The Theology of a Baseball Fan

Posted by Dr. Manhattan

I’m not sure I ever posted this story back at my blog, so I may as well use Crank’s space to do so. Besides – as some readers may know – while your host is a devout Catholic and Mets fan, I am an Orthodox Jew and Yankee fan. (I will leave it to the readers to determine which is more likely to lead to tension with this blog’s regular programming.) This vignette illustrates both differences:

I mentioned in the last post that I never gave up on the Yankees this season. That was a marked contrast to 2005, when I gave up on them roughly 50 times (several times after every loss to the Devil Rays, plus a few more after they got killed on a road trip to Kansas City and Milwaukee). After a particularly brutal loss to Tampa Bay that summer, I was grousing to a friend about the team.

How To Get To 300

I was talking to some people about Roger Clemens, and thought I’d take a look at precisely how remarkable it is for a guy who has pitched in a 5-man rotation to win 300 games . . . anyway, what I decided to do was chart out the number of starts and relief appearances made by the 22 men who won 300 games. It’s actually surprising, when you look at the numbers, how relatively few seasons of 40 or more starts the post-1900 300-game winners have compiled.
I left off complete games and innings, which is another issue; I wanted to focus just on how frequently these guys started and relieved. The chart lists career wins, starts, relief appearances, total seasons, seasons of 40 or more starts, seasons of 50 or more starts, and career high in starts (which is how I ranked the chart, from low to high):

Pitcher W GS RA Yrs 40+ 50+ High
Tom Seaver 311 647 9 20 0 0 36
Roger Clemens 341 671 1 22 0 0 36
Lefty Grove 300 457 159 17 0 0 37
Early Wynn 300 612 79 23 0 0 37
Greg Maddux 318 639 4 20 0 0 37
Warren Spahn 363 665 85 21 0 0 39
Gaylord Perry 314 690 87 22 3 0 41
Steve Carlton 329 709 32 24 2 0 41
Don Sutton 324 756 18 23 2 0 41
Nolan Ryan 324 773 34 27 1 0 41
Walter Johnson 417 666 136 21 2 0 42
Eddie Plank 326 529 94 17 4 0 43
Phil Niekro 318 716 148 24 3 0 44
Grover Alexander 373 599 97 20 4 0 45
Christy Mathewson 373 551 84 17 3 0 46
Cy Young 511 815 91 22 11 0 49
Kid Nichols 361 561 59 15 9 1 51
Mickey Welch 307 549 16 13 9 5 65
Tim Keefe 342 594 6 14 9 5 68
John Clarkson 328 518 13 12 8 6 72
Old Hoss Radbourn 309 503 25 11 6 5 73
Pud Galvin 364 689 16 15 11 8 75

A few notes. Lefty Grove won 300 games while starting only 457. Even with his high number of relief appearances, just think about that. In fact, Grove started more than 33 games only once. I was surprised to see quite how few starts Walter Johnson got per year for a guy who won over 400 games despite pitching for mediocre to lousy teams until his mid-30s; granted, he completed a ton of starts (all 29 in 1918) and like Grove, he doubled as his team’s relief ace. In fact, until you get down to Cy Young, there’s really nobody who was a 40-a-year guy for more than a couple of seasons. You can also see here how similar Nolan Ryan’s and Don Sutton’s career totals are.

How You Like Them Big Apples?

So Johnny Damon signs with the Hated Yankees, reportedly for 4 years, $52 million; he’ll be with the Yanks through age 35. I guess he’s not the greatest leadoff man ever after all. And I can’t wait for the day when he and Bernie are in the outfield at once. Opposing teams won’t even need third base coaches anymore.
The $52 million price tag isn’t that bad, given the current market (e.g., $102 million for AJ Burnett & BJ Ryan) and while Damon seems to me to be a bad bet to be worth it by age 35, he will at least provide some solid value. (On the other hand, this is a guy whose OBP from age 27 through 29 was .339, and he’s leaving Fenway for a tougher park – Damon’s batted .310/.442/.383 at Fenway the past four years, .281/.440/.342 on the road). Still, were I the Yanks I would have sacrificed some offense, pursued a better, cheaper glove man like Mike Cameron, and tried to come up with a younger solution long-term.
On the other hand, the loss of Damon hurts the Red Sox more than it helps the Yankees – Damon is, at present, still a very good player – and that’s worth something to the Yankees by itself. With the loss of Damon, the dumping of Renteria, the continuing efforts to deal Manny and the arrival of Josh Beckett and Andy Marte, the Sox are clearly leaning towards a semi-rebuilding mode, as was made necessary by the collapse of Schilling and Foulke.
UPDATE: Lyford thinks the Yankees are way overpaying Damon, given the various reasons to believe he will be less productive the next four years than the last and the fact that he’s no better a leadoff man than Jeter, and rounds up some thoughts from Sox fans. I don’t entirely disagree, but the Yankees’ decision looks wiser when you consider how it hurts the Sox and the fact that, as I’ve noted before, it ought to be a seller’s market for quality center fielders this offseason.
Also, following up on a point in the comments: in his career, Damon has batted an anemic .252/.346/.301 in 63 games at Yankee Stadium, compared to .298/.438/.373 in 66 home games against that same Yankee pitching.

Nomar Goes West

No-maaaaahhhhh signs another one-year deal, this one with the Dodgers. The Dodgers’ infield situation is now something of a jumble, featuring Jeff Kent (2B/3B), Nomar (SS/UT), Rafael Furcal (SS/2b?), Bill Mueller (3B/1B?), Oscar Robles (3B), Cesar Izturis (SS), with Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz apparently platooning at first. Presumably, the addition of both Furcal and Nomar signals the Dodgers’ lack of faith that Izturis will return at all in 2006 from Tommy John surgery. Which is wise; Izturis is at best adequate and at worst horrific with the bat, so it’s prudent to make sure he doesn’t rush back from surgery and damage his ability to make a full recovery as a defensive player, which is his primary asset.
You could argue, I suppose, that given the age and injury history of Kent, Nomar and Mueller, it just makes sense (budget be damned) to have all three of them around and just play whoever is available (especially as insurance if Furcal gets hurt). But if I were Derek Lowe, I’d be heading for the hills; this is not going to be a pretty defensive lineup.
As for Nomar, I fear he’s skipped the “Fred Lynn in Anaheim” stage of his career and fast forwarded directly to the “Fred Lynn in Baltimore” stage. Ask Juan Gonzalez what happens to guys who keep needing to sign one-year deals because their health never holds up, to say nothing of the difficulty of putting up Nomar-style numbers at Dodger Stadium. Still, it should be fun to see if he can pull out a second act.

How Old Is He?

Well, with the Mets signing Julio Franco to a contract that runs through age 48, it’s time to play “how old is Julio Franco”?
*He was drafted by the Phillies in 1978. Players acquired or traded by the Phillies that year included Davey Johnson, Pete Rose, Jay Johnstone, Gene Garber, Ted Sizemore, Butch Metzger and Joe Charboneau.
*Franco was acquired by the Indians in the Von Hayes deal, along with, among others, Manny Trillo.
*Franco’s double play partner in Cleveland, Tony Bernazard, is an assistant to Omar Minaya. Bernazard had a 10-year career in the major leagues and retired 14 years ago.
*Franco is a friend of George W. Bush, who attended Franco’s wedding. Franco is closer in age to Bush than he is to Mets veterans Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado. He’s also older than Bill Clinton was when Clinton was elected president, and the same age as Theodore Roosevelt when he was re-elected as president.
*Franco was born in 1958. Other players born that year include Alan Trammell, Mike Scioscia, Dave Righetti, Wade Boggs, Dickie Thon, Alan Wiggins, Orel Hershiser, Neil Allen, Scott Holman, Tim Leary, Teddy Higuera, Atlee Hammaker, Bruce Hurst, Joe Cowley, Marty Bystrom, Nelson Norman, Dan Petry, Tim Teufel, Walt Terrell, and Rafael Santana.
*Franco is older than Harold Baines and Tim Raines. He’s two years older than Cal Ripken, Kent Hrbek, Andy Van Slyke, Frank Viola and Fernando Valenzuela. He’s three years older than Kirby Puckett and John Kruk. He’s four years older than Bo Jackson. He’s five years older than Ozzie Guillen. He’s six years older than Dwight Gooden. He’s nine years older than Robin Ventura.
*Franco is older than Lawrence Taylor, Marcus Allen, Magic Johnson, Ronnie Lott, Freeman McNeil. He’s two years older than Eric Dickerson, Ralph Sampson and Joe Morris, three years older than Isiah Thomas, Terry Cummings, Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason, four years older than Patrick Ewing and five years older than Charles Barkley and Al Toon.
*Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, Tony Lazzeri, Addie Joss, Ross Youngs, Arky Vaughan, Ed Delahanty, Buck Ewing, Pud Galvin, John Clarkson, King Kelly, Rube Waddell, Frank Chance and Old Hoss Radbourn were all dead by the age Franco will be when his contract is up.
*Franco in 2006 will be the same age Sandy Koufax was . . . in 1983.

Random Trend Line

Noticed while looking up something else: Placido Polanco’s Total Bases the past 5 seasons: 216, 221, 220, 222, 224. And in fairly consistent – the past three years, very consistent – numbers of plate appearances: 610, 595, 554, 555, 551. Polanco’s one of baseball’s more underrated players, a lifetime .300 hitter with a good glove at two infield positions – how many people even noticed him batting .331 this year?

Winter Meeting Roundup

Quick thoughts:
*Well, the Blue Jays are back in the game with the acquisitions of BJ Ryan, AJ Burnett and Lyle Overbay, and they’re not done yet. All are good baseball moves, although spending $102 million on Burnett and Ryan seems like a financial decision they may come to regret, especially given that they’re still basically working towards building a third place team unless the Red Sox go into rebuilding mode, which seems unlikely with the acquisition of Josh Beckett and Mark Loretta.
*Tough times, by contrast, in Baltimore, even with the arrival of Leo Mazzone and Ramon Hernandez; Hernandez creates a bit of a logjam with Javy Lopez, and the revival of the Jays only makes the division more competitive.
*The trade of Edgar Renteria for Andy Marte – which I know will make at least one of our regular readers happy – is a fascinating challenge. If you apply the basic principles of modern sabermetrics, this looks like a heist for the sabermetrically-oriented Red Sox, who unload a player who is expensive, 30, coming off two straight off years at the plate and a terrible year in the field, and has lost a significant amount of speed (his signature skill) in exchange for a 22-year-old who the Baseball Prospectus named as the best prospect in baseball entering the 2005 season. (Marte batted .275/.506/.372 in AAA Richmond this year, unspectacular but impressive for a 21-year-old in what, if I recall correctly, is a pitcher’s park, plus Marte cut his strikeouts as he moved up, a good sign). Even with the Braves needing a shortstop and even given that the Red Sox are eating part of the contract, I have to say that unless the Braves know more about Renteria and/or Marte than we do, this is a steal.
But you know what? They’re the Braves. So there’s a good chance that they do know more than you or I or the Red Sox know about these two players.
*I could live, I suppose, with the Mets possibly getting Mark Grudzielanek (thank heavens they wouldn’t be playing him with Mientkiewicz), if he’s cheap and, ideally, a bench player. But I don’t like the idea. Grudzielanek is 36 and only useful if he bats .300, and players of his type tend to hit the wall very abruptly around 35-36 (Tommy Herr was 34 when the Mets got him). On the other hand, Jose Valentin is my kind of player, a guy who has had great range and made up for low batting averages with power, some patience, and an ability to avoid the DP. But he’s also 36 and batted .170 last season (he also had a huge spike upward in walks, which Bill James thinks can sometimes be a trouble sign for an old player); I don’t want to get the tail end of Valentin’s career just because he was useful a few years ago. Mercifully, it appears that they’ve only signed him to a 1-year deal.
But I’m glad the Mets passed on Bernie Williams. You never know anything for sure in this game, but it’s hard to be surer about anything than that Bernie is done. With little range and no arm, he’s a liability in the field; he’s got minimal power now, and has batted .263, .262 and .249 the last three years. Bernie should retire, but he’s apparently returning to the Yankees, to do what I can’t imagine.
Julio Franco, I like, but a two-year deal for a 47-year-old?
And the Rangers can keep Laynce Nix and his career .285 OBP in Coors Field South.
*Gee, what were the odds that things would end badly for Roger Clemens in Houston, and over money? I still say, as I’ve said for the past six years, that this ends with Clemens trying to go into Cooperstown in a Devil Rays hat . . . much as I hate to say so, Clemens owes it to baseball to keep pitching. You can’t retire while you’re that good, you just can’t.
Now, whether I’d take him as a Met is another matter. I guess I could hold my nose, and it would be amusing to have a Clemens/Pedro 1-2 punch. But in all seriousness, I’d bet it’s probably the Rangers who win out here.
*Alfonso Soriano remains a talented slugger who can play in the middle infield, but his decline at the plate the past two years really has been masked by the park, plus the Nationals are getting him while they still have Jose Vidro, so if they can ever get Vidro healthy they will have to move one of them. I think the Rangers got the better of this deal, adding a guy, Brad Wilkerson, who has power and a lot of plate discipline, although he did have a poor 2005. Wilkerson’s a year younger, and as recently as 2004 hit more homers and scored more runs. I wonder how many fewer pitches opposing starters will have to throw this year by exchanging Wilkerson for Soriano.
More on some of the other moves another day, if time permits. It’s been a busy winter.

Overtaken by Events

First of all, I continue to be tied up with work stuff, so apologies if blogging has been a bit light around here . . . I was going to blog on the Kris Benson for Mike MacDougal and Jeremy Affeldt rumor, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside now.
Still, I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see Benson go:
1. Pedro-Glavine-Heilman-Trachsel-Seo, possibly with Zambrano as a long man/emergency starter, sounds fine to me. They can afford to part with Benson for help elsewhere, say in the bullpen (presumably, they can’t find anyone dumb enough to take Benson with one of the Mets’ other starters for a better starter).
2. Benson’s K/9 rates by month, 2004-05 (Sept. 04 includes one October start, and he missed April 05):

Month K/9
Apr 04 6.16
May 04 6.00
June 04 5.86
Jul 04 5.01
Aug 04 4.80
Sept 04 8.45
May 05 7.68
Jun 05 1.97
Jul 05 6.69
Aug 05 4.33
Sept 05 3.26

Call me paranoid, but especially with Benson’s poor durability record, that severe dropoff the last two months of 2005 scares me. I’m concerned that Benson is a ticking time bomb, and an expensive one.

Johnny O Hangs It Up

For Mets fans, at least, a sad day: John Olerud has retired. Olerud can still play – he batted .289/.451/.344 this season, and he drove in 37 runs, which projects out to 128 RBI per 600 at bats – but he’s really a bench player at this stage of his career, and I suppose he didn’t want to keep playing in that role. Olerud could possibly have been a Hall of Famer if he’d (1) not had a couple of lost years at age 26-27 with the Blue Jays and (2) kept chugging rather than falling off after age 33; his career .295/.465/.398 line is a very solid one, but like Keith Hernandez he was the kind of player who really needed a long career and some milestones to be immortalized.
You’ll never see another player cooler under pressure as Olerud – the guy is absolutely unflappable. Throughout his career, he always had a knack for hitting when the rest of his team was cold. I’ll always remember his crucial grand slam off Greg Maddux on September 29, 1999, giving the Mets the juice to snap a 7-game losing skid in the heart of the pennant race and set up their miraculous run to the wild card, as well as his reaching base 14 straight times over a key weekend in mid-September 1998. The Mets might well have won the World Series in 2000 if they’d kept Olerud, and even with his later struggles at the end of his Seattle contract, they would have avoided the Mo Vaughn fiasco. Olerud’s three-year tenure at Shea left him as the Mets’ career leader in batting, OBP and OPS. At his absolute peak, Olerud was a monster offensive force, a fine glove man, and a calm, steadying presence.

LoDuca To Queens

So, the Mets plug another hole by going back to the same well that produced Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, Dennis Cook and Carlos Delgado, trading in two relatively unknown (to me, at least) pitching prospects at the Marlins’ garage sale for Paul LoDuca. LoDuca’s a solid, unspectacular player, 34 years old now, a lifetime .283 hitter but with only modest power and patience who is owed $6.25 million per year in 2006 and 2007. Not a great pickup in the abstract, but probably cheaper and more durable than Ramon Hernandez and a better bat than Bengie Molina. LoDuca’s no great shakes defensively. One good sign is that LoDuca, like Piazza, comes to the Mets from two NL pitcher’s parks, so what you see on paper is likely to be what you get.
The big decision, of course, is whether to try to ride LoDuca hard in the first half or rest him with a lot of Ramon Castro; LoDuca is just about the most notorious first half hitter in the game, with a lifetime split of .308/.453/.362 before the All-Star Break and .257/.375/.312 after. The question is whether that’s a persistent fatigue issue or just a seasonal pattern. The pattern was nearly absent in 2005 (.286/.375/.338 vs. .279/.388/.328), as he got more time off, which could suggest fatigue, or it could just be a sign of decline that he had a typical second half without the great first half.
I assume that the LoDuca deal, coming on the heels of acquiring Delgado and Billy Wagner, is the end of the Mets’ shopping spree – after this, they may still deal, but not from need and not to acquire new salary obligations to mop up all the payroll room they cleared with the departures of Piazza (who is now definitively not returning at any price), Cameron and Looper.

Billy and Tike

I have to like yesterday’s moves by the Mets. I’ve been arguing for a while that they should prefer BJ Ryan over Billy Wagner, but they simply got outbid on Ryan, and Wagner was certainly the best remaining option. His contract – 3 years, $43 million, with an option of a fourth year pushing the deal to $50 million – is pretty overpriced for a 34-year-old closer with an injury history, but that’s the market right now, and with the departure of Piazza and Cameron, the Mets have money to spend. As with Pedro, if Wagner’s healthy for at least the first two years of the deal he will be worth it.
They also grabbed 29-year-old free agent center fielder Tike Redman, fresh off playing himself out of a regular job with the Pirates. Redman is a weak bat – he should remind Mets fans of Jermaine Allensworth – but he’s reputed to be a good glove, and should spell the end of Gerald Williams’ Mets career. Minaya has done a very good job of getting guys like this to upgrade the bench. Hopefully, with Redman and Nady, we shouldn’t see any middle infielders in the outfield this season.

The Ryan Contract

Well, looks like JP Ricciardi is even more bullish on BJ Ryan than I was, giving him a 5-year, $47 million contract to come to Toronto, the largest ever for a relief pitcher. Ken Rosenthal thinks the deal is nuts, and as enthused as I am about Ryan, I’m half inclined to agree with him – that’s a lot of money for any closer, especially for a team that’s a long way from filling all its other roster holes, and that much money is a lot of pressure on Ryan. I can’t blame the Mets for not matching a deal that big, even if it does pan out well. Of course, I assume Wagner will use this contract to squeeze more money out of the Mets, Phillies and other bidders.

Resuelva los Metropolitanos!

The Mets get Delgado and $7 million for Mike Jacobs and Yusmiero Petit. Some disjointed thoughts on the deal and on other rumored deals:
1. Hey, if the Yankees had traded Kevin Maas for a big established power hitter after 1990, that would have been a good idea. Jacobs’ stock will never be higher. I regard Jacobs as the next Rico Brogna, who came to the Mets at age 24 (same as Jacobs) and batted .351/.626/.380 in 131 at bats, compared to .310/.710/.375 for Jacobs in 100 at bats. Brogna, like Jacobs, could hit for a good average with middling power but had little plate discipline; he had one more good year the following season (.289/.485/.342) but was at best a league-average hittter after that, which is poor for a 1B. (Then again, maybe Jacobs he could pull a Mike Sweeney and take a huge step up with the bat now that he’s not catching anymore; he’s never had a full season where he wasn’t catching).
2. Delgado is a big big improvement over Jacobs. Plus, they get $7 million in the deal – Delgado winds up costing $9 million/year less than Manny would have. Delgado’s comparable players at age 34 include a few pretty scary ones (#1 is McCovey, who batted .213 at 34). If he ages like Fred McGriff, he’ll be worth it.
3. Delgado is worth Petit, although I do think Petit could be a star at Shea. But he’s a pitching prospect with only a handful of AAA innings, and those are always risky. And this way they keep Lastings Milledge, as long as they don’t go and stupidly trade him for Soriano or something. I think it makes more sense to get a 1B than an OF, given the internal alternatives of Diaz and Milledge (and, yes, Nady, who can step in if Diaz falters).
4. Alfonso Soriano’s upside is, he’d be an improvement over Matsui, Cairo and Anderson Hernandez (did you see how overmatched Hernandez looked in September? The kid’s not ready just yet). And he’s a better idea than Mark Grudzielanek, who I’d seen mentioned as a 2B possibility; the track record of 35-year-old singles/doubles hitters is gruesome, especially ones with little plate discipline. But Minaya should not value Soriano as if he is a star; he’d hit .240 at Shea and not give the team as much offense as, say, Mike Cameron did.
5. Pedro’s not the only reason for a win-now attitude; the current labor agreement expires after 2006 (Pinto has some info on how the Mets are now in a position to spend money for 2006). (Also, Floyd and Glavine aren’t young, though Glavine’s not really a key player at this stage). Nonetheless, I do prefer to build for the long run around Wright and Reyes, particularly given the Braves’ stockpiling of young talent.
6. I don’t trust Vazquez but he would be an improvement over Benson, whose fastball went on vacation the last six weeks of the season. While Vazquez also finished very badly, I’d rather take the guy who’s a power pitcher and appears healthy.
7. I don’t see anyone left on the Mets’ shopping list worth giving up Milledge for.
8. If you want to play to win in 2006, re-up Piazza for another year. He’s still a better player than Ramon Hernandez or Bengie Molina, and probably would cost less $$.

Ryan v. Wagner

I just don’t understand this, as I’ve said before. The Orioles are offering BJ Ryan $18 million over three years, $6 million per. The Mets have offered Billy Wagner $30 million over three years, $10 million per. Ryan put it all together in August 2003; since 8/1/03, here are their numbers (via Pinto’s database, except for the Blown Saves numbers):

Pitcher W L SV BS G IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Wagner 8 4 72 7 144 153 1.76 5.47 0.82 2.00 10.35
Ryan 6 11 39 10 174 180.1 2.15 6.64 0.40 3.64 12.23

And bear in mind that Ryan is 30, Wagner is 34. Both are lefthanded. Both throw hard. Yes, you can make the argument that Wagner’s been the better pitcher, but it’s awfully close. Ryan strikes more guys out, he gives up half as many homers – a highly significant fact in big games, as Wagner’s been known to get touched by the longball in big situations – and he has age and durability on his side. Yes, the save and save % numbers favor Wagner, but Ryan has certainly proven he can hold a closer job with 36 saves in 2005, and the blown saves figure is always uglier when you’re working primarily as a setup man. How can you look at these two guys and think Wagner is worth an extra $4 million per year?

Cameron for Nada?

You know, I can understand the theory behind trading Mike Cameron to get rid of his salary. With the Mets looking to add salary at other positions, Carlos Beltran holding down center field, and Victor Diaz ready to get a shot playing everyday as an inexpensive right fielder, Cameron at $8 million for 2006 is an expensive luxury item.
But I can’t understand the execution – trading him for Xavier Nady – even assuming that some of these scenarios are in the works, unless it’s really the case that some other GM (Chuck LaMar?) lusts after Nady and wants him, specifically, in a deal.
It’s not that Nady is a terrible player. He’s a decent fourth OF who can also play 1B, and he’ll be 27 this year so he could take a modest step up. But if he gets regular playing time he’s at best a guy who doesn’t kill you; he’s a lesser player than Benny Agbayani, Darryl Boston, or Danny Heep. I thought maybe at least there was a thought that he’d improve leaving Petco, which is the toughest pitcher’s park in baseball, but he batted .258/.408/.314 on the road the past three seasons.
Viewed strictly as a salary dump, I can’t see why the Mets couldn’t have held out for more than Nady, though. There are plenty of rich teams without a quality CF. The Yankees could certainly use Cameron. Or the Angels, who have Steve Finley’s moldering corpse in CF. Or the Red Sox, if Damon walks. Or the Dodgers, with the completely insane Milton Bradley in center and a new GM who was apparently hired to improve team “chemistry.” Or the Orioles, for whom Luis Matos and David Newhan batted a combined .252/.351/.318 in 2005. Surely, one of them would have parted with something more useful to get a guy with Cameron’s stellar defense and solid bat.
Maybe the Padres found some missing pieces of Cameron’s face in their outfield?

Pitcher Name Game Trivia

Let’s try a quiz that will mostly be easy to the history buffs . . . A surprising number of baseball’s great pitchers haven’t gone by their given first names, preferring either a nickname or their middle name. See if you can match the pitcher with the first name. First, the pitchers:
1. Bert Blyleven
2. Three Finger Brown
3. Roger Clemens
4. Dizzy Dean
5. Whitey Ford
6. Bob Gibson
7. Lefty Gomez
8. Lefty Grove
9. Kid Nichols
10. Satchel Paige
11. Nolan Ryan
12. Tom Seaver
13. Dazzy Vance
14. Hoyt Wilhelm
15. Cy Young
Now, the first names:
Jay or Jerome (variously)
Answers below the fold.

Continue reading Pitcher Name Game Trivia

The Blowout Maker

So, A-Rod wins what should have been his fourth MVP Award, and could easily have been his fifth or sixth; he was robbed of the award in 1996 and 2002, and could easily have won it in 2000 and/or 2001. And yet, you will hear endless cries that he is overrated.
Clearly, on the raw numbers, A-Rod had a better year with the bat, finishing ahead of Ortiz in batting, slugging, OBP, games, runs, total bases, steals, and fewest GIDP. He did this while playing in a much less favorable park, as a better baserunner, and as a good fielding third baseman compared to a DH.
Really, then, the whole case for Ortiz is clutch hitting. Now, there are only three hitters I’ve ever seen who had such extensive resumes as clutch hitters that you couldn’t possibly dismiss them as having a real ability to rise to the occasion – George Brett, Eddie Murray, and David Ortiz. But what is Big Papi’s real advantage in clutch situations? Gordon Edes noted that “[a]gainst the other playoff teams, A-Rod hit .325 with 13 home runs and 30 RBIs, Ortiz .273 with 9 home runs and 33 RBIs.” (h/t David Pinto). That’s one way of looking at it; I looked at how the two hitters’ production broke down by the games they appeared in, to examine the charge that A-Rod did all his hitting in meaningless situations:
*A-Rod either drove in or scored at least as many runs as the margin of victory in 21 Yankee wins (including a 12-4 win where he drove in 10 runs, and two 3-run victories over the Red Sox). The comparable number for David Ortiz is 24. By contrast, the Yankees lost 13 games by 1 or 2 runs in which A-Rod neither drove in nor scored a run; for Ortiz, the number was 10. Overall, a slight advantage for Ortiz.
*In the 51 games the Yankees won by 3 runs or less, A-Rod batted .310, slugged .545, had a .430 OBP, scored 35 runs, drove in 36, and hit 13 homers. In other words, he contributed very substantially in games the Yankees won and might otherwise have lost.
*That said, Ortiz did have insane numbers in close games. Overall, in 88 games decided by 3 runs or less, A-Rod hit .278/.506/.379 with 50 Runs and 57 RBI – solid numbers, considering that close games excludes the laughers where people run up big numbers. But Ortiz, in 94 such games, hit .296/.601/.393 with 65 Runs and 80 RBI. In 43 1-run games, A-Rod batted .253/.525/.331 with 26 Runs and 29 RBI, but Ortiz (in 42 games) batted .319/.712/.413 with 33 Runs and 35 RBI.
*So, where did A-Rod make his real mark? Well, besides the 51 victories by 3 runs or less, the Yankees won 44 other games by 4 or more runs. Now, they may not be as dramatic as 1-run wins, but blowouts count just as much in the standings, and they mean an awful lot to a team with a shaky pitching staff.
Was A-Rod just hitting with a big lead in these games? I went through the play by play to see how he had hit in his first and second plate appearances in those 44 games, to see how much he had contributed to putting 44 wins in the bank, a good start for any playoff contender.
In his first plate appearance in those 44 games, A-Rod was 21 for 35 with eight homers, 17 Runs scored, and 14 RBI. In his second plate appearance, he was 11 for 37 with 4 homers, 11 Runs, and 11 RBI. Total batting line: 36 for 72, 6 2B, 12 HR, 28 R, 25 RBI, and a batting line of .500/1.083/.576.
So, A-Rod is a dangerous hitter in close games, if not as dangerous as Ortiz or as he is otherwise. But like the young Mike Tyson, he’s very, very good at putting games away early. Who can say the ability to win baseball games with ease isn’t valuable?

Now Catching, For The Mets . . .

One of the big question marks for the Mets this offseason is the catching job. Mike Piazza’s 7-year contract is up, and all signs point to the Mets looking to go in a new direction.
Now, as long as you don’t compare them to the Piazza of old, Mets catchers did OK with the bat: .245/.436/.322 with 36 doubles, 26 HR and 99 RBI. That’s about even with the 2005 production of Ben Molina, apparently one of the leading candidates for the job, who batted .295/.446/.336 in a career year with the bat in his walk year at age 30. Molina is a career .273/.397/.309 hitter who hasn’t had 450 at bats since he was 25 and would get lapped in a footrace with Piazza. Let’s turn to Matt Welch, who’s watched Molina on a daily basis:

I’m not sure Bengie’s even a good defensive catcher at this point. His throwing has deteriorated — from 36 of 81 base-stealers (44%) in 2003, to 18/69 (26%) in 2004, to 20/64 (31%) this year; even while his barely younger brother has been improving from 28% to 49% to 53%. And more noticeable on a day-to-day basis is Bengie’s increasingly desperate habit of jabbing with his glove at pitches in the dirt, instead of trying to move his fat body in the way.
He led MLB with 10 passed balls this year to Jose Molina’s three, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story, since official scorers rarely even call passed balls anymore. The real action is in wild pitches: John Lackey — he of just 71 BB in 209 innings pitched — ranked third in all of baseball with 18 wild pitches this year; reliever Scot Shields came in seventh with 12 (and K-Rod had eight, and Esteban “I’m Not Even on the Playoff Roster” Yan uncorked five, etc.).

Other than the batting average, Molina’s career numbers are a pretty good match for Ramon Castro, the for-the-moment incumbent (.222/.387/.304). Not that I think Castro is up to the job of catching every day, but unlike Molina he’s not just a singles hitter with a sketchy history as far as hitting those singles. (I’m assuming for now that Mike Jacobs can’t handle the glovework and/or would blow his arm out if he caught everyday; obviously, if he’s up to the job, he’d be ideal).
Then there’s Ramon Hernandez, who reportedly is interested in the Mets. Hernandez, unlike Molina, can actually hit a little: .283/.463/.330 the past two seasons in the best pitcher’s park in baseball. On the other hand, Hernandez is turning 30 and has missed 114 games over those two seasons.
Honestly, I don’t think Hernandez gives me a lot of comfort with the bat. He’d never hit nearly that well until he turned 27. More to the point, I took a look at’s list of comparable players through age 29, and it was a gruesome list of guys who aged badly, including Jody Davis, Rich Gedman, Terry Kennedy, and Tony Pena.
In fact, that got me wondering: who’s a better bet over the next two years, a decent hitter just off his prime like Hernandez, or an old superstar like Piazza? I looked at what those 10 catchers did at age 29, 30 and 31. To do the same for Piazza, I only had 5 catchers to work with, since four of his most-comparables are non-catchers and one (Bill Dickey) either retired or went in the military after batting .351 in 1943. Those five were Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Lance Parrish, Gabby Hartnett, and Carlton Fisk, and I looked at their numbers at 36 (Piazza’s age in 2005), 37 and 38.
Let’s look at the results. First, Hernandez at 29, followed by his comps at 29, 30 and 31:

29 392 .290 .450 .321
29 372 .259 .391 .316
30 362 .261 .373 .329
31 265 .244 .380 .308

Now, Piazza at 36, followed by his comps at 36, 37 and 38:

36 442 .251 .452 .326
36 363 .271 .467 .333
37 308 .244 .439 .329
38 296 .246 .390 .312

As you can see, while the Piazza-style old guys are still a better bet with the bat, neither player’s comps give much in terms of reason to hope (although Hernandez was ahead of his comps the last two years; several of them had hit the wall by 28). If Piazza at one year is a realistic option, the Mets could do far worse than to re-up him and spot Castro in there.
I guess my real bottom line here is this: Hernandez and Molina have value because catchers are scarce . . . but they’re just not that good, and they’re at least as likely to depreciate rapidly in value as Piazza is. Scarcity or no, you don’t win pennants by throwing tens of millions of dollars at players who just aren’t that good. Better to save the money, maybe get Castro a cheap platoon partner or something, and spend elsewhere to upgrade with genuine quality.
Oh, and one more thing I saved for last because it seems so implausible: Tom Verducci claims that the Hated Yankees are looking to move Jorge Posada, or – even more bizarrely – shift him to first base. I understand why the Yanks would be unhappy with Posada’s $12 million price tag, but look at alternatives like Hernandez and Molina, far inferior players asking $8-10 million per, and Posada doesn’t look so bad. (As far as I know, the Yanks’ only other internal option is John Flaherty, who barely his enough to survive as Randy Johnson’s personal catcher at this point). Of course, the Mets are the one team that would regard Posada as a younger, cheaper replacement for the outgoing incumbent, and they do have one thing the Yankees could use: a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder to spare. If it weren’t the Mets and the Yankees, that deal might make some sense.

Low Leaders

Bartolo Colon’s Cy Young Award raises a question I’d been thinking about late in the year, when Kevin Millwood first grabbed the AL ERA lead: whether this was an unusually weak year for pitchers in the AL. One way to look at that is to look on at the league leader in ERA+, the league/park adjusted measure of which pitcher stands furthest below the league in ERA (the stat divides the park-adjusted league ERA by the pitcher’s ERA, so the higher the ERA+, the better, with a league-average pitcher clocking in at 100).
Colon’s ERA+ this year was 120, not in the top 10 in the AL. The league leader was Santana, at 153. Is that one of the lowest league-leading figures ever? Not really, as it turns out.
I went back and looked over the league leaders in this category going back to the dawn of the National Association in 1871 – 256 major league seasons in all. The league leader in ERA+ has been below 150 in 40 of those (15.6%). The lowest league-leading total was 127 by Tommy Bond in 1879, which is unsurprising; the NL was the only major league in 1879, there were only 8 teams, and each team used one pitcher most of the time, so that the league’s top 8 pitchers threw 76% of the innings. Hard to stand out in a crowd that small.
So, I put together a list since 1893 (when the mound moved back to its curtrent 60’6″ from 50 feet), which gave a list of 13 pitchers who finished below 144 and yet led their league. Here they go:

Pitcher Year ERA+
Sal Maglie 1951 134
Tom Hume 1979 135
Gene Conley 1959 137
Diego Segui 1970 138
Sal Maglie 1956 138
Mike Garcia 1954 139
Bob Stanley 1982 140
Curt Simmons 1961 140
John Denny 1976 140
Alejandro Pena 1984 142
Frank Baumann 1960 142
Tom Seaver 1970 142
Joe Mays 2001 143

Interestingly, other than Seaver and Maglie, a number of these guys were fluky leaders anyway (Denny was sort of fluky, but he did win the Cy Young Award legitimately in 1983). Note that the 50s to early 60s were the golden age of pitcher parity . . . Garcia’s ERA+ was 139, but the Indians’ ERA+ as a team was 132; that had to be one of the most well-balanced staffs ever.
One name that jumps out here is Gene Conley. Did you know that Conley had been the best pitcher in the National League one year – and still found the energy to go play 1,300 minutes for an NBA-winning Celtics team that offseason, including being third on the team in rebounds? Amazing. I’d always thought of Conley as sort of a failed experiment in two-sport play, but for a while there he really made it work.

Beltre Back?

More from the rumor mill: Jon Weisman speculates on Adrian Beltre poentially returning to the Dodgers. Hey, I traded Beltre and his $33 salary for Joe Nathan in May on my Roto team; I can only imagine how frustrated the Mariners were suffering through the whole season cutting him real paychecks. A Beltre encore makes some sense, although given how eerily similar his 2005 numbers were to 2001, 2002 and 2003, there’s a very real risk that those numbers represent his real performance level at this point.

Cy Colon

I have to say, I was surprised and disappointed in the AL Cy Young vote for Bartolo Colon, a vote that signals the continued sway of W-L record to the exclusion of all else. Yet again, anti-statistics sportswriters prove themselves to be slavishly devoted to a single statistic. Johan Santana was clearly still the best starting pitcher in the league, but given the absence of a dominant starter, I would have given the award to Mariano Rivera, who had a remarkable year (albeit one that exceeded his usual standards mainly just because 2/3 of the runs he allowed were unearned).

Firing Back at Plaschke

Matt Welch takes another swing at know-nothing LA Times baseball columnist Bill Plaschke – this time in the LAT itself (H/T). A sample:

Plaschke apparently never bothered to learn the well-documented basics of the philosophies discussed in “Moneyball,” so he could write howlers such as this one on Oct. 4: “It’s a vision that has yet to result in a playoff series victory in the three places where it is prominently pushed – Oakland, Los Angeles and Toronto.” Every baseball beat writer in the country (including the Times’ own capable Bill Shaikin) could tell you that “Moneyball” tenets played a big role in the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, who employed the movement’s godfather, Bill James.
In his first column after DePodesta’s hiring, Plaschke made the absurdly inaccurate claim that “[Kirk] Gibson’s unconventional numbers probably wouldn’t have fit the A’s system,” when in fact Gibson’s high on-base percentage would have fit in particularly well in Oakland’s (or anybody else’s) system.
Reading Plaschke, you’d be convinced that DePodesta’s only baseball knowledge came from playing computer games in his underwear. “[J.D. Drew] was the double sixes in Paul DePodesta’s giant game of Strat-O-Matic, the scroll wheel on his baseball iPod,” Plaschke mused on June 24 (yes, he actually writes like this). “He was the ideal player for those who study the sport at a keyboard and play it in a basement.”
Actually, DePodesta played baseball in college. Plaschke? He wrote for his campus newspaper.

Read the whole thing.

Is He Back?

Roberto Alomar, that is:

Roberto Alomar [was] reinstated from the voluntary retired list Thursday by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and . . . filed for free agency.
Alomar. . . who had signed a $600,000, one-year contract with Tampa Bay, filed for free agency to preserve future options rather than with the specific intent of playing next year, agent Jaime Torres said.

Hmmmmm. Via Rob McMillin.

Equal Opportunity

Now that the World Series has concluded with a sixth different champion in six years, it may be time to retire the idea that baseball is suffering from a crisis of lack of competitive teams. That’s not to say there aren’t imbalances; even rich teams like the Mets, Red Sox and Phillies spent barely half the budget of the Hated Yankees this year, for example. But even if nobody else can be the Yankees, the number of teams that have the chance to be competitive from time to time is much larger than Bud Selig has argued in the past.
I ran a chart four years ago breaking out the last time each team was in the postseason or finished within six games of the postseason (division or wild card). Six may not be a round number but it seemed like as good a line as any – the Indians, for example, finished six games out this year; the Royals finished 7 out in 2003. So, I’ll use the same standard again. With that in mind, let’s update the chart to show the last time each team was within six games, the last time each team made the postseason, the last World Series appearance and the last championship:

Team w/in 6 Post In WS Won WS
White Sox 2005 2005 2005 2005
Astros 2005 2005 2005
Red Sox 2005 2005 2004 2004
Cardinals 2005 2005 2004 1982
Yankees 2005 2005 2003 2000
Angels 2005 2005 2002 2002
Braves 2005 2005 1999 1995
Padres 2005 2005 1998
Marlins 2005 2003 2003 2003
Diamondbacks 2005 2002 2001 2001
Indians 2005 2001 1997 1948
Mets 2005 2000 2000 1986
Phillies 2005 1993 1993 1980
Twins 2004 2004 1991 1991
Dodgers 2004 2004 1988 1988
Giants 2004 2003 2002 1954
A’s 2004 2003 1990 1989
Cubs 2004 2003 1945 1908
Rangers 2004 1999
Mariners 2003 2001
Blue Jays 2000 1993 1993 1993
Reds 1999 1995 1990 1990
Orioles 1997 1997 1983 1983
Pirates 1997 1992 1979 1979
Nationals 1996 1981
Rockies 1995 1995
Brewers 1992 1982 1982
Tigers 1988 1987 1984 1984
Royals 1987 1985 1985 1985
Devil Rays

(Chart corrected per reader comment – when I did this in 2001 I must have missed the 1988 Tigers. My bad.)
As you can see, two things are clear from this chart. One is that, much as it still bothers me on a number of levels, the wild card really has opened up a lot of playoff opportunities (without the wild card, even the Red Sox would not have appeared in the postseason since 1995). And second, the number of true have-nots in the game is pretty small. 21 of the 30 teams have been at least seriously competitive for a playoff spot in the past six seasons, and only three of those have failed to make the playoffs in that period, one of whom (the Rangers) had just ended a run of winning three division titles in four years and followed that up by signing the largest free agent contract in the history of sports. Another, the Phillies, plays in the largest one-team market in the nation. The Blue Jays were also coming off a successful run in the early 90s and have generally drawn well, but have suffered partly from poor management and partly from sharing a division with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Of the remaining nine hard-core long-term losers, one has been given a solution to its economic problems, as the Nationals got a new city and are on their way to a new stadium and new ownership. The Rockies have a substantial and growing market to themselves, but have been victimized as much by altitude and bad management as by economics. The Orioles are always big spenders but share Toronto’s problem of being in the AL East. Four of the six of the remaining sad sacks (Reds, Pirates, Tigers, and Brewers) play in brand-new ballparks, plus the Devil Rays opened in 1998. Only the Royals combine all the worst problems of baseball’s underclass – low payroll, small city, old ballpark, and a track record of poor management.
Now, in a game with winners and losers, someone has to lose, and baseball’s always had teams that spent a long stretch in the wilderness (read the history of the Phillies and A’s some time). I would, for now, classify four teams as being genuinely handicapped by economic circumstances, not as a complete excuse for failure but as a contributor to long-term stagnantion: the Reds, Pirates, Brewers, and Royals. Three others have serious long-term futility problems, but less economic issues: the Tigers, Devil Rays and Rockies. It is a legitimate concern that even new parks don’t seem to do much for the hard-core underclass of the game. But the good news is, the chance to be competitive has rarely been so widespread as it is today.
UPDATE: Another interesting note here, after the last two seasons: there’s now no team whose last World Championship came between 1955 and 1978. There’s 19 teams that have won the Series in the past 27 seasons, plus 8 expansion teams that have never won it (3 of whom entered the league since 1977), leaving just three teams (the Cubs, Indians and Giants) with a serious long time wait since their last flag. The fourth longest drought is the Rangers.

Baseball Links 11/2/05

*Ryan McConnell has a big roundup of Mets and other news, including the Mets picking up the 2006 option on Steve Trachsel but not on Doug Minky and Braden Looper. Good riddance to the Blooper.
*Kevin Cott on why you see fewer African-American players these days:

Before the MLB Draft was instituted in 1965, teams relied on training academies to find and develop young talent. But with the draft, it was no longer economically efficient to spend money developing players that, upon turning 18, could then be drafted away by other teams. Teams eventually found a loophole to this by turning to Latin American countries, where the players weren’t subject to the same draft eligibility (unlike basketball, where the draft is international). That’s why there has been such an accelerated growth in Latin ballplayers – early scouting still pays off. The other result is that baseball development in the States is now dictated largely by socioeconomic conditions – it’s a more expensive and specialized sport. So you could argue that the onus is on baseball to establish more inner-city clinics and developmental programs, but that’s about it.

In other words, there’s two tracks: an expensive track for homegrown players, which favors white players from areas with the financial werewithal to have good Little Leagues and the like, and a cheap track for foreign players. The poor, inner-city or rural Americans who used to be baseball’s lifeblood are thus less common (they’re more apt to turn to basketball in the cities and football in the rural areas), and black players feel the impact of that disproportionately, especially when you take away the black players who go into baseball because their dads played in the big leagues.
*Matt Welch gives what for to Bill Plaschke, the LA Times columnist who spent the past two years trying to run Paul DePodesta out of town for the offense of being a smart young guy who questioned traditional ideas. Welch also links to some other good commentaries on DePodesta’s departure, including Jon Weisman. And Will Carroll draws larger lessons from the White Sox’ World Championship as a “Moneyball” backlash. Really, There’s only one solution that makes sense at this point. Three simple steps:
1. Give Plaschke the GM job.
2. Give DePodesta a daily column in the LAT.
3. Buy popcorn.
*Pinto has some thoughts on Derek Jeter’s Gold Glove, and also links to a fan ballot for Hall of Fame announcers, where you can – I swear I am not making this up – cast a ballot for Fran Healey.
*Tom G notes that Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito clings to a bizarre, irrational and superstitious faith: that’s right, he’s a Phillies fan.
*Leo Mazzone’s departure for the Orioles is certainly the biggest news to hit the NL East thus far in the offseason. Recall, of course, that while Mazzone deserves enormous credit for his accomplishments in Atlanta, Bobby Cox did have good pitching staffs in Toronto, too. Also, Mazzone has already proven he can’t do much for Bruce Chen.
*Mike’s Baseball Rants declares the 2005 World Series the closest sweep ever and compares Brandon Backe to other pitchers who rose to the occasion in postseason play.
*On a similar theme, Son of Brock Landers looks at Roger Clemens’ playoff rap sheet and why he has a bad reputation in the postseason. Actually, the answer is simple: Clemens’ reputation stems from his time with the Red Sox – he had just 1 win in 9 postseason starts with them, and a 3.88 ERA in the postseason compared to 3.06 in the regular season. By the time he started a postseason game in another uniform, he’d been in the league 16 years and cemented the reputation.
*Geoff Young is skeptical that Trevor Hoffman is worth the money he wants from the Padres.
*Jeff at USS Mariner links to a rundown of possible Japanese imports to Seattle or other major league teams.
*Meant to link to this before the Series: the parallel lives of Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell.
*Bill Simmons and Begging to Differ on the departure of Theo Epstein.

DePodesta Evaluated

Chris Lynch looks at Paul DePodesta’s moves as Dodgers GM. The record is a pretty solid one, not worthy of getting him fired, although you can argue that, for example, the Derek Lowe and Jeff Kent signings are worse in combination than taken separately, given that Lowe requires a good middle infield defense. (On the other hand, Lynch doesn’t discuss the non-signing of Adrian Beltre, which doesn’t look that bad right now). And it does seem that DePodesta botched some of the other parts of the job, specifically backing out of deals that other GMs thought they had with him, a problem that may have resulted from the Dodgers’ decisionmaking process. That smells like a combination of rookie mistake and perhaps meddling by ownership.
On the whole, I’d be glad to have DePodesta running my team. And, hey: he was a great #2, and Jim Duquette is gone . . . the Mets could do far worse than trying to get him on board, although he is doubtless looking for another #1 job.

Sox Sweep NL Central Team, Break Curse

Deja vu all over again. Congrats to the White Sox and their long-suffering fans.
You have to feel for the Astros, who fittingly went down 1-0 in the last game of a season where they struggled all year to score runs; after staging four of the toughest postseason games you will ever see, all anyone will rememeber within a few years is that they go swept. Let the record show that, unlike the 2005 Cardinals and 1999 Braves, this team did not go down easy. Instead, in a season when they lost Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent, started without Lance Berkman and had to weather most of the season without Jeff Bagwell, they fought their way through some of the most epic postseason games in history and ended up going further than any Astros team ever has. Well played.

Dewey Defeats Astros

An informed source sent me a copy of this morning’s Chicago Tribune print edition, which contains an early version of this Phil Rogers column, referencing events through the 8th inning of last night’s game, in which Rogers noted that White Sox pitchers like Dustin Hermanson were getting a chance to brush off the rust and get into the series, but concluding:
“It’s too bad for the likes of Geoff Blum that playoff baseball rarely features garbage time.”

And Going, And Going, And Going . . .

This post seems pretty relevant right now.
UPDATES: Really, I had harbored hopes of doing a detailed post on this game, but at this point I’m just gonna go to bed when this is done. I may add to this in the morning.
A few random thoughts from my notes about the game that probably did the Astros in:
*Adam Everett being hit with the pickoff throw in the 3rd definitely brought back memories of Reggie, one of the earliest World Series moments I vividly remember.
*”Scooter” explaining what the pitches are doesn’t bother me as much now that I’m watching the game with kids.
*When Crazy Carl was cursing out Oswalt, the cameras caught a little much of Garner telling Carl Everett, “f__ you motherf___”. At least, that’s sure what it looked like to me.
*Doesn’t Cliff Politte look just like Dann Florek, who’s played Capt. Cragen on two of the Law & Order shows? He even has the same grimace.
*Joe Buck managed to squeeze in a totally non sequitur Bill Buckner/1918 reference in the fifth inning.
*There was a huge roar from the crowd when Berkman was called for a strike on a check swing trailing 5-4 in the eighth; you could tell, at that point, that the crowd was palpably desperate.
*Why was I not surprised to learn that the three White Sox who made a Journey song the team’s theme song were Crede, Rowand and Pierzynski?

The Taste of Defeat

Bill Simmons asks:

Just throwing it out there to sidetrack the Baseball Crank’s day, but after Brad Lidge’s second demoralizing walkoff homer, is there any way to figure out the ratio of “Closer eventually bouncing back and becoming effective again” to “Closer who was never the same”? For instance, Calvin Schiraldi was probably the best pitching prospect in the Boston farm system before the ’86 playoffs – look at his regular-season stats in 1986 compared to everything that followed in his career. And what about Byung Hyun-Kim, Donnie Moore, Mitch Williams, Mark Wohlers, Tom Niedenfuer … really, the only guy I can remember who kept chugging along was Dennis Eckersley after the ’88 World Series. Anyway, let’s see what the Crank can dig up on this.

Well, I can’t well turn down that challenge, can I? So, I decided to walk through every example I could find of a relief pitcher blowing the big game in the postseason, and see how they fared the next few years. A few observations:
*I limited myself to the postseason and season-ending playoffs rather than the regular season.
*I limited myself to relievers. That knocks out both starters who blew the big one (think: Mike Torrez), and starters pitching in relief, which eliminated Ralph Branca in 1951, Ralph Terry in 1960 (Mazeroski’s homer), Bob Moose in 1972 (the wild pitch that ended Game 5 and the NLCS), Pat Darcy in Game 6 of the 1975 WS (the Bernie Carbo Carlton Fisk homer; Darcy never pitched effectively again), Jack McDowell in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS, Kenny Rogers in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS, Derek Lowe and Rich Harden in Games 1 and 3 of the 2003 ALDS, Tim Wakefield (the Aaron Boone homer), Jeff Weaver (2003 WS Game 4), and Esteban Loaiza (2004 ALCS Game 5). I also left off Aurelio Lopez (1986 NLCS Game 6), an aging veteran who was just the last guy left on a staff.
*I ended up limiting the study to 1972-present. Before that period, there just weren’t enough examples of relievers blowing the big game; starters tended to stay in longer, and before 1969 the postseason was a lot shorter. The only one that came to mind was Johnny Miljus throwing the wild pitch that ended the 1927 World Series; while Miljus struggled the next season and was swiftly put on waivers, I have a hard time thinking a guy who contributed to his team being swept by the 1927 Yankees was much of a goat.
*I noticed that the combination of more relievers, longer playoffs, more scoring in general and more home runs in particular has led to a massive upswing in recent years of huge game-breaking reversals of fortune in the postseason. Just in 2003-04 I counted 17 pitchers, counting guys who collaborated in big collapses including three in the 2003 Red Sox-A’s ALDS and four apiece in the 2004 NLCS and ALCS.
Here we go. I broke the pitchers into three categories: guys who survived, guys who were ruined, and guys who came away in some sense damaged but not destroyed.
Dave Giusti, 1972 NLCS Game 5:
Moose threw the wild pitch, but it was Giusti, the Pirates’ veteran closer, who blew the 3-2 lead in the ninth inning of game 5 of a best-of-5 series. Mitigating factor: the Pirates were already the defending champs. Giusti was just-y (hah!) fine the next season. Survived.
(Side note: Pittsburgh’s Game 5 starter, 19-game winner Steve Blass, mysteriously lost the strike zone the next season).
Rawly Eastwick, 1975 WS Game 6:
The 24-year-old Eastwick served up Fisk’s Bernie Carbo’s home run. (UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that I went through the box score for this one too quickly and mixed up Eastwick and Darcy – it was Eastwick who gave up the big blow, the 3-run homer to Carbo that tied up the game in the 8th when the Reds were just four outs away from their first World Championship in 35 years). Mitigating factors: It was a tie game, and the Reds came back and won the next day. He was just as effective the next year. Survived.
Mark Littell, 1976 ALCS Game 5, 1977 ALCS Game 5:
Our first serial offender, Littell gave up Chris Chambliss’ home run and the following year participated with four other pitchers in blowing a 3-1 lead in Game 5. Mitigating factor: Littell wasn’t mainly responsible for the 1977 disaster. He was traded after 1977, but pitched effectively for two more years. Survived.
Rich Gossage: 1980 ALCS Game 3:
Gave up George Brett’s massive game-breaking homer to cement a humiliating ALCS sweep. Mitigating factors: the series was a sweep, and the Goose already had the 1978 playoff game and championship under his belt. Gossage would also allow a famous but less crushing home run to Kirk Gibson in the 1984 WS. Posted an 0.77 ERA the next season, and kept on cruisin’. Survived.
Dave Stewart, 1981 NLDS Games 1 & 2:
A few mitigating factors: these weren’t notably crushing losses, and the Dodgers won the series and went on to win the World Series. Stewart, a rookie reliever, pitched decently the next two years before the struggles that would land him in Oakland, but took years to establish himself as a star. We can count him as Damaged.
Luis Sanchez, 1982 ALCS Game 5:
Blew a 3-2 lead in the 7th inning of the deciding Game 5. A solid setup man rather than a closer, Sanchez continued in the same vein for two more years. Survived.
Lee Smith, 1984 NLCS Game 4:
The backbreaking Steve Garvey homer. Smith was fine. Survived.
Dan Quisenberry, 1985 ALCS Games 2, 4:
These were fairly routine losses. The Quiz had some decent years thereafter, but dropped from 37 saves in 1985 to 12 and never recovered as a big-time closer. May have been his age and workload, but the postseason shot to his confidence may have contributed. Damaged.
Tom Niedenfeur, 1985 NLCS Games 5 & 6:
The Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark homers; Niedenfeur, a successful closer through 1985, is the best comp for what has happened to Brad Lidge. Fell off sharply in 1987 and, while he had a few effective moments, was never the same again. Ruined.
Todd Worrell, 1985 World Series Game 6:
Major mitigating factor here – everyone blamed 1B umpire Don Denkinger, not the rookie closer. Worrell Survived.
Dave Smith, 1986 NLCS Game 3:
Gave up the walkoff homer to Lenny Dykstra. Survived. Teammate Charlie Kerfeld didn’t handle postseason failure that well, though.
Donnie Moore, 1986 ALCS Game 5:
The Dave Henderson, one-strike-from-the-World-Series homer. Moore was mostly hurt in 1987, but never recovered as a pitcher and eventually shot himself. Ruined.
Calvin Schiraldi, 1986 ALCS Game 4, 1986 World Series Games 6 & 7:
Schiraldi had only a half-season of good pitching under his belt before beaning in the tying run in the 9th in Game 4; Games 6 and 7, you know about. Ruined.
Bob Stanley, 1986 World Series Game 6:
The Steamah was running out of steam by 1986 anyway, and the Sawx converted him back to a starter the next year with disastrous results. He did pitch OK in 1988, but was done as an effective year-in-year-out pitcher. We can count him as Damaged.
Dennis Eckersley, 1988 World Series Game 1:
The Kirk Gibson homer. Eck, with a long and checkered career already behind him (a no-hitter, living through the 1978 collapse, battle with the bottle), shrugged it off and got even tougher. Survived.
UPDATE: An emailer also calls attention to Eck allowing a 2-run homer to Roberto Alomar to blow Game 4 of the 1992 ALCS.
Alejandro Pena: 1991 World Series Game 7:
Pena wound up losing the classic Morris-Smoltz duel. This brought an end to his string of effective years. He pitched OK in 1995, including in the NLDS and NLCS, before losing Game 3 of the 1995 WS in extra innings. We can count him as Damaged.
Stan Belinda, 1992 NLCS Game 7:
The Francisco Cabrera/Sid Bream game, which the Pirates led 2-0 when Belinda entered the game. Belinda was sent packing the following season, but his overall effectiveness in 1993-95 was about the same as in the prior three years. Survived.
Mitch Williams, 1993 World Series Games 4 & 6:
Before the Joe Carter game was Game 4, a raucous 15-14 affair where the Phils had a 4-run lead when Williams entered the game in the 8th. Williams was utterly Ruined and threw less than 40 more major league innings.
Mark Wohlers, 1996 World Series Game 4:
The Jim Leyritz home run. Wohlers actually saved 33 games the next year before falling apart, so we’ll list him as Damaged, but he was never quite the same.
Mariano Rivera, 1997 ALDS Game 4, 2001 World Series Game 7, 2004 ALCS Game 4:
Rivera survived blowing three huge season-killing postseason games, beginning with the Sandy Alomar home run, for the same reason Bill Gates survives losing $10 million in a bad day for Microsoft stock. Survived.
Armando Benitez, 1997 ALCS Game 6, 1999 NLCS Game 6, 2000 World Series Game 1:
This is the abridged version of Benitez’ regular- and postseason rap sheet of big game disasters. Let’s list him as Damaged; he’s never let the big ones stop him from being an effective closer, but you have to think the long series of big-game implosions are more than just a coincidence and have fed off each other.
Jose Mesa, 1997 World Series Game 7:
Two outs away in the bottom of the ninth, and Mesa couldn’t shut the door. He has had successes since then, but 1998-2000 was a stretch in the wilderness. We’ll list him as Damaged.
Tom Gordon, 1998 ALDS Game 4, 2004 ALCS Game 5:
The 2004 debacle was partly mitigated by the fact that four pitchers (including the revered Rivera) participated in it, and the 1998 game wasn’t a really unusual loss, nor a particularly close series. Gordon has Survived untouched.
Matt Mantei, 1999 NLDS Game 4:
The Todd Pratt walk-off series-ending homer. I’ll list Mantei as having Survived, since his on-and-off effectiveness before and after the homer were the results of injuries; he remained the same pitcher he was before.
Kevin McGlinchy, 1999 NLCS Game 5:
McGlinchy, a promising rookie, had the lead entering the bottom of the 15th of the Robin Ventura “grand slam single” game. I guess we can label him Ruined since he has pitched just 8.1 innings since then, although this was due to injury.
Aaron Fultz, 2000 NLDS Game 3:
As a rookie, surrendered Benny Agbayani’s walk-off 13th inning homer in a tie game, which turned the series. Fultz was the same mediocrity he’d been before for the next four years, before finding himself in 2005. Survived.
Arthur Rhodes, 2000 ALCS Game 6, 2001 ALCS Game 4:
The main one is the 2000 David Justice homer, but the game-tying Bernie homer in 2001 hurt too. The Colossus went on to the best years of his career in 2001-02, so he Survived. (Jose Paniagua, the losing pitcher in the Justice game, didn’t fare so well).
Steve Kline, 2001 NLDS Game 5:
The great Morris-Schilling duel was a tie game when Kline took over in the 9th. He has Survived allowing Tony Womack’s series-winning single.
Billy Wagner, 2001 NLDS Game 1:
Allowing a back-breaking homer to Chipper Jones in a tie game was actually the last of Wagner’s postseason failures; we’ll list him as Damaged, as his record is a smaller version of Benitez’ and he has kept blowing big regular-season games. Personally, I expect Lidge to follow the Benitez-Wagner career path.
Kaz Sasaki, 2001 ALCS Game 4:
Walk-off 2-run homer to Soriano in a tie game effectvely finished a 116-win team that was down 2-1 in the ALCS. Sasaki Survived, though he quit the majors two years later.
Byung-Hyun Kim, 2001 World Series Games 4 & 5:
Kim had a great 2002 and solid 2003 but hasn’t been the same since, and can’t pitch in the postseason or against the Yankees. Damaged.
Tim Worrell, 2002 World Series Game 6, 2003 NLDS Game 3:
Worrell was the chief culprit in the Game 6 fiasco, bounced back with 38 saves in 2003, then blew a 1-run lead in the 11th inning in the 2003 game. Survived.
Robb Nen, 2002 World Series Game 6:
Nen’s arm gave out over thr course of the last half of 2002, culminating with the Troy Glaus double that sealed the Giants’ fate, and he hasn’t pitched since. We’ll list him as Damaged, since this wasn’t really a psychological thing but he did see his career end.
Felix Rodriguez, 2002 World Series Game 6, 2003 NLDS Game 4:
Rodriguez was already in decline by 2002, and has Survived since his role in these two late-inning collapses.
Keith Foulke, 2003 ALDS Game Four:
Foulke found the best way to get over David Ortiz’ 2-run double that blew a 1-run lead in the 8th: join Ortiz’ team. His 2004 performance showed he Survived.
Kyle Farnsworth, 2003 NLCS Game 6:
The real goat of the 2003 Cubs’ demise was Farnsworth, not Steve Bartman or a tired Mark Prior. The mercurial Farsnworth recovered this year after a lousy 2004; while he’d always been inconsistent, we’ll label him Damaged.
UPDATE: An emailer points out that Farnsworth’s damage assessment should also include Game 4 of this year’s NLDS.
Francisco Rodriguez, 2004 ALDS Game 3:
Another David Ortiz victim. K-Rod had a rough postseason again this year, but I’ll count him among those who Survived.
(UPDATE: A commenter notes that I remembered wrong – it was Washburn who surrendered the Ortiz homer. K-Rod, of course, had also been the losing pitcher in Game 2. So you can discount him from the list if you like).
Dan Miceli, 2004 NLDS Game 1 2, 2004 NLCS Games 2 & 6:
The Edmonds homer was the final straw in a horrific postseason for Miceli, who was ineffective in brief action this season after being exiled to Colorado. For now, we can mark him Ruined.
Paul Quantrill, 2004 ALCS Game 4:
An overworked Quantrill ran off the rails in the middle of 2004, so his ALCS meltdown was just part of an ongoing process on his way from 2003 star to 2005 batting practice pitcher. We’ll mark him Damaged.
Jason Isringhausen, 2004 NLCS Game 5:
The Jeff Kent homer. Izzy’s team lived to win the series, and he had a career year in 2005. Survived.
Conclusion: Even using a fairly broad definition of “Damaged,” and understanding that in any season a certain number of successful relievers will fall off, we come up with a list of 22 relief pitchers (55%) who Survived a major postseason disaster, 12 (30%) who came away in some sense Damaged, and just 6 (15%) who were thoroughly Ruined by the experience, those being a mixture of young guys (Schiraldi) and established veterans (Niedenfeur, Williams).
UPDATE: Comments closed on this post.

Game Two Notes

Mr. Lidge? Mr. Lidge? Mr. Niedenfeur on line one.
Early in the game, my 8-year-old son predicted that the game would go extra innings, the Astros would score and take the lead, and the White Sox would then rally and win. Now, mind you, this is the first year he has followed the baseball standings (as opposed to just watching individual games), and when the White Sox jumped out to a big lead early in the regular season, he kept saying they were going to win the World Series, and I kept explaining to him that no, they really aren’t that good. Bear also in mind that he was insisting during the early innings of tonight’s game that Scott Podsednik was the White Sox’ best hitter, and asking how many home runs he had hit this year.
I may never again convince him that I am right and he is wrong.
I thought the Red Sox last year had the hammerlock on the record for most bad baseball karma reversed in one postseason, but really, what more can break the Pale Hose’s way? Jermaine Dye gets hit on the barrel of the bat with two outs and very mistakenly awarded first base, and does the blown call pay off? Next batter, BAM! Konerko hits a grand slam. (You can’t even get odds right now on Konerko signing an extravagantly large offseason deal with the Mets and batting .246 with 7 home runs at the 2006 All-Star Break).
You know, with the beard and all, Willy Taveras certainly looks like Frank Taveras.
You gotta give some serious credit to Jeff Bagwell for triggering the Astros’ game-tying ninth inning rally by singling off Bobby Jenks. Bagwell didn’t really look any less overpowered than last night, but he managed to fight a pitch into center field, and that was enough. And that game-tying slide by Chris Burke was just amazing – it was like a Lance Johnson slide. You couldn’t duplicate the way Burke managed to land with his body in front of the tag and the hand that actually touched the plate behind the tag. It’s one of those reminders of how elevated the quality of postseason baseball is; it’s practically a different game from what you see in April.
Humorous Joe Buck quote of the night: calling Jose Vizcaino (career OBP: .318; career high in slugging: .397) a “professional hitter.” Of course, then McCarver brought back ugly memories of the 2000 Subway Series . . . I was looking back in the Win Shares book one day and noticed that, in 1995, Vizcaino led the Mets in Win Shares. When Jose Vizcaino is your franchise player, you have problems. But he came up big tonight, for what it was worth for one exciting half-inning.

One For The White Sox

A few random thoughts on a good, solid Game One:
*Well, I guess the White Sox’ record of not facing a healthy #1 starter continues. Those are the breaks people forget three years later when they’re trying to remember how the heck that team won the World Series.
*It was a wierd sort of deja vu sitting with my 8-year-old son watching Clemens go out of a big game early – I remembered back when I was in college, seeing Clemens get ejected from the deciding game of the ALCS for arguing balls and strikes, or back to when I was 15, watching Clemens and Dwight Gooden both get shelled early in Game Two of the World Series. On a related note, I loved the graphic showing that the White Sox’ GM, manager and coaches had more career at bats vs. Clemens than their players.
*They don’t give points for style – it counted just like Albert Pujols’ moonshot – but it’s pretty hard to hit a less impressive home run than Mike Lamb’s shot to tie the game at 1-1 – not only did it clear the fence by just a foot or so, it was caught pretty much on the fly by a middle-aged woman in the first row.
*Dumbest quote of the night, from Joe Buck: “Even with the DH, the White Sox are showing they are not getting away from small ball in the World Series.” Yeah, funny how an American League team adjusts to playing with the DH.
*I really felt bad for poor Jeff Bagwell facing Bobby Jenks in the 8th inning – here Bagwell has had shoulder surgery and barely swung a bat against live pitching in months, and he’s facing a guy throwing 100 mph heat. Two or three years ago he would have put a heater like that in orbit, but now, after Jenks’ first pitch, Bagwell had a distinct look on his face that said “I’d really rather be watching that pitch from a recliner in my living room.”
UPDATE: Laurence Simon is checking the warranty.

My World Series Pick: White Sox in 7

I find this one a tough one to call. Rational analysis gets you only so far in the postseason; I often find it more effective to look backward at which storyline seems more likely to unfold. On the one hand, the Astros have better front-line talent; they have two big-time bats (Berkman & Ensberg) to the Sox’ one (Konerko), they can go 1-2-3 with an inner-circle Hall of Famer who had his best career ERA, followed by a guy who has four World Series rings and posted his career-best ERA, followed by the only picther in baseball to win 20 games each of the past two years. They have the fire-breathing closer (granted that Lidge doesn’t seem as scary after the Pujols Bomb). The White Sox, by contrast, have depth – four real good starters vs. three great ones, four tough relievers vs. the Astros’ three, a leadoff man who gets on base (Houston has nothing of the sort at this juncture), and an overall deeper lineup. All in all, they’re pretty well-matched teams.
It’s worth noting that the Sox got this far by beating two teams that were without their ace starter, whereas the Astros have three of them. In fact, let’s rank the starters the White Sox have faced or will face in the playoffs by ERA+ (for those of you who are unfamiliar, ERA+, the stat, adjusts ERA for league and park – the higher the better):
1. Clemens 221
2. Pettitte 174
3. Oswalt 141
4. Washburn 131
5. Lackey 122
6. Byrd 112 (twice)
7. Wakefield 106
8. Wells 99
9. Clement 96
10. Santana 90
11. Backe 87
So, you have to figure they will have a lot more trouble with the Astros, other than Backe. And the small-ball approach will have trouble against Clemens (because of the strikeouts) and Pettitte (who can strangle the running game with baseball’s best pickoff move).
In general, the front-line stars usually outshine the deeper teams.
For all of that, I have the feeling that this is, at long last, Chicago’s year. The team is deep and well-balanced, and the storyline of Ozzieball seems destined to be written. This will be a tight, tough series (although expect one or two high-scoring games, just because baseball is like that). White Sox in Seven.

Pythagoras and the Wild Card

For what it’s worth, the Pythagorean record of both the White Sox and Astros this season was 91-71.
While I was rooting for Houston, I must say my one disappointment from the NLCS was missing the chance to see two first place teams in the World Series for the first time in four years. In the past 9 seasons we’ve had 7 Wild Card teams in the Series, which just feels like too much, especially given that only one of those teams – the 2000 Mets – lost the series to a first-place team. Overall, Wild Card teams are 24-17 in postseason serieses dating back to 1995, and that just doesn’t seem right.


Man, what a back-breaking ending to the Astros’ hopes of putting away their first pennant last night. That was, if possible, a tougher ending than the Notre Dame-USC game on Saturday, which is saying quite a lot. Roger Clemens, sitting in the Houston dugout, had a distinct “I’ve seen this movie before and I don’t like how it ends” look on his face. The home run itself was as impressive as its context, like George Brett’s homer off Goose Gossage in 1980; that’s what happens when a guy as strong as Pujols makes soldi contact off a guy who throws as hard as Brad Lidge.
Pujols is one of those guys you have to take in while he’s in his prime, because we’ll be telling stories about this one for years. As I noted after last season, not only says that the most similar player at the same age is Joe DiMaggio, but that the most similar player at the same age to Joe D is Pujols. That’s amazing. In fact, Pujols is a better hitter, if you adjust for the fact that the late-30s AL was even higher scoring than today . . . DiMaggio was still better because of his glove, though; in fact, a good modern analogy for DiMaggio is a guy who hits like Pujols and plays center field like Andruw Jones.
(By the way, I noticed that George and Barbara Bush stayed through the bitter end again last night at Minute Maid, like Giuliani at Yankee Stadium. One of the benefits of being a retired politician is you get to stay for the whole game.)

Leo, or Andruw?

Can you tell the difference between these two pitchers?

A 128.2 0.98 4.20 5.04
B 134 0.81 4.30 5.71

I’d say Pitcher B is clearly the better pitcher, but only by a small margin – a few less homers, a few more Ks, but also a few more walks.
A: Jorge Sosa, 2003 (4.62 ERA)
B: Sosa, 2005 (2.55 ERA).
The difference? A drop in the opponents’ batting average on balls in play from .302 to .268. Looks like Sosa was more a beneficiary of Andruw Jones than Leo Mazzone.

Mario Encarnacion

Former A’s prospect and sometime Rockie Mario Encarnacion died recently in Taiwan, where he was playing professionally:

Professional baseball player Mario Encarnacion of the Dominican Republic was found dead yesterday morning in his dormitory. The cause of death is not yet known pending an autopsy, but investigators said his room had not been broken into and that a post-mortem examination found no signs of external injury.
Encarnacion played with the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s (CPBL) Macoto Cobras.
At a press conference held yesterday afternoon, CPBL secretary-general Lee Wen-ping said, “Encarnacion failed to pass a steroids exam in May and he was suspended from playing games for two weeks.”
Lee said Encarnacion explained to the league that he had taken weight-loss medicine which may have contained steroids. Encarnacion was worried that his weight was affecting his performance.
But Lee warned the media not to jump to conclusions.
“Before prosecutors finish an investigation, please do not suspect that his death was related to him taking medicines prohibited by the league,” Lee said.
Investigators said an autopsy would be conducted in a few days to determine the cause of death.
A Cobras coach, Lu Ming-shih, told reporters the team believed Encarnacion’s death might be related to gastroenteritis, which he had suffered from for a long time.

Stay tuned.

White Sox Triumphant

Well, anyone who predicted before the season that the Chicago White Sox would win the American League pennant, stand up and take a bow. My own Established Win Shares Levels system was very mildly optimistic before I adjusted for age, picking the Sox as the best of a bad lot in the AL Central, but the final age-adjusted numbers had them in second place at 78-84. More on that later. The Sox are, of course, yet another testimony to what you can accomplish in the postseason with good starting pitching.
One guy who has to be kicking himself now is Shingo Takatsu. Takatsu, himself a famously dominant postseason performer in Japan, was lights-out as the White Sox closer in 2004, and opened 2005 not only as the closer but as one of the team’s strengths. By the end of the season, he was in the Mets’ reclamation heap with Danny Graves, hanging on to any kind of a major league job.
As for last night’s game, I have to wonder whether the umps would have upheld the original call in favor of the Angels in that disputed play at first base if Kelvim Escobar had sold it better – the fact that Escobar made a throw after tagging Pierzynski killed any chance the Angels had of claiming with a straight face that he had made the tag.
UPDATE: By the way, I’m glad to see some chatter building about my theory that the White Sox are the real cursed franchise (first suggested in 2001).