Yankee Dollar


The Yankees are like Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. He was buying up bank shares cheap during the depression, but he was also supplying liquidity. The Yankees are doing the same, as their luxury tax and revenue sharing bills help keep other teams competitive.

I hate the Hated Yankees as much or more than the next guy, I still think it’s bad for baseball that one team should have such vastly larger financial resources than even the other rich teams, and I still support my matching fund idea as a more elegant solution to economic disparities ruining the fun of the game. Pinto’s and Drezner’s analogies notwithstanding, baseball is a sport before it is a business (as Bill James once noted, the game would survive if the business model collapsed, but the business would never survive if interest in the sport collapsed); we may want Coke and Pepsi to drive lesser soda companies out of business, but the Yankees would not benefit if the Royals ended up folding halfway through a season as was known to happen in 19th century baseball.
All that being said, some of the reaction to the latest Yankee spending spree has been overblown, not least given the huge salaries that are coming off the Yankee payroll this offseason – Giambi, Mussina, Abreu, possibly Pettitte. And of course, the 21st Century may yet see a New York baseball team win a championship, but it hasn’t thus far. Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett are just the Yankees being the Yankees.

The Middle Infielders Revisited

After I did my Hardball Times column on the post-1920 middle infielders in the Hall of Fame conversation, including the recently elected Joe Gordon – and you should go back and read the column if you expect to make sense of this post – I figured I’d like to check how the rough offensive “Rate” metric I was using stacks up to more sophisticated measurements that incorporate defense. With that in mind, I’ve pulled together in chart form for the long- and short-prime middle infielders a ranking by Win Shares per 162 team games for their prime years. To add to the picture I list their WS/162 for the non-prime seasons of their careers, which of course are highly variable (some guys get charged with “seasons” for a brief cup of coffee, like Alex Rodriguez in 1994 and 1995 or Rogers Hornsby spending the last 6 years of his career as a manager and part-time pinch hitter). Anyway, as you will see, the WS rankings match up fairly well with mine but naturally diverge in some cases, most obviously guys like Ozzie Smith who had a lot of defensive value.

Player Age Years Seasons WS WS/162 Career WS Rest Rest Yrs Avg WS Rate
Rogers Hornsby 24-33 1920-29 9.51 362 38.07 502 140 12.12 11.55 186.7
Joe Morgan 25-33 1969-77 8.95 304 33.97 512 208 11.69 17.79 131.4
Arky Vaughan 21-29 1933-41 8.56 278 32.48 356 78 4.75 16.42 132.1
Craig Biggio 25-33 1991-99 8.57 269 31.39 428 159 11.00 14.45 127.3
Alex Rodriguez 20-27 1996-03 8.00 250 31.25 399 149 6.59 22.61 140.7
Ryne Sandberg 24-32 1984-92 9.00 260 28.89 346 86 6.36 13.52 116.3
Charlie Gehringer 25-35 1928-38 10.46 302 28.87 383 81 7.60 10.66 128.4
Lou Boudreau 22-30 1940-48 8.56 238 27.80 277 39 5.70 6.84 114.8
Cal Ripken 21-30 1982-91 10.00 273 27.30 427 154 10.23 15.05 121.9
Roberto Alomar 23-33 1991-01 10.57 281 26.58 375 94 6.00 15.67 113.4
Derek Jeter 24-33 1998-07 10.00 263 26.30 320 57 3.90 14.62 121.2
Vern Stephens 21-29 1942-50 8.56 225 26.29 265 40 5.70 7.02 111.3
Frankie Frisch 22-32 1921-31 10.46 274 26.20 366 92 7.52 12.23 106.3
Joe Cronin 23-34 1930-41 11.41 296 25.94 333 37 7.60 4.87 108.6
Jim Fregosi 21-28 1963-70 8.00 207 25.88 261 54 9.96 5.42 106.9
Jeff Kent 29-37 1997-05 9.00 232 25.78 339 107 7.59 14.10 116.6
Joe Sewell 22-29 1921-28 7.60 195 25.66 277 82 5.70 14.39 110.4
Billy Herman 25-33 1935-43 8.56 217 25.35 298 81 5.70 14.21 110.9
Barry Larkin 27-35 1991-99 8.57 217 25.32 347 130 10.00 13.00 101.3
Nellie Fox 23-32 1951-60 9.51 240 25.24 304 64 8.80 7.27 103.2
Pee Wee Reese 27-36 1946-55 9.51 237 24.92 314 77 5.70 13.51 100.8
Chuck Knoblauch 23-30 1992-99 7.57 188 24.83 231 43 4.00 10.75 110.9
Luke Appling 26/42 1933/49 14.26 354 24.82 378 24 4.75 5.05 100.3
Bobby Doerr 22/32 1940/50 9.51 232 24.40 281 49 3.80 12.89 107.7
Joe Gordon 23/34 1938/49 9.51 230 24.19 242 12 0.95 12.63 106.1
Bobby Grich 23-35 1972-84 12.67 296 23.36 329 33 4.00 8.25 99.5
Alan Trammell 22-32 1980-90 10.67 248 23.24 318 70 8.60 8.14 99.1
Lou Whitaker 26-35 1983-92 10.00 228 22.80 351 123 8.27 14.87 102.6
Ozzie Smith 30-37 1985-92 8.00 179 22.38 325 146 10.27 14.22 84.4
Tony Fernandez 23-31 1985-93 9.00 198 22.00 280 82 7.60 10.79 90.0
Tony Lazzeri 22-32 1926-36 10.46 230 21.99 252 22 2.85 7.72 105.6
Davey Concepcion 26-34 1974-82 8.67 189 21.80 269 80 9.95 8.04 85.9
Jay Bell 25-33 1991-99 8.57 183 21.35 245 62 9.00 6.89 99.5
Jim Gilliam 24-34 1953-63 10.60 219 20.66 247 28 3.00 9.33 84.3
Willie Randolph 21-32 1976-87 11.67 238 20.39 312 74 6.00 12.33 85.6
Bert Campaneris 23-34 1965-76 11.95 241 20.17 280 39 6.68 5.84 80.5
Ray Durham 26-34 1998-06 9.00 174 19.33 231 57 3.90 14.62 93.8
Davey Johnson 24-31 1967-74 8.00 147 18.38 171 24 5.00 4.80 86.7
Luis Aparicio 25-36 1959-70 11.85 212 17.89 293 81 5.80 13.97 76.2
Marty Marion 23-31 1941-49 8.56 153 17.87 177 24 3.80 6.32 66.8
Bill Mazeroski 20-31 1957-68 11.75 195 16.60 219 24 4.91 4.89 71.9
Frank White 27-36 1978-87 9.67 148 15.31 211 63 8.00 7.88 72.3

As you can see, Frisch, Cronin, Smith and Larkin – as befits their reputations – all go up the list by this measure, while Lazzeri, Whitaker, Bell and Durham go down (you will note, amusingly, that this puts Whitaker and Trammell together).
Two small data inconsistencies with the article, which was written after the 2006 season. One, I added Derek Jeter’s 2007 (but not 2008) to complete his prime years; two, I adjusted Miguel Tejada’s age.

Player Age Years Seasons WS WS/162 Career WS Rest Rest Yrs Avg WS Rate
Jackie Robinson 29-33 1948-52 4.75 162 34.11 257 95 4.75 20.00 135.6
Robin Yount 24-28 1980-84 4.67 144 30.84 423 279 15.00 18.60 129.2
Ernie Banks 24-30 1955-61 6.65 194 29.17 332 138 11.90 11.60 135.3
Rod Carew 25-29 1971-75 4.95 129 26.06 384 255 13.68 18.64 120.7
Miguel Tejada 26-32 2000-06 7.00 182 26.00 239 57 5.00 11.40 115.9
Eddie Stanky 28-34 1945-51 6.65 164 24.66 191 27 3.80 7.11 98.2
Nomar Garciaparra 23-29 1997-03 7.00 169 24.14 218 49 6.00 8.17 109.4
Gil McDougald 23-29 1951-57 6.65 157 23.61 194 37 2.85 12.98 94.8
Dave Bancroft 29-35 1920-26 6.65 156 23.46 269 113 8.28 13.65 93.2
Maury Wills 27-33 1960-66 6.90 160 23.19 253 93 6.91 13.46 80.4
Phil Rizzuto 29-35 1946-52 6.65 154 23.16 231 77 5.70 13.51 87.0
Davey Lopes 28-34 1973-79 7.00 158 22.57 240 82 8.64 9.49 93.0
Alvin Dark 26-32 1948-54 6.65 150 22.56 226 76 6.65 11.43 96.8
Julio Franco 26-32 1985-91 7.00 155 22.14 280 125 15.70 7.96 105.3
Red Schoendienst 28-34 1951-57 6.65 147 22.11 262 115 11.51 9.99 97.3
Travis Jackson 22-27 1926-31 5.70 126 22.11 211 85 8.56 9.93 89.0
Cecil Travis 21-27 1935-41 6.65 146 21.95 169 23 4.75 4.84 96.8
Omar Vizquel 29-35 1996-02 7.00 119 17.00 267 148 12.59 11.76 82.4

As discussed in the article, Carew and Yount – like A-Rod – have other seasons that are “prime” but not as middle infielders (I looked at Carew’s broader prime in the article on the tablesetters).

Brave Once Again

The Braves re-signing Rafael Furcal would seem, at first glance, an admission that the younger DP combination of Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson has failed, and needs to be replaced. But at least offensively, both Escobar and Johnson have held up their end, and I don’t really see the basis for dumping either of them on defensive grounds (just on a quick check, both had good range factors this season, and the Braves had a fairly good team Defensive Efficiency Rating and turned an above-average number of double plays). So I have to assume that the deal is setting up Escobar and/or Johnson to be traded (ESPN suggests possibly as a package for Jake Peavy).

Sometimes You Feel Like A Putz

Omar Minaya’s work on the bullpen this offseason has been less a restructuring than an exorcism, with the signing of Francisco Rodriguez, the trade of Scott Schoeneweis to Arizona, and the deal sending Aaron Heilman and Joe Smith to, respectively, the Mariners and Indians and bringing home JJ Putz, the Mets have now dumped most of the culprits in the last two seasons’ bullpen collapses (Guillermo Mota and Jorge Sosa already being gone and Luis Ayala not offered arbitration and possibly headed to Colorado, although Duaner Sanchez remains) and have two closers (Putz being the setup man as long as K-Rod is healthy) and pretty good odds that at least one of them will be really good. As of now, assuming Wagner’s not available to pitch next season, the pen looks like Rodriguez, Putz, Feliciano, Sanchez, the newly-acquired Sean Green, and youngsters (Feliciano being the only lefty in the group).
Keith Law has an overview here of the Putz deal. Putz has great stuff and still had an excellent K rate last season, but really – as we’ve said so often with the Mets the past few years – it’s all about his health. In pure baseball terms, the Mets did give up a lot to get Putz, but a good deal of that was guys like Heilman and Smith who probably needed to be evacuated from Queens. Endy Chavez will be missed for sentimental reasons but is the most replaceable type of outfielder and was barely playing by season’s end. The Mets need better bats in the corners, anyway. Mike Carp is the guy I hated to see go – he’ll just be 23 this year and batted .299/.403/.471 in AA in 2008, suggesting a guy who could be a legit 1B or LF in the bigs.
As for the other new arrivals, Jeremy Reed was a highly-touted prospect back when he batted .409/.472/.591 in half a season at AA as a 22-year-old, and his career minor league line is .321/.386/.476, but Reed’s never recovered his swing after some hand injuries and has at most been a singles hitter in the majors – last year from June 1 to August 16 he hit .297 but still managed just a .337 OBP and .394 slugging. He even hit better at home than on the road in 2008, for a change, so his struggles at the big league level can’t be blamed on Safeco.
Then there’s Green, who has been very frustrating for Mariners fans in his two full years in Seattle, in which he’s posted a 4.29 ERA in 136 appearances (146 if you count AAA). Green keeps the ball down (only 0.31 HR/9 over those two years) but is terribly wild (4.29 BB/9 compared to 7.04 K). He has about the same home and road numbers. But what jumps out, given the fairly large number of games he’s appeared in, is a very pronounced tendency to hit the wall in August: in 2007-08 he had a 2.76 ERA through July 31, averaging 7.99 Hits, 0.37 HR, 3.77 BB and 7.71 K per 9; from August 1 through the end of the year, that goes to a 7.35 ERA, 12.86 H, 0.18 HR, 5.33 BB and 5.69 K. Green threw, counting AAA, 45 games through the end of July 2007 and 53 through the end of July 2008 (on the whole, his 82 appearances from 8/1/07 through 7/31/08 ranked him sixth in the majors, albeit ranked behind Heilman and Feliciano and tied with Ayala). I don’t know if the late-season fades are preventable, but I’d sure like to see Green kept on a tighter leash in 2009.
On the Schoeneweis deal – as an exercise in comparative agony, consider this Chicago item begging the Cubs to trade Jason Marquis to get Schoeneweis. You can see the minor league numbers here for Connor Robertson, the righthanded reliever the Mets got for Schoenweis; he’ll be 27 next year and had a 5.02 ERA in the (admittedly hitter-happy) PCL last season, averaging 3.77 BB/9 and 1.26 wild pitches per 9. On the upside, he’s struck out 11.32 batters per 9 innings in his minor league career, and he doesn’t have Schoeneweis’ contract.

Stealing Time

For one of the longer-term projects I’ve been working on, I’ve been going over the league-wide stolen base and caught stealing data at Baseball-Reference.com; I’ve been going back to the beginning of the Retrosheet era in 1956, since that’s when the site has defensive stolen base data for individual catchers, although for the NL the site has league-wide figures back to 1951, and the AL to 1920.
Anyway, I thought I’d share the chart I put together for the 1956-2008 period, showing the number of games played, steals and caught stealings for each league, followed by the league-wide average of stolen base attempts per 162 team games and league-wide stolen base percentages.

1956 1242 371 242 80 60.5% 1236 348 253 79 57.9%
1957 1238 399 254 85 61.1% 1232 368 304 88 54.8%
1958 1232 388 236 82 62.2% 1238 353 280 83 55.8%
1959 1240 439 271 93 61.8% 1236 414 235 85 63.8%
1960 1238 501 313 107 61.5% 1234 422 234 86 64.3%
1961 1238 468 288 99 61.9% 1622 578 311 89 65.0%
1962 1624 788 409 119 65.8% 1618 560 292 85 65.7%
1963 1622 684 493 118 58.1% 1616 552 270 82 67.2%
1964 1624 636 419 105 60.3% 1628 540 300 84 64.3%
1965 1626 745 429 117 63.5% 1620 704 357 106 66.4%
1966 1618 737 494 123 59.9% 1612 718 432 116 62.4%
1967 1620 694 470 116 59.6% 1620 679 470 115 59.1%
1968 1626 704 460 116 60.5% 1624 811 471 128 63.3%
1969 1946 817 548 114 59.9% 1946 1033 570 133 64.4%
1970 1942 1045 516 130 66.9% 1946 863 562 119 60.6%
1971 1944 900 492 116 64.7% 1932 865 547 118 61.3%
1972 1860 954 552 131 63.3% 1858 853 539 121 61.3%
1973 1942 976 552 127 63.9% 1944 1058 661 143 61.5%
1974 1944 1254 625 157 66.7% 1946 1234 758 166 61.9%
1975 1942 1176 558 145 67.8% 1926 1348 811 182 62.4%
1976 1944 1364 677 170 66.8% 1934 1690 867 214 66.1%
1977 1944 1555 843 200 64.8% 2262 1462 936 172 61.0%
1978 1942 1533 725 188 67.9% 2262 1471 892 169 62.3%
1979 1942 1486 767 188 66.0% 2256 1497 831 167 64.3%
1980 1946 1839 835 223 68.8% 2264 1455 775 160 65.2%
1981 1288 1108 543 208 67.1% 1500 913 557 159 62.1%
1982 1944 1782 822 217 68.4% 2270 1394 795 156 63.7%
1983 1948 1786 870 221 67.2% 2270 1539 749 163 67.3%
1984 1942 1728 773 209 69.1% 2268 1304 738 146 63.9%
1985 1942 1636 716 196 69.6% 2264 1461 715 156 67.1%
1986 1938 1842 858 226 68.2% 2268 1470 762 159 65.9%
1987 1942 1851 757 218 71.0% 2268 1734 772 179 69.2%
1988 1938 1789 729 210 71.0% 2262 1512 689 158 68.7%
1989 1946 1529 715 187 68.1% 2266 1587 726 165 68.6%
1990 1944 1787 727 210 71.1% 2266 1503 783 163 65.7%
1991 1940 1651 809 205 67.1% 2268 1469 758 159 66.0%
1992 1944 1560 741 192 67.8% 2268 1704 860 183 66.5%
1993 2270 1714 788 179 68.5% 2268 1549 872 173 64.0%
1994 1606 1141 529 168 68.3% 1594 1117 503 165 69.0%
1995 2014 1602 671 183 70.5% 2020 1331 586 154 69.4%
1996 2268 1785 709 178 71.6% 2266 1454 634 149 69.6%
1997 2268 1817 841 190 68.4% 2264 1491 723 158 67.3%
1998 2596 1609 751 147 68.2% 2268 1675 754 174 69.0%
1999 2591 1959 830 174 70.2% 2265 1462 689 154 68.0%
2000 2593 1627 736 148 68.9% 2265 1297 587 135 68.8%
2001 2592 1456 735 137 66.5% 2266 1647 673 166 71.0%
2002 2588 1514 703 139 68.3% 2264 1236 579 130 68.1%
2003 2590 1294 585 118 68.9% 2270 1279 547 130 70.0%
2004 2590 1336 527 117 71.7% 2266 1253 573 131 68.6%
2005 2594 1349 560 119 70.7% 2268 1216 509 123 70.5%
2006 2590 1515 610 133 71.3% 2268 1252 500 125 71.5%
2007 2594 1564 506 129 75.6% 2268 1354 496 132 73.2%
2008 2588 1482 547 127 73.0% 2268 1317 488 129 73.0%
TOTAL 103614 67266 32156 155 67.7% 105398 61396 31575 143 66.0%

A couple of conclusions:
1. You can see the rapid upward movements in steal attempts in the NL around 1962 (Maury Wills’ big year) and 1974 (Lou Brock’s), the AL much later in 1965-66 and then around 1974, and the big falloff around 2000 capping a longer-term decline (the NL’s one-year spike in 1999 looks like just a fluke).
2. We’re at something like a historic happy medium for stolen base attempts. Very low numbers of steal attempts generally mean that a lot of steal attempts are busted hit-and-runs, with a low success rate (the stolen base percentages of the 1950s bear this out), whereas very high numbers indicate a lot of high-risk running.
3. I think a good deal of the shift from the AL to the NL in big base stealing in the late 1970s was driven not just by the DH rule but by managers: Chuck Tanner moved to the NL in 1977, Whitey Herzog in 1980. Tanner in particular left his stamp on the AL in 1976, when he forgot his mother’s admonition that if you make that steal sign on Opening Day it might freeze that way. The 1976 A’s, on their way to their first failure to win the division in six years (helped along by the exodus of the Mustache Gang’s stars) attempted an obscene 464 steals (the only other team in the league over 230 was Herzog’s Royals at 322), albeit at an admirable 73.5% success rate. Don Baylor attempted 64 steals, Bill North 104, Sal Bando (!) 26, Phil Garner 48, Claudell Washington 57, Bert Campaneris 66, and the team’s two full-time pinch runners, Matt Alexander and Larry Lintz, combined to attempt 69 steals while having only 33 plate appearances.
4. Stolen base percentages were growing steadily for much of the period, but have really entered a golden age only in the last 2-4 years – before 2004-05, it was rare for the AL to reach a 70% success rate, and the NL wasn’t able to stay consistently above 70%; since then, we’ve seen the NL average spiral as high as 75.6%, with both leagues above 73% the past two seasons for the first time ever. The Mets and Phillies, led by Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, have been the leaders: in 2007-08, the Mets attempted an average of 210 steals per year with an 80.5% success rate, the Phillies an average of 159 steals with an 86.2% success rate.
It’s an interesting question what the cause of this is. Probably the influence of sabermetrics is a part, especially since the growing popularity of Baseball Prospectus, the 2003 publication of Moneyball, the passing of generational torches and other events have helped focus managers’ attention on not running themselves out of innings (a process accelerated by the post-1994 scoring/home run explosion that peaked in 1999-2000). I suspect that baserunners have gotten faster at a greater rate than catchers have been throwing harder. I don’t think it’s the pitchers; if anything, you hardly see the big leg kicks of the 1970s anymore. Looking around the league, it’s hard to say that teams are really diminishing the priority they place on catchers who can throw, either (Piazza’s not in the league anymore). I don’t think equipment is a big factor, especially with artificial turf in declining usage, but better shoes may be incrementally aiding the baserunners.
Anyway, it’s yet another reminder of how many different aspects of the game evolve over time, both in terms of strategy and in terms of outcomes.

It’s Not The Years, It’s The Miles

Quick followup to the anecdotal evidence cited in yesterday’s post: here’s the complete list of pitchers who threw at least 200 games through age 26, with at least half of those appearances in relief. As you can see, K-Rod is second on the list at 408, and the #3 guy, Terry Forster, is 65 games behind him. K-Rod trails Mitch Williams 437-429 if you include the postseason.


No formal confirmation yet, but the Mets appear to have signed Francisco Rodriguez for 3 years and $37 million. This is good news for the Mets, and of course much worse news for the Angels, who have a fairly big budget of their own to throw around but have a lot of holes to plug.
First, the Angels. They exceeded their Pythagorean record by 12 games in 2008, which means that (1) they’re due to fall backwards next year and (2) they relied heavily on a deep bullpen in 2008. Take K-Rod out of the picture, and that will be stretched thinner (Darren Oliver is returning, but he’s not cut out to be more than a fifth man in the pen). I assume Jose Arredondo will eventually take over closing duties, though Scot Shields will probably get first crack. And that’s before you deal with the challenge of re-signing Mark Teixeira, as well as clearing out Jon Garland and Garret Anderson and Juan Rivera also free agents – all guys (other than Tex) that you can spare, but it’s harder to replace them all at once.
From the Mets perspective, I’ve always liked K-Rod, but I’ve been suspicious of him as a long-term investment. Some of that may just be a matter of listening to the Baseball Prospectus people fretting about his mechanics for years, of course. But there’s also history: as I have noted before, by far the most similar pitcher to K-Rod through age 26 is Gregg Olson, who flamed out at 27, and #3 is Bobby Thigpen, who did the same at 28. Looking at the all-time leaders through age 26, K-Rod is one of 3 relievers in the top 10 in games pitched (the rest are 19th century starting pitchers), and the others are Mitch Williams, finished at 29, and Terry Forster, who threw just 58 innings between age 27 and 29. The top 10 in saves is K-Rod, Olson, Thigpen, Chad Cordero (who was hurt most of this season at age 26), Rod Beck, Williams, Ugueth Urbina, Bruce Sutter (who had his first off year at 30 and broke down starting at 32), Billy Koch, who hit the wall at 28, and Forster. Even bearing in mind that K-Rod has none of Williams’ mental problems or Forster’s conditioning issues, basically there’s two guys on that list who didn’t really suffer a sudden loss in effectiveness (Beck and Urbina, although Beck basically never recovered his high strikeout rates) and one (Sutter) who lasted into his 30s before the wheels came off. Turning to the top 10 in games finished, we get most of the same crowd plus Goose Gossage, whose broken hand at 27 was the only bump in the road, Byung-Hyun Kim, who missed most of his age 25 season and hasn’t been the same since, and Jorge Julio, who at any rate has come down in the world from when he was 23, was terrible at 26 and 28 and was hurt this season at 29. We may not have a very lengthy track record to evaluate the durability of young relievers who throw a lot of games in their early twenties, but what we do have presents pretty grim odds.
Statistically, there’s also K-Rod’s declining K rate; although it was still over 10 this year, the trend combined with his high walk rate are worrisome signs.
All of which is why a 4-year contract would have scared me, a lot, and why I still regard K-Rod as a risky acquisition, much as Billy Wagner and BJ Ryan were big injury risks three years ago, and both of them went down. But the Mets needed a closer; Wagner’s out most or probably all of next year, and K-Rod was better than the other options on the market. If he stays healthy for two of the three years of the deal, it won’t be a bad investment. The Mets took advantage of the fact that there were more closers on the market than demand for them, and played some hardball. They will need more relievers to overhaul the bullpen after the last two seasons’ fiascoes, but this was the logical place to start.
One guy they were rumored to be considering: Trevor Hoffman, who would give them three pitchers under contract with a total of 1147 career saves. Hoffman’s close to finished and can’t carry a huge workload – he threw 45.1 innings this season – but he may have enough left to contribute as a setup man. He had a 2.88 ERA from April 13 to the end of the year, including a 41-5 K-BB ratio. Over the past two years, righties have batted .167/.188/.292 (Avg/OBP/Slg) against Hoffman compared to .295/.355/.472 for lefties, which suggests that he might be more useful in a situational role (of course, I said that earlier this year about Schoenweis – guys with those splits tend to get exposed sooner or later). I’m not saying Hoffman’s a good idea, but if he’s not too expensive he may have his uses.

Sour Grapes

Lots of stuff to blog about today that deserves longer treatment, but I just have to say that while Ron Santo strikes me as a deserving Hall of Famer (not overwhelmingly so, but he clearly meets the standard for third basemen after you finish adjusting his numbers for the huge boost he got from Wrigley Field – career .296/.383/.522 at home, .257/.342/.406 on the road – as offset by the terrible era for hitters he played in), his complaining about the Veterans Committee balloting system can’t help but come off as sour grapes. Frankly, the Veterans Commitee exists for one reason: to correct injustices, whether to guys the writers never saw play (i.e., Negro Leaguers, pre-1930s players) or that the writers for whatever reason failed to appreciate or had a grudge against. If the commitee rarely elects anybody, that’s fine.

Hall Calls Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon has been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, as other candidates including Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Gil Hodges, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, and seriously old-time players like Sherry Magee, Bill Dahlen and Deacon White fell short. I’ll come back to some of the guys who lost when I have more time to write, but you can go here for my take on Gordon as well as Vern Stephens and Maury Wills, also on this year’s ballot. (In fact, I’ve been meaning to revisit and supplement that essay with an additional point, and will when I get a chance). Basically, Gordon – who died 30 years ago – is OK with me as a Hall of Famer when you give him back the two years he lost to World War II (he probably wouldn’t have hit .210 in 1946, either, if he hadn’t missed those two years). He was extremely comparable as a hitter to his contemporary Bobby Doerr and to a lesser extent Tony Lazzeri and Frankie Frisch, though less adept at getting on base than Lazzeri and Frisch, and while all four had comparable-length primes, Frisch had a longer career and success as a manager (Gordon didn’t, and this excellent Steven Goldman essay I’d been meaning to link to gives Gordon some of the blame, along with Bobby Bragan, for ruining Herb Score’s arm).
I also looked here at the 1948 Indians, for whom Gordon played a key role; Gordon is the sixth member of that team inducted to the Hall, as well as the seventh member of the 1938-39 Yankees and the seventh member of the 1941-42 Yankees (incidentally, that 1942 Yankees team, for which Gordon won an MVP award that really should have gone to Ted Williams – Williams won the Triple Crown, led the league in Runs by 18, RBI by 23, Slugging by 135 points and OBP by 82 and times on base by 60 – was a really good team, starring Gordon, the DiMaggio-Keller-Henrich outfield, Rizzuto, Dickey, and a largely forgotten pitching staff, although they were overshadowed by the late-30s editions and the fact that they lost the Series to a Cardinals juggernaut).

Triple Crown Trivia

The pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in Wins, ERA and Strikeouts) may not have the glamor of the batting one, but its winners make up a pretty distinguished roster. Try your hand at some Triple Crown trivia, answers below the fold.
1. Since 1997, we’ve had a bumper crop, with five pitchers winning a total of six Triple Crowns. Name them.
2. Name the threeo pitchers to win it three times.
3. Two of the first three winners (Tommy Bond in 1877 and Guy Hecker in the American Association in 1884) aren’t in Cooperstown – but between 1889 and 1996, 18 pitchers combined to do it 27 times – name the three of those 18 who are not in the Hall of Fame.

Continue reading Triple Crown Trivia

Billingsley Broken

Chad Billingsley has a fractured fibula from a fall on ice. Hopefully, the prognosis of being ready to go by the spring is on target. The Dodgers have a bunch of talented young pitchers, but as the one who has proven the most so far, Billingsley’s probably the single player – even beyond Russell Martin – most important to the franchise’s future, as a 23-year-old coming off his first 200 IP/200 K season.

Start Me Or Trade Me

Aaron Heilman wants to start in Queens or start somewhere else. Heilman’s failure last season at least takes away the “he’s too valuable in the pen” card – I personally think that (1) he needs a change of scenery so badly the Mets probably have to sell low and get rid of him and (2) the logical destination is St. Louis. Heilman’s 30 years old, reasonably healthy, has a history of some success but has lacked consistency and has lately been failing – that is, to a T, the profile of the kind of pitcher LaRussa and Duncan have made their careers with, from Dave Stewart to Eckersley to Chris Carpenter to Lamarr Hoyt to Isringhausen to Storm Davis to Looper to Lohse to Todd Stottlemyre, etc.

Moose It Or Lose It

While he was still issuing non-denial denials last night, it certainly looks all but official that Mike Mussina is retiring. It’s a shame for the game, and a decision Mussina may regret later on. Mussina can afford to retire, of course – according to Baseball-Reference.com, he’s made $144 million in his career – but even if he hung on 2 or 3 more years, he’d still be 42 or 43 years old and never have to work again, with maybe 40+ years of retirement ahead of him. But you only get a limited number of years to play Major League caliber baseball.
Sure, Mussina’s very unlikely to have another year like 2008. After a a 4.59 ERA in 2004, a 4.41 ERA in 2005, a 5.15 ERA in 2007 and a 5.75 ERA in his first four starts in 2008, Mussina, who turns 40 in December, can be forgiven for thinking that the pendulum will swing back down sooner rather than later, and deciding to go out on top. But still: the man has won 270 games and is coming off a 20-win season when he struck out 150 batters and walked 31. Mussina almost certainly deserves to go to Cooperstown, as discussed below, but from here on in, even another 5 or 10 or 15 wins is going to make his case that much easier, and it’s hardly improbable for him to get to 300 wins; given the exclusivity of that club, it’s hard to imagine a competitive professional athlete never looking back and wondering if he could have done that. Plus, of course, Mussina’s on the Yankees; if he drops back to a 5.00 ERA next year, he’ll still win games. And who wants to retire having pitched 8 seasons with the Yankees and never won a championship?
Buster Olney argues that it’s about the age of his kids:

Mussina’s logic in retiring now is that he really felt like that if he was going to continue playing, it was going to be because he would pursue 300 victories — and with 270 wins, he felt that realistically, he probably would have to pitch three seasons to get those last 30 victories. And he did not want to pitch three more seasons, not at a time when his youngest children are beginning to play youth sports and he can coach them.

Well, OK…I get that if his family’s in Pennsylvania he doesn’t get the same kind of time at home as if they were in New York, and he’d still be 3-4 hours from home even if he signed with the Phillies. But this is a guy who is off for three full months of the offseason, the kids can come to NY for the summer…it’s still not a bad life.
Anyway, assuming Mussina calls it quits, will he make the Hall? I’d assume he will – especially now that the “he never won 20” knock is gone, and probably the writers, ever suckers for a human interest angle, will give him a break on falling short of 300 because he could have if he’d wanted to.
And he should. Let’s look at the career records of pitchers since 1893 with between 250 and 300 wins, ranked by ERA+ (park-adjusted league ERA divided by career ERA; 100 is a league-average pitcher, higher is better; G+ is games over .500). I’ve left off here 5 such pitchers who pitched mostly or entirely before the mound moved back in 1893 (Al Spalding, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, and Jim McCormick), of whom only Spalding’s in the Hall, since there’s no point comparing Mussina to the standards by which those guys are judged:

Pitcher W G+ W% IP ERA+ HoF?
Randy Johnson 295 135 .648 4039.1 137 n/e
Carl Hubbell 253 99 .622 3590.1 130 IN
Bob Gibson 251 77 .591 3884.1 127 IN
Jim Palmer 266 116 .638 3948.0 126 IN
Mike Mussina 270 117 .638 3562.2 123 n/e
Bob Feller 266 104 .621 3827.0 122 IN
Red Faber 254 41 .544 4086.2 119 IN
Bert Blyleven 287 37 .534 4970.0 118 Out
Ted Lyons 260 30 .531 4161.0 118 IN
Fergie Jenkins 284 58 .557 4500.2 115 IN
Eppa Rixey 266 15 .515 4494.2 115 IN
Robin Roberts 286 41 .539 4688.2 113 IN
Tommy John 288 57 .555 4710.1 110 Out
Red Ruffing 273 48 .548 4344.0 109 IN
Jim Kaat 283 46 .544 4530.1 107 Out
Burleigh Grimes 270 58 .560 4180.0 107 IN
Jack Morris 254 68 .577 3824.0 105 Out

Now, there are two guys on this list who still don’t belong here – Randy Johnson will most likely cross the 300-win barrier next season if he’s healthy for even about a third of the season, and Bob Feller would probably have won 300 and had better career averages if he hadn’t missed more than 3 years of his prime to World War II. And of course, career totals aren’t the be-all and end-all (Roberts, in particular, is in the Hall for his dominant prime, not his career totals). That said, two things should jump out at you here: a lot more of these guys are in the Hall than out, and Mussina looks a lot more like the guys who are in with no questions asked than like the guys who are out (243-game winner Juan Marichal comes up as the most similar player to Mussina). He may be superficially similar to Jack Morris, but he’s really much more similar to Jim Palmer – all three had good offenses behind them (Mussina probably had less defensive support than Morris, and definitely less than Palmer), but Mussina’s record is pretty consistent with his ERAs. The worst you can say is that Mussina, in line with modern practice, has thrown a lot fewer innings, but recall as well that he’s thrown an extra 139.2 innings of postseason work. And he’s been fantastically consistent – 17 straight seasons winning in double figures with only one losing season, 9 straight 200-IP seasons, 12 straight with ERA+ better than 100. In today’s American League in particular, that’s more than enough for me.

Mauer for MVP

As I have noted previously, this year’s AL MVP race is a mess because so many of the possible candidates got hurt. Carlos Quentin went down for the season from his own foolishness at a key point in the race for a team that went all the way to a 1-game playoff. Evan Longoria, the best player on the league’s best team, missed a month; Ian Kinsler missed more. Curtis Granderson played brilliantly upon his return from injury, but his team was already down for the count when he started his season. A-Rod, the defending MVP, led the league in slugging again but missed 24 games. Milton Bradley was the league’s best hitter, but he was only able to appear in 126 games (and the Rangers were happy to get that much from him).
Nor can you really give it to a pitcher. I’ve explained already why K-Rod is a silly MVP candidate. And Cliff Lee had a great year, but not the kind of super-dominant season necessary to give the MVP to a starting pitcher who threw 223 innings for an also-ran team (I did argue for Pedro as MVP in 1998, 1999 and 2000 – in retrospect, that 1998 column looks kinda silly – so I’m not averse in extreme cases to giving it to a pitcher).
What does that leave? I’m fine with giving the award to a player on a non-competitive team, but not if it’s a guy who doesn’t play a key defensive position and isn’t clearly the best hitter in the league, so sorting through Josh Hamilton (and his gaudy RBI totals), Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore (neither of whom even had a particularly great year by their own standards), Aubrey Huff, and Nick Markakis is pointless. Among the contenders, Justin Morneau likewise was just another good first baseman. You want the award with your bat, you have to seize it.
Probably the best offensive player among the guys who stayed healthy all year and played for a contender was Kevin Youkilis, who batted .312/.390/.569, drove in 115 runs and grounded into only 11 double plays and pitched in as a respectable substitute at 3B in addition to playing first. Youkilis would not be the worst MVP, but fundamentally, it comes down to the two guys who were competitive with him with the bat and contributed more on the defensive side: Joe Mauer and Dustin Pedroia. Let’s look at the offensive tale of the tape:

Mauer 146 633 394 242 261 .328 .413 .451 .734 137 98 85 1 22
Pedroia 157 726 474 322 270 .326 .376 .493 .782 122 118 83 20 18

PA=Plate Appearances
TOB=Times on Base
XO=Extra outs (GIDP plus Caught Stealings)
LgOPS=Park-adjusted League OPS, from Baseball-Reference.com

As you can see, you can make a case for either of them with the bat. Mauer has the 37-point edge in on base percentage; Pedroia has the 42-point edge in slugging. Pedroia scored 20 more runs and racked up 80 more total bases on the strength of 93 more plate appearances, but he also used up 80 more outs in those extra 93 plate appearances, so the marginal offensive value to the team was pretty much negative. On the other hand, that also translates to an extra 19 games in the field (Mauer caught 139 games), which is important when comparing two good defensive players at key defensive positions. Pedroia stole 20 bases, something Mauer at age 25 has already stopped doing. But note the LgOPS figure: Fenway was a much more favorable offensive environment this season, so while both players hit better at home than on the road, overall you have to apply a bigger discount to Pedroia’s numbers.
Baseball Prospectus’ VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which rates hitters compared to a replacement-level player at the same position, rates Pedroia #3 and Mauer #4 in the league, with A-Rod at #1 and Sizemore at #2.
What about “clutch” performance with the bat? I’m not a great believer in clutch ability as a persistent trait, but there’s no question that in determining value in a particular season, it’s fair to look at who actually did come through in big situations. Let’s look how they hit with men in scoring position, men on base and in the late innings of close games:

Mauer 185 .362 .465 .449 312 .353 .441 .456 105 .318 .429 .553
Pedroia 198 .307 .365 .466 320 .310 .367 .453 107 .368 .419 .526

Both fine performances, but advantage: Mauer for his superior batting and OBP figures with men on base, which is how he managed more RBI in fewer opportunities. Pedroia, of course, finished the season withg a flourish, but Mauer, with his team in a death struggle for the division title, batted .365/.414/.490 the last month of the season, a tough time of year for a guy who’s been behind the plate all season.
It’s a close call, but at the end of the day, I have to rate Mauer slightly ahead with the bat, given that most of Pedroia’s offensive advantages simply come from playing in a better hitters’ park and burning a lot of extra outs. And then you turn to the defensive side. That’s more subjective, given the difficulty of getting good defensive stats. The Win Shares system, which tabs Mauer as the AL MVP over Youkilis and Morneau (with Pedroia tied for sixth), rates him second only to Kurt Suzuki for the most valuable defensive player in the league (Suzuki’s the only catcher in the AL to catch more innings than Mauer), with Pedroia seventh. ESPN’s Zone Ratings peg Pedroia as the second-best AL 2B behind Mark Ellis; among the catchers, Mauer’s rated #3 behind Suzuki and Dioner Navarro in catching base thieves. The Fielding Bible +/- ratings rate Pedroia at +15, the fifth best 2B in MLB. Clearly, both guys contributed a good deal with the glove.
It’s hard to get a good comparison, but good catchers who can hit are really hard to come by, and ones who can stay in the lineup for 633 plate appearances are even rarer. And consider that the 25-year-old Mauer also did such a good job with the Twins’ young pitching staff – the overachievement of the Twins’ young arms (between Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano, the Twins gave 128 starts to four pitchers who had an average of 20 career starts and 126 innings entering the season) was a big part of how they ended up in the race to the season’s final day despite being buried by most commentators after the Santana trade. Catchers used to win a lot of MVP awards; that’s fallen out of favor (Pudge Rodriguez in 1999 is the only catcher to win the award since Thurman Munson in 1976; Mike Piazza couldn’t even win when he batted .362/.431/.638 and drove in 124 runs playing for a contending team in Dodger Stadium), but Mauer is pretty much the textbook example of how a catcher can make a big difference on several fronts, from getting on base to hitting in the clutch to cutting off the running game and handling the pitchers (he’s the closest thing we’ll likely see in our lifetimes to Mickey Cochrane). He could easily have been MVP two years ago when he became the first AL catcher to win a batting title; between Mauer’s offensive and defensive contributions, I’d say he should win it this year after being the second.
UPDATE: Pedroia wins, Morneau finishes second. The tools of ignorance once again get no respect. The good news? K-Rod finished sixth.
SECOND UPDATE: I suppose Pedroia’s strong second half was just too much to overcome. Pedroia was batting .262/.313/.365 on the morning of June 14, but from June 15 to the end of the season he hit .375/.422/.590 and scored 78 runs in 88 games. That sort of thing tends to leave an impression. I really have no idea what we should expect from Pedroia next year – my guess would be less power overall, but maybe a few more homers.


The NL MVP balloting will be announced this afternoon. To my mind, there’s only one candidate: Albert Pujols.
There seems to be a fair amount of sentiment for Ryan Howard, as there was before the Mets’ collapse for Carlos Delgado, and for the same reasons….but Pujols is the best player in the league, he had arguably his best year with the bat, he’s a better defensive player and baserunner than Howard or Delgado or Lance Berkman, he doesn’t play in an offensive haven like Philly or Houston, and his team, with a deeply unimpressive collection of supporting talent, won 86 games, was within 2 games of first place on July 22 and 4 games on August 1, and within 2 games of the wild card lead on August 16 and 3 1/2 on September 9. Pujols led the league in Slugging and OPS, was second in batting and on base percentage, and despite missing two weeks with an injury he managed to lead the league in Total Bases and Times on Base and finish third in homers, fourth in RBI, third in hits, second in walks and fourth in doubles (Chipper Jones was the only really comparable hitter in the league in percentage terms, but Pujols had 641 plate appearances to Jones’ 534). There’s really no serious dispute that if you put Pujols on the Phillies or Mets in place of Howard or Delgado, the team with Pujols would have improved by several games, and the Cardinals would have gone nowhere.
Pujols batted .357/.462/.653 on the season, .335/.443/.613 on the road. Howard batted .251/.339/.543 on the season – a 106 point gap in batting average, a 123 point gap in OBP, and a 110 point gap in slugging. Howard may have had the great September, but Pujols batted .398/.491/.745 in August and .321/.427/.702 in September. With 2 outs and men in scoring position he hit .326/.592/.791. On the whole, Ryan Howard batted .276/.370/.638 with 18 HR and 51 RBI and 38 Runs from August 1 to the end of the season; Pujols, with a lot less help from his teammates, batted .363/.461/.725 with 16 HR, 49 RBI and 35 Runs over the same period.
Howard batted .241/.317/.514 on the road, making him an easier out on the road than Yadier Molina, Cristian Guzman, Brian Schneider, Kazuo Matsui, Aaron Miles, Marco Scutaro, Jeff Keppinger, or Rich Aurilia (Pujols led the majors in OBP on the road), and a less fearsome slugger away from Citizens Bank than Jayson Werth, Xavier Nady, Casey Blake, Cody Ross, or Mike Cameron (Pujols led the majors in Slugging on the road).
Pujols batted .354/.494/.638 with men on base, compared to Howard’s .309/.396/.648 (yes, Howard really did elevate his game with men on base – there is some reason for him being in this discussion). Pujols batted .339/.523/.678 with runners in scoring position, compared to Howard’s .320/.439/.589. The difference? Howard had 47 more plate appearances with men in scoring position (223 to 176) and 29 more with men on base (351 to 322). As with Francisco Rodriguez’ save opportunities, Howard is an MVP candidate almost entirely because of the opportunities his teammates gave him. He may have raised his game in those situations, but even then, as in the stretch run, he couldn’t raise it to Pujols’ level.
Berkman had a better year than Howard, but also doesn’t stack up to Pujols, and unlike Howard’s RBI advantage he did nothing better than Pujols except steal 18 bases. He batted .312/.420/.567, .306/.413/.514 on the road. He had a horrendous September, batting .171/.343/.289.
There are a number of other guys who have good arguments for being on the ballot besides Howard and Berkman – Jones, Delgado, Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum, four other Mets (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana), Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, maybe even Manny down at the end of the ballot. But there’s only one choice for #1: Albert Pujols.


Excellent move by the Yankees to buy low and pick up Nick Swisher (don’t be fooled by David Pinto’s headline) coming off a terrible year in which he hit .219. Swisher’s only 28, he can play 1B and RF and even play center in a pinch; he was an excellent player in 2006 and 2007, and he had productive stretches in 2008 (in 71 games from June 3 through August 26, he batted .262/.374/.545, averaging 41 HR, 91 walks, 116 Runs and 116 RBI per 162 games). It was really just his batting average that fell off, as his Isolated Power was essentially unchanged from 2007. Swisher will always struggle with his average, but basically he’s a good player hitting .255, but not when hitting .220.
Pinto notes that Swisher particularly struggled on the road, so a change of park alone won’t help him. It’s certainly possible that he’s just washed up young, as sometimes happens to young players with his skill set (the Yankees had a similar failed experiment with Morgan Ensberg, who’s a couple years older, this season), but the odds favor a return to productivity, similar to Johnny Damon after his off-year at age 27. Swisher was probably miscast as a leadoff man, batting .210/.354/.324 in the role (by contrast, he actually hit better when playing center field than 1B, so you can’t blame the strain of a tougher defensive position). My guess is that he’s the kind of player who will particularly benefit from a lower-profile role down in the lineup, even on the bigger stage New York provides.
The Yankees got him fairly cheap (cheap enough that I’m left wondering why Omar Minaya didn’t go after him, given the Mets’ holes in the OF corners). Part of the reason, as usual, was money: Swisher “has three years left on a five-year, $26.75 million contract.” Wilson Betemit has his uses but is pretty much your classic expendable utility infielder at this point, and has been used mostly as a first baseman of late. Jeff Marquez, a 24-year-old starter who posted a 3.65 ERA with just 5.45 K/9 in 2007 at AA and a 4.47 ERA with 4.47 K/9 mostly at AAA this season, would appear to be a marginal prospect at best. 23-year-old Jhonny Nunez has a career minor league ERA of 3.64 and has pitched just 27 innings above A ball, and so can’t really be projected much; I don’t know anything about him but his numbers, but my guess is that a guy his age with good K rates and spotty control will probably get converted to the bullpen. As Pinto discusses, Kanekoa Texeira, the reliever the Yankees got in return, seems a much better prospect than either of them; he “does exactly what a team wants; lots of strikeouts, few walks and a minuscule number of home runs.”

Holliday On The Road To Fremont

Now, we’re starting to get some real activity in the baseball offseason. The big news is a projected, non-finalized blockbuster deal sending Matt Holliday to the A’s for a package that reportedly includes Greg Smith, Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez. I’ll try to look at the on-the-field angle once we have a final report of the players involved, but this is an interesting deal from the perspective of analyzing the A’s franchise, since it represents the A’s doing the big-market thing and packaging young players for an established star, represented by Scott Boras, who is going to command a huge salary on the free agent market after the 2009 season (much like when they acquired Johnny Damon, who promptly had a lousy year and then left). It remains to be seen whether Lew Wolff is planning to pull the trigger on a big contract for Holliday now that the A’s are heading for a new stadium and a new city.
On that subject, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman ran for re-election as a supporter of finally bringing the A’s to Fremont by 2012 (his opponent was against the plan), and Wasserman’s victory is widely seen as a victory for the new stadium. Wolff sees it that way, and is still hopeful that the park can be ready by 2011:

Despite challenges to building a new baseball stadium, Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said “we can get it done” in Fremont.
Wolff said Monday at a luncheon of the Associated Press Sports Editors that, “We’re getting close to receiving the first drafts of the environmental impact reports,” according to ESPN.com. “We’ve run into lots of things, which every developer does in California.”
Some Fremont resident concern about traffic and public transportation access to the project, for example, has dogged the project.
Still, Wolff cited last week’s election results in Fremont as a development that broke in his favor. Voters in the city re-elected incumbent Mayor Bob Wasserman, a strong supporter of a plan by the Oakland Athletics to build a $500 million stadium surrounded by 3,150 residential units and enough retail and restaurant space to fill almost nine football fields.

The bad news:

Wolff would change the team’s name to the Athletics at Fremont, and the classic brick ballpark, scheduled for completion in 2012, would be named Cisco Field after the computer networking company.

Ugh. I suppose “at” conveys their transience better than “of” … given the franchise’s history, they may as well just call them the Traveling Athletics and be done with it.

Least Valuable of All

A little detour to the days of yore: Looking back in baseball history, no discussion of the least valuable players in any single season can be complete without Joe Gerhardt in 1885.
Baseball in the 1880s had a number of very good 1- or 2-year teams (such as those turned in by NL franchises in Detroit and Providence), but the decade was really dominated by three franchises: in the NL, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) of 1880-86 and the New York Giants of 1885-89, and in the American Association the St. Louis Browns of 1885-89 (the Browns moved to the NL after the AA folded in 1891, and are now the Cardinals).
The Giants, in fact, got the nickname that stuck with them largely from the 1885 team, which featured six Hall of Famers in their primes:
*Towering, slugging 27-year-old first baseman Roger Connor (at 6’3″ a huge man for the era) was probably the second-best hitter of the decade behind Dan Brouthers – Connor held the career home run record until Babe Ruth, although in those days power was mostly about doubles and triples, which he also produced in bulk – and Connor had his best season, batting .371/.435/.495 compared to a league Avg/OBP/Slg of .241/.284/.322, for an OPS+ of 198 (i.e., nearly twice as good as the league-average hitter).
*25-year-old catcher Buck Ewing, at 5’10” also on the tall side even for a mid-twentieth catcher, batted .304/.330/.471 (OPS+ 155). As Bill James has documented, Ewing’s peers regarded him as the best player in 19th century baseball; his batting stats don’t entirely bear that out, but in his prime he was as good a hitter relative to his leagues as all but a handful of catchers in the game’s history, and that’s before you get to his defense. We don’t have stolen base data before 1886 or caught stealings before the mid-teens, but in 2008 the average team stole 0.57 bases per game in the NL, 0.58 in the AL; in 1886, the NL average was 1.35. So, even adjusting for the open-ended definition of stolen bases in those days, there were a lot of people running. A typical modern catcher averages less than an assist every two games, with around half of those being caught stealings; Ewing, for his career, averaged 1.6 assists per game – a role much more active, between gunning down base thieves and pouncing on bunts, than today’s catchers (Ewing’s career range factor, measuring number of plays made per game, was 11% better than the league, and 8.6% better at third base, where he played part-time in his later years).
*34-year-old center fielder Jim O’Rourke had a year typical of his long career, batting .300/.354/.442 (155) and scoring 119 runs in 112 games. The team’s two other veteran outfielders batted .326/.346/.421 (146) and .293/.317/.362 (118).
*They also had 25-year-old shortstop John Ward, a Hall of Famer more for his pitching and his role as a union organizer and all-around poineer; Ward was the team’s second-weakest hitter at .226/.255/.285 (73).
*The team had two ace starting pitchers, both 300-game winners; against a league ERA of 2.82, 25-year-old Mickey Welch had his best season, going 44-11 with a 1.66 ERA, while 28-year-old Tim Keefe went 31-12 with a 1.58 ERA. The two accounted for 89% of the Giants’ decisions.
Overall, in the shortened seasons common at the time, the Giants cruised to an 85-27 record, for a .759 winning percentage, a 123-win pace in a modern schedule. (Their Pythagorean record was the same, reflecting the league’s second-best offense – by a run and a quarter over #3 – and by far its best pitching/defense team.) But there was one problem:
They finished second.
You see, the White Stockings, behind among others Hall of Famers Cap Anson, King Kelly and John Clarkson – the latter going 53-16 with a 1.85 ERA, the second-highest win total of all time – went 87-25 (.777), a 126-win pace by today’s schedule and good enough to take the pennant by two games. They didn’t have the Giants’ pitching depth and defense, or a hitter as good as Connor, but other than a .209-hitting half-time catcher they had no real holes in their lineup, and so scored a run a game more than the Giants. Despite winning the season series against the White Stockings 10-6, the Giants spent the last two thirds of the season looking up in the standings, and scored just 8 runs in three straight losses to Chicago at the end of September to ice the race.
In the middle of this you had the 30-year-old Gerhardt (himself 6 feet tall), who played every inning of every game at second, and batted a staggeringly anemic .155/.203/.195 (29), considerably worse than the team’s pitchers. Gerhardt scored just 43 runs, compared to 51 for the pitchers and a team average of 85 for the other 7 lineup spots. Amazingly for the day, he had more strikeouts than runs scored. He may not have been that fast, either – in a league where everybody ran constantly, he played everyday in 1886 as well and stole just 8 bases. This is just a breathtakingly disastrous offensive showing for a guy on a great team that was having a great season and coming up short. It’s hard to think of a team this good that had a guy whose OPS was less than a third of the league playing anything like every single game.
Did Gerhardt make up for it with his glove? At a remove of 123 years, based on the numbers alone, it’s hard to say. Manager Jim Mutrie, who won 3 pennants and more than 60% of his career games, must have seen something in him besides the absence of warm bodies on the rosters of the day to justify that awful bat. The Giants were a tremendous defensive team, which speaks well of Gerhardt – while they led the league in strikeouts handily (4.61/game compared to a league average of 3.75), the low ERAs testify more to a great record on balls in play – their defensive efficiency rating (% of balls in play becoming outs) of .701 was almost 30 points higher than that of the #2 team and good even for a 21st century team, let alone a team with guys playing the infield barehanded or wearing gloves that to the modern eye look more like Isotoners; their .929 fielding percentage was likewise 13 points above the nearest competition, and in those days fielding percentages really made a difference, with most fielders making an error one times in ten.
Individually, Gerhardt’s numbers don’t really stand out. His range factors and fielding percentages had been much higher than the league from 1877-1884, but in 1885 he was at .911 fielding percentage compared to .900 for a league-average second baseman, and 5.95 range factor compared to a league average of 5.70 – good but hardly great for a guy playing every inning. On the other hand, his range factors jumped back up in 1887 when he left the Giants, so some illusion created by the team context may be involved even beyond the fact that Keefe and Welch were comparatively high-K pitchers for the day.
Anyway, the evidence suggests that Gerhardt was probably a pretty good fielder, but it’s hard to see at this distance how he could possibly have been good enough to make up for that catastrophic showing with the bat, when a mere .210 hitter would likely have won the Giants the pennant.
Maybe Gehrhardt wasn’t as disastrous on both sides of the ball as the famous John Gochnauer, who in 1903 batted .185/.265/.240 (54) and made 98 errors at shortstop (with fielding percentages and range factors far below the league averages of the day) for an Indians team that somehow finished 77-63, and maybe he wasn’t as epically futile with the bat as Bill Bergen, who compiled a career OPS+ of 21 including three years at the end of his career as a starting catcher batting .139/.163/.156 (1), .161/.180/.177 (6) and .132/.183/.154 (-4). But in the annals of guys who turned in a total flop at the plate when even ordinary incompetence would have been the difference in a pennant race, Gerhardt’s place in history is surely secure.

Rapid Robert

Bob Feller at 90. A nice profile of the last remaining star of the 1930s (Feller broke in in 1936 and went 24-9 in 1939; he and Stan Musial are reallly the only major stars left from the pre-war era). H/T.
Given how short a pitcher’s prime can be (Feller’s last year as a great pitcher was at age 28, although he managed a 22-8 record at age 32 and 13-3 as a sore-armed 35-year-old), Feller probably lost more of his best baseball to the war than any other great player; he missed three full seasons and most of a fourth to the war from age 23-26, after winning 24, 27 and 25 games the prior three years and 26 his first full year back, and retired 34 wins short of 300. Granted, we don’t know if he would have broken down earlier without that break in his years of carrying a major league workload (the man averaged 309 innings and 26 complete games a year from age 19-22), and we don’t know if he would have lasted longer if he hadn’t thrown 371.1 innings and 36 complete games for a team going nowhere his first full year back. When I ran my translated pitching stats project some years ago, Feller was one of four pitchers who really stood out as throwing a lot more innings per year in his prime than his contemporaries, the others being Robin Roberts, Phil Niekro and John Clarkson. He was and is, in any event, one of the all-time greats.

When To Hang It Up

Thomas Wayne at Dugout Central looks at where Ken Griffey might land next season. I’m just not sure he brings anything to the table at this point…I mean, would the Mets have use for Griffey to take Endy Chavez’ job, for example? Teams keep around reserve outfielders who can do specific things, not just old guys who might or might not have one last good season in them as a part-timer. He notes that they had Moises Alou this year (lotta good that did), but Alou was coming off hitting .341. I just don’t see the upside to giving him a roster spot at this point. He’ll probably sign somewhere, but the smart move at most is a spring training invite.

Being There

Let us consider five relief pitchers’ MVP candidacies:

Pitcher G IP ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9 SLG% IR% SV%
A 69 84.0 1.82 0.21 3.54 13.18 .226 20.0 63.1
B 66 67.1 2.67 0.94 4.28 12.16 .314 35.7 90.0
C 69 73.0 1.73 0.74 3.45 12.08 .333 40.0 92.2
D 64 67.1 2.81 0.40 4.54 12.03 .306 41.2 87.0
E 76 68.1 2.24 0.53 4.48 10.14 .316 38.9 89.9

What would you say if I told you that only one of these pitchers even got a single vote for the MVP, even though Pitcher C pitched for a contending team (a second-place team that finished four games out of first place) and the other four all pitched for division winners? Could you guess which one placed in the MVP balloting?
You might guess A, who carried the largest innings workload, was clearly the most effective (most strikeouts, by far the lowest opposing slugging %), and allowed easily the fewest inherited runners to score. Then again, Pitcher A didn’t convert a very large percentage of save opportunities. He did finish fourth in the Cy Young balloting, though.
You might well guess C, who had the best ERA, the best save percentage, the second-most games and innings, and the fewest walks, although his home run rate was the second-highest. Unless you count him out for his team losing the pennant race. He, too, finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting.
What about Pitcher E? He appeared in the most games, and had a better ERA than Pitchers B and D, but he also pitched less than an inning per game, significantly fewer innings than A or C; his save percentage was only the third best on the list; his strikeout rate was easily the lowest without offsetting advantages in the walks or homers column.

Continue reading Being There

BASEBALL/ President Obama and the National Pastime

Lester Munson at ESPN has a long and interesting look at what Obama’s election means for baseball and the world of sports in general, including his likely strong support for the 2016 Olympics in Chicago:

Japanese Olympic officials already have expressed their concern that Obama could turn the tide in favor of Chicago when the IOC votes in October.
“Mr. Obama is popular and good at speeches, so things could get tough for Japan,” said Tomiaki Fukuda, a senior Japanese Olympic Committee board member.
If Sen. John McCain had won the election, the U.S. bid to play host to the 2016 Olympics might have been negatively affected. Many IOC members remember McCain’s scathing investigation of the bribery scandal involving IOC members who helped award the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. Two members of the Salt Lake City bid committee were indicted, and McCain’s investigation led to major changes in the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Many IOC members remain bitter over McCain’s aggressive efforts for reform.
An Olympics in his home city of Chicago in the late summer of 2016 would be a grand finale for an Obama presidency that would be about to wind down if he were re-elected to a second term.

(OK, I didn’t have to include that paragraph about McCain, give me more than a day on that reflex…the irony is that the bribery investigation led to Mitt Romney taking over the Salt Lake City Games, which led to Romney’s political rise – talk about your chains of unforeseen consequences).

BASEBALL/ Yankee GObama

A rare combined baseball and politics post – well, sort of; this is obviously intended to be a little more lighthearted. Updating and correcting this June 2003 post – the Hated Yankees haven’t won a World Series with a Republican in the White House since 1958. Counting since 1921 (their first pennant), the Yankees are 19-3 in the World Series (with just three playoff losses) in 40 years of Democratic Administrations, but just 7-10 in the World Series (with five playoff losses) in 48 years of Republican Administrations. They’ve gone 0 for the last five GOP Administrations while failing to bring home a championship on the watch of only one Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson.
The breakout, by World Series W/L/No Pennant:
Harding/Collidge/Hoover (R): 4-3-5
FDR/Truman (D): 11-1-8
Eisenhower (R): 3-3-2
JFK/LBJ (D): 2-2-4
Nixon/Ford (R): 0-1-7
Carter (D): 2-0-2 (one loss in playoffs)
Reagan/Bush (R): 0-1-11
Clinton (D): 4-0-4 (two losses in playoffs, one strike)
Bush (R): 0-2-6 (five losses in playoffs)
So, you know, if you’re not a Yankees fan…
UPDATE: Corrected. Somehow my brain blocked out the Yankees losing the Series in 2001 & 2003.

It’s Not Sunny In Philadelphia

I can almost hear the Rays fans tonight:
You mocked our domed stadium.
You derided our domed stadium.
You told us how much prettier yours was than our domed stadium…
UPDATE: I believe this may be the first suspended game in the modern postseason, and certainly the first time it has happened to an elimination game in the World Series. In the years before lights, there were, of course, World Series games called for darkness – Game One in 1907 was called 3-3 after 12, Game Two in 1912 was called 6-6 after 11, and Game Two in 1922 was called 3-3 after 10, all of which were declared ties. The most famous weather event in World Series history was Game Seven in 1925, played in Washington between the Senators and Pirates; as I described that game in an essay on the 1925 Pirates:

Although they were forced to rely on their pitching while the team was twice handcuffed by a 37-year-old Walter Johnson in the World Series, the Pirates’ knack for hitting the ball with authority finally paid off handsomely in one of the wildest Game 7s in World Series history, played in a torrential downpour at Forbes Field without the benefit of lights. The Pirates mauled Johnson, battering out 15 hits, including 8 doubles and two triples (the 25 total bases absorbed by Johnson in going the distance is a World Series record unlikely to be broken), including the game-winner, a 2-run ground rule double by [Kiki] Cuyler into the darkness in right field with two outs in the bottom of the eighth (Goose Goslin said later that he never even saw where the ball went).

There were other disputes over fair/foul and strike calls in the darkness and the rain, unsurprisingly. Henry Thomas, in his book Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train, recounts at p. 282 the scene with the Senators leading 6-4 after six innings:

As the sixth inning ended, a waterlogged [Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain] Landis, enduring the downpour from his box seat, turned to [Senators owner] Clark Griffith, sitting next to him. “You’re the world champions,” the commissioner told him. “I’m calling this game.” Incredibly, Griffith talked him out of it. “No, you can’t do it,” he replied. “Once you’ve started in the rain you’ve got to finish it.”

At The Trop

Last night’s loss by the Rays drops the all-time World Series home record of teams in domed stadiums to 12-3. The Twins went 8-0 at the Metrodome in 1987 & 1991 (and 0-6 on the road), including the legendary Morris-Smoltz Game 7 in 1991, and the Blue Jays went 4-2 at home in 1992-93 (and 4-2 on the road), including the Joe Carter game. All four dome teams won the Series.
This is actually only the second World Series in my lifetime (after 2000’s Subway Series) in which I have already visited both ballparks (Serieses where I’ve been to both subsequent to the Series? 1986, 1981, 1977-78, and if you go back before my lifetime and include Old Yankee, 1963. The longest-ago Series where the two parks are still standing is 1918, of course.).

Not With Their Bats

In 2007, Tampa Bay scored 782 runs and finished 8th in the league in scoring, scoring 98.6% as many runs as the average AL team.
In 2008, Tampa Bay scored 774 runs and finished 7th in the league in scoring, scoring exactly as many runs as the average AL team (the AL average dropped from 4.83/game to 4.78/game).
What changed, obviously, was all the pitching and defense. The Rays reduced their runs allowed from 944 runs, the highest in MLB, to 671 runs, a staggering 28.9% reduction in a single year.
Bleg – I’m thinking of looking for historical comparisons to see what precedents there are for a team reducing its runs allowed so dramatically in one season (I had looked briefly before the season while scoffing, obviously prematurely, at Baseball Prospectus’ notion that the Rays would do just that, but now we have a genuine point of comparison). Can anyone tell me if a study has been done on that? I may have missed it if somebody looked at this already and don’t want to reinvent the wheel if it’s already been done somewhere else.
Anyway, if you boil that down even further you see how much of their success is pure glove:

Year HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA UERA DER F%
2007 1.25 3.58 7.52 5.53 0.41 .650 .980
2008 1.02 3.25 7.06 3.82 0.33 .708 .985

Rays pitchers reduced their homers buy a good chunk this year and cut their walks, and those are certainly steps forward, but they also struck out fewer batters – but the dropoff of 300 fewer hits allowed and 27 fewer errors is mainly attributable to radically improved defense, as they went from the MLB-worst .650 Defensive Efficiency Rating on balls in play to an MLB-leading .708. The dropoff in unearned runs reflects that.

Treasure Beyond Price

Well, the nation last night got its formal introduction to David Price, and barring injury we’re going to see a lot more of the man who is generally regarded as the best pitching prospect in baseball – Price’s pennant-clinching ninth inning probably cements him a key, K-Rod-in-2002 type role in the Rays’ pen in the World Series, and he left veterans like Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek (granted, not exactly Ruth and Gehrig at this stage of their careers) looking sadly overmatched.

Sox-Rays Open Thread

OK, since I have admittedly been deficient in delivering baseball content lately – an open thread for readers who want to kick around tonight’s game.
UPDATE: BJ Upton goes deep! 2-0 Rays. Upton is part of the real disjunct with the Rays – this team was ninth in the AL in runs scored, but they really can be a better offensive team than that when you consider the off years and/or injuries to Upton, Crawford, Baldelli and Longoria, all of whom are now healthy.
UPDATE: Two more homers, from Pena and Longoria (again), and it’s 4-0. Dice K does not have it.
7-0. Papelbon in a 7-0 game. That says it all, doesn’t it?
UPDATE: BIG PAPI WILL NOT GO QUIETLY! 3-run homer, 7-4 Rays.
7-6 after Drew goes deep. Wow, this is a game. And that’s why you use Papelbon down 7 in a game like this.
Tie game! Amazing. It’s 2004 all over.
Best Joe Morgan line ever: Miller: “Can you analyze Joe Maddon’s managing tonight?” Morgan: “You don’t want me to do that.”
Unfortunately, he then proceeded to.
Ball gets by….Gross! Red Sox win! Red Sox win!
That was some amazing baseball. Man, the Red Sox are drawing on their vast account at the karma bank.

These Are The Saddest of Possible Words

I really do have to feel for the Cubs fans today. I mean, there are more wrenching ways to end a season, as I have been forcefully reminded the past three years, but this was a team that had a sufficiently long run as the best record in the league that their long-suffering, century-without-a-championship fans, really had good reason to expect a long march through an exciting postseason, with a good shot at the NL pennant for the first time since 1945 and a fighting chance to reclaim the World Championship at last…and three games in, they are just gone with hardly a ripple, without winning a single game. It’s just so deflating. Even the Mets in 1988 and 2006 went seven games, and in 2006 they had won the NLDS first. For Cubs fans, it’s just…empty.
Do Cubs fans have a long period of success ahead of them to recover from this? I’m not so sure. Ramirez and Lee are still in their primes and Soto is young, but Theriot, Soto and Mike Fontenot, who may have had a career year this season (he’s 28 and his career minor league slugging % is .437), are the only significant non-pitchers under 30. The rotation depends on the much-the-worse-for-wear Zambrano and the brittle Rich Harden. Other than Harden, Fontenot and DeRosa there aren’t a lot of guys here who obviously can’t repeat their 2008 seasons next year, but this is also not a team stocked with young talent in bloom.
Wait ’til next year.

Say What?

One of the broadcasters on the Brewers-Phillies game actually just said, on national television, that Geoff Jenkins left the Brewers because he got tired of watching young players like Jeromy Burnitz and Carlos Lee come out of the Brewers system and then leave.
Wow. Reminds me of the time Howard Cosell said during a Monday Night Baseball Mets-Reds game in about 1986 that Keith Hernandez had begged him not to mention on the air that Keith’s lifetime batting average was .152. I’d love someday to ask Hernandez how he kept a straight face for that one.

Hit and Run

I’ve admittedly been in hiding a bit on the baseball front the past few weeks, partly out of bitterness/depression over the end of the Mets season, partly with stuff going on at work, and of course partly due to being wrapped up in the election and the bailout and having some labor-intensive posts on the topics (I have some long-brewing baseball posts as well but none that are close to completion).
Anyway, hope to be back on the beat at least in time for the LCS…for now, about the last bit of news the Mets bullpen needed was an arrest warrant out for Ambiorix Burgos for killing two women in a hit and run accident (although perhaps needless to add, for perspective it helps to remind yourself that this turned out worse for the women than it did for the average Mets fan). I assume this is curtains for Burgos’ baseball career.
UPDATE: If it makes you feel any better, Brian Bannister had a 5.76 ERA this season. Actually Bannister seems like a good guy, I hope he rights the ship, but it’s a reminder that a good head without a real good arm isn’t really that much more useful than the opposite.

It Is Tempting To Just Propose A 161-Game Season

Another year, another grim defeat.
The Mets have now faced baseball’s classic do-or-die game – win and advance, at least to a 1-game playoff or the next round of playoffs, lose and go home – for three straight years and lost each in excruciating fashion, losing on late inning homers in 2006 & 2008 and a first inning meltdown in 2007. This is not unprecedented in baseball history, of course – the Brooklyn Dodgers, for example, also did it three years in a row when they lost the pennant on late inning homers on the season’s last day in 1950 and in the legendary playoff in 1951 and lost a 7-game World Series in 1952, plus they lost the Series in 7 in 1947, 5 in 1949, and 6 in 1953. If there’s any consolation, most Mets fans were pretty numb by the time the ax fell.
Although the offense came up fairly empty, it was the bullpen in the end that was left to do the team in, and I found a sort of macabre justice in seeing the guys responsible for getting the Mets in this mess finish them off. I definitely want Schoenweis (and Heilman) gone next year, so we have a fresh group without the same ghosts, and I’m not thrilled about Ayala either, although he may just need a new season to get right again. With Schoenweis I argued all year that he was at least useful if used properly to face only lefties, but today he was brought in, the first batter was pinch hit for with a righty, and he served up the gopher ball that broke the camel’s back. It’s time to move on.
Oliver Perez was, ultimately, what you expect: in a big game he kept the team in the game but couldn’t get past the sixth inning. That’s who he is.
Endy Chavez really is an amazing glove man, and his great running catch against the wall in the top of the seventh brought back memories. I actually wondered down the stretch why he wasn’t starting in right against lefties (like today) with Church in such a funk.
Random observation: Alfredo Amezaga was wearing enough lampblack to make a mask.
The broadcast team noted that Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado were the first quartet of teammates to each appear in at least 159 games since the 1968 Cubs (another team not known for its strong finishes, the late-60s Cubs); those guys really did play their hearts out all year. The Mets entered this season with four major stars in their primes – Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Santana – and you could not realistically have hoped for more from them. They entered with three formerly major stars – Delgado, Wagner and Pedro – and got collectively what you tend to get with a group like that (one major resurrection, one effective but erratic and injury-shortened season, one wipeout). Perez was a bit off what you’d like but won a lot of big games, and the rise of Pelfrey offset the struggles of Maine. Brian Schneider gave the Mets the best you would have reasonably hoped from him…basically, this was a good team whose front-line players did about what they should have, but that just had too many holes, and the bulk of those in the bullpen. Management will still have that core next year, but it needs to do a better job of bringing in new relief arms and sorting through the pile of young players to figure out who is going to actually help.
Nice to see Ralph Kiner in the Shea booth one last time. You can tell Ralph’s mind is still there, the words just don’t come as cleanly as they used to.
I guess the upside is, I can say I was at the last Mets win at Shea.

There Is Only One Johan Santana

I was out at Shea today, undoubtedly for the last time (even if they make the playoffs, I’m not going to be able to score tickets and the free time to go), and witnessed what was probably the second-best clutch, must-win pitching performance in Mets history, behind only Al Leiter’s 1-hitter in the 1-game playoff in 1999. Santana was just amazing, not messing around but going right after hitters and thus keeping his pitch count low enough to go the distance on three days’ rest to pull the Mets back into a tie. And unlike John Maine, who pitched an even more dominating game in precisely the same situation last season, Santana had only two runs to work with, and thus was facing the tying run at the plate all the way to his last pitch.
Amazingly, Santana now finishes with the best ERA of his career, albeit not the most impressive of his seasons given the switch to a lower-scoring league and park. He’s clearly been the second-best pitcher in the NL this season, behind only Lincecum. Nobody can say Santana hasn’t earned every dollar of his massive salary this year.

No Relief In Sight

Among the solutions being mooted about for the Mets’ ghastly bullpen problem is relying more on hard-throwing rookie Robert Parnell…if there was ever a mark of desperation, this is it. Parnell certainly throws hard, and it makes all the sense in the world to consider him for a relief job next season, but look at his career: the guy (1) has a 4.03 career ERA in the minor leagues, (2) has made a grand total of 8 appearances above AA ball, and (3) has made just 2 appearances as a reliever in his 94 games in the minors. In 151.2 IP this season over three levels, mostly at AA, he’s averaging 0.83 HR, 3.92 BB and 6.94 K, none of those especially impressive figures.
You can make a live arm into a productive reliever even when he has a mediocre record like that, but if this is the best option the Mets have left to throw to the wolves right now, the situation is dire indeed (we saw graphically last night how this is not the time for a talented young pitcher’s growing pains). John Maine’s return, of course, would be welcome news, but at this point the only question is whether the bullpen’s implosion takes the Mets clear out of the Wild Card race, or whether it continues to haunt them in the playoffs.