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.
A look at Hall of Fame and Hall of Fame candidate middle infielders.
Critiquing’s translated statistics.
Review of Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side.
Taking a victory lap on the BALCO leak.
EWSL review of 2006 and EWSL age analysis.
EWSL previews for the AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL West and NL Central.
A brief history of the rise of lefthanded pitching.
Assessing Scott Boras.
Is Billy Wagner the best lefthanded reliever ever?
That high-flying Mets defense, before it collapsed down the stretch, and after.
Baseball’s most impressive records. Probably my favorite post of the year, and definitely my favorite baseball post.
Tom Glavine’s 300th win, and the career path of the average 300 game winner.
My BBC Radio debate with David Pinto on Barry Bonds.
Michael Vick and the NFL players union.
Reviewing The Bronx is Burning (the book).
The role of pitching in the history of the Detroit Tigers.
Willie Randolph: the motivational poster.
The home run imbalance between the leagues.
The greatest late-season runs of all time, including the 2007 Rockies.
The horrible almost Yorvit Torrealba signing.
The Milledge deal.
The Cabrera/Willis deal.
The Hall of Fame ballot: Yes on Gossage, No on Dawson.
Isiah Thomas: the most hated figure in NY sports history?
Tim Raines and the Tablesetters.
Politics, War and Law
The wrong way for Rudy to argue about abortion.
Why I’m with Rudy.
Obama’s plan to withdraw from Iraq beginning May 1, 2007.
Mike Huckabee: the right man for the wrong job.
The Iranians in Iraq.
The case against a national minimum wage.
John Edwards’ amnesia on Iran and Israel.
Barack Obama, pandering to cannibals.
Bill Richardson, sucker for tyrants.
A culture war roundup from the courts.
On Imus and the Rutgers press conference.
A look at campaign finance laws through the lens of Torii Hunter’s bat.
Those tax hiking Democratic governors. More here and here.
Eliot Spitzer’s pro-abortion zealotry, and the Seven Stages of Liberal Legal Activism.
Tax amnesty for illegal immigrants.
John Edwards’ fantasy foreign policy.
Obama’s health care plan.
The elements of a third party presidential run.
Harry Reid, the Insult Comic Senate Majority Leader.
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.
A satire on the (then-)sinking McCain campaign.
Trying to nail the Hillary jello to the wall on Iraq.
Two cheers for the hypocrites.
John Edwards doesn’t want to know.
A taxonomy of the presidential candidates.
Why Fred Thompson needed to get specific. (He since has).
Uncivil litigators.
The Spitzer/Hillary posts on drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, here, here, here, here, and here.
The Trouble With Mitt Romney, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Smearing John Edwards.
Expanding the battlefield.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Michael Gerson.
Yes, Hillary will win the nomination.
Pop Culture and Other Fun Stuff
The Star Wars prequels as they should have been.
Predictions and a wrapup on the end of The Sopranos.
Reviewing the fifth Harry Potter film and the final Harry Potter book.
Pennsylvania Travelogue.

The Tablesetters

I have a long-in-the-making column up at The Hardball Times this morning on the Hall of Fame candidacies of Tim Raines and similar players – 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.

Quick Links 12/19/07

*Studes says Jose Reyes’ problem down the stretch last season was not hitting too few ground balls.
*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.
*Businesses that should exist but don’t.

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 blacklists of steroid users circulated through the good offices of one of my all-time least favorite U.S. Senators, George Mitchell. It’s natural to have some schadenfreude – or angst, depending on whose ox is gored and how much you enjoy German – over this, but at the end of the day, we’ve ended up with various lists circulated that were not officially sourced, plus lists that were and may not have been the result of a particularly fair or thorough process* and thus aren’t necessarily the final word that both the accused players and the fans deserved.
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

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.

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.

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:

Amos Otis 22 152 .178 .224 .238
Lastings Milledge 22 350 .257 .414 .326
Kevin Mitchell 24 342 .275 .456 .340
Ken Singleton 24 496 .252 .387 .369
Carl Everett 26 924 .250 .402 .326
Lenny Dykstra 26 1686 .278 .413 .350
Jeff Kent 28 1831 .279 .453 .327

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.

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.

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.
*Cerrone quotes Dayn Perry on Bartolo Colon:

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.

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 Sportswriters Sports Reporters, which is saying a lot in that crowd). Honestly, I was surprised to learn that Conlin had email. This is a highlight:

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
2. Wishes for mass murder of bloggers
3. Somehow paints the pamphleteers who called for American independence as the bad guys.
It’s a depthless hole.

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).

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.

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.
Torrealba only caught 13-of-74 base-stealers, while the man he replaces, Lo Duca, nailed 17-of-89.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.
It appears inevitable that Posada will not sign a deal with the Yankees before Nov. 13, the date that other teams can get involved in the bidding, so the Bombers run the risk of another club blowing the catcher away with a huge offer.
The Yankees are believed to have internally discussed an offer of three years and $40 million, but one source believes it will take more than that to bring Posada back to the Bronx, most definitely if he gets out into the open market.
Mets sources say GM Omar Minaya has identified Posada at the top of the team’s list of free agent targets. Like he did with Pedro Martinez before the 2005 season, Minaya might be willing to go above and beyond to secure the rights of a possible Hall of Famer.
If the Mets offer Posada four years – or possibly five – it would leave the Yankees in a difficult spot, as they would be committing more years than they wish to a catcher who will turn 37 next summer.

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.

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.
10. The Rockies, like the Mariners, are something of a stealth big-market team – their payroll has gone as high as $71 million in the past, and coming off the high of 2007, a big splash with a new marquee star could help give them ongoing credibility. Many of their players are still young and signed cheaply, so they could afford it. But Garret Atkins is 28 and a solid player at third – also signed cheaply – and they may be focused instead on planning ahead at first base, although Todd Helton sounds like a man who is no longer contemplating retirement.
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.


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.
First up: the managing exchange that appears, at least for now, to be landing Joe Torre in LA and Joe Girardi back with the Yankees.
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.

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.

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.

How Hot?

Jayson Stark:

Did we just say “the hottest lineup ever to march to home plate in the annals of 103 Octobers?”
Yep. We sure did. Which means … hotter than the ’27 Yankees. Hotter than the ’36 Yankees. Hotter than “The Big Red Machine.” Hotter even than the 2004 Red Sox.
Seriously. We can say that because this makes three straight postseason games now that these Red Sox have scored in double figures: 12 runs in Game 6 against Cleveland, 11 more runs in Game 7 against Cleveland, and another 13 runs in Game 1 of the World Series.
So let’s see now. How many other teams have ever rolled up more than 10 runs in three consecutive postseason games? That would be . . . exactly . . . zero.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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).

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.

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 allowed no home runs at all: 5 (including Bert Blyleven in 55.2 innings).
*Pitchers who allowed more than a hit per inning: 17
*Pitchers who threw between 4 and 7 complete games in a little over a month: 22
*Starting pitchers who threw no complete games: 9
*Starting pitchers who threw 65 or more innings: 8
*Relievers who threw 40 or more innings: 2

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”?


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.


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:

Year/Team Post W-L Reg W-L
1976 Reds 7-0 102-60
2005 White Sox 11-1 99-63
1999 Yankees 11-1 98-64
1989 A’s 8-1 99-63
1970 Orioles 7-1 108-54
1984 Tigers 7-1 104-58
1969 Mets 7-1 100-62

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.


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.

Month HR/600 UIBB/600 K/600 BABIP XB/600 ROE/600 DP/OPP
Apr 13.0 70.9 113.2 .266 47.8 8.0 .114
May 18.5 55.0 105.3 .238 47.8 7.7 .078
June 15.8 46.2 102.9 .285 47.3 5.0 .048
July 17.6 50.6 102.3 .286 43.0 9.9 .058
Aug 16.1 57.3 107.1 .333 59.8 7.9 .065
Sept 13.3 59.4 117.7 .328 59.0 11.3 .054

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).

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.


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.

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.

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.