympique
With last night's strangulation by Tyler Yates on the way to his first major league win, the Expos have scored 20 runs in 12 games, an average of just 1.67 runs per game and nearly a run below the worst mark in major league history, the 1908 Cardinals, who averaged 2.41 runs/game in a league where the average team scored 3.33 R/G.
The Expos shouldn't be quite that bad, particularly if Nick Johnson ever returns, but the offense does look grisly. However, asking the good people of Montreal and San Juan to sit through the 1899 Cleveland Spiders - Part Deux! is too much. With the departures of Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vazquez, this team no longer even pretends to be a competitive franchise any longer. And why Frank Robinson, baseball legend and successful manager and executive, has bothered to stick around when he no longer has Guerrero to mentor is just beyond me.
Put them out of their misery. Now.
April 19, 2004
BASEBALL: Another One for the Crime Dog
I meant to link to this one back when I was looking at Fred McGriff - Rich Lederer stands up for McGriff as a Hall of Fame candidate.
BASEBALL: Lost Weekend
This weekend's series with the Pirates was one of those where-do-you-even start deals - just everything went wrong. The lowlight was Friday night's bullpen implosion that turned a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning into a 7-2 deficit, a hole that was just a bit too deep for the comeback that followed. And we still have yet to see the Mets' entire lineup on the field at once. Ugh.
April 18, 2004
BASEBALL: Fast No More
In a move that will be of interest only to the most hard-core devotees of the encylopedic trivia of baseball history, the Mad Hibernian has informed me that The Pitcher Formerly Known Only As Fast has been identified.
BASEBALL: The Power of Yan
I noted this in the comments the other day to the Mad Hibernian's post on Dontrelle Willis' slugging exploits: there's actually an active pitcher who's tied for the all-time record for career slugging percentage among players with more than one major league at bat: Esteban Yan, who has a homer, a single and a sacrifice hit in his three major league plate appearances. Equally interesting: he's only seen five pitches in those three plate appearances, and he's never batted in the minor leagues (I noted Yan homering on the first pitch he saw as a professional ballplayer as a sign of the apocalypse back in June 2000).
Yan's career slugging % of 2.500 ties him with pitcher Frank O'Connor, who posted a similar batting line for the 1893 Phillies. Two others have a slugging average of 2.000 - Ed Irvin, one of the sandlot subs from the famous Tigers strike game in 1912, who tripled in two of his three at bats, and Red Sox pitcher Hal Deviney, who singled and tripled in his only at bats in 1920.
April 16, 2004
BASEBALL: No Clear Path
The Royals cruised to an early division lead last season by whomping on their division rivals; despite some great hitting early on, looks like we won't see that repeated, as KC has a 4-5 record (all against division rivals) and a 5.83 team ERA. Wednesday's game against the White Sox captured this perfectly, as the Royals rallied from a 6-0 deficit to get to 6-5, only to see Shawn Camp and Scott Sullivan give back two runs in the bottom of the seventh; then, after a stirring 4-run ninth inning rally involving back-to-back homers by Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney off Billy Koch (who doesn't look right now like a great bet to hold the closer job for the ChiSox), Curtis Leskanic blew the save and lost the game 10-9. Add in yesterday's 6-5 loss in 10 innings to Chicago, and you've got some real lost opportunities in the early jockeying for position in the AL Central.
April 15, 2004
BASEBALL: Shooting Blancos
What on earth has got into Henry Blanco? The Twins looked to be in a tight spot indeed when, opening the season after dealing A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants, they lost Joe Mauer and Matt LeCroy to injuries, leaving the weak-hitting Blanco as the Twinkies' everyday catcher. This is a guy who's never slugged .400 or batted higher than .236 in five major league seasons; his career high OBP was .320, and that came in Coors Field.
So what does he go and do? Through 7 games including tonight's explosion, Blanco has cracked 3 doubles and 3 homers and drawn 5 walks for a Ruthian .364/.909/.500 line. My first instinct is to point out that, even in such a small sample size, patience pays off; Blanco's been seeing almost an extra pitch per at bat compared to the past two years; the result is both a higher walk rate and the power that comes from seeing good pitches. The more obvious answer, other than the fact that anybody can have 4 good games (Blanco opened the season 0 for his first three starts), may be some of the same thing that helped Orlando Husdon's spike in seeing pitches: the Tigers. Blanco's faced nobody but Detroit and Cleveland.
Sometimes, a hot streak is just a soft spot in the schedule.
Soxblog has some thoughts on the applicability (or not) of the Bill James/Moneyball approach outside of the baseball world (which rather completes the circle, since Michael Lewis' book worked in large part because he brought lessons from Wall Street to bear on baseball). I agree with his diagnosis that baseball is much more easily subject to objective analysis because the number of variables that have changed over time is pretty minor compared to other fields. Mike and the Mad Dog also interviewed Lewis today (audio link here; hat tip to Dr. Manhattan, who emailed the link with the comment that it shows "an example of parties speaking different languages even though the conversation is in English").
April 14, 2004
BASEBALL: Keeps Turning Up
With a dominant performance last night against Montreal, Brad Penny is off to one blazing start this season:
Small sample size, of course; anybody can have two good starts. But not just anybody puts up an eye-popping 16-2 K/BB ratio even in that small a sample.
April 12, 2004
BASEBALL: 4/12/04 Notes
*The Mets' hopes of ever having their entire projected starting lineup on the field don't look great after Cliff Floyd pulled up lame yesterday with a quad injury that looked just awful (he had to be helped off the field). Jose Reyes remains sidelined. The Mets' offense looks pretty good to me, if they could ever all get healthy. If.
*From the Department of Trends That Won't Continue, Victor "Old Hoss" Zambrano, who got an extra start from the trip to Japan, is now on pace for 69 wins, 9 or 10 (depending what source you believe) ahead of the all time record, 27 ahead of Jack Chesbro's AL record and 55 ahead of Rolando Arrojo's club record of 14 (I'd at least make Zambrano a decent bet at the latter). More at-this-pace nonsense for Zambrano: 409 innings, 347 hits, 69 home runs, 231 walks, 347 strikeouts. Sure, Zambrano hasn't even pitched outstandingly well even in the small sample - but don't wake Devil Rays fans yet, who get so few brushes with history.
April 10, 2004
BASEBALL: Milwaukee's Best
Will the Brewers be better than you or I think this season? Well, for me, it wouldn't be hard. The Albethke Round Table thinks that, at a minimum, the Brew Crew will do a better job of getting on base this season, although the most optimistic number floated is 76 wins. Read the whole thing.
April 9, 2004
BASEBALL: Counting the Chickens
Great Met game tonight in San Juan, featuring great pitching by Tyler Yates (making his major league debut) and former future closer Orber Moreno, some fine hitting by Cliff Floyd, and a game-winning hit in the 11th by prodigal sub Todd Zeile. But I have to think that Art Howe was kicking himself for pulling Floyd, Mike Piazza and Jason Phillips - the core of his lineup - while clinging to a 2-run lead in the bottom of the 8th, only to wind up in extra innings. I know that removing Piazza and Floyd shores up the defense and Phillips went out in a double switch, but collectively that's just too high an offensive price to pay when the other team is two swings of the bat from sending you to extra innings.
BASEBALL/LAW: Blackmun Gold
I haven't yet done anything with the release of Harry Blackmun's papers from his years on the Supreme Court, but Shea Hot Corner reprinted some images of some of the more amusing examples pertaining to baseball. (And did you know that Blackmun belonged to a society of Cubs fans co-founded by Dick Cheney?)
On another note, Blackmun's papers include this item:
Chief Justice William Rehnquist set up an intricate pool for the 1992 presidential election with justices wagering on the results of each state. After the election Rehnquist announced that "Sandra (Day O'Connor) proved to be positively prescient," winning $18.30.
Presumably, if they ran one like that in 2000, they had to disband it.
BASEBALL: O The Patience
The Blue Jays, like the A's, have a brain trust committed to, among other things, patience at the plate. But while the A's have had some signal successes with that formula in the past, we have yet to really see dividends in Toronto.
One player on the Jays' roster who could use an infusion of patience is 26-year old second baseman Orlando Hudson, an athletic player who's flashed signs of power but has yet to make himself an offensive asset. Hudson drew just 39 walks last season. If you've been watching Hudson thus far for signs of patience, though, the early signs may be modestly encouraging.
Through the opening three-game set (albeit) against the Tigers, Hudson saw 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, up from 3.65 and 3.76 his first two seasons. Today, against the Red Sox and Bronson Arroyo, Hudson was a picture of patience his first four trips to the plate:
Second Inning, first and second, none out: Ball, Foul, Foul, Ball, Ball, Hudson walked.
Fourth Inning, leading off: Strike looking, Ball, Foul, Ball, Ball, Hudson walked.
Fifth Inning, second and third, one out: Ball, Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Foul, Hudson struck out looking, Hinske caught stealing, catcher to shortstop.
Eighth Inning, runner on first, one out: Foul, Ball, Ball, Hudson doubled to center, Hinske scored
In the ninth, however, Hudson faced David McCarty, making his debut as a pitcher with a runner on first and one out; Hudson swung at McCarty's first pitch and grounded out. I wasn't watching the game; maybe McCarty threw him a meatball. Still, you'd like a guy to take a pitch in that situation, see what McCarty has to offer and whether he can get the ball over the plate in a real game.
Overall, though, looks like another small step towards Hudson learning a valuable skill: 5 plate appearances, 23 pitches seen (4.6/plate appearance), including 13 balls, three strikes taken, 5 fouled off, and an extra-base hit. Keep your eyes on Hudson to see if this keeps up; if it does, I wouldn't be surprised to see more power follow from forcing pitchers to throw him better pitches.
April 8, 2004
BASEBALL: Showin' How It's Done
By now, you've probably seen Alex Belth's interview with Bill James. I just wanted to highlight one of the best non-answer answers to a question I've ever seen, when James says, "This question requires me to think in ways that I simply don't think." That's a combination of blunt candor, evasion and philosophical depth that even Don Rumsfeld would have to envy.
April 7, 2004
Joe Mauer's promising rookie season gets put rapidly on the shelf, as he'll need knee surgery and is expected to miss a month. Matt LeCroy, the only plausible alternative with the bat at the position, left tonight's game in the 2nd inning with a rib injury. Johan Santana left last night's game with cramps in his pitching arm, while Torii Hunter's hamstring is ailing and could sideline him for4 or 5 days. Tough times in Minnesota.
BASEBALL: Do It Hard!
From the CBSSportsline play-by-play of the first inning tonight (in reverse order):
Phillips singled hard to right. Cameron homered hard to deep left center. Piazza homered hard to deep left center, Floyd scored. Floyd singled hard to right.
As opposed to soft home runs?
Looks like another good first inning, anyway. Could be a long year in Atlanta.
UPDATE: 6-0 entering the bottom of the third. I'm starting to feel pretty good about the Mets' offense, if they can keep them all healthy (with Jose Reyes on the DL, we're not there yet). Score one for the incurable optimists.
FOURTH INNING UPDATE: Not feeling so good about the pitching staff. Traschel blew the whole 6-run lead. Grant Roberts is in. Bases loaded, nobody out.
UPDATE: 11-run inning for the Braves. Long night for all concerned.
UPDATE: Piazza cracks his third home run in two days. Of course, it's still 14-7 Braves.
FINAL UPDATE: Braves win 18-10. Piazza has an even better game than Matsui did yesterday, and is now just one homer shy of Carlton Fisk's career record for catchers.
BASEBALL: Bye, George
Bamberger's tenure as Mets manager wasn't the high point of his career, but he seemed like a decent guy who just didn't have the horses, much like Joe Torre before him. I'll always remember him more as the manager of the Brewers in the years when they gave full time jobs to, among others, Gorman Thomas, reclamation project Mike Caldwell, platoon players Cecil Cooper and Ben Oglivie, and raw rookie Paul Molitor, and wound up with an overnight contender.
BASEBALL: Gunn Theme
Happy blogoversary yesterday to our friends at Redbird Nation, which has really become one the web's best and most prolific baseball blogs.
April 6, 2004
BASEBALL: Well, That's A Start
Here I was, listening to the Met game on the radio and opening the play-by-play on CBS Sportsline, and before CBS even gets the lineups loaded, Kaz Matsui jacks the first pitch of the game, the first official pitch he's seen as a major league ballplayer, out of Turner Field for a home run.
Nowhere to go but down? Maybe. But it's a start. (Meanwhile, looks like the Yankees are reminding Victor Zambrano not to tug on Superman's cape).
UPDATE: RBI double for KazMat in his second time up; Glavine and Russ Ortiz are both getting teed off on tonight.
Mmmmmm . . . a full day's action yesterday, highlighted by the Royals' late rally and the Twins' dramatic 11-inning victory on Shannon Stewart's walk-off three-run homer. One interesting development in the Twins game that I'd missed in spring training: Michael Cuddyer's appearance at second base (actually his second, as he spotted there once last season). In the short run, Cuddyer's effort to reinvent himself as a utilityman who can play second and third should help alleviate the Twins' logjam of outfielders. But you have to wonder: if Cuddyer can handle the position defensively well enough to be out there in an extra inning game, maybe it will wind up being worth considering a full-time move so he can eat Luis oh-for-Threevas' lunch.
April 5, 2004
BASEBALL: No Two Twists Come Out The Same
From the Indians' perspective, it's pretty sad to have had to deal Milton Bradley, although as David Pinto has noted, Bradley's latest antics didn't really give them a choice, especially on a young team where the rules of the road still need to be imprinted on the youngsters. Of course, while they may be in a weak division, the Indians weren't likely to go far this year anyway, so losing Bradley's not as bad as it looks. And the player they got in return, 21-year-old outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, appears to be a Grade A prospect of the type the Indians don't presently have anywhere near the major league level (the Baseball Prospectus compares him to Juan Gonzalez).
For the Dodgers, while Gutierrez is a stiff price to pay and Bradley is a certifiable head case, this should be a steal unless Bradley just spins out of control. It will definitely be a challenge to Jim Tracy to get the most from Bradley, but if he can repeat his monster year last season, he'll give the Dodgers a desperately needed offensive infusion in a division LA can definitely win. (I'm not so much in favor of reviving the Shawn Green-to-1B idea, but given the absence of a decent first baseman, that may have been inevitable).
UPDATE: Fun but misleading fact to cheer up Dodgers fans: baseball-reference.com tabs the most similar player to Bradley, through age 25, as Gil Hodges. Well, except for the being totally insane part. (PECOTA prefers Roy White).
April 4, 2004
BASEBALL: Addition by Subtraction
The Mets dump Roger Cedeno on the Cardinals and eat most of his salary, getting just minor league veterans Wilson Delgado and Chris Widger in return. From the Mets' perspective, this had to be done; Cedeno didn't have a place on the team and wasn't happy or motivated.
For the Cards, you'd be tempted to say that a change of scenery would do him good, but he's had four changes of scenery before, and it's only done him good once. First thing I'd do is get Cedeno's eyes tested. . . he's a corner outfielder who's got no power, terrible defensive instincts, and sporadic plate patience; he's a speed player who's lost a step, and who knows how old he really is? I can't see him as a useful spare part.
BASEBALL: Say It Ain’t Seo, Part II
I'd echo the Mad Hibernian's comments on Jae Seo not making the Mets' rotation, which caught me (and, apparently, Seo) by surprise, even though I'd been following the battle for starting slots. While my gut reaction is to rip the Mets for giving a rotation slot to a retread like Scott Erickson, I can understand the logic in trying to get Erickson back to top form and then flip him for prospects. On the other hand, you hate to do this to a guy like Seo, who's young and was the team's best pitcher for much of last season. (Of course, the real problem is giving a big contract and a rotation slot to a pitcher who is both washed-up and untradeable, but that's another matter). I'm less upset about Grant Roberts failing to make the rotation, as I remain unconvinced that he has the arm strength to throw 200 innings.
On the plus side, Tyler Yates really has impressed this spring; while his minor league record is unimpressive, you never know with pitchers. And Aaron Heilman, who was so horrendous last year that I was ready to give up hope, was much more effective this spring. If the team can deal Erickson and - much as I hate to see him go - Leiter, things may be looking up.
BASEBALL: Taking a Swing at Wagner
Sunday at 8 on TNT, Matthew Modine is going where, apparently, no actor has gone before: portraying Honus Wagner on film. The tall, thin, and rather callow-looking Modine doesn't seem like the best choice for the rough-hewn, barrel-chested, bow-legged slugger from coal country in Western Pennsylvania, but Robert DeNiro, who seems the obvious choice if you've seen pictures of Wagner, is too old for the part, and it sounds like Modine's at least made a sincere effort to pick up some baseball chops and some of Wagner's mannerisms. Time will tell if he's successful (not that I'll be watching a movie that's on against the Sopranos, but I'll be tempted to see if I can catch a bit of the first hour). Wagner's certainly a guy worth remembering: as I've noted before, for the decade of his peak he was the best hitter for average in baseball, the best hitter for power in baseball, the game's best base thief, tough as nails and unafraid of anyone, and the nicest guy in the game to boot. As Modine learned from his research for the part:
"I didn't know much about Wagner besides the baseball card," he says. "When I researched him, I found out he was one of the best guys ever to play the game. I couldn't find anything negative about him."
April 1, 2004
BASEBALL: Spring Infatuations
Jon Weisman has some cogent suggestions for making spring training stats more meaningful. Personally, while I'd like to see this, I don't pay attention to spring stats unless they're real outliers, like a guy with a 12.00+ ERA or something, or a pitcher (such as Aaron Heilman this season) with a newly impressive K/BB ratio.
From a Daily News item about Elaine's, the famous celeb-infested Manhattan eatery:
Where else would Keith Hernandez make love to a socialite's girlfriend in the bathroom, only to be discovered by the guy and say, "Sorry, man," with a pat on his back?
BASEBALL: Yoda Speaks
If you missed it, as I did, Richard Ceccarelli at Pearly Gates has a few quotes from Bill James' appearance on Dennis Miller last night.
March 31, 2004
BASEBALL: Roto Part II
Well, I'm feeling much better now about coughing up $22 for Jorge Posada for my rotisserie team. I also have a second team, an AL-NL league, auto-drafted on Yahoo, 5x5 (traditional 8 categories plus Runs Scored and K), head-to-head, ten franchises, so each one is quite a bit stronger than your regular roto squad. Here's how mine came out in yesterday morning's auto-draft:
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I may live to regret ranking Soriano above Barry Bonds, but with the outfield I got, it should work out just fine. Seeing as I'm plenty stacked in the outfield and short on closers, I immediately cut Dunn and Phelps to pick up Rocky Biddle and Joe Nathan. This looks like an offensive juggernaut to me, even in the context of this type of league, although I can't say I'm thrilled to have to root for 3/5 of the Yankees rotation . . . Jeter went way, way low in this draft, after the likes of Carl Everett, Jay Payton and Randy Winn.
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BASEBALL: Ellis Down
The potential loss of Mark Ellis for the season (also noted here) is a big blow to the A's, who had counted on Ellis as the lynchpin of their infield defense, especially while breaking in new shortstop Bobby Crosby (who, as it turned out, broke Ellis instead). With the demise of the A's high-OBP formula, the team has increasingly relied on pitching and defense, and will now scramble for the latter. Frank Menechino and Esteban German are named as likely stopgaps, although ex-Met Marco Scutaro may also be in the mix.
BASEBALL: Not Ready for Prime Time
Jon Weisman says I told you so in observing that promising youngster Edwin Jackson's rotation slot with the Dodgers is in jeopardy from a bad spring.
March 30, 2004
BASEBALL: The Game Is Afoot
Ladies and Gentlemen: your last place New York Yankees!
Head here and scroll down to see David Pinto's live blogging of this morning's game. From what I saw, the Yanks have some work to do on their defense. But, of course, it is early.
BASEBALL: 2004 NL West Established Win Shares Report
At long last, I've gotten back around to finishing another Established Win Shares Levels report, this one for the NL West. It's not looking so hot for getting the other two divisions up before the non-Japanese part of the MLB schedule opens up on April 6, but I'll do what I can, and hope to have the whole thing wrapped by the first week of the season. If you're just joining this enterprise in progress, you can start by checking out my prior reports:
Recall that the projected win totals are probably a bit on the low side, in part because I only list 23 players, and that these aren't really projections at all, so much as estimates of how much established major league talent is on each roster. On to the Mild, Mild West:
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San Francisco Giants
Adjusted EWSL: 242.5 (81 wins)
Like the AL Central, this is a weak division, and its members don't even have the benefit of fattening up against the Tigers. The Giants are the best team in the division on paper, although the age and injury histories of many key players makes them a big risk, as we've seen alread