30 July 2004

Random Trading Deadline Notes...

Sorry for the long layoff.  I was on a mission trip with my church last week and was catching up on stuff this week. 

A few random thoughts and observations while wondering if anyone knows anything about where Randy Johnson might end up...

On the (lack of) Big Trades...
I think we may have gotten a little spoiled during the last few seasons, when a lot of good and/or overpaid players on bad teams all happened to be in the last years of their contracts.  The months of June and July in 2000 saw David Justice, Denny Neagle, Andy Ashby, Todd Walker, Esteban Loaiza, Glenallen Hill, Curt Schilling, Richie Sexson, Bob Wickman, Charles Johnson, Melvin Mora, B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Steve Trachsel, Rondell White, Henry Rodriguez, Mike Timlin and others.  The 2002 trading season saw Bartolo Colon, Jeff Weaver, Raul Mondesi, Cliff Floyd, Chuck Finley, Ray Durham, Terry Mulholland, Scott Rolen, Ismael Valdes, Tom Gordon, and Shawn Estes change sides, among others.  Last year, Ruben Sierra, Rickey Henderson, Ugueth Urbina, Carl Everett, Jeromy Burnitz, Shannon Stewart, Kenny Lofton, Jose Hernandez, Aramis Ramirez, Armando Benitez, Scott Williamson, Jose Guillen, Sidney Ponson, Aaron Boone, and Robin Ventura all finished the season wearing a different uniform from the one in which they started the season, to name a few notables.   

This year?  Kris Benson.  B-F-D. 

Don't get me wrong, he's not a bad pitcher, but if The Big Unit stays put, Steve Finley won't just be the biggest star traded in July 2004, he'll be the only one.  I don't know what this means, but hopefully it's an indication that General Managers aren't making as many silly mistakes as in the past, and therefore are not forced to trade players to cut salary if they're out of the race by late July.  Or it could just be coincidence, and next year we'll have another dozen or so "big name" players sent packing before the trading deadline. 

What's Wrong With the Yankees?

Well, in simple terms, they're hurt.  Their starting Firstbaseman, Jason Giambi, has an intestinal parasite so rare that weaker people die from it.  One of their starting pitchers, Kevin Brown, had the same parasite, and a strained back, and will start tonight (July 30) for the first time since June 9th.  Another starting pitcher, Mike Mussina, has missed more than three weeks with a sore elbow, and probably won't be back for at least three more.  Oh, and when Moose was healthy, he stunk.  Orlando Hernandez won't be doing any of his patented high leg-kicks for a while, having strained a hamstring Tuesday night.  Not many teams can afford to lose three starting pitchers, especially ones of the caliber of Mussina, Brown and El Duque, and still succeed over the course of the season. 

The Giambi parasite is certainly a drag on the offense, but the Yankees have six other all-Stars in the lineup and a decent bench to help pick up his slack, whereas the starting pitchers' injuries have been that much tougher to take because no onein the rotation is really doing all that well.  Javier Vasquez has 11 wins and was named to the AL All-Star team, but he also has an ERA over 4.00 and hasn't strung together more than three straight quality starts yet this year.  Jon Lieber's coming off Tommy John surgery and doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of, say, the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Devil Rays or Mariners, none of which is known for its offensive prowess and all of which have beaten him this year.  Hernandez's hamstring may be OK with some rest, but don't bet on his 2.37 ERA staying that low for long.  The Yanks really need Moose and Brown, two potential Hall-of-Famers, to come back healthy and pitch like potential Hall-of-Famers down the stretch and in the playoffs, if they want to keep playing deep into October.  Oh, and they need Randy Johnson, but that's looking increasingly like it's not gonna happen. 

What's Wrong With the Phillies?

The Phightin' Phils currently have a 52-50 record, which ties them with the reigning Champions of Ridiculously Good Luck, the Florida Marlins for second place in the NL East, 3.5 games behind the Braves.  If you look at the grid that shows the teams' records against each other, you can see that the Phillies have a .500 or better record against all but 4 teams, and are within one game of a .500 record against all but two teams. 

The Phils are 6-7 against the Braves, basically holding their own in those competitions, with six games left against Atlanta on the schedule, and they're 1-2 against Pittsburgh, with three home games in late September to which they can look forward.  Neither of those is a terrible problem, if the patterns continue.  The more concerning issue is their records against their other division rivals, the Mets, and especially the Marlins.  They're 5-8 against the Mets, with six more games to play against them, and 1-11(!) against Florida, with six more games.  One and eleven.  Ouch.  Those trends, if they continue, would mean that the Phillies would lose roughly nine of the twelve remaining games against those teams, including 6 out of 7 against Florida, pushing them 5  games behind the Marlins for second place in the NL East, regardless of what they do against the rest of the league.  So essentially, if the Phillies can't figure out a way to beat the Fish, they're done-for. 

They would have to out-play Florida by at least five games, out of the remaining 54 on the schedule, not including the 6-out-of-7 we're assuming they'll lose to Florida, just to finish even with the Marlins.  That would mean that if the Marlins only go a game over .500 in their remaining 53 games, which is not unreasonable to assume, the Phillies would have to go 33-21, winning over 60% of their remaining games, just to finish in a TIE with the Marlins for second place, with 85 wins, which likely will not be enough to win the Wild Card, much less the division.  And it's not as though the Phils' schedule is kind to them down the stretch.  More than half of their remaining games are against teams with .500 rtecords or better, and another 18 are against the Brewers, Reds, Pirates and Mets, none of whom will just roll over for Philadelphia.  The only bonafide patsies left on their schedule, Colorado and Montreal, total merely ten of their remaining 60 games.  The Marlins' schedule isn't easy either, but they do have ten games in which they can beat up on Montreal, plus another six against the Rockies and Diamondbacks (with or without Randy Johnson) combined.  And of course, history seems to indicate that the Phillies also become patsies when they play Florida.  I wonder why? 


Perhaps we'll never know... Posted by Hello

Speaking of Silly Things on Which to Spend $8 million...

Francisco Cordero?!

A two year, $8 million contract extension with an option for $6 million if he's still the closer in 2007. 

He's not terrible or anything, he's actually pretty good, but he also almost thirty years old, and has exactly one full, healthy season in his career with an ERA under 5.00.  Granted, he's done OK for himself this year as the Rangers' closer, saving 30 games in 32 opportunities, but last year he was just 15 for 25, blowing ten saves, and he's consistently walked a batter about every other inning or so throughout his career, including 2004.  What makes them think he won't go back to blowing saves next season, or even this season

If he's still an "effective" closer, I guess $4 million a season isn't a bad deal, but if it goes sour, it's deals like this one, (and Jay Powell's, and Jeff Zimmerman's and Chan Ho Park's and Rusty Greer's...), overvaluing a few good months, that has kept the Rangers from being competitive for so long, not the one they gave Alex Rodriguez. 


Well, here's hoping that something interesting happens to Randy Johnson over the weekend, so I'll have something to write about. 


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15 July 2004

Astros Rearrange Cargo on Titanic, Dump Dead Wood, Pick up Scrap Iron

Yesterday the Houston Astros, currently in fifth place in the 6-team NL Central, 10.5 games out of first place and 4.5 off the Wild-Card leading SF Giants, canned their manager, Jimy Williams. WIlliams had been with the Astros since the beginning of 2002, and had managed the team to consecutive second-place finishes, but was mired in struggle to stay above .500 this season, and lost some of his credibility for some of his managerial and public relations decisions.

A manager like Williams, whose trademark is his ability to relate to and teach young players, seems an odd fit for a veteran-heavy team like the 'Stros. For that matter, he seemed an odd fit for the veteran-heavy Boston Red Sox team he helmed for five years before he went to Houston, but he was good enough as long as they were winning. In Boston, too, you should recall, he lost his repoire with and the respect of the players and was eventually ousted in mid-August of 2001. Despite a 65-53 record at the time, they brought in Joe Kerrigan, who promptly ran the ship aground, plummeting the Sawx into a 17-23 spiral for the rest of the season.

Though Williams has only once manages an entire season and finished with a losing record(1997, before the Red Sox had any pitching), he has never finished better than second place in any full season he managed either. I don't know how much that means, exactly, since the five years he spent with the Red Sox happened to coincide with the Yankees' run of division titles and playoff appearances, and if the current divisional format were in place in the 1980's, his 96-66 record in 1987 would have won the AL East. But it's at least interesting to note that the Astros brought in a guy who had a history of underachieving and then fired him when he underachieved.

Williams' replacement, Phil Garner, doesn't fit the usual mold they use when replacing a manager. Typically, a feisty manager is replaced with a more low-key guy (Bobby Valentine out, Art Howe in), or a strict rules type is replaced by a laid-back, Go-Do-Your-Job type (Buck Showalter out, Joe Torre in), or a "players' manager" is replaced by more of a disciplinarian (Lou Piniella for Hal McRae). In this case, both Garner and Williams have the reputation of no-nonsense, down-to-earth, players' managers, except that one is six years younger than the other, and had a significant part of his playing career occur in Houston. Why that should matter, you've got me.

In the meantime, there are reasons for the Astros' disappointing season other than Williams' perceived failure(s). Andy Pettitte is collecting ten or eleven million dollars (half of it deferred) from the Astros this year, and has spent half of it on the DL. He's made only ten starts, and did not pitch more than six innings in any of them until July 9th. Wade Miller has been and is again injured, and will probably need rotator cuff surgery after the season, if not sooner. Tim Redding has been a study in contrast, putting up a 6.07 ERA(!) so far this year after the 3.68 he compiled in 2003, which led all qualified Houston pitchers and was 15th in the NL. Pete Munro and Brandon Duckworth are hardly picking up the slack.

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick wrote that Roy Oswalt has been a disappointment, but disappointment depends on expectations, does it not? Oswalt is only 8-7, but his 3.65 ERA is actually pretty good, and he's got 13 quality starts to his credit. The trouble is that the Astros have lost six of those 13 games, with either the hitters or the bullpen, or both, letting Oswalt down. After three seasons in which he had an aggregate 2.92 ERA, 3.65 may seem a little high, but lots of managers would love to have a guy as "disappointing" as Oswalt is right now.

Unfortunately, there are enough guys like Redding and Pettitte to offset the Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalts, making the team's pitching staff mediocre overall. The Starters are mediocre, the bullpen's mediocre, that's just the way it's been. Now, if some of that is due to injuries and those injuries subside, or if Tim Redding figures out what's wrong with him, then the pitchers are right back on track.

Sadly though, the hitting is also mediocre. The Astros rank 8th in runs scored in the 16-tema NL, and 9th in ERA. Jeff Bagweel may be a Hall of Famer, but right now he's hitting .268, with fewer homers, fewer RBI and a lower OPS than Casey Blake. Morgan Ensberg, the darling of fantasy players everywhere last season with 25 homers in under 400 at-bats, needs to call Pat Robertson to join the 700-Club, because his OPS won't get him there. Craig Biggio's been decent, but Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus have been, well...Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus, so they're not much help either, on offense, anyway. Richard Hidalgo stank up the joint before getting taded to the Mets, where he somehow suddenly remembered how to hit like he did in 2000, a supposed breakout performance that got him a couple of points in the MVP voting (would have been more if the Astros hadn't finished in 4th place that year) and his likeness on the cover of BP 2001.

As I mentioned, however, he's now doing that for the Mets, so that's not helping either. The recently acquired Carlos Beltran is quite talented, but he can't do it alone, and Scrap Iron can't go out there and score more runs for them, so they either need Bagwell and his pals to start hitting like they're capable of hitting, and for the pitchers to get and stay healthy and effective, or they'll be lucky to finish the season with the .500 record they have now, much less winning the division.

This Astros team, it seems to me, has had a history of chewing up managers and spitting them out, scapegoating whomever is convenient, in spite of any evidence that failure wasn't their fault. Art Howe managed the team from 1989-1993, taking them from being a decent, 86-win, 3rd place team to a 97 loss team and back to third place in those five years.

That tumultuous ride ended after Howe had guided them back to respectability, and they brought in Terry Collins. Collins had never managed in the majors previously, but had the Astros in a near-tie for the NL-Central division when the strike hit in 1994, and he guided the team to second place finishes in 1995 and '96 as well.

Collins was replaced in 1997 by Larry Dierker, long-time pitcher and broadcaster for the Astros, but also new to managing, who led the Houston franchise to four division titles in five years. (The one blemish on his record was 2000, when the pitching all fell apart and the Astros had the worst ERA in the NL, the first time since 1993, when Colorado joined the NL, that a team that was trying to win finished below the Rockies in ERA. Florida had done it in 1998, but that hardly counts.)

The knock on Dierker, though, was that he somehow couldn't get it done in the clutch, because the Astros were eliminated in the NLDS all four of those years. Of course, nobody bothers to mention that three of those four times, the Astros had to face the Atlanta Braves' pitching, which has beaten a lot of teams in the playoffs over the past decade or so. So Dierker was ousted as well, with "Non-Clutch" stamped on his forehead and a "Kick Me" sign placed on his back by the players. Brad Ausmus and Bagwell and Biggio and probably others all had detrimental things to say about Dierker before and after he left, but the numbers speak for themselves, and his .553 career winning percentage in over 800 games should have said more than his 2-12 record in fourteen games spread out over 5 years.

They've scored 396 runs and allowed 379, so their record is right where it should be, according to Pythagoras, at least. The Astros aren't losing games they ought to win, they're losing games they were expected to win. Once again, the manager is taken out and shot to set an example, and to appease players who aren't doing their jobs well, and to scapegoat a front office that's spending millions of dollars on aging, underproductive players who need to win now, while they still have a career.

For his part, I have a hard time imagining that Garner will make much of a difference. He's never finished higher than 2nd place either, and that was 12 years ago, his only season above .500. Of course, he had to manage the Brewers and the Tigers before, so it's hard to blame him. Nevertheless, if the Astros don't at least win the Wild Card (the division, 10.5 games away, is clearly out of reach), blame him is exactly what they're likely to do. But should they? Since the inception of the three-division, Wild-Card format, only four of the 18 Wild-Card winners were as many as 4.5 games out at the All-Star Break, which is exactly where the Astros currently sit:

Year	AL WC      GB	NL WC     GB

1995 Yankees 7.5 Rockies 0
1996 Orioles 3.0 Dodgers 0
1997 Yankees 0 Marlins 0
1998 Red Sox 0 Cubs 3.0
1999 Red Sox 0 Mets 0
2000 Mariners 0 Mets 0
2001 Athletics 7.0 Cardinals 5.5
2002 Angels 0 Giants 2.0
2003 Red Sox 0 Marlins 4.5

Most of those teams that actually won the WC were already either leading the Wild Card race or theor own division at the Break, and it took tremendous second-half runs by the 2001 A's, the 1995 Yankees and the 2001 Cardinals to get into the playoffs. With that said, the Astros have all the elements in place for such a run: Underperforming talent, first-half injuries, and a new manager, all of which played into one or more of those second-half surges that got those teams into the playoffs.

If nothing more, it will be interesting to watch what happens.

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14 July 2004

Observations and Thoughts on the 2004 All-Star Game

Once a year, the best baseball players in the world get together and stage an exhibition to demonstrate the talent and skill and determination that makes them the best in the world. In no other sport is the All-Star game as real, as true-to-form as it is in baseball.

*In professional hockey, the goalies may be the best in the league, but they're not accustomed to facing five of the best players in the league simultaneously, and no one bothers to play defense much. This means that you regularly get NHL All-Star scores like 14-9, or 11-8, whereas regular season hockey game scores rarely venture into positive numbers.

*In professional basketball, the players are all too busy working on their rap record deals and trying not to get cappes by Allen Iverson's posse to bother playing defense, so we regularly see at least 250 points scored in the NBA All-Star Game, and that's just by the high-school kids!

*In professional football, the players don't even wear pads, and they're not even allowed to play defense, so that scoreboard usually gets a workout as well. Last year's Pro-Bowl saw a combined 107 points scored, a Pro-Bowl record.

Of course, this almost pales in comparison to my own Pro-Bowl accomplishments in 1993 Tecmo Super Bowl. That Super Nintendo game was set up to allow the user to choose the rosters for the pro bowl, as well as the starters and the play book. So I set up the AFC roster to consist entirely of injured and/or really poor players, and their playbook to consist of easily detectable running plays and very complicated passing plays (double backs, handoffs, etc.) This allows me to regularly run up the score on the AFC with my fully stocked NFC roster, and scores like 110-0, or 126-3 are not uncommon. It's a nice way to relax. In fact, it's a bad game if I score fewer than 100 points, allow any points to the AFC, if the AFC actually completes a pass or has more than negative 50 yards in total offense. Hey, I don't like losing.

But I digress.

Baseball is different. Baseball requires players to still throw the ball with the same force or spin or lack of spin they miht otherwise use in a real game. There just isn't much of any way to "pretend" to throw 95 mph, or to swing half-assed in order not to hurt yourself. You've still got to slide to avoid the tag, and you've still got to jump to catch that ball at the top of the wall, so baseball's greatest exhibition game has always carried with it a little more authority and intrigue than those of the other major American sports.

With that said, we lost a little something two years ago when the game ended in a tie, due to the AL and NL managers treating the game like an exhibition rather than a serious contest for bragging rights. For 2003, they came up with the "This Time It Counts" slogan, and senseless though it may be, made home-field advantage for the World Series contingent upon winning the All-Star game. Lots of good it did the Yankees last year. The All-Star game needed something to make it more intriguing, since we've lost the league-loyalty that used to be the hallmark of this competition. No fewer than nine of the 60 players on the two All-Star rosters were in the opposite league last season, and Carlos Beltran was in the other one this year! Twenty two of them, over one third, had played for the opposite league at some point in their careers, so you just can't see the game as the "Us against Them" kind of cnflict they'd like you to perceive.

So like I said, they came up with "This Time it Counts" for 2003, and last night, the sidelines said "This One Counts". It strikes me that at this rate, pretty soon they're going to start running out of phrases that include "count" in them to bill the game. I understand from sources close to actually existing, that some of the options they're exploring for next year are:

"This Time It Counts...Unless You're Eric Gagne!"

"Don't Count Your All-Star Game Victories Before They're Hatched!"  Posted by Hello

"Vun! Vun beaut-i-vul All-Star Game!! Ahh-Ah-Ah-AHHH!!"

They're also considering the possibility of simply re-using previous years' slogans with "...Bitch!" added to the end, but my sources are a little sketchy on that.

Otherwise, to my eyes, two years and a new system to add meaning to the game later, the managers don't seem to be managing much differently. The 2002 game saw all 30 players form both teams get into the game at some point. Last year's game saw 26 players from each team getting into the game, and last night, 28 players from each team made it into the record books. So aside from perhaps saving one pitcher or position player for an emergency (read: embarassing situation), it still looks a hell of a lot like an exhibition to me.

It was, however, one hell of an exhibition. The Greatest All-Star Outfield in History, Bonds-Griffey-Sosa, didn't even play together, as Griffey was (surprise!) injured. Bonds, Sosa, and Griffey-replacement Lance Berkman went a combined 1-for-6 with a walk and an RBI, leaving four men on base. Real exciting.

Well, for the American League, it was pretty exciting. Joe Torre may have managed it like an exhibition, but he also managed it to win, and he did, aided significantly by homers from Manny Ramirez, All-Star MVP Alfonso Soriano, and David Ortiz, whose 6th-inning shot landed in the JuiceBox upper deck. The AL also hit two triples, both by Rodriguezes (Ivan and Alex) who used to play for Texas, in which Houston lies. Talk about conspiracies!

Yes, let's talk about conspiracies, or rather the lack thereof.

So Roger Clemens started the game for the NL, with his supposed nemesis Mike Piazza as his batterymate. Clemens promptly gave up two homers and six runs in the first inning, something he's never done before in his "Hall of Fame twenty-one career" as Bud Selig so eloquently put it in the fourth inning ceremony in which Clemens was awarded the Commissioner's Award for Broadcast Excellence or for getting 1600 on the SATs or whatever the heck it was.

Theories I've heard about why this might have happened:

1) Piazza was tipping Clemens' pitches to get back at Roger for throwing baseball equipment at him four years ago.

I'd like to think that nobody could hold a grudge that long, but I've seen enough mafia movies to know it's not true. Any semblance of intelligence on Piazza's part will dictate to him that "home field advantage" won't mean a whole lot to him as he watches the World Series from his couch, so what does he care which league gets it? However, there were enough cameras, microphones and other recording equipment on that field last night that you could have heard Mike Piazza fart as he squatted behind the plate, if he had done so. It certainly would have been easily detectable if he'd been telling the batters what pitch was coming. So the Crash Davis Theory crashes and burns.

b) Clemens was tipping his own pitches, trying to let the AL win, thinking that he might be traded to an AL team going to the postseason before the season's over.

This is pretty ridiculous. If we know anything about Clemens after his "21-career", it's that the dude hates to lose. Hates it. Besides this, he doesn't expect to be traded, and the Astros don't really need to trade him, since he's only making about five million this year, and a lot of that is deferred. He doesn't have much control over the team to which he would be traded, and besides, I'm not sure Clemens is smart enough to come up with something like that. If he had, this would be the only possible Conspiracy Theory that might hold water: the Conspiracy of One.

iii) "That freakin' jerk Clemens got what he deserved! Fate caught up with him and he paid the piper for what he did to Mike Piazza, who is at least a Class Act, and probably a saint!!"

Admittedly, this theory came predominantly from Mets fans on WFAN radio out of New York, and therefore has about as much credibility and deserves as much discussion as, say, the Mets.

IV) Clemens was out partying til 2:30AM the night before the game and somehow couldn't get his fastball over 91 mph, so he had to rely on his breaking stuff, and he got rocked.

At least this theory doesn't have some dastardly scheme behind it. Just a guy who was out too late partying and couldn't perform at work the next day. Of course, the time at which he needed to perform was nearly 20 hours later, so you can safely presume, I think, that Clemens found time for rest at some point before he went on for the first pitch at, what, 8:30PM?

Certainly this theory seems more plausible than any of the others floated thus far, but the reality is that we still don't know everything there is to know about baseball. Sure, we know some things, especially when it comes to looking at the entire season: We know the Yankees will make the postseason, and that they'll pick up a notable player or two in July to help them do it. We know the Red Sox will choke, though we don't always know when. We know Ken Griffey will get hurt. We know Barry Bonds will walk. A lot. We know Alex Sanchez won't.

But we certainly don't know what's going to happen in any single game. There's still drama and suspense. That's why we watch it, right, because we don't know what's going to happen? If we did, they could just computer simulate the entire season, and we could all save a lot of money on baseball tickets. And I'd lost all my advertisers, which would suck.

It may be true that Roger Clemens had never previously given up six runs in the first inning of any game in his major league career, but in fact he has had worse games. Retrosheet tells us that Clemens has given up nine runs in a game six times, eight runs in a game ten times, seven runs 18 times, through 2003. He's even given up six runs in an inning on more than one occasion (as recently as last August and as long ago as 1987). He's given up two homers in a game over 60 times, and I know that at least a few of those occurred with multiple dingers in an inning.

So ultimately, there's a lot more evidence to suggest that this was a fluke than anything else. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Or if they try to, at least don't let them convince you that Piazza is actually descended from Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ.

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08 July 2004

Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank Ron Gardenhire, I'm Free at Last!

Through most of last season, everybody's favorite ridiculously prolific baseball blogger, Aaron Gleeman, had a sidebar on his website, exhorting Minnesota Twins management to "Free Johan Santana" as well as Bobby Kielty. In response (no, not really) the Twins proceeded to

A) Trade Bobby Kielty to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart, a player almost as good as Kielty, making $6 million, instead of, say, half a mil. At least he's "free" now. And playing for Billy Beane in Oakland, where he's currently hitting .221. I guess Aaron's not always right. Welcome to the club.

2) Allow Santana to start consecutive games on June 7th and 13th, during which he pitched 13 innings, allowing five hits, two walks and and two runs, striking out 14 in winning both starts...so they returned him to the bullpen, where he would languish until July 11th. At this point they made him a starter full-time, and after ironing out some of his wrinkles in July, he pitched an August to remember, and won MLB's Pitcher of the Month Honors for his efforts:

 IP    H  ER  BB  SO  W-L  ERA

42.0 30 5 10 44 5-0 1.07

Santana wasn't quite that good in Spepember of 2003, but he clearly emerged as the Twins' best starting pitcher down the stretch, even to the point that he started Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees. Thankfully and arm injury stopped him, cuz Lord knows the Yanks couldn't.

Well, Santana might have been even better this June, though Mark Mulder actually won that award this time. Frankly, I'm not sure how they justified that:

June 2004

Mulder 46.0 41 14 14 33 4-0 2.74
Santana 37.2 21 10 6 46 4-1 2.39

Well, maybe I can see it. Mulder made one more start than Santana in June, due to the way their schedules happened to fall, and pitched just as well in it as he had in the other five. Santana's first start in June was only OK, so even if Mulder wasn't as dominant as Santana, he was at least as effective, probably more so.

But since his second start in June, Santana has easily been the best pitcher in baseball:

6 47 23 8 5 6 64 5 1 1.53 0.62

Take a look at those numbers again. Less than a hit every other inning. More than ten strikeouts for every walk. Over twelve strikeouts per nine innings. Barely one and a half earned runs per nine innings! And that one loss? An eight-inning, two run, 12-K effort in which the Twins scored only once against Jon Garland and his ruby slippers. Can't really blame that one on Santana, y'know?

It's not as though this has come out of nowhere. As I mentioned, the dude was the AL Pitcher of the Month last August, and he's doing pretty well this year overall: leading the AL in strikeouts (125), 2nd in opponent batting average, 13th overall in ERA and 9th in innings. His lackluster 7-5 record is more an indication of his teammates' inneptitude with their bats when he pitches than his own quality as a pitcher: They've scored a combined total of eight runs in four of his five losses, not exactly picking up his slack.

In any case, he's been damn good for the last month or so. And when I say "damn good" I mean "peak-Sandy Koufax" good. What if you could project Santanas numbers for the last month across the same amount of starts and innings Koufax pitched in 1966, his best and last season? That year, Koufax won 27 games and the Cy Young Award, leading the NL in virtually every imagineable pitching category, and then retired. Well, Santana's been better, at least for this month. A lower ERA, fewer hits AND walks, a lot more strikeouts, and would win more games, again, assuming 41 starts and about 320 innings for the season, which will never happen again, sadly.

But how good was he really? Sure he shut out the Royals on Tuesday night, but so did Brad Radke. And so did Kyle Lohse, with a 4.71 ERA for the season. So did Mark Mulder, who's a great pitcher. So did Zach Day, who's not. So did Jason Johnson and two relievers, who had a combined ERA over 5.00 at the time. So apparnetly it's not that difficult to do, as only Montreal (12 times!) and Seattle (8) have been shut out more often this season.

Speaking of which, it turns out that Montreal was among the teams that Santana faced in the last month. Montreal's got the worst offense in the majors, averaging fewer than 3.4 runs per game. He also faced the New York Mets, ranked #22 out of 30 teams in runs per game, with 4.5, and the Brewers, twice, who score 4.4 runs per game on average, good for 24th place, in addition to Kansas City (4.15 runs/game, #28). The only team Santana faced in that stretch with any kind of decent offense was the White Sox, who rank 4th in MLB with 5.5 runs per game. As I mentioned earlier, they beat him, but only scored two runs in the process.

So how good was Santana really? Well, on average, these teams might have been expected to score about 23 runs in his 47 innings of work over the last month, whereas they actually only scored eight, so Santana saved about 15 runs, even though he did so against mostly pretty terrible offensive teams. I guess that's pretty good after all.

But don't be too surprised if he comes back to earth a little in the next few months. Of the remaining 79 games on the Twins' scheduly, only 12 of them are against teams in the bottom half of the league in run scoring. Fifty seven of those games are against teams in the top ten in the majors in run-scoring (Texas, the Yankees, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Baltimore), and another ten games are against Anaheim (12th) and Oakland 13th). So the Twins, and Johan Santana, have their work cut out for them.

But hey, at least the man's got his freedom.

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06 July 2004

Observations and Projections from the (Approximate) Halfway Mark...

As most of the teams in the majors are currently right around 80 or 81 games played, this seems as good a time as any to take stock in the season to this point, if only because the math is easiest.

This is how the season would end, if todays standings are played out over 162 games, which of course, will almost definitely not happen:

American League						

East W L Pct GB RS RA
 NY Yankees 103 59 0.638 - 903 792
 Boston 87 75 0.538 16 863 770
 Tampa Bay 80 82 0.494 23 722 800
 Baltimore 73 89 0.450 30 844 901
 Toronto 71 91 0.439 32 717 761
Central W L Pct GB RS RA
 Minnesota 88 74 0.543 - 754 778
 Chi White Sox 87 75 0.538 1 910 768
 Cleveland 78 84 0.481 10 892 882
 Detroit 74 88 0.457 14 870 866
 Kansas City 59 103 0.363 29 689 909

West W L Pct GB RS RA
 Texas 93 69 0.575 - 921 790
 Oakland 93 69 0.575 - 812 715
 Anaheim 84 78 0.519 9 798 768
 Seattle 65 97 0.400 28 652 759

National League
East W L Pct GB RS RA
 Philadelphia 88 74 0.543 - 868 786
 NY Mets 82 80 0.506 6 718 690
 Florida 82 80 0.506 6 689 714
 Atlanta 81 81 0.500 7 759 721
 Montreal 56 106 0.346 32 560 754

Central W L Pct GB RS RA
 St. Louis 99 63 0.610 - 851 672
 Chi Cubs 91 71 0.561 8 765 636
 Cincinnati 87 75 0.537 12 761 848
 Milwaukee 85 77 0.525 14 715 719
 Houston 83 79 0.512 16 747 699
 Pittsburgh 75 87 0.463 24 747 780

West W L Pct GB RS RA
 San Diego 89 73 0.549 - 709 658
 San Francisco 88 74 0.542 1 812 802
 Los Angeles 87 75 0.538 2 705 691
 Colorado 64 98 0.395 25 868 998
 Arizona 58 104 0.361 31 710 898

Things to notice:

Wins and Runs:

...Only the New York Yankees are on a pace for 100 wins or more, though St. Louis is currently paced for 99, so that could easily change. The last time a seaosn ended with no team winning 100 games was 2000, when the Giants led everybody with 97 wins, but the Yankees got the wins in October, when they counted, to bring home their 26th and (hopefully not) last World Championship. Interestingly enough, that was also the last time no team lost 100 games. The Phillies and Cubs both lost 97 that year. Call it Parity, Mediocrity, I'm not sure what it means, but it's interesting.

...Three teams, Montreal, Arizona and Kansas City, are on a pace to lose 100 games or more. All three teams had winning records in 2003, were in the hunt for at least a Wild Card berth through some significant portion of the season, and KC and 'Zona both fostered some aspirations to make the playoffs this season. Ain't gonna happen.

So what happened? KC and the Expos both did it with smoke and mirrors last year, actually getting outscored over the course of the season despite their winning records. Montreal lost its two best players (Vlad and Vasquez) and didn't do much to replace them in the short term. Carl Everett, the main guy they expected to help pick up some of Guererro's slack, has two homers and eight runs scored through half of the season, most of which he has missed with injuries. Orlando Cabrera, Tony Batista and Brad Wilkerson are all hitting about .230, and the team is on a pace to score fewer runs than the Tigers or Dodgers did last season.

Kansas City failed to recognize Lady Luck when she bit them in the collective ass. They added the players they could afford, instead of the players they needed, and most of them have been inneffective, injured or both, and many of the starters who helped them win a little in 2003 have either gotten hurt or come back to earth. On the plus side, Scott Sullivan is having a decent year, as always, and might net them another half-decent prospect if they can dump him on some contender who actually needs dependable middle relief.

The Diamondbacks traded away Curt Schilling over the winter, and didn't get much to replace his innings, but fortunately Randy Johnson has returned to form. Brandon Webb had pitched decently, though gotten no run support, and no other pitcher who has started a game has an ERA under 4.50. If you throw out Shane Reynolds' 2-inning start and one run allowed, no other starter has an ERA under 5.13. And the bullpen has been almost as bad. Time to start the fire sale in Scottsdale!

...Nobody is on a pace to score more than 921 runs (Texas, in spite of losing Alex Rodriguez over the winter). So much for having seven All-Stars in the lineup (Yankees) or the sequel to the Boston Dirt-Dogs that was supposed to be even better.

...Tampa Bay only has to go 30-51 over their last 81 games to set a franchise record for wins. Of course, that record would only be 70 wins, but they stand a pretty good chance of doing that. You gotta start somewhere.

...Colorado is perilously close to allowing 1000 runs for the season, currwently on a pace for 998. The last time a team allowed 1000 runs was 1999 when (surprise!) Colorado did it. The last non-Colorado team to achieve this dubiouss honor was the 1996 Detroit Tigers, who allowed a 20th Century record 1103 runs. Colorado and Detroit are the only teams since the offense-inflated 1930's to allow 1000 runs in a season. [Church Lady Voice:]Well isn't thas special?

...Montreal's "offense" is on a pace to score 560 runs, which would (I think) be the fewest in a full season since the 1992 LA Dodgers (532). Those Dodgers had one (count 'em: 1) player with more than six home runs. Eric Karros hit 20...with a .257 average and 103 strikeouts. Nobody drove in or scored 90 runs. These Expos aren't quite that bad...but give them a chance!

Playoff Picture:

...San Diego could go worst-to-first, and take the NL West by a game over the Giants. The Giants and Dodgers are both playing a little better than what you'd expect based on their runs scored/allowed ratios, so the Padres may pull away from the pack more as the season wears on and the Law of Averages catches up with the competition...but it wouldn't hurt to pick up an outfielder who can hit, y'know?

...In the NL, the Chicago Cubs are currently on a pace to win the Wild Card, and they would play the Padres in the first round while the Cardinals play the Phillies.

...In the AL, there would be a tie in the West between the Rangers and Athletics...for an exciting, 1-game winner-take-all bout...except that the loser takes the Wild Card anyway, so it really doesn't matter much.

...The AL Central is currently led by the Twins, but the White Sox have actually played better, and could overtake them by year end, especially if Freddy Garcia pitches as he is capable of pitching.

...Currently half of the teams that would make the playoffs (Cardinals, Padres, Phillies and Rangers) were not in the playoffs in 2003, and of those, only the Cards were in them in 2002. If Chicago takes the AL Central, that would be 5 of 8 non-repeat teams. It's becoming increasingly difficult to take Bud Selig's contention that the same teams make it to the playoffs every season, or that only teams with the highest payrolls make it (only four of the eight teams that are currently slated to make the playoffs are in the top ten in payroll.)

...The Yankees, Athletics, Cubs and Twins are the repeaters on the list, and the Twins are likely not to be there at the end of the year, though it would be their third straight season in the playoffs. (Contract THIS!) It would be Oakland's fifth straight year in the playoffs, and the Yankees' tenth (or eleventh, if you want to give them credit for winning their division in the strike-shortened 1994 season...but you probably don't, Yankee-hater!).

...Boston ain't gonna make it. Sorry. Oh, wait. No I'm not.

Damn Lies and Statistics (hitters):

...Phillies' firstbaseman Jim Thome is on a pace to hit 53 homers, the only player in MLB who is tracking to hit more than 50. Scott Rolen leads all hitters in both leagues with 80 RBI right now, which would give him about 160 for the year. Yeah, he was worth Placido Polanco and Bud Smith.

...Texas SS Michael Young is on a pace ofr 242 hits, which would be the most since Ichiro broke into the league in 2001, and the ninth highest total in history. Sorry, I don't see that happening.

...Tampa Bay out-maker, er...sorry, outfielder Carl Crawford is on a pace to steal 77 bases, which would be the highest total since Marquis Grissom had 78 in 1992.

**Barry Bonds is on a pace to walk 239 times! Did you read that? Two Hundred and thirty nine times!!!!! If he does that...

...he would (probably) have more walks than anyone else in baseball had hits!

...He would shatter his own record of 198 walks in a season.

...By contrast, it took Garret Anderson, who is widely gonsidered a pretty good hitter, ten years to amass 239 walks.

...Bonds would also break his own record for single-season OPS (currently 1.400, his own record is 1.387).

...The .618 OBP he currently sports would demolish his own single season on-base percentage record (.582) set in 2002.

...Sadly, his .781 slugging percentage would only be fifth on the all-time single season list, behind Himself, Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth, and Himself. Oh, and ahead of Babe Ruth. Pretty select company, if I do say so Himself.

Damn Lies and Statistics (pitchers):

...Will the real Kenny Rogers please stand up?

Kenny Rogers is on a pace to win 24 games.

His previous best was 17, back in 1995, and he might become the oldest player to win 20 for the first time in his career, I think, for whatever that's worth. Even if he stinks up the joint next season, they seem to have gotten their $6 million worth. In any case, the Rangers hafta be happy with that gamble. (Get it, Kenny Rogers? Gamble? Ha!) About seven other pitchers are also within striking distance of 20 wins.

...Cincinatti reliever Danny Graves is on a pace to save 61 games. This won't happen. The record is 57, and nobody else has ever had more than 55, so I don't see 61 happening, especially since Graves hasn't really been that good, allowing a home run about every five innings, and not striking many batters out. If he starts walking people again, that pace will slow down soon. His next save will tie his career high (32). Four other pitchers are on a pace for at least 50 saves.

...Devil rays starter Victor Zambrano is on a pace to allow 152 walks this year, which would make it consecutive seasons leading the AL in that undesirable category, and would also be the highest single season total since 1991, when Randy Johnson allowed as many for the Seattle Mariners. Somehow I don't see five Cy Young Awards in Zambrano's future...

...Baltimore starting (and immediately ending) pitcher Sidney Pnson is on a pace to allow 306 hits, which would be the highest total since 1979 when Phil Niekro allowed 311. Of course, Niekro is in the Hall of Fame, while Ponson, at least these days, is usually in the hall on the way to the showers. It's doubtful that he'll get a chance to be this bad over the second half of the season, as he's also on a pace to lose 24 games, and I imagine that the Orioles' front office would just assume that the Detroit Tigers keep the honor of having hosted the last 20 game loser in the majors. Nobody else is on a pace to lose 20 this year, since Hideo Nomo, his 8.06 ERA and his "inflamed" (read: LOUSY) shoulder are on the DL right now.


Well that's it. Obviously, a lot can happen over the next three months, but it's always fun to wonder "what if?" Well, unless you're Sidney Ponson.

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