"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Baseball 2007 Archives
December 31, 2007
BLOG: Best of Baseball Crank 2007
I've been writing on the web since 2000 and blogging since 2002, and in all those years, 2007 has been perhaps the toughest in terms of being satisfied with my ability to produce consistently new and interesting content for my readers - so with things a little quiet here over the past week or so and probably staying that way for the next few days, I hope you will indulge me here if I run a retrospective look back at my best work from this year, or at least the posts I enjoyed the most. For newer readers, it's a chance to catch up on things you may have missed. Posts are grouped in three subjects and listed chronologically within those. As you can see, the 2008 presidential election is somewhat overrepresented here, while the baseball postseason is underrepresented.
Baseball's most impressive records. Probably my favorite post of the year, and definitely my favorite baseball post.
Politics, War and Law
The Libby pardon. I'm not even sure if I still agree with this post, but I did put a lot of thought into it.
Why Fred Thompson needed to get specific. (He since has).
Pop Culture and Other Fun Stuff
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:14 AM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-14 | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
December 27, 2007
BASEBALL: The Tablesetters
FYI, I left Amos Otis out of the article because I wasn't sure where to classify him. Otis was sort of neither fish nor fowl, not exactly a slugger or a tablesetter but, as Bill James has noted, one of the most well-rounded players in the game's history, doing well at almost everything. Anyway, Otis' translated stats for the 10 years of his prime (age 23-32, 1970-79) rates him at .285/.477/.351* in 623 plate appearances for a "Rate" of 104.1, with 30 SB and 7 CS and 11 DP per year.
* - The THT folks switched all my Avg/Slg/OBP numbers to Avg/OBP/Slg, which still looks wierd to me but has become the convention in the last 10 years or so, I guess.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:43 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball 2008 | Baseball Studies | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 26, 2007
BASEBALL: You Gotta Have Grit
The grittiest ballplayers ever, proven statistically! Thanks to a couple of readers for passing this along, it's really a must-read.
December 19, 2007
BLOG: Quick Links 12/19/07
*TIME Magazine looked into Vladimir Putin's heart, too, and named him their Man of the Year for discarding the remaining constitutional breaks on dictatorship in Russia. Unlike President Bush, TIME can't excuse this as diplomacy.
*You'll shoot your eye out! Mike Huckabee may have a serious problem with granting too many clemencies to violent criminals, but Mitt Romney's refusal to grant any pardons or clemencies at all took him to the ridiculous length of refusing to expunge the conviction of a decorated Iraq War veteran who was convicted at age 13 of shooting a friend in the arm with a BB gun.
*Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister, who was supposed to be the responsible one, has announced that she is pregnant. At least she's keeping the baby.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:19 AM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-14 | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 17, 2007
BASEBALL: Taking It ... Where It Should Not Go
This goes rather too far even for dedicated Clemens-haters.
In other news, somebody needs a hug.
December 13, 2007
BASEBALL: I Hold In My Hand A Piece Of Paper Containing The Names...
I'm traveling on business today and so can't blog at length, but just to chime in quickly: we've all had a lot of amusement with the various unofficial and then official
Which is a shame, just as the shoddy and tendentious Dowd Report was a shame even though it was ultimately proven to be correct in its core conclusion. Fans and the game's posterity do deserve an accounting, not least because an unfair cloud of suspicion has hung over many players who likely did nothing wrong.
Maybe we will learn more - and I'll learn more when I have time to get a longer look at what has come out - but for now I'm not ready to hang anybody for their having been named on George Mitchell's list.
* - To the surprise of nobody who remembers Senate investigations from Mitchell's days as Majority Leader
December 12, 2007
BASEBALL: Goose, Dawson and the Hall of Fame Debate
I participated in a roundtable discussion of this year's Hall of Fame ballot over at Armchair GM, arguing in favor of Gossage and against Andre Dawson. David Pinto, Dayn Perry, Matt Sussman, and Rich Lederer also participated (no points for guessing who Lederer argues in favor of). Go check it out, along with the other fine submissions.
December 6, 2007
BASEBALL/LAW: And He's Cheap, Too
Of course, this begs the question of who is familiar with these negotiations that is blabbing them to the press.
December 5, 2007
BASEBALL: Back to Square One
A few thoughts on the big Marlins-Tigers trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo and minor league pitchers Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop:
1. Is This A Good Return For These Two?
It's a good package - Maybin and Miller are high-upside prospects; Rabelo seems like a typical backup catcher type who will hit .250-.270 but do little else. It's tough to get a read on Miller, who has thrown 74.1 innings in the majors and 83 in the minors after a storied college career, but he could easily be an ace in the making, and Maybin is just 20 and has tremendous tools and a fine minor league record. Trahern has thrown over 500 minor league innings striking out less than 5 men per 9, so he's a non-prospect. Badenhop seems to have great control, but really I don't know much more about him or De La Cruz.
Straight up for Cabrera, as huge as Cabrera's value is, this seems like a solid package of prospects. Still, it has to be a sign of how far Willis' market value has fallen that you couldn't get more by dealing them separately.
2. Is This A Good Deal For The Tigers?
Absolutely. They're a contending team and they surrendered no proven major leaguers and got one of the three or four best hitters in baseball in return, who is young and durable and still reasonably priced. Cabrera presents challenges given his weight and poor glove, but if Renteria holds up at short, they won't have the same problems the Marlins had of Cabrera's weaknesses being exposed by combination with Hanley Ramirez. And Detroit can move him to DH in a year or two if they have to. As for Willis, you have to think there's at least a chance that a change of scenery and better defensive support could help him, but I'd bet on him spending some quality time with Dr. Andrews before long; his downward spiral seems more likely the result of injuries leaching his effectiveness than just a funk.
3. Does The Marlins' Business Model Make Any Sense?
If you start with the assumption that you had to deal these guys because they were getting expensive and needed to get prospects in return, this trade makes some sense. But I question the underlying assumption that Florida can't bring in enough revenue to afford keeping a home-grown superstar like Cabrera - an assumption that also implies that three or four years from now, they will be dealing Maybin and Miller as well (in fact, if that's your business model, Maybin being 20 years old is a minus, since it means he'll be free agent ready before he hits his prime). Granted, the Marlins have managed to win two championships, but the frustration of these continual firesales probably costs them more in fan loyalty than it saves in salary. It's not like South Florida is a sparsely populated area or filled with people unfamiliar with baseball, after all; a commitment to building a consistently competitive team that hangs on to its players would stand a fair chance of being rewarded. With the death of the Expos, the Marlins have become the prime example of what Joe Sheehan has called anti-marketing, i.e., a franchise that is more interested in convincing the fans that they can't afford to compete - so as to panhandle for a new ballpark - than in doing the contrary to put fans in the seats.
December 1, 2007
BASEBALL: Lastings Out The Door
The Mets' deal of Lastings Milledge for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church is a pretty classic example of a deal I didn't love but didn't hate at first glance, but quickly started hating the more I thought about it. Let's go through the lessons of this deal:
1. There's no such thing as a mistake you only pay for once. This deal is the wages of Omar letting Jesus Flores go in the Rule V draft; Flores now becomes the Nats' starting catcher, and had the Mets still had Flores, they would not have felt that the catching position was a need to be filled.
2. Short term, this deal may not hurt the Mets that much, as it brings in two everyday players of some use. Schneider is a great defensive catcher, probably the best in the game; he's probably good enough to be worth carrying his weak bat, which at 31 isn't going to get better. And Church is a solid player, a career .271/.462/.348 hitter (.279/.484/.355 on the road), albeit one who doesn't hit lefties real well; he's 29 and could have a bust-out year getting out of RFK. My guess is that Chuch will still be a better hitter thah Milledge in 2008. Then again, I'm not sure I want the inevitable Alou injury being the only thing standing between us and Church/Chavez/Gomez holding down the corners.
3. However, dealing Milledge, one of the system's crown jewels, for this pair almost certainly means no deal for a top starting pitcher, as Milledge was constantly mentioned in potential packages for the likes of Danny Haren or Johan Santana.
4. More to the point, long term, we could easily regret this big-time. At 23 next season with great athletecism and no real weakness other than immaturity and sporadic glovework, Milledge still has definite star potential. Add him to the list of young hitters abandoned by the Mets - sometimes for something of value, sometimes not - and while he is less accomplished than some, he's moreso than others and among the youngest:
I don't think you could really say Milledge has less upside at this stage than any of those guys at the time they left the Mets.
5. I assume this also means the Mets will non-tender Johnny Estrada. Estrada's not as much better as Schneider with the bat as he seems, given that Scneider gets on base more and has also suffered from RFK, but he's a pretty useful guy to just give away for nothing.
6. Along with the departure of Lo Duca, Glavine and Mota, this smacks of housecleaning, although actually we have not seen as many guys cleaned out as you might expect.
November 28, 2007
BASEBALL: Hot Stove Roundup, Vol 2
*The Cubs re-signing Kerry Wood as a closer candidate makes all sorts of sense; Dempster was just terrible for much of 2007, and Wood clearly can't stay healthy unless handled very, very carefully; the steady, manageable workload of a closer may give him the chance to finally unleash his nasty stuff without hurting himself, while keeping super-effective Carlos Marmol in the setup role.
*Mark Prior for sale - well, now, that all depends on the price, doesn't it? The Cubs now have the pitching depth to prefer to cash in Prior and put the era of waiting on his and Wood's return to health behind them, and certainly Prior has upside. I'd think the best match would be someone like Tampa that can afford to wait on a guy who could still turn it around someday, though if I'm Prior I'd like to go to an organization with some track record for reviving injured pitchers (Cincinnati? St. Louis?).
*The Torii Hunter signing is fairly convincing evidence that Arte Moreno has turned into the late-70s Gene Autry or mid-90s Angelos, with more money than he knows what to do with. Sure, Hunter can probably marginally help the Angels in 2008; he's a good player, an excellent glove man with power. But 5 years and $90 million? Hunter is 32, he's never had a .340 OBP in his career, and his value is in his range as a CF; he's a terrible bet to hold his value in his mid-30s. Plus, they spent too much money last year on Gary Matthews for no other reason than his ability to play center field; I suppose you could deal Matthews and eat his contract (he's 33 and fell off the cliff in the last two months of the season after a solid enough first half, batting .180/.324/.269 from August 2 through the end of the year). I had thought the smart play for a team seeking a center fielder, especially a non-desperate team like the Angels, would be Mike Cameron, although after 2005 and 2007, Cameron will probably refuse to sign with any team that wants him to play alongside another center fielder.
The Hunter signing presumably sends Reggie Willits to fourth outfielder status, where if he plays his cards right he could have an Orlando Palmeiro-style career with his good OBP and speed; Willits' total lack of power doomed him as an everyday player, and from what I saw this season he's a terrible outfielder.
*It should surprise nobody familiar with the last decade and a half of Kansas City baseball to see the Royals pursuing Jose Guillen. At age 32, Guillen is essentially the same offensive player as Hunter, maybe a slightly better hitter for average, but without Hunter's good attitude, durability, consistency and glove. That's exactly the guy you want to pay millions to add to a young rebuilding team. Icing on the cake? "Guillen faces a possible suspension next season after being linked to the purchase of steroids and human growth hormone earlier this month in a story appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle."
*No, I can't see how anybody but the Yankees gets Johan Santana. The loss of Hunter probably means that Melky Cabrera would be a logical way to make a deal happen without the Yanks parting with both Hughes and Chamberlain. But that's a deal I'd make in a heartbeat if I'm the Yankees; there's no pitching prospect in history who had a better than 50/05 chance of becoming as good as Santana is now, and Santana's lefthanded, still reasonably young and healthy.
The Mets ... I just don't see what they offer that gets a deal done without Wright or Reyes, and they're not dealing one of those guys.
November 26, 2007
BASEBALL: Hot Stove Roundup, Vol 1
*The Daily News has a long profile of Duaner Sanchez's comeback trail (from the pictures, Sanchez looks skinnier) and an interview with Randy Niemann about Sanchez's rehab, both of which are necessarily inconclusive about how much the Mets could count on Sanchez this season; he would be a big help.
*The Mets appear to be pondering cutting newly acquired Johnny Estrada, who is coming off elbow bone spur surgery and - like nearly every catcher the Mets have had lately - is coming off a terrible year throwing out baserunners. I'm not wedded to Estrada, but he's an adequate enough alternative that I'd be skeptical of making a deal for Ramon Hernandez unless it can be done cheaply; Hernandez would be an upgrade, but hardly a huge one, as he's 32, coming off a season in which he slugged .382, and has caught 110 games just once in the past four seasons.
*The Reds' signing of Francisco Cordero seems like the classic move that hurts the Brewers more than it helps the Reds; Cordero is a solid but hardly a great closer, despite a gangbusters start to 2007 (he had a 4.66 ERA from June 9 through the end of the season, although his 51/10 K/BB ratio and 4 HR in 38.2 IP in that stretch suggests that he wasn't really throwing that badly), and his absence probably leaves the Brew Crew to trust to the erratic Derrick Turnbow again, but the Reds are far from being in a position to really take advantage of an upgrade at closer, and you'd think they would focus their efforts on other positions. Then again, given the bandbox they play in, Cordero's career 0.64 HR/9, even after spending much of his career in Texas, may have been irresistable.
*I'm still convinced that Tom Glavine is going to completely hit the wall next season. If he gives the Braves 95% of what he gave the Mets this season, they'll be happy, since they are desperate for someone to come in and eat innings, and Glavine can always do that. But I'm fairly certain that his bag of tricks has run dry, and it was only his tremendous savvy and experience that let him paper over that for much of 2007.
Colon has some near-term upside. He’s coming off injury and his conditioning habits leave much to be desired, but he's still got excellent stuff, and his performance down the stretch last season proved he’s still got something in the tank. He makes sense provided he's willing to sign a low-base, incentive-laden contract. If the market is such that he commands a multi-year deal, then consider him no longer worthy of this list.
I agree with that in the abstract - Colon was horrendous last season, but if you look at the numbers his 76/29 K/BB ratio in 99.1 IP indicates a guy who may not be entirely finished, though I don't trust him further than I could throw him (which is not far). But "down the stretch"? He threw just 13.2 innings after July 23, and his 3.95 ERA in three starts is way too little to draw any conclusions from. If anything, the season trend indicates a guy who came back solid but ran out of gas, as his ERA was in the threes into mid-May. Anyway, I agree with a number of the guys on Perry's list as being potentially low-profile signings who could help a team.
November 25, 2007
BASEBALL: Stay Classy
November 24, 2007
BASEBALL: Smorgasbord of Idiocy
Via Pinto, you really have to go read Phillies blog crashburnalley's email exchange with Bill Conlin (you may remember Conlin as the dumb, obnoxious, loudmouthed guy from ESPN's The
The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called “Pamphleteers.” They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO.
Leave aside the familiar forms of statistical illiteracy that gets Conlin to this point in the argument, let's consider an analogy in which Conlin:
1. Praises Hitler for the very thing that made him Hitler
3. Somehow paints the pamphleteers who called for American independence as the bad guys.
It's a depthless hole.
November 21, 2007
BASEBALL: Hole Plugged
The abortive Yorvit Torrealba experiment at least made me a lot happier to see the Mets deal Guillermo Mota for Johnny Estrada. Mota, of course, had to go, and I was surprised they didn't have to pay someone to take him - but then, he has a good arm and OK control, so there's always someone who thinks they can get a good year out of him.
As for Estrada, who's 32 and in the last year of his contract, the danger sign is his declining plate patience - 25 walks in two years, a .296 OBP last season - but he batted .278 and slugged .403 last year, and did better than that (albeit in Arizona) in 2006; if that's your #8 hitter, you could do worse. (As a switch hitter he might be available to platoon with Castro, but Estrada hits lefties just fine).
November 18, 2007
BASEBALL: Multiple Second Choices
Matthew Cerrone, always the best source for compiling all the Mets trade/free agent rumors, notes word here and here that while the Mets were focused for some time on David Eckstein, and while Tadahito Iguchi - who I had thought might be a reasonable, inexpensive option - is asking for a 3-year deal, the team may now be on the verge of a 4-year contract for Luis Castillo.
Save us from such options. Iguchi is a solid enough bat, though he has benefitted from playing in hitters' parks, but he's 33 and coming off an off year; Eckstein's 33, has no power, hasn't played 130 games since 2005, and his value depends entirely on hitting singles and getting hit by pitches. And Castillo, who is still a useful player and was once a very fine one, is 32, has less power than Eckstein, and most of all has such bad knees that a 1-year contract is a risk, let alone 4.
I understand the need for stopgaps, but this is ridiculous. I really like Castillo, but there is no way you are going to get more than two good years out of him. At some point you might be better off taking the offensive hit to get a glove wizard like Anderson Hernandez out there. All in all, this offseason has been a frightening reminder of how slim the pickings are these days at C and SS.
BASEBALL: No Yorvit
Best news of the week: Mets have not signed Torrealba after all, and have broken off negotiations. Somebody - apparently his agent - obviously screwed up big time by leaking this as if it was a done deal.
November 16, 2007
LAW/BASEBALL: What Could Eliot Spitzer Do To Be *Really* Unpopular?
Pushing driver's licenses for illegal aliens, gay marriage, extremist legislation on abortion and having his top aides investigated for perjury is one thing; but going after Derek Jeter over back taxes...that would definitely be too far.
November 15, 2007
BASEBALL: Yorvit Who?
So, the Mets have apparently located $14.4 million they don't need and given it in a 3-year deal to Yorvit Torrealba, who backed into the Rockies' starting catching job this season when rookie Chris Iannetta wasn't ready to hit major league pitching; Torrealba thus cleared 225 at bats for the first time in his career. ESPN notes:
The Mets . . . are signing Torrealba mainly for his defense. Rockies pitchers gave Torrealba a lot of credit for how he called a game, though he did not have a high success rate when trying to throw runners out.
So, he's here to call games for Pedro Martinez? You'd think when you sign a defense-first, catch-and-throw catcher, you'd at least get a guy who can throw. The money here is bizarre; good catchers are scarce, but it's not like Torrealba's skill set is at all hard to find cheap. Certainly he's a lesser player than Ramon Castro, who will be signed far more cheaply to back him up (granted, Castro's not physically up to playing every day). I suppose I could understand skimping on the catching position - deciding that it's not worth spending a fortune on guys who are not really stars, like Michael Barrett - but if that's your goal, why plunk down $14 million? Why not just beat the bushes for some other guys who can hit .240 for peanuts?
Torrealba will be 29 in 2008, and is a career .251/.391/.313 hitter, .242/.377/.299 away from Coors Field; there's no reason to think he is due to make a big step forward as a hitter, and those numbers are poor even for a #8 hitter. Despite batting less than 400 times in 2007, he managed to finish in the top 10 in the league in GIDP. There is no possible explanation for this deal.
UPDATE: Cerrone talks to a Denver writer who calls Torrealba a "clutch hitter." In 2007, Torrealba batted .201/.254/.270 with men in scoring position and .205/.298/.277 with two outs. His career batting line in the postseason is .238/.357/.298.
BOTTOM LINE: I would score this signing as being similar to the contract the Phillies gave Adam Eaton. Honestly, if they were going to sign a guy who can't throw, they may as well have brought back Piazza.
BASEBALL: Bonds Indicted
Breaking: Records in hand, Barry Bonds has just been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice:
Baseball superstar Barry Bonds was charged Thursday with perjury and obstruction of justice, the culmination of a four-year federal probe into whether he lied under oath to a grand jury investigating steroid use by elite athletes.
Um....wow. I don't really know enough yet to say more.
UPDATE: The short answer here is, perjury and obstruction are serious crimes; at the same time, they - and their close cousin, lying to federal investigators - can sometimes be all too easily resorted to by overzealous prosecutors. The key issues in these cases, at least as far as the debate over whether charges should have been brought, comes down to the degree to which the defendant (1) blatantly misrepresented some fact and can't reasonably be said to have just forgotten, misunderstood the question, or shaded the truth, and (2) placed, at least for some period of time, a genuine roadblock in the way of a legitimate investigation or lawsuit (i.e., the difference between hiding a fact and merely offering a strained characterization of known facts).
BASEBALL: Norma Rae Rod
Although I thought it was just more hilarious Boras-driven smoke-blowing at the time, in retrospect we should have recognized Friday's report that the union was claiming to be concerned about collusion in the event that A-Rod did not get his $350 million contract as a signal that things were not going as planned. So the news that A-Rod has apparently all but finalized a deal to return to the Yankees after all, and done so without Scott Boras after Boras hopelessly alienated the Yankees (and probably at a mutual savings by cutting out Boras' fee - what, Boras is gonna sue?) is an occasion for some schadenfreude all around, even if it does make the Yankees that much stronger again: the Yanks and A-Rod are now stuck in an unhappy marriage neither can afford to leave, and Boras is publicly humiliated, out a whole boatload of commission, has had his bridges burned by his best-known client, and best of all fails miserably at the one thing that people have been forced to respect him for, i.e., his ability to judge the market.
Of course, this saga has had its twists and turns before, so stay tuned to see if the early reports on this all pan out.
November 14, 2007
BLOG: The Static Channel
Apologies for the general lack of content and specific lack of baseball content - it's been crazy in a couple of ways, and I admit that the baseball stuff has been crowded out a bit from all the work that has gone into the Romney series, of which two installments remain. Hopefully I can return soon to the hot stove league and postseason awards beat.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
November 10, 2007
BASEBALL: Off The Lidge
I wasquite unhappy to see the Phillies swing a deal to get Brad Lidge (with a couple of other useful players changing sides in the deal), who I had sort of been hoping the Mets might pursue. Lidge wore out his welcome for good reasons in Houston, and even after winning back the closer job he pitched badly down the stretch, with ERAs above 5.00 each of the last two months. So the Phillies get a quality arm, but one who may or may not be a reliable closer; it still improves their pen. But a team with an established closer could probably have put Lidge in the setup role where he has seemed more comfortable since 2005's fiasco.
The other major deal so far is a depressing one all around - for the Braves, who dealt a quality player in Edgar Renteria to replace him with a cheaper youngster, and for the Tigers, who made final the admission that Carlos Guillen has gone from a top-hitting shortstop to a first baseman whose bat will be unremarkable for the position.
Since the Tigers were dealing from need, the deal has little upside for them, and instead fixes a hole, upgrading offensively - though not dramatically, in the long term - from Sean Casey to Renteria. The Braves could well end up with a great deal if 25 year old shortstop Yunel Escobar and the two prospects they got for Renteria - Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens - pan out (from what I gather, Moff Jurrjens is the better prospect of the two). Or, they could just like players with unusual names.
November 4, 2007
BASEBALL: Posada Crossing Town?
The papers have been full of the rumor that the Mets may pursue Jorge Posada:
Industry sources are becoming increasingly baffled at the sluggish pace the Yankees have taken with the five-time All-Star catcher. Even though Posada has filed for free agency, the Bombers are in an exclusive 15-day negotiating rights period with the catcher but apparently have not presented an offer since the end of the season.
Bidding against the Yankees always involves a high probability of failure, especially when you are talking about them re-signing a veteran who's been in their organization his whole career. Cerrone notes that some reports are, wisely, suggesting that Posada may just be getting the Mets' name in the mix to improve his leverage.
That said, what's the downside? There are few big-money free agents that the Mets would otherwise pursue - I don't really see them getting A-Rod - and there's no question that, given their current roster, Posada would help the Mets more than anyone else on the market, especially since there are really no other quality catchers out there - the Tigers picked up Pudge's option, Lo Duca and Kendall are basically just singles hitters, and Damian Miller is 38 (other than Posada, Michael Barrett, at 31 coming off a single bad year, may be the #2 guy on the market, and perhaps I should not be so quick to write him off). So, it's worth a try.
Would he be worth a 4-5-year deal in the $50-70 million range? Well, after some of last season's contracts, it's hard to know where the market is, and you can't evaluate dollars in a vacuum. Posada's not young - he's the same age as Lo Duca and only three years younger than Piazza. He's a year younger than Javy Lopez and a year older than Mike Lieberthal, and both of those guys are finished. When I looked at comps for Piazza two years ago, I did not find the most encouraging signs even for the most elite catchers in their late 30s. Posada was not worked that hard in his youth, catching 110 games in a big league season for the first time at age 28, but he's now caught 1360 games (not counting the minors and the postseason - he's probably caught in nearly all 96 of his postseason games), and that takes its toll. He's also not the greatest defensive catcher, although his arm is stronger than Lo Duca's (faint praise, I know).
As with any free agent, it comes down to what the Mets are willing to lay out financially. The Mets have no significant catching prospects on the way, and short of waiting and hoping for Joe Mauer to go on the market, they aren't likely to get an elite catcher any time soon. I'd make a run at him.
November 1, 2007
BASEBALL: A-Rod On The Block
Thoughts and observations on what is certain to be the #1 headline story of the offseason:
A. Yeah, announcing his free agency in the middle of Game Four was a totally classless move, and seemed uniquely designed to peeve the Red Sox, who would be one of the likely bidders...but it may be that Boras had a significant conversation that day with another owner and felt the need to make the announcement to avoid any suggestion of tampering.
B. Nobody can be happier about how this worked out than Texas, which gets off the hook for $21.3 million at a stroke. A-Rod should get a standing O next time he comes to town.
C. For the most part, A-Rod should and will be remembered in NY roughly the way Clemens is in Toronto - he came, he played well, he took the money and ran - but of course his postseason failures will overshadow the two MVP seasons.
D. Where does he go from here? An awful lot actually depends on whether A-Rod is regarded as a credible shortstop. He was a good defender at short and keeps himself in good shape, and in the post-Ripken era, big men are no longer discounted at the position...still, at 32 years old, after 4 years away from the position, I don't know how many teams are willing to gamble $25-30 million a year on him being able to play short again. Let's review the main options, understanding that there's only so much credibility we can give to public reports that various teams are or are not interested, given especially that (i) Boras likes to use the media to drum up a belief that 45 big-market teams are pursuing his player and (ii) the teams, presumably growing wise to this tactic, have every reason to publicly downplay their interest. This list is not really in order:
1. The Angels do look like the main suitors - they're a contender, A-Rod could stay in his comfort zone in the AL, their third baseman (Chone Figgins) can easily move to any number of other positions, and ownership has shown a willingness to lay out big bucks.
2. The Cubs are a large-market contender that could use the buzz, but (1) their ownership situation remains unsettled (that didn't stop them last winter from signing Soriano, but A-Rod will want a lot more money than Soriano), and (2) with Aramis Ramirez signed comparatively cheaply, they would only interested in playing him at SS.
3. The Red Sox, if they re-sign Lowell, will similarly be more interested in supplanting Lugo. They have the money and the audacity, and with Manny entering the last year of his deal, they could do it, but they have been publicly coy.
4. The Yankees. I actually don't see this happening - A-Rod just stiffed them publicly and took their $21 million subsidy from Texas off the table. Particularly if the point of hiring Girardi is to take a harder line in the clubhouse, it would be a bad precedent for the team to go back on the public pledge that the deal was take it or leave it. Also, Yankee fans will pretty much universally blame Rodriguez, not the team, for letting him walk. That said, they don't have a Plan B at third base (Wilson Betemit would have the job if the season opened tomorrow).
5. The Giants have a gaping hole at pretty much every position, and they certainly won't let A-Rod's unpopularity and postseason failures deter them. But after the Barry Zito debacle, they may not be eager to take Boras' calls again.
6. The Dodgers would actually make a huge amount of sense giving their crying need for a power bat (they were next to last in the league in HR), but I don't know about their willingness to spend money. Certainly they have the resources if they decide to get in the game.
7. The Mets. Minaya has the budget and the daring, but with Reyes and Wright in place on the left side of the infield, A-Rod simply isn't worth as much to the Mets as to almost any other team - one of the three would need to be relocated to 1B, 2B (where Reyes was already a failure) or LF (where they just re-upped Alou).
8. The Phillies have no credible 3B and could probably swing the money, plus an A-Rod signing would give them the best infield in the game's history. But the Phils are another big-market team that hasn't gone big in the free agent market. They probably need to be chasing a closer so they can get Brett Myers back in the rotation, but the list of options isn't extensive, with Joe Nathan re-upped by the Twins and Rivera unlikely to leave NY (that leaves Isringhausen, Francisco Cordero and some risky or low-quality closer candidates like Wickman, Todd Jones, Jorge Julio or Kerry Wood).
9. The Orioles are a stop of last resort for free agents with no real rationale for going anywhere else, and they could use an upgrade from Melvin Mora.
11. Finally, what about the Nationals? They've got the new ballpark, no real payroll and the need to make a splash and prove they won't be Expos Part Deux. But they, too, would need to play him at short, given that their best young player is a third baseman (Zimmerman had some defensive struggles this season but he's still very young and a highly talented defensive player).
On the whole, I'll be surprised if A-Rod ends up with a significant upgrade compared to what the richest team in baseball could offer him with the added advantage of a $21.3 million subsidy - but there are enough possible bidders out there that he will probably end up with at least a few more years at a salary similar to what he was getting.
October 31, 2007
It's really amazing quite how much has happened in the baseball world in a few days, to the point where I am already behind the curve on the offseason - I have a bunch of half-written posts that keep getting overtaken by events.
For Torre, this is something of a homecoming as well as an opportunity to prove himself away from the Yankees, Cashman, Rivera, Jeter, etc. Torre spent 36 years in the NL as a player and manager, coming away with one division title (managing the 1982 Braves) in those years. That said, with the successes he has had with the Yankees, he's got to be an upgrade on Grady Little. Either way, the current Dodger management seems bent on loading the team with AL East refugees. The good news for the Yankees is that the Dodgers already have a catcher and a closer, so Torre's presence on another team won't tempt Rivera and Posada to consider going elsewhere.
As for Girardi, it's an interesting choice, more interesting than Don Mattingly - a Mattingly hire would have made running Torre out of town pointless. On the surface, Girardi is what you would want in a manager replacing an older, low-key manager who'd held the job for over a decade, if you were worried about the team growing too comfortable: an aggressive, hard-nosed up-and-comer, a guy who is clearly comfortable playing youngsters and did a great job with the Marlins, taking an exceptionally green team deep into the pennant race only to see them collapse without him this year.
There are two major drawbacks, though. One, of course, is that Girardi is a young guy who was a teammate of many of the senior Yankees, who may not treat him as an authority figure and may resent him if he picks a fight with them just to establish who is boss.
Second is the issue that triggered his departure from Miami: the charge that he overworked Florida's young pitchers. Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez were brilliant under Girardi in 2006, hurt this season; Dontrelle Willis continued his downward slide; Scott Olsen fell off dramatically. Some of the fault for that lies with the Marlins' abysmal defense, and you could argue that Girardi's absence is why they faltered, but certainly the notion that he pushed Johnson and Sanchez too far too fast could raise concerns in how he will handle Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain & co. Those are the two subplots worth watching in Girardi's first year in the new Bronx Zoo.
October 29, 2007
BASEBALL: Title Town
Congratulations to the Red Sox, and also to the Rockies, whose run was one for the ages even if the coach did turn to a pumpkin at the end.
Of course it is possible that some year will yet see a Boston team losing a world's championship.
October 28, 2007
BASEBALL: Nailing It Down
For the record, I think that 2-run bloop to right by Ellsbury in the top of the 8th to make the lead, after shrinking from 6-0 to 6-5, back to 8-5, looks for all the world like the Sox putting this Series away.
UPDATE: And Pedroia makes it 9-5. By the way, Brad Hawpe reminds me a lot of Shawn Green, the same type of gangly lefthander at the plate.
October 27, 2007
BASEBALL: Time To Break The Brooms
Baseball fans everywhere have to be hoping we get a Rockies win and a real Series tonight at Coors, although that may depend on the shaky pitching matchup of Lord Fogg vs how Matsuzaka adjusts to high altitude. Two of the last three Serieses have been complete duds (at least 2005 had some heart-stopping games, notably the 14-inning marathon Game 3); we have not had a six-game Series since 2003, a Game Seven since 2002.
If you haven't already, you should definitely read Jeff Pearlman's profile of Wally Backman and his apparently doomed quest to get another shot at managing inthe big leagues. (I have had multiple people send me this link). Of course, for Mets fans Backman will always be remembered fondly for his role in the 1984-88 teams, but that won't help him get a managing job.
The really nasty thing in Backman's record that seems to be holding him back is this:
[H]e didn't tell the [Diamondbacks] about his Oct. 7, 2001, domestic violence arrest because, according to both Wally and Sandi, it was merely a heated marital moment overblown by police involvement. ("People think I'm a battered wife in denial," Sandi says. "That makes me laugh. The idea of Wally hitting me is comical.")
Now, we all know that ballplayers get away with things as bad as wife-beating (Brett Myers and Wil Cordero come to mind, as well as Elijah Dukes), but the simple fact is that proven or promising major league players are harder to replace than a manager who has yet to manage in the big leagues. And it's hard to sympathize with a guy who loses his job over beating his wife.
That said, the problem is this: it's entirely plausible that Backman and his wife are telling the truth - lots of married couples have arguments, and some of them end up making a lot of angry noise and breaking stuff and getting the cops called. It's more than possible that Backman is getting blackballed over basically nothing.
But it's also true, if you know anything at all about domestic violence, that battered wives very often brush things off and make these kinds of excuses after the fact, so facially plausible pleas of innocence can't be taken at face value. The frustrating thing is that you or I, from a distance, can't know. And neither can teams that might hire Backman. Which is why, guilty or not, when you put this together with a guy who has made trouble controlling his anger in other situations, Backman is going to be radioactive pretty much permanently.
October 25, 2007
BASEBALL: The Buck O'Neil Award
On the whole, I'm in favor of the Hall of Fame memorializing Buck O'Neil with a Lifetime Achievement Award named in his honor. Given that we have little reason to believe that O'Neil was actually a great ballplayer, it would have been something of a sham to elect him to the Hall as a player solely on the basis of sticking around a long time and telling a lot of good stories. But given the relative paucity of written records of the Negro Leagues, O'Neil's tireless charm in keeping the oral history of the Negro Leagues alive was surely worthy of a special place in Cooperstown as a service to the game.
What's a shame is that the Hall couldn't have found the time somewhere during the 94 years of O'Neil's life to give him this honor.
BASEBALL: How Hot?
Did we just say "the hottest lineup ever to march to home plate in the annals of 103 Octobers?"
That's true, but while the Sox have scored 36 runs in their last three games, it's actually not even the club record for scoring over 3 postseason games. In 1999, they scored 44 runs over the last three games of the ALDS against Cleveland. They missed Stark's list only because the first of those games they scored 9 runs rather than 10.
BASEBALL: The DH Issue
After last night's thrashing, the Red Sox served notice that the Rockies' hot streak will most likely not, all by itself, decide the Series. But with David Ortiz cracking a single and two doubles and Colorado batting its 0-for-2 DH ninth, the issue of the home park DH rule - on top of the fact that Colorado and Boston traditionally are unique parks that lend significant home-field advantages (the BoSox were 6 games better at home this season; the Rockies were 12 games better, and had a losing road record, as they almost always do) - may be bigger than it has been in years. I'd say there are pretty strong odds that the Rockies will win the Series if and only if they take all three games in Colorado.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure there really is a better answer as long as the two leagues are playing by fundamentally different rules. The irony is that in almost every other way - especially with the advent of interleague play - the lines between the two leagues has been blurring in recent years, the sense that there are separate league offices, different umpiring styles and a real rivalry between the leagues' players and fans all having evaporated.
As I have said a number of times, while I'd like to see the DH eliminated (I don't hate it as much as older traditionalists do, but we can do better without it), the problem with the split DH system is economic: an everyday DH makes more money than an equivalent bench player. Thus, the NL owners won't budge on adding it; thus, the Players' Union won't budge on removing it from the AL.
UPDATE: Cheer up, Rockies fans! The Red Sox became the fourth team to win Game One of the World Series by 10 runs or more, joining the 1959 White Sox (11-0), the 1982 Brewers (10-0), and the 1996 Braves (12-1). None of them won the Series.
October 22, 2007
The stage is set...it would be a fool's errand to try to predict this series; Boston is clearly the stronger team, but the Rockies' hot streak is just impossible to project one way or another, plus we have no idea what late-October baseball in Colorado will look like.
Most relieved yet disappointed person tonight: Indians' third base coach and managerial prospect Joel Skinner, whose inexplicable decision to hold Kenny Lofton cost the Indians what could have been a game-tying run; the lopsided final score probably mooted that.
Most unhappy: umpires, writers, and anybody else who is indifferent to the teams and ratings but who will be attending a series in Boston and Denver in late October. Brrr.
October 21, 2007
BASEBALL: A Question For Red Sox Fans
Does JD Drew still suck?
Besides last night, there's the fact that Drew batted .289/.468/.384 from May 27 through the end of the year, .297/.477/.398 from June 15 on, .322/.523/.416 from August 6 on. I know there were a lot of disappointments, and certainly Drew's price tag is ridiculous, but he's spent a lot of the season getting blamed for having a bad first two months. The man can still hit.
PS - And tonight, we find out whether Red Sox Nation will pick "love" or "hate" for Dice K.
October 19, 2007
BASEBALL: Torre Out
So, Joe Torre leaves the stage, having been offered a pay cut as a way to get him to quit. (You don't cut the pay of a man in Torre's situation if you expect him to stay).
Torre's record: two fifth place finishes, three sixth place finishes, and a high of 67 wins...no wait, that's the Torre I will always remember. In fairness he learned a good deal about managing over the years in addition to getting better players, but this isn't Earl Weaver we are talking about.
Torre didn't deserve to be fired any more than Casey did after losing the 1960 World Series in 7 games, but cutting him loose is defensible - he'd been at the Yankee helm for over a decade, and after 7 straight seasons of postseason failure, it's a fair question whether a fresh face would shake things up and be more effective. Then again, promoting coach and long-time organization man Don Mattingly, the rumored frontrunner for the job, seems unlikely to change much other than symbolizing another marker of the end of an era in the Bronx (granting that there is a long franchise history of one era being pretty much like the last).
October 18, 2007
BASEBALL: The Wally Pipp Story
Here's a trivia quiz for you: three men played first base for the Yankees in 1925. One was the long-time regular, 32-year-old Wally Pipp, who famously exited the lineup on June 2. One was the 22-year-old rookie who took his job, Lou Gehrig.
Who was the third man, who made a few starts for Gehrig against lefthanded pitchers (Gehrig kept his streak alive either by late inning appearances or playing the outfield, it's not clear which) until Gehrig settled in? Hint: his name is well-known and he was a starting player in five World Serieses for three franchises.
The answer can be found in this excellent Snopes essay on what really happened on June 2, and you can read the player's bio here.
October 17, 2007
BASEBALL: Times Have Changed
In the process of the last post I looked at the 1974 Orioles' pitchers down the stretch run (starting August 29, 1974) and went to compare them to major league pitchers at large ... looking at the 86 pitchers who threw 35 or more innings over that stretch (during which Baltimore played 34 games), I was struck even more than usual by the pitcher dominance of the era. Of those 86, for that period:
*Pitchers with ERAs of below 2.00: 18
*Pitchers with ERAs of below 2.50: 28
*Pitchers with ERAs of 5.00 or higher (mind you, this only requires a bad month): four.
*Pitchers who allowed one home run or more per 9 innings: 15.
*Pitchers who threw between 4 and 7 complete games in a little over a month: 22
BASEBALL: Last Requests
In light of my earlier post on great multi-round postseasons and Mike Carminati's on a similar theme, Jonathan Last asks: "Do the Rockies need to win the World Series, or does what they've done already count as the greatest streak in baseball history?"
There's no real way to define the answer to that question so as to resolve it with mathematical precision, but Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein, at pp. 176-81 of their 2000 book Baseball Dynasties, lay out their "Ten Greatest Stretch Runs," and it's a good place to start in putting in context the Rox winning 13 out of 14 games to close the regular season to force a tie for the wild card, then winning the 1-game playoff (in extra innings, natch), then sweeping the NLDS in 3, then sweeping the NLCS in 4, with their only loss in 22 games coming at the hands of Brandon Webb, arguably the best pitcher in the league. Looking more broadly, the Rox are 33-10 over their last 43 games.
Here's Neyer and Epstein's list, with links and my comments; the 2002 A's' 20-game win streak and overall 43-12 run to take the division by 2 would also make the list, although Oakland went down in the first round of the playoffs. A commenter's suggestion of the 2004 Red Sox gets honorable mention for the greatest-ever playoff comeback, but that was only 7 games, whereas the 1916 Giants' 26-game win streak began and ended with the team in 4th place:
10. 1974 Orioles, 28-6 to come from 8 games back of the Red Sox lead and win the division by 2 over the Yankees. Impressive, but they then lost the LCS 3-1.
9. 1977 Royals, 38-9 including a 24-1 run to come from 4th place back to win the division. But the Royals put it away too early; they won the division by 8, ended the season losing 5 of 8, and blew a 2-1 lead to lose the LCS with a disastrous bullpen meltdown in game 5.
8. 1930 Cardinals, 39-10 including a 21-4 September to win the pennant by 2 after being 12 back of the Cubs, followed by winning the World Series 4-2 after dropping the first two games to the Foxx/Grove/Cochrane/Simmons A's. That's pretty impressive.
7. 1969 Mets; the Mets were 10 games back after August 13, but went 38-11 the rest of the way, then swept through the postseason on a 7-1 tear, thus doing a better job than the 1930 Cards of keeping the momentum straight through. The main difference is that the Mets won the division by 8, so unlike the Rockies they had a breather from playing high-pressure games before embarking on the postseason.
6. 1993 Braves, 39-11 to erase a 9.5 game lead and win by 1 over a 103-win team. The Braves, however, then dropped the NLCS 4-2.
5. 1978 Yankees, 53-21 including the Bucky Dent game to erase a 14-game lead, including a 30-9 finish, followed by going 7-3 in the postseason to win it all. One of the great extended comebacks, but never got into quite the same "can't possibly lose" mode.
4. 1935 Cubs, 2.5 games behind the Cards in third place on September 2, won 21 in a row to put the pennant away and seize a 6-game lead before losing the season's last 2 games. (Ronald Reagan, then doing remote radio broadcasts of Cubs games from a ticker in Iowa, described this as his greatest thrill in baseball). Cubs lost the World Series 4-2, but winning 21 in a row with 23 to play in a tight race is way up there.
3. 1914 Braves, 15 back and in last place on July 4, finished 68-19 and swept the World Series against the defending champion A's, including a 30-5 run from late August to early October. But the Miracle Braves won the pennant by double figures, so about half of that 30-5 run was after the lid had been blown off.
2. 1942 Cardinals, finished 43-8 to roar from a 10-game August deficit to beat a 104-win team by 2, and proceeded to win the World Series 4-1 over the defending champion Yankees. Probably the closest parallel to what the Rockies have accomplished in terms of the 1-2-3 punch of (1) playing incredible regular season baseball (2) needed to win a close pennant race and then (3) continuing the streak into the postseason.
1. 1951 Giants, 39-8 including the famous best-of-3 playoff to erase a 13-game mid-August deficit. Got squashed 4-2 in the World Series.
More teams worthy of mention, off the top of my head (links to the stretch drive records): 1973 Mets, 1908 Cubs (40-9 to win the most famously close pennant race of all, plus the World Series 4-1), 1934 Cardinals (20-5 and won a 7-game World Series), 1999 Mets.
So I'd answer that yes, the Rockies can lay claim to the greatest pressurized run of great baseball ever. If they take the World Series they can formally claim a spot at the head of the line ahead of the 1942, 1930 and 1934 Cardinals, 1969 Mets, 1908 Cubs and 1914 Braves.
Last night's Sox-Indians game was at least interesting for the one inning in which all the scoring took place. The people who wanted Beckett over Wakefield were pretty much vindicated when Wakefield, having started the game like a house afire, abruptly ran out of gas in the fifth, and Manny Delcarmen let the game get away. Now it's down to Beckett to beat Sabathia Friday night at the Jake to save the season.
Random thought: am I the only one who thinks Travis Hafner looks like a burlier version of John Krasinski from "The Office"?
October 16, 2007
I have to admit here that I simply have not been able to generate enough enthusiasm to watch a lot of the postseason. I mean, I've tuned in and caught at least pieces of most of the games, and seen large chunks of some of them, but I haven't really gotten into them, to the point of not being able to turn the game off and do something else. A big part of that, of course, is the sour taste left by the gruesome end to the Mets' season, and part as well is the lack of drama, with all three series in the NL ended in sweeps and the Red Sox and Indians looking like perhaps the first truly competitive series. (The focus in the NL on expansion teams with few real marquee established stars hasn't helped, but that alone would not turn me off otherwise).
Of course, it often only takes one game to suck you back in. There's still time.
October 15, 2007
The Rockies steaming to a 6-0 record in the postseason thus far is an extremely impressive feat for a team that won 90 games in the regular season and only got over .500 to stay on the 28th of July. The ability to win in the postseason is, famously, unpredictable, and often seems to bear only a mild relationship to regular season success. But the ability to avoid losing games at all in the postseason is almost exclusively the province of outstanding teams. Since the introduction of divisional play in 1969, only 6 teams have won the World Series while losing just one game, and only 1 had gone undefeated:
Interestingly, four of these teams - the 99 Yanks, 89 A's, 70 O's and 76 Reds - were coming off seasons in which they won even more games in the regular season.
The Rockies still have a high mountain to climb to match these teams; history is not on their side, even if they do manage to go all the way.
October 10, 2007
In the quest to identify the real killer of the Mets' season, Ryan McConnell links to a Tim Marchman analysis that aptly demonstrates that the Mets' bullpen problem was not - in the aggregate - overwork caused by starters not going deep enough in games, although Marchman (1) doesn't address the extent to which individual relievers wore out and (2) doesn't deal at all with the bullpen's actual performance. McConnell also breaks out the abysmal performance of fifth and spot starters used by the Mets this year.
There are always multiple causes of failure, of course. Reyes certainly rode off the bridge in the last two months of the year. But the offense as a whole can't be blamed; despite struggles at Shea, the Mets finished 4th in the league in runs scored and just a hair (5.46 R/G to 5.40) behind the Phillies for most runs scored on the road.
Anyway, one culprit (I'll return if I get a chance to look at individuals) was the decay of the team's previously spectacular defense in the season's closing months. Let's break out the decline of the pitching staff by its component parts: homers, walks (excluding intentional walks, but including HBP, which are the pitcher's fault), and strikeouts (the parts entirely under the pitchers' control) per 600 plate appearances month by month, vs. four elements more under the fielders' control: opponents' batting average on balls in play, extra bases (1 for a double, two for a triple) per 600 balls in play, batters reaching on errors per 600 balls in play, and double plays turned per opportunity (a rough measure of DP divided by (singles + walks + HBP + ROE). All sourced here.
As you can see, while the trendlines do show some negatives, especially in the walks/HBP column, the overall picture does not show a dramatic change in the pitching staff over the course of the season, and even shows some improvement (largely Pedro-driven) in HR and K in September. But the trendlines for the parts that are more the responsibility of the defense do show a drastic decline over the season, especially the final two months - hits on balls in play way up, doubles and triples way up, errors up sharply, double play balls never recovering the April-May levels when Valentin was in the lineup. Reyes is doubtless responsible for some of this as well (possibly Wright too, who played spectacular defense early in the year) but I have to think a lot of the blame for the doubles and triples figure in particular comes from two sources that were simultaneously responsible for keeping the offense in the game: the return of Alou in place of the fleet-footed Gomez and Chavez in left, and a hobbled Carlos Beltran in center (the Mets' defense in right was bad all year).
October 8, 2007
BASEBALL: Fact of the Day
I know there's a couple ways to slice this data but it's still striking: by ERA+, Joe Borowski is the only pitcher to save 40 games with an ERA worse than the league. As you can see from the list, Randy Myers with 38 saves was the prior record holder. September was the only month of the season when Borowski had an ERA below 3.38, and the 3.38 mark was in June when the league hit .370 against him.
October 7, 2007
BASEBALL: Johnny Leyritz
If you are going to shoot at the king, you better kill him. I have a bad feeling that the Indians will live to regret not putting away the Yankees after Clemens went down, and the torch officially passed from Clemens to Phil Hughes.
BASEBALL: NLCS Time
I guess it is too late for my NLDS predictions (which, for the record, would have been Chicago and Colorado, FWIW). I have been gradually licking my wounds enough to start paying attention again.
TBS can't be happy with the prospect of as many as four sweeps in the first round, nor with an Arizona-Colorado series (they don't have the ALCS). Of course, I will not shed a tear if Roger Clemens goes out today the way Glavine did against the Marlins.
For the NLCS, I'm inclined to take the Rockies, who won the season series 10-8 and have now won 17 of their last 18. I have not been a believer in the D-Backs all season; their poor Pythagorean record (they may be the first team ever to have the best record in theleague while allowing more runs than they scored) reflects the fact that they have neither a dominant offensive player nor a deep offense, their defense aside from Orlando Hudson is nothing special, and their pitching, while improved in depth over the second half (especially Micah Owings and a deep bullpen) is not, other than Brandon Webb, spectacular enough to overcome that. By contrast, the Rockies seem to be the ideally constructed team for their park - an outstanding bullpen (there may be no more pivotal figure in the league than Manny Corpas), good defense at key positions, a deep lineup and at least an adequate starting rotation. Not that Colorado is a 95-win type of team, but when a team has Kaz Matsui hitting grand slams in key games, you can't give the other guy extra points for momentum and luck and a better bullpen.
That said, I'd have to expect a long series, as neither team has the starting pitching to just put the other away consistently, and with two good, deep bullpens, a lot of extra inning games are easy to imagine.
October 2, 2007
BASEBALL: Rockie Horror
It may be midnight, but Cinderella's slipper still fits. Now that is how you play a deciding game. One for the ages.
PS - I will pretend I did not just see Kaz Matsui trigger a pennant-winning rally.
October 1, 2007
BASEBALL: Well, That Didn't Work Out So Well
If you will excuse me, I have some bitterness to wallow in...
Seriously, more analysis will be required in the weeks to come, but a few quick thoughts on a couple of the big questions:
1. Sack the Brain Trust?
While I'm not always on the same page as Omar Minaya, Willie Randolph or Rick Peterson, I wouldn't can any of them just yet. Randolph's position would be the most tenuous; unlike Minaya or Peterson, it's hard to identify his successes to set against his failures, but the simple fact is that the team has won 55% of its games for Randolph, compared to 42% for Art Howe and 53% for Bobby Valentine or, historically, 52% for Gil Hodges (Davey won 59%). Willie deserves one last chance to get this team over the hump next season.
2. Will Glavine and LoDuca Return?
At this point, I'd rather see Glavine go. He was, until yesterday's meltdown, still helping the team, but it's been clear for a while that the smoke and mirrors is all he has left, and time is running short - his K/9 plunged from 5.95 to a hair under 4, which is a serious red flag for a pitcher who will be 42 next season. Let him pursue his 200th loss elsewhere. Much as I hated Glavine in Atlanta and objected to his signing, I won't be bitter about the Glavine Era; he did, after turning the corner in 2004, manage to give the Mets a few solid years and some great postseason performances in 2006, and win his 300th game in a Mets uniform. But he's still always a Brave to everyone. Let him go back there.
As for Lo Duca, well, his falloff with the bat this season was perhaps predictable; whether he returns or not should depend heavily on the weak market for alternatives (there are a lot of free agent catchers this offseason but little quality) and whether the Mets are content to just pick up a guy to split time with Castro.
3. What Is Reyes Missing?
Reyes' fadeout over the second half was dramatic and at times marked by listlessness, and he probably needs more days off next season to recharge his batteries, mentally if not physically - in contrast to Jimmy Rollins, who just broke Lenny Dykstra's single season plate appearances record. Face it, while Reyes can be a flashy player he lacks the arrogant, in-your-face braggodocio of Rollins or Hanley Ramirez, that drive to insult the other guy and then make him eat your words.
4. Whither Delgado?
Other than Wagner, who simply had a mild off year with his usual bad timing, the Mets' 35-year-olds (Lo Duca, Delgado and Pedro) suffered precisely the collapse (in Pedro's case, a long injury respite) that my Established Win Shares projections suggested for the typical 35-year-old before the season. Delgado started the season with arm surgery and ended it with a broken hand after being drilled by Dontrelle Willis...I'd really be very concerned about his ability to bounce back from that next year. But the Mets will have few alternatives.
September 29, 2007
BASEBALL: Episode 161: A New Hope
Well, the Mets today played pretty close to the theoretical best game they could possibly play under the worst possible circumstances: they set a season high for hits and tied their season high for runs scored while allowing 0 runs on 1 hit. John Maine came within 4 outs of the first no-hitter in franchise history and set a career high in strikeouts, while throwing 115 pitches to allow everyone in the pen besides the rawest rookies (Muniz and Collazo) to take the day off without even warming up. Lastings Milledge had his first career multi-homer game. Carlos Gomez made a spectacular diving catch in center field, dodging a collsion with an onrushing Ruben Gotay, to preserve a 13-run lead. Even Sandy Alomar Sr. got into the act, taking a punch to the head that was intended for Jose Reyes, while agitated Mets generally avoided taking the bait of consecutive bench-clearing incidents to avoid engaging in conduct that could lead to a suspension. Only a few instances of baserunning vapor lock by Reyes and Milledge marred the afternoon.
Meanwhile in Philly, Chico was the man for the Nationals and the Phillies played some horrible defense (for all the guff the Mets took for blowing a lead they held for more than 130 days, the Phillies' lead lasted just one day before they gave it back), Tony Gwynn jr. robbed his padre's Padres of their chance to put the Wild Card away, and suddenly tomorrow will dawn with two teams tied in the NL East, and possibly three teams tied a game behind the Wild Card leader. On the bright side, the Mets last night finally maneuvered themselves into a situation where they had to play some championship baseball to win a championship, and now they send Tom Glavine, veteran of more big games than you or I could count, against Dontrelle Willis tomorrow with the season in the balance, while Glavine's senior, Jamie Moyer, faces Jason Bergmann, and Jake Peavy faces Jeff Suppan. The Mets will presumably hold back only Maine and Pedro (the likely 1-game playoff starter, on 3 days rest for his surgically repaired shoulder); "staff" will be available.
For one night, Tug McGraw can cease spinning in his grave. Time to Believe.
September 28, 2007
BASEBALL: Funeral For A Friend
Was at Shea tonight. Don't want to talk about it.
Attending Mets games at this point is like visiting a terminally ill friend or relative; it doesn't get better, you feel worse, but you somehow feel obligated to be there.
September 26, 2007
BASEBALL: Six Car Pileup
Another morning, the sun rises, I get out of bed...the Mets' efforts to kill me having failed for another day. My head hurts even contemplating the effort that goes into David Pinto's daily calculations every September of the possibilities for a massive tie for the wildcard; you can check out today's here. Bottom line:
So with five days left, we have a long shot at a six-way tie, and two possibilities for a five way tie. On top of all that, the Brewers gained a game on the Cubs, so we could end up with a tie in the NL Central as well. There is a very small chance that the regular season ends with half the National League teams still in the playoff hunt. . .
[A] six-way tie results in two days of playoff to determine the division winners, then two days of playoffs to determine the wild card. Who doesn't want seven extra single elimination games?
September 24, 2007
BASEBALL: The Logical Capstone To Milton Bradley's Career
For a player who has long combined an explosive temper and an improbable injury history, I guess tearing his ACL in a fight with his own manager really should not surprise anyone.
Then again, even this hilarious Catfish Stew post didn't see this one coming.
BASEBALL: Stat Breakdowns of the Day
1. For Jose Reyes' career, he is batting .353 and slugging .547 when putting the first pitch in play, .336 and .491 on an 0-1 pitch, and .302 and .450 on a 1-1 pitch, and .353 and .545 on a 2-1 pitch, and .287 and .418 overall after falling behind 0-1, but just .259 and .393 after getting ahead 1-0.
Most players have huge splits based on the count, and many hit well on the first pitch, but Reyes is extremely rare for hitting better when the first pitch is a strike than when it's a ball. Of course, his OBPs are much better when he's ahead in the count, and like nearly all hitters he hits poorly (in absolute terms) with two strikes on him, but it is perhaps a sign of some benefit to Reyes' overall aggressiveness as a hitter that getting one strike up on him doesn't get you far (the same trend can be seen in his 2007 stats but less dramatically, perhaps reflecting his maturation to a more conventional hitter).
Anyone who has watched him over the last six weeks or so knows that Reyes has been swinging at some bad balls again, but when he is on, he does have tremendous plate coverage.
BASEBALL: A Matter of Trust
I'd mark Thursday as the point at which I officially switched from being annoyed that the Mets were making this race much closer than it needed to be to being convinced that they will go nowhere in the playoffs. While the other parts of the team have had their hiccups, the entire reason for that is the pen. I mean, coming from behind to build a 3-run lead in the late innings and then blowing it to a last-place team is once thing; doing it twice in a 4-game series is just indescribable. You do not need a great bullpen to win in October, but you need an adequate one; a team that can't protect any lead against anyone just can't win.
For the record:
Heath Bell: 77 games, 80 IP, 2.17 ERA, 93 K
To be fair, Owens - like Ambiorix Burgos - is down for the count, having required rotator cuff surgery, and Ring hasn't worked more because he walked 14 guys in 15 innings. And I wasn't for re-signing Bradford at the price he commanded, except that the team spent almost as much on Schoenweis.
If there is a silver lining for the bullpen from yesterday's debacle - other than the fact that the offense saving their bacon increases the odds of getting a few days' breather at the end of the season - it's that Joe Smith pitched well; Smith has been totally ineffective since his return, but I'd still rather try him in big situations than Mota and Sosa.
Of course, on a macro level the schedule may be the Mets' salvation, as over the next four days they face Washington at home three times and the Cards once, while a still-not-mathematically-eliminated Braves team rides into Philly.
UPDATE: Of course, the bullpen might look a whole lot better right now if we had Duaner Sanchez, Burgos and/or the elusive Juan Padilla. Realistically, the Burgos deal was still a sensible gamble that just didn't pan out because Burgos was hurt (this being the Royals rather than the Braves, I assume they didn't know he was hurt). What's really inexcusable is the Bell deal, since the Mets never really had a basis to believe that Jon Adkins was going to help them.
SECOND UPDATE: It should be noted that Heilman and Feliciano have both passed their career high in games pitched, Smith is in his first season as a pro ballplayer, and Mota has made 50 appearances in just 105 games on the roster.
September 21, 2007
BASEBALL: The Little Black Raincloud
I'm trying to pry the sky off my head after the Mets had to take Beltran out tonight with a leg injury of undetermined severity, with the announcers discussing the possibility that if Billy Wagner's not ready to go tonight the team may use a guy who arrived from AA this morning to close.
Now, it's raining. Ideally, the rain will end the game after 5 with the Mets up by 4, but more likely all it will do is guarantee that Pedro doesn't pitch the sixth and thus the Mets need four innings of relief work.
UPDATE: Apparently it was a knee injury. Beltran walked off the field under his own power, but we have seen in the past that he does not play well through injury.
BASEBALL: Power Imbalance, Part II
Following up on a point from last week - on the whole, home runs are down in both leagues this year, but far more dramatically in the AL, to the point where NL hitters are going yard more frequently than their AL counterparts for the first time in this decade. Of course, as the following chart shows, when you take out NL pitchers and AL DHs, the NL's power output has been ahead all along, but is dramatically further ahead this season:
The last four columns are expressed in terms of home runs per 600 at bat. Of course, you could slice the numbers more finely if you had time, to take out the small number of AL pitcher and NL DH at bats and correct for Coors Field, but what's interesting to me is the dramatic change in one season in the AL, much more dramatic than in the NL. I'll leave you for now with the data but I may do a little more thinking about whether there is a plausible cause here beyond random variation.
BASEBALL: Lamentations, O Lamentations
How many leads must a man throw away
The pennant race, my friends, is being blown again
How many times must a manager do
The pennant race, my friends, is being blown again
And how many arms must a man trade away
The pennant race, my friends, is being blown again
UPDATE: I have added a visual representation of Willie Randolph's handling of the bullpen:
Read More »
September 18, 2007
Add to the list of people I never want to see in a Mets uniform again Brian Lawrence, Aaron Sele, and, if he wasn't already, Jorge Sosa (note that the list already included Guillermo Mota and Scott Schoenweis, as well as Chan Ho Park).
Joe Smith was no prize yesterday either.
UPDATE: Since August 26, Pedro, Glavine, Maine, Perez and Pelfrey are a combined 9-3 in 102.2 IP with a 2.81 ERA, averaging 8.50 hits, 0.61 HR, 3.86 BB and 7.10 K per 9 innings.
In the same period, Wagner, Heilman and Feliciano are 0-2 with 6 saves in 26.1 IP with a 3.42 ERA, averaging 8.20 hits, 1.03 HR, 2.73 BB and 8.89 K per 9 innings.
In the same period, the rest of the staff is 0-2 in 22.2 IP with a 10.32 ERA, averaging 14.69 hits, 2.38 HR, 5.16 BB and 3.97 K per 9.
I demand that you shoot me now.
September 17, 2007
What an utter disaster this weekend was for the Mets, the only compensation being that the Phillies are still 4 back in the loss column and the Mets' last 14 games include one game with a team that's 8 games under .500 (the Cardinals), 6 with a team that's 17 under (the Nationals), and 7 with a team that's 19 under (the Marlins), whereas the Phils have three games with Atlanta, three with the Cards, 7 with Washington and none with the Marlins.
It's bad enough to lose to the Phillies on their strength - the offense really is hard to stop - and the exposing of the Mets' weakness, their middle relief. But much of the past 8 straight losses to the Phils has been the result of the Mets failing to capitalize on the Phillies' weak points (not scoring even adequately on their weak pitching staff, especially the bullpen) and being betrayed by their own strengths - the best defensive team in the league making 6 errors in a game (at one point yesterday Jimmy Rollins had induced an error or botched defensive play on five consecutive plate appearances), Billy Wagner blowing games, the best base stealing team in the league repeatedly running themselves out of innings (as Gotay and Reyes did in the pivotal sixth inning on Saturday, including Reyes' boneheaded caught stealing at third to end the inning, while Carlos Gomez failed to take a key extra base Friday night, costing the Mets the chance to win in regulation).
At this point, I'm counting El Duque out of the postseason picture until we see him make a healthy outing again; it's ironic (or worse) that after all those years of postseason glory in the Bronx he may be out or effectively useless in October two straight years with the Mets. Some of that may be that the Mets have actually expected him to hold down a rotation slot all season rather than just giving him weeks off in midsummer to stay fresh, of course.
What does that leave for the October staff? Pedro and Glavine are definitely in the rotation; Glavine has righted the ship recently after some doldrums and while Pedro hasn't been as dominating as 17 K, 4 BB and 0 HR in 16 IP and a 1.69 ERA would suggest (it's not an accident that he's allowing more than a hit an inning), he looks plenty crafty enough to deserve a rotation slot in October. For now, that suggests a rotation of Pedro-Glavine-Perez-Maine, and the bullpen would include Wagner-Heilman-Feliciano . . . but after that, who? I hate the idea of using Mota and Schoenweis in a postseason game (even Randolph has to be out of patience with Mota after yesterday), and Sosa has been in a tailspin lately. Sele has been growing cobwebs in the pen, and he's really done nothing to make me trust him. I'd like to see Joe Smith get a shot if he is completely healthy, but he needs some appearances in the majors again. Collazo and Humber are totally unproven and at this point unprovable commodities. About the only other option is Pelfrey, who has finally been putting things together lately. Pelfrey at least doesn't give up home runs, but while he's never terribly wild, he still needs to show more consistent ability to put the ball where he wants it if he is going to pitch important innings in big games.
September 13, 2007
BASEBALL: Running When Needed
[O]nly 23% of his 93 attempts have come when the Mets were either ahead or behind by more than two runs. Sixty-eight percent of the time, he's run when the Mets were tied, up one, or down one, and he's 19 for 23 in the latter two situations -- the most crucial in the game.
BASEBALL: Power Imbalance
Top 3 AL outfielders in Home Runs:
Torii Hunter (28)
Top 3 NL Second Basemen in Home Runs:
Brandon Phillips (29)
BASEBALL: Fun Randolph-Era Mets Fact of the Day
Since Willie Randolph took over the Mets helm in 2005, not only have the Mets led the NL in steals three years running, but - headed by the trio of Reyes, Beltran and Wright - they have a team stolen base percentage of 80.9% in that period, including 82.5% this season.
September 11, 2007
BASEBALL: Splitting Delgado
If you drill down in the splits on Carlos Delgado, some interesting things appear, some of which mitigate his rough season, but some only make him look worse:
*Delgado is, as I have previously noted, hitting just fine since July 1 (.282/.465/.374) in the second half.
*Even more than Beltran, Shea is killing Delgado, who is batting .292/.513/.355 on the road but an anemic .213/.365/.299 at Shea.
*Delgado is batting .322/.592/.402 with no outs, but .170/.327/.255 with two outs, and it's all those inning enders that have really made him look helpless. Relatedly, he's batting .224/.388/.326 with men in scoring position.
*Delgado is hitting .285/.492/.352 against the Mets' NL East foes, including .328/.638/.403 against the Phillies. That matters, a lot.
*Consider Delgado's problems at Shea, which is notorious for its poor visibility. Consider that he is hitting .289/.510/.379 in day games and .317/.512/.429 indoors, but .241/.418/.307 at night. Consider that he is hitting .283/.532/.342 against finesse pitchers, but .212/.349/.296 against power pitchers.
Does Delgado need his eyes checked, and that's why he's having trouble at night and at home? Or is it that - like everyone - he just sees the ball a slight bit better by day and away from Shea, and that that extra microsecond to react is where his declining reflexes, at age 35, are becoming a problem? Perhaps the struggles with power pitchers suggest the latter.
September 10, 2007
Further to my note on Jeremy Bonderman the other day, yesterday's Tigers-Mariners slugfest - featuring a poor pitching performance by 21-year-old Felix Hernandez and yet another meltdown by the 24-year-old Bonderman - was a fine illustration of the difficulties of bringing along young pitchers these days, especially in the AL. You could scarcely find two more talented young arms than these two, and both have great stuff and good control and have been generally healthy (Hernandez' balky elbow earlier this year notwithstanding) while pitching in the two best pitcher's parks in the league. Yet, Bonderman's now sporting a 4.78 career and 5.01 season ERAs, has never had an ERA below 4.00, and had never won more than 14 games; Hernandez (let's not call him "F-Her") has a 4.03 career and 4.17 season ERAs, and his career high in wins is 12. Either or both could still become major stars as soon as next season, but the point is the struggles they have required just to become slightly above-league-average pitchers. Meanwhile, the most heralded young pitcher in the AL, Joba Chamberlain, has pitched the grand total of 14.1 major league innings and has yet to start a game.
For the Tigers, this portends a larger problem. They are in the unusual situation, for a Detroit team, of being awash in young arms - Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Andrew Miller, Zach Miner, Jair Jurrjens. Yet their pitching staff has been awful, 9th in the league in ERA.
This got me thinking about the historic role of pitching in the Tigers franchise. If you look at the real ace seasons, 200+IP and an ERA of less than 3.00, only the Red Sox of the original 8 AL teams have had fewer such seasons since 1920 than the Tigers (the numbers: Red Sox 27, Tigers 29, A's 34, Twins/Senators 36, Orioles/Browns 37, White Sox 39, Indians 44, Yankees 61). Here's Detroit's list.
I also looked at the role hitting and pitching has played in team success, broken out by the team's winning percentages. I included the 2007 season, in which Detroit is 2d in the AL in Runs Scored, 9th in ERA, and has a .538 winning percentage. "Runs High" is seasons where the Tigers have ranked higher in the AL in Runs Scored than in ERA, "ERA High" is seasons where they ranked higher in ERA than in Runs Scored, and "Tie" is where they finished the same. The "Avg" figures show their average finish in each category in seasons when they posted winning percentages in that category.
First of all, we have a reminder here that, the 1994-2005 period notwithstanding, the Tigers have been an exceptionally successful franchise over the years. Of course, this is more a descriptive table than a predictive one; if there's a reason why the Tigers have far more frequently built winning teams around offense than pitching it's Tiger Stadium, which is no more. Still, historically there has been a very pronounced tendency for Detroit's teams to rely more on their bats, and that tendency has only been more pronounced in the years when they have had their best seasons.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:53 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
September 9, 2007
BASEBALL: The Driver's Seat
The Mets may not be in clinch mode, but they sure are looking like they have the NL East well in hand. Yet again today, Pedro was not dominating, but showed he could turn the dials when he needed to, and had that one inning with the three strikeouts when he made the Astros look like amateurs. Between him and Wagner getting back on track, I'm feeling pretty good about the next 4-8 weeks.
Guillermo Mota is another story. I know Randolph is basically playing the elimination game right now to see which pitchers to give roles to in October, but Mota sure is not making a good case for himself.
September 7, 2007
BASEBALL: Maybe Not The Natural
Rick Ankiel under investigation for using HGH. According to the New York Daily News' report on an ongoing investigation
Ankiel has not been accused by authorities of wrongdoing, and stopped receiving HGH just before Major League Baseball officially banned it in 2005, The News reported.
September 6, 2007
BASEBALL: Past His Expiration Date
Is there a worse stretch drive pitcher in baseball than Jeremy Bonderman? For his career, Bonderman has a 4.30 ERA in the first half, 5.34 in the second, including a lifetime record of - I'm not making this up - 5-18 with a 5.81 ERA in August. This season, Bonderman went from 9-1, 3.48 ERA in the first half to 2-7, 6.72 in the second. Last year, 8-4, 3.46 in the first half, 6-4, 4.87 in the second. 2005, 11-5, 3.99 at the break, 3-8, 5.61 in the second half, including a 6.64 ERA after August 1.
Consider Bonderman's innings totals at the break each season: 121.2 in 2005, 119.2 in 2006, 106 this year. It may be that he just isn't up for carrying a #1 starter's workload (at least not yet; he's still just 24), but then the same thing happened this year after paring back his innings a bit. The second-half flops are the main reason why Bonderman, who has as much talent as almost anybody in the game, still has a 4.72 career ERA.
September 5, 2007
BASEBALL: No Salary Drive
Since signing his 5-year, $91 million contract August 17, Carlos Zambrano is 0-3 with a 9.56 ERA. Maybe the Cubs should have kept him hanging a little longer.
I was on vacation when they signed the deal - assuming Zambrano's just slumping and not injured, it's still a good deal; Zambrano is in rare company (along with Barry Zito) in terms of his consistency and durability, he's younger and better than Zito and it's a shorter contract for less total money.
BASEBALL: Looking at the Breakdowns
Looking over the batting comparisons since July 1, a few things spring to mind:
*David Wright has been the toughest out in baseball, batting .356/.580/.449. Wright is not so much the kind of hitter who goes on weeklong tears as the kind who gets in a groove and stays there for half a season, as he did the first half of 2006 and the last two months of 2005. But Wright's not the only Met - consider Beltran (.287/.622/.385), Delgado (.297/.500/.383), plus Alou, who doesn't have the at bats but is batting .336/.568/.400 over the same period.
*Pat Burrell, just behind Wright in OBP and slugging .650, has also been a monster and should have quieted a lot of doubters.
*If you are looking for guys who really broke out in the past two months, Jeremy Hermida should be at the top of that list, batting .335/.555/.411 and thus answering those who wondered if his minor league plate patience would translate into an unduly passive, punchless major league hitter.
*By contrast, the jury is out on whether Jeff Keppinger, batting .362/.546/.426 with just 8 K in 152 at bats, is showing he's a legitimate major league hitter or just riding a crazy hot streak. The Royals somehow managed to deal Ruben Gotay for Keppinger and let the latter go in time to get nothing from either of them, although with Grudzielanek hitting .350 they have at least covered the short run.
*I really didn't expect Mike Lowell to be hitting .370 over this stretch.
*Hanley Ramirez has also only gotten hotter (.354/.650/.403, 21 steals in 26 attempts) - Jose Reyes (.262/.404/.322 but 35 steals) will only beat out Ramirez by being a better defender. And even now, as well as Josh Beckett is pitching, the Red Sox have to be hurting over that one.
*The Yankees hitters, of course, are just murder up and down the lineup.
*Freddy Sanchez batting .331/.568/.387 with 24 doubles (!) should resolve concerns that his batting title was a 1-year fluke. Sanchez isn't a great player but if you hit for a high enough average with enough doubles you can be valuable without doing a whole lot else.
*Billy Butler has been a breakout in the second half, hitting .321/.495/.385 at the tender age of 21. Teammate Alex Gordon has come alive as well but is still a work in progress at .267/.476/.303, having slowed his early-season pace for hit by pitches.
*Two other youngsters building on initial successes: Matt Kemp (.325/.558/.358) and Ryan Braun (following up an insane June by batting .326/.644/.373).
*Reggie Willits at .234/.266/.348 seems to be answering in the negative the question of whether he can do anything besides draw walks and run. And his 7 for 13 base stealing leaves the latter in question as well. Teammate Casey Kotchman has also hit pumpkin time (.271/.387/.333), as has Dan Johnson in Oakland (.185/.344/.301).
*Frank Thomas at .300/.493/.368 may, perversely, be bad news; if Frank can't slug .500 even when he's in a .300 hitting groove, he's old. Frank has helped the Jays but 2006 looks like his last hurrah as a star.
*Kevin Youkilis really cooled down: .237/.407/.356. But of all people, Julio Lugo has picked up the slack: .304/.435/.348. On the other hand, the combination of Crisp and Drew both slugging below .400 over that stretch doesn't inspire confidence in Boston's lineup entering October.
*Delmon Young continues to look like a talented kid who has no clue what he's doing - .322/.411/.350, 18 doubles but only 1 HR and 1 steal, 11/46 BB/K ratio. Young's high average and doubles numbers suggest that the power will come, whereas you generally don't learn to steal bases at the big league level, so the key factor will be whether he learns some plate discipline. Speaking of which, Alfonso Soriano has regressed (.277/.447/.295, 35/5 K/BB ratio).
*Travis Hafner has only gotten weaker as the season progressed: .256/.431/.344. Hafner's decline is a serious problem for the Indians.
*Sometimes, a player who hits above his head in his mid-30s is Barry Bonds. Sometimes, though, they come back to earth with a crash like Ray Durham (.169/.262/.270).
*Seattle's baserunner deficit in a nutshell: Sexson (.202/.356/.292), Lopez (.238/.291/.251), Betancourt (.291/.458/.311) and Johjima (.278/.433/.303). Even with Jose Vidro reclaiming his glory days (.337/.437/.412), that won't cut it.
September 3, 2007
BASEBALL: Thought of the Day
I am pretty sure Billy Beane regrets trading Aaron Harang for a few months' rental of Jose Guillen.
BASEBALL: The End of the Beginning
Nothing is certain in pennant races, but I think we saw the end of the Braves' chances of winning the division yesterday, with the Mets pulling 7.5 games ahead, as well as the confirmation of my sense from Day One of this season that the Phillies were the greater threat of the two even despite the residual toughness of any team helmed by Bobby Cox and led by John Smoltz and Chipper Jones. Of course, Philly's pitching staff is still a horror show, as yesterday's latest Adam Eaton fiasco showed - today's Philly starter is Jamie Moyer (5.08 ERA), yesterday's pitchers had ERAs of 6.28, 6.00, 5.96 and 2.11 (JC Romero being the odd man out), the prior day 6.27, 5.09, 5.74, 6.04 and 5.36.
At the same time, today feels like Opening Day at last, with Pedro beginning anew in the place(Cincinnati) where he started his Mets career 2 1/2 years ago. Hope springs anew even in the Fall.
PS - Remember, Pedro needs only 2 Ks for 3,000, so he doesn't have to be highly effective for today to be a career milestone.
UPDATE: Pedro's fastball rose from 82-83 mph at the beginning of the first inning to 88-89 by the end. Not the Pedro of old, but whether he can get up consistently around 90 will be hugely important to whether he will be an asset over the next two months.
And Aaron Harang becomes #3,000. Meanwhile, Ichiro is 2 runs scored from his 7th consecutive season of 200 hits and 100 runs scored.
Well, Pedro does about the best you could realistically hope for: 5 innings, 76 pitches, 4 Ks, 3 runs (1 unearned), hit 90 mph on the gun in his last inning of work, pretty good control, working his fastball, change, curve and to a lesser extent slider. We'll have to wait and see where he goes from there.
September 1, 2007
BASEBALL: Making It Look Easy
Clay Buchholz's no-hitter in his second major league start puts me in mind of this.
UPDATE: Note that that list should now be updated - Scott Erickson did pitch for the Mets, Pedro Martinez threw 9 no-hit innings in 1995 before losing it in the 10th, plus the list of Mets relievers to participate in a combined no-no went to 3 when Billy Wagner joined the team.
BASEBALL: Lost at Sea
Well, I've been waiting since early July for the Mariners to come back to earth in light of their pitiable starting pitching, batting average-dependent offense, and mismatch between their record and their runs scored and allowed (also noted here), and their 8-game losing streak seems to have done the trick. One thing I will grant Seattle is incredible durability. 133 games into the season (entering today), 7 regulars have played 120 or more games, all 9 on pace for 500 at bats. As I discussed after the 2002 Angels won the World Series, if you can pull that off, you can paper over less-than stellar offensive talent simply by not having to use much in terms of bench players, who tend to be offensive weak links. The downside is that when you have 6 regulars 31 or older and nobody takes days off, that's not a recipe for a strong September.
August 30, 2007
You may, if you wish, discuss today's Mets game. But you can't make me join you.
BASEBALL: We Likes 'Em Broken Down
Boy, if LaRussa and Dave Duncan can turn Joel Pineiro back into a usable starting pitcher, they really do have the touch with washed-up veterans. Going into today's start, so far, so good.
BASEBALL: Fun Fact of the Day
The NL Central is 56 games under .500 on the road. The Cubs are 33-32 on the road and they are the only team in the division that isn't at least 6 games under.
August 28, 2007
BASEBALL/POLITICS: When The Bronx Was Burning
I recently finished reading Jonathan Mahler's book The Bronx is Burning, the companion piece to ESPN's miniseries of the same name concluding tonight (which I have not had the opportunity to watch). The title comes from the final collision between Yankee mayhem and civic disorder, when Howard Cosell intoned "There it is, ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning," as a massive fire raged in view of the TV cameras during Game Two of the 1977 World Series at Yankee Stadium.
The book is well-done and a brisk read, and successfully weaves together the story of Reggie Jackson's first year with the Yankees with a series of portraits of the political scene and atmosphere in New York City in 1977. Since I was five years old at the time I remember a lot of this stuff only in an impressionistic fashion, but the 1977 Yankees were really the first baseball team I hated - the first baseball team that was really bought on the market in the fashion that is at least partly true of all successful teams since - and the summer of 1977 was about the time I started to understand that there was something seriously wrong with the City of New York. Mahler does a fine job of bringing both to vivid life.
The key storyline, though told in large part from Reggie's point of view (Billy Martin and Thurman Munson are dead, and Steinbrenner's old and not talking), is as much Billy's story as Reggie's, and in some ways is more sympathetic to Martin than to Jackson, who comes off as even more of an insufferable egomaniac than I had remembered, which is saying quite a lot. Reggie hadn't really started to feud with George yet, so the battle lines are Reggie vs Billy, Billy vs George, Reggie vs Thurman, Billy vs himself, and Reggie vs the press and his own big mouth. At the end, Reggie's 3-homer game to win Game Six and the World Series is Reggie's triumph, but merely a respite for Billy, who suffered the same constant threat of being fired the following year until George finally sacked him in July.
If Mahler's treatment of the baseball side can be faulted, it's for an unduly narrow focus; whether out of a desire to avoid re-covering ground previously trod in many other books or due to a drive to produce a quick and compact book, he leaves a lot of famous one-liners on the cutting room floor and focuses so entirely on the Reggie and Billy stories that he either ignores or relegates to a single supporting anecdote many of the colorful characters on that Yankee team - Mickey Rivers, Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella, Mike Torrez. You would never know from reading the book that Nettles led the team in homers and Lyle won the Cy Young Award. (Fran Healy gets more ink in the book than Nettles). He also inexplicably leaves out the single best line of 1977 for tying the action on the field to the city's meltdown, Lenny Randle's crack after the blackout of '77 cancelled a Mets home game a month after the trading deadline: "I can see the headline now: Mets trade Kingman, call game for lack of power."
Since Mahler's subject is the Yankees he skips quickly through the other huge New York baseball story of 1977, the Mets trading Tom Seaver, and it's also where Mahler (who I presume is a liberal) makes his most tin-eared gaffe of the book, referring to Seaver's nemesis Dick Young of the New York Daily News, the Lavrenti Beria of the New York baseball press corps, as "the press box equivalent of a neoconservative," proof if any were needed that Mahler (like many on the left) has no clue what that word means.
As for the political side, I didn't count pages but Mahler actually appears to spend less than half the book on baseball. While he takes in a lot of different threads in the City's horrible summer as well as the cultural ferment beneath (from Studio 54 to punk rock to the development of SoHo), there are two major episodes in the book (the July blackout and the Son of Sam manhunt), one major running theme (the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary) and one minor theme (January 1977 was the beginning of Rupert Murdoch's ownership of the NY Post). On the latter, Mahler is unsparing on the Post's reckless tabloid attitude towards the truth and towards its readers, but seems to recognize that the introduction of a right-wing tabloid into a liberal city with liberal papers was nonetheless a very healthy development. One detail I had forgotten, that Mahler discusses in the course of the transformation of the Post back to its Hamiltonian roots and away from its more recent incarnation as a sleepy liberal paper: its film critic when Murdoch bought the paper was Frank Rich.
The dramatic high point of the book is Mahler's treatment of the chaos that surrounded the slightly more than 24-hour blackout in July, the looting and arsons that did for New York's image (and self-image) what Rodney King did for LA in 1992 and Hurricane Katrina did for New Orleans in 2005. It's all here, concentrated in his account of the blackout from the streets of Bushwick: the wholesale destruction of local business, the cops arresting more people than the system could process and having to resort to just beating guys until their nightsticks broke to keep a poor substitute for order, the collective suicide of whole communities. I was actually amazed, on reading this, that the blackout wasn't longer; we've had longer ones since 1977 but without the same social meltdown. In that sense, as in many other ways, the book is an inadvertant campaign commercial for Rudy Giuliani, just as is Tom Wolfe's novel Bonfire of the Vanities, set a decade later; Mahler's portrait of a city whose social structure and self-confidence were wrecked by liberalism stands in stark contrast to the city as it has been since the mid-1990s.
As for the mayoral race - which was entirely determined by the Democratic primary - Mahler traces the improbable rise of Ed Koch and the self-destruction of Bella Abzug as the city began to rebel against the hapless liberal status quo.* Most notably, Mahler returns again and again to the opportunities handed on a platter to Mario Cuomo - endorsements he could have had, themes he could have pressed, voting blocs he could have wooed - and how Cuomo frittered them away in his pride, arrogance and stubbornness. As in 1994, a major contributor to his downfall was his insistence, even obsession, with martyring his political career over his determination to impose his moral objections to the death penalty on an unwilling populace (a stance ironically at odds with Cuomo's later claim to be morally opposed to abortion but unwilling to impose his own morality).
All in all, not by any stretch a comprehensive history of the period or the Yankees, but a fine attempt to bring together all the elements that created the mood of the city in which Reggie, Billy and George made headlines.
* - New York in 1977 had a Democratic Mayor, City Council, Governor, State Assembly, President, Senate and House, plus a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by liberal Republicans (Brennan, Blackmun, Stevens), a liberal Democrat (Marshall), moderate Republicans (Burger, Powell, Stewart), and a moderate Democrat (White), with only one conservative (Rehnquist). Only the Republican-led State Senate was any sort of counterweight.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Baseball 2007 | Politics 2007 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
August 25, 2007
BASEBALL: Saturday's Mets Quiz
All three Alomars have played for the Mets (none of them especially well). Name the other major league team for which all three have played.
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The White Sox.
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August 24, 2007
BASEBALL: The Big 3-0
Mike Carminati (who I really should link to more often) lists the other occasions before Wednesday night's massacre when a major league team scored 30 or more runs in a game, the most recent being the Cubs in 1897. Not surprisingly, 15 of the other 23 occasions were in the National Association between 1871 and 1874, the dawn of professional organized baseball and before fielders wore gloves, including the lone 40+ game, a preposterous 49-33 affair between Philadelphia and Troy in 1871. Only four of the games came after 1883 and two of those were in weakened leagues in 1890 & 1891.
Still, when you look at the 1893 Reds and 1897 Cubs next to this Rangers lineup, you see the randomness of single-game batting records. The Reds were a relatively weak-hitting team for their era, and the Cubs were fourth in the league in runs scored. Nor was Louisville, the victim on both occasions, an especially bad pitching team, although I would infer that in 1897 the game got out of hand in the hands of Jim Jones, making the first of two Flavor-Aid tasting major league pitching appearances (the second was four years later) and allowing 22 runs in 6.2 innings of relief on the way to finishing the game.
As for the Rangers, you might have expected something like this from Juan Gone, Raffy and Pudge or from Teixeira, Soriano and A-Rod. Instead, the greatest damage was done by four players - three of little note (Ramon Vazquez, David Murphy and Marlon Byrd) and the fourth (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) very young and not yet come into his own. But they were swinging the bats well that day, and ran into a pitching staff in a downward spiral.
Sad fact: the Orioles are still underperforming their Pythagorean record even after losing a single game by 27 runs.
BASEBALL: Heartstoppers Stop
Tonight's Mets game was crisp and well-played and quite a break from the drama of the Padres series, although Wagner's troubles continue. It's rare that you see Wagner and Hoffman both blow a game in the same night, let alone the same game, let alone in the same game twice in one series - and now Wagner got touched up tonight. Better now than October.
For a while now, Wright and Reyes have quietly been having their best seasons and carrying this team (among other things, as of a little earlier in the week they were #2 & 3 in the league in times on base - while that's partly durability as well as performance, it's the durability this team has otherwise lacked), although in Wright's case that's no longer so quiet. A funny thing is the contrast between the two: on the field, Reyes is a flashy player, kinda cocky, very demonstrative in the dugout, while Wright is more buttoned-down; off the field, it's Reyes who is the quiet, soft-spoken family man and Wright the swinging single Mr. Popularity who is always quotable. In each case, they complement each other well.
It's been great to see Beltran back; I have said for some time that this team will go only so far as Beltran can take them, although Alou has also been huge in recent weeks; they said Saturday that the Mets were 24-12 with both Beltran and Alou in the starting lineup, which is, after tonight, 27-14.
It's also encouraging to see the news earlier this week that Pedro Martinez is throwing well in A ball, even if he is topping out at 89 mph. The velocity is what gives him that extra edge, but Pedro without a 90+ fastball is Tom Glavine, and the Mets could do worse. The interesting question, if Pedro can't sustain his velocity over 6+ innings, is whether you would try him in the pen for the postseason (the Mets need more help there), although more likely you would just convert one of the others to relief - Perez, I guess, although Glavine has actually been the least effective.
August 22, 2007
BASEBALL: Mets Quiz
Name the longest-tenured member of the Mets.
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Pedro Feliciano, who has been with the team (albeit with interruptions) since 2002. Three other Mets were on the team in 2003: Tom Glavine, who was the Opening Day starter, and Jose Reyes and Aaron Heilman, both of whom debuted in June.
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August 20, 2007
BLOG: Pennsylvania Travelogue
I have returned from my travels to exotic Pennsylvania. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan for filling in (the other planned guest blogger proved to busy to post).
Citizens Bank Park
We kicked off our trip to Pennsylvania by hitting Citizens Bank Park for a Saturday night game against the Braves (which offered a rare reason to root for the Phillies). We had bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon game, on the theory that a night game would be too late in particular for my 17-month-old daughter, but ESPN decreed that the Sunday game had to be moved to 8pm. Fortunately, the Phillies were very accomodating in exchanging our tickets, and we were able to get a row of six seats even though Saturday ended up being sold out.
It's a beautiful ballpark in the Camden Yards style, with large open-air walkways behind and under the seats. We took the kids to a Build-a-Bear in the lower level before the game, in which you could build a stuffed Phillie Phanatic (note: this was somewhat more of a summary process than your typical Build-A-Bear). We sat in Section 414 on the first base side of the upper deck (from the map you can see the view), which despite the height were good seats except that the steep angle of the upper deck puts you at the mercy of the good sense of the people in the front row to sit down and avoid blocking the view of home plate. Of course, the Phillies fans were not exactly shrinking violets about letting people know to sit down. We were sitting behind a rather indecently vocal collection of Braves fans (the guy in front of us was nice, the others were unwisely loud) and as for the Philadelphia fans, well, the reputation of Philly as the toughest park in the big leagues for the home team is well-deserved. The next day's paper didn't headline the game "Drunk on Boos" for nothing. The phans there hate Pat Burrell almost as much as Mets fans do, and they really hate Adam Eaton, the latter with good reason. I shouldn't laugh since the Mets have Brian Lawrence in the rotation and he is basically the same pitcher, but at least the Mets aren't paying Lawrence $8 million a year. Eaton was terrible, put the Phils in a hole they almost but couldn't quite get out of even against Lance Cormier.
Also on the stadium: the food didn't impress me. The Liberty Bell that lights up for hometown homers was OK but no Magic Apple. The out of town scoreboard along the fence takes some getting used to but is tremendously informative. There are too few places to get the count; I didn't love the layout of the big CF scoreboard. There were a preposterous number of moths in the air for the upper deck. The jerseys? Chase Utley jerseys were definitely the dominant theme. I did see one old-school fan wearing a Doug Glanville jersey. That said, the sign of a baseball town is the proportion of fans wearing the hometown colors, especially the female fans, and the Phillies phans don't disappoint (there were a very large number of young women and teens wearing the identical uniform of colored Phillies T-shirts and very short white shorts).
The racial makeup of the phans is a shock: I know in most towns your baseball crowds are largely white, but to get to Citizens Bank Park you drive through miles of all-black neighborhoods (what looked to my eye like working-class neighborhoods with clean, respectable houses, not slums), but in the park and the parking lot the only black people you see are ticket scalpers.
The Phillie Phanatic comes out at the 7th inning stretch, but unlike Mr. Met he fires hot dogs rather than T-Shirts into the seats. And lemme tell ya, Mr. Met is badly outgunned; while he uses a light shoulder launcher to fire shirts into the crowd, the Phanatic uses a hot dog shaped cannon mounted on a jeep.
Also on the game: I have never seen more dropped third strikes in my life. The Mets bullpen may be a mess but at least we don't have Jose Mesa. And Jeff Francouer has a freaking gun in right field; he uncorked one throw that had my jaw dropping before it was more than two feet out of his hand.
On Sunday, we took the "Duck Tour" of Philadelphia, which is cheesy but entertaining (we had always meant to take those tours in Boston and DC but never got around to it). One thing that made me think when we got off: they mentioned that the amphibious DUKW bus/boat you ride around in was manufactured during WWII and that they had sat dormant for years until the idea came to refit them for tourism...it made me wonder: were we riding on a piece of history? I guess that the DUKWs they use for these tours have been extensively refitted from military to civilian uses, but the idea that any part of the vehicle we were riding may have been used in the war gave some additional meaning to a tour that touched on everything from colonial Philadelphia to Rocky.
Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia....sorry, couldn't help myself. On Sunday evening, we went to see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. On the whole, the exhibit was interesting, indeed, riveting, just knowing you are looking at things made - in some cases, of wood - multiple thousands of years ago. We went as well to the IMAX film about the excavation of the bodies of many pharoahs in the 1880s. Unfortunately the staff misinfored us about the starting time so we not only missed the beginning but ended up sitting in the front row. The baby's eyes nearly rolled out of her head trying to comprehend an IMAX screen from the perspective of the front row. The film, narrated either by Saruman or Count Dooku, talked about how the pharoahs believed that they would be immortal as long as their names were said, in which case I suppose thy succeeded, but then it also talked about how they were using the mummified bodies of Ramses the Great and other pharoahs to study disease, like they were hoboes who gave their bodies to science for a few bucks. Somehow, I can't imagine they would have approved.
The exhibit starts with relics from tombs other than Tut and works its way up to his immediate family (interesting note: the Egyptian royals may have been primitive but they found time to remember unborn fetuses of the royal family), and then escalated to Tut's own burial chamber and the things on his body...but I was disappointed when it ended with the diadem that crowned his head - and no sarcophagus, no death mask. I guess it's perhaps a politically difficult time to get that stuff out of Egypt but the whole iconography of the exhibit - including the repainting of the museum's steps - is in the image of the sarcophagus. It was a big letdown when nothing of the sort was there.
Instead, after you leave the Tut exhibit, you enter...the gift shop. Which sold, I kid you not, a Tut tissue dispenser modeled on the head of the sarcophagus (you pull Kleenex out of the nose). I guess being donated to science isn't the worst of it. (My son got a Tut baseball - I was disappointed not to see Cap Anson at the Pyramids).
After the gift shop, the next room has a glass case containing Bobby Abreu's #53 Phillies uniform. Talk about being put on metaphor alert.
By coincidence, I was vacationing the same place Dr. Manhattan was this week - Hershey, PA. And lemme tellya, Milton Hershey could have taught the pharoahs a thing or two. His name is on the town, it's on the candy company, it's on the amusement park, it's on a school he endowed with $60 million in 1918, there's a statue of him at the amusement park and biographical filmstrips, there are even Kiss-shaped streetlamps on Chocolate Avenue (which intersects with Cocoa).
OK, out of time - short takes on some things I may or may not have time to revisit later: we saw more Amish people at Gettysburg than we did in Amish country; we saw Ratatouille in the theater, and it was no Incredibles but still very entertaining; and Jesus must have a good press agent in Central PA because He has one heck of a lot of billboards in the area.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:40 PM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-14 | History | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 17, 2007
BASEBALL: Bonds. Barry Bonds.
Posted by Dr. Manhattan
I guess I need to discuss Barry Bonds, who - as you may have heard - recently broke some record.
I have a few thoughts on why his record-breaking inspires such controversy:
1) Overcompensation amongst the media for not having aggressively reported the growth in steroid use throughout the 1990s.
2) An aesthetic revulsion in the media towards big muscular guys hitting lots of home runs - being so different from the way the game was played when the members of the media were younger, it doesn't fit their idea of the way the game "should be" played (which is part of why they assume the entire impact of steroids on the game is in the increase in home runs);
3) Bonds' long-standing reputation as a lout generally and particularly to the media (with the latter, of course, being far more important);
4) Bonds' career path, plus the incredible detail unearthed by the authors of "Game of Shadows" as to his drug use, provides the most obvious example of "but-for" causation likely to be found outside of a double-blind lab study.
Regarding point #2, it is clear - if only from the number of pitchers who have failed steroid tests - that steroid users are not restricted to cartoonishly built power hitters. In fact, steroid rumors (never proven) have been associated with the baseball player who would probably win a poll as "least likely steroid user." Who is that player? A hint: he recently broke a long-standing seasonal hitting record. Click below:
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Ichiro Suzuki. Yes, the famously small Ichiro who broke George Sisler's record for hits in a season. As Robert Whiting wrote on page 26 of The Meaning of Ichiro (terrible title, good book - retitled The Samurai Way of Baseball for the paperback):
From mid-2000 to the spring of 2001, while no one was really watching, Ichiro had gained nearly 20 pounds on top of his listed weight of 156 pounds through intensive weight training. In fact, when he reported to the Mariners camp in sub-drenched Arizona, the uniform they had readied for him was too tight, thanks to new muscle mass in his arms, shoulders and legs. This raised suspicions in some quarters, although never proven, that he had been taking steroids, suspicions fueled by the fact that he had refused to join other NPB stars and play on Japan's baseball team in the Australian Olympics. Reporters speculated that he was afraid to take the required drug tests. Whatever the reason, Ichiro was stronger than he had ever been. He also insisted that the Mariners' 5'9" height listing was off by nearly two inches.
This certainly is not any form of proof that Ichiro has ever taken steroids. But it does illustrate the extent to which steroid use is associated with players other than power hitters. Yet the common media narrative still draws a straight line from steroid use to the offensive levels of the last 13-14 years.
One additional aspect relating to point #4. Bonds attracts added notoriety in part because of just how insanely great he has been since 2001. Past now-tarnished players such as McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro et al may have broken records, but they did not completely shatter the bounds of what was previously considered possible for a baseball player. McGwire, admittedly, came pretty close, but he still struck out 162 times and had an OBP that was in line with the best efforts of the past decade. By contrast, only Babe Ruth's best seasons could compare to those put up by Bonds in 2001-2004. The story is told by Bonds' intentional walk totals - he shattered the records in that category to a greater extent than Ruth broke the home run records. (I should note that intentional walks were not separately measured in Ruth's time, so we do not know how Ruth's totals compared to Bonds'.) The intentional walks show the extent to which pitchers gave up on the idea of getting Bonds out - shattering the equilibrium between batter and pitcher that exists even with respect to the best hitters. In this respect, I always felt that the appropriate parallel to Bonds was the fictional Sidd Finch, a character (presumably) beloved of Crank's. But it is better when characters like Finch don't really exist.
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August 16, 2007
BASEBALL: Yankeez Rool
Posted by Dr. Manhattan
Notwithstanding their three-game losing streak culminating (hopefully) in tonight's beat-down by Detroit, I remain confident that the Yankees will win the wild card. I never really lost hope this season, in large part because - as David Pinto pointed out - even at their nadir, the Yankees were never playing as badly as their record indicated. Their blistering streak in July and August was a combination of reversion to the mean and a long stretch against the AL's dregs.
1) I don't believe there is anything wrong with Mariano that a few days off won't cure. Historically, he often has a streak in July or August where he blows a number of games in quick succession, before reverting to normal. (Yankee fans will have a hard time forgetting this one, for example.) I believe it's a software bug.
2) Check out this Hardball Time piece comparing the mechanics of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. I have no capability to judge pitchers' mechanics, but this is a nice argument to be having.
3) For all Met fans or Yankee-hater readers of this blog: Regardless of your pinstripe aversion, make sure to watch Chamberlain's appearances as often as you can. The excitement over each next great fireballer is something that transcends team-specific loyalties. I speak from experience: notwithstanding his role in knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs last year, if you don't like watching Joel Zumaya pitch, you just don't like baseball. Chamberlain may be in the same category.
(Permit me to channel Bill Simmons for a moment: shouldn't the title of baseball's hardest thrower should be a recognized championship, like the heavyweight champion in boxing? Prior to his tendon injury, Zumaya was the unquestioned champion. Shouldn't this be tracked regularly?)
4) I have no patience whatsoever for the constant (thankfully, less so in the last couple of months) "is-he-or-isn't-he" speculation as to A-Rod and his contract. This is a matter for a much longer post, but the way A-Rod has been treated over the last several years by the media is nothing short of shameful.
If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, the season could follow one of two historical tracks. One would be 1979 - an off-year in the midst of a championship-level run. The other would be 1965 - the permanent collapse of a dynasty. There is nothing that could make the Yankees more likely to follow the 1965 pattern than allowing A-Rod to leave after the season. (The Yankees' resurgent farm system has not yet produced any position-player prospects likely to help in the next few years.) I believe the Yankee front office is smart enough to realize that and to calculate the value of the Rangers' money offsetting A-Rod's over the next three years. Absent an early Yankees playoff exit and a media lynch mob, I expect an extension to occur with relatively little fanfare.
August 8, 2007
BASEBALL: More Than His Shares
If you are wondering how the heck the Win Shares formula lists Eric Byrnes as the best player in the National League this season, I'd suggest you look at the fact that the Diamondbacks are playing 10 games ahead of their Pythagorean projections. In other words, when you are handing out credit for 63 wins on a team that's scored and prevented enough runs to win only 53, you wind up having to hand out a lot of extra credit. Arizona's offense has been dreadful, 14th in the league in scoring with only Byrnes and Orlando Hudson with anything like good numbers on a full season (Byrnes has also done the little things well - 28 steals in 34 tries, only 3 GIDP). Even with good pitching, they've been very, very lucky to surge into first place.
UPDATE: I should note that the AL and major league leader in Win Shares is Ichiro, whose team is likewise 6 games above their Pythagorean record.
August 7, 2007
BASEBALL: Farewell to 300?
On yesterday's topic, Lyford looks back at past predictions of the extinction of the 300 game winner.
With the Yankees 41-21 since May 30, the folks who wrote them off completely look pretty bad right now. They are probably still dead in the AL East race, but it's hard to pick anybody else for the Wild Card.
Looking at their batting and pitching numbers over that stretch, in which they have scored a staggering 6.56 Runs/Game while allowing 4.44 (good, but would be tied for fifth in the AL if they did it all season):
1. Are Johnny Damon's days numbered? I guess with Abreu's contract up after this season and the club option a prohibitive $16 million, maybe not, but Abreu (.333/.550/.412), Matsui and Melky (.343/.510/.389) are all killing the ball while Damon (.249/.359/.344) continues to struggle, yet neither Damon nor Melky - and, some would say, Abreu - has the power for a corner slot or DH. I could see the Yanks souring on Damon and deciding to slot Melky in CF next year.
2. A-Rod is still the MVP - they would have fallen hopelessly out of the race without him.
3. Cano hitting .356 pretty much puts to bed the concern that last season was some sort of fluke.
4. The starting rotation has escaped the reality-show feel of the early season, but it's still soft - only Wang (10-1, 3.15 in this stretch) has pitched like a guy you would want to send out in a big game in October. Man, this staff gives up a lot of hits.
5. Shelly Duncan has taken over for Shane Spencer in the role originated by Kevin Maas.
6. While Mariano has been Mariano again (1.16 ERA, 32/1 K/BB ratio, no HR), it's really Vizcaino who has provided the crucial role with 6 wins and a 1.36 ERA in 33 appearances. The lefties have done well, too, though, Villone and Myers.
BASEBALL: Apple of My Eye
I'd very much like to see the Magic Apple continue, and of course there is a lot of nostalgia in the old Apple, although I'd agree with Ryan that it would not be a tragedy if they put a shiny new Magic Apple in rather than the dilapidated monument to the 1981 Mets' failed pursuit of Roger Maris that currently sits in right center field.
August 6, 2007
BASEBALL: That's Debatable!
I'll be on BBC World Today radio later tonight debating David Pinto about Barry Bonds. Details to follow.
UPDATE: Pinto has the audio here. They edited it down a bit.
BASEBALL: The Average 300 Game Winner
Following up on this morning's post, here's the year-by-year average wins and career win total, by age, for the twelve 300-game winners to start their careers in the post-1920 era (Spahn, Clemens, Maddux, Carlton, Ryan, Sutton, Niekro, Perry, Seaver, Glavine, Grove and Wynn):
Note that I left off age 20 - Maddux won two games at age 20, and he's the only one, although a couple of these guys made their debuts as teenagers. As with other parts of the chart, those two wins show up only when rounding off the averages.
Among active pitchers, Pedro was ahead of the pace until this season, Mussina and Hudson are about a year behind, Pettitte a little further behind, Santana, Oswalt and Zito should be ahead of the pace by season's end, Buehrle is ahead, Zambrano is a year ahead, Sabathia two years ahead. Of course, history shows that the important thing for 300 is consistency through the thirties and pitching well past 40; these 12 guys combined for eight seasons of double figures in victories between age 43 and age 47 and six seasons of 21 or more wins between age 39 and age 42, with Carlton and Grove the only ones who didn't win at least 12 games in a season in their 40s. By contrast, Maddux and Seaver were the only ones to win 15 games in a season before age 23.
BASEBALL: 300 For Glavine
Well, thankfully the chase for the capper in Tom Glavine's pursuit of 300 wins didn't take too long....I'm not feeling too good about Pedro Feliciano right now, though, let alone Mota...the further Wagner's ERA goes below 1.50, the more overdue he is for a meltdown; just glad it wasn't last night...Hey, was Glavine's family at the game? You could tell his wife knew they were on national TV, they showed a clip of her at the Milwaukee game earlier in the week and she wasn't nearly as glamorously made up...I can't remember the last time I saw the home plate ump knocked out of a game - you could tell he wanted to finish a big historic game like this...Alfonso Soriano's injury looked like a Keith Hernandez or Kirk Gibson hamstring pull, one of those ones where he suddenly looks like a leg has been taken out by a sniper...I know Luis Castillo used to be extremely fast and can still steal some bases (two last night alone including a steal of third), but he looks more like Ramon Castro than Jose Reyes running the bases...Kerry Wood's return doubled the drama - alternating between the high heater and that off-the-table slider, he made Reyes look like a rookie seeing his first big-league breaking ball. Wood coming out of the bullpen is a scary sight. He also looks like he's lost a lot of weight - I don't know that that will help him, but with that slingshot motion of his, it's not likely to detract from his velocity...Rickey Henderson keeps looking like he's about to take a lead from the first base coaching box; one of these days we'll look up after a pitch and he'll be standing next to Alomar...when Lou had them walk the bases loaded the second time to pitch to Green, I think he was telling us something.
As a corrective to the idiocy of Joe Morgan and John Miller (to be fair, Miller's not usually an idiot; Morgan, however, is the Cal Ripken of idiots), it still amazes me to hear people say that Glavine will be the last 300 game winner. Let's review:
1. There are two active pitchers with 340 victories.
2. If you look at the decades when each 300-game winner won the most games, you will see that five decades produced no 300-game winners (1870s, 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, 1980s), and only three decades produced more than two - the 1880s, the 1970s, and the 1990s. 300-game winners have almost always been rare, but the evidence that they are a dying breed is entirely conjectural.
3. Randy Johnson has 284 wins and struck out over 11 men per 9 innings this year. Yes, there's an excellent chance he will never pitch again, but how improbable is it that he could come back and have one more good year next season? I'll run the charts again after the season, but it's still too early to count out a whole bunch of pitchers - Pedro, Mussina, Pettitte, Santana, Zito, Oswalt, Hudson, Halladay, Buehrle, Sabathia...individually the odds are poor for any of them, but 300 has always been an exceptional accomplishment; the odds that one of them will make it isn't that improbable. I'd bet on Santana first - he's behind the pace but he's healthy and gaining ground quickly - and on Pedro, who if he makes a recovery could still have a second act on guile and skill and who needs 94 wins to go. And even if nobody is now active, there's always the next generation of young pitchers, and the next.
August 4, 2007
BASEBALL: Good Day For A Milestone
Congratulations to Alex Rodriguez for hitting a big milestone home run today. A good day to make some history.
July 31, 2007
BASEBALL: 299, Again
Well, Glavine will have to wait another start for #300, as it takes Guillermo Mota all of one pitch to blow the lead handed off by Glavine and held by Aaron Heilman and (less well) Pedro Feliciano.
BASEBALL: The Lonliest Bomber
Through five innings tonight five Yankees have homered - and Mr. 499, Alex Rodriguez, isn't one of them.
UPDATE: Seven Yankees have now gone deep, including Matsui twice. No A-Rod, though.
July 30, 2007
BASEBALL: Good News, Bad News
Terrible news on one front, as the Braves appear close to nailing down a deal for Mark Teixeira. The deal isn't coming cheaply, as they are apparently parting with their top 3 prospects, but few prospects turn into a guy as good as Tex, who is 27, a good glove and a career .264/.489/.358 hitter even away from Texas, plus the top guy in the deal is Jarrod Saltalamaccialalaimachalachaia, who was basically expendable with the presence of Brian McCann.
The good news (I think)? The Mets got Luis Castillo, cheap:
Minnesota gets catcher Drew Butera and outfielder Dustin Martin....Butera is batting a combined .231 with six homers and 26 RBIs this year at Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League and Class A St. Lucie of the Florida State League.
Butera seems to be basically a light-hitting catcher like his dad Sal...Castillo's defense isn't what it was, nor his base stealing, and he never had any power, but he can still hit .300 and get on base a decent amount; he's batting .304/.352/.356 this year, .302/.368/.371 over the past six seasons. Acquiring Castillo is clearly a no-confidence vote in Ruben Gotay, at least in the short run, and he's likely an upgrade on Gotay's shaky defense and anybody else's offense.
For what it's worth, Castillo's Zone Rating is near the low end in the AL (and way below Damion Easley), and his Range Factor is well below the league average, supporting the idea that he doesn't cover much ground any longer. It may be worth asking whether Easley would have been a better option, although Castillo's bat is a good deal more reliable at this stage. Castillo is also well-suited to hit second, allowing Lo Duca to bat lower when he returns. Castillo's contract is up at the end of the season, so there's no extra obligation here.
BASEBALL: 7/30 Trivia Time
48 players have appeared in 2,500 or more career games; only six of those have a career OPS+ below 100 (i.e., on base plus slugging lower than a park-adjusted league average). Can you name them? Hint: each of the six are either in the Hall of Fame, played as recently as 1990, or both.
BLOG: Quick Links 7/30/07
*Pedro Feliciano's meltdown on Saturday can probably just be chalked up to nobody being perfect (Wagner, whose ERA is down to 1.39, is almost certainly overdue for one of those games), but with Joe Smith down in the minors, it's also a reminder that guys like Feliciano can go south on you in a hurry if overworked. The Mets don't have the juice for a Mark Teixeira deal at this point, so the deal they need to make is for another arm in the pen.
*Via Bob Sikes: Bill Robinson has died. Robinson always seemed like a classy guy, and as a ballplayer he was (along with Mike Easler) one of the guys rescured off the scrap heap in mid-career to help build the Pirates into a championship team in the late 70s and early 80s: Robinson was a 31-year-old .235/.386/.281 hitter and busted ex-prospect when he came to Pittsburgh, but batted .276/.477/.313 (114 OPS +) over 8 seasons at Three Rivers. RIP.
*David Pinto makes an excellent point about changing sizes of ballplayers: scrappy little Craig Biggio is the same listed height and weight as Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski.
*For all the guff David Wright takes, recall that in 2007, he is batting .295/.516/.423 with runners in scoring position and .333/.611/.400 in the late innings of a close game.
*I banged out a quick column on Spitzergate last week that I never got around to cross-posting here. Mindles Dreck and Prof. Bainbridge both point out that Spitzer would not have cared whether corporate executives claimed, as he does now, not to have known of their subordinates' misconduct.
I'll be honest: I hated when Steve Phillips and the Mets signed Tom Glavine five years ago. I thought it was a stupid, misguided attempt to steal away a rival's player and a complete waste of money. But, while Glavine's never been a personal favorite -- I'm Irish, grudges don't fade as easily for us -- he's far outperformed any reasonable expectations of him while behaving in the most professional, likeable manner possible. He may not be dominant any more, and he seems particularly prone to giving large leads away lately, but I'll always remember the tremendous performance he turned in during last year's playoffs. And I'll be thrilled to see him finally achieve his 300th win.
He also quotes this bizarre statement from Wallace Matthews:
Historically, he may be the best pitcher the Mets have had on their staff since Tom Seaver was run out of town 30 years ago...
How soon they forget. Has Matthews never heard of Pedro Martinez?
*Jaw, meet floor: Byron York notes Obama's pledge in last week's debate "to meet, one-on-one, in his first year as president, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashir Assad, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Kim Jong Il."
They never learn. They never, ever, ever learn.
*There are many reasons to doubt the veracity of TNR's formerly pseudonymous mil-blogger Scott Thomas Beauchamp, but Megan McArdle, as usual, cuts to the root of why the stories set off people's BS meters even beyond the parts (e.g., the Bradley dog-hunting tales) that seemed to clash with physical reality:
It beggars belief that 100 or more people silently watched some pottymouthed privates taunting a cripple who had acquired her injuries in the line of duty. I'm moderately well-versed in the stories about battle-hardened veterans committing atrocities in World War II. I've never come across a single story about making fun of your own side's wounded.
*This study doesn't sound too promising by itself, but it is true that fantasy baseball is a great microcosm of how humans learn and adapt - getting your butt whipped in a fantasy league, and the desire to avoid doing so again, is a great motivator for not just gathering information but also learning how to sift between the useful and the fool's gold (similarly, I have crammed years of lessons about, say, the value of on base percentage into the past year by playing Strat-O-Matic with my son).
*Hanson is back. I actually thought those guys had talent, if not much depth to them (unsurprising, at their age back then). I'll be interested to see if they've done anything useful with it now that they have grown up.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:55 AM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-14 | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2007 | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
July 21, 2007
BASEBALL: Bad Break
I'm guessing we have seen the last of Jose Valentin for the year and probably in a Mets uniform after he broke his tibia tonight fouling a ball off it (it took a while for Jermaine Dye to recover from that, and Dye was a good deal younger).
July 20, 2007
BASEBALL: None Yet
UPDATE: Yeah, I jinxed him. Homer by Mark Ellis ends it.
July 17, 2007
BASEBALL: No O
The Mets' season really comes to this: the infield, even with Delgado and Valentin scuffling, is strong. Lo Duca will be OK. The starting rotation is adequate, good at its best. Wagner is great, and the pen as a whole is solid despite Heilman's struggles and Schoenweis' self-immolations...but this team will only go as far as Carlos Beltran will take it. Somehow, I can't imagine the Mets winning the division with Beltran hitting as he did in 2005, or worse - or losing it if he hits as he did in April and most of last season.
It's not just Beltran, but he's the key guy in the outfield. The numbers - in April, the Mets outfielders (Beltran, Green, Alou, Chavez, Newhan and Milledge) batted a combined .343/.546/.400. Since May 1, the outfielders - those same six guys plus Gomez, Johnson and Ledee - have batted .231/.356/.296. As we saw vividly in the 2001-04 period, a major league team cannot win anything with that kind of production from its outfielders.
Beltran's 7-year deal looked lousy in 2005, brilliant in 2006...seven years is a long time, so the jury will remain out for a while yet. But there's no question that he's not earning his keep at this moment.
July 13, 2007
BASEBALL: Mr. Rickey-Shea
So the second half launches with a minor shakeup at Shea - Rickey Henderson replaces Rick Down as the batting coach, and Julio Franco is cut to make room on the roster for Lastings Milledge, who takes over for the injured Carlos Gomez replacing the injured Endy Chavez taking the place of the injured Moises Alou (remember him?). More stunningly, Scott Schoenweis is...still here. $10 million contracts will do that.
I have to assume that Down's departure is more of a backstage power struggle or personality clash than a simple scapegoating, but in any event unlike Rick Peterson I've never seen anybody credit him with any great success. Rickey seems like an odd choice for a batting coach - a great guy as a baserunning instructor, and certainly he can impart the value of plate patience, but as John Harper puts it
Hitting coaches put in countless hours these days, breaking down video of their own hitters as well as opposing pitchers, in addition to individual work with each player, and, well, Henderson still carries himself more like a superstar player than a blue-collar coach.
Of course, Rickey's hot dogging attitude as a player always belied his intense work ethic, so it's possible that he will be more of a workhorse than he lets on.
Franco says he's not done, though it's hard to see who will give him a job now. I like the guy and he was a great story, but it was time.
I didn't see last night's game (more on why next), but from the photos, it looks like Milledge has cut his dreadlocks, which is probably a wise choice for a guy trying to clean up his image long enough to get settled in a big league job (one he expects to have "for the next 20 years"). Hopefully, Milledge will give us better glovework than last season, which would make it a lot easier for people to wait out any batting slumps - the contrast with Chavez and Gomez will be a tough one.
Ruben Gotay's presence in the lineup subbing for the injured Jose Valentin suggests to me that the Mets aren't making any deals to upgrade at second - they are clearly going to hobble through with the two veterans while breaking in Gotay. Defense will be even more critical to the second base job - Valentin's unlikely to hit very much this season, so he'll need his glove to keep him in the lineup, while defense is likely to be key to whether Gotay is able to make himself the favorite for the job long term.
July 12, 2007
BASEBALL: Baseball's Most Impressive Records
You often hear discussion of what are baseball's most unbreakable records; it's a hardy perennial of the barroom or talk radio debate (I recently got a marketing email from a company selling a video on the topic).
But "unbreakable" isn't really the yardstick for a great record. Let's use the most glaring example: in 1879, Will White threw 680 innings. By modern standards, that's almost beyond comprehension; pigs will fly before you see a pitcher throw 681 innings in a single season. But is it really that impressive? The previous record was 622, in a 66-game season (by 1879 the schedule was 80 games for White's Reds). Five years later, Old Hoss Radbourn threw 678.2 innings, and Guy Hecker threw 670.2. White deserves a tip of the cap for out-working his contemporaries, but his record was set at the best possible time - the historic high-water mark of starting pitcher innings - and narrowly survived a challenge just 5 years later.
No, what I'm interested in is the baseball's most impressive records. So I bring you this list. First, the parameters. No team records, just individual feats. No single-game records - if the name "Mark Whiten" doesn't remind us that anybody can have a great day, I don't know what will. No postseason records, since the opportunities to set those are very unevenly distributed. No fielding records, for a long list of reasons regarding the nature and availability of fielding stats. No managing records, although Connie Mack's 53-year managing career is impressive under any definition, as is Joe McCarthy managing 24 years with three different franchises without having a losing record once. And no negative records - Nolan Ryan's career walks record is perversely impressive, but not worthy of honor. All I looked at was career and single-season hitting and pitching records, and streaks.
Second, my criteria for choosing and ranking the records. I looked at three factors. One, how far the record stands out from the #2 (and for measurement I compared to the second-best by a different player, rather than, say, compare two Barry Bonds seasons). Two, the level of skill, consistency or exceptional endurance involved - winning games and hitting home runs is more impressive than at bats or hit by pitches. Relatedly, I gave more emphasis for higher-profile stats, and didn't look at really obscure records or metrics (no VORP record here). And three, I gave extra credit to players who - unlike Will White - set their records under less than the ideal conditions for setting that particular record.
Finally, in a few cases I consolidated in a single "record" multiple records a player set in a single season or career that basically flow from the same cause, such as Barry Bonds' walk and intentional walk records.
This doesn't claim to be a scientific list; I have my opinion, you have yours. But my justifications and the facts are provided.
Vander Meer's is more in the nature of a single feat than a streak, but the fact is, Major League Baseball has been around for 131 years, and in all of that time, only one man has pitched back-to-back no-hitters. The rarity of the thing, given that many opportunities, argues for its impressiveness.
Hubbell's win streak is impressive and tops the #2 on the list (Rube Marquard) by 20%. On the other hand, it's somewhat artificial because (1) it overlaps two seasons and (2) during the streak he lost Game 4 of the 1936 World Series. If the streak was longer (see below) I might have listed him, but either way it is still an impressive feat.
Granted, doubleheaders have always been somewhat rare and it's been decades since anybody pitched both ends of one, so Reulbach, unlike Vander Meer, didn't have as much potential competition. Even so, it's a significant accomplishment to be the only one to do it.
D. The Consecutive Complete Games Record
The record for consecutive starts with a complete game is commonly thought to belong to Jack Taylor, variously attributed as 185, 187 or 188 between 1901 and 1906 (the most thorough examinations seem to support the 185 number; when I was younger I recall it being listed as 176). But back before they moved the mound in 1893, Jack Lynch seems to have thrown 198 straight in the American Association in 1883-87 and 1890, although the one in 1890 after a 3-year absence involved him absorbing 18 runs on 22 hits, and I have no idea what he'd been doing in the interim.
Even with the uncertainties and the prevalance of complete games in those days, though, finishing that many in a row over a period of 5-6 years is really hard work. So these guys get the Honorable Mention. Now, for the list - the number in parentheses is the percentage by which the record exceeds the next best total by another player:
20. Tris Speaker, 792 Career Doubles (6.2%)
Speaker's doubles record is a mountain few have approached. #2 on the list is Pete Rose, and he needed 15,000 plate appearances (a good 30% more than Speaker) to get within 50. Craig Biggio hits gobs of doubles, has been incredibly durable and is in his 20th season, and Biggio still needs 131 doubles to catch Speaker. Speaker did play the second half of his career in a good era for doubles, and played nearly his whole career in two great doubles parks - Fenway and League Park in Cleveland, which also had a high, close fence (60 feet high and 290 feet away in right) you could bounce doubles off.
19. Ichiro Suzuki, 225 Singles in 2004 (9.2%)
If you look atop the single season singles record list, you will find it dominated by 1890s hitters Willie Keeler and Jesse Burkett, from an era when league batting averages ranged from the .290s to as high as .309. Yet, in an age of the longball, Ichiro the Throwback left Keeler's record in the dust. Swimming against the modern offensive tide, and in an extreme pitcher's park no less (Ichiro that season hit .338 at home, .405 on the road) makes his accomplishment more impressive.
18. Nolan Ryan, 7 Career No-Hitters (75%)
The no-hitter is something of a flukey one-game achievement, or this record would rank higher, but only two pitchers have thrown 4 no-nos, and Ryan almost doubled the total of #2 man Sandy Koufax, throwing no-hitters in three decades.
17. Billy Hamilton, 192 Runs Scored in 1894 (8.5%).
Hamilton played in the best of circumstances for the scoring of runs - the highest-scoring season ever, a loaded lineup that set the all-time record by hitting .349 as a team and including three other .400 hitters. But then, he still scored 8.5% more runs than anyone else in his era, and his record has never been seriously challenged even though it was set in a 129-game season. And, of course, scoring runs is the whole point of the game, and you get a lot less help from teammates than with RBIs; this is the most prestigious sort of record.
16. Rickey Henderson, 130 Steals in 1982 (10.2%)
Rickey's single-season steals record stands out, but further than it did at the time; Brock had stolen 118 nine years earlier, and Vince Coleman would steal 110 three years later as a rookie, the first of three straight 100+ seasons. I'd rate Rickey higher but for the fact that he was caught a record 42 times; he would have helped his team more if he'd attempted 120-130 steals instead of 172. That said, the 1982 A's were a team that had rapidly collapsed from a contender, so Rickey gave a lot of excitement to fans who had little else.
Either way, the record was partly a matter of choice, and less impressive for being so.
15. Owen "Chief" Wilson, 36 Triples in 1912 (16.1%)
Not only did Wilson set the triples record by a comfortable 36-31 margin, but he finished 10 triples (38%) ahead of the nearest 20th century competitor. It's rare to see anybody reach mid-May anywhere near Wilson's pace. It's just a freakish accomplishment for a guy who played seven seasons as a regular and cracked 20 triples only the once.
14. Walter Johnson, 110 Career Shutouts (22.2%)
And note that Johnson is 39.2% ahead of the #3 guy, Christy Mathewson (Grover Alexander is #2). 110 shutouts is an astonishing figure, a shutout every six starts and more than a quarter of his 417 career wins (he needed them too - Johnson played for good teams and bad, but the latter were sometimes appalling, like the team where the team leader in RBI drove in 44 runs). Johnson did pitch in the best time for shutouts, the era when ERAs were low and unearned runs were rarer than in the 1880s, and when aces finished their starts. He did throw 24 shutouts in 8 years from 1920-27, though.
13. Cal Ripken, 2,632 consecutive games played, May 30, 1982-September 19, 1998 (23.6%).
Ripken's streak is commonly listed at or near the top of lists like this, but it's not by any means unbreakable - you just need to want it badly enough, be healthy and lucky and a good enough player not to get benched. Unlike the pitching workload records, it's not a feat of spectacular physical endurance, nor does it require any particular skill or accomplishment.
All that said, 16 years without missing a game - including several years of not missing an inning - is nonetheless an impressive feat of willpower and durability, and Ripken left Lou Gehrig three seasons in the dust. That deserves some recognition here.
12. Hank Aaron, 6856 Career Total Bases (11.8%)
Aaron's homer record may be under seige, but his career total bases record, held by a margin of some 700 over Stan Musial and nearly a thousand ahead of #4 Barry Bonds, remains safely out of reach. Aaron had 3771 hits, 98 triples and 624 doubles to go with 755 HR. To do that required durability (15 straight seasons of over 600 plate appearances, 19 straight of over 500, and the first year he fell short he still hit 40 homers), consistency, tremendous power and a good batting average, and he did it despite playing more tha half his prime years in a pitchers' park and running his career straight accross the low-scoring 1960s.
11. Old Hoss Radbourn, 59 Wins in 1884 (11.3%)
Unlike the innings record, winning a huge number of games in a season requires more than just showing up for work. Even at the height of the everyday starting pitcher's era, only three pitchers ever won 50 games in a season, and Radbourn beats the next closest (John Clarkson in 1885) by six wins despite having pitched, much unlike Clarkson, for a team that finished fifth in the league in runs scored. The man ended the 1884 season 47 games over .500 in a 112 game season, almost singlehandedly winning his team the pennant, and he did it the hard way, by posting a league-leading 1.38 ERA in a near-the-record 678.2 innings, and topped it off by winning all three games of the first-ever postseason 'world's series' without allowing an earned run.
1884 was the pinnacle of high-inning starting pitching (average innings started falling off sharply within two years), and talent was spread thin that year due to the upstart Union Association at a time when the two leagues barely had enough talent as it was. So, that counts against ranking Radbourn's feat even higher. But it's no exaggeration to say that he did more to help his team win that season than any player ever in any season.
10. Ty Cobb, .366 Career Batting Average (2.2%)
Cobb's margin over Rogers Hornsby is the narrowest of any record on the list, but he well deserves the high ranking. The lifetime batting average record is one of the game's most important and prestigious, and Cobb has held it wholly unchallenged for eight decades. I believe Hornsby and Al Simmons were the last significant players to crack .360 more than a season or two into their careers, and I don't believe anyone has actually been ahead of Cobb at the end of a season at any point since (Joe Jackson was above .370 through age 24, Willie Keeler through age 30). Plus, Cobb did most of his damage before the high-average 1920s arrived; at the end of 1919 he was a 32-year-old lifetime .372 hitter. Plus, unlike other percentage record-holders like Ed Walsh's career ERA record, Cobb held his pace over an extraordinarily long career, 24 seasons and more than 13,000 plate appearances.
9. Eric Gagne, 84 Consecutive Saves, August 28, 2002-July 3, 2004 (39.2%)
Gagne's streak, like Hubbell's, was sort of interrupted, albeit by a blown save in the All-Star Game. And yes, saves are somethingof an artificial stat. But still, Gagne's whole job was to close out wins, and for nearly two years he did that every time he was asked without fail, surpassing the prior record (Tom Gordon with 54) by a margin of 30 saves.
8. Pedro Martinez, 0.737 WHIP in 2000 (4.3%)
Baserunners per inning, or WHIP, is a bit of an obscure stat - or was until the dawn of rotisserie baseball - but it's a real measure of pitching excellence to hold the all-time record for it. Pedro's also third on the career list, surrounded entirely by a top 10 of deadball-era pitchers like Walsh and Addie Joss and Three Finger Brown. His single season record is 4.3% ahead of #2 Guy Hecker in 1882, but Hecker pitched just 104 innings; he's 5.8% ahead of Walter Johnson's 1913 season.
I rate Pedro this highly because, while other players on this list reached their accomplishments under less than ideal conditions, nobody else set one so much in the teeth of hostile conditions. Pedro did this in Fenway Park in 2000, in a hitters' park (Pedro's road WHIP was 0.680) in a league with a 4.91 league ERA; he led the league in ERA by a margin of two runs and Mike Mussina at 1.187 had the only other WHIP in the league below 1.200.
7. Barry Bonds, .609 OBP, 232 Walks, 120 Intentional Walks in 2004 (10.2%, 36.5%, 266.7%)
All three of these records are integrally related, so I rate them as a single accomplishment. Bonds busted Ruth's walk record by 63 and Ted Williams' OBP record (set in his .406 season) by more than 50 points, and he did so in good part because he surpassed the second-highest non-Bonds IBB total (Willie McCovey's record) by a margin of 120-45. (Note that they didn't keep IBB in Ruth's day, he almost assuredly beat that in the years before Gehrig came up).
Yes, steroids. But still, taken on its own merits, those are mind-blowing margins on a couple of records I'd never thought would be broken.
6. Babe Ruth, .690 Career Slugging Percentage (8.8%)
Only 34 times in the game's history has anybody but Ruth slugged above .690 in a season; aside from Albert Pujols, who is still early in his career, only five other players have career figures above .600. Bonds is 82 points behind Ruth. The Babe sustained this pace over a 22-year career, leading the league 13 times in 14 years and only once having enough at bats to qualify and finishing lower than third.
Joe D's streak - unlike Gagne's - would be 57 if you counted the All-Star Game. What makes it even more amazing, as you probably know, is that he started a 17-game streak the day after this one ended. Another player could get hot and break this one, and I don't list it quite as high as the season and career records that follow, but it is nonetheless a sustained accomplishment of consistency, and the margin compared to the next-closest streak (Keeler and Pete Rose at 44 apiece) places it very high on this list.
4. Mike Marshall, 106 Games and 208.1 Relief Innings in 1974 (12.8%, 23.8%)
Unlike White's innings as a starter, Marshall's workload passes the "wow" test - it was recognized as a jaw-dropping accomplishment at the time it happened, and nobody else has tried anything like it since. The innings is the real whopper here (if you are wondering, the #2 non-Marshall total is Bob Stanley; the Steamah threw 168.1 innings in relief in 1978). Some LOOGY may yet challenge the games record a third of an inning at a time, but that relief innings record, though not set really so long ago, will never again be approached.
3. Nolan Ryan, 5714 Career Strikeouts (23.3% and falling)
Ryan's margin is being eaten away by the #2 man, who as of this morning is Roger Clemens, 17 Ks ahead of Randy Johnson. But both are ancient - Clemens is 44, Johnson is 43 - and more than a thousand strikeouts behind Ryan. Ryan maxed out the record in every direction - he started very young (19), set the single-season record at his peak, and pitched until he was 46. He threw heavy workloads at a very high strikeout rate. Yes, Ryan pitched in a great era for power pitchers, but he buried the record far from his most impressive contemporaries and way out of reach of anybody before or since.
2. Rickey Henderson, 1406 Career Steals (49.9%)
Rickey's record is just preposterous - nobody could have imagined when Lou Brock set the career steals record that somebody would not just blow by Brock but get halfway to lapping him. Like Ryan, Rickey started early, peaked above everyone else and stayed ridiculously late, and ended by putting his record so far out of reach that nobody will even talk about it again.
1. Cy Young, 511 Career Wins, 7354.2 Career Innings, 749 Career Complete Games (22.5%, 22.5%, 15.9%)
I'd be disinclined to rate Young at the top for mere durability, but first of all he ran off and hid with the career wins record, and hardly any record is more significant or prestigious; he did that in part by having the ninth-best career ERA relative to the league (by ERA+) of anybody with more than 2500 career innings, sixth-best among anybody with 3,000 innings, and he threw more than twice that. And second, while it's true that plenty of guys carried heavy workloads in Young's day, and while it's true that by the end of his career Young was facing guys who would have long pitching careers, Young and Young alone was able to do both, which is why his records stand so far and away beyond anyone in his era, before or since.
Consider this illustrative chart. Among all the pitchers who threw 400 innings in a season even once, only 12 of them managed to stay in a rotation (100 or more innings or 20 or more starts) for more than ten seasons, and everybody but Cy hit the wall by 14 seasons. I list each pitcher with their number of seasons throwing 400, 200 and 100 innings:
Note: Pud Galvin threw about 100 innings in the National Association; if you discount that, Young's margin for Major League innings expands. The chart includes as well Bobby Mathews' NA experience. Also, Kid Nichols, Young's nearest contemporary, won 20 games twice in the minor league Western Association in mid-career and then returned to be a top major league pitcher without missing a beat, so he would be closer to Young than anyone else, but still far behind.
This is why Young stands alone at the top. Nobody can match his ability to carry those huge 19th century workloads and keep going into his 40s.
July 10, 2007
BASEBALL: Blogger's Dream
July 9, 2007
BASEBALL: John Maine and Pray For Rain
After Saturday night's marathon - the players and the ballparks may change, but the extra-long extra-inning games go on for the Mets and Astros - yesterday was pretty much a burnt offering; there was no way to get Dave Williams out of there before the game got out of hand. 5-6 on this road trip wasn't terrible under the circumstances, but it really should have been better - the Colorado series shouldn't have gotten that badly out of hand. The Mets are going to need better starting pitching to get through the second half.
July 6, 2007
BASEBALL: 70 Years Ago
Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the worst All-Star Game in National League history. The NL lost 8-3 to an AL lineup with seven Hall of Famers (Gehrig - who drove in 4 runs - DiMaggio, Gehringer, Averill, Cronin, Dickey and Lefty Gomez), but that's not the issue.
First, there was the famous injury to Dizzy Dean. Dean wasn't just one of the two best pitchers in the game (along with Carl Hubbell), averaging 27 wins and 8 saves a year the prior three seasons; he was also, at 27, 7 years younger than Hubbell and the biggest drawing card and outsize personality in the game with the retirement of Babe Ruth. Dean had his toe broken by an Earl Averill line drive in the third inning, tried to come back too quickly, and hurt his arm. By the following year, the once-flamethrowing Dean was a broken-down finesse pitcher wiling his way to a 7-1 record for the Cubs, and that was the last time he was a useful pitcher.
The game's toll didn't end with Dean, though. The hardest thrower in the NL in those days, and its premier strikeout pitcher in 1935-36, wasn't Dean but the eccentric Van Lingle Mungo. Mungo, 26 years old in 1937, hadn't enjoyed Dean's success, but seemed perennially on the verge of a big breakthrough for the struggling Dodgers, winning 16, 18, 16 and 18 games the prior four years (albeit with high loss totals) and posting ERAs well better than the league, including a 2.91 mark in 1937. He led the league in K/9 in 1935, 1936 and 1937, and his 238 K in 1936 was a very high total for his era. Had Mungo stayed healthy long enough to master his control, he may well have become a big star. Instead, he too suffered an injury in the All-Star Game that year, hurting his arm; Mungo went 4-11 the next year and was also effectively done, except for a brief comeback during the war. (Hubbell also had his last star season in 1937, not due to the All-Star Game, but his decline at age 35 made the loss of Dean and Mungo more of a loss for the Senior Circuit).
Remember 1937, next time you see players, particularly pitchers, beg out of the Midsummer Classic.
BASEBALL: The Block
Jerry Crasnick's list of top free agents to be doesn't include much in terms of pickings for the Mets to play for a deadline deal; Ichiro's not likely to get traded (he means too much to Seattle for the franchise to let him go without a fight), and most of the others are at positions (notably center field) where the Mets are already taken care of. Of course, the Mets were always more likely to pursue pitching help.
One omission I'd wondered about was Ken Griffey, but apparently his contract runs through 2008 with a 2009 option, and only Atlanta, St. Louis, LA and Houston are exempted from his no-trade clause. Even if you could get him at a reasonable price, I'd hate to be on the hook beyond this year for Griffey; he's not even a great bet to be healthier than Moises Alou come September. Adam Dunn is actually more likely to get dealt, although as Baseball Digest notes he's a career .238/.482/.362 hitter away from Cincinnati, so his value should be downgraded accordingly. Given his youth, Dunn is likely to be an expensive option.
The Cubs seem disinclined to deal Carlos Zambrano, though it can't hurt to ask. I'm iffier about Mark Buehrle, who is clearly on the block; Buehrle's low strikeout rates give him a fairly slim margin for error, as we saw in grisly fashion last season. Still, he's been durable and shown good control, and long term the Mets may no longer be in an extreme power pitcher's park.
Actually, the guy who might be a bargain pickup is Brad Lidge; coming to a team that already has Wagner would remove any issues about closing and let him slide back into a setup role, in which he has pitched outstandingly well this season.
July 5, 2007
BASEBALL: Blown Out
Last night's Mets game reminded me of nothing so much as the fight scene in Anchorman: "Boy, that escalated quickly . . . I mean, that really got out of hand fast." Such is life in Coors Field, even in these post-humidor days. For a team that had picked itself up and started cruising again, the All-Star Break can't come fast enough for this pitching staff.
UPDATE: What humidor? The Rockies as a team are batting .284/.444/.358 at home, .259/.383/.333 on the road. Look at the regular lineup (source):
July 2, 2007
BASEBALL: The Absent Mariner
I'd agree with Jim Caple that the most logical explanation for Mike Hargrove's sudden resignation as Mariners manager while riding an 8-game winning streak is that there's more we don't know - probably something in his life off the field he prefers not to get into publicly (an impression only underlined by his players professing to understand better once they taked to him).
On the other hand, it's easy to feel depressed and unmotivated when the team is losing; when you are on a hot streak and you still don't feel like coming to work, that should tell you something. It's like when the Pirates started winning in the late 80s and early 90s, and they still couldn't sell tickets.
Anyway, while the Mariners may be hot, I'm still skeptical of them. Their record is 45-33, but their Pythagorean record is 40-38. They are more dependent on high batting averages than any team in the majors. They've drawn 199 walks as a team; the Cardinals are second to last in the majors at 225. Only one guy on the roster, Richie Sexson, has more than 10 home runs, and he's batting .211. They are next to last in the league in doubles and triples. Their pitching staff is second only to the Yankees for fewest strikeouts in the AL, and besides the mediocre Jarrod Washburn, their only halfway-reputable starting pitcher is Felix Hernandez, who hasn't been right since his DL stay in April. The team's defensive efficiency is next to last in the AL, ahead of only the Devil Rays. Pitchers who don't strike people out and fielders who don't catch the ball are a bad combination; only an AL-best, Safeco-aided 56 homers allowed has saved them from ignominy.
That's not to say the Mariners have no assets. Hernandez and Sexson could contribute tremendously in the second half, and of course the Safeco caveat applies as well to Beltre and Jose Guillen, who aren't as punchless as their raw numbers suggest. Ichiro's .365 batting average is not exactly a fluke. The team's success is hugely dependent on closer JJ Putz (0.92 ERA) and a corps of setup/middle relievers whose Putz-less names are little-known outside Seattle - George Sherrill (1.48 ERA), Eric O'Flaherty (2.28), Sean Green (2.70), and Brandnon Morrow (3.68) - although you have to wonder how long those guys will be that lights-out, especially since the latter three had thrown a combined 43 major league innings before this season.
Bottom line: the Mariners are already overachieving and I don't see where they have a whole lot to fall back on when the hot parts of the team cool off. Hargrove's successor may end up deciding he got out at just the right time.
June 30, 2007
BASEBALL: Foot in Mouth
It seems pretty obvious that the latest Paul Lo Duca story is about Lo Duca ripping the media for being too lazy to talk to the Spanish-speaking platers, not his Spanish-speaking teammates. I don't know that that's accurate...either way, Lo Duca's fuse has gotten awfully short.
June 27, 2007
BASEBALL: Entry Level
An argument about what may be driving down signing bonuses. I think it's unsurprising if a shorter negotiating window gives more leverage to the teams.
BASEBALL: Scho Must Go
If there were any remaining doubts, last night's 11th-inning debacle, with Scott Schoenweis surrendering a game-winning home run to a rookie with zero career home runs, should make clear that it is time for the Mets to cut bait on Schoenweis. Extra inning games have a way of clarifying the fact that there's nowhere to hide bad pitchers on a major league roster.
Look, I know they spent good money on him, but Omar has shown a willingness in the past to cut his losses. And I know he is lefthanded, but with Wagner and Feliciano the Mets aren't exactly starved for lefty relievers. And I know that it would be easier to cut him if they could slot in Burgos, Sanchez or Padilla, none of whom will be available again for some time.
The fact is, not only is Schoenweis not pitching to anything like his usual standards, but those standards aren't any good anyway; he entered this season with a 5.01 career ERA and career rates of 9.56 H/9, 0.98 HR/9, 3.56 BB/9, and 5.12 K/9, none of them great numbers. You could replace him with a number of options: Jon Adkins had a 3.98 ERA last season and a 3.68 ERA at New Orleans; Adkins hardly inspires confidence but he has to be an improvement on Schoenweis. There's also Jason Vargas, who is as lefthanded as Schoenweis, although I'm not a Vargas fan either, and Steve Schmoll. Any one of these guys could come in with a decent chance of getting a few more outs than Schoenweis, plus they're all younger than he is.
(This would be the part where it is worth considering whether Heath Bell, Royce Ring or Henry Owens would come in handy, though Owens is still hurt. With the odd exception of Jorge Sosa, nearly none of the Mets' offseason moves this year worked out well, even ones like the Bannister-Burgos deal that looked really savvy at the time).
June 26, 2007
BASEBALL: Maybe Strat-O-Matic Can Use It
BASEBALL: The Gloves of Flushing
Another dramatic ending at Shea last night; this is exactly what the Mets needed, two blowouts and two walk-offs (at least Shawn Green could walk off; I had to leave the park on a dead run to get to the LIRR). I have to admit, I was still thinking that the Green of a few years ago would have put the game away with the drive he sent to left in the bottom of the 8th.
I was also very impressed yet again by Carlos Tres, as Gomez hit a bomb to left field for his first major league homer.
By the way, I was wondering Sunday, looking at Johan Santana's number 57 on the scoreboard, if his would someday be the highest number ever retired. According to Wikipedia (see also here for a list of NL retired numbers, and here for a list of AL), there have been four retired numbers 50 or higher: Jimmie Reese - Angels (coach), 50; Don Drysdale - Dodgers, 53; Carlton Fisk - White Sox, 72; and August Busch, Jr. - Cardinals (owner), 85.
The big story of last night is Jorge Sosa and his 3.79 ERA, from a pitcher who has finished a season below 4.62 only once. Coming into this season, Sosa's career averages were 1.38 HR/9, 4.22 BB/9, 5.81 K/9, and (by the back of the envelope measure) a .267 average on balls in play. In his one prior good year, 2005 in Atlanta under Leo Mazzone's tutelage, the numbers were 0.81, 4.30, 5.71 and .258, suggesting a combination of good defensive support and success keeping the ball in the park. This year, those figures are 0.76, 3.03, 5.16, and .242, suggesting much the same, albeit with better control. (His AAA numbers showed across the board dominance, 0 HR, 4 BB and 29 K in 32 IP). I can't predict whether that will continue - it's not likely, but it's not implausible that he could keep the homers under control for the remainder of the year.
But is that balls-in-play average just luck? The larger story is that the Mets defense has been quietly amazing. According to Baseball-Reference.com, only three major league teams have converted 71% or more balls in play into outs - the A's and Cubs, both at .714 (and two unlikely candidates, if you were guessing) and the Mets at .726. Amazingly, the Mets are first in the NL in batting average (a doubly impressive feat at Shea) and first in fewest hits allowed, despite unimpressive team pitching totals in walks (11th in the league), strikeouts (10th) and homers (9th). It's the defense, along with the league lead in batting and (by a large margin) steals holding them up.
But whose defense? If you look at range factors to see plays per game, the Mets are noticeably below the league average at two positions (first and left field) and way below at one (shortstop), but noticeably above average at two positions (right and center) and way above at only one (second). But range factors can be distorted by where the ball gets hit; ESPN's Zone Rating, which seeks to measure the number of plays compared to balls hit into a fielder's "zone" of the field, rates Jose Reyes second only to Omar Vizquel and way above the rest of the competition, rates Wright third in the majors at his position, Beltran fifth, Easley near the top half of the league and Valentin the bottom half, Delgado (!) above average, and Green near the league average.
As to Reyes in particular, I would not be surprised to see real progress - his defensive stats have lagged behind his reputation for a while now, but his quickness and one of the best shortsop arms in the game have to be somehow a part of the team's exceptional defensive play.
UPDATE: I have to say, I need a primer on how Zone Rating fits against team DER - I mean, ESPN is listing Zone Ratings of .885 for Delgado, .848 for Easley, .792 for Valentin, .903 for Reyes, .830 for Wright, .858 for Green, .906 for Beltran, and .804 for Alou - if those are percentages of balls turned into outs, and the team percentage is .726, then ESPN must be rating an awful lot of balls as not being in anybody's zone, which seems methodologically unsound.
A Hardball Times zone rating-based runs-saved analysis rates only one Mets defensive player among the top 3 at his position, rating David Wright as the best defensive player in baseball this year. Four Mets rate as having compiled at least 2 fielding Win Shares through June 15: Reyes (3.3), Beltran (2.8), Wright (2.2), and Lo Duca (2.1), with Reyes rating second only to Troy Tulowitzki among NL shortstops, Beltran trailing only Andruw Jones among NL outfielders and Wright trailing only Pedro Feliz among NL third basemen.
Am I missing something? For an additional sanity check I went to look at Baseball Prospectus' individual defensive stats, and couldn't find them.
June 25, 2007
BASEBALL: Good Character
Three awards are given annually to Major League Baseball players for some combination of merit and good character on and off the field. The Roberto Clemente Award, handed out since 1971, is given the player combining good play and strong work in the community. The Hutch Award, in honor of Fred Hutchinson, has been given out since 1965; it is "given to an active player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire to win" and for displaying "honor, courage and dedication to baseball, both on and off the field." The Lou Gehrig Award, presented since 1955, "is presented annually to the Major League baseball player who both on and off the field best exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig."
Although a number of players have won two of the three, six players have won all three. Without clicking the links above, can you name them? Answers below the fold.
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BASEBALL: What A Difference Three Days Makes
The Mets certainly righted the ship in a hurry this weekend. I was out at Shea yesterday for the first time this year (job + kids makes it difficult, though I will be there tonight as well). A couple of thoughts:
1. The Mets absolutely ran the A's off the field with their speed. The place was electrified from Jose Reyes' game-opening inside-the-park home run. Yes, I know it was scored as a double and a two-base error by Jack Cust in right field, but when a guy circles the bases on a ball that doesn't leave the yard, it sure feels like an inside-the-park home run, and the Mets could have been forgiven if they'd raised the magic apple. (Cust had the reverse of Travis Buck's Saturday in right field; where Buck made a game-saving throw to nail Ricky Ledee at the plate but then overran David Wright's game-winning single in the bottom of 9 rather than take his time to grab the ball and make any kind of throw on the glacial Ramon Castro, Cust botched the throw on Reyes' ball in the first but then made a fine running catch on David Wright's drive to the right field line in the 8th after the game was out of reach). Carlos Gomez was everywhere, albeit running with a variety of savvy (dancing off second to guarantee the cutoff of a throw on a sac fly that scored Valentin in the 2d) and recklessness (stealing third with two outs in the same inning). Gomez also beat out an infield single in the 6th that only a handful of players in the game would even have made interesting, and made a leaping catch against the wall in the 5th. Poor Jason Kendall had two passed balls on top of the steal of third, although he did nail Reyes in the 4th.
2. Good signs Valentin's 3-run homer to break open the game in the 8th; Beltran gradually defrosting, especially Friday night; brilliant pitching all weekend.
3. At the park: I don't know why, watching on TV, I really haven't noticed the gigantic Dunkin Donuts cofee in left field, but it really makes left field look like a miniature golf hole...you definitely don't get the full effect on TV of how much construction is going on at Citifield and how close it is behind the outfield fences...a scary moment: my wife got the baby (now 15 months) off to nap and was sitting at the end of the row, and she then handed her off to me to go get ice cream for the kids. Two minutes later (we were sitting in the loge under an overhang behind home plate), a foul ball slammed right into her now-empty seat. I never even saw it coming, since there was a guy standing up in front of us during the play.
BASEBALL: 2007 All-Stars Part II
The rest of my All-Star ballot. Let's try, here, to vote in an outfielder at each position.
AL: Vladimir Guerrero (.353/.590/.439, 102 RBI). Sorry, fans of Magglio Ordonez (.334/.542/.398, 114 RBI), who might well be neck and neck with A-Rod for the MVP Award if the season ended today; Vlad is a superstar having his tenth straight great season. What would the All-Star Game be without him? Ordonez is a close runner-up.
NL: With the NL not exactly bursting with quality right fielders, I can't think of a more fitting honoree than Ken Griffey Jr. (.270/.533/.354, 79 RBI as a RF and CF the past year), third in the majors in home runs and having covered more than half the ground to his 600th homer before the end of June.
AL: Ichiro (.344/.449/.393, 47 RBI as a CF, .323/.423/.372, 62 RBI overall) has the star power and is hitting .364, Torii Hunter (.296 .337 .555, 108 RBI) still has the great glove and the power bat, and Curtis Granderson (.259/.466/.314, 67 RBI) is having a wonderful year, but let's face it: the dominant center fielder in the league, and a guy who is highly likely to win an MVP over the next few years, is Grady Sizemore (.283/.499/.385, 74 RBI). I give Sizemore the nod, if only narrowly over Ichiro.
NL: When originally voting, my son and I were debating the merits of Carlos Beltran (.271 .367 .523 , 103 RBI) and Andruw Jones (.217/.458/.339, 106 RBI), both of whom have run off the rails since then. If I'm insisting on a center fielder, I still take Beltran. Mike Cameron (.273/.485/.347, 89 RBI) continues to be an unsung star.
AL: Manny Ramirez (.324/.549/.425, 86 RBI) doesn't really have the numbers this year, and at 35 he might not catch up to the competition, but you have to give a guy with his resume the benefit of the doubt, and he's up to .300 this season. Carl Crawford (.301/.487/.352, 87 RBI) is probably a year away from surpassing Manny; the rest of the AL features precious few quality left fielders, Hideki Matsui being an obvious exception.
NL: By any objective measure, you put Barry Bonds (.286/.585/.464, 75 RBI) on the team, as a recognition of an all-time great who is still a devastating hitter. That said, I couldn't actually bring myself to vote for Bonds, so Matt Holliday (.333/.589/.394, 119 RBI), is probably the best alternative even when you account for the Coors Effect. Narrowly trailing Holliday are a bunch of fine sluggers - Carlos Lee (.306/.509/.355, 104 RBI), Adam Dunn (.254/.505/.359, 96 RBI), Alfonso Soriano (.294/.576/.364, 71 RBI), and Jason Bay (.276/.485/.366, 102 RBI).
AL: Johan Santana (19-8, 2.81 ERA) is the best pitcher in baseball, period. Danny Haren's been the best this season, but as I said, I don't just consider this the April-June All-Star Game.
NL I'd be inclined to tab Jake Peavy (16-8, 2.95 ERA), who is leading the NL in Wins and Strikeouts and a close third in ERA. If you look at the numbers you will see that his teammate Chris Young is also on a great run, though.
June 22, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 All-Stars, Part I
In theory, I prefer to see the All-Star Team populated by the best players in the game, regardless of whether they happen to be having the best year. After all, nobody looks back and says, "gee, Willie Mays shouldn't have been on the All-Star Team in such-and-such year because Jim Hickman had a great month of May." The opposite method leaves you with Jack Armstrong starting the All-Star Game. In practice, though, I look at this year's stats as much as anyone.
Before I fill in the lineups, let's start by making room on the roster for the guys the All-Star Game exists for: great players in their prime, having seasons that adequately reflect their greatness.
David Pinto's database gives a great way to put the early numbers in perspective because you can look back a full season at the press of a button, from today to this day last year. I'll use those numbers. I'm using his feature that isolates stats compiled at a particular position, which has the disadvantage of only listing RBI and not Runs. Let's cover the catchers and infielders now, get to the outfield later.
AL: The AL has four catchers who leap to mind - Joe Mauer (.324/.480/.411, 64 RBI) is the best in the league, but injured a lot this season; Pudge Rodriguez (.299/.455/.323, 72 RBI) has had the best career; Jorge Posada ( .306/.522/.374, 91 RBI) is a close second to both of them; and Victor Martinez has the best hitting numbers over the past year (.330/.501/.406, 89 RBI).
You probably need Pudge on the roster somewhere, but I'd give the starting nod to Posada because unlike Mauer he hasn't been injured. Honorable mention to Kenji Johjima, plus John Buck's hot start might get him a crack at a token spot if the Royals need a representative.
NL: Last I saw, Russell Martin (.286/.446/.357, 82 RBI) was leading LoDuca (.320/.413/.359, 45 RBI) in the balloting, but I still think Brian McCann (.296/.521/.349, 106 RBI) was the clear class of the field.
AL: The balloting here is complicated by including David Ortiz (.316/.652/.450, 108 RBI) as a first baseman; you gotta pick Big Papi. Selecting solely from the first base menu, I'd go with the MVP, Justin Morneau (.325/.574/.388, 122 RBI).
NL: Albert Pujols (.327/.594/.413, 119 RBI), or Ryan Howard (.298/.631/.439, 127 RBI)? I still think of Pujols as the best player in baseball, but it was neck and neck between the two in last season's MVP race...I break the tie with the fact that Pujols has been less disappointing this season (he's batting .306 now, compared to Howard at .247; both have similar power numbers) and has been this good for longer. Room will need to be made on the team for Prince Fielder (.269/.529/.363, 95 RBI); honorable mention to Adrian Gonzalez (.310/.526/.377, 106 RBI).
AL: Not a lot of competition for Robinson Cano (.310/.501/.342, 78 RBI), although Luis Castillo and Brian Roberts are both solid tablesetters.
NL: Orlando Hudson (.305/.489/.381, 82 RBI) is the best defensive 2B in the game and has come into his own with the bat - but there is only one best 2B in the National League, and his name is Chase Utley (.317/.554/.393, 115 RBI). Utley's 51 doubles and 31 homers are rare power indeed at his position. Still, it wouldn't be bad to see a little love for the long-underappreciated Ray Durham (.300/.529/.356, 103 RBI).
AL: Carlos Guillen (.337/.560/.411, 91 RBI) has the numbers, and Miguel Tejada (.322/.441/.372, 78 RBI) has the star power, but Derek Jeter (.346/.490/.412, 85 RBI) is still the obvious choice for the combination of the two.
NL: Jose Reyes (.317/.480/.380, 79 RBI), Hanley Ramirez (.317/.519/.374, 62 RBI), Jimmy Rollins (.288/.523/.339, 102 RBI), Rafael Furcal (.315/.463/.380, 62 RBI), and Edgar Renteria (.306/.467/.366, 76 RBI) are all fairly close on the numbers, with distinct advantages; Furcal may be the best glove, Renteria has the most good years behind him, Reyes is the best baserunner. I'm inclined to give the tie to the hometown Reyes, although I would probably pick Ramirez if pushed.
AL: No contest, Alex Rodriguez (.306/.610/.402, 141 RBI). I just picked my fourth Yankee for five positions; shoot me now.
NL: Just as many good candidates as the shortstops - Chipper Jones (.342/.692/.425, 73 RBI - otherwordly numbers, but in fewer than 400 healthy at bats) and Aramis Ramirez (.307/.587/.365, 115 RBI) are serious contenders, and David Wright, Garret Atkins and Ryan Zimmerman also have good numbers. But the logical heir to Pujols as the league's best player, if he stays healthy and in shape, is Miguel Cabrera (.337/.583/.419, 117 RBI). Gotta be Cabrera, he's a monster.
June 20, 2007
BASEBALL: Stealing Barrett
They haven't said yet for who, but looks like it could be a great deal for the Padres snagging Michael Barrett from the Cubs once Barrett's feuds with Carlos Zambrano and Rich Hill made his position untenable with the Cubs. It's the 1980s Mets trick: swoop in when a player has some problem with his team that makes him available on the cheap.
Who would have guessed that this season would be more painful for Barrett than last year, when he suffered an intrascrotal hematoma?
BASEBALL: Jeter and 4,000
The broadcasters on one of the Mets-Yankees games this weekend were discussing the fact that Derek Jeter entered this season with only 2 fewer hits than Pete Rose at the same age, 2152-2150. Which does, in fact, suggest that Jeter has an excellent shot to pile up a truly impressive career hit total.
But a few cautions are in order. First of all, Jeter is 32; Rose averaged 201 hits per year from age 33-39 and played regularly until age 42 and semi-regularly until age 45. That's a tall hill to climb. Second, look again at that list of comparables for Jeter - 10 players, 9 of whom (all but Gehringer) had at least 1900 hits at age 32, and only Rose made it to 3,000 hits; only Rose and Gehringer got 1,000 more hits. The one of the comps with the most hits is Roberto Alomar, who had 2196 hits through age 32, and not only didn't he make it to 3,000, but only one of his ten comparables did either, that being Robin Yount, who was basically washed up at 34. In fact, check out the all-time career hit leaders through age 32:
1. Ty Cobb 2713
You will notice that only Cobb, Aaron and Yount made it to 3,000.
Jeter, of course, is batting .341 after hitting .343 last season; he's showed no signs of slowing down that way (maybe afoot, as his steals are way down and GIDP are way up this year), and I do still think he will probably get to 3,000. But just bear in mind that (1) just as with 300 wins, it's what you do in your mid/late-thirties that really matters to getting to 3,000, (2) middle infielders have a notoriously poor track record of getting that far even with a big head start, and (3) it will take a really remarkable run for anyone to get to 4,000 hits, no matter how many years they stay with the pace.
One final note my older brother recently pointed out to me: another guy on these lists is Pudge Rodriguez, who may well have an outside shot to be the first catcher to 3,000 hits, and will likely end with the career record for hits by a catcher (unsurprisingly, since Pudge started at 19, has always carried a heavy workload, rarely walks or gets hurt, and even in his declining years still hits for a good average).
June 18, 2007
BASEBALL: All On The Big Man
After winning 2-0 on Friday night and at least putting up a fight on Saturday, the Mets just got steamrolled by Chien-Ming Wang last night. Which, even despite the game-and-a-half lead they still hold in the NL East, brings us to the core of the problem: Carlos Beltran. Yes, it's been (besides Wright) largely a team-wide struggle lately, and yes, the 35 year old Carlos Delgado and his surgically repaired wrist have been scuffling all year. But Beltran is THE guy who needs to step it up right now. He's still the team's best player, and by a fair margin its highest paid. He's a veteran but still in his prime. He had a monster April, and unlike two years ago there doesn't appear to be anything physically wrong with him (though you have to wonder). Yet since May 1, while Wright and Lo Duca are hitting well (.301/.589/.368 and .333/.420/.380, respectively), Reyes is at least getting on base (.294/.376/.376) and Delgado hitting for power (.247/.481/.307), Beltran is hitting like Rey Ordonez in a slump: .204/.299/.304. The Mets are going nowhere with a .299 slugging Beltran, period.
June 15, 2007
BASEBALL: Subway Stoppers
Study in contrasts tonight with the matchup between Oliver Perez and Roger Clemens; while the Yankees have tried to capitalize on Perez' weakness (deep counts), the Mets have had more success with Clemens' (complete failure to hold runners) with four steals through five innings (two for Reyes, one - leading to a run - for Carlos Gomez, and one for Wright).
The play of the game so far - and in its own way nearly as impressive as Endy Chavez' famous catch in Game 7 of last year's NLCS - was Carlos Gomez making a leaping catch against the left field wall in the fourth followed by doubling Hideki Matsui off second. First, Gomez had to battle a forest of Yankee fans looking to play Jeffery Maier, and then he needed the presence of mind and accuracy for the 21-year-old rookie to outwit the veteran Matsui, who had bolted off second with one out. Gomez may be seriously overmatched as a big league hitter at this stage but you can't help but like the guy's blazing speed and hustle.
Jose Reyes' massive homer to right was a sight as well, against a Clemens who has been racking up the Ks. It's been an unusually big night for Reyes, who has never hit the Yankees well.
Watching David Wright stealing second in the fifth I noticed that he had something in his hands - it still looks unnatural to me to see guys carrying their batting gloves on the bases.
Keith Hernandez is ripping Clemens for coming out of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. As I wrote seven years ago, Clemens gets a bum rap:
Roger Clemens was 23 years old in 1986. Prior to that season, he had never thrown as many as 140 innings in a major league season; I don’t have his minor league numbers, but I’d be shocked if he had ever thrown 190 innings in a year at any level. In 1985, his season was ended prematurely (after 15 starts) by an arm injury. Coming off surgery, Clemens had his 20-K game (a complete game) in late April, and McNamara rode him hard, finishing nearly a third of his starts. To the credit of Clemens' strong arm, he held up remarkably well, way, way past his career high to that point in innings, until he was hit on the elbow by a line drive in September.
Given that Clemens is still pitching 21 years later, I think you have to give him credit for knowing his limits.
Mets announcers just reminded me that today is the 30th anniversary of the Mets dealing Seaver. I was 5. It was a dark, dark day.
Yes, I just kept calling Gomez "Carlos Perez" above - I'm getting old.
So the Yankees finally caught somebody - Gomez - but only after Clemens left the game. And frankly they caught Reyes next as well, but it was a bang-bang play and Reyes got the call.
Mets lead 2-0 - better get several more runs, Schoenweis is warming up in the pen.
Mike Bloomberg still there in the 9th inning. Good showing, for a Red Sox fan.
Boo-ya! Wagner smokes the Yanks in the ninth. 2-0 Mets.
BASEBALL: Also Starring Jose Lima As Hemlock
Mike Pelfrey would be a wine that hasn't had time to age yet. Pedro, of course, would be a fine South American cabernet you had with dinner last week; you're really hoping that the last bit left in the bottle still has some taste. Aaron Heilman would be a non-alcoholic beer that really might taste better as a regular beer. Victor Zambrano would be whatever you were drinking when you lost your wife in a poker game; it really doesn't matter what it tastes like, you won't drink it again. And Steve Trachsel would be that cheap beer you drank in college - you had a lot of good nights with that beer, many of which ran very, very long into the night, but you got really sick of the taste after four years, and if you were having friends over now for an important party it would not be on the menu.
From a commenter at MetsBlog:
I guess Chan Ho would have been badly aged Sake?
I think Sake is Japanese, but, yeah, that's about right.
June 13, 2007
BASEBALL: Mostly Intentional
I was looking at Ichiro's career stats and noticing that over a third of his career walks were intentional, and wondered how unusual that really was. Intentional walks have been tracked since 1955, and David Pinto's database goes back to 1957, so using Pinto's source I quickly collected a table of the guys who have drawn 100 or more intentional walks since 1957. Here is the top ten who have drawn the most intentional compared to total walks:
Ichiro is close, but not quite at the top. A second question: which hitters got the most intentional walk respect relative to their dangerousness? Here's the top 10 in IBB compared to Total Bases?
Of course, number 8 hitters get walked a lot in the NL, and Templeton and Edwards both drew a disproportionate share of their career IBB while batting 8th. Note that Bonds, even with 747 career homers (he's now 4th on the career Total Bases list behind only Aaron, Musial and Mays), still dominates this list.
June 12, 2007
BASEBALL: Vern Hoscheit
I'm not even sure what else to say about the Mets lately, as they have barely been watchable. A dry stretch is inevitable now and then but aside from Wright and Delgado (and Jorge Sosa, of all people) they are really in a terrible collective slump. Fortunately the Braves have too, but that just means the Mets have missed chances to put some real distance on them, and at the same time have let the Phillies creep back in the race. The Braves are still the Braves, but it's Philadelphia that has the horses.
I hate to say it, and it's a small thing, but it may be time shortly to say farewell to Julio Franco. Of more pressing problems, Scott Schoenweis is just completely hopeless. And Glavine is starting to worry me, but there's nothing that can be done about that.
June 8, 2007
BASEBALL: The Best Lefthanded Reliever Ever
I suppose this is an especially inauspicious morning to be discussing this, since we could just as well be discussing whether Pat Burrell should be traded to Tampa, Texas or preferably Japan. But my son asked me the other day who the best lefthanded relief pitcher in baseball history was, I thought about it and realized that it may well be Billy Wagner.
When I looked more closely at the issue, the second thing that jumped out was that the Mets - and, other than the Mets, the Yankees - have had a disproportionate share of the best ones. Let's look over the list of serious or semi-serious candidates. I left off Lefty Grove, who was never used primarily as a reliever other than the 1929 World Series but who finished in the top 5 in the league in saves 6 times, including a league-leading 9 in 1930 while winning 28 games. I'm also leaving off a bunch of guys who are in the next tier, either because they never reached the heights or had only a moment of greatness or were never ace relievers - Mark Davis, Mitch Williams, Al Hrabosky, John Hiller, BJ Ryan, Eddie Guardado. That leaves the contenders. The key for the table - which is drawn from career totals:
"Y" is the number of seasons when each guy (1) was his team's #1 reliever and (2) had an ERA+ of 100 or better (i.e., an ERA equal to or better than the park-adjusted league average as measured by baseball-reference.com - for the uninitiated, the higher the ERA+ the better the pitcher was relative to the league); ERA+ is a career total, but the other numbers are based only on career totals as a reliever (Wagner, Franco and Lyle never started a game, and Perranoski started only one); walks per 9 innings are measured by excluding intentional walks, which are a major occupational hazard for relievers, especially situational middlemen; the last two columns are career innings and ERA as a reliever in the postseason (Righetti is the only guy here to start a postseason game, and pitched outsandingly as a starter in the 1981 postseason), in roughly what I think is the right order for the top 11 (stats are through last night's fiasco), though I suppose one could quibble about Plesac vs Hrabosky (not that I think a lot of bar fights will be started over that particular argument).
The two main arguments against Wagner as the best - and understanding that it's hard to compare a modern short-outing closer to a 70s-style relief ace like Lyle, McGraw or Perranoski - are that he hasn't thrown nearly enough innings and that his postseason record is ghastly, compared to a bunch of guys who were brilliant in October. But in terms of the quality of his pitching, Wagner has just been so far ahead of the others, and over an extended period of years in which he has been fantastically consistent, that you have to give him the nod.
As for picking Myers over Perranoski on this list, Myers was really dominant in his best years, and also gets a close call for his postseason exploits.
At any rate, Mets fans can look at that list with some pride: Tug, Jesse, Randall K, Franco and now Wagner. Quite a tradition (Stanton even pitched two years for the Mets, though my brain has largely blocked out the memory).
June 6, 2007
BASEBALL: Not The Year of the Rookie, Part II
Yesterday, I ran through the rookie crop in the NL. Today, the AL - where, I must admit, the field is stronger the more I look at it, though still weak compared to last season.
While the AL has its share of struggling rookies, these five are not a bad foundation at all, albeit Harris is more of a journeyman than a prospect. I don't know if a guy with Willits' extreme lack of power can keep his OBP above .400, but if he can stay in that neighborhood he could be a heck of a player for the next 5 years or so. Iwamura's injury means that we haven't gotten a real chance to assess him yet.
As you can see, while there have been a bunch of successful young pitchers thus far - particularly Leo Mazzone's charges - many of them need to get their strikeouts up or walks down if they are going to last the season. Then again, Mazzone's guys may be specifically concentrating on keeping the ball in the park (0.41 HR/9 between them). Huges and Loewen are supposed to be the highest-ceiling guys in this batch, although for the short term Okajima is providing the most value.
It's this category that is weakest in the AL - I'm especially stretching to include Lind, who has shown a tiny bit of power, and Rabelo, who has hit for a decent average as a backup catcher but little else. Dukes, of course, may yet eliminate his opportunity to develop his promising talents, if he can't control his rage.
Matsuzaka obviously has star-quality tools and has pitched some wonderful games, but he has yet to find his consistency as a front-of-the-rotation major league starter. Rasner has been one of the brighter spots among the Yankees' emergency-starter crew.
Struggling or Outright Failing
Wood, obviously, got only the briefest cup of coffee. I still expect Gordon to be a star, but he really has been horrendous - like Angel Berroa, all he seems able to do right is get drilled by pitches. The man's in the everyday lineup and has driven in 8 runs.
Like I said yesterday - rookie pitchers will break your heart. With apologies to David Pinto, Roger Clemens could out-pitch most of these Yankee rookies with one groin tied behind his back. There is a reason why the Yanks' staff has struck out 278 batters while every other major league team is at 314 or better. Granted, guys like Karstens didn't exactly have the luxury of a long look.
June 5, 2007
BASEBALL: Not The Year of the Rookie
After last season's bonanza of quality rookies, some letdown was perhaps to be expected, but I have been surprised at quite how badly so many of this season's rookies have played. Which is not to say they won't go on to successful careers, or even turn things around over the final two thirds of the season - but teams handing out a lot of playing time to rookies this season have inherited a lot of grief. Let's run down the NL rookies first, breaking them out by their level of success - I may not have caught everyone here who has pitched 10 innings and some of them did play last season but I think all these guys are still eligible for the Rookie of the Year award:
The pickings are slim here - only Pence and Hamilton have had anything like a full audition in terms of playing time, Hamilton and Hopper are too old to be prospects (although Hamilton is a unique case). Reynolds does look like a serious prospect, though, and if a non-pitcher is going to win the Rookie of the Year Award, he's probably as good odds as anyone, and way better odds than anyone but Pence. Not that I mean to slight Pence, who has really been tremendous. Hopper, of course, gets demerits for nearly killing Ryan Freel.
Again, we have a collection weighted towards middle relievers already in their primes. Note the presence of two sidearmers (Smith and Moylan). Owings does look like a keeper, and we have not seen top pitching prospects Homer Bailey (soon to make his debut in Cincinnati) and Yovanny Gallardo of Milwaukee. Cameron will need to throw some strikes to be effective long term.
Young is the stud prospect on this list, and does look like he will be a star if he can master the strike zone, but that's a work in progress. Ruiz, at 28, is as good as he will get. Tulowitzki's numbers look good for a 22-year-old shortstop with a cannon arm until you remember that he plays at Coors.
Lincecum has had some rough outings but will almost assuredly be on the top chart by the end of the year, and looks like a coming star; he is probably the best bet to take the NL Rookie of the Year when all is said and done.
Struggling or Outright Failing
Like some of the success stories, a number of these guys have had so few at bats that you can't say much except that they haven't contributed anything. In Gomez' case, of course, he wasn't expected to make the majors and was called up before his time to plug an injury hole. Iannetta, by contrast, has had his struggles cost him playing time in a losing battle with journeyman Yorvit Torrealba. Kouzmanoff has been particularly disapointing given his minor league batting record.
Well, rookie pitchers will always break your heart. Pelfrey did manage to keep the ball in the park well, but that's about it.
May 31, 2007
BASEBALL: This Is A New One On Me
To be frank, he wasn't even that good a pitcher except for the talent-diluted 1884 season (more here), but is in the Hall due to his exceptional durability. Galvin died at age 47 from "catarrh of the stomach."
BASEBALL: Trivia Time, Single-Season Record-Holder Edition
Now that HostingMatters has fixed the comments, let's try a little trivia. Hard-core baseball fans know the single-season record holders for a variety of records - but in most cases, there is also a best-ever in the other league. Let's see how many of these you can guess. The ones listed below include some easy and some hard - a few of these formerly held the overall record - but most of these guys are either recently active or in Cooperstown, and none of them is hugely obscure.
Questions: The Single-Season League Records
1. AL, Batting Average
15. NL, ERA (Post-1893, so this doesn't include Tim Keefe in 102 innings in 1880)
1-5: Softballs Only
Answers below the fold
Read More »
1. Nap Lajoie, .426
« Close It
May 30, 2007
BASEBALL: Scott Boras Wants You To Like Him
Journalists love to write about baseball superagent Scott Boras. First, because fans generally hate him, it's a chance to flex their "let me tell you something you don't believe" muscles. Second, because front office people generally hate him, it's easy to get a steady stream of colorful quotes about what a malignant SOB he is. Third, because Boras talks non-stop, works very hard and is very good at what he does, a profile of him is never short on worshipful detail.
Thus, a lengthy recent profile in LA Weekly. Now, let's start with what is undeniably true about Boras: he is very, very good at squeezing the extra marginal dollar out of teams to pay for the players he represents. That's clearly in the best short-term interests of the player, and as Boras often points out, for many players the short term is most or all of their lifetime earning potential.
Boras' most significant accomplishment is his work in negotiating large deals for players in - and finding loopholes in - the amateur draft. This, too, is in the best short-term interests of his clients, a number of who then pull in the only big contract they will ever get. It also provides one arguable benefit to Major League Baseball - by driving up entry-level salaries, Boras helps make the sport more competitive in reaching young American players who might otherwise go into football or basketball, both of which generally require at least a year or two of unpaid apprenticeship in college but then offer the big bucks. (Then again, guys who have legitimate shots at the NBA or NFL have always had more leverage at draft time, even before Boras). That said, Boras' machinations have clearly undermined the entire purpose of the amateur draft, which is to level the playing field to benefit the poorer and weaker teams. Whatever that does for the players, and however indifferent the owners may be to the effects, it's bad for the fans.
Of course, some agents are content to live with the position that they represent the players' interests and need answer to nobody else. Not Boras: he wants you, the fan, to believe that he is good for baseball ("I look around the room and ask, 'As caretakers of the game, what have we accomplished?' . . . We should look at each other and say, 'We're honoring the game.'"). He wants the owners to believe that cutting deals with his players is good for them ("To offer Maddux less money than he is worth, "Now you've done something that you should never do."). He wants everyone to believe that when a negotiation goes badly, it's because of some foolishness or moral failing of the GM and not because his client wanted more money or could get more money elsewhere ("In response to critics who say it's all about money, Boras says, 'Really? I think it's about respect.'").
It's hard to tell whether Boras' relentless self-justification is driven by a desire to make himself more respectable and respected than the average sports agent, or whether he's just continuing to serve his own economic interests - after all, if GMs start believing that Boras' deals are bad for the buyers, they may think twice before inking the next A-Rod, Barry Zito, or Chan Ho Park.
But then, one thing the LA Weekly profile makes clear about Boras' tactics is that the GMs alone aren't his audience - he makes maximum use of the fact that he is wealthier, more powerful and more secure in his position than the average GM, who after all is a salaried employee with a boss as well as a fan and media base to answer to:
General managers might resent such statements. But one way Boras gets into their heads is to pit them against their owners. "The process is informational," he says. "There are GMs who are information sensitive, and their opinions are in the rear. There's a whole group of GMs who put their opinions out front, and they view me as an obstacle. I tell them, 'Let me help you and your owner make good decisions. Why wouldn't you want good players?'"
It's an effective negotiating tactic, and of course because GMs lack Boras' job security, he's always around to get the last laugh. Nonetheless, you have to think that even aside from the question of how believable his advocacy is, it would be obvious to most GMs that the premium to be paid for a Boras player over and above the cost of a comparable player with a less aggressive agent makes his clients a bad deal. Not that all of them are a bad deal - A-Rod, for example, was and is a unique commodity. But first you sign an A-Rod, and then you go back to Boras and you sign a Chan Ho Park, and the value of the A-Rod contract goes down the tubes, to the detriment most of all of A-Rod, who got blamed for the Rangers' inability to spend wisely to build around him.
Another hardball tactic in evidence here is that when Boras feels spited - as the example of Dodgers GM Ned Coletti's decision to send subordinates to negotiate with him over Maddux, or as in the case of Johnny Damon - his players have a tendency to end up on a direct division rival, sending the message that Boras and his clients will go out of his way to screw you.
Still, I had to laugh at one set of examples here, the two Seattle signings - first, the article notes Dodger fans' angst at losing Adrian Beltre, without mentioning quite how badly that worked out for Seattle. And then, we have Boras' laughable attempt to spin the Cardinals as having made a bad decision to get outbid by the same Mariners for the services of Jeff Weaver:
Last year, another longtime Boras client, Jeff Weaver, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after a poor start with the Angels in Anaheim. Weaver was dominant in the postseason, and the Cardinals won the World Series, but St. Louis offered Weaver only a one-year, $5 million contract - which Boras found insulting. "That's what you'd offer a relief pitcher," he says.
At press time, Jeff Weaver had a 14.32 ERA and had managed to lose all six of his starts while allowing 50 hits in 22 innings. I'm sure the Mariners are just thrilled that Boras talked them into spending $8.3 million on him.
The bottom line: Boras is out for his guys. He's good at getting them their money, and there are certainly far less respectable ways to make a living. But nobody should make the mistake of thinking he's doing anybody else any good.
BASEBALL: Davey for Perlozzo?
Soccer Dad says the hot rumor in Baltimore is that Sam Perlozzo may be sacked and replaced by his old boss, Davey Johnson. He doesn't like the move; he's closer to the situation than I am, but in general I don't see Davey as the kind of guy you bring in in the middle of a season, nor as the kind of guy who can squeeze extra performance out of a team with mediocre talent. And either way, you don't want to alienate Leo Mazzone.
May 25, 2007
My son and I have been using teams of Hall of Famers in Strat-O-Matic, and the thing about a lineup full of Hall of Fame hitters is, they are apt to get shut out all day and then suddenly blow the doors off a game in a single inning. These Mets are like that, as we saw in the 5-run ninth tonight.
We also had a marvelous performance by El Duque on the way back from an injury, and yet another example of why Billy Wagner can't be trusted with more than a 3-run lead.
BASEBALL: Smoltz is Cooperstown Bound
John Smoltz's 200th win last night has to ice his credentials for Cooperstown, as it should. While 200 wins is hardly distinguishing on its own (see here, here and here on the Hall's de facto standards for career wins, winning percentage and 20-win seasons), there are a number of reasons why he deserves it. First of all, he doesn't just have 200 wins; he's also 61 games over .500, is closing in on 3000K (Bert Blyleven is the only eligible pitcher with 3000 K who isn't in) and has 154 career saves, 144 of them in a 3-year stretch (he's tied for the NL single-season saves record), and a Cy Young Award. He's the only NL pitcher since Dwight Gooden to win 24 games in a season, and threw as many as 291.2 and 271 innings in 1996 and 1997, counting the postseason. Second, he has had an ERA equal or better to the league, at least by Baseball-Reference.com's park-adjusted measure, every year since 1989, which is really hard. Third, he holds key career records for postseason play - career wins, Ks, third in IP. He's 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA and 4 saves in 207 postseason innings, a far better mark than Maddux, Glavine, Clemens or Randy Johnson and a much longer record than Curt Schilling.
BASEBALL: Milledge and Dontrelle?
I probably don't pay enough attention to trade rumors in general, so excuse me if some of you have discussed this to death already, but Bruce Markusen discusses the revival of the ever-popular deal of prospects, headlined by Lastings Milledge, for Dontrelle Willis. (Joel Sherman of the Post also thinks they may target Willis).
In theory I'm all in favor of a deal like that - Milledge is a serious talent, but guys who are prime quality starting pitchers now are a very rare commodity, and Willis can't become a free agent until after the 2009 season.
The problem is whether Willis really is an elite pitcher. We're talking about a guy who had a 4.02 ERA in 2004, 3.87 last season and 4.80 this year. In 292.2 innings since the beginning of 2006, Willis has allowed 311 hits (9.56 per 9 IP), 30 HR (0.92), 113 BB (3.47), and 212 K (6.52). In Florida. Those aren't terrible numbers by any stretch, but for a 25-year-old in a pitcher's park, who has a complicated pitching motion and has been worked very hard, that kind of regression, especially in his control, is worrisome.
May 24, 2007
BASEBALL: More of the Same, Please
The Yankees are apparently interested in Todd Helton and Rockies closer Brian Fuentes. (h/t). What's interesting is that not only would a deal for Helton and/or Fuentes involve addressing the Yankees' strength (veteran hitters - the team is third in the AL in scoring with only two regulars, one of them the 31-year-old A-Rod, under age 33) and moderate strength (the bullpen - the Yankees have three middlemen pitching solidly, Proctor, Myers and Bruney, plus they have Rivera, although the setup men - Farnsworth and Vizcaino - and Rivera have all struggled) and not their weaknesses in the starting rotation, but they are dealing with a team, the Rockies, that will likely want some of the Yanks' stable of young starters in return.
Not that a deal would be a bad idea - Clemens is on the way to help the rotation, and Helton and Fuentes would certainly be an upgrade on Mientkiewicz and Farnsworth. In fact, a willingness to act opportunistically to add to their strengths, rather than dealing on their weaknesses, has long been a hallmark of Yankee strategy, from signing Howard to go with Berra to adding Gossage to Lyle to adding Abreu to Matsui and Sheffield.
UPDATE: Also, today marks 72 years of night baseball.
LAW/BASEBALL: Everyone Else's Fault
The father of Josh Hancock filed suit Thursday, claiming a restaurant provided drinks to the St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher even though he was intoxicated prior to the crash that killed him.
The lawsuit claimed Tolar was negligent in allowing his vehicle to reach the point where it stalled on the highway, and for failing to move it out of the way of oncoming traffic. A police report said the car became stalled when it spun out after being cut off by another vehicle.
Let's see how many things are wrong with this picture:
1. Isn't Hancock responsible for knowing that drinking for hours and then getting in his car is a bad idea (to say nothing of speeding, talking on a cell phone and not wearing his seatbelt)? The man had pot in his car, the bar didn't put that there. He made bad choices, and there are consequences for those. It's not like this is a lawsuit filed by some innocent bystander injured by Hancock.
2. Hancock made good money, died single as a grown man, left no dependents. Why should his father be entitled to get money on his behalf?
3. He's suing the guy whose car stalled on the highway? Because his car stalled out after he got cut off? And from whom he will presumably seek a share of the lost wages for a major league ballplayer who was driving drunk while yakking on the phone? Gimme a break. The tow truck driver may have been in some ways negligent, but even then, the guy drives a tow truck, and it's not his fault that Hancock was plastered and on the phone.
4. The cell phone manufacturer hasn't been sued. Yet.
May 22, 2007
BASEBALL: Year in Review
As regular readers know, I like to take the 365-day look back through David Pinto's database now and then; let's go there again with the hitters.
1. I would not have tagged Chipper Jones as baseball's most potent slugger over the past year.
2. David Wright: .302/.521/.375. Jose Reyes: .321/.520/.377. Talk about a matched set. Of course, with 60-odd more plate appearances, 50 more steals, half as many GIDP and his defense at short, Reyes has surpassed Wright. It remains to be seen which will give the Mets more value over the next four years, but it's a nice question to be able to ask.
3. Mr. Ausmus? It's the glue factory...
4. Stock up when you slice the numbers this way: Mark Teahen, Greg Norton, Jimmy Rollins (.508 slugging and .338 OBP probably means we've seen the last of him as a leadoff man), Endy Chavez. Stock down: Miguel Tejada (still productive, but where'd his power go?), Jim Edmonds, Craig Biggio, Eric Chavez,Craig Wilson, Sean Casey, Morgan Ensberg, Damian Miller, Scott Thorman, Jonny Gomes.
BASEBALL: Sad But True
1. Five pitchers have started all of the Devil Rays' games this season.
The sad part is, you have a team that has some exciting young players (Tampa is still 10th in the league in scoring; not great but they've finished a season that high only once in their history, in 2005), Scott Kazmir and James Shields in the rotation (Shields is having a tremendous breakout year, with a 62/13 K/BB ratio and the lowest baserunners/innings ratio of any major league pitcher) and a rejuvenated Al Reyes ringing up a 1.31 ERA in the closer role. But between the back of the rotation and the middle of the bullpen, Tampa is just getting knocked out of the box too often to move up in the fluid (behind Boston) AL East. And that may end up costing them a last chance to bring fans to the Trop before ownership decides to hit the road.
BASEBALL: What Ills L Millz?
I can understand why the Mets would not be thrilled with Lastings Milledge, with such limited big-league success under his belt, recording a rap album, and still less so with him recording one full of all the standard offensive cliches of the genre. But why is the team going after him in the press, a move that is likely to turn the fans against Milledge and make it harder to deal him for value if the team decides to trade him?
It's certainly starting to look like the skids for a deal are being greased, and without much regard for his market value. There are three possibilities for why they are doing this in the press, as opposed to just sitting him down and talking to him:
(A) Fred Wilpon has bad memories of guys with personality problems from the 1991-93 period and is overreacting. This would have to be Wilpon and possibly Jay Horowitz - they've been there long enough. Omar Minaya doesn't seem the type to let a rap album stand between him and a talented player, and Willie Randolph, Joe Torre disciple that he is, would handle something like this privately.
(B) The team is nervous about Milledge doing something fan-unfriendly (especially after the Imus kerfuffle) and is trying to get out front of condemning it to control the PR narrative.
(C) The team knows something non-public that is wrong with Milledge (e.g., drugs) and wants to build a separate, public case for dumping him cheaply (which they may have to do if other teams know it too).
Both (A) and (C) would suggest he is not long for NY. (B) could mean he stays and they are just doing damage control.
May 21, 2007
LAW/BASEBALL: Sliding Scale
May 19, 2007
BASEBALL: Hank's Rib
Some guys just can't catch a break; just when Hank Blalock was just back in the kind of groove he's been missing the past few years (with teammate Mark Teixeira also blazing hot), Blalock has to be out the next three months to have a rib removed to relieve "thoracic outlet syndrome," which is apparently some sort of nerve or vascular condition. The Rangers, already mired in last place 4 1/2 games behind the Mariners and with the second worst record in the AL, lose one more reason to hope they can get out.
BASEBALL: Subway Spring
Yeah, David Wright is all the way back.
Hated Yankees down 10 games to the Red Sox going into today; I won't feel good until they are more than 14 1/2 down.
Would you rather be a Yankee starting pitcher or the drummer for Spinal Tap?
Mike Myers threw 54 pitches today - wonder when the last time that was? 10 is usually a long outing for him. ESPN's game longs go back to 2002 and he hasn't thrown 50 pitches in a game in that time period.
UPDATE: For a game with a 6-run lead that was waaaaaay too close at the end. What on earth were Cano and Wagner thinking - Cano rushing a throw to first in the bottom of the 8th with Julio Franco trotting up the first base line on his way to the shuffleboard court and tossing it up the right field line, Wagner throwing home with a 4-run lead and one out instead of getting the easy out at first (and catching Paul Lo Duca totally unawares).
May 17, 2007
BASEBALL: Meche Godzilla
Gil Meche, who entered 2007 with a career ERA of 4.65 and no seasons with an ERA of less than 4.48 in 100 innings or more, has an ERA this season of 1.91. What gives? Let's break out Meche's numbers for thus far in 2007 compared to his full season numbers for 2006 as well as his good first half in 2006, which ran through July 19 before the wheels came off. Stats courtesy of ESPN, THT and Pinto; the detailed stats aren't available for just a part of 2006:
The immediate fact that jumps out is that Meche is allowing just over one unearned run per 9 innings, a high enough number to suggest that his ERA is misleadingly low. In fact, his overall numbers are much more consistent with a guy with an ERA in the high 2s than below 2.00.
That said, Meche is pitching dramatically better, even though his K/9 ratio is actually down a bit and the percentage of outs on balls in play (DER) is not much changed (even though the number of line drives he surrenders - LD% - has improved). Meche's improvement has come in a large step forward in his control plus a great improvement the proportion of ground balls among balls in play, which has resulted in many fewer doubles and home runs and many more double play balls.
The warning signs are twofold. First, the improvements in control and ground ball percentage are both way out of line with his career (ESPN lists him as having a 1.98 G/F ratio this season compared to 1.01 for his career and 3.89 BB/9); while he has shown real improvement and not just luck, the issue will be how long he can sustain that. Second, of course, is the durability issue. Meche flamed out in the second half last season after passing the 120 inning mark, he's never thrown 200 innings, and of course when younger he missed two full seasons with arm trouble. At his present pace, which puts him just an inning off the league lead, he is on track to throw 242.1 innings. There is a very serious question as to whether he can keep that up.
So far, Meche really has been worth all that money the Royals paid him. Stay tuned.
May 16, 2007
BLOG: Random Thoughts From Last Night
I was switching back and forth last night between the GOP debate and the Met game before catching up on last night's "24," so let me give you my observations on what I did catch, plus a few other bits:
*It may almost be time to add Shawn Green to the list of Omar's successes - I'm really amazed that he is hitting .324 and slugging .525, when he looked for all the world like he was headed irreversibly downhill last season. It's a Mike Lowell-style resurgence. Green doesn't look like a power hitter; he's built like a finesse pitcher. The Mets have batboys beefier than Green.
*24 has just gone catastrophically off the rails since the end of the plot with the Arabs. They should probably have ended the season right there. In particular, we have seen no explanation of how Chaing new where and when to call Jack to start this whole thing, and no good reason why the White House should have agreed in the first place to negotiate with a state actor holding a U.S. citizen hostage in Los Angeles. It's gone downhill from there. The Russians seem awfully touchy about nuclear technology that their own consul was basically handing out like Halloween candy, yet blase about threatening war with the U.S. when they know that the U.S. has access to that technology. The simplest explanation is this one.
It looks like Jack is finally leaving Los Angeles after this season. This means we can ask a question that would come up for no other show: will they kill off Los Angeles?
*The account of the White House hospital visit to John Ashcroft, by the way, sounds so much like something from 24... a scene very, very radically different from the caricature of Ashcroft as a jackbooted thug. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for Bush's talk with Comey to know how his concerns were ultimately dealt with or whether Bush just twisted his arm on the importance of the intelligence being collected.
*That set for the debate looked like a bad game show...I missed the rules, were the candidates actually buzzing in for rebuttal time?
*Rudy had the best response of the night when he slammed Ron Paul for essentially saying the U.S. had invited 9/11. I think Paul misread his invite to the Green Party debate. As I have said before, one Ron Paul in Congress is a good thing, but more of them would be a disaster. Any time he opens his mouth on foreign affairs you see why.
*Runner-up line goes to Mike Huckabee: "Congress has been spending money like John Edwards at a beauty shop".
*Of course, both of them have stiff competition from Fred Thompson's brilliant and hilarious response to Michael Moore.
*Having seen only transcripts of the first debate, I had not seen Paul or Tom Tancredo live before, and they were much unlike my image of them from reading their statements for years - Paul seemed like a frail old man, and Tancredo seemed meek and nervous; I was expecting a guy who looked and sounded like Bob Dornan.
*Goldberg and Vodkapundit had basically the same reaction to Romney - of course, Romney's father was a car salesman (well, a CEO of a car company, actually). In positioning himself as a conservative, Romney is basically a smart businessman pursuing an underserved market, not a man seeking higher office out of a firm belief in anything in particular, and it shows.
*There is really, really no purpose to Thommy Thompson and Jim Gilmore being in this race, none.
*Other than his position on trade, I can't think of a single thing I have seen from Duncan Hunter to dislike. Hunter has no realistic chance of getting the nomination, but he might not be a bad running mate - he's a serious guy who looks and sounds like a serious guy.
*From what I saw, compared to some of the last debate's questions, I have to say that the Fox team was just miles better than the MSNBC team in asking questions that GOP primary voters would actually want to see answered (one exception was the justly-booed question to McCain about the Confederate flag) and avoiding speechifying by the moderators. From here on out they should just have Brit Hume & co. do all the GOP debates and Tim Russert do the Democrats.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-14 | Politics 2008 | Pop Culture | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 15, 2007
BASEBALL: Home of the Braves
BASEBALL: Enter the Lefties
Tom Glavine, with 294 wins, is on the verge of becoming only the fifth lefthanded pitcher in Major League history to win 300 games (Randy Johnson, if he manages 20 more wins, would be the sixth). Which leads me to an interesting issue: the fact that it took some time for lefthanded pitching to take root in the majors. While this story would make a fascinating article by someone with more time to do the research, I'll lay out here the outlines in statistical terms.
Over the first 11 years of major league ball - the five year run of the National Association from 1871 to 1875, and the first six years of the National League from 1876 to 1881 - lefthanded pitchers were at best a curiosity:
Granted, there were a few hundred innings thrown over those years by pitchers whose handedness was not recorded, but those were rarely guys with significant pitching roles. In both 1874 and 1876 there was no lefthanded pitching at all.
Those 2,586 innings were thrown by just 11 men, three of whom (Charlie Pabor, Ed Pinkham, and Hall of Fame slugger Dan Brouthers) were full-time players who never threw more than 30 innings in a season, and three others of whom (John McMullin, John Cassidy and Curry Foley) also spent the bulk of their careers as everyday players, plus two (Jack Leary and John Greason) who never pitched as many as 70 innings in a season.
If there is a common thread among the earliest southpaws, it's that they were ineffective. McMullin threw 249 innings for Troy in 1871, the first lefty to play a significant pitching role, and was pounded, walking a league-leading 75 batters (an astoundingly high total for the day) and finishing with the worst ERA of any significant pitcher in the league. He spent most of the rest of his career as an outfielder. Next up in 1875 was John Cassidy, who was likewise spectacularly ineffective in 214.2 innings for Brooklyn and who likewise set off on a career in the outfield.
The first semi-significant lefty in the National League, and the first to spend his career primarily as a pitcher, was Bobby Mitchell, who threw 100 innings for Cleveland in 1877, 80 for Cincinnati in 1878, and 194.2 for Cleveland in 1879. Though ERAs were not tracked in those days, Mitchell never did manage a league-average ERA and ended with a losing record, but he at least pitched respectably, and had the highest K/IP rates in the NL in 1877 & 1878. In 1879 he was joined by Foley, an OF-1B who threw 161.2 innings in 1879 and 238 in 1880, both for Boston, with middling results. But most teams in those days used a single starter to handle most of the work, and in 1880-82, the first lefty to take that job emerged, as Lee Richmond threw 590.2, 462.1 and 411 innings for Worcester. Richmond pitched well his first season, but the Worcester Ruby Legs finished last in 1881 and 1882, so he didn't exactly inspire a rush of imitators.
In 1882, however, something new happened: the American Association sprang up as a rival major league. The first ERA champ in the league was 21-year-old lefty Denny Driscoll, who got a full-time rotation gig the following year. And then in 1884, a sea change set in: the rules were liberalized to allow pitchers to throw overhand. I have to believe that the ability to abandon straight underhand was the change that made lefthanders proportionately more effective, and the AA was the early adopter (as startup leagues are often quicker to process innovation): the first lefty to lead a league in IP or K was Ed Morris in the AA in 1885 (his second season as a rotation anchor, at age 22), the first in Wins was Morris in 1886, and lefties led the AA in innings and strikeouts from 1885-87, with young fireballers Matt Kilroy (age 20, 513 K) and Toad Ramsey (age 21, 499 K) posting the two highest strikeout totals of all time. The unfortunately nicknamed Lady Baldwin became the first star lefty in the NL, posting a 1.86 ERA in 1885 and going 42-13 while leading the league in wins and strikeouts in 1886.
Even so, significant lefthanded pitching was still a relative rarity through the end of the 1800s. While multiple righthanded pitchers racked up large career win totals, only six 19th century lefties won as many as 100 games: Morris with 171, followed by Frank Killen (164), Ted Breitenstein (160), Kilroy (141), Ramsey (114), and Duke Esper (101). One can look at the records of lefthanded hitters in this era and see, perhaps, the benefits of the relative dearth of lefthanded quality pitchers.
The end of the 19th century brought on the two men who would set the template for lefthanded pitchers to follow, and they plied their trade once again mainly in an upstart league, the American League. First came Rube Waddell, baseball's second pitcher (after Amos Rusie) to compile a multi-year record as a strikeout pitcher. Waddell, of course, was an eccentric, childlike, unpredictable drunk and - Bill James suggests - possibly mentally disabled, and likely contributed as much as anyone to the stereotype of the flaky lefthander. His teammate Eddie Plank, by contrast, was more like Glavine, a cerebral, college-educated pitcher who set the mold of the crafty lefthander. Together they brought a lot of success to Connie Mack, and Plank became the first lefty to win 300 games - indeed, the first to win 200 games. With 305 of his 326 wins coming in the AL, he holds to this day the career record for wins by an AL lefty.
As we know, the concept of platooning first began to be tried around 1906, though it did not come into heavy vogue until around 1920 - which was around the time that the emergence of Babe Ruth created a much more pressing need for teams to find their own Hub Pruett type lefties who could shut down the Babe. By 1919, the career leaderboard for lefties looked like this (and recall that by this point Walter Johnson was three wins from becoming the ninth righthanded 300-game winner, including five with 340 or more wins; counting wins in the NA, there were by then 14 righties with 250 or more wins, 24 with 225 or more). A few of these guys, as you can see from their career timelines, would win a few more in the 1920s; Marquard would become the second lefty to win 200 games, and two others who would as well (Eppa Rixey and Wilbur Cooper) were already active.
You can see how Plank towered over his contemporaries . . . I haven't crunched the numbers to see how the proportion of lefties increased over time from the 1880s or when it reached modern rates, but by 1920, besides the above, there were a number of other active lefties on their way to decent careers, and in 1925 Mack came up with his third lefty superstar, Lefty Grove, who would go on to become the second lefty to win 300 games, followed by Warren Spahn (now the winningest lefty of all) and Steve Carlton. Today there are 25 lefthanded pitchers who have won 200 games, including 10 who have won 250 or more, compared to 83 righthanded 200-game winners, 34 righthanded 250-game winners, and 18 righthanded 300-game winners. I'll close with the top 10 winningest lefties of all time as of yesterday's action:
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:08 PM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
May 14, 2007
BASEBALL: First Roll of the Dice
Through tonight's game, Daisuke Matsuzaka had an ERA of 3.25 when facing a team for the first time, 6.00 when facing them a second time.
Granted, part of that is that one of the three teams he has faced twice is the Yankees, who have hit him hard both times. Still, a trend that may bear watching.
BASEBALL: Score Three For Omar
If you aren't a statistically-analytical type of GM - and it seems that Omar Minaya isn't - you have to really get the other stuff right. Score three more examples of Minaya doing just that.
Exhibit A: Damion Easley, now batting .283/.604/.356. If you thought Minaya couldn't repeat last year's coup of a rejuvenated Jose Valentin, you thought wrong. I don't expect this to keep up, and Easley isn't Valentin defensively, but the point is that for the second straight year an aging middle infielder off the scrap heap (with a history of showing some power and speed but poor recent results) is contributing a surprising amount to the offense, and in both cases there was really no statistical indicator that the guy had much left.
Exhibit B: Oliver Perez. Like a lot of statheads I thought Perez was a worthwhile gamble given his stuff and youth, but give Omar credit for having the creativity to land him in what was otherwise a desperation deal at the deadline to shore up the bullpen at the expense of the team's starting rightfielder. Guys with Xavier Nady's upside are an eminently replaceable commodity. Lefthanded pitchers with Perez' are not.
Exhibit C: Billy Wagner. Yes, Wagner has had his bumps in the road as Mets closer, notably being near the top of the list of responsible parties for the NLCS fiasco. But I and a lot of others thought the Mets got the short end of the stick signing the older and less recently durable and effective Wagner for $43 million instead of BJ Ryan for $47 million. With Ryan undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Mets come out ahead again.
May 10, 2007
BASEBALL: End of the Line for Weaver?
It's starting to look even grimmer than in recent years for Jeff Weaver, who dropped to 0-6 today and actually lowered his ERA (to 14.32) by allowing 6 runs on 10 hits in 5 innings. In 22 innings pitched this season, Weaver has allowed 50 hits. Pitching in Seattle he can't blame the New York press anymore; he's just not getting outs.
May 9, 2007
BASEBALL: Death. Taxes.
May 7, 2007
BASEBALL: In Which I Lose The Very Brief Momentary Sympathy I Had For The Hated Yankees
$28 million dollars for Roger Clemens. The deal made the most sense of his three suitors; the Red Sox aren't as desperate for pitching as the Yanks, and the Astros aren't really in the running for the postseason, plus the Rocket's buddy Andy Pettitte is back in pinstripes. Clemens is nothing if not an accomplished tease...we see here the full market power of a guy who is, even at 44, one of the few dependably elite starters in the game and was willing to at least give the appearance that he'd be just as happy to sit at home if he didn't get his dollar. Much as I dislike Clemens, though, you gotta respect him as a pitcher (not until he retires for good will I entertain seriously the "greatest pitcher ever"/"greatest pitcher of the post-1920 era" questions, but he's got an argument) and it's good for the game for a guy with his talent to keep going.
So, how much money is Clemens making for what he will give the Yanks? I decided to use some assumptions to project him out. If he returns at the beginning of June, the Yankees will have 111 games left; a healthy Clemens taking roughly a fifth of those would start 22 games. But the Yankees aren't paying Clemens just for the regular season; a reasonably optimistic assessment says that he could throw anywhere from 1-5 starts in the postseason; I assume 4, since he has started 4 postseason games three times, 5 twice and 3 twice (he averaged 3.4 postseason starts per year from 1999-2005, plus the relief win in the NLDS clincher in 2005). I assume 6 innings pitched per start. For his wins, I looked at Clemens' wins per start over his years with the Yankees and Astros, including the postseason (126 wins in 265 starts), which projects neatly to 12 wins including October on these assumptions.
Here is the chart showing Clemens' salary per start, per inning and per win over the course of his career, including the postseason (I used baseball-reference.com salary data except for his rookie year, when I assume he made the MLB minimum of $40,000).
There's a fair bit of the financial history of the game in that chart, but you can also see that Clemens' price has risen very sharply the last few years, partly because teams are paying for less than a full season, partly because his credible threat to retire gives him such leverage, and partly because the market for starting pitchers has just gone over the edge.
Something for Johan Santana's agent to ponder.
UPDATE: It is pointed out in the comments that the last two years are inaccurate because those are annualized salaries that are reduced for the portion of the season that Clemens is off the roster. Which proves once again why I avoid business-of-baseball issues...
May 3, 2007
BASEBALL: Yankee Go Home
Four words, chilling in combination for any Yankee fan: Carl Pavano. Dr. Andrews. James Andrews should immediately cue the Emperor's March when mentioned.
I know a bunch of teams have been buffeted with injuries this season - the Blue Jays (Ryan, Glaus, Reed Johnson) and A's (Dan Johnson, Swisher, Harden, Bradley, Kielty) probably worst of all, but the Hated Yankees' ill luck with the pitching staff is approaching 1987 Mets territory, especially since (like the 87 Mets) they are still hitting the ball well with a strong, healthy offense yet losing early ground to their arch-rivals.
May 2, 2007
BASEBALL: One of These Things Is Not Like The Others
So Rawlings wants your vote for its "All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team," to consist of the best defensive player at each position since Rawlings initiated the Gold Glove awards in 1957, in commemoration of the award's 50th anniversary. The ballot includes a number of players who I would not regard as defensive stars of historic magnitude - Yaz, Larry Walker, Eric Chavez, JT Snow, Kirby Puckett - but there's no serious dispute that these were all good defensive players (at least for the earlier parts of their careers).
And then: Derek Jeter. Jeter is popular and sells gloves, which is probably why he is on the list, and yes, he is a smart player and a fine athlete. But his fielding percentages have never been consistently good, and pretty much every other defensive stat/metric ever invented - Range Factors, Zone Ratings, David Pinto's probabalistic range models, Baseball Prospectus' defensive stats - shows that Jeter has spent multiple seasons of his prime at or near the bottom of the major leagues in his ability to turn batted balls into outs, which at least in theory is the job of a Gold Glove shortstop. This is like taking votes for an all-time Silver Slugger team and putting Bucky Dent on the ballot. Jeter has shown some signs of improvements in recent years since A-Rod arrived, but try watching a few Yankee games and count the number of balls that go by him that you would expect to be outs; there's usually at least one a game.
Anyway, my votes:
P - Kaat, though I don't have strong feelings on this. Seems like there should have been more choices - based on reputation I might have voted for Bobby Shantz, who won the first 4 Gold Gloves at the position. No-windup guys like Shantz and Kaat have a natural advantage over guys like Bob Gibson who have to drop to fielding position from the conclusion of a huge leg kick.
C - This is a really tough call. I think Pudge Rodriguez has a fearsome arm but is overrated as a handler of pitchers, plus he hasn't had to contend with the havoc on the basepaths that existed in the 70s and 80s. It's close between him, Bench, Boone and Sundberg; I'm voting for Sundberg but catch me another day and I could answer one of the others.
1B - Keith Hernandez, of course. There's some good fielders here but Keith played the position in a way that nobody else did.
2B - Mazeroski, hands down.
SS - Ozzie. Another easy one.
3B - Brooks Robinson. If these aren't the four infielders chosen, something has gone very wrong.
OF - Clemente, Mays, Andruw Jones. Jones is the best I have ever seen, and the other two have reputations that speak for themselves. I'm not sure Mays was any better than Garry Maddox or Devon White, but it's a close call and aside from Yaz there aren't any career leftfielders on the list to justify trying to balance. Dwight Evans would crack the top if it weren't for Clemente.
May 1, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 NL Central EWSL Report
The last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. As always, the largest and probably most obscure division, the NL Central, goes last - my apologies for lagging on this one. Until last year the NL Central, a division whose star had fallen badly since the McGwire/Sosa/Bagwell heyday, was the only division not to claim a World Championship under the post-1994 divisional alignment. In fact, the division features two teams that have never won it all, one that is nearly a century into its drought, and two others that entered last year having waited 24 and 27 years for a flag.
EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here; my AL Central preview is here, AL West is here, NL East here and NL West here.
World Champion St. Louis Cardinals
Raw EWSL: 229 (76 W)
Also on hand: Ryan Franklin, Skip Shumaker, the rehabbing Mark Mulder, and Tyler Johnson. Josh Hancock, of course, was in the bullpen picture until his fatal auto accident Sunday morning; it seems terribly unfair that the Cardinals organization has to go through this again less than a decade after Darryl Kile's death. Keisler is presently in the rotation due to Carpenter's injury following an unprecedented two straight seasons for Carpenter without serious injury.
There isn't really a ton of precedent for whether a World Championship helps offset a 17-game decline in the standings (22 over two years); the closest parallel that comes to mind is the 1998-2001 Yankees. The Yanks dropped 16 games in the standings in 1999, another 11 in 2000, but still won the Series both years. In 2001 they bounced back from 87 to 95 wins and pushed the World Series to a Game 7. Like this team, those Yankees had a lot of guys in their early 30s but their signature star (Jeter) was 27. The Yankees added one high-end starter to their rotation, Mike Mussina, while these Cardinals have overhauled the whole rotation behind Carpenter but with two youngsters, a retread and a converted reliever. Oh, and both teams had Randy Keisler. The other parallel would be the 1908 Cubs, who won the series after a 17-game decline over two years; they bounced back to win 104 games but finish second in 1909 with essentially the same team, and the pennant in 1910, but have never won it all again.
Injury risks with Carpenter and Rolen are a given, but really the big question marks for this team - creating both the upside and downside are (1) that rest of the rotation, including the talented Wainwright and Reyes; (2) whether Edmonds has one last Jim Edmonds year left and (3) whether Chris Duncan, a born DH, can ever play the outfield respectably enough to keep his bat in the lineup (realistically, the Cards would be better off just dealing him to an AL team to whom he would have more value).
Raw EWSL: 236 (79 W)
Jennings and White are presently injured, and Lidge has for the moment at least lost the closer job to Wheeler, though I expect him to reclaim it if he rights himself. Also on hand: Matt Albers (currently in the rotation), Brian Moehler, Dave Borkowski and Hunter Pence, plus the rehabbing Brandon Backe.
The Astros? The Astros. Partly EWSL rates, or overrates, them on depth - the bench is stocked with guys who recently held regular jobs (Loretta, Lane), the pen runs three deep in quality - plus the addition of Carlos Lee. And partly this just isn't that strong a division. Of course, experience tells us that over a long season, depth matters, especially when you have a 41-year-old second baseman and a rookie right fielder.
Jennings is key - he ought to be better in Houston than in Colorado, but the early injury is another sign that pitchers age in dog years in Coors.
Absent a return from Roger Clemens, I can't realistically see this team winning the division, but they should plod along around .500 again.
Raw EWSL: 201 (67 W)
Also on hand: Corey Koskie, Laynce Nix and Greg Aquino (all injured; Koskie's future seems doubtful), Elmer Dessens and Chris Spurling, and, looming at AAA, top pitching prospect Yovanni Gallardo, who has a 42-8 K/BB ratio and just 1 HR allowed in 30 innings this season in the hitter-happy PCL after striking out 188 batters while posting a 1.86 ERA last season.
When asked before the season who should be the favorite in the NL Central, I told people, without conviction, the Brewers. Now that April is behind us, the first place team is, without conviction, the Brewers. Sure, they are tied with the Braves for the NL's best record and with the Red Sox for the majors' largest division lead (3.5 games), but they have outscored their opponents just 117-114, for a "Pythagorean" record of 13-12. In other words, they aren't playing like a team that is gonna take the division out behind the garage and teach it a lesson. That said, the hot start by JJ Hardy, who fizzled and got hurt last season after a promising second half in 2005, is most encouraging, and as they have been doing for a few years now the Crew has scrounged up veterans to plug most of their potential holes. What this team is missing is a really big bat in the outfield; I still don't buy Bill Hall as a consistent 30 HR threat or Mench as a serious corner outfielder outside of Texas. Also, as has been true for several years, Milwaukee lacks a reputable fifth starter, although Vargas has gotten off to a good start. Presumably it won't take long for either Vargas or Bush to falter or Sheets to sustain his usual injury and get Gallardo into the rotation.
Raw EWSL: 207 (69 W)
Also on hand: Daryle Ward, Scott Eyre, Angel Guzman, and of course the oft-injured Kerry Wood and already-out-for-the-season-again Mark Prior.
Eventually, after two years of significantly underperforming their EWSL, it was inevitable that the Cubs' expectations would drift down to meet their performance. That should end now that I'm no longer listing Prior and Wood anywhere on their depth chart (not that Wade Miller is Mr. Durability). They have shored up some of their weaknesses by importing pricey 30-somethings, but while Soriano will help them for some time (aside from his outrageous price tag), the long-term future around the core of Zambrano and Ramirez is with Hill, Pie, Murton, and Theriot. And Pie is still a raw youngster while the latter two have much to prove to show that they are more than just useful role players.
Win Shares aren't out yet, but Rich Hill is probably closing in already on that 5 Win Shares figure. As I have noted several times, Hill just clicked at the start of last August after getting pounded in 2005 and early 2006, and now looks like a coming frontline starter.
Lee is having an odd year that suggests a guy whose wrist is not quite 100% back but compensating well - he's batting .392 with a staggering 14 doubles in 24 games, but has only gone deep once. The homers will doubtless come, and it's good to see him back.
Raw EWSL: 154 (51 W)
I try to avoid the subjective adjustments with pitchers, who are inherently unstable when projected out to higher innings totals, but Gorzelanny, like Rich Hill, should easily surpass that 3 WS total. I did give a 2-WS subjective bump from 6 to 8 to Duffy to reflect increased playing time. I could have listed Jonah Bayliss or John Wasdin instead of Chacon, but Chacon is a little more estaablished than Bayliss and the Pirates already list a lot of unproven young pitchers.
Pittsburgh has little to be excited about beyond Bay on the offensive side, though an optimist would say that the next few years should be solid ones for LaRoche, Sanchez and Paulino. What we will know a lot better after this season is whether the Pirates have any real gems among their young arms - Duke, Snell and Gorzelanny have all given flashes (even Maholm, in late 05), and all four are 24 or 25, plus Capps is 23 - there ought to turn out to be somebody there with more upside than the last few generations of young Pirate hurlers, which gave us only Jason Schmidt and Denny Neagle as front-line starters (the jury is still out on Oliver Perez), and neither of those guys originally came out of their system. You'd like to see someone here better than the Kris Bensons and Kip Wellses of the world. Certainly the Pirates' fans deserve better.
Raw EWSL: 191 (64 W)
Others on hand include Chad Moeller, Rheal Cormier, Bill Bray, Joe Coutlangus, the injured Eddie Guardado and Gary Majewski, and AAA flamethrower Homer Bailey, who like Gallardo is pitching well and likely to arrive this season.
The Reds, as so often has been true in recent years, seem less than the sum of their parts. Some of that is lack of pitching depth (though Harang and Arroyo are the best 1-2 punch they have had since the days of Jose Rijo). Some is that the parts are less than they seem - guys who are no longer the stars they were (Griffey), guys who are stuck in reverse (Dunn) or have never lived up to promise (Milton) or have yet to prove they can do it twice (Phillips, Encarnacion, Ross). They don't look like an awful team, though probably between Cincy, the Cubs, the Astros and the Pirates somebody will run off the rails.
You know, the first time I saw the name "Norris Hopper," before I knew anything else about him - position, skills, track record - I thought "speedy outfielder." Some guys really are exactly who they sound like.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:10 PM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 30, 2007
BASEBALL: Park Violation
So El Duque heads for the DL (disappointing, but this happens with him) and Chan Ho Park comes up. Park has a 7.29 ERA at AAA New Orleans and has allowed 6 home runs in 21 innings. What is odd is bringing him up when teammate Jorge Sosa, also an experienced major league starter of at best uneven recent accomplishments, has a 1.13 ERA there and a 29/4 K/BB ratio. I mean, I don't trust either of them but for a short-term assignment I'd rather pick the hot hand.
UPDATE: Commenters point out that Sosa just pitched and thus the choice of Park is dictated by availability. Of course, if Park gets bombed the Mets may need to rethink their choice if El Duque is out a while.
April 25, 2007
BASEBALL: The Natural
Sixth home run of the young season tonight, and in less than full time play (at last check, he is slugging .723), for Josh Hamilton, the Lloyd Daniels of major league baseball. That's just so impressive for a guy who was away from the game for over three years and counts 23 games at AA in 2002 as his only prior experience above A ball.
BASEBALL: Hunter Becomes Hunted
In light of the Torii Hunter situation, I think what MLB needs to do is retroactively clarify the rule to apply a lower punishment for minor violations. The current punishment is disproportionate to these facts - you can't suspend Hunter for three years. At the same time, if the rule is on the books you have to enforce it, and can't be selective about it. And while the punishment seems especially draconian for a guy who apparently didn't even know of the rule (I'd never heard of it before), I'm not at all comfortable writing into a prophylactic rule of this nature an "out" for guys who claim they didn't know.
This is off topic but this is another reason I've long thought the campaign finance laws were a farce. Back in the 90s, both Newt Gingrich and Al Gore (and they weren't the only ones, witness Tom DeLay's legal difficulties) got in trouble for rather technical campaign finance violations. In both cases their supporters argued that (1) such technical violations couldn't possibly be grounds for prosecuting such important elected officials, (2) they could not have known they were breaking the rule, there was no controlling legal authority, and (3) those laws hadn't been enforced in that way in the past (in Gore's case an 1886 statute nobody'd ever been prosecuted under). Regardless of the merits of the two cases, it seemed to me then and still does that if the laws are vague or technical enough, or the penalties disproportionate enough, that you would blanch at throwing an important person you support in the slammer for breaking them, then they have no business on the books. The same goes here - if you don't think Torii Hunter should be suspended for three years over a couple cases of champagne, change the rule.
PS, Hunter was making good on something he had said last year - did MLB know then, and if so why didn't anyone warn him?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:39 PM | Baseball 2007 | Politics 2007 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Please Put Away Your Tickets
The Mike Pelfrey Bandwagon is not leaving the garage for some time.
Pelfrey has good velocity and he's generally around the strike zone, but until he improves his command within that area and develops a reliable strikeout pitch, he's still a ways from being a dependable major league pitcher. I'm not saying the Mets should pull the plug just yet; Pelfrey is still a significant talent, he's got learning he needs to do sooner or later, and the alternative options are no better.
BASEBALL: Happy Endy
You know, I'm not the biggest fan of the Endy Chavez type of ballplayer, the guy who doesn't hit for much power, doesn't draw many walks, doesn't consistently hit .300, and is a good but not great glove man and base thief. Players like that don't make good regulars, and managers often seem tempted to give them too much playing time.
That said, it's almost impossible to dislike Chavez himself, and a guy like this can be a very valuable fourth outfielder, with his ability to cover all three outfield positions defensively and play small ball in the late innings of close games. Last night we saw the classic example of that - I have been watching baseball all my life and can't ever remember seeing a guy get a walk-off RBI by bunting with two outs.
I was thinking this morning that the Mets have actually had a fair number of Chavez-like fourth outfielders in recent years - Mookie (from 1985 onward), Darryl Boston, Joe Orsulak, Timo Perez, Darryl Hamilton. Ryan McConnell is thinking along similar lines, asking if Endy is the best role player in Mets history.
April 20, 2007
BASEBALL: Being Manny
Fascinating profile of Manny Ramirez in the New Yorker, built - predictably enough - around the unknowability of Manny. There's a lot in here I had not read before, from the fact that Manny doesn't keep track of the count except to know when there are two strikes and named his first two sons by different women Manny Jr. to what Dan Duquette is doing now (running the Israel Baseball League). David Ortiz also doesn't exactly mince words about Manny. Manny clearly works extremely hard, and follows one of the cardinal rules of baseball eccentrics, which is to tell different stories to different reporters when he speaks at all. The piece does leave out the time Manny cost the
Ben McGrath writes that Boston writers "cover baseball the way affairs of state are covered in Washington," which I would amend to say that the Boston sports media is probably best described as like the political media in a town where all the elected officials belong to one party and all the writers to the other one.
BASEBALL: Day at the Fens
April 19, 2007
BASEBALL: Best Pitchers in Baseball 8/1/06-4/18/07
An interesting slice. I would not have picked Pettitte as #1. Note that tonight's Cubs starter, Rich Hill, looks to extend his string of elite pitching.
BLOG: 4/19/07 Quick Links
*There's a fair number of debates from the Virginia Tech shooting I don't have time to weigh in on now (there's the gun control issue; Glenn Reynolds aptly summarizes the case for less of it here, there's the university's reaction time, and there's the appalling spectacle of NBC News broadcasting the killer's videotape), though it seems the most important question is why it was so hard to get the killer out of circulation or at the very least on a list of people who should not be permitted to buy firearms, when he was giving off every sign of being a potential danger to himself and others and everyone around him saw those signs and several people tried to do something about it.
In all the horror I did find one moment of a little levity from this quote:
Briettney said her friend, who was shot in the knee, buttocks and shoulder, was expected to be all right. "The one day he goes to class, he gets shot three times!"
*All three of my fantasy baseball teams have Felix Hernandez. This is not good news for any of them. Perhaps letting him throw a 111-pitch complete game on a cold April night in Fenway in his last start was not such a good idea.
*I definitely did not see a Mark Buehrle no-hitter coming. The past four years, Buehrle has finished second, second, first and first in the AL in hits allowed.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:41 PM | Baseball 2007 | Basketball | Blog 2006-14 | Law 2006-08 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 18, 2007
BASEBALL: Good Start
Top of the sixth in Florida.
Mets, 8 runs, all charged to Dontrelle Willis, who was left in to finish the 5th even after allowing the last two runs.
Marlins, 0 hits.
UPDATE: John Maine pitches the sixth inning, Marlins' hit total does not change. Maine has thrown 85 pitches.
UPDATE: Miguel Cabrera leads off the seventh with a hit. 45 years later, the Mets still have never had a no-hitter.
April 17, 2007
Mark my words, before this season is out, Henry Owens will be the Marlins' closer. Owens has tough stuff and is off to a fine start, while Florida's imported closer, Jorge Julio, has been lit up like a Roman candle in the early going (19.06 ERA after this evening's shellacking). I give Julio until August at the lastest, but if he doesn't get untracked we could be talking May, not August.
BASEBALL: Might As Well Jump
In case you missed it when Bill Simmons linked to it last week: the YouTube video of Joey Gathright jumping a car. If Gathright was any good, the Royals would probably have a stroke watching this, but as it is, it's just entertaining.
He may not be much of a hitter, but Gathright is clearly one heck of an athlete.
April 16, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 NL West EWSL Report
The fifth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here; my AL Central preview is here, AL West is here, and NL East here.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Raw EWSL: 220 (73 W)
Also in the mix: Hong-chih Kuo, if he can get healthy, should be in there with Billingsley and the veteran Hendrickson to step into the rotation. Prospect Andy LaRoche is close to ready at 3B. Also Jason Repko, Yhency Brazoban, Tim Hamulack, and Ramon Martinez.
The Dodgers are unlikely to score as many runs as last season without JD Drew and Kenny Lofton's contributions (Gonzalez is nearing the end of the line, and Juan Pierre in his prime is still a poor offensive substitute for Lofton even at his advanced age, though he will compensate a bit with his glove for Lofton's terrible defense in CF), so much will ride on the health of veterans Garciaparra and Kent and the productivity of last year's booming rookie class (Ethier, Martin, Kemp, James Loney, as well as Billingsley, Kuo, Saito and Broxton on the pitching staff). On the other hand, the bench is deep. Dodgers are the clear though not heavy favorites in the West.
San Diego Padres
Raw EWSL: 198 (66 W)
The Padres have their own age issues with Brian Giles, Cameron, Maddux and Hoffman. Obviously the bullpen is deep and off to a flying start, as among other things we will see whether Heath Bell finally makes good on his abilities. I would expect Cruz to take Sledge's job at some point. The key guys on this team may be Marcus Giles and the slugging Kouzmanoff, who have the ability to create a powerful offensive infield, especially if San Diego can squeeze a little more out of the 27-year-old Greene. I expect Peavy to rebound strongly from 2006; nothing in his numbers last season reflected a real falloff in ability, just a failure to perform to standards.
Raw EWSL: 175 (58 W)
Also on hand: Cory Sullivan, Denny Bautista, Tom Martin, Taylor Buchholz. I suspect that Colorado will have no better luck with Affeldt and Bautista than the Royals did; those guys need to get attention from someplace that isn't one of the two worst franchises in baseball to pitch for.
No, I don't actually expect Colorado to finish ahead of Arizona, but if rookies Ianetta and Tulowitzki live up to their projections from minor league success, the Rockies will have a very deep lineup; playing in Colorado you really need to lead the league in runs scored to finish much above .500, but this team could do that. The only offensive holes should be Matsui (who is hurt already, what a surprise) and Taveras. The rotation is also not as bad as some Colorado staffs of the past, though there's nobody here you would be happy to start in a posteason game.
The deal that was built around Jason Jennings for Taveras is an interesting one, philosophically. Jennings was the Rockies' ace, and he's pitched well already with the Astros, but is also missing time this week with elbow tendinitis, lending credence to the idea that Coors ages pitchers in dog years. Taveras is basically a poor man's Juan Pierre, one of the fastest men in the game brought in almost solely for the value his glove will bring in Coors' cavernous center field. This deal could be a disaster, or it could work if you think that Jennings is damaged goods or that the value of good center field defense in Coors (given how many potential extra base hits are put into play) is a core survival issue for the team.
If you believe the latter, however, why would you employ a 42-year-old Steve Finley?
Raw EWSL: 146 (49 W)
Micah Owings has pitched well in the rotation so far, and also on hand are JD Durbin and Brian Barden. I gave subjective bumps up for Drew (from 8 to 11) and Hairston (from 1 to 9) to reflect increased playing time/opportunity.
EWSL punishes the D-Backs for the lack of star power in their lineup (my guess is that Chad Tracy has an up year this year with the bat, Hudson and Byrnes have down ones), a lack of depth in proven quality pitchers, and the heavy mileage on Johnson, Hernandez and Davis. Hairston is something of a wild card but once healthy, Quentin will get playing time from someone.
San Francisco Giants
Raw EWSL: 215 (72 W)
Tod Linden is also on hand at present, and star pitching prospect Tim Licencum should make his presence known later. The Giants' rebuilding/youth movement is well under way in their rotation - Cain, Lowry, and Licencum should provide plenty of upside in years to come, with Zito (still under 30 and signed for 7 years) anchoring the staff. I expect a good year from Zito, with the switch of leagues probably making 2007 the best season of his outrageous contract.
Beyond the rotation, evidence of the rest of the Giants' roster can be obtained from archaeologists - I mean, look at the age of their double play combination and their outfield. In fact, that age alone makes me more skeptical about Zito and the other starters (although last year's Giants barely missed second in the NL in defensive efficiency on balls in play, and thus far this season they are not too far from last year's pace, albeit well behind the league). There is simply no sign that San Francisco has even started the rebuilding job in the lineup, which is why it should be years before they can field a strong contender. The quality of their young pitchers contrasted with the deperate state of their lineup makes the decision to commit all those resoruces to Zito all the more bizarre.
The best they can hope for is a solid showing in a tight division where nobody wins 90 games. And, as usual in recent years, if Bonds goes down the Giants plunge deep into the cellar.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 13, 2007
BASEBALL: HGH Doesn't Work?
I have long been skeptical of people who say steroids don't help in baseball; as I have previously explained, for that to be true you have to show either that (1) steroids don't help you get stronger or (2) strength doesn't help you as a baseball player. I don't buy either one.
BASEBALL: Low Scoring
Scoring is way down thus far this season:
For those of you who are picky about such things, the 2006 figures for Avg/Slg/OBP are batting figures, the HR/BB/K numbers are pitching figures. The distinction is irrelevant for 2007 stats since there have been no interleague games yet.
There are a number of reasons why scoring tends to be low quite this early, the main ones being (1) cold weather, (2) extra days off means more games started by #1 starters and few yet by #5 starters, and (3) injuries and fatigue as the season progresses tend to hit pitchers harder than hitters. It's been an unusually cold April, so that is probably a major reason why.
Still, if the trend continues a few more weeks it may bear watching. Note that both batting average in general and home runs in particular are down very sharply, while K and BB rates are largely unchanged.
UPDATE: I see Pinto had the same thought this morning, and compares apples to apples with the scoring through this point last season.
BASEBALL: Today's Trivia Quizzes
1. Who holds the record for most strikeouts (as a batter) while winning the MVP award?
2. Even more endangered these days than the 300-game winner is the 200-game loser. Tom Glavine needs 8 more losses to reach 200; name the only other four pitchers to enter the league since 1970 to lose 200 or more games.
UPDATE: By the way, last night's victory raises Glavine to precisely 100 games over .500 for his career (292-192), and 1 game over for his Mets career (50-49).
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1. Ryan Howard, 181 in 2006. The previous record was held by Sammy Sosa.
2. Bert Blyleven, 250 losses; Frank Tanana, 236 losses; Charlie Hough, 216 losses; Greg Maddux, 204 losses. And note that Blyleven and Hough started in 1970 and Tanana in 1973.
« Close It
April 11, 2007
BASEBALL: Early Yet
But in his matchup with Dice Matsuzaka, Felix Hernandez has thrown five innings against the Red Sox. And the Red Sox do not have a hit.
I should add that he has also not allowed a run, unlike Oliver Perez who left tonight's game having allowed three runs on one hit - and 7 walks.
UPDATE: Seeing as how I have King Felix on all three of my fantasy teams, I'm not exactly excited by the possibility of him trying to throw a complete game on a cold night in April in Boston. Then again, he is pitching on 8 days' rest due to the snowstorms in Cleveland. But say this much, Matsuzaka's first two starts have produiced plenty of drama in the matchups.
UPDATE: Six innings. Cerrone must be envious. Somewhere, Bob Murphy is too.
UPDATE: Felix gets Youkilis, Ortiz and Manny up next in the seventh. This is the big test.
UPDATE: He gets Ortiz and Manny. Wow. Felix has thrown 85 pitches, so he should at least go 8.
UPDATE: JD Drew breaks it up to lead off the 8th.
UPDATE: Hernandez finishes with a 1-hit shutout, throwing 111 pitches and finishing by striking out Youkilis with Ortiz on deck.
April 9, 2007
BASEBALL: Don't Believe All The Hype
Royals super-prospect Alex Gordon is hitting .050.
Will Gordon be a great player? Quite possibly. A good one? Quite likely. Will he be the AL Rookie of the Year? He's still as likely as anybody.
For all that, a reminder that jumping from AA to the big leagues isn't a seamless transition. Gordon should still have a fine year on the way to a fine career, and fortunately for him the Royals are likely to be patient with him and not bail after a bad week or two, but it's not really that unlikely that he will be hitting .225 at the All-Star Break, either; it happens to the best of rookies. (Here's just one example that pops to mind of a great hitter who had some early struggles in a fine rookie season).
BASEBALL: Making 'Em Count
Highly touted D-Backs rookie Chris Young is struggling mightily at the plate, batting .192/.346/.214 - but has driven in 9 runs in 7 games.
BASEBALL: No Dice
The Hated Yankees can't be happy with their starting pitching thus far - five games into the season, they have yet to have a starter throw more than 5 innings or allow fewer than 4 runs, and against Tampa and Baltimore, no less. The most disturbing performance had to be Saturday's outing by the new Japanese import, Kei Igawa, getting tagged for 7 runs by the Orioles.
On the other hand, Yankee fans and Yankee haters alike will have to stretch long and hard after Saturday's come-from-behind, walk-off grand slam by A-Rod to claim that he never comes through in the clutch. I think I may have run these numbers before, but A-Rod has played 35 career postseason games, and entering the 9th inning of the 23d of those games (Game Four of the 2004 ALCS), his career postseason line was .375/.670/.421 with a 162-game pace for 120 Runs, 113 RBI and 21 SB. His "choke" tag is based almost entirely on the 44 bad at bats that followed.
April 7, 2007
BASEBALL: Switching Hands
BASEBALL: Getting in the Mood
Mike Pelfrey is pitching in A ball today to prepare for his next start against the Nationals.
Do I need a punchline?
April 6, 2007
Since late July 2005, only four major league players have been caught stealing more than 17 times. This in and of itself is testimony to the startling conservatism of major league baserunners these days - the stolen base really is a dying art - but of those four, three have produced prime time steals numbers to offset the cost of running - Jose Reyes (93 SB, 26 CS, 78.1% success rate), Juan Pierre (86 SB, 29 CS, 74.8% success rate), and Chone Figgins (82 SB, 27 CS, 75.2% success rate). The game's other elite base thief, Carl Crawford, has gone 71-13 (84.5%) in that stretch.
That leaves us the fourth player: Scott Podsednik. Podsednik has been caught 35 times to only 50 steals, a 58.8% success rate, including twice in three attempts this season. For any other player, you'd say he should just stop running at that point - but running is nearly Podsednik's whole value, with a .268/.354/.333 batting/slugging/OBP line over that time period while playing left field. If he doesn't shape up on the bases very soon, it may be high time for the White Sox to just stop playing him.
BASEBALL: Blame-Rod and the Rays
The Yankees lose their first game of the season, and as day follows night, A-Rod's picture appears on the back page of the Daily News and the NY Post. Note that two games into the season, A-Rod has singled, stolen second and scored the winning run in the late innings of a tie game only once.
Meanwhile, Elijah Dukes - initially thought to be up just to spot the Devil Rays outfield until Rocco Baldelli healed - homered again, which will undoubtedly increase the pressure and temptation to keep Tampa's second stud outfield prospect in the majors along with Delmon Young and the fully-matured-to-stardom Carl Crawford. Baldelli is too good to go the Wally Pipp route, but this creates an interesting dilemma for Tampa on two levels. First, do you turn Baldelli into a DH? He's a solid glove man but with his health record that may be a necessity. Second, what about Jonny Gomes, who despite last season's injury-marred disaster has as much power and patience as anyone in the Tampa lineup? Do you try to turn Gomes or Baldelli into a first baseman to replace Ty Wigginton, who is a useful sub but not enough of a hittter to hold an everyday job at first? Probably the best bet would be to keep Gomes as the everyday DH for now and hope you can trade him, or maybe deal Baldelli for a serious first baseman.
(Amusing note: having Ben Zobrist on my fantasy team, I was stunned to see he stole two bases yesterday with Andy Pettitte on the mound, but I checked the play-by-play and sure enough one was a steal of third and the other was immediately after Pettitte left the game).
April 5, 2007
BASEBALL: The Early Lead
If you think, as I do, that the Phillies are the bigger threat in the NL East, you may be comforted by the fact that they are already three games behind the Mets.
If not, there's the fact that the Braves and Mets are tied.
BASEBALL: Broom, Broom, Broom
You can't get even in April for a loss in the postseason, but it was nonetheless satisfying to see the Mets dismember the defending World Champion Cardinals this week. It was doubly amusing (given how the World Series played out) to see them undone in significant part by appalling outfield defense (surprisingly, mostly not involving DH Chris Duncan). And the Mets have showcased some solid starting pitching and really tremendous work up the middle by Reyes, Valentin and (of course) Beltran.
It's a long season, but 3-0 and a 2.5 game lead over the Phillies is a good start.
BASEBALL: 2007 NL East EWSL Report
The fourth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here; my AL Central preview is here, AL West is here.
New York Mets
Raw EWSL: 243 (81 W)
I've been super-conservative with the Mets projections, leaving Pedro Martinez, Duaner Sanchez, Guillermo Mota and Juan Padilla entirely out of the picture. Also on hand is sidearming rookie ROOGY Joe Smith to replace Chad Bradford, plus David Newhan, Anderson Hernandez and an unusual number of guys with major league track records or who are as major league ready as they will ever be in the wings: Jorge Sosa, Aaron Sele, Chan Ho Park, Jon Adkins, Dave Williams, Jason Vargas, Anderson Hernandez, and Ben Johnson (Alay Soler, who looked to be in the same boat, was cut in the spring and has been snapped up by the Pirates).
The Mets should justifiably be the favorites this year, despite the fact that numerous key players are unlikely to repeat last season (especially Lo Duca, Chavez, Valentin and Feliciano). They still have the young core of Wright and Reyes, they still have Beltran and Delgado, and the pitching staff, if healthy, should be adequate despite the palpable absence of a legitimate #1 starter.
Raw EWSL: 212 (71 W)
Also on hand on the pitching side: Fabio Castro, Clay Condrey, and at AAA Scott Mathieson.
It's worth noting here that Howard, Utley and Rollins, the Phillies' core offensive players, are (respectively) three, four and four years older than David Wright, Jose Reyes and Miguel Cabrera, who in turn are a year older than Brian McCann and Hanley Ramirez, who in turn are a year older than Ryan Zimmerman (Burrell is two years older than Utley and Rollins). Granted, the key pitchers (Hamels and Myers) are younger than that, but this is not an up-and-coming team relative to the rest of the division; their future is now.
That said, the present looks solid - Hamels and Myers give them the chance to have the best 1-2 pitching punch in the division, the talent on hand is mostly prime-age, and the rotation and lineup have soft spots but no glaring holes. The Phils would be division favorites but for the disastrous Bobby Abreu deal, which leaves them with a significantly weaker outfield than the Mets or Braves, both of whom have an anchoring superstar in center. Even without Abreu, they should give the Mets a serious rival.
Raw EWSL: 145 (48 W)
Also on hand: Cody Ross, Eric Reed, Reggie Abercrombie, Henry Owens, and Nate Field. Jorge Julio has solved the question of who would claim the Marlin closer job, but don't be surprised to see Owens grab a significant late-inning role - the Mets gave up on him due to a single bad outing last season, but Owens has some nasty stuff.
I'm applying the subjective adjustments here downward - Josh Johnson down to 9 WS to reflect his injury status, Ramirez to 27 and Uggla to 22 to reflect the problem I identified with Melky Cabrera in the Yankees comment of over-projecting improvement based upon one single season of play. In Uggla's case, I just don't think he can improve on last season; Ramirez may really be a 36-WS player someday but I don't see him taking that dramatic a step forward all at once. Without those adjustments, this would be listed as the first-place team.
Two main questions linger about the Marlins, those being the pitching staff and the outfield. On the former, Dontrelle Willis will be solid, but we don't know if he will return to his elite status from 2005, and almost everyone else in the rotation is still a seriously unknown quantity. As to the latter, Willingham is dependable but we don't know what direction the injured Jeremy Hermida will go in (Hermida has major offensive talent but hasn't hit the ball with authority in the bigs yet) or what to make of de Aza, the latest center field experiment (the presence of Alex Sanchez should tell you all you need to know about the Marlins' own uncertainty at that position).
My guess is that this is the year that Cabrera becomes a really big time 40+ home run hitter.
Raw EWSL: 182 (61 W)
Also on hand: Pete Orr, Kyle Davies, Mike Hampton (both injured), Chad Paronto, Tanyan Sturtze, Tyler Yates, and Peter Moylan. I used subjective adjustments to bump up both Thorman and Kelly Johnson to 8 WS to reflect the fact that their EWSL numbers reflect very little playing time; 8 is a conservative measure but I try to limit the size of the subjective adjustments when possible, since they are based on pure speculation (plus, Thorman will be platooned with Craig Wilson, while Johnson may well lose his job to Aybar once Aybar is healthy). Either way, Atlanta's offense will miss Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche; I have trouble seeing this as an elite offensive team.
EWSL still projects Francouer, solely on the basis of his youth, to develop significantly; I think that's possible but his strike zone judgment is so terrible that I can easily see him playing his last season as an everyday player around age 25.
On the whole, last season has stripped the Braves of the air of invulnerability that says that we just know that everything will turn out better for them than it looks on paper. Hudson in particular is now just another pitcher trying to make ends meet, and if Smoltz goes down, things get grim indeed. Oddly, the bullpen, last year's Achilles heel, could be an elite pen this year with the addition of Gonzalez and Soriano.
Raw EWSL: 94 (31 W)
I cut down Zimmerman, the most egregious of the 1-year guys, from 54 (!) win shares to a still-optimistic 30, but didn't bother with other subjective tweaks even despite Nick Johnson's injury; basically, this team will have to manufacture wins ex nihilo, because there is nearly no talent on hand with any kind of established track record you could rely on. You have to work really hard to lose 115 or more games - the odds say the Nationals catch some breaks somewhere and end up closer to 108 losses - but the Law of Competitive Balance is pretty much the only reason to think they won't lose that many. This will very likely be the worst team in baseball; there is hope for at least modest improvement in Tampa, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, but not Washington.
The infield will be much better off if Cristian Guzman can reclaim his 2006 form as early in the season as possible, and he appears well on his way. The thumping the Nats took for the first two and a half games of their series with Florida is indicative of the pitching, especially if John Patterson - their one potential quality starter - doesn't have a full, healthy season. It's gonna be a long summer.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:13 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 4, 2007
BASEBALL: Roto 2007, Part I
Apologies for the lack of original content here lately - life has been intervening more than usual. For those of you who are interested, I annually review my Rotisserie draft here on the site. Let's start with the main roto team, drafted March 31 - AL league, traditional roto rules (4x4, 12 teams, $260 for 23 slots, 10 reserves) - for what it's worth, last year's team finished fourth (in the money), though only because two teams dropped out of the money for failing to meet the 1000 innings requirement:
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My pitching looks very solid, my offense less so - while there aren't that many hitters I really overpaid for by more than a buck or two, the collective result of loading up on singles hitters is bound to bite me. Ideally, you don't just want playing time, you want guys who are capable of 20 HR and 70 RBI if they play, and I'm short on those - I'm too heavily invested now in Markakis. If Podsednik and Upton are healthy and hitting a month from now I will almost certainly try to deal Podsednik. Teixeira was one guy I wanted badly (he's on all three of my teams, as is Felix Hernandez; others I drafted on two teams include Lackey, Street, Lopez, Alex Gordon, Barry Bonds, Brad Hawpe, Ryan Freel, Takashi Saito, Matt Cain, and Michael Young). This is the first time I've drafted Pudge, but my older brother got Piazza for $17, which was a much better deal; I'm happier with Buck, who if he can hold off Jason LaRue should give me some good bargain HR and RBI. Stewart isn't that good anymore but should benefit from the injuries to Dan Johnson and Mark Kotsay. Payton at $2 was a bargain I couldn't pass up despite his injuries. I may regret using my last free cash on Pena while Andy Marte and Marcus Thames were still on the board as the last potential HR threats, but Pena is the first option for the Sox if a number of people get hurt (Drew, Manny, Ortiz, maybe even Crisp).
I love my pitching. I vowed not to blow $30 on a closer this year, but had to get Street at $26; he should have a fine year as long as the A's can score enough runs to be competitive. I don't love Verlander but he should be solid: he's healthy, throws 100 mph, throws strikes and pitches for a winning team. How bad can he be? Blanton I'm not a fan of at all, but he will give me innings that might otherwise go to some John Koronka type with a 6+ ERA. Rogers is a crapshoot but a cheap one. There was confusion at the draft (including by me) as to the severity of Lee's injury, but for $3 if he's back by mid-May he should be a steal. Grienke I'm very high on based on his good spring (last I checked he had a K/BB ratio of something like 21/2), and in his situation he was one guy whose spring stats bore close watching - I unloaded my last $7 on him. His teammate Gil Meche went for $5, proving that Roto owners are a flintier bunch of skeptics than MLB owners.
Now, the reserves:
Walker could be a steal if he slides into a Scott Hatteberg-type role as Oakland's 1B, whereas they cut Durazo and I will soon too. I was able to swallow Zambrano, who had an excellent spring, since he was buried in the reserve draft. Unusually, I didn't snag a backup catcher in the reserve draft, but instead loaded up on setup men (Riske is already looking like a guy who will get significant saves), plus Anderson as a warm body to slot in for Payton.
« Close It
April 2, 2007
BASEBALL: Amusing Ad
BASEBALL: Well Begun, Dunn
BASEBALL: Wright On!
NY Magazine has a long profile of David Wright, including how he views Derek Jeter as a role model and where women stand in his life these days:
"I don't want to put them in the same category as drugs, but women can be a ... a distraction," he says. "I have to remember, baseball is the reason I have my apartment, baseball is the reason I'm on the cover of video games-baseball is what I do. I'm not saying I don't ever ... I mean, I go on dates, but I'll just never let something like that become as important as the game. Not right now, at least."
I think I will not comment on that. On the other hand, Wright appears to have lost interest in his blog, not posting since the beginning of the NLDS last season.
BASEBALL: Fun with PECOTA
Baseball Prospectus' team PECOTA projections ($) have the Mets finishing third in the NL East in scoring, well behind Philly and Atlanta, but winning the division on the strength of the third-fewest runs allowed in the National League.
BP is - unsurprisingly, given the conservatism of their projections - projecting a real shortage of quality starting pitching, especially of the 200+ IP variety. You will have to login or buy the book to get the hard numbers, but PECOTA projects only the following starters to meet the most basic ERA/IP standards:
200+ IP, Sub-3.00 ERA
AL: Johan Santana
200+ IP, 3.00-3.99 ERA
AL: Jeremy Bonderman, Roy Halladay, John Lackey, CC Sabathia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling
NL: Chris Carpenter, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano, John Smoltz
100-199 IP, 3.00-3.99 ERA
AL: Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Kelvim Escobar, Rich Harden
NL: Ben Sheets, Cole Hamels, Randy Johnson, Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Greg Maddux
200+ IP, 4.00-4.49 ERA
AL: Danny Haren
NL: Dontrelle Willis, Aaron Harang, Freddy Garcia
200+ IP, 4.50-4.99 ERA
AL: Jon Garland
BASEBALL: Best Record in Baseball
Certainly an encouraging start to the Mets' season last night, and particularly a good start against the Cardinals to beat Chris Carpenter with Kip Wells and - chortle - Braden Looper starting the next two games. It was much better than, say, 2005, when the Mets played a beautiful game on Opening Day only to have it spoiled by - say it again - Braden Looper blowing the game in the ninth in spectacular fashion.
The Mets drip-dripped Carpenter with singles right up the middle in the rally that let them pull away, before David Eckstein finally decided to just plant himself behind second base...some great defense by Jose Reyes last night as well. After his offensive breakout in 2006, one of the major questions of 2007 is whether Reyes can start putting up great defensive stats to match his tremendous tools - his quickness, athleticism and the best shortstop arm in the game. His numbers thus far haven't been impressive by most measures, though if Jose Valentin's bat holds up, it may help to finally stabilize second base - like his crosstown rival Derek Jeter, Reyes has suffered from a revolving door at second including some highly questionable gloves.
The one moment I didn't understand last night: 8th inning, 5-1 Mets, two men on, Joe Smith on the mound, Albert Pujols at bat, Smith throws his first pitch out of the strike zone. Smith throws his second pitch out of the strike zone. And I'm wondering: you have a raw rookie on the mound, a guy with 12.2 career innings above A ball, making his major league debut on the road on national television on Opening Day against the defending World Champions, best hitter in baseball at the plate, tying run on deck in the person of Scott Rolen, the one thing you don't want to do here is walk Pujols - yet, when Smith gets himself into this position, nobody goes to the mound to talk to him. Isn't that kind of what you pay a 35-year-old catcher to do, settle the kid down and focus him on making Pujols hit the ball? Instead, Smith walks him and the Mets had to get Aaron Heilman in the game to get Rolen.
March 30, 2007
BASEBALL: While The Iron Is Hot
The Hated Yankees have named Carl Pavano their Opening Day starter, I suppose on the theory that if they wait 4 more days he might not be available.
UPDATE: I should note that I have been expressing concern about Pavano's durability since April 2001 and May 2002, and warned in November 2004 that he was a bad investment.
March 29, 2007
BASEBALL: Spring Samples
The Mets' decision to give Mike Pelfrey the fifth starter job is, actually, a rare example of a situation in which the team properly considered spring training performance. Let me explain why.
The problem with relying on spring training performance is threefold. First, the spring is just a month - anybody can have a good or bad month. Small sample sizes don't tell you what you need to know compared to the years-long track records most players bring to camp. Second, the level of competition is uneven - especially in the first half of the spring, a lot of playing time goes to minor leaguers, and the ability to beat them may not be as indicative or as evenly distributed as playing major league competition. And third, pitchers in particular in the spring may not mix their pitches the same way they do in the regular season when they are playing for real money - they may be more apt to experiment with pitches and less apt to use their best pitch sequences.
That said, the Mets' fifth starter competition was a perfect storm for allowing spring results to matter. The Mets had in camp two prospects who they planned to make long-term parts of the rotation, Pelfrey and Phil Humber. Also on hand were three guys with at least intermittent success as big league starters - Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele and Jorge Sosa - but whose performance in recent years would not justify making them part of any long-range plan in the rotation. The questions were, (1) whether Pelfrey and/or Humber were ready enough to contribute in the short run and not get ruined by being sent in over their heads, and (2) if not, whether any of the others at least had enough gas to give the Mets 10-15 decent starts before the prospects were ready or before a midseason deal could be swung.
In that situation, it makes perfect sense to let the spring tell you what it can: not who is better than who, but who is in a better groove right now. If Park, for example, was throwing the ball really well in the spring, that may tell you nothing about October, but it might suggest he was primed to have a solid April, and if you get one or two good months from a stopgap solution, that's a thing of value in itself.
As it turned out, the competition was lopsided: the three veterans pitched poorly, Humber got clobbered, and the best long-term pitcher of the group, Pelfrey, was lights-out. So maybe the small sample size was just the same as a larger one, this time.
In other Mets news, as I've advocated it before, I'm happy to see the Mets try David Wright in the #2 hole. Even though Lo Duca turned out well batting second last season, at 35 it's unrealistic to expect him to hit .318 again, and he lacks the walks, power, or speed to compensate if he hits .280.
BLOG: Hooked on Phoenix
I'm just catching up now after a business trip to Arizona; regular blogging should resume soon. I had not been to Arizona before; definitely a new experience for an East Coaster, from the unnaturally clear skies (the moon being visible pretty much all afternoon) to the everything-takes-30-minutes-by-car sprawl.
Also, got to see my first live spring training game, Teusday's Giants-Mariners game that ended 9-8 Giants on a late Seattle rally that wasn't enough to overcome Horacio Ramirez getting pasted. A few thoughts on that. First, as a Mets fan I'm sad to see Ramirez no longer pitching for Atlanta; Seattle is highly unlikely to get equal value after dealing Rafael Soriano for him. Second, up close in person Barry Bonds and Ichiro look even less like big league ballplayers (especially next to a monster like Richie Sexson) - Bonds looks, at most, like a retired athlete, while Ichiro looks like a miler. But Bonds hit the ball with his customary authority (a double that would have been a homer but for a 25-30 foot high center field fence) and seemed to be moving OK, albeit at spring training coasting speed. And third, I never, ever expected to attend a baseball game and see Rey Ordonez play again.
March 26, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 AL West EWSL Report
The third of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here; my AL Central preview is here.
Raw EWSL: 239 (80 W)
Injuries are a huge issue with the Angels right now. Colon is still rehabbing, and Weaver won't be ready for Opening Day, giving Saunders, at least, room in the rotation, and possibly Dustin Moseley. Figgins could be out several weeks. Dallas McPherson is sidelined for a year.
I could have used a subjective adjustment to bump up Kotchman, but then he has an injury history himself, and EWSL is also rating Rivera and Izturis high based on their prior playing time, and the Angels have a lot of flexibility to slide people between OF, 3B, 1B and DH. If Kotchman can't establish himself, Kendry Morales will eat his lunch. Also expect Brandon Wood to enter the picture, probably as a result of Cabrera getting dealt.
I'm pretty pessimistic that a 35-year-old Garret Anderson will produce and last in left; the sooner they get Rivera out there, the better. End of the day, the Angels are division favorites on the strength of their starting pitching - if the starters can get healthy, they will be formidible, if not they don't have the offensive firepower to overcome that loss.
Raw EWSL: 232 (77 W)
It's not hard to be optimistic about the A's when you look in the "age" column - besides Piazza, Kendall and Loaiza, this team's key guys are as close to the sweet spot as any team since the 2002 Angels. A lot needs to go right for this team to win 90+ games, but when you load your lineup with guys in that age range, good things do happen. Dan Johnson is really in a do-or-die situation at age 27, and ought to pay off for the A's if he really has gotten his eyes fixed. Bradley is in his walk year. Crosby, who has stagnated with injuries, is more worrisome.
Also on hand: Antonio Perez, Erubiel Durazo, and a handful of pitching prospects (Jason Windsor, Shane Komine, Dan Meyer) who could step up if Joe Kennedy continues to struggle, as he has this spring.
Raw EWSL: 215 (72 W)
Also on hand: Mike Morse, Arthur Rhodes, Jon Huber, Sean Burroughs.
I have very little faith in Seattle's rotation beyond Hernandez; even if Hernandez makes the Big Leap this season into Johan Santana-land, he will be dragging the rest of these guys behind him. The bullpen is deep, although questions about Putz's health make it look a lot less so.
A stable lineup and rotation heading into March is usually a sign of a strong team, and sometimes even a leading indicator (I noticed the same thing about Detroit before last season). Seattle did come into the spring with players in relatively well-settled roles, and in some cases, as with the double play combination, that can signify a potential strength beyond the numbers on the page. But even if the Mariners are improved in 2007, they still have too few real offensive strengths and a pitching staff with too many big holes to seriously contend.
Raw EWSL: 175 (58 W)
I'm bumping Laird up subjectively to 8 WS. You can call me a pessimist for leaving Sammy Sosa off here despite indications that he will start off the season as the everyday DH, but it wouldn't affect the Rangers' status as the clear preseason favorite to finish last, given their weak pitching and questionable outfield. This despite still having one of the best infields in baseball, maybe the best given the current status of the Yankees and Cardinals.
I expect Teixeira to bounce back this year and Kinsler to step up; Blalock is a more dauting puzzle, reaching the point where he needs to either go forward or abandon hope of making it as a star.
I assume Gagne will still be Gagne when healthy. If there is an upside on this team, it's with Gagne, Blalock, Wilkerson, McCarthy, Kinsler, Teixeira, Botts and Tejeda - come to think of it, a pretty long list.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:02 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 25, 2007
BASEBALL: The End of an Unsuccessful Career
He didn't get on base, he didn't hit for power, all he could do was pick up throws at first base. And yet he parlayed that into a nine year career and made about $11 million dollars. Lee always struck me as someone who possessed talent for the game but not a passion for the game. When Leo Durocher said nice guys finish last, he was talking about Travis.
March 21, 2007
BASEBALL: Headline of the Week
BASEBALL: 2007 AL Central EWSL Report
The second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here.
Raw EWSL: 250 (83 W)
The Tigers feel like last year's fashion, and inevitably a few things will go wrong that didn't last time around; Pudge and Rogers are old, Guillen may be off a little from last year, the team's general lack of plate patience and lack of a true leadoff hitter could bite. But this is still and up-and-down solid team with some real depth (players not shown here include Zach Miner and Brent Clevlen), the addition of Sheffield should help the offense, and the power trio of Bonderman, Verlander and Zumaya are a very stable foundation for the present as well as the future, especially if Zumaya can be moved into the rotation at some point. Bonderman in particular has yet to really put up the kind of ERAs that his K/BB numbers suggest he has in him.
I would imagine that Casey will be sent packing once Shelton gets back on track; certainly the Shelton of 2005 is superior to anything Casey is likely to produce at this point. Which is not to say Casey's acquisition was a bad idea, given the Tigers' needs at the time, but when you take into consideration the double plays, he's really only been a productive hitter once in the past five years.
Raw EWSL: 214 (71 W)
It seems ridiculous to list Mastny as a second-year player with just 16.1 innings of big-league experience, but the man had 7 save opportunities in the major leagues last season (he was second on the Indians in saves), so he really isn't a true rookie. Josh Barfield is probably overprojected here for the same reasons I discussed regarding Melky Cabrera in the Yankees comment, but that is offset by the fact that the EWSL figures for Garko and Marte are lowballed by their half-seasons of experience last year, so I left them all as is.
As you probably know, the Indians underperformed their "Pythagorean" record by a whopping 11 games last year, so they ought to improve just standing still. Of course, it was the bullpen that did them in most of all last year, and while the new pen looks to be a little better, it hardly inspires confidence. If there had been the kind of relievers on the market this offseason that there were entering 2006, you have to figure the Indians would have laid out some serious cash - the Indians were a better team than the Blue Jays last year, by runs scored and allowed, but won 9 fewer games. You do the math and tell me if the money Toronto spent on BJ Ryan would have been a worthwhile investment for the Tribe.
This is probably the year that this officially becomes Grady Sizemore's team, assuming he stays as indestructible as in past seasons. Cliff Lee has been ailing this spring, but if Cleveland's Big Three can stay healthy they should have the starting pitching to run with the AL Central elite. Probably the two most important guys on the team are Peralta, who is still young and needs to show us whether 2005 or 2006 or somewhere in between is his real level of ability, and Sabathia, who seems perenially due for a breakout year if he is healthy. And, of course, the more games they can stand Victor Martinez' defense behind the plate, the better.
One thing I've noticed in recent years is the decline of platooning, driven both by the ability of managers to neutralize platoons by going righty/lefty/righty from their bullpens ever earlier in the game, and by the need to carry fewer non-pitchers to make room for those overpopulated bullpens. The Blue Jays, though - always an organization on the forefront of platooning - used outfield platoons to great effect last year, and the Indians seem set to do the same, with Nixon/Blake and Dellucci/Michaels platoons in the corners. Shin-Soo Choo is also a fine hitter, and may yet surpass the struggling Hee Seop Choi as the best position player to come from Korea. That depth should be more generally helpful and may put their offense over the top.
Raw EWSL: 222 (74 W)
Note that the Twins' numbers may be artificially depressed a bit here for two reasons - Jason Kubel isn't going to produce just one Win Share as the everyday DH, and they actually have two other non-pitchers (Matt LeCroy and Phil Nevin), one or both of whom may make the team, with better EWSL numbers than Kubel and Tyner. Accordingly, I'm using the subjective-adjustment override to up Kubel to 8 WS to reflect that combination of factors, which also has the advantage of breaking the EWSL tie between the Twins and White Sox. I'm similarly using the adjustment to pop Garza up to 5 WS to at least equal what he would project at if he came into 2007 as a pure rookie.
The Twins are a classic "tweener" team - they have the bats to be a winner behind solid pitching, but not to carry a bad rotation even with a good bullpen. Yet, after Santana the rotation is two uncertain youngsters (Bonser and Garza, the latter with only about 200 innings in pro ball under his belt), and two veterans who have fallen long and hard from not being that great in the first place and are only a hope and prayer to be adequate. At least their lineup isn't starting in a self-inflicted hole the way they did last year, but unless they can come up with better starters (giving Scott Baker a shot over Ortiz would be a step in the right direction that they are still considering, but Baker's no more reliable than the other young guys), I can't see them repeating as a 90-win team without Francisco Liriano.
Chicago White Sox
Raw EWSL: 239 (80 W)
The White Sox probably need to stop coasting on 2005 and get Podsednik out of the lineup if he can't keep his OBP above .350 and his stolen base percentage above 70%; he just doesn't bring anything else to the table.
Chicago has another deep bench, and will undoubtedly use it if Anderson can't win back Ozzie Guillen's confidence.
Floyd is a major crapshoot - with him, Jenks, MacDougal, and Sisco around, White Sox fans will get plenty of heartburn. It would not surprise me, if Floyd doesn't pan out, to see Sisco get a run in the rotation. He's still a major talent despite last year's not-entirely-shocking setbacks.
Kansas City Royals
Raw EWSL: 145 (48 W)
On the subjective adjustments, I topped up Ryan Shealy from 6 to 9 WS to reflect a conservative estimate of his value with increased playing time. I considered doing the same for Brian Bannister, but it's better practice not to make assumptions about any pitcher's ability to pitch more than he did last year. They would pick up a Win Share or three if you spotted in Joey Gathright in place of Gload.
Amazingly, EWSL rates the Royals even lower than it did last season, when I was certain that they would lose at least 110 games (they lost 100). In part that's because this team is even younger and its veterans even further removed from their primes, neither of which is really bad news for the franchise, but both of which provide a caution that the revival of long-term optimism that has bloomed lately in KC may not yet be matched by anything tangible on the field.
Mike Sweeney is only 33? He seems a lot older. He's a good guy and a hometown favorite, but it's probably near time to plan for a future without him. As for John Buck, he's only 25 and I still think he has a chance to turn into a decent hitter (he'll need a mite more plate discipline), but I take LaRue's arrival as a sign that the Royals are not unlimited in their patience with Buck. Then there's Angel Berroa, who just sucks the life out of this team on both sides of the ball. Get as excited as you want about Gordon and Teahen, but the Royals aren't getting out of the cellar as long as Berroa is the everyday shortstop.
That said, I do think the Royals will be improved this season - they're much like the Devil Rays (albeit behind them on the curve), developing a bunch of talented young position players under the guidance of a new GM, but without any basis beyond hope and prayer to think they are making progress towards fixing their abysmal track record with pitchers. They probably need to reach into the farm system and bring up people not listed here to get to 70 wins - Billy Butler, for one, and maybe Justin Huber.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:05 PM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 19, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 AL East EWSL Report
The AL East is yet again the first stop in my annual division-by-division roundups, powered by Established Win Shares Levels (EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team (I'm not convinced going to 24 or 25 would make the system more useful, since it would tend to overrate teams that stuff their back bench slots with aging ex-regulars). As always, the depth charts here are drawn from a number of sources and modified to list the guys who will do the work (e.g., if there are two guys battling for a fifth starter spot I'll often list one of them with the relievers if I think they'll both end up pitching), but I take responsibility for any errors. It's still a fluid time for rosters.
The Hated Yankees
Raw EWSL: 279 (93 W)
There is, sadly, a difference between doing baseball statistical studies professionally and doing them in your spare time, and one of them is that when you discover a methodological problem that should send you back to the drawing board, it's too late to change. EWSL more than doubles the Win Shares for a 22-year-old non-pitcher, based upon my experience with 15 such players over the past three seasons. Unfortunately, most of those 15 were guys who were working their way up to a full season of playing time; when the age adjustment is applied to a guy who played regularly for one season at age 21, it has a serious risk of over-projecting improvement. We will see this especially graphically when we get to the NL East.
Here, EWSL values Melky Cabrera as the best player in the AL East. Urk. It's true that Melky's ability to post a .360 OBP, have a nearly 1-to-1 BB/K ratio, and crack 26 doubles in 524 plate appearances at age 21 are all suggestive of a high-quality player who should take impressive strides forward this season. But there is simply very little chance that he will play regularly this year, let alone play a lot more than he did in 2006, and so for the first time (other than a 50% haircut I applied in 2005 to the injured Barry Bonds) I'm applying the Band-Aid solution of using subjective adjustments where appropriate to bring particular teams into line with what should be their reasonable expectations (you can still see and compare the purely objective ratings if you prefer them - I'll flag the players being adjusted with italics). Here, what I'm doing is shaving Melky down to 15 EWSL - still high for a bench player, but he's backing up three or four 33-year-olds (depending whether you think Giambi can slot in at first in a pinch) and a 36-year-old, so he should still get close to 400 PA. (Josh Phelps and Todd Pratt should take the remaining roster spots).
As for the team as a whole, the Hated Yankees' status as favorites may seem as fixed as one of Newton's Laws, but eventually we will find out whether they need to take some lumps like mortals when they can no longer rely on Jeter, Rivera and Posada as their anchors; we'll be asking those questions soon about the latter two. This is an old team - it's been an old team for years and has been shedding the oldest guys only gradually, and (as in the case of Gary Sheffield) replacing them with players who are likewise past 32. We saw last season what risks that carries even when you invest in players with previously bulletproof health records.
That is this team's only major weakness, though there are a number of smaller ones - Pavano's health, some questions about the bullpen and the bench beyond Melky, Minky's bat (although he'll be useful if he's platooned and hits like he did in 2006) - and there are young pitchers on the way, led by super-prospect Philip Hughes. Even with Cano sliding back a bit in his batting average and Jeter likely to return to his usual self, this team will score loads of runs and should have adequate starting pitching to take the AL East.
Boston Red Sox
Raw EWSL: 245 (82 W)
I've adjusted Matsuzaka, as a very high-quality foreign entry, up to 10 EWSL from the usual 5 for rookie starting pitchers. Valuing Matsuzaka at 10 and Kei Igawa at 5 may still be conservative, but you can rarely go wrong being conservative with rookie starting pitchers, whatever their pedigree, and especially in the American League.
The BoSox have two things going for them as against the Yankees. On the one hand, they have more upside from their established performance levels - any of their front four starters could be outstanding, with their ace, Schilling, perhaps having the lowest odds of a big leap forward (a lot has happened to him since 2004). JD Drew could always be healthy and rip off a "Lynn in 79" season. Piniero could turn his value around, freed of the workload of a starting pitcher. Crisp could have a huge year at age 27 after last season's regression.
On the other hand, the Sox have more depth, at least in the lineup, to withstand injury; Cora, Hinske and Pena give them more credible alternatives than the Yankees, who can only play Melky at one position at a time. Bullpen options besides those shown here include Craig Hansen and JC Romero (I still wouldn't bet against Hansen ending up the closer by mid-season; Piniero hasn't impressed this spring). Backups in the rotation are more questionable, as one wouldn't want to bank on Matt Clement or Jon Lester being ready to go any time in 2007, and that leaves us last year's collection of failed emergency options.
Overall, though, the Sawx are most likely competing for the Wild Card. The rotation could unravel due to health issues; Father Time could finally make some inroads on Manny at age 35, immaturity not being a defense to aging. Even if neither of those things happens, they don't have the guns to run with the Yankees unless the Yankees really get the aging bug badly or the Sox' rotation steps up in a big way.
Toronto Blue Jays
Raw EWSL: 217 (72 W)
I don't recall if Bill James ever formally listed the signs of a bad organization, but you would think that employing Royce Clayton as an everyday player (at age 37!) would qualify. JP Ricciardi is a smart guy, but if there's a method to that particular madness it eludes me.
Lind was sent down to AAA on Saturday, but I still expect him to play a big role in the outfield, as he's a serious hitter. Remaining roster slots should go to John McDonald, John Hattig and Jason Smith, or possibly Sal Fasano. Several experienced starting pitchers are on hand as additional options, including Josh Towers, Jon Thomson and Victor Zambrano, plus a bunch of the young arms who got exposure last season. I expect League to contribute more than EWSL suggests, and he could well be preferred over Frasor as a primary setup man.
The Jays, like the Sox, could exceed reasonable expectations if their starting pitching stays healthy and steps forward, but even if that happens and Frank Thomas is healthy, these guys will be hard pressed to match last season's 87 wins.
Raw EWSL: 214 (71 W)
Nick Markakis, by the way, is precisely the kind of player EWSL's sharp upward slope for very young regulars is based on - he was in and out of the lineup in the first half last season due to his mediocre performance, but picked up his power stroke in the second half, and anyone who saw him play after the All-Star Break expects significanly better full-season numbers from him in 2007. By contrast, Corey Patterson's EWSL hasn't changed a whit from last year, as he is basically topping out.
The Orioles' lineup is wall-to-wall adequate, but Tejada and perhaps Markakis are the only star-level contributors, and Tejada may yet break Jim Rice's single-season GIDP record. And the starting rotation, even with Bedard progressing nicely and the talented Loewen not far behind, is basically a burnt offering to Leo Mazzone. The Orioles will perform respectably for a fourth-place team, but have little to recommend them as anything more.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Raw EWSL: 108 (36 W)
There's a saying about Brazil that it's the country of the future and always will be . . . so it seems with Tampa, which has done a fine job scouting talented youngsters (at least non-pitchers) but never seems to yield much in the win column.
This team should not be as terrible as its EWSL profile suggests, even with a subjective adjustment of Ben Zobrist from 2 to 7 EWSL to account for the fact that he has a steady job. The profile of Tampa's lineup looks a lot like last year's Marlins, no track record but a fair amount of talent. Of course, your guess for the Dan Uggla in this picture is as good as mine, and I don't see a Josh Johnson even if Kazmir plays Dontrelle...basically, the Rays should score a decent number of runs, especially if Upton slots in somewhere as a regular and shakes off 2006's apathetic performance with the bat, but there are too many question marks, too little patience and power here to make a really to-flight offense even if everything goes right, and too few credible major league pitchers (even trying the control-challenged McClung as a closer is a sign of desperation) to project them at much more than 75 wins as a best-case scenario.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
March 16, 2007
BASEBALL/WAR: True Confessions
Been busy doing baseball stuff with my free time instead of posting, but here's a quick thought: there's a common thread in the recent confessions of Pete Rose (who admitted betting on the Reds every day) and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (who started off confessing to terror plots and ended by admitting responsibility for everything but killing JonBenet and shooting J.R.).
Ordinarily, we view confessions as credible because, in legal parlance, they are against interest - you usually don't confess falsely (unless you are crazy or seeking attention) to something bad.
Here, though, there are reasons to suspect that both men might be overstating their culpability for reasons strategic. In Rose's case, a manager betting on his team every night is actually less troublesome than betting on them selected nights, for a variety of reasons ranging from more even and rational use of his pitching resources (i.e., not burning out his pitchers one night to the detriment of a game he's not betting on, or resting Eric Davis when he has no money on the line) to not signalling other gamblers by his selections. Of course, Rose used his bullpen as if he had money riding on every game, to the arguable detriment of the team. (More on Rose here from back in 2000 when I was still in the BIll James-influenced camp of Dowd Report critics - although I still stand by the analysis of why Rose belongs in Cooperstown).
In Muhammad's case, the incentive issue is a different one - he's been held in sufficient isolation for long enough that he really can't have any idea which of his fellow jihadists have been captured and which have not, so it's in his interests - given that he knows we know enough about his culpability to hold him indefinitely anyway - to claim as large a role as he can for himself and by doing so avoid implicating additional people who might be at large, beyond those he's already given up.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:16 PM | Baseball 2007 | War 2007-14 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
March 12, 2007
BASEBALL: The Baseball Economist
This Thursday, a new title aimed at the analytical-minded baseball fan will hit the shelves: The Baseball Economist, by J.C. Bradbury, who writes the Sabernomics blog. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of the book.
Now, I will admit, first of all, that I find "business of baseball" issues dreary and depressing (that's one of the two reasons I rarely write about them here, the other being that my law firm does too much work for companies engaged in the business for me to discuss them without wading into a hornet's nest of conflicts). Something like a third of this book is devoted to "business of baseball" issues, and I have thus far only skimmed those parts. Your mileage may vary as to your interest level in the topic.
The title notwithstanding, though, the book isn't principally a book of economics but a book applying the analytical tools used by economists to statistical and other data about baseball. On the whole, I found the book incisive and well-written, as you would expect from Bradbury. Probably the best chapter (the book is basically a collection of 16 essays on distinct subjects) was a careful study of the case for Leo Mazzone for the Hall of Fame. There are also particularly interesting reviews of manager lobbying for ball and strike calls (using a comparison of data from Questec and non-Questec parks) and the demise of left-handed throwing catchers.
The book isn't perfect; as tends to happen sometimes with sabermetric authors trying to figure out what to write for general vs. experienced audiences, there's a chapter called "How to Judge a Hitter or a Pitcher," most of which will be old hat to most people who have read a Bill James or Rob Neyer book along the way (which is most of the people who will buy this book). Then again, as I said I'm probably giving short shrift to the economic stuff in here. For those of you looking for a thoughtful supplement to your annual baseball reading list, check it out.
March 9, 2007
BASEBALL: BABIP Where?
Alex Carnevale at Baseball Prospectus looks at seasonal variation in batting average on balls in play for hitters. It's a good writeup, but fails to address two issues:
1. Doubles and triples. Are they equally variable year to year as singles, which we know tend to vary more annually even for hitters than other hitting skills?
2. Home parks. It's funny, everybody with any sabermetric background knows to apply home field adjustments to a player's overall statistics, but suddenly we forget that when doing partial statistical analyses like BABIP. Is BABIP more, or less, affected by home parks than other components of offense? Carnevale doesn't say, and I suspect probably it is affected quite a bit. I ask this in particular because he identifies Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado as two players likely to improve this season because they had lower than usual BABIP last year - but every Mets fan knows that Beltran and Delgado had massive home/road splits, hitting far better on the road, whereas both had spent their careers through 2004 in hitter-friendly AL parks. (Delgado is also 35 and recovering from offseason surgery - fantasy league buyers, beware!).
March 8, 2007
BASEBALL: Swinging Shawn
Cerrone looks at news reports that the Mets are using a computerized program to analyze Shawn Green's swing. I bet if you put Milledge in the box, the program would declare the batter's swing fixed . . . Green could still surprise us, like Valentin last year (in that his power's only really been gone for a year), but my guess is that he will gradually lose his grip on his job by midsummer. Hopefully, Milledge will be ready by then. I'm still more optimistic than most Mets fans about how far away Milledge is from being ready.
March 7, 2007
BASEBALL: Rocker on HGH?
So says this report, albeit supposedly on doctor's orders. Plus, this tidbit about some people in hot water in my old hometown:
Steven and Karen Lampert of Anti-Aging Centers in Nanuet pleaded not guilty in an Albany County, N.Y., courtroom and were released without bail. They are charged with submitting prescriptions to a Florida pharmacy — some "obviously forged" according to the district attorney — for drugs totaling more than $50,000 for people without a medical need.
BASEBALL: Speedy Delivery
Joe Posnanski uses a super-secret version of speed scores to rate the fastest players in baseball, and ranks Jose Reyes #1. (H/T Geoff Young). It's basically "baseball speed," not raw speed, and offensive speed, at that - the fact that Kenny Lofton makes the list and Carlos Beltran doesn't underlines the fact that Posnanski's formula doesn't include defensive statistics (Beltran's stopped stealing bases but he still runs very well and uses his speed highly effectively on the bases and in the field). It's a fun list, and I'd agree that speedy players make the game more fun, even if they aren't always as useful as they appear.
There is a contrarian, Moneyball-ish theory (theory, I say; I haven't looked empirically at the issue) that a guy like Reyes or Carl Crawford is that much more valuable precisely because they are rarer in today's game and thus - in particular - you are more likely to encounter teams that can't stop the running game in the postseason, whereas in, say, 1975 a team that couldn't stop the run at all was more likely to be an unsuccessful team. It's true in general that whenever a skill goes out of fashion, the people with that skill who remain become more useful.
BASEBALL: Buy The Book!
It's the Hardball Times 2007 Season Preview - and yours truly authored the team comment on the Mets. As you can see from THT's list, I'm in illustrious company. The book also has projections and other stuff I haven't had a chance to digest myself. You can buy it in book form or downloadable 184-page PDF.
This is the first time I've directly contributed content to a published book - I was part of armies of researchers on a few legal directories the summer after college and on Lawrence Tribe's Con Law treatise, and I co-edit a chapter pocket part these days in a commercial litigation treatise, but it's not the same thing.
FYI, I'm hoping to start rolling out my preseason previews fairly soon, time permitting.
March 1, 2007
BASEBALL: Let's Play To...46?
Bleed Cubbie Blue has a lengthy and interesting profile of Ernie Banks, rated #1 on the site's list of the 100 greatest Cubs of all time. Via Geoff Young at Knuckle Curve. This part is very intriguing:
Ernest Banks was born in Dallas on January 31, 1931. Or maybe he wasn't -- in the last few years, some unconfirmed research has indicated that he might have been born on that date in 1925. Ernie's mother is still living, aged 95, and perhaps the birth date was altered in order to save her the embarrassment of people knowing she had given birth at age 19.
If Banks actually was six years older than believed, that changes the story of his baseball career considerably. Banks was signed by Buck O'Neill of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1949, was in the Army in 1951-52, and became a major league regular in 1954. If you believe his current birthdate, he was 18 when he started playing pro ball, 21 when he got out of the Army and 23 when he became the Cubs' everyday shortstop, so neither the slow pace of integration nor his military service really cost him much of his productive years in the majors. O'Neill said he didn't really showcase his power until he returned from the military. Then again, once he had a full season to adjust to major league pitching he became a monster, smacking 44 homers at age 24 in 1955 and probably being the best player in a talent-rich National League between 1955 and 1960. But in 1961, at age 30, he moved to first base due to knee injuries and spent a long coda as a league-average hitter at first base. Thus, Banks is recalled as a guy with a long career but a short prime (more on that here in my Hall of Fame middle infielders column).
But replay that story for a Banks born in 1925, and you have a man who was already 22 when Jackie Robinson broke the color line, 24 when he was discovered by O'Neill, 26 when he got out of the Army and 29 when he finally got a regular major league job. That's a guy who lost a lot of productive years, and could well have hit 600+ home runs if not for the artificial barriers of segregation and mandatory military service. It's also a guy who was 36 already when he moved to first base, plenty old enough to be getting out of the middle infield, and was 44 when he had his last 100 RBI season in 1969 (it also means Leo Durocher sent a 44-year-old man out there to play 155 games in a tight pennant race, which would explain still further why Banks, who had 15 homers and 79 RBI at the All-Star Break, batted .233/.391/.281 with 8 HR and 27 RBI in the second half that season, including .208/.333/.245 in September - come to think of it, that was a bad idea even if Banks really was 38).
Anyway, it's an intriguing question about a guy whose career really hasn't had a lot of detailed examination. But there's a lot more interesting stuff in the profile besides the age issue. Read the whole thing.
February 28, 2007
BASEBALL: Bogus Burgos?
Well, we knew Ambiorix Burgos had a live arm and was wild as all get out, but ace Royals beat writer Joe Posnanski (h/t Pinto) offers some specific cautions about Burgos, who he compares to Michigan J. Frog:
He blew 12 saves last year, but that doesn't even begin to describe the agony of watching him pitch. Tom Burgmeier, the old Royals bullpen coach, used to talk about one of his pitchers who had outrageous stuff -- every single time Burgie watched the guy flounder around on the mound he had the same thought: "You stupid son of a b***h, I would have KILLED to have your stuff."
Posnanski also isn't impressed with reports of Burgos lighting up the radar gun in Mets camp:
By the way, what kind of goof throws the ball 100 mph before the end of February? I'm not crazy, right? Isn't this like walking up to a doctor and saying, "Hey, would you mind cutting my ulnar collateral ligament? Thanks."
I don't know if Burgos pitched winter ball, but if he did he's probably loose enough to turn it up to 11. If he didn't Posnanski's right.
The Mets picked up Burgos, like Oliver Perez, largely as a project for Rick Peterson to fix. And yes, that's what they said about Victor Zambrano, though in Peterson's defense, Zambrano was apparently already injured when the Mets got him. If Peterson can turn these two around, he really is as good as his press clippings. I'll take that chance; Burgos is 23, and Posnanski makes it sound like a lot of his trouble is pitch selection and location, and a successful pitching coach for a successful organization may have more luck fixing that, as may a veteran catcher who isn't afraid to get in Burgos' face (the Royals had none of these things - I mean, with their track record developing young pitchers, would you listen to them?). Still, I have to assume there's pretty good odds that Burgos will be as bad as Jorge Julio was last season, and/or will get shipped to New Orleans (no, that doesn't sound right yet to me, either). As for Brian Bannister, Posnanski is right about his smarts but I never saw a sign that Bannister had that much upside as a big league starter.
February 27, 2007
BASEBALL: The Veterans Pick Nobody
Ron Santo and umpire Doug Harvey led the balloting. I generally think Santo is a solid candidate, and Harvey was so respected by the players he was nicknamed "the Lord".
The new Veterans Commitee seems designed not to work, which isn't the worst result but it would be nice to see guys like Santo, Minnie Minoso and Dick Allen get a fair shake. The balloting:
Results of the 2007 Player Ballot (62 needed for election): Santo (57 votes, 69.5%), Jim Kaat (52, 63.4%), Gil Hodges (50, 61%), Tony Oliva (47, 57.3%), Maury Wills (33, 40.2%), Joe Torre (26, 31.7%), Don Newcombe (17, 20.7%), Vada Pinson (16, 19.5%), Roger Maris (15, 18.3%), Lefty O'Doul (15, 18.3%), Luis Tiant (15, 18.3%), Curt Flood (14, 17.1%), Al Oliver (14, 17.1%), Mickey Vernon (14, 17.1%), Minnie Minoso (12, 14.6%), Cecil Travis (12, 14.6%), Dick Allen (11, 13.4%), Marty Marion (11, 13.4%), Joe Gordon (10, 12.2%), Ken Boyer (9, 11%), Mickey Lolich (8, 9.8%), Wes Ferrell (7, 8.5%), Sparky Lyle (6, 7.3%), Carl Mays (6, 7.3%), Thurman Munson (6, 7.3%), Rocky Colavito (5, 6.1%) and Bobby Bonds (1, 1.2%).
February 26, 2007
BASEBALL: Quacks Like The Fonz
Add former Mets All-Star Edgardo Alfonzo to the flock of Ducks who see the Long Island team in the independent Atlantic League as a stepping stone back to the majors.
The article notes that the Ducks are managed by former Cardinals and Yankees pitcher Dave LaPoint, who hopes to try Alfonzo out at second, short and third. Me, I'd guess that the Bluefish got the better of the deal, given that Jacobsen is probably well-suited to Independent League play.
In other news, Bobby Abreu is suffering the ouchies of spring.
BASEBALL: Age and EWSL, 2004-06
The great thing about doing something like EWSL as an ongoing project is that the data becomes progressively more stable over time: I now have three years of results to work from in evaluating how players tend to perform at each age relative to their adjusted Established Win Shares Levels, and thus can have progressively more confidence in the age adjustments I use going forward. For example, the more years of data I have, the less influenced it will be by a single generation of exceptional players born in a particular year.
Let's start with the 3-year results for the non-pitchers:
As you can see, the rapid rise of young players and their gradual fall from age 29 on is a powerful pattern, and one that grows smoother with each year's additional data. 2006 was a good year for 27-year-olds and a bad year for 28-year-olds, so some equilibrium has been restored in that regard from the prior age adjustments showing 27-year-olds flatlining but then hopping up one last time at 28. After age 32, the number of players holding jobs really starts to drop off.
The train wreck at age 35 only grew more pronounced this season. On the other hand, additional data helped bouy up the 40+ year olds, whose numbers got devastated by Barry Bonds' 2005. Here's this year's data on its own:
As I've explained before, the nature of any established performance level will exaggerate the upward and downward trajectory of player aging, since a 25-year-old is still being partly compared to his 22-year-old self, while a 35-year-old is still being partly compared to his 32-year-old self.
Now, the pitchers:
2006 was a tough year for the established pitchers, at least the under-30 set. The one-year sample sizes get really small - for example, Jon Lieber was the 36-year-old starting pitcher, Steve Trachsel and Paul Byrd the only 35-year-old starters. In general, the rule still holds that the pitchers as a group start to fall off earlier than the hitters. The 2006 data:
Overall, as consistent with past data, the age/EWSL numbers are a powerful reminder of the tides of age pulling players down from 29 onward. Which is not surprising: in baseball, as in life, everyone comes up from nothing and goes back to nothing in the end.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 25, 2007
BASEBALL: Waiting for Josh
Josh Johnson may not be ready for Opening Day. Johnson is crucial to the Marlins' 2007 as well as their longer-term future, so it's unsurprising that they're being conservative with him.
February 23, 2007
BASEBALL: EWSL Rookie Adjustments
In Part II of my look back at how Established Win Shares Levels fared in 2006, I'm taking a look at the rookies. Rookies - players with no significant major league track record - present a unique challenge for what is intended as a system for objectively evaluating players' major league track records. As I've noted before, EWSL uses a standard arbitrary figure for all rookies - it does not distinguish between, say, Ryan Zimmerman and Reggie Abercrombie if both are expected to hold everyday jobs. I'd like to add a non-subjective adjustment for rookie quality, but until I can get Major League Equivalency Win Shares (I don't believe they exist anywhere), I have to rely on the facts that (1) bad rookies rarely get everyday jobs and (2) good rookies often fall on their faces.
Of course, the one subjective element of this is my evaluation each spring of who looks like they have a job nailed down. One reason there were more rookies listed in 2006 was because I ran the EWSL rosters later in the year, mainly during April.
Anyway, part of the quest to make EWSL more empirical and less guesswork is that the adjustments - both the age adjustment and the rookie adjustment - get tweaked every year based on the accumulated data I have from, now, three years' worth of results. Let's look at those results:
After 2004, I had split off the rookie bench players by age because guys who break in as bench players in their 30s generally lack upside (the same isn't true of starters, since rookie everyday players age 30 and up tend to be Japanese imports). You can see a steady uptick the last three years in the number of rookies being given jobs early in the season, although bearing in mind that part of that is changes in my own estimation of who would play. Still, there's no disputing that last year had a real good crop of rookies from Day One. You can also see the miserable return from rookie starting pitchers - the good ones, like Jered Weaver and Dontrelle Willis, tend to come up a few months into the season, while with the exception of the occasional Verlander, guys who win rotation jobs early are often there more because of team need than because they are definitely ready.
I'll be using these figures, rounded off (most are pretty close to whole numbers anyway) for this year's adjustments - 11 for everyday players, 4 and 1 for bench players under and over 30, 5 for starting pitchers, 6 for relievers.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:01 PM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
February 20, 2007
BASEBALL: Hope Springs Eternal
BASEBALL: 2006 EWSL Wrapup By Team
As I did last year, before diving into my preseason Established Win Shares Levels roster analyses, I'm going to take a quick look back at last season's. First up is the team-by-team results. For those of you who need a primer on EWSL and my annual roster roundups, go here. A few basic reminders:
*I look at 23 players (13 non-pitchers, 10 pitchers) per team, so an average team should exceed its EWSL due to the fact that most teams these days use between 30-45 players in a season.
*EWSL is an estimate of the established major league talent on a team (adjusted for age) going into a season. It's not a system for predicting the future, although it can be a helpful part of the toolkit (or at least a sanity check) in making predictions of the future.
*EWSL uses a standard figure for rookies (12 WS for rookie everyday players, 6 for rookie bench players, 4 for rookie pitchers (starting or relief)). It does not distinguish between, say, Ryan Zimmerman and Reggie Abercrombie if both are expected to hold everyday jobs. Thus, a team with a lot of high-quality rookies will exceed its EWSL. I'd like to add a non-subjective adjustment for rookie quality, but until I can get Major League Equivalency Win Shares (I don't believe they exist anywhere), I have to rely on the facts that (1) bad rookies rarely get everyday jobs and (2) good rookies often fall on their faces.
That said, basically, my analysis assumes that there are three components to team success: how much established talent is on the preseason roster, how well they perform, and how much production the team gets from guys who supplement those top 23 players with trades, rookies or scrubs. The following table shows the following columns: (1) each team's 2006 EWSL; (2) the actual Win Shares for those 23 players (includes Win Shares earned for other teams, e.g., Bobby Abreu counts with the Phillies); (3) the ratio of column (2) divided by column (1) to show how the 23 players fared relative to EWSL; (4) the team's total actual 2006 Win Shares (i.e., Wins x 3); (5) the team's Win Shares minus those from the top 23 players (in the example above this will include the negative value of, say, Abreu's Yankees Win Shares from the Phillies' "Rest" column); and (6) the ratio of column (4) divided by column (1) to show how the team as a whole fared relative to EWSL. Teams are ranked by that last column:
It should come as no surprise that the Tigers, 2006's big story, rate at the top of teams that exceeded expectations, and that the Cubs land at the bottom of the pile. As you can see, the top teams are something of a mix of teams that had great seasons and teams that had very low expectations - I was a little surprised to see the Reds and Rockies listed, for example. The Mets, on the other hand, did pretty much as expected with their roster but did better than average with guys they added on (although I should note that players overall rated at 0.968 of their EWSL, which will factor in as I re-adjust this year's age and rookie adjustments). The Dodgers rate the highest in that regard, with rookies like Andre Eithier helping out, while the Red Sox, White Sox and Mariners got the least help for their original roster. For the most part, teams that were near the top of this list last year tended to be nearer the bottom and vice versa, but the Cubs were down with the dregs for the second year in a row.
Here are the players among those on the preseason 23-man lineups of each team who were the biggest over and underacvhievers (I'm mixing those who were the biggest ups or downs by percentage or raw total):
Bear in mind again that these are full-season numbers - Jorge Julio, for example, did his good work in Arizona. Derrek Lee had the worst falloff of any marjor league player, from an EWSL of 27 to 4 Win Shares. It doesn't show here but the Rangers also took big hits from Teixera and Blalock.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:59 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 16, 2007
BASEBALL: No Stick
As if the Nationals don't have enough problems, and as if Nick Johnson hasn't had enogh injuries, it looks like the broken leg he suffered at the end of last season isn't healing well: Johnson says he doesn't know when he will be healthy enough to play and thinks it might be June at the earliest.
Washington has to be the odds-on early favorite for the worst record in baseball in 2007.
BASEBALL: No Duca
Paul Lo Duca wants a contract extension; his deal is up at the end of this season. If the Mets are wise, they will proceed very cautiously on this one. Lo Duca is 35, and highly unlikely to repeat last season, when he batted .318; if he hits below .300, his offensive value is minimal, and he doesn't throw well. Catchers past age 35 have a gruesome record, and while Lo Duca was 29 when he made the majors and thus doesn't have as heavy mileage on his legs as some guys (I'm not sure how many games he caught in the minors) you have to figure he's a bad bet long term.
That said, catchers are in short supply, and as Casey said, you gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lot of passed balls. I don't believe that the Mets have anybody in their system who is ready to go, even to share time with Ramon Castro. It's certainly worth considering an extension, but the Mets should not operate on the assumption that Lo Duca is a valuable commodity.
February 15, 2007
BASEBALL: The Real Leaker
It's always nice to be vindicated. When grand jury testimony was leaked from the BALCO investigation, pointing to Barry Bonds and others using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs, lots of people (most vociferously, Bonds' defenders) assumed that it must be, had to be, the prosecutors doing the leaking. I never did a post here on the topic, but I did respond in comment threads when I saw this point made, arguing that it was at least as likely that the leaks were coming from defense lawyers rather than prosecutors. For example, in December 2004, Will Carroll wrote:
My response in the comments:
My sense, though, is that many leaks in high-profile cases come from people lower down in the pecking order (court clerks, secretaries, word processors, etc.) who have less of an agenda and more personal or financial interest in handing sensitive information to reporters. Nothing happens in the law without a whole lot of people seeing it, and you can't watch all of them all the time.
I was too glib there about the law, by the way - a grand jury witness can only legally disclose the substance of his or her testimony, but can't, say, leak whole transcripts, at least not if they got them from the government. Obviously, my mind was heavily on Ken Starr's Lewinsky investigation of Bill Clinton - the leaks in that case almost invariably benefitted Clinton, allowing him to ride out each individual bit of the storm, where if the Starr Report had arrived out of the blue, it would have finished Clinton in one blow.
None of which is to say that prosecutors can't or don't misbehave with leaks - but it's always important to remember that there are just as often incentives to leak on the defense side as well.
In January 2005, CrimProfBlog argued that it had to be the prosecutors or the defense lawyers, and that it was unlikely to be the defense:
David Pinto linked to that analysis, to which I commented:
While David kept his opinions to himself, others were not so shy - TalkLeft's Jeralyn Merritt, for example, asserted, "I rule out the defense."
Now, the truth is out: the leaks came from a defense lawyer for Victor Conte, who - get this - was devising a deliberate fraud on the court by leaking and then moving for dismissal of the charges on grounds of improper leaks, which his motion (including his own sworn false denial of being the source of the leaks) blamed on the government.
Hey, we can all be wrong, but I think this post is a good example of the crow that should be eaten by some of the more vociferous proponents of the "it has to be the government" theory.
BASEBALL: Progress At Last
Good news for those of you who have been waiting for more baseball content on the site: I've finally at long last finished entering all the 2006 Win Shares in my spreadsheets, so I'll be starting soon to roll out my analyses and conclusions from those numbers.
And I suffer for my art: to avoid disrupting the rolling spreadsheets, which are on Microsoft Works, I've put off buying a new PC until this year's Established Win Shares Levels analyses are completed; I've been worried that there may be difficulties in transferring the data to Excel, and I assume that any new PC I buy will have Excel rather than the archaic Works (I got my current PC in October 2000, and it runs on - hold on and cringe here - Microsoft Windows ME).
February 13, 2007
BASEBALL: Koufax by a Nose
One of the cool things about the expansion of David Pinto's database back to 1957 - you can now compare home/road splits back to the 60s. So, when outside of Dodger Stadium, was Sandy Koufax the best pitcher in baseball in 1963-66?
Yes, but not by really so much. Koufax had a 1.31 ERA at home in those years, but on the road his ERA was 2.44 to Marichal's 2.52 and Bob Veale's 2.63, and 10 other pitchers clocked in between 2.71 and 2.99.
BASEBALL: Pay Me Now or Z You Later
Carlos Zambrano wants big money now, before the season starts, or he'll become a free agent. Not hard to see where this is headed, or why - between the out-of-this-world payout to Barry Zito, a solid but manifestly inferior pitcher to Zambrano (but the only other guy who matches his combination of durability and consistent quality) and the Cubs' offseason spending spree, you can't blame Zambrano for wanting his piece of the honey pot.
BASEBALL: Omar's Steal
Kris Benson has a torn rotator cuff, forcing the Orioles to sign Steve Trachsel. I think we can now conclusively credit Omar Minaya with a steal for getting John Maine (and Jorge Julio, since cashed in for El Duque) for Benson. (Of course, re-signing Benson in the first place was a bad idea). For the record, at the time I was in favor of dumping Benson but less than enthused about what the Mets got for him - more here.
Pity poor Leo Mazzone, asked to make a rotation with both Trachsel and Jaret Wright function. If Mazzone can pull this off, he really does deserve to be the first pitching coach in the Hall of Fame.
BASEBALL: Ranking the Pitchers
Studes continues his look at the best of all time by Win Shares Above Bench, this time with the starting pitchers. The results are a little different from my own past analyses, which I probably need to update - he rates Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn and especially Red Ruffing higher than I would (all three benefitted very significantly from great run support).
February 12, 2007
Two notes on the back end of the Mets' pitching rotation, as the pitchers report for spring training.
1. In case you missed it last week, Dave Williams is out until at least May (h/t), which is bad news for Williams, whose principal virtue is being available to pitch. Then again, an emergency starter may be more needed in June or July.
2. The optimist would point out that (1) Chan Ho Park had a 4.29 ERA before the All-Star Break last year, before his intestinal troubles brought him down, and (2) that included a 3.42 ERA against NL opponents. The pessimist would point out that he doesn't get a second shot at a first time back around the league.
February 11, 2007
February 10, 2007
BASEBALL: The Diet Squad
February 9, 2007
BASEBALL: Hank Bauer, RIP
Postwar Yankees star Hank Bauer has died, at age 84. Yes, out of respect for Bauer I haven't even called them the Hated Yankees, for once. Anything and everything that was ever good about the Yankees was true of Hank Bauer.
Bauer was a tough guy, a class act who didn't complain about being consigned to a semi-platoon role (as were many talented Yankees in those days) for much of Casey Stengel's tenure (he topped 600 plate appearances only twice), often sharing time with Gene Woodling. He hit safely in 17 straight World Series games, a record untouched to this day. He was also, as George Steinbrenner put it today, "an emblem of a generation" of ballplayers, the men who came back grizzled and already in their mid-twenties to play big league baseball after the war.
Bauer was wounded at Okinawa, hit in the left thigh by shrapnel in his 53rd day on the island.
"We went in with 64 and six of us came out," Bauer said.
After his playing days, Bauer became a manager, collecting his eighth World Series ring by leading the 1966 Orioles to the first World Championship in franchise history.
"I am truly heartbroken," [Yogi] Berra said in a statement issued by the Yankees. "Hank was a wonderful teammate and friend for so long. Nobody was more dedicated and proud to be a Yankee, he gave you everything he had."
Rest in peace.
BASEBALL: Free Parking
The Mets have signed Chan Ho Park to a 1-year, $600,000 . . .
Aaaaaaaaaaaaa! AAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Run away! Fleeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Sorry. Knee-jerk reaction there. Where was I? Yes, the deal is a $14.7 million pay cut against last year's salary for Park, but it's still a major league contract.
Park passes the "better than bringing back Jose Lima" test, but not much more than that, and other than residual emotional scars from last season's starting rotation fiasco I'm not sure I see what is left that makes Park a worthwhile gamble. He's certainly a step down from, say, a rehabbing Victor Zambrano, though without the Kazmir baggage. Park's strikeout rate isn't terrible, and he had a 2/1 K/BB ratio last year for the first time since 2001, but nonetheless he's been below 7 K/9 for four straight years, so he's not going back in that direction. While he threw more strikes last season (less than 3 BB/9), he also allowed 1.3 HR/9 pitching in San Diego. He did average over six innings per start in 21 starts before being sidelined with intestinal bleeding, so I suppose he should be healthy enough to give the Mets an option that doesn't include rushing one of the youngsters.
I can live with this deal because it's cheap and because the Mets have shown some success from the habit of collecting low-cost castoffs, but I wouldn't be all that hopeful.
February 8, 2007
BASEBALL: Beane Interviewed
Blez at Athletics Nation's latest 3-part interview with Billy Beane here, here and here seems more canned and less informative than past interviews, but Beane does offer a few insights. On the rumors that he was trying to deal a starting pitcher to the Mets for Lastings Milledge:
Blez: There's obviously been a lot of speculation about the A's trading for Lastings Milledge. The rumor has been for a starter like Joe Blanton. I know you can't comment on another team's player, but how comfortable are you with the depth of the A's rotation if you lose another starter, either via a trade or injury? For example, you just traded Saarloos yesterday.
On how and more specifically when the A's new stadium in Fremont will affect their ability to pay more for players:
Blez: The stadium announcement was obviously huge news and while there is still a ton to get done, you referenced the A's being able to keep more of their homegrown stars finally. Assuming everything goes well and we're looking at a stadium possibly opening in 2011, when can fans anticipate the team starting to keep its stars?
Read the whole thing. Beane definitely conveys a sense of calm almost approaching indifference when dealing with the A's postseason struggles. He's optimistic about Daric Barton, more cautious about the returning-from-injury Dan Meyer.
BASEBALL: PECOTA Grab Bag
Yes, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections are out, for all you subscribers. Just a sampling:
*PECOTA luuuuuuuves Lastings Milledge. His best-case (90th percentile), neutral-park projection for 2007? 320/.396/.551 (I'll list these as BP does, Avg/Obp/Slg). His weighted mean projection? .289/.359/.476. In the major leagues, that is.
*Mike Pelfrey? Mean projection of 4.37 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9.
*Felix Hernandez? 3.62 ERA, 7.5 K/9.
*Delmon Young? .293/.336/.474.
*Melky Cabrera? More power, less OBP: .279/.344/.413.
*Joe Mauer? .322/.409/.501.
*Barry Bonds? .265/.437/.541 but only enough playing time to manage 12 home runs.
Plenty more where those came from.
February 7, 2007
BASEBALL: Most Above Average
February 1, 2007
BASEBALL: T-Minus ...
Sure sounds like Roger Clemens, still as effective as any starting pitcher in baseball, is not ready to hang up his spikes just yet:
"I'm failing at retirement," he said. "Let's just face it. I'm failing miserably at it."
Going out before you are totally washed up is a fine thing, but going out when you are still as good as Clemens is overrated. He should pitch again this year.
January 30, 2007
BASEBALL: Get Out Of Jailbird Free
That says it all, doesn't it?
January 28, 2007
BASEBALL: Jeff Weaver Goes West
The Mariners are about to sign Jeff Weaver for 1 year, $8.3 million. For Seattle, the deal makes superficial sense - the gopher-prone Weaver should be the type to prosper in spacious SafeCo, and the situation doesn't have the media pressure of NY or a team with high expectations.
Then again, $8.3 mil isn't chicken feed, and almost all of Weaver's numbers (K/9, G/F, HR/9, IP) were off his career averages, and that's for a guy with a 4.58 career ERA. He's not a terrible gamble to pitch OK this year, but he could well be headed further down. I'm glad he's not on my team.
I mean, the more I think about it: Jeff Weaver is nothing like a guarantee of any degree of quality. The man had a 5.76 ERA this season, at age 29 while apparently perfectly healthy. It must be awfully insulting to be a starting pitcher making less than $8 mil