30 August 2004

Thank God for the Wild Card.

I guess I should say "Thank Bud for the Wild Card," but I'm reluctant to give any sort of positive credit to a man who appears so patently slimy in most other regards. Certainly, Selig's directive to expand the playoffs has turned out to be a good thing, but let's not encourage him, OK? It's bad enough that we've got a used-car salesman running The Show until something like the year 2525, let's just not provide him with any more ammunition in his battle for world domination.

Anywho, the Wild Card.

The Wild Card has proven to be a good thing, in that it provides hope to teams and their fans who might not otherwise be in a race for anything of consequence at the end of August were it not available. Currently, the AL East and Central Divisions are essentially won, by the Yankees and Twins, respectively. (Despite Boston's recent hot-streak, the Yankees have NEVER lost such a significant lead, and the Red Sox can't possibly stay this hot, nor the Yankees this cold. Trust me, it's over.) The West, however, is still hotly contested by the Oakland A's, with only a slim, 2-game lead over Anaheim, who is currently only 1.5 games behind Boston for the AL Wild Card. Texas is also still in the race, three games behind Boston for the WC, and 3.5 behind AL-West leading Oakland. So you've got four teams vying for only two playoff spots, and it's anyone's game, so to speak.

If the old, 2-division format were still in place, the Yankees would still be all but assured of winning the AL East, and Oakland would still have Anaheim and Texas hot on its tail, but the Twins and Red Sox would have virtually no hope of winning anything. So, Minnesota, Selig may have threatened to contract you for no apparent reason other than boredom with the status quo, but he also gave you the chance to flaunt your success in his face to argue against it.

The National League offers an even better scenario. Currently the divisions are all but locked-up, with Atlanta cruising to an 8.5 game lead as August comes to a close, the Dodgers up by 5 games over surprising San Diego, and St. Louis up 15(!) games over the Cubbies. The Wild Card lead, however, is right now jointly held by no less than three teams, the Giants, Cubs and Padres, with two others within 4-game striking distance. That's five teams with a theoretical chance to win one playoff spot by the end of the month, though realistically I doubt Houston or Florida really has it in them to make a surge at this point.

By contrast, the old two-division format would have had Los Angeles and Atlanta (remember when Georgia used to be in the West?) vying for the NL West title, and the Cards running the table in the East. A pretty boring month of Senior Circuit baseball, unless you're a Dodgers or Braves fan.

But really, to determine whether or not the Wild card has truly accomplished its mission, to help more teams feel like they have a real chance, we need to look at history, and to answer a few questions:

1) Have more teams been within Reasonable Striking Distance* of the playoffs with the new format than with the old one? (*RSD = 4.5 games or fewer out by Sept 1. Making up more than a game a week, especially on more than one competitor, is almost unheard of.)

B) And have the teams that have made the playoffs, who would not previously have made it, gotten to and/or won the World Series?

The second question is really the easier to analyze, so we'll take that first. We've got exactly nine years of playoffs since the 3-division format was implemented, which means there were 72 teams that made it. Of those 72 teams, 18 of them, 25% (of course) were Wild Cards, and five of those made it to the World Series. These were the 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins, the 2002 Anaheim Angels and SF Giants, and the 2000 NY Mets. Of these five teams, three have won the Championship, and two didn't.

Statistically speaking, at the simplest level, a Wild Card team from any given year has approximately a 1-in-4 chance of making the World Series, all other things being equal, even though they're usually not. There are four teams in each league, and the WC is one of them. One in four, simple as that. In actuality, 5 out of 18 have actually made it, or about 28%, roughly what we'd expect. And 60% of those (3 out of 5) have actually won, which I think is probably a small-sample size fluke. In time I expect that this number will end up in the 40% range, because Wild Card teams tend not to be as good as teams that win their divisions, but anything can happen in a short series.

So clearly a Wild Card team has at least as good a chance as anyone else to win it all. A more interesting question, perhaps, is: "How well have teams performed that won their divisions who would not have made the 2-division playoffs?"

I looked at which teams made the playoffs from 1995-2003, and I found that there were, in addition to the aforementioned 18 Wild Card teams, 22 other teams who would not have made the playoffs. The reason for the strange number is that in 2000, the Yankees, A's and Mariners would all have missed the playoffs, as the White Sox would have won the AL West and the Indians would have won the East, assuming that the divisions were aligned as they had been before 1994.

I also made some assumptions about how the NL would have had to be aligned, placing Atlanta in the West from 1995-1997, as they were before the 1998 realignment, and in the NL East after that, and realigning other teams geographically. This screws up a lot, but it has to be done if there is to be any real "what-if" analysis. This means that for all three of those years, both actual NL Central and NL West winners would have missed the playoffs, as Atlanta had a better record than either of them, and the '95 and '96 NL wild cards, coming from the West, would also have missed the cut. In 1997, though, Florida would have won the East, making them the only Wild Card which would have made the playoffs under the previous format.

Also, I made an executive decision that Houston would have been the official NL West winner in 2001, as they were 9-7 against St. Louis, who tied them with a 93-69 record at year-end. They had a better one-on one record, which might mean that they'd have won the division if MLB uses that as a tie-breaker, or that they'd have won a playoff game. We don't really know if they would have won that game, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt, as it doesn't really matter.

And the survey said...

1995-2003 Playoff Breakdown Posted by Hello

So you can see, non-deserving division winners have not fared as well as Wild Cards, though admittedly this is not a mountain of data here. Only 23% of those teams winning their divisions who would not have won a division under the 2-division format have made it to the World Series, though once there, more than half of these have won that Series. Overall, there have been 39 teams that made the playoffs who would not have made it with two divisions (remember, the 1997 Marlins would have won the Atlanta-less NL East), and their performances in the LCS as well as in the World Series have been about what you'd expect: About one in four win their league and about half of those win the World Championship.

This also means that the remaining teams who would have won their divisions have fared about the same. Of those 33 teams, nine (27%) have gone on to the World Series, and four (44%, of course) have won it. Again, we're dealing with what probably constitutes statistically insignificant numbers here, but it's at least interesting to see the early exit polls, if you will. The early results seem to indicate that there's no problem with Wild Card teams or teams who would not previously have made the playoffs winning either too seldom or too often, statistically speaking. Though there have been a handful more non-legit teams than legit teams to make the playoffs, it should be noted that there are a few teams who would have won a division with the old format who did not even make the playoffs in reality.

Well, as I mentioned, that was the third question, the simple one.

The other questions are fairly easy to answer as well. Baseball-Reference.com has a page where you can find the standings for virtually any date in history, or at least in the 20th and 21st centuries. We can see what the standings were coming into September for every years since the inception of the wild card! It'll be fun. I'll be right back...

...OK, I'm back. It turns out that the Wild Card provides hope for roughly twice as many teams as would have had it if we'd kept the two-division format. I found that, on average, there have been about 12 teams within 4.5 games of some playoff spot, a division or wild card berth, since 1994. Under the old system, however, that average dwindles to about 6.5, meaning that half a dozen teams, in an average year, would be left virtually out of contention by the time September rolls around, if we still used two divisions and no Wild Card. That's got to be a good thing.

So the Wild Card, and the new 3-division format, are accomplishing their purposes. They're not only giving more teams during the season a reason to hope for the playoffs, they're providing a very real chance for those teams to win once they're there.

So when you see Bud, and he's off on some diatribe about how today's game of baseball is either enjoying its greatest renaissance or chewing its own leg off, thank him for the Wild Card.

But don't let him get a big head about it, OK?

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22 August 2004

Cleveland Rocks!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to that distant land known as "Ohio" for a business trip. While I was there, I was priveliged to observe an exhibition of the natives, specifically the Indians, as they competed against the visiting Minnesota Twins. Three months ago, I would have expected this to be something of a lackluster contest, the Indians being the young, struggling team everyone but Rob Neyer anticipated and the Twins easily out-pacing Chicago for the division lead, but then a prophet I'm not. An engineer, I am, so when I had to go to this conference for engineers last weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Indians a single game behind the Twins in the AL Central standings, having won the first two out of the three-game series against their division rivals.

The entire town was a-buzz with pennant fever, their favorite team having just won six straight games, including the aforementioned two against Minnesota, and ten of their last eleven games. The Indians had a 63-54 records, a tie for the division lead in their sights, and the semi-immortal Chad Durbin pitching for them that Sunday afternoon. Durbin, while not exactly this guy:

Rapid Robert Posted by Hello

...did manage to pitch five shutout innings, extending his scoreless streak to 14 consecutive innings, which was belied by his 5.88 ERA entering the game. Even though the innings were, technically, "scoreless" Durbin was in trouble a lot. He had two on with none out in the second inning, two on with one out in the fifth, and bases loaded with only one out in the fourth before saving himself with a timely strikeout or some surprising defensive help.

Speaking of defensive help, the Twins weren't much for their starting pitcher, Terry Mulholland. Mulholland, as you may know, has pitched for ten different teams in his major league career, but hasn't pitched well as a starter for a full season since George Bush was President. No, the other one.

Mulholland's box score reads pretty nicely form that day: 8.0 innings, one earned run, only one walk, scattering six hits, no homers. Nice, right? Well, in reality, he pitched even better than that. The box score also indicates that te Twins made two errors that day, one of which was Mulholland's own throwing error that allowed Omar Vizquel to remain safe at first in the first inning, but there were at least two other plays that might have been interpreted as errors depending upon your perspective. For example, the play-by-play on one at-bat in the third inning reads this way:

Terry Mulholland pitches to Coco Crisp
Pitch 1: strike 1 (swinging)
Pitch 2: ball 1
Pitch 3: in play
C Crisp reached on infield single to third, J Phelps to third

How does a runner on second advance to third base when the ball is hit to third base? Right, when the thirdbaseman throws to first to get the batter, but the throw skips past him, which is exactly what happened. Why is this not scored an error? You got me. But the next batter, Grady Sizemore, hit a sac fly that scored a second run, an earned run, that should never have been.

And that wasn't the end of the shenanigans. In the fifth inning, Omar Vizquel reached on an "infield single to second" according to the play-by-play, that should also have been an error, when Luis "Oh-for-Th"Rivas' throw pulled Justin Morneau off the bag. No problem, though, Mulholland indices the next batter, Matt Lawton, to ground into an inning-ending double play to First base, but Christian Guzman can't get the throw on-line, and Lawton's safe on a "fielder's choice." If I were Mulholland, I'd start choosing different fielders, y'know?

As a side note, the conference I attended was in the Mariott in downtown Cleveland, which happens to be the place where visiting teams stay when they play the ndians, so we saw a few of the players walking in the lobby. Mulholland, even after losing nearly 20 pounds this spring at age 41, looks a lot leaner in person than he does on TV. Maybe it's the goatee. And I saw someone else, who looked familiar, but I wasn't sure, so I looked up the Twins' website on ESPN.com to check the pictures, and sure enough, it was Christian Guzman. Except his bio says he's 6'0", 205 lbs. Well, I'm about 6'5" myself, and this guy wasn't close to 6', more like 5'9", tops. Just so you know. Don't believe everything you read. Except from me.

Getting back to the game, sportscasters often say something like, "Neither starting pitcher figured in the decision..." when the starters don't get credit for a win or loss, but really, they do figure in the decision. Think about it: If you're a manager, and you have the choice of a starter who will pitch five shutout innings or a starter who will pitch eight innings and allow one earned run, which do you choose? Of course, you choose the guy who gives you the best chance to win, which is the guy who will pitch effectively longer, as Mulholland did.

The Twins, thanks to Mulholland's effort, were able to bring in their best setup men, J.C. Romero and Juan Rincon, to pitch the ninth inning, when the game was tied at 2-2. By contrast, Indians' manager Eric Wedge had to piece together five different relievers from the sixth inning on, the first of whom, Rafael Betancourt, blew the 2-0 lead they had, and the last of whom, Rick White, blew the game altogether in extra innings.

This guy:

Bob Wickman Posted by Hello
...actually pitched pretty well for his inning, which is about all he can stand these days before is elbow threatens to fall off. Bob Wickman came up through the Yankees farm system and won 14 games as a starter in 1993, mostly in spite of himself, as his 4.63 ERA was actually above the league average that year. Wickman's trademark pitch is a sinker. This pitch is rendered more effective by the fact that his right index finger is a little shorter than it should be. Wickman grew up in Wisconsin and lost the tip of that finger in some kind of accident with farming equipment. It's a little tough to narrow down exactly how this happened, since in Wisconsin I think most kids ride farming equipment to school. (That's the only interesting thing I know about Wickman. Mostly I just wanted to post that collage I took with my digital camera at the game.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Twins' closer was fresh for the bottom of the tenth, and set the Tribe down in order for his 34th save of the season. Sadly, my friend and I missed the exciting, extra-innings homer Corey Koskie hit to win the game for the Twins, since we had to leave after the ninth inning to catch our flights. But it was still great to visit Cleveland and add to my collection of coffee mugs purchased in the corresponding Major League City. Nine down, 21 to go!

The doorman at my hotel, when I asked him about the outcome of the game, told me the INdians had lost it in the tenth and then followed his response with, "Well, guess there's always next year." I was astonished at his lack of hope, especially considering how well they'd played recently and the fact that they were still only 2.0 games back with a month and a half left to play, but maybe he knew something I didn't. The Tribe, you see, immediately proceeded to dig their own graves, losing seven straight games to place themselves 8.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, behind three other teams, and 7.0 games behind the Twins for their own division. Guess there's always next year, right?

More about Cleveland...

Cleveland, far from being the Siberia of the Major Leagues that it became in the late 1980's and early 1990's, is actually a proud little city these days. The city has been revitalized significantly since economic times and the diminished steel industry left the place in dire straits. The team, too, saw some rough times, as five different managers combined to lead the Tribe to seven straight losing seasons from 1987-93, and a disastrous accident took two Cleveland players' lives, and took any hope of competing that year, in spring training of 1993.

But since that time, from 1994-2003, only the Braves and the Yankees have won more games or won a higher percentage of them. The Tribe made five straight and six of seven playoff appearances starting in 1995, and they were leading their division when the strike hit in 1994, exactly ten years to the day before I arrived in Cleveland last week. They timed it perfectly, with the team getting good just about the time the new stadium opened, and became the model franchise for the rest of the major leagues in the mid to late 1990s.

A while the new Jacobs' Field may only be a few blocks from where Cleveland Municipal Stadium ("The Mistake by the Lake") used to stand, it feels much farther than that. The view, while sadly obscured in part by Gund Arena is still better than no view at all, or, as was the case with the Mistake, a view of 70,000 empty seats. Incidentally, shouldn't the Cubs play in a place named for a company that makes stuffed animals?

Jacobs Field Posted by Hello

Jacobs Field and its football and basketball counterparts are a big part of the city's rebirth, as is the identity it has established for itself as the home of rock 'n roll, or at least, of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Part of this identity is evidenced by the slew of interestingly decorated sculptures of guitars around the city, as you can see:

Guitars Posted by Hello

There are dozens of these around town, each with its own interesting flavor to it, and all of them pretty cool, if I do say so myself. This guitar motif, and its inherent coolness, seems to me in stark contrast to, oh, say, where I live. Bethlehem, PA, while not quite the booming metropolis that Cleveland is, nevertheless has found itself in need of some revitalization of its own, thanks to the current lack of Bethlehem Steel, well, existing. Except Bethlehem didn't go out and get something "cool" with which to identify the city. They got mules. Lots and lots of horribly decorated mules.

Bethlehem mule Posted by Hello

Bethlehem, formerly but no longer a booming steel and coal town, once relied heavily on the canals that line much of the East Coast, and canal boats were pulled by, you guessed it: Indentured Servants. And mules. So we've got the damn things all over town, and you couldn't put the whole lot of them together and get as much Cool as you'd get out of any one of the guitars in Cleveland. Oh well. What can you do?

I'll tell you what you can do: You can get your keester over to northern Ohio for an Indians game!

Even if they lose, you win.

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10 August 2004

Edgar's Effort Stays in the Park

Edgar Martinez announced his impending retirement on Monday. The 41-year old lifelong Seattle Mariner thanked the city and its fans for their support, and even got misty-eyed as he made the announcement. Sadly, rather than allowing all of us to appreciate his career, to bask in the glow of his varied accomplishments, the news media immediately began a feeding frenzy to find cases and supporters, for and against Edgar's candidacy for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

 Posted by Hello

OK, so there are sadder things in the world than a 41-year old multi-millionaire announcing his retirement. Most people who retire at 65 aren't multi millionaires, and many of them have done a lot more to improve society than Martinez has, but hey, this is a baseball blog. If you want to read about World Peace, surf somewhere else.

Proponents of enshrining Edgar Martinez in Cooperstown have, roughly, three legs on which to stand:

1) His two batting titles.
2) His accomplishments as a Designated Hitter
3) His career percentages

Two Batting Titles, (or Why isn't Ferris Fain in Cooperstown?)

The first issue is fairly easy to dispel, in and of itself. Two batting titles, while two more than most players ever get, is not such a unique accomplishment. Willie McGee has two of them, as does Dave Parker. So do Pete Runnels and Ferris Fain, and nobody in particular thinks that they deserve a plaque in upstate NY. Heck, Bill Madlock has twice as many batting titles as Edgar does, and he dropped off the HoF ballot immediately after he became eligible in 1993, failing to garner even the requisite 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot another year.

Of course, Martinez had more going for him than just the batting average. Those batting titles he won in 1992 and especially in 1995 came with power and patience, as he hit 18 andd 29 homers in those two seasons, respectively, scored 100 runs or more both years, hit at least 46 doubles both years, walked often enough to have an on-base percentage above .400 both seasons, and even stole 14 bases in 1992! Can you imagine Edgar Martinez stealing bases!? Me neither.

The trouble with Edgar has never been what he did, but rather what he didn't do, or, more accurately, couldn't do. In the two seasons between those batting titles, 1993-94, he played less than one season's worth of games, due to injuries and the Strike, and batted a pedestrian .271 combined. In the two seasons before his first batting title, he hit just over .300, but with only moderate power, and despite ESPN analyst and former Edgar teammate Harold Reynolds' protestations, a below-average defensive thirdbaseman at best.

But thankfully, erstwhile Mariners manager Lou Piniella did not allow him to continue maing a fool out of himself at the hot corner for long, and before 1994 was out, Edgar was the full-time DH. Which brings us to our next issue:

Accomplishments as a DH, (or Why Isn't Cliff Johnson in Cooperstown?)

Edgar's supporters are fond of telling you that he has more homers and more RBI as a DH than anyone else in history, as well as the highest batting average. His competition in this department, chiefly, comes from Harold Baines, Hal McRae, Don Baylor and a handful of othe rplayers whose names we know, and whose candidacy for Cooperstown are rarely touted. The players with the most career games as a DH are:

Rank Name                       Games    OPS+

1 Harold Baines 1652 120
2 Hal McRae 1427 122
3 Edgar Martinez 1389 151
4 Don Baylor 1285 118
5 Chili Davis 1184 121
6 Paul Molitor 1174 122
7 Jose Canseco 837 131
8 Brian Downing 824 122
9 Cliff Johnson 746 125
10 Andre Thornton 738 122
11 Reggie Jackson 630 139

The only players on this list eligible for the Hall who are actually in it are Paul Molitor and Reggie Jackson, and as you may recall, they had pretty good careers besides those games in which they didn't play defense. Harold Baines and Jose Canseco will both likely fall a little short as well. The former because he was never great, only good, for a long time, the latter because he was great, but not for very long. No one else on this list even generates any debate, nor should they. But, you may say, Edgar's career adjusted OPS surely makes him more valuable than the likes of Cliff Johnson and Andre Thornton, no?

Yes, which brings us to our third and final category:

Career Percentages, (or Why Ted Williams IS in Cooperstown!)

This is where it really gets tough to keep Edgar out. Edgar's adjusted career OPS coming into 2004 was 151, i.e. that he was roughly 51% better, in that category, than the league in which he played over the course of his career. Not many men can be 50% better than the league in a season, buch less a career spanning the better part of two decades. That ranks him #32 in the history of baseball, and of the 31 in front of him on that list...

...19 are already in the Hall of Fame

...7 are either still active (Bonds, Bagwell, Thomas, Ramirez, Piazza & Giambi), or too recently retired (McGuire), but are likely HoFers themselves when eligible, if they keep playing reasonably well.

...2 are not eligible either because they didn't play enough seasons (Dave Orr, 8) or because they took money from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series (Joe Jackson)

...and 3 either had too brief a career (Pete Browning, and Charlie Keller) or were named "Dick Allen".

So let's say that Giambi doesn't make it, but the other six potentially eligible ones do, that would mean that 25 of the 28 eligible players made it in, or 89%, as they say in France. Oh, and about two thirds of the next 20 on the list also either are in or will be when they're eligible.

Martinez is 20th in career on-base percentage, with a .420 mark. Among those in front of him in that category, three are not eligible for the Hall ever, due to lack of playing time or the aforementioned lack of not throwing the World Series, and two are still playing, but will be in the Hall (Thomas and Bonds) when their times come. Only one, Max Bishop, is a valid but unworthy candidate, and he hit only .271 with no speed or power, so you can see why. Edgar certainly had decent power, if not speed.

Only 16 players in history (I think) with at least 5000 career at-bats have maintained career averages of .300 batting, .400 on-base and .500 slugging, and all eligible players are in the Hall. The three active players (Bonds, Thomas, Larry Walker) besides Edgar either will be in the Hall or had a lot of help from very thin air in Colorado. The remainder of that list comprises a veritable Who's Who of sure-thing Coopertowners: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, etc.

This is about where the stats kind of stop helping. While Edgar did have five seasons with 100 or more runs scored, and six seasons with 100+ RBI, those are situational stats, so we shouldn't lend them too much credit. While he did hit 20+ homers eight times, he cracked 30 only once, topping out at 37 in 2000. Homers are cheap these days, so 20, or even 30, don't mean what they used to mean.

Split-Personality Disorder

There's kind of an interesting split in Edgar's career. Let's take Edgar's best group of, say, seven seasons. (Jayson Stark does this with Jack Morris, so it must be OK, right?) From 1995-2001, he hit .329/.446/.574 in almost 4400 plate appearances, averaging 100 runs, 100+ RBI and 100+ walks per season while playing over 140 games per year on average.

For seven straight years, he was perhaps one of the five best hitters in baseball, right-handed or otherwise. In that span, only two players who saw action in 130+ games hit .300/.400/.500 in a season more than four times. Manny Ramirez did it five times, and Edgar did it seven. In a row. Fewer than 20 players have even done that seven times in their careers, and only six have done it seven times or more in a row: Lou Gehrig (12), Stan Musial (8), Babe Ruth (8, plus another streak of 6!), Harry Heilmann and Frank Thomas (7). Oh, and Edgar.

The rest of Edgar's career entailed a still-pretty-darn-good .295/.390/.459 line, but due to injuries and the incompetence of Mariners management (more on this coming up...), those numbers were amassed in fewer than 4000 plate appearances spread out over eleven seasons, or about 300 at-bats per year. But why? He wasn't hurt that much, was he?

Well, no. I had thought he was, but I looked for his stats on The Baseball Cube, and found a different picture.

Martinez was signed by the Mariners as an undrafted free agent in 1982, and was sent to A-Ball for a handful of games in which he did not impress in 1983. However, in 1984, he hit .303 with 15 homers, 32 doubles and more walks than strikeouts in high-A Midwest League ball, so they promoted him to AA in '85. He only hit .258 with no power in Chatanooga, but he walked a ton, so they gave him a cup of coffee in AAA that same year, and he hit .353 in 20 games. The next year they sent him back to AA, where he hit .264 with doubles power, but also walked 89 times while only striking out 35 times.

In 1987, playing full-time in the AAA Pacific Coast League, he hit .329 with 40+ extra base hits and 82 walks (compared to 47 strikeouts) and even hit .372(!) in a September cup of coffee with the big league club. But did they keep him up there? Nope, sent him back to AAA.

He played a handful of games with the Mariners in May of 1988, but was hitting only .143 after a month of jerking him back and forth between the bench and the field, so Edgar was sent back to Calgary. There, he was back to his old tricks, hitting .363, getting on-base more than 40% of the time, slugging over .500, walking more than he struck out, yadda-yadda-yadda.

And for what purpose was Edgar wasting his career in Canada? For whom?

Jim Presley, uh-huh.

The King of Swing and Miss hit .230/.280/.355 while manning the hot corner for the Mariners in 1988. Worse yet, Glenn Wilson hit only .250/.286/.324 playing regularly in the outfield, and Ken Phelps was clearly past his prime as the regular DH, which is why they brought in Steve Balboni in June, and sent Phelps to the Yankees in July for Jay Buhner. With six regulars on the team hitting .263 or lower, you'd think they could have found a place for Edgar somewhere! Edgar did get ANOTHER cup of coffee with the Mariners in September, bringing his average for the year up to .281, from the .143 mark at which it had stood in May when they sent him back to AAA. He hit .412 that month, so they kept him in Seattle to begin the following year.

At age 26, he started the season with the big club, but struggled as they only played him part-time, and after a dismal July in which he hit only .097, they sent him back to AAA. He hit .345 in 32 games at Calgary, and got brought back up to the Mariners for good in September 1989, hitting .333 in part-time duty that month. He finally got the full-time job at third base in 1990, and did not disappoint, hitting .302 with doubles power and more walks than K's, his trademark.

And what a trademark it was. I can understand that a player who struggles in the majors may simply need more seasoning, but c'mon, does anybody really need 1100 plate appearances of knocking the cover off the ball in the PCL to prove that they might be able to do the same in the majors? Sure, he struggled, but it's not as though they handed him the job outright and he choked in the heat of the pennant race or something. The Mariners had never had a winning season in their history before Edgar came along, and while they had a young team in the late 1980s, they didn't have a good one. They could have given Martinez a better chance to develop without even risking much in terms of PR.

Luckily, it all worked out for them. Martinez did develop eventually, and with Ken Griffey and Jay Buhner and others in the lineup, and Randy Johnson on the mound, the Mariners became a force to be reckoned with in the AL West for the better part of the last decade, with Edgar as the cornerstone, if not at the Hot Corner.

But does it all add up to Cooperstown? That's the real question.

OK, so we would have liked him to play more games, to accrue more homers and hits and RBI and so on. But when he played, he was SO good. He was better hitter than some guys in the Hall who played less than he did, like Kirby Puckett and Larry Doby and Tony Lazzeri and Ralph Kiner and Chuck Klein and Hack Wilson, but those guys all played defense, most of them adequately or better. It's hard to hit well enough to compensate for not playing defense at all, at least in the minds of the baseball writers.

And that's who this eventually comes down to, the BBWAA. For them, as good as he was when he played, he just didn't play enough. Being really good from age 27 on wasn't good enough to get Ron Guidry into the Hall, and I don't see it doing the job for Edgar either. Maybe it should, but it won't. In the end, if there's justice, he'll be compared to his contemporaries, and he may have been a smidge better than Frank Thomas or Rafael Palmiero or Jeff Bagwell or Jim Thome, in any given year or for half a decade. But those guys will all have about five more seasons worth of at bats than Martinez to cite when they argue for their own enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Martinez may be the Best DH Ever, but the best of a weak class just isn't going to be good enough.

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03 August 2004

A Tale of Two "Mil"s...

Let me introduce you to two pitchers:

	GS  QS  CG   IP   H    R  HR  BB   SO   K/9  WHIP   BAA   ERA

M1 22 12 0 130 134 69 26 48 105 7.27 1.40 .265 4.64
M2 22 13 0 135 144 77 14 47 116 7.73 1.41 .272 4.80

Amazingly similar, no? They have pitched the same number of games, but Mr. M2 has pitched a handful more innings, allowed significantly fewer homers, struck out a few more batters, allowed almost exactly the same amount of baserunners per inning (WHIP), one more Quality Start, but also a handful more earned runs. Overall, it looks as though Mr. M2 is a slightly better pitcher, with perhaps slightly worse luck on batted balls in-play. At worst, you might say that Mr. M1 and Mr. M2 are about dead even, wouldn't you?

If you didn't already know, M1 is Eric Milton, and M2 is Kevin Millwood, both Phillies' pitchers, both making a lot of money in 2004, and both free agents at the end of the year. They are, over the course of the season, pitching almost exactly as well as each other. Millwood has slight edges in the strikeout and walk rates, and a major edge in the home run rate, while Milton has only a slight edge in ERA.

Milton also holds a significant edge over Millwood in not garnering embarassing headlines from the Philly sportswriters:

Kevin Millwood Posted by Hello

Trade talk swirls around Millwood, Polanco
Millwood provides inside info on his home-park woes
Tonight, Millwood must pitch in
Millwood Wins for a Change
Latest failure against Braves has Millwood at a loss
It's a Brave, old world for Millwood

Compared to:

Eric Milton Posted by Hello

Milton hunting for extension
Abreu, Milton make their case as Phils beat O's
Spurned Milton hitting the high seas

These were all found in the archives of Philly.com, and I could probably find more with a little effort. (The last two headlines have to do with Eric Milton trying to make a case for himself as an All-Star, and then making other plans when he was not selected to the team, supposedly "spurned" by NL All-Star manager Jack McKeon.) Worse yet, if you read beyond the headlines, you'd see that the Philadelphia beat writers have criticized Millwood's character, his "gumption" and other such qualities, given him grief for making too much money ($11 million this year), and God only knows what else. Milton, however, despite pitching no better than Millwood, and making $9 million this year

So why the difference in he response of the Philly writers? Why do they love Milton but downgrade Millwood at every opportunity? Why such a disdain for one pitcher and such adoration for another, given that their performances have nearly equated each other this season?

Well, let me add one more, tiny, little factor to the equation:

	 W  L

M1 11 2
M2 9 6

Oh. That's why.

Ultimately, it still comes down to wins and losses in baseball, and Eric Milton has had the good fortune to be on the mound for eleven of those wins this season, and to suffer through only two losses, and the team is 16-6 in his starts overall. Kevin Millwood, at the same time, has suffered six losses, and only nine wins, with the Phils not Phightin' quite so hard in his starts, going only 12-10 in his games he pitched. The team has averaged 6.85 runs in games Milton has started, more than every pitcher in the National league save two, Kaz Ishii and Shawn Estes. Millwood has gotten 5.20 runs per game of help from his teammates, still a decent number, but clearly not the love his teammate enjoys from the offense.

So the stain of losing is etched on the minds of Philly Phans and writers quite a bit more often in Millwood's starts than in Milton's. Most people still look to the pitcher, on whom the "W" or "L" is hung by the media and statisticians, and (often inappropriately) give him credit for winning or losing the game. Even if he gives up seven runs in five innings, but the team scores 17 to bail him out. Or if he allows no runs in seven innings, but his team loses because they can't muster up more than one run and the bullpen blows the save.

And the strain of losing is taking its toll on the team and on the City. Oh, and on the manager:

Larry Bowa is snorting mad  Posted by Hello

Larry Bowa, never a model of stoicism or calm self-assurance, has even more reason to rant & rave, to pace and race, to stare and swear and sneer from the dugout as his Phillies tighten their grasp on...their own necks. I mentioned in an earlier article that the Phils would probably need to play at least .600 ball over the last two months of the season just to end up in a potential tie with Florida for the Wild Card. Well, it's worth noting that the last time the Phils won over 60% of their games for two consecutive months was in 2001, in April and May.

They were 34-18 at the end of May 2001, sitting comfortably atop the NL East at the time, and then didn't have another winning month all year, finishing two games behind (guess who!) Atlanta for the NL East division title and seven games behind the Wild Card leader. In 2002 they charged back from a dismal April to be three games over .500 by the end of August, only to go 12-15 in September and finish behinf the Expos for 3rd place. Last year they were 60-47 at the end of July, but they staggered to a 26-29 record over the last two months, to finish, again, in third place, five games behind the Wild Card and eventual World Series winning Marlins.

So, as anyone from the Philadelphia area could tell you, the Phils have a habit of choking down the stretch, just as they famously did in 1964 (the ten-game Phold), and in the 1950, 1983 and 1993 World Series, and four other playoff appearances. ANd pretty much any time they face the Marlins.

So if the 2004 Phillies are to win anything besides the ire of their Phans (and let's be honest here, they're gonna get that either way), both Millwood and Milton are going to need to step up and pitch like guys making a combined $20 million. And their teammates are going to ahve to step up to support both of them, not just Milton. If not, Bowa is sure to be fired, the Phillies will be out $20 mil, and two more 'Mil's will likely not be re-signed this winter.

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02 August 2004

Bad Spellers' Sad Lexicon

Looks like I spoke, er, wrote a little too soon.

Not three days ago I lamented the dearth of "big-name" players potentially changing teams this July. Well, how's this for a name:

No-mah. Posted by Hello

Nomar Garciaparra has as recognizeable a name as anyone in professional baseball, perhaps all of sports. Of course, given that his name is in fact an anagram of his father's name (Ramon), and it's pretty unlikely that much of anyone else has such a name, unless they were named for him, in which case they're probably only six years old at the most, and therefore not yet in the major leagues. It's not quite as cool as Steve Carlton, about whom Mike Schmidt (I think) said, "When you call a pitcher 'Lefty' and everybody in both leagues knows who you're talking about, he must be pretty good." But it's still cool.

Anyway, Nomah's a Chicago Cub now. That seems weird.

In one of the weirdest trades in recent memory, the Red Sox sent Garciaparra to the Cubbies along with a single-A outfielder named Matt Murton (.301 with decent power and patience in the Florida State League). The Cubs sent Alex Gonzalez (hitting .217 in 37 games in the NL this year) to Montreal, along with a young pitcher named Frances Beltran and a young, stop-gap type infielder named Brendan Harris, who has, as far as I can tell, nine career at-bats at any level above AA. Montreal, for thier part, send shortstop Orlando Cabrera to Boston. The Cubs also sent a single-A pitcher named Justin Jones to Minnesota, and in return, the Twinkies sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox. No cash explicitly changed hands, as far as I know.

Breaking this down into more easily comprehensible terms:

The Red Sox ridded themselves of a highly paid player they could not re-sign, in Nomah, and a minor league outfielder who may or may not become a major league outfielder in three or four years. They received a shortstop with a good defensive rep, who has hit well in the past, but currently stinks very much bad with the bat, in Cabrera. They also got a firstbaseman who's good with the glove, but, as firstbasemen go, putrid with the bat, in Mientkiewicz.

This is supposed to make sense because Nomar was a "clubhouse cancer" or something, and they couldn't resign him anyway, but Cabrera's also a free agent at the end of the year, and they probably shouldn't re-sign him, given that he kinda stinks. So I'm not sure they gained anything there. They purportedly needed the defensive help, but taking projections from Lee Sinins' Around the Majors reports, it looks to me like Nomar is worth about ten more offensive runs than Cabrera over the last two months of the season, and I'd have a hard time imagining that the difference between Cabrera's and Garciaparra's defense would be ten whole runs in the opposite direction, so that part of the equation is basically a wash, at best.

Picking up Mientkiewicz is supposed to help on defense as well, which they can apparently afford since David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and others can mostly carry the offensive load, but playing Mientkiewicz at first base means fewer at-bats for Kevin Millar and, by extension, Gabe Kapler and Trot Nixon, when he's healthy. Both of those guys are generally good hitters, better than Mientkiewicz and as I've said before, it's tough to make up for lost offensive runs with defense, especially at firsat base, where offense is cheap, and defense is all but irrelevant.

[*It should also be noted that the Red Sox picked up outfielder Dave Roberts from the Dodgers, in a separate trade. Roberts has no power, and doesn't walk much, but runs like the wind. (33 steals this year in LA, caught ONCE.) Theo Epstein is smart enough and well-enough versed in sabremetrics to know that you don't start the guy with more speed in CF over the guy with the 150+ point OPS advantage (Johnny Damon) on a daily basis, so I expect that Roberts will mostly be used as a pinch runner and perhaps a defensive replacement for Ramirez or someone. ]

From the Twins' standpoint, they've given up a firstbaseman making three million bucks who hit like a journeyman middle infielder and they got a pitching prospect, which, while not actually existing, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. It's also less expensive than paying signing bonuses to the draft picks they have gotten in return for Mientkiewicz when he left as a free agent after the season. Sadly, they had a chance to turn Mientkiewicz into Kris Benson, who, while not fooling anyone into thinking he'll ever be the player you'd expect from a #1 overall draft choice, is also exactly the #3-type starter the Twins need, instead of the three #5 starters they do have. Instead, Benson is rounding out the Mets assemblage of #3 starters, along with Steve Trachsel and Victor "JUUUUSSSTTT...A bit outside" Zambrano. You'd think these two teams could help each other out a little!

From the Expos standpoint, well, they got rid of a player who was clearly, vocally unhappy in Montreal, making SIX MILLION DOLLARS, or $1.5 mil per homer, and they got another shortstop making almost six million dollars, and hitting even worse. And some prospects. Hopefully the new owners will like prospects, because that all that's likely to be left by the time the team is sold.

And from the Cubs' view, they got Nomah! He's at least a ten-run upgrade on the Alex Gonzalez/Ramon Martinez platoon, offensively, and he makes that lineup all the tougher to juggle, not to mention, to pitch against successfully. They lost an overrated, overpaid, sub-mediocrity having a bad season, and a couple of prospects who may or may not turn into serviceable major leaguers, but whom nobody expects to be stars, yet. But they gained two months of a superstar shortstop, and now the Cubs have to be the favorite to win the Wild Card. A lineup whose worst-hitting regular is Corey Patterson (.757 OPS, 11 homers, 15 steals) literally has no weaknesses. And the rotation has mark Prior and Kerry (knock on)Wood back healthy, to go with Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement and some guy with four Cy Young Awards and nearly 300 career wins.

They have a lot of catching up to do if they want to win their division, so don't bet on that. The Wild card, however, is well within reach, as they're currently only a game behind the Padres for the Wild Card lead. With the two teams out of the Padres, Dodgers and Giants who don't win the NL West division beating up on each other down the stretch, and the Phils yanking defeat from the jaws of otherwise certain victory on a daily basis these days, it would seem that the Cubs have got a great shot at making it into the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1907-08.

Somehow I don't think "Garciaparra-to-Grudzielanek-to-Lee" lends itself to poetry quite as well as "Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance," but let's try it anyway:

This is the longest of possible plays:
Trio of bear Cubs, and ethnic, I'd say,
Garciaparra and Grudzielanek and Lee.
Ruthlessly alternating consonants and vowels,
Lineup card looks like something from my bowels-
Bad spellers might as well throw in the towel:

I hope they're better baseball players than I am a poet.

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