I'm 30 today.
30. There arrives with the advent of any such milestone a unique opportunity for retrospect upon one's life. Other life milestones I've seen:
17 (driving age in NJ),
18 (Selective Service),
21 (something, I forget...)
25 (lower car insurance!),
27 (the last cubic age before retirement...maybe that's just me)
...but 30 seems like a different animal. You want to be able to point to something and say, "Yeah, I did that before I was 30!" and not have people laugh at you behind your back over it. The "American Dream", according to Trivial Pursuit, is to be a millionaire by the time you're 30. Personally, my dream is to be out of debt by the time I'm 40, but I'll have to let you know how that goes. (Trivial Pursuit should probably update that question, if it's still in the box.)
Actually, I'm fairly happy with my lot in life thus far: I've got a house, a wife, a dog, a college degree and a modicum of success in my profession, having recently had an article I wrote on Scanning Acoustic Microscopy published in a significant trade journal. (The online version is members-only, but if by some odd chance you're interested, email me and I'll send you a copy.) Even my hobby makes me a few bucks on the side. Most hobbies actually cost people money, like paintball or collecting airplanes.
On the other hand, where I have five fingers and a new watch, a "Merry Birth-mas" present from my lovely wife, many of my greater dreams have yet to be realized. For example, I probably have little hope of ever being paid a living wage to write about baseball, and even less of actually playing it professionally. Therefore, I find myself still seeking vicarious joy through a bunch of total strangers, most of whom, coincidentally, are or will be millionaires by age 30: The New York Yankees.
Thankfully, if I had little cause for celebration in mid-October, the events of this offseason have brought be considerably more reason for joy, or at least hope. Let's review some of these, shall we?
* Perhaps the biggest prize, or at leas tthe most accomplished pitcher, of this season's free-agent market, was Pedro Martinez. At one time or another, various rumors had him staying with Boston, or fleeing Beantown for one of about a half-dozen different spots, including New York. New York, of course, is exactly where he wound up, except that he's wearing kinda tacky blue and orange, instead of the classic navy and white. For Yankee fans, this deal represents the best of all possible worlds: Pedro has been excellent throughout most of his career, but seems to be essentially a 6-inning pitcher who's variously described as a primadonna, a jerk, and several other things I wouldn't repeat in mixed company. In Boston, he might have experienced a resurgence that could have haunted the Yankees for years to come, especially if he beat them in the playoffs for once. As a Yankee, there was perhaps even more possibility of catastrophe, as martinez might not have experienced a resurgence in his pitching dominance, but rather in his shoulder injuries, making him a $13 million/year disaster.
But now, as a Met, even if Pedro's great, it won't likely affect the Yankees, as the Mets collectively aren't good enough to make it to the postseason, at least not yet. And if his shoulder craps out? Better yet, if only for all the "I told you so"s that Yankees fans can dole out to their cross-town rivals.
* Considering the dearth of left-handers in the Yanks' rotation in 2004, the Yankees had been considering signing 39-year old Al Leiter, who hasn't pitched in the AL since 1995, for something like $8 million bucks, possibly for two years or more. Leiter's certainly not the worst pitcher on the market, but his impressive ERAs have been helped significantly by Shea Stadium, and he hasn't exactly been the consummate workhorse throughout his career, pitching over 200 innings only once since 2000. Thankfully, the Marlins are now on the hook for that money, so he's not the Yankees' problem if he flops.
* Another lefty, and another aging ex-Yankee, David Wells signed with the Boston Red Sox. Wells was another possibility to fill the Lefty Void at Yankee Stadium, but at his age, and in his shape, he's a pretty high risk to flop as well. Amazingly, Wells somehow got the same $8 million that Leiter received from Florida, but for two years at $4 mil each. And he's two years older than Leiter is! David ought to fire his agent and hire Al's. Once again, not the Yankees' problem.
* The Yanks actually did sign Jaret Wright, who got three years and $21 million, essentially that Jon Lieber received from the Phillies. Sure, Wright's got a history of arm trouble, but so did Lieber, and he's six years younger. When you look at it that way, it's not so bad.
* New York also reeled in one of the biggest catches of the Free Agent market, ex-Fish Carl Pavano. Coming off an 18-win, 3.00 ERA season in 222 innings of work, Pavano was clearly the best bet of the market, and the Bronx Bombers got him. Also 28 years old, Pavano and Wright shave off quite a few years from the Yanks' rotation, considering that they essentially replace the 34-year old Lieber and the 59-year old Orlando "Old Duque" Hernandez, who thankfully rejected the Yanks' arbitration offer last week.
This helps the Yankees' future considerably, especially given the fact that Kevin Brown is still a Yankee, and will be 40 next year, and that 28-year old but kinda sucky Javier Vazquez is likely to be on the next plane to Los Angeles, where he will undoubtedly experience a Weaver-esque resurrection to his career, or at least his strikeout rate. Ironically, Vazquez was the Yankee rotation leader in innings pitched, wins, starts, assists, double plays and strikeouts, but they're getting rid of him. This is because he also led the team in losses (10), homers allowed (33), runs (114), earned runs (108), wild pitches (12), hit batters (11), balks (2) and partriges in pear trees (1). The other irony, and perhaps the more amusing one, is that Vazquez had roughly the same type of season as Phillies' lefty Eric Milton, as my colleagues at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog pointed out a few weeks ago, when the Yankees were actually considering trading for Milton.
Vazquez's departure is predicated upon the Dodgers' front office people getting up off their butts and submitting the paperwork for the deal that everyone already knows about, which will send Randy Johnson to the Yankees, Vazquez to the Dodgers, and half the population of Los Angeles County to Arizona, which as I understand it is where they wanted to go in the first place.
First place, however, is something the Diamondbacks will not be sniffing for a very long time. Despite spending $78 million over four years on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz, the D-Bads are, well, bad. Really bad. Their 111-loss season in 2004 marked the worst season in the National League since 1965, and the second worst record in either league in that 40-year span. A thirdbaseman and a pitcher will not make up for that, especially if you're about to trade away a much better pitcher you already had.
That too, however, is not the Yankees' problem. The Yankees' problem is getitng this deal done so that they can go buy the best centerfielder on the free agent market, Carlos Beltran. Beltran will give them perennial All-Stars at every spot in the lineup except 2B, where rookie Andy Phillips, who hit .318 with 26 homers playing 3B for AAA Columbus last year, and apparently has hit well at virtually every level of the minors. The only other question mark in the lineup is Jason Giambi, and it seems that they can afford to carry him, if it takes a while for him to regain his form.
And so it appears that the Evil Empire is once again poised to make a run at the World Series, and to begin the long run of success that will eventually merit them the title:
Team of This Century, Too.
20 December 2004
I'm 30 today.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 12/20/2004
14 December 2004
Travis Nelson's take on the steroid controversy, Bob Dylan style...
Trainer’s in the basement
Mixing up my medicine
I’m in the on-deck
Thinking about the upper deck
The man in the turtleneck
Fed up, ticked off
Signed a bad contract,
Feels like he was ripped off!
It’s steroids he’s on!
Came into camp
Having lost himself a ton!
He better duck down the hallway,
Avoid reporters today.
The man in the Yankees cap
With the Bic pen
Wants you out of this slump,
You get to ride the bench.
Barry seems bulked up
Looks like he could shot-putt,
Talkin’ bout the ‘roids put,
Unknowingly in his butt.
Fans cheer anyway
Barry says someday
He’ll pass ‘old Double-A,
Cooperstown? On his way!
The Say Hey Kid
Don’t believe what he did.
100 walks on four throws,
Seven hundred big-blows
They say he owes
Success at 4-0
To cream & clear dose.
You don’t need a roadmap
To know the way Union goes.
Get sick, get well
Hitting now? What the hell!
Feel well? Hard to tell
If tumor’s gone and patell-
ar tendon’s all done,
You BUM! You failed,
But no jail, too frail
Plead your case to no avail!
Look out Gi-
No more MVPs
But User? Cheater?
Acts like Saint Peter!
Don't need the whirlpool,
Recover with 'roids, fool!
Follow Derek Jeter,
And Asterisk* the leaders!
Ah! Thin guy, with tie,
Short sleeves, (pet peeve), press release:
New tests, no Jest!
(Or McCain will arrest!)
Please her? Please him? Not miffed?
Sorry I'm a stiff.
Twenty years of ownin’
And they turn you into Commish!
Look out Bud,
They say you're a dud!
Better meet with Don Fehr
Help the Union this year
Don’t let Orza steer
Or discussions will veer.
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better play dumb,
The ploy don’t work
Just listen to those "Bronx Cheers"!
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 12/14/2004
10 December 2004
Some time ago, I submitted an essay to a baseball website called Mudville Magazine, which was sponsoring a "You Own the Expos" contest. A contest, I might add, which I did not win. I did not place. I did not even show. Someone named "Tom Lee" did, though I'm fairly certain that this is not the same "Tommy Lee" who didn't rush out onto the field with his heretofore unknown son and attack Tom Gamboa at Comiskey Park two years ago.
I was, however apparently good enough to be listed as "Rest of the Rest", specifically, 12th out of the 16 non-placing submittals. To save you the time of scrolling down past the eleven essays that were apparently better than mine, I've simply reprinted it here. I think I'm allowed to do that. I wrote it, after all.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming today. My Name is Travis M. Nelson, and I own the Expos. I know because an online magazine gave them to me.
I expect you're wondering why I've called you here for this press conference. Things are going to start changing around here, starting today.
First of all, we're canning Frank Robinson. We did some research and discovered that our most successful manager was Jim Fanning. He has the highest winning percentage in Montreal of any manager in history and he led this team to our only playoff appearance, in 1981. True, he only managed for parts of three seasons, hasn't managed anything in 20 years and is older than dirt, but heck, it worked for the Marlins!
Secondly, it will come as no surprise to you all that we're not staying in Montreal. Quebec has gotten a bad rap as a place that doesn't appreciate baseball, but it should be noted that this team was appreciated greatly in its heyday. Unfortunately, I think that day was sometime in 1983. But after what will soon become seven consecutive seasons of bringing up the rear in NL attendance, we're gone, man. Outta here. The honeymoon, and for that matter, the marriage, is over.
We're moving to Hawaii. The place is really pretty, and unless you're dumb enough to build a baseball stadium atop a volcano, it won't ever snow. Montreal, mangez your heart out. The weather will be beautiful year-round, and the occasional volcanic eruption will help save the franchise money on "Fireworks Night."
There's already a 50,000-seat stadium in which to play, which should require only minor alterations to make it "baseball ready". Mostly I think they just need to get all the coconuts off the field. If the weather and the appeal of "Major League Baseball" don't attract enough fans, we'll just build a new stadium and pay for it with revenue sharing deductions, just like the Yankees plan to!
We're renaming the team the Oahu "U-Know-Who's", because it rhymes, sorta, and let's face it: No matter what we name the team, people are still going to think of us as the Expos for entirely too long.
Hawaii's population is about 1.25 million people, which isn't much smaller than Milwaukee, Kansas City or Cincinnati. Granted, there was a minor league team that was forced to move to Colorado Springs in the 1980's but of course now everybody's moving to Colorado Springs. They were just anticipating the trend.
Also, if we can stick around long enough, the islands will eventually grow together as the volcanoes continue erupt and create additional land. We anticipate that by the spring of the year 1,502,006, the entire state will be connected, making every game accessible by car to every Hawaiian, and for that matter, most of California, which will have split away from North America and drifted our way several hundred thousand years earlier.
Ted Williams is scheduled to throw out the opening pitch."
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 12/10/2004
08 December 2004
What the hell is happening here?
The Yankees signed free agent secondbaseman Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million deal yesterday, the same day they signed Jaret Wright to a three year, $21 million deal. But I'll get to him later.
Tony Womack hit a respectable .307/.349/.385 last season, setting career highs in all three categories, and finally doing something to earn the "leadoff-hitter" moniker he's owned for so long. You don't necessarily need power out of a leadoff hitter who plays second base, but it's nice if you can get it. If you can't, you'd better get some other skills, like on-base percentage, defense, or prowess at stealing bases. Womack generally is good at the last of those, but even that skill is pretty limited in its usefulness if the man can't get on base more than 35% of the time. Furthermore, at the age of 35, Womack isn't very likely to improve on that ability at this point in his career. This is a guy who averaged almost 60 steals per season from 1997-2000, but hasn't stolen 30 bags in a year since then. Besides, with all those power hitters behind him in the lineup, who wants some huckleberry running back and forth at first base while Jason Giambi's trying to focus on smacking one out? Oh, I forgot: Giambi's not a power hitter anymore.
I don't know if Voros McCracken or anyone else has looked at Batting Average on balls in play ofr hitters like McCracken has for pitchers, but I found this interesting: Before 2004, Womack, for his career, hit .305 when he didn't homer (which was rare) or strike out (which is not). His 2003 season was especially poor, a career-low .257 in those situations. But last year, somehow, he hit .338(!) whenever he put the ball in play, helping to significantly boost his overall numbers, though not necessarily through any of his own "skill". Therefore, it seems likely that Womack should be expected to regress to something more like a .300 or so batting average on balls in play, perhaps even lower, as the loss of running speed he'll surely experience with age will prevent some of those infield hits to which he's become accustomed. This will bring his overall stats much closer to his career line of .274/.319/.362, and will once again make him an entirely unacceptable regular player, much less a leadoff hitter. Hopefully, with the likes of Jeff Kent and world-famous tenor Placido Polanco on the market, Womack is only expected to be a utility player/defensive replacement.
But even his defense isn't particularly impressive. Baseball Prospectus indicates that the man has only posted above average fielding runs numbers twice in his career, in 1998 and 1999, and that he's been well below average every other full season of his career. So that doesn't make a lot of sense either.
The really odd thing about this signing is that the Yankees already had an aging, journeyman secondbaseman who had an uncharacteristically good offensive season in 2004, and they let him go. And Miguel Cairo's only 30, not 35, plays better defense and doesn't rely on his speed to get on base. If they wanted a solid backup 2B, they could have kept Cairo, probably for less than $2 mil a season, and signed Kent or the Tenor to start.
"We're going in another direction," Yankees GM Brian Cashman told The Associated Press.
Yeah, Brian. Down.
The other signing I mentioned, Jaret Wright, isn't quite so bad. True, Wright's been in the majors since 1997 and still has never pitched more than the 193 innings he threw in his sophomore year of 1999. True, he sorta got clobbered in the postseason. True, he has a career ERA over 5.00. True, his shoulder has more holes in it than your local golf course. But...
A) He's still only 29.
2) He exceeded everyone's expectations last year, winning 15 games and setting a career low 3.28 ERA for the Braves.
iii) He pitched a full, healthy season and hasn't been on the DL since 2002.
So at leastt here's hope that Wright can build on his success in 2004, whereas Womack's was clearly a fluke.
I think fluke is in season now anyway.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 12/08/2004
03 December 2004
We're less than a month into the 2004-05 free agent season, with barely a dozen players signed to American teams, and already I'm irritated by how things are going. A slim buffer separates us from the alleged "market correction" we saw a few off-seasons ago, one that supposedly taught the owners not to over-spend for readily replaceable skills, not to give long term contracts to aging mediocrities, and above all, not to pay eight dollars for a warm beer.
But this offseason seems to bear little resemblance to the restrained, perhaps even collusive free-agent fishing expedition that was the winter of 2003-04. Consider:
The NY Mets re-signed free agent Kris Benson to a three-year, $22.5 million contract. Not that Benson is terrible, but "mediocre" strikes me as a rather appropriate word for him, you know? He's 30 years old, with a career ERA of 4.28 (4.59 since he missed all of 2001 after arm surgery). The 3.85 he posted in 217 innings in 2000 is looking increasingly flukey, owing to an unusually high strikeout rate for Benson. He has yet to prove that he's capable of pitching consecutive, healthy, effective seasons and yet the Mets will pay him to pitch not two, but three years, and pay him nearly eight million buck for each of those, on average. From listening to New York sports talk radio, it seems to me that the Mets ownership did this under intense pressure from fans, desperately seeking evidence that Fred Wilpon & Co. actually want to win, but I'm not sure he's worth it. Better to let someone else take the risk, because at that price, another injury to benson could severely hamper the Mets' ability to sign other players they'll need. Like a catcher.
Worse yet, Benson is "urging" the Mets to re-sign Al Leiter, who's a better pitcher than Benson probably ever will be, but is not young (39) and has pitched 200+ innings only once in the past four years. His 3.65 career ERA looks pretty good, but that's helped somewhat by his home parks (3.23 @ Shea, SkyDome and Pro Player, 4.10 everywhere else). Still, at $4-5 million for one year, he's probably worth it. At the $7 million the MArlins may reportedly give him, it's probably not.
The Washington Whatevers signed 3B Vinny "The Air Up There" Castilla to a 2-year, $6.2 million contract, which would be a great deal if the .271/35HR/131RBI line he posted playing for Colorado were anything like what he'll be able to accomplish playing in D.C. Castilla has spent the vast majority of his career in Colorado, and in the six seasons he spent playing everyday for the Rockies, he averaged .297/.343/.544 with 40 homers and 121 RBI per 162 games played. In the three seasons (2001-2003) he played elsewhere? A paltry .250/.286/.405 with only 20 homers and 84 RBI per 162 games. For his career he's hit .334 at Coors, .256 everywhere else. I realize that in today's game, three million buck a year doesn't seem so outrageous, but Washington is essentially a new franchise that needs to prove itself to a whole new fanbase if it wants to succeed, and locking yourself into a 37 year old mediocrity who will likely be a 40-year old failure by the end of his contract is NOT the best way to endear your brand name to your (hopefully) new fans.
Speaking of mediocrity, the gNats also signed SS Christian Guzman to a 4-year, $16.8 million contract. Granted, that's "only" a $4.2 mil/year average, but it's still almost seventeen million dollars spent on a replacement-level shortstop. Lee Sinins reports that Guzman has racked up the tenth-worst career RCAA level in history through age 26. Baseball Prospectus indicates that his EqA has been above .234 only once in his career, which was 2001, when he "peaked" at .269. (For reference, an average major league SS was .251 last season, or about the performance of David Eckstein.) To his credit, he finally posted an above average fielding runs number, according to Baseball Prospectus, with a +15 FRAA, the first positive number of his career, and better than "Gold Glover" Derek Jeter (+4). That still leaves him decidedly below average though, but not useless, IF he can keep up the defense, just not worth seventeen million bucks. Without the defense, well, he'd better learn to hit real soon.
Speaking (writing) of overpaid shortstops: Omar Vizquel.
Look, Omar Vizquel has had a heck of a career thus far. A solid (if overrated) defensive player and one who has learned some valuable offensive skills along the way. Bill James ranked him #61 among all shortstops through the year 2000 in his New Historical Baseball Abstract, with the caveat that a few more good years could bump him into the top 50. Well, he in fact had two of his best seasons in 2002 and 2004, so maybe he's around #50 in James's book at this point. With that said, the man is now 38 years old, which as Rob Neyer pointed out not so long ago, is old. For a shortstop, anyway. Not many shortstops still perform very well at the age of 40, which the age through which the Giants inexplicably signed him, at about $4 million per year. In this case, that $4 mil is not such an enormous amount of money...for a year. But three years? At his age? When nobody else was offering more than two?
And speaking of the Giants, they've also given a three-year deal to Armando Benitez, who is only 32 right now, but doesn't strike out as many batters as he once did, and has a worse reputation for choking than Latrell Sprewell. His deal was "only" $21.5 million for three years, again, when nobody else was offering more than two, and following a season in which he made less than half of that in Florida. John Perricone can't figure out why San Francisco continues to give out such contracts. Neither can I.
It should also be interesting to see how the steroid controversy, especially Jason Giambi's contract and recent non-steroid-enhanced performance, may affect contract language in the future.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 12/03/2004
12 November 2004
Minnesota Twins' left-hander Johan Santana won the American League Cy Young Award for 2004.
Should the Twins be worried?
Specifically, should Santana, the Twins and Minnesota fans be worried that Santana will see a significant drop in performance next year?
In a word? You bet your bippy!
Let me introduce you to a couple of friends of mine:
Year G CG IP H HR BB SO W L ERA
CYA 33 6 236 189 16 63 248 21 6 2.67
Johan 34 1 228 156 24 54 265 20 6 2.61
CYA+1 27 3 181 152 16 58 173 13 7 3.33
CYA is an average of the last nine American League Cy Young Award winners, from 1995 to 2003, a line almost eerily similar to Santana's performance this year, which is the second line. The third line, CYA+1, is the average performance of these 1995-2003 AL Cy Young Award winners in the year immediately after they won the award. Fewer starts, fewer innings, fewer wins, a higher ERA, a lower strikeout rate and higher walk and home-run rates. Not a terrible line, by any means, but a huge drop in performance, on average.
I only used the 1995-2003 seasons because the severely-strike-shortened 1994 season would have thrown things off a bit. But if you look back at the half-dozen or so AL Cy Young winners before 1994, many of them exhibited a marked drop in performance the next year as well. Jack McDowell, Bob Welch, Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, LaMarr Hoyt and others have all had a pretty tough time following up their own acts. I only used the American League because the National League Cy Young Award winners have not shown the same drop off, most of them repeating as winners at least once (Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson). I also stayed away from the NL because a relief pitcher screws up the averages a lot too, even a relief pitcher who strikes out 137 batters.
What's it all mean? (Surprise!) I don't really know. A lot of it is probably just a simple regression to the mean. In other words, what goes up must come down, or in the case of ERA, the reverse. But it's troubling. Mostly, it's troubling because even though Santana doesn't pitch for my favorite team, it's still a lot of fun to watch him make mincemeat out of his opposition, and I'd hate to think that he's doomed to something like a 13-8 record with an ERA around 4.00 next year.
Furthermore, at least since the three-division format started, only two teams boasting a Cy Young winner in one season have made the playoffs the following year with that pitcher on the roster. One was Roger Clemens, who won the Award in 2001 with New York, and the other was Barry Zito, whose A's teammates won their division in 2003 even though he won only 14 games in his encore to his 23-win 2002 season.
Randy Johnson won the Award in 1995, and the Mariners missed the playoffs in '96 as the Big Unit pitched only 61 innings. Toronto had three straight Cy Young Awards from 1996-1998, but still hasn't seen postseason play since they won it all in 1993. Roger Clemens, the recipient of the 1998 award, had to change teams to get to the postseason, which he did with the Yankees in 1999, winning his forst World Series. This remains the only AL team to win it all with a reigning Cy Young winner on the roster. Pedro Martinez won it in 1999 and 2000, but the Red Sox missed the playoffs in both 2000 and 2001. Roy Halladay won it last year, and the Blew Jays did just that as they finished dead last in the AL East in 2004, worse than the Devil Rays! For shame!
Thankfully we've seen a lot of trends bucked this year:
*The Red Sox' World Series drought,
*That Washington Redskins-losing/incumbent-political-party-losing thing,
*Hollywood finally dropping the sequel/remake crap and going back to making good, original films
...wait a minute, I may have dreamed that last one. Anyway, we now know that History doesn't always dictate the future, and that those pitchers' declining performances were actually caused by a gnome or small dwarf living in their stomachs. No, wait, that was just Kevin Brown.
So let's all hope that Johan Santana can excise his demons, or gnomes, and beat the Curse of the AL Cy Young.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 11/12/2004
10 November 2004
In 2003, Johan Santana finally escaped the Twins' bullpen and showed the baseball world what he could do. An off-season elbow cleanup left him a little tentative for a couple of months to start the 2004 season, but as he settled in, around mid-June, Santana made sure that American League hitters never would settle in against him.
Surely, a batter needs to be on his toes against a lefty who throws a 95 mph heater, a knee-buckling curve and a change-up that, if you saw it in a video game, you'd write to the game's creators and tell them to fix it because of the lack of realism. His last four months look like some of the best work Sandy Koufax ever performed, and Koufax had the help of a pitcher's park in a pitcher's era.
Santana faced one of the most prolific run-scoring leagues in history and made them look like fools. He led the AL in strikeouts, WHIP, and ERA, all by substantial margins. His 20 wins fell one short of Curt Schilling for the AL lead, but it should also be noted that Schilling had a LOT of help, as the Red Sox scored over 7.5 runs per game with him pitching, easily the best in the majors. Schilling's postseason heroics, magnificent though they were, cannot be considered in this race, as regular season awards cannot rely on postseason performances.
If Santana doesn't get the Cy Young Award, they should stop handing it out entirely.
By the way, brandy-spankin new blog: Braves New World, by Matthew Crowder. Matthew's blog title looks remarkably like thew title of a post I used almost a year ago. Matthew, I'll be expecting royalty checks shortly. Paypal's good. So's your website. Good luck.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 11/10/2004
09 November 2004
This race is easily the toughest to call. Roger Clemens came out of retirement, granted, a retirement that lasted only slightly longer than some episodes of the Simpsons, to post an 18-4 record for the NL Wild Card Houston Astros. He put up a 2.98 ERA and 218 strikeouts, both of which were his best numbers since his 1998 Cy Young Award Season in Toronto. But Clemens' ERA and strikeouts were both "only" 5th in the NL, and the man didn't complete a start all year. Call me kooky, but I think if we're going to say that a starting pitcher was the best in the league, he ought to be able to finish the job once in a while.
If you're into guys who finish the job, maybe Livan Hernandez is your guy. Don't laugh. He led the majors in innings (255) and complete games (9, including two shutouts), placed in the top ten in the NL in strikeouts, and had a pretty good 3.60 ERA, winning eleven games for the lousy Montreal Expos. Of course, he also lost 15 games, and walked more batters than only six other National League pitchers, so maybe he's not such a good choice.
Jason Schmidt had three shutouts, leading the majors, struck out more batters (251) and pitched more innings than Clemens, with only a slightly higher ERA (3.20) and just as many wins. But his excellent season was bracketed by two months (April and September, silly) in which he had an ERA over 5.50. Not exactly the model of consistency. Speaking of consistency, maybe Roy Oswalt is a better choice. He won 20 games to pace the Senior Circuit, with a very good 3.49 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 237 innings. Of course, it sure helped that the Astros scored over six runs per game when Oswalt pitched, so it's hard to give him an award for what they did.
The Brewers' Ben Sheets pitched 237 innings as well, striking out 264 batters while walking only 32 (!). Talk about a control freak. Sheets had horrendous luck, though, getting less run support than all but two qualified pitchers in the majors, making it tough to muster up a vote for his lackluster 12-14 record, even though it comes with those gaudy strikeout/walk totals. Which brings us to...
...Randy Johnson. Johnson pitched for the worst team in the majors, the 111-loss Diamondbacks, and got the fifth worst run-support in the national League, and yet still managed to win 16 games, though he also lost 14. His ERA may have been second to Jake Peavey, but Peavey barely qualified for the ERA title, with 166 innings under his belt, while Johnson trailed only Livan Hernandez in that department. He led the majors in strikeouts with 290, a healthy margin over his closest competitors, and led the NL in WHIP, opponent batting, and numerous other categories.
A pitcher's job is to pitch, not to hit. Nobody expects them so score or drive in runs. It's nice when you get a Mike Hampton or a Jason Marquis. A pitcher who can hit is like a firstbaseman who can play defense or a toy in the Cracker-Jack box: it's a nice little bonus, but it's not the main reason you got it. ANd Johnson accomplished that main reason like nobody else in the National League in 2004, in spite of the Eight Stooges playing along side him.
If I have my way (not that I ever do), The Big Unit will have to clear some space on The Big Wall Unit for another Cy Young trophy.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 11/09/2004
08 November 2004
With all due respect to Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre, is there really any serious argument to be made for an NL MVP other than the San Francisco Giants' left fielder? Pujols had a remarkable season. He's the best hitter on the best team in the National League, and at the age of 24, with the most impressive four-year start to a career that anyone has ever seen, Pujols should be winning MVP awards long after Barry Bonds has retired.
But not yet. Bonds' 45 homers did not quite lead the league, as Pujols, Adam Dunn (46 each) and Beltre (48) all had more. But each of those players had about 200 additional at-bats in which to hit their homers, while Bonds was lucky if he saw one good pitch to hit per night. He was walked an astonishing 232 times, 34 more than his own record set two years ago. The league so feared Bonds that he was intentionally walked 120 times, more often than anybody else in MLB was even un-intentionally walked. Mickey Mantle was only intentionally walked 126 times in his career.
Bonds won his second batting title, hitting .362, 15 points ahead of his closest competitor, Todd Helton, who had the help of Coors Field for half his games. His .609 on-base percentage, an all-time record, was 140 points better than Helton, his closest competitor, and marked the fourth consecutive year he's led the NL in that category. Ditto for slugging percentage, though his .812 clip marked only the fourth highest season in history. Boo-hoo. His 1.422 OPS also set a record, and outpaced Helton's Coors-inflated mark by about 350 points. There was, literally, no competition for him.
The Giants, however, did not make the playoffs, and some people like their MVPs to come from playoff teams. They finished a mere two games behind Los Angeles though, competing for the NL West until the very last weekend of the season, during which he went 0-for-3 with seven walks. That's right, three at-bats in a weekend, as the Dodgers refused to let him beat them.
It wasn't for a lack of effort on Bonds' part that the Giants missed the playoffs. He hit .349 in September, but with only 13 RBI, as his teammates tanked down the stretch. He even struck out 12 times, almost twice his total from any other month in 2004, apparently trying to make something happen for his team. This is not a selfish player.
This is a guy who wants to win and did the best he could with a weak supporting cast to get to the playoffs. According to Lee Sinins' Baseball Encyclopedia, Bonds had 152 Runs Created Above Average, which easily paced the majors (Helton was second with 78). This happened also to be exactly the number of RCAA that the entire Cardinals team had. The Giants were +90 overall, meaning that the rest of Barry's team racked up a nifty negative 62 combined. Put an average left fielder in his place and the Giants are on a par with the Expos and Rockies. With him, they had a shot at playoff glory until the second to last day of the regular season, when "closer" Dustin Hermanson coughed up four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Giants led 3-0. Hey, SuperMan can't do everything himself.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 11/08/2004
06 November 2004
Let me tell you a little about my pick for the American League Most Valuable Player of 2004:
* He did not win a batting title. Ichiro Suzuki had an historic season on a last place team, and even if he'd had the same season for a division-winner, he would not be my MVP. A singles hitter, even an extraordinary one, playing an easy defensive position will almost never get my vote.
* He did not lead the league in RBI. Miguel Tejada had an excellent season on a mediocre team, but he also had about 50 more plate appearances with runners on base than any other MVP contender in the AL. RBI have much more to do with circumstances than talent.
* He did not lead the AL in homers. Paul Konerko and a couple of idiots had a handful more.
* He did not lead the league in walks, falling well off Eric Chavez's pace of 95. (Interestingly, for the first time in a fuill season since 1976, the league leader did not have 100 bases on balls. I guess Barry Bonds took them all.)
He didn't have the best OBP, Slugging %, OPS, the most doubles, triples, or steals.
He did lead the league in Runs Scored. By one.
Other than that, all he did was win. All he did was to take a team that had a losing record a year ago, and carry them to the playoffs, beating out not one, but two very good teams for a division title.
Their big-name-free-agent "ace" had an ERA over 5.00. They got 118 games and fewer than 400 at-bats combined out of their starting thirdbaseman and starting DH, not to mention barely two-thirds of a season from their starting centerfielder and cleanup hitter. This team's firstbaseman was such a bad hitter that his OPS among AL regulars with at least 450 plate appearances at that position was better than only John Olerud, who was so bad that a last-place team released him in mid-season. Talk about having your work cut out for you.
Vlad the MVPer
But Vladimir Guererro did just that, and more. He took his bat and his helmet, left the concerns over his gimpy back in the clubhouse, and went out every day to prove that the Anaheim Angels' 5-year, $70 million investment was not a waste. He picked up the team in September, hitting ten homers, winning AL Player of the Month honors and virtually holding open the door to the playoffs for his teammates, the Angels' first division title since 1986. All for the bargain-basement price of $11 million this year. Chan Ho Park This in the Right Field Stands made $13 million.
Oh, and he put fannies in the seats. Almost 3.4 million people came out to Edison Field this year, many of them to see their new star right fielder. That increase of over 300,000 from last year set an Angels' record. Most Valuable, indeed. In more ways than one.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 11/06/2004
27 October 2004
What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin' on around here!?
Some curse. The only curses I can detect emanate from the lips of Cardinals fans each time the Red Sox inch themselves another out closer to Boston's first World Series title in 85 years. Yankee fans too, for that matter.
Frustrated Cards fan
Personally, I don't really have anything against the Red Sox, specifically. It's just that I'm used to being able to pick on them, or at least I'm used to the Yankees being able to pick on them, and now they'll finally have something on us. A win. And not just any win, but a World Series Win.
The pundits who have told you that the Curse of the Bambino was over last week, after the Boston beat the Yankees in the Worst Choke in Postseason History were wrong. For one thing, calling the Yankees' performance a "choke" is an insult to the Red Sox, who deserve credit not just for beating the Yankees, but for not giving up when it seemed all was lost. A case can be made that the Yankees weren't themselves: than Kevin Brown was never quite right after breaking his hand, that they needed a healthy Jason Giambi or a rested Tom Gordon or whatever, but the reality is that Boston just played the hell out of New York for those last four games, and that they earned that win.
Secondly, the Red Sox have gotten to the World Series four times since 1918, twice against the Cardinals (1946 and 1967), and have lost all four of them. So if there ever was a "Curse" other than, "Damn you, Bucknah!", then it still exists.
At least until tonight.
Since divisional play started in 1969, there have only been five World Series sweeps, two perpetrated by the Yankees (1998 & 1999), one against them (1976), and also 1989 and 1990, for and against Tony LaRussa's Oakland Athletics. For whatever that's worth.
I don't think we're about to see a sixth addition to that list. Jason Marquis is, frankly, a better pitcher than Derek Lowe at this point in his career. He hasn't exactly impressed in the postseason thus far, but he pitched well in the regular season (3.71 ERA was 17th in the NL, 24th in MLB), and perhaps is bound to toss a good start this evening. I hope. Derek Lowe, on the other hand, has been pitching way over his head, after posting a 5.42 ERA in the regular season that ranked 78th(!) among the 86 MLB pitchers who pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title. Of the eight pitchers below him on that list, two spent half thier time in Denver (Shawn Estes and Jason Jennings) and two were the poster-children for overpaid disappointment, Estebomb Loaiza and Jose Contreras. (Those two, traded for each other in mid-season, somehow managed a 23-16 record despite a combinde ERA over 5.60. Have some Run Support with your Run Support. But I digress.)
Besides the pitching matchup, it would seem likely that the Cardinals' bats are due to escape the prison in which Boston pitching has kept them for the last three games. In total, St. Louis has hit only .208/.290/.344, for a sub-Neifi .633 OPS, scoring only 4 runs per game on average, well below the 5.28 runs per game they averaged in the regular season. Scott Rolen and Reggie Sanders don't have a hit between them. Jim Edmonds is 1-for-11, with zero RBI. With nobody on base in front of him, Albert Pujols has no RBI either, despite his .429 batting average. Cardinals second basemen are 2-for-13 and leadoff hitter Edgar Renteria has scored only two runs in three games.
Pedro looking to Daddy
All in all, an impressive job by the Boston pitchers of shutting down the best offense in the National League, but I expect that the Cardinals will get at least one win in before the Curse truly ends.
I suppose we should have expected this. Not because the Red Sox had "momentum" or some silly notion such as "fate", but because the odds are simply against the team with the best record in MLB winning the World Series. Since the Wild Card format started a decade ago, only one team with the best record in MLB, the 114-win 1998 Yankees, has won the Whole Ball of Wax. One in ten. Well, one in nine, until tonight. Or tomorrow night.
For those of you who still believe in The Curse, consider this: Every time the Red Sox have lost in the World Series before, the series has at least been competitive. All four of those series went to seven games, and only one started out even 2-0 Red Sox, much less 3-0. Before last week's debacle, no baseball team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a 7-game series to even force a Game 7, much less win it. It is all but unfathomable that it should happen again in this lifetime, much less in a week.
Speaking of this lifetime, if this pattern holds up, the Red Sox will be due to win another World Series 86 years from now. We'll both have reason to celebrate: the Red Sox their sixth World Championship, and me, my impending 116th birthday!
See you in 2090.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/27/2004
21 October 2004
19 October 2004
It seems that there's some cosmic force out there,working behind the scenes, to make sure that the Yankees-Red Sox games don't end at a reasonable hour. Prime-Time, drive-time, nine-innings, extra innings, it doesn't matter: this is the series that goes up to Eleven. PM, that is.
I need some sleep.
A week ago, my job necessitated me getting up at 2:30 AM to go with my boss as he made a presentation to the Navy regarding a research contract we were given. We spent about six hours driving to the facility in Maryland (roughly twice as long as I slept the night before) and spent a few hours in the meeitng itself. I got home about 7:30 on Tuesday night and then stayed up another three or four hours watching the Yankee-Red Sox game, which we won, 10-7, largely thanks to Curt Schilling's bum ankle. A game in which we were up 6-0 after two innings, and in which our own pitcher had been perfect through six innings, would not require me to stay up to watch the inevitable outcome, but as we now know, you'd have been wrong to think that. The Sox rallied to as close as 8-7 before the Yanks put them away for good, and despite only three hours of sleep and a 17-hour work day, I saw the whole thing, all three hours and 20 minutes of it.
Then, the very next night, still recuperating from the Needless Business Trip From Hell, another nail-biter (I may need to start with my toes soon...), another 3:15 game time, but a 3-1 victory. Saturday night, fans in Boston and around the country got to witness the longest nine-inning post season game in history, four hours and 20 minutes, a 19-8 laugher that looked like it might be competitive until about the third inning. I watched all of that one too, figuring that it was Saturday and that I wouldn't have to get up as early for church as I do for work. Sunday's game started at "Prime Time" and ended well into Monday, after five hours and two minutes, the longest post season game time ever, this time a Yankee loss, 6-4 in 12 innings. I missed most of that, having gone to bed at 11:00 or so, with the score 4-3 Yanks in the sixth, I think. No problem, New York was still up, three games to one in the Series.
And then Monday night, not to be outdone by, well, themselves, the Yanks and Sox played almost SIX HOURS, and ended with another Yankee loss, 5-4. Amazingly, this game started at about 5PM EST, and when my friends left after Monday Night Poker at about 9:30, I still got to watchan hour and a half of edge-of-your-seat baseball. This game was so long that I could have watched Patton twice! Then I could have rewound the tape to watch General Montgomery's embarassing entry into Palermo a third time, and still turned the game on i time to see David Ortiz single into center field to win the game, almost exactly as the clock struick 11:00. PM, that is.
By my count, that's a total of 21 and 3/4 hours of baseball in a week. Posada's and Varitek's knees must be killing them.
So the Yanks are now clinging to a 3-2 lead in the series. Assuming that they don't get rained out again, I expect the Yankees to wrap it up tonight. Here's why:
1) Jon Lieber is pitching for New York. Including the postseason, he's 12-3 with a 3.55 ERA at Yankee Stadium this year, compared to 3-5, 5.19 on the road. I don't understand it, but heck, it seems to work.
B) Curt Schilling is pitching for the Red Sox. Schilling's ankle, as you may recall, apparently consists of a lot of bailing twine and chewing gum, not unlike Curtis Leskanic's shoulder or Manny Ramirez' hair. I don't care if he wears the damn Ruby Slippers on the mound tonight, he won't be able to pitch well.
iii) Jeff Kellogg won't be behind the plate. There are few things that irk me more than an umpire with a Kleenex-sized strike zone that floats around home plate as erratically as, well, a Kleenex. Late strike calls is one of them. Kellogg does both. Enjoy that foul line assignment, Jeff! Can't say we'll miss you.
d) No one has ever, in the history of professional baseball, come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a 7-game series. Ever. And it's not gonna start now.
V) The Curse. No, not the stupid Curse of the Bambino. That's just an excuse for poor performance and/or bad luck. I'm talking about the Curtis Curse. No team with two pitchers named Curtis has EVER gotten to the World Series. Curt Schilling and Curtis Leskanic can wrap their bodies in as much duct tape and super glue as they want, it won't erase 100+ years of baseball history!
You could look it up.
By the way, I stumbled across a new baseball blog today, Fall Classic. Go check them out.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/19/2004
16 October 2004
Some random thoughts while I watch Saturday night's Yankees-Red Sox game...
I caught this game on the radio, in the second inning, and it was already 3-0 Yankees, so I thought it might be more of the same medicine we were administered in the first two games of this series: An entertaining, eventual Yankee win in which New York was mostly in control, even if the Sox did make it more of a contest at some point in the game. With Kevin Brown pitching tonight, who had been pretty good in his last couple of outings, and a home run from Hideki Matsui already, I figured the game might get out of hand early, and maybe I'd end up watching something from Blockbuster before the clock struck ten PM.
Good thing that DVD isn't due back tomorrow.
Kevin Brown didn't make it past the second inning, after giving up four runs in that inning on a Trot Nixon homer, a Derek Jeter error and a few other hits. The Yanks trailed 4-3 at the end of the second, but that didn't last. Alex Rodriguez hit the 4th pitch he saw over the Green Monster to tie the game. Then a Gary Sheffield walk, a Matsui double and a Bernie Williams RBI single chased Sox starter Bronson Arroyo. Ramiro Mendoza, former Yankees swingman, proved not to be much "relief" as he balked while facing the first batter of his night, Jorge Posada, to score another run, making it 6-4, Evil Empire. Mendoza did retire three straight to get out of the third, but was yanked after hitting Miguel Cairo with a pitch to start the fourth, even though Boston had scored two in their half of the previous inning to tie the score at six apiece.
That happened because Javier Vazquez was brought in to relieve Brown, who was probably so relieved that Vazquez was in there giving up hits and runs instead of him that he punched another wall. Javier has proven himself to be more than an enigma over the course of this season. He's been an absolute disaster, at least since mid-July. An All-Star four months ago, with ten wins and an ERA around 3.50, he's won only four games since, with an ERA of nearly 7.00 in the regular season, and an unimpressive outing in the ALDS against Minnesota (5 IP, 5 ER, 7 hits, 2 walks, 2 HBP) last week.
From watching Vazquez in that third inning tonight, it seems to me that he's got some real issues with his mechanics. His release point is all over the place, as he falls off the mound to the left in his follow through on some pitches, and finishes straight-up facing the plate at other times. He's got a straight three-quarters delivery, but his arm flattens out on his fastball sometimes, which puts a nice tailspin on it, but also keeps it from being a strike fairly often. I am not a pitching coach, but I can pitch a little and I watch a LOT of baseball, so I have some iea what I'm talking about. I don't know why this should be the case, if perhaps Vazquez just thrived in the low-pressure situation of Montreal, but that wouldn't explain how he did so well in the first half of this season in New York.
To his credit, he has pitched better over the last three innings or so than he did in the third, but even though hes kept the Sox from scoring any more, it's been anything but a walk in the (Fenway) park. A walk, three hits, and a few hard-hit outs have kept vazquez on his toes a little, though it's possible that the five to ten-run cushion he's been given has helped him to relax and "trust his stuff". Of course, as I typed that, Jason Varitek hit a 2-run homer to dead-center field, making it 17-8. Three scoreless innings bracketed by two 2-run innings do not constitute a good pitching peformance, in my book. Neverthless, it was enough, and with now 19 runs from the indefatigueable Yankee bats, I suppose I can't complain too much. But Paul Quantrill is pitching now, and he'll do well to endear himself to Joe Torre by giving him another scoreless inning or two.
Speaking of he Yankee bats, how's about an LCS-record 19 runs? They've hit five homers, eight doubles, including two each by Matsui and A-Rod, and every starter except John Olerud has at least one run or RBI. Hideki Matsui holds the ALCS single-game RBI record, with five in Game Two, and another five tonight after his second homer, but also five runs scored in this game, which ties the new record that Matsui now shares with A-Rod.
As you've probably heard, no team in baseball history has ever returned from a 3 games to none deficit to win a seven-game series, The Yankees under Joe Torre have never lost a playoff game in which they scored at least seven runs, and=I'm sure that the 9-run lead they're taking into the ninth inning is a record of some kind as well.
The FOX broadcasters sought out well-known Red Sox fan and author Stephen King, to get his take on things. At the time, the Yanks were only up by seven runs, and King said that if he had the chance to write the story for tonight he would have penned a big, dramatic comeback for the Sox. That doesn't look like it's going to happen. King also plugged his new book, a children's pop-up version of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, who once pitched for Boston but has since Turned to the Dark Side. As Gordon un-Flash-ingly finishes off his former franchise-mates, I doubt that girl fosters much love for him, or for anyone else in a Yankee uniform tonight, as they put yet another nail in yet another Red Sox coffin, burying thir World Series hopes for one more year.
It's just a matter of time now.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/16/2004
11 October 2004
It's often said that most players, when given the choice of a longer, undistinguished career or a shorter, more glorious one helped by steroid use, would choose the latter, even if they knew it would be followed by some health issues. I wonder if they'd make the same choice if they knew they wouldn't live to see their 50th birthday?
The tragic and premature deaths of people like Caminiti and Lyle Alzado ought to provide a harbinger to the MLB players' union. Donald Fehr and the MLBPA are so busy protecting their own asses (and pocketbooks) under the guise of "defending the players' right to privacy" that they refuse to see steroids for what they are: a quick-fix that creates more problems than it solves, and a potential killer. If a link can be found between Caminiti's steroid use and his heart attack at age 41, Fehr and the MLBPA lawyers ought to be tried as an accomplice to negligent manslaughter.
Please note that I think Ken Caminiti, like anyone else, is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but the Union should be protecting the players, even if it means protecting them from themselves, in whatever way they can.
Caminiti chose to use steroids, knowing the potential dangers associated with them, and he had substance abuse problems that exceeded the arena of performance-enhancing drugs, cocaine and alcohol, at least. But you can be sure that the steroids didn't help things, and you can also be sure that Caminiti would have traded in that one, great season of an otherwise undistinguished career for a few more years of life.
In a heartbeat.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/11/2004
09 October 2004
Well, you win some...you lose some, right?
Unless you're the Twins and you're playing the Yankees, apparently. In that case, you win some, but you lose about three or four times as many, it seems. Minnesota's defenders coming into the ALDS argued that these Twins aren't the same Twins who lost 20 out of their last 23 contests with the Yankees. These twins are better, more experienced, more seasoned, with an ace pitcher who's as good as anyone to toe the rubber this side of Sandy Koufax, and the Soul-Train outfield, or whatever their stupid nickname was.
And do you know what? They're right. Almost everyone who's not with the team any longer from the 2003 season wasn't much good anyway: Denny Hocking, Doug Meintkiewicz, Eric Milton, A.J. Pierzynski. All are over paid, overrated, underperforming, or all three, and are no longer an albatross around the Twins franchise's collective neck.
But in the end, it didn't matter. The Yankees won anyway, though not without some excitement. The first game saw the Yankees lose by two runs in a game Johan Santana started but didn't finish, just like last year. Game Two saw the Yankees come back to win, as did games three and four. But where ten runs separated the two teams over the four games of last year's series, only four runs separated them this year. Two of the three Yankee wins, including tonight's ALDS-clinching game four victory. Yesterday's 8-4 victory wasn't really even that close, as three runs were scored on the Yanks' mop-up guys before Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to stop the nonsense an get two outs to end the game, which he did.
It's hard not to give some of the blame/credit, perhaps the largest share, to Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire has, by most accounts, the best starting pitcher on the planet, in Johan Santana, and yet he yanked him after seven innings and only 93 pitches in game one. Granted, they won that game so I look silly criticizing a move Gardenhire made in it, but he took a bog chance taking out Santana and entrusting two innings of a two-run lead to his bullpen. Of course, it helps that he's got one of the more effective closers on the planet, with Joe Nathan, who pitched well in Game One.
And in Game Two, for that matter, at least until he tired in the tenth inning, as I mentioned a couple of days ago. Another questionable decision by Gardenhire, and this one led to a loss. Game Three hardly offered the opportunity to second-guess Gardenhire, since Carlos Silva and the Twins were already down by five runs when the bullpen came into things in the sixth inning.
But Game Four? Game Four is a whole different story. Again provided with Santana to start the game, Gardenhire made perhaps the strangest decision we've seen in the playoffs thus far. He pulled Santana again, this time after 87 pitches and only five innings. And not five so-so innings either, five innings of one-run, seven-strikeout ball. Don't get me wrong. I'm as big a believer as anyone in the effects of high pitch-counts on short term pitcher effectiveness and long-term injury risk, but with your season on the line, I think you can afford to leave in a guy who's pitched so well for so long in for another inning or two. What's he saving him for? Spring training against the Reds? Heck, Santana averages 111 pitches in five June starts against the vaunted offenses of the Mets, Devil Rays, Expos and Brewers (twice). One of the FOX commentators said that he'd seen Santana in the tunnel after he was taken out, and that Johan indicated that he was still raring to go, wishing he could still have been pitching. But at least he'll be fresh for those all-important March contests against the University of Central Florida.
Admittedly, the main reason the Twins lost this game was that Juan Rincon could not get the outs he needed. He managed to get one, but an RBI single and a three-run homer by Ruben Sierra ended his night prematurely. Anything is possible, of course, but it's quite likely that another solid inning or two out of Santana would have allowed Grant Balfour to bridge the gap right to Joe Nathan, who could have closed it out and necessitated a Game Five. Nobody really knows, and frankly I'm not complaining really, but I think I'd rather be second-guessed for doing what everyone else does, what I've done all year, and having it fail, than for pulling a stunt like Gardenhire did tonight.
Here's to second-guessing.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/09/2004
07 October 2004
What a great, close couple of games we've had, at least in the Yankees-Twins series.
Tuesday night the Yankees had to face Johan Santana, easily the best pitcher in baseball for the last four months and probably the 2004 AL Cy Young winner. If he's not, they ought to stop giving the award. His streak of 21 consecutive quality starts (6+ innings 3 or fewer earned runs) was snapped not by the Yankees, but by his own manager, Ron Gardenhire, who yanked him to save him for the playoffs. Gardenhire for some reason felt it necessary to remove Santana from a game last week in which he had thrown only 71 pitches in five innings, allowing only four baserunners and one run, despite the facts that the Twins were up by only two runs with four innings left to play. The Yanks made them pay, coming back against what really is a strong Minnesota bullpen, to win a game that helped solidify the Yankees' homefield advantage in the playoffs.
But anyway, that was last week. Tuesday night, Santana was not removed after five innings, but threw seven strong in beating New York in game one of the ALDS. In the process, however, the Yanks made him do something he hadn't done since May 23rd: allow more than nine baserunners in a game. They somehow got nine hits, a walk and a hit-batter out of Santana's Golden Arm, and had baserunners in six of the seven innings he pitched, but couldn't bring any of them home. Alas, it took an unprecedented-in-the-playoffs five double-plays to keep the Yankees from scoring that night. Twin-killings, indeed.
Wednesday night was different for a number of reasons. For one thing, they started the damn game at 7PM instead of 8PM. There, now was that so terrible? Is it too much to ask to start a game so that a reasonable person who has to get up at 7AM the next day could watch the end of a nine-inning contest and still hit the pillow by 11:00? I don't think so. Of course, the game didn't end until 11:30 last night, but we got three free innings of playoff baseball out of the deal! A fair trade if ever I've heard one. And I got to watch it! Had it occurred at 12:30, I probably would not have gotten to see the Yankees come back not once, not twice, but three times in one game.
The 2004 Yankees had more come-from-behind wins (61) than any team in history this year, which is probably more an indictment of the quality of their starting pitching than some indicator of the team's 'moxy' but it's still a lot of wins. I wonder which team had the most come-from-behind, come-from-behind, come-from-behind wins?
On a different note, I saw some pretty questionable bullpen moves last night. First of all, Jon Leiber (not Leiberman as Joe Morgan kept referring to him on last night's broadcast) had been innefective in the first couple of innings, but apparently something had clicked in the third and the Twins hadn't done much since. Leiber had not only four and two-thirds straight scoreless innings under his belt with a man on second base in the seventh, he'd only thrown 78 pitches! He hadn't thrown so few since June 23rd, and of course you'd get yanked with a low pitch count too if you were down 7-0 after three innings and change. But he was pitching well last night in the seventh, and had one of the best ground-ball/fly ball ratios in the American League this year, and therefore (in my mind) had as good a chance as anyone in the bullpen at inducing an inning-ending grounder from pinch-hitter Jose Offerman. Offerman hadn't played much this year, but his 2001-03 seasons saw him hit only .238 against ground-ball pitchers. At 35 years old, he's just not the speed-demon he used to be. I suppose it's still possible that a grounder could have gotten through the infield, but the infield defense hasn't been nearly as bad this year as in the past, and since the light-hitting Offerman doesn't strike out very often, it seems silly to bring in a strikeout-pitcher like Flash Gordon to retire him.
Regardless of Joe Torre's intent, it worked, though just barely. Offerman lined out, and Gordon pitched well until he didn't. Or at least he pitched well until Torre made him stop. He struck out Jacques Jones on a curve in the dirt that Posada couldn't hold onto, and then gave up a single to Torii Hunter with one out in the eighth.
Again, almost inexplicably, Torre summonned help from the bullpen. A grounder to anywhere in the infield would likely have ended the inning. Gordon had held lefties (like upcoming rookie cleanup hitter and Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Justin Morneau) to a miniscule .185 average this year, had only thrown 17 pitches and had an off-day coming to boot. Mariano Rivera was summoned, apparently before he'd had enought time to warm up, for the proverbial "tough-save" with the tying run in scoring position and needing to get five outs to hold onto the win. Rivera promptly surrendered a single to Morneau, loading the bases, and an automatic (not ground-rule) double to Corey Koskie, which scored the tying run. Thankfully, Mo struck out clearly-overmatched rookie Jason Kubel (0-for-6, 2 K's, 5 Left On Base; Please, Ron, keep starting him!) and got Christian Guzman on a grounder to escape the eighth. Mo was sharp in the ninth, retiring the side on ten pitches.
Amazingly, and for essentially a lack of any better option, Tanyon Sturtze pitched reasonably well in the tenth and eleventh innings, though he did give up a go-ahead run in the 12th before Paul Quantrill stopped the bleeding. That run ended a whopping 13-consecutive scoreless innings for Sturtze, but I'm not yet convinced that seven appearances and thirteen innings say more about him than the previous 180 games and almots 700 innings, in which he has an ERA over 5.25. Hopefully he starts another streak tomorrow.
The real stories, or at least the ones on which the mainstream media are focusing, are Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez getting a few clutch hits and Twins closer Joe Nathan being left in too long. Both of these I think have been a bit over-blown, but I'll comment on them nonetheless.
Regarding A-Rod: Clutch This!
The A-Rod thing deserves the least discussion. The man hit .301/.384/.525 with runners on base, .357/.432/.679 with a runner on 3rd base and fewer than two out, and a completely reasonable .273/.360/.416 in "Close and Late" situations. He hit 36 homers, drove in 106 and even stole almost 30 bases to make himself more of an asset to the club. He had a rough month or so, which happened to coincide with the Red Sox unbelieveable 20-2 run, during which the Yankees relinquished a lot of ground despite winning more often than they lost. It was almost entirely a creation of the media, whose main business is to find something to harp on, whether or not there's anything actually wrong, just like the Democrats. Sorry, did I say that out loud?
Regarding Closers and Pitch Counts: Bad Call
Joe Nathan threw 53 pitches last night, and even if you discount the last four as not really "pitches", an intentional walk to Gary Sheffield, that was about 20 more than he'd thrown all season. For that matter, it's more than he'd ever thrown in the two-plus seasons since returning from a two-year rehab stint after arm surgery and being made into a full-time relief pitcher.
In his own defense, Gardenhire said that he asked Nathan and Nathan said he was OK, to which I respond, "Duh! WHat did you think he was going to say?!" In a culture in which men are men and women (supposedly) laugh at men when they cry, you can't really believe that. The manager's job is to take what the pitcher says into consideration, and then do whatever he wants anyway. He's a kid, you're his boss, do your job!
Gardenhire also said that his velocity was fine, but again, that's not the only indicator of a pitcher's health/effectiveness. As a pitcher tires, his arm and body mechanics suffer, and sometimes he has to alter them to get the giddy-up on his heater or the snap on his breaking ball - that's when injuries happen. Being able to hit 95mph on the gun (106 on the FOX gun) is not such a good thing if he's straining more than normal to do so. Especially given the fact that Nathan was having a LOT of trouble finding the plate, missing badly on several pitches, and that you're going to need him for the rest of the series, I think the manager has to do his job and manage that guy out of the game when it's clear to the other 60,000 people in the stadium and a few million watching on TV that he's lost his control.
A lot of research, such as that done by Baseball Prospectus, has been done on the effects of high pitch counts on starting pitchers, but I doubt that anyone has looked as intently at the effects of relatively high numbers of pitches for relievers, especially relievers who've had arm problems in the past. On the other hand, if Nathan's arm doesn't bounce back well, it may help the Yanks win the series, so ultimately I can't complain too much. Yet.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/07/2004
04 October 2004
AL Division Series:
AL Wild Card winner Boston will play Anaheim in one of the Division Series matchups, probably the toughest to pick. Boston has a heck of a team: a great offense, significantly improved defense, a solid bullpen and potentially great starting pitching. I say 'potentially' because Pedro Martinez was only 2-4 with a 4.95 ERA in September. He lost twice to New York, who are, after all, his Daddy, but also twice to Tampa Bay, an unforgiveable offense, especially condisering how little of it the D-Rays have. If that Pedro shows up to face the Angels, the Red Sox are going back to Bean town Red-Faced, because they can't win. Curt Schilling can't pitch every day. A suddenly healthy and scary Anaheim team will chew them up and spit them out.
With the Yankees facing Minnesota, having home-field advantage, and frankly most other advantages as well, I can't imaging that this series can come out any way other than the a Yankee victory. The Yanks are 17-2 against Minnesota in regular season play since 2002, 20-3 if you include last year's Division Series. A 20-3 record won Roger Clemens a sixth Cy Young Award a few years ago, that's how good the Yanks have been against Minnesota in these three seasons. I know, I know, that wasn't always against Johan Santana, who will probably get to pitch twice in this series, and has been all but unbeatable for the past four months. Believe me, as a Yankee fan, nobody's more scared of Santana than I am, but like Schilling, he can't pitch every day. All they have to do is get a run or two out of him, and work his pitch count high enough that they can get into the bullpen, and the Yanks can win one of those. And that's all they'll need.
Anaheim in four.
Yankees in Five.
NL Division Series:
The Houston Astros are primed to finally end their drought of postseason victories. They've gone 54-36 since the trade for Carlos Beltran, including 47-26 since the All-Star Break and an astonishing 23-7 in September/October. There is no hotter team in the playoffs, for whatever that's worth, and they'll have their best pitchers available to start against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday and Thursday, with Roger Clemens likely to return from his stomach virus just fine and Roy Oswalt to follow him. Atlanta's pretty good too. You don't usually win your division by ten games if you're not, but the Astros should prevail.
St. LOUIS/LOS ANGELES
The Dodgers just barely eeked out a division title over a two-man show in San Francisco. They've got a great bullpen and a good offense, much better than last season, but still not great. Their starting pitching, despite the advantage Chavez Ravine offers, is not particularly scary, and probably won't let the team hang in there for long against the best offense in the National League. Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds are or were all viable MVP candidates at some point this season, and will likely eliminate the Dodgers from the race in pretty short order.
Houston in four.
St. Louis in four.
AL Championship Series:
Assuming that the Angels and Yankees do in fact win the ALDS, as I have suggested, this is a tough matchup. Anaheim's offense is only decent overall, ranking 7th in the 14-team American League, but they've played better of late, especially since getting back some of the talent that wallowed on the DL most of the season. Still, if they go through with their decision to keep Jose Guillen suspended for the post-season, they'll have a hard time beating the Yankees, whose offense is much better, and much less prone to triking out than the team the Angels beat en-route to their 2002 World Series Championship. New York's chances hinge upon Kevin Brown and/or Orlando Hernandez being healthy and effective, and perhaps on Javier Vazquez pitching like he did in Montreal, or even like he did before the 2004 All-Star break (10-5, 3.56) rather than after (4-5, 6.92). Don't bet on the latter, but expet the Yankees to escape by the skin of their teeth.
Yankees in Seven.
NL Championship Series:
Though the Cardinals' offense and pitching strength allowed them to cruise to a 13-game lead in their division and win it handily, I have a hard time seeing them as an all-time great. They've got solid starting pitching, with five guys who have at least 11 wins and 180 innings to their credit, but you don't need five starters in the playoffs, and none of those who will pitch has an ERA much under 4.00. They've got a great bullpen, and a great offense, but Houston is one of the few teams that found a way to beat them this year, going 10-8 in the regular season, and they'll do it again.
Houston in Six.
HOUSTON vs. NEW YORK
As I'm looking at it now, this matchup seems really improbable. Nevertheless, should the Astros face the Yankees in the World Series, this is how it will turn out:
Game One: Mussina vs. Clemens at Yankee Stadium
Mussina continues Sept-Ober dominance and Rocket gets a revisitation by his stomach virus, and has to leave after three innings, trailing, 6-0, to get an IV to rehydrate himself. Mussina goes seven strong innings and Flash and Mo close it out. Yanks up, 1-0.
Game Two: Roy Oswalt vs. Jon Leiber at Yankee Stadium
Leiber's six-inning, nine strikeout performance is wasted on an error by Miguel Cairo and an implosion by the bullpen. Oswalt goes the distance, Houston wins, 4-0. Series tied, 1-1.
Game Three: El Duque vs. Brandon Backe at the JuiceBox in Houston
El Duque's shoulder flares up again, and he leaves in the third trailing 2-0, but Kevin Brown pitches six solid innings of relief for the win. Backe and the Bullpen blow the lead and it becomes a laugher, 10-4, in which Brad Lidge never gets a chance. Yanks up, 2-1.
Game Four: Mussina vs. Carlos Hernandez at the JuiceBox in Houston
Hernandez is a late replacement for Clemens who's either still got a stomach virus or has converted to Islam and therefore can't pitch because it's Ramadan. Nobody's exactly sure. Hernandez doesn't disappoint. Well, he disappoints the Houston fans, giving up six runs in four innings before Scrap Iron tosses him on the scrap heap. Moose shines for eight innings and Torre adds insult to injury by letting Tanyon Sturtze pitch the last inning. Left-handed. Yanks up, 3-1.
Game Five: Oswalt vs. Leiber at the JuiceBox in Houston
With their backs against the wall, the Astros again turn to their true ace, Brad Ausmus. Just kididng. Roy Oswalt goes the distance again, shutting out New York's vaunted offense, and Leiber doesn't pitch nearly as well on the road as he had at home. Javier Vazquez comes in for long-relief in the fifth and the ThreeBees all homer of him in the same inning to win it for Houston, 8-1 and send the Series back to New York. Yanks up, 3-2.
Game Six: Brown vs. Backe at Yankee Stadium
With 35-going-on-60 year old Orlando Hernandez still nursing a stiff shoulder, Brown gets the nod and pitches well, but doesn't have the stamina and leaves after five and change. The Yankee bullpen blows another lead, and Houston's offense puts on another fireworks display against the likes of Sturtze, Paul Quantrill and Javier Vazquez, who despite the best efforts of the Yankee coaching staff, escaped from the hotel room in which they locked him in Houston and got a flight back to New York in time for the game. Houston wins, evening the Series at three games apiece.
Game Seven: Mussina vs. Clemens at Yankee Stadium
Roger Clemens converts to Judaism because somebody points out that they don't have any more holidays until December, at which point Roger will either be retiring or signing a one-year deal with the Cubs. Or both.
Clemens takes the mound in the top of the first to a hail of boos and batteries, but the crowd cheers up quickly. Rocket's best efforts are spoiled when Brad Ausmus is accosted in the clubhouse by Mike Piazza (6'3", 215 lbs), who gags him, stuffs him into a locker, and somehow squeezes into Ausmus' (5'11", 190) uniform, entering the game in disguise. Piazza gives the signs away to Clemens' former teammates, who tee-off on him for half an inning before Phil Garner comes out to yank his starter, who's down, 5-0. Piazza, as Ausmus, pats Clemens on the butt REALLY hard on his way out, causing Clemens to wonder, but Piazza hides his face and nobody knows the better until after the game.
In a surprise move, with nobody of much starting pitching prowess left on his roster, Garner calls in 58-year old Larry Dierker, a one-time 20-game winner for the Astros, albeit in 1969, reasoning that this gives him two 20-game winners and besides, he's still younger than El Duque. Dierker breaks out a knuckleball and keeps the Yankees in check, allowing one run in two innings and change.
Another surprise move sees Roy Oswalt come out of the bullpen to pitch four more shutout innings on one day of rest to keep New York from scoring any more and Brad Lidge makes his first World Series appearance, striking out the side in the bottom of the eighth. This is, in fact, really an accomplishment, as suddenly not-sure-handed "Brad Ausmus" drops three third strikes, allowing each of the runners to reach first base, but K-Lidge strikes everyone out, becoming the first pitcher in World Series history to amass six strikeouts in one inning.
The damage had been done, though, and Garner's creative bullpen antics fall by the wayside as the Yankees win their 27th World Championship. Brad Ausmus escapes from the locker into which Piazza had stuffed him after the top of the first, and tells his tale to anyone who will listen, but to no avail. Garner issues an official protest of the game, but the Commisioner's office figures that the two solo homers Piazza hit as Ausmus, with his catcher's mask on, more than compensate for the first-inning ruse that got Clemens yanked. Bud Selig has already handed the Commissioner's trophy to George Steinbrenner, and once he sees how ugly the thing is, Garner drops his appeal.
Jim Gray corners Mike Piazza in the parking lot and asks him repeatedly why he won't admit, just admit it now, here on national television, once and for all, c'mon, why don't you just admit that you're gay. Piazza decks him, since he was standing in the way of his path to his car, a pink Cadillac with maroon shag interior. Chad Curtis says he talked to his teammates and they're boycotting Jim Gray, but then someone realizes that Curtis hasn't played for the Yankees since 1999, or for any major league team since 2001. The embarassed network quickly cuts back to the victory celebration on the field, just in time to show Kevin Brown riding a police horse around the staduim in a victory lap, and then promptly falling off and reinjuring his non-pitching hand. George Steinbrenner immediately announces that horseback riding is expressly prohibited by Brown's contract, and that they'll release him before spring, but try to re-sign him at a lower rate, maybe $14 million.
Roy Oswalt becomes only the second player in history to win a postseason MVP award playing for the losing team, going 2-0 with 22 scoreless innings.
Steinbrenner files an immediate protest.
The Fans. C'mon,wouldn't it be interesting if it happened like that?
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 10/04/2004
30 September 2004
The baseball regular season's almost over, and the final picture of the playoff races is beginning to finally come into focus. But, off in the distance, one or two areas simply refuse to be pinned down.
For the first time in months, the Oakland Athletics don't lead the AL West. Anaheim beat Texas last night accomplishing two things:
1) They eliminated the Rangers from the playoff picture, which is particularly good in that it will deprive those who would argue that the A-Rod/Soriano trade made Texas a better ballclub of some fodder for their argument.
B) They moved themselves into first place.
Of course, the second accomplishment was aided by Oakland's loss to last-place Seattle, but more broadly to Oakland's general inability to win consistently for the last month or so. They're 11-16 in September, after finishing August with eight straight wins, a 78-53 record and a healthy three-game lead in the West. Their starters have a 5.92 ERA this month, including one-time Cy Young candidate Mark Mulder's 8.10(!), to go with a 7-11 record. Not a convenient time for your starters to falter.
In the NL, the race for the West is nearly over, with the Giants hanging on for dear life, three games out with four left to play. Not likely, as they say in France. But the Wild Card is still up for grabs, as the Astros have ridden their star to a one-game lead as of last night. Just for the record, Boy of Summer's pick for the NL Wild Card is either San Francisco, Houston or the Cubs, whichever team finishes with the best record at the end of this weekend. Remember: you heard it here first.
So, on to more interesting isseus...
There is a surprising number of individual records that may fall this year. You probably already know about Barry Bonds' myriad of accomplishments: He'll break his own records in single season walks (225 and counting), on-base percentage (currently .610), OPS (1.435 right now), and others. But did you know that his on base percentage is currently higher than all but five other players' slugging percentages, only one of whom plays in the supposedly more offensively oriented American League (Manny Ramirez)? It probably won't happen, but if for some reason Barr's allowed to hit against the Dodgers during the last weekend of the season, and he can hit three homers while Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols are held in check, he could be the first player in half a century to win a home run title without striking out as often as he homered. Ted Kluszewski did it in 1954, hitting 49 dingers with 35 strikeouts.
Speaking of offense, I'm pretty offended that people are making such a big deal out of Ichiro's chasing George Sisler. Ichiro's quest for the single-season hits record is an interesting footnote to the 2004 season, at best. He's a speedy singles hitter who hardly ever walks, so even with a .370+ batting average, his OBP barely cracks the top 10 in the majors, and his OPS is 38th! Over 150 players have as many doubles as Ichiro right now, and despite all those hits, he might not score 100 runs, partly because his teammates suck, but also because he so rarely gets himself into scoring position.
When George Sisler amassed 257 hits in 1920 he hit .407 to do it. He also was second in the league in homers, doubles, triples, extra base hits, slugging%, OPS, Runs, RBI, steals, and some other stats, most of them behind some guy named Ruth. Ichiro isn't even close to being the second best player in baseball this year. Sisler was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1939, one of the first classes to enter, and he got a higher percentage of the vote than Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Pete Alexander, Eddie Collins, Wee Willie Keeler or Rogers Hornsby, to name a few of his competitors on the ballots.
Another interesting note that's gotten almost no press coverage is Adam Dunn's potentially record-setting campaign. Don't know what I'm talking about? See, I told you it's not getting any coverage.
Adam Dunn plays left-field for the Cincinnati Reds and hits cleanup, which makes sense since he has 45 home runs, more than anyone in baseball but Dodgers' 3B Adrian Beltre. He's also walked over 100 times, and driven in and scored over 100 runs each, so he's no one to be trifled with, even though he's only hitting .264. After hitting .215 last year, .264 looks pretty good. What doesn't look good is this number:
That's how many strikeouts Dunn had coming into today's game against Mark Prior and the Chicago Cubs. By the time you read this, he will have at least tied or even set the record for strikeouts in a season. Prior has over 500 strikeouts in less than 440 innings of career pitching at the major league level, so it's a good bet that there might be a couple more added to that by this evening.
The record is 189, set by Bobby Bonds in 1970, his second full season, with the Giants. A handful of other players have been close to this record in recent years, most notably Jose Hernandez, then with the Brewers, in 2002. Erstwhile Brewers' manager Jerry Royster, despite the impending end to Milwaukee's lousy and otherwise inconsequential season, decided to sit Hernandez for the last few games to prevent him from breaking the record, a decision I much derided. But Reds' skipper Dave Miley apparently knows that Dunn is one of his best players, in spite of the strikeouts, amd that if the Reds are to have any chance of playing the spoilers to the Cubs' Wild Card hopes, that chance includes Dunn batting four or five times, and maybe striking out three, but maybe hitting another one over the Ivy covered brick wall at Wrigley as well.
Good for Dave Miley, my new hero. He may not be any better able to keep Junior Griffey in the lineup that Jack McKeon, or Bob Boone, or Ray Knight, or Lou Piniella, but at least he knows how to keep a healthy, productive hitter in there when he needs him, even if it means a possible public relations no-no.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/30/2004