31 October 2005

Valentine's "Real World Series" a Bad Idea...for Him

Bobby Valentine's in over his head this time.

New Jersey's Bergen Record columninst and ESPN.com-tributor Bob Klapisch worte a piece discussing Valentine's challenge to have a "real" World Series, after his own Chiba Lotte Marines swept the Hanshin Tigers, 4-0, in the Japanese Series. Valentine became the first foreign-born manager in Japanese baseball history to even get to the final round of their playoffs, much less win them, so this accomplishment apparently went to his head pretty quickly.

Valentine had managed the NY Mets (1996-2002) and Texas Rangers (1985-1992) and never won a division title, though he did pick up an NL pennant with the Wild-Card winning Mets in 2000. He was also a very controversial manager, sticking with favorite players in spite of their repeated demonstration that they had no business in the regular lineup. His continued use of Brian McRae and Rey Ordonez in 1999 probably cost the Mets a Division Title, and if it didn't, then his use of Ordonez and Bernard "Innocent Until Proven" Gilkey certainly cost them the 1998 Wild Card. In a hilarious but extremely controversial move, Valentine returned to the Mets dugout after having been ejected from a game in 1999, in a not-particularly effective disguise.

I hope that was worth the suspension the commissioner levied upon you, Bobby.

Anyway, for all his faults, Valentine was reasonably successful as a manager, at least with the Mets, and in only his second year as a manager in Japan, he's as successful as anyone has ever been in that role. This success, as I mentioned, seems to have swelled Bobby's already sizeable ego:

"I can tell you the level of play is equal. [The Marines] are as good as any team I've ever managed.

Putting aside the fact that virtually any manager who wins a World Series (and any player who's won one and is in contention for another) always says this about his current team, we have yet one more reason not to believe Valentine: This team didn't win a World Series.

They won a Japan Series. Yes, I know. It's not polite to disparage the Japanese Leagues. They're people too, and it's racist or prejudiced or something to say that we're somehow inherently better than they are just because we're American. Well, I'm not saying that. If it were somehow an even-grounded competition, where it was just the best of Japan ogainst the best of the U.S., well, we'd still probably win that handily, because we've got more than twice the population upon which to draw for our talent in the U.S. Alone. Also, most of us are bigger. OK, well, I am. In reality, it's not even that close, though, as Major League Baseball has the best talent from around the entire world, and Japan, well, doesn't.

Heck, we could probably win with just the players born in California. All of the following players were either productive (or better) in 2005 or very recently before that: Garrett Anderson, Rod Barajas, Hank Blalock, Barry Bonds, Chad Cordero, Coco Crisp, Bobby Crosby, Doug Davis, Jermaine Dye, Jim Edmonds, Joey Eischen, Scott Eyre, Brian Fuentes, Nomar Garciaparra, Jon Garland, Jason Giambi, Brian and Marcus Giles, Troy Glaus, and Eddie Guardado, to name a few, all native Californians. We've got two decent starting pitchers, five good relief pitchers, two good shortstops, two good thirdbasemen, a first baseman, a catcher, a second baseman, five productive outfielders and Superman himself. And I haven't even gotten out of the first seven letters of the alphabet!

By contrast, the Japanese leagues have only the Japanese population upon which to draw, as well as a few Koreans and some cast-offs from the North American major and minor leagues. To give you an idea of the talent level, here are a few of the players I've found who had playing time on both sides of the Pacific Ocean:

Brian Powell: In the majors, he went 7-18 with a 5.94 ERA in parts of six seasons with four franchises. In the Japanese PCL in 2005, at age 31, he went 14-12 with a 3.51 ERA in 200 innings (2nd in PCL), 160 strikeouts (4th in PCL), 5 complete games and two shutouts.

Julio Zuleta: Hit .247/.309/.466 in parts of two seasons with the Cubs, spent two years in AAA, then went to Japan and became a star. He hit .284/37 hr/100RBI in 2004 and .319/43/99 in 2005, placing 2nd in the PCL in all three triple crown categories.

Alex Cabrera: Had a cup of coffee with the Diamondbacks in 2000, but by then he was already 28 and had a decade's worth of minor league at-bats under his belt. He had generally hit well, but apparently nobody in a major league GM's position took him seriously because he always did it in places like Mexico City and the Texas League, where offense is cheap. He's now been in Japan for 5 seasons and has averaged 43 homers a year, including 25 in only half of the 2004 season, and 36 more this year.

Fernando Seguignol: Hit .249/.303/.451 in parts of five major league seasons, went to Japan and has 75 homers and 192 RBI in the last two seasons.

Tyrone Woods: Woods never made it to the majors, but now in his mid-30's, he's averaged over 40 homers for the last three seasons with the Chunichi Dragons.

Alex Ochoa: Ochoa, a 3rd round draft pick by the Orioles in 1991, never panned out in the majors, hitting .279 with moderate patience but no power or speed in parts of eight seasons with six different franchises. Now healthy, he's been a fixture in Chunichi's lineup for three years, averaging 20 homers and over 75 RBI per season from 2003 to 2005.

Alex Ramirez: There do seem to be a lot of Alexes, don't there? Anywho, this Alex had power, hitting .299 with 34 bombs for Cleveland's AAA affiliate in 1998, at the tender age of 23. Unfortunately for him, the late '90s Tribe was loaded with talent at the corner IF/OF spots, and he never got much of a chance to break in. He also had terrible plate discipline, so it didn't take long for major league pitchers to realize that they didn't have to ever throw him a strike. In Japan, though, he's averaged 30 homers and over 100 RBI in five seasons, despite the fact that he still strikes out about 4-5 times as often as he walks.

That's only seven players, but all of them were wash-outs in the North American major leagues, and all of them are now or have been solid contibutors and/or stars in the Japanese leagues. If you're interested, you can look up Tuffy Rhodes, George Arias, Roberto Petagine, Greg LaRocca, and others as well. The list is almost endless.

Among the players involved in the 2005 Japan Series alone are a handful of washed-up major leaguers, a few on each team:

Andy Sheets: In parts of seven seasons and over 1000 major league plate appearances, Sheets hit .216/.271/.321 with 19 homers. His first three seasons in Japan have netted him 67 homers, 245 RBI and a .290+ batting average.

Jeff Williams: With a 7.49 ERA in parts of four seasons with the LA Dodgers, and an unimpressive 4.05 ERA in over 650 minor league innings, Williams signed on with the Hanshin Tigers in 2003 and has a combined ERA just over 2.00 and more strikeouts than innings pitched in 2003-05.

Benny Agbayani: Benny and his jets hit .274/.362/.445 in parts of five major league seasons, mostly with Bobby Valentine's Mets. His minor league numbers had been comparable, but then he went to Japan, AKA "The Land of the Rising (...and Rising, and Rising...) Baseball", where he promptly hit .315 with 35 homers and 100 RBI in 2004. His 2005 stats (.271/13/71) look more like his MLB stats because, as was often the case for him on this side of the ocean, he was injured and only played about 2/3 of the season.

Matt Franco: Another ex-Valentinian Met, Franco hit .267/.349/.391 with 22 homers in almost 1000 at-bats over eight years in the majors, the quintissential backup catcher. In Japan, Franco starts, plays 259 games and hits 36 homers over two seasons, including .300 with 21 of them in 2005.

Dan Serafini: Serafini spent nine seasons in the minors and went 50-45 with a 4.36 ERA and parts of 6 seasons in the majors, going 15-16 with a 5.98 ERA. In 2004, in Japan, he went 5-4 with a 4.13 ERA and in 2005 he became a rotation anchor for the eventual Japan League Champion Chiba Lotte Marines, going 11-4 with a 2.91 ERA.

So, as you can see, the talent level in the Japanese leagues certainly does not appear to be anywhere near the caliber of the talent in MLB. Probably somewhere between AA and AAA, I would think.

"But wait!", you say, "Japanese players have come here and succeeded! What about Ichiro? What about Matsui?"

Presuming that you mean Hideki Matsui, yes, I agree with you, to an extent. While it's true that Hideki Matsui and Hideo Nomo and most notably Ichiro Suzuki have had success in MLB, they're still not as good as they were in Japan. Ichiro hit something like .353/.415/.522 in Japan, but "only" .332/.377/.442 in the American League. Still excellent numbers, but not the kind he regularly logged for the Orix Blue Wave. Matsui, similarly, has seen a notable drop in production since joining the Yankees, going from .304/.412/.582 to .297/.370/.484. That's almost a 150 point drop in OPS, which is enormous.

Furthermore, the group of players who have struggled in the majors after doing well in Japan is much longer than those who have succeeded: Kazuo Matsui, Hideki Irabu, Kazuhisa Ishii, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo (who returned to Japan after struggling for three years in the NL and had the best season of his career in 2004), to name a few. There is at least another dozen I won't even bother to mention becaus emost of you have never heard of them. Their bids for MLB stardom never got out of the minors.

Now, with that said, I'm not sure that the Japan-American Series is necessarily a bad idea, just one that won't ever happen. It's certainly a good marketing idea, as those nutty sports fans over there in Japan are huge consumers and would certainly support such a venture. I'm not as certain that baseball fans on this side of the Pacific would really care all that much, except for nut-jobs like myself and Rogers Horsnby who sit around all winter, staring out the window, waiting for spring. For weirdos like us, having a chance to see major leaguers play a few games in November would be pretty appealing, even if it was against the likes of Dan Serafini and Matt Franco.

Here's another quote from Francona:

"I'd put them up against the winner of the World Series and I know we'd win at least a couple of games."

Well, Bobby, that depends on how many you'd play. In a ten or fifteen-game series, yeah, you might win a couple of games. But four out of seven? Not likely. Sorry to have to be the one to break this to you, Bobby, but the evidence simply does not exist to suggest that the level of play in Japan is "equal" to, or even remotely close to, that in the major leagues. While it's possible that an All-Star team from, say, the Eastern League or the International League, might beat the White Sox once or twice in a dozen games, it's also more than probable that the Pale Hose would make even quicker work of your team than they did of the Astros, a bonafide and talented major league team.

On the other hand, strange things do happen, and one of them could be a series lost by the White Sox, or whomever has won the World Series that year. And that possibility is exactly what will probably keep an exhibition like this from ever happening. When current MLB players go to Japan to play exhibition games, nobody takes it seriously, so even though the MLB teams usually win, nobody takes the losses too seriously. But a Championship Series? An all-the-marbles contest for global bragging rights? Losing that would totally strip the Fall Classic of any and all credibility. The World Series would be seen as an illegitimate waste of time. I mean, really, who cares who wins the MLB World Series if the possibility exists that the winner of that series might lose to some team most Americans have never before heard of?

The 2005 World Series had its worst TV ratings in history, down 30% from last year and down 7% from the previous historic low, the 2002 Angels-Giants series. But if you think that's bad, just wait until another World Series occurs that not only alienates two thirds of the country (like the 2002 and 2005 Series did), but also can be upstaged by an upset from some upstart team of up-washed... sorry, washed-up former major leaguers and nobodies. The empty suits who own and run MLB would never let something like this happen. As Jesse Ventura, former Minnesota governor and current spokesman for NCAA basketball betting or baseball betting or something, so eloquently put it,

"These people did not get the wealth they have by being stupid.”

Bobby Valentine is not stupid, just a little caught up in the moment. So don't hold your breath waiting for the moment the Chicago White Sox will play the Chiba Lotte Marines in any kind of meaningful baseball game. It's not coming.

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21 October 2005

2005 World Series Preview & Predictions

This is going to be good.


For the first time in history, the Houston Astros are in the World Series. Heck, last year was the first time in history the Houston franchise had ever won any postseason series, and they came damn close to getting into that World Series, missing the opportunity narrowly because injuries forced them to start Brandon Backe and Pete Munro twice each. Backe had barely 100 major league innings to his credit before the 2004 playoffs, with a considerably worse than league average ERA, and Munro was so good that the Astros released him after the season. This year he went 10-7, with a 4.56 ERA...in AAA Columbus.

But this season, it's different. Sorta. The Astros have not one or two, but three, top-flight, #1-type starting pitchers, in Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and 2005 NLCS MVP Roy Oswalt. Backe is still with the team, and is still mediocre, but if he gets more than one start it will be because Oswalt has assassinated Clemens and Pettitte, which isn't likely.

The trouble for Houston, as you likely know, is that they can't hit. As a team, the 2004 Astros were 5th in the NL in runs scored, 6th in OBP and 6th in slugging. Not awesome numbers, by any stretch, but they got guys on base enough and hit for sufficient power to score more runs than all but five of the 16 National League clubs.

This season, however, is a different story. The 2005 Astros were 13th in batting average, 12th in OBP and 11th in slugging, which allowed them to rank 11th out of 16 NL teams in scoring runs. (For reference, only one team in the American League scored fewer runs than Houston did: The Minnesota Twins. The Twins only scored five fewer runs than the Astros, and if you ask me, they have a better excuse, since there are only two of them, compared with nine Astros.)

There are two factors here that play into how good or bad the Astros' offense really is: Injuries and the Ballpark.

Or should I say, the "Juice Box"? Minute Maid Park played like a slight pitcher's park this year, but in actuality is generally thought to favor hitters, and for the Astros, it certainly did. The Killer Bees had a .776 OPS at home this year, averaging 4.44 runs per contest, but those numbers dropped to .687 and 4.06 on the road, second to last in the NL in road scoring, which helps to explain why they went onlu 36-45 in Away games.

In terms of injuries, the absence of Jeff Bagwell for most of the season and of Lance Berkman for the first month or so hurt them tremendously. Jeff Kent's departure hurt the team at two positions, sending Craig Biggio back to second base, where he hit approximately as well as he had in 2004, but not as well as Kent did, and forcing the Astros to play Chris Burke in left field, where he hit .248 with 5 homers in over 100 games.

The departure of Carlos Beltran, something of a blessing in disguise as it would turn out, made S-DOM ("Speed Demon/Out-Machine", pronounced "saddam") Wily Taveras the regular centerfielder. Bagwell's injury forced Mike Lamb into service at least until Berkman returned from the DL. Lamb was a shadow of his 2004 Self, hitting only .236 in half a season's worth of at-bats, compared to .288 last year. Even when Berkman returned, his injury limited him to mostly 1B/DH duties, and he could not hit with the authority he had shown in the past, and could not run at all. His OPS dropped from 1016 to 935, still very good, but not transcendent, as he had been in 2004.

With a chance to play every day in right field, Jason Lane did not disappoint, hitting 26 homers, but with a .316 on-base percentage due to an atrocious batting eye. Adam Everett lost about 50 points of OPS from his career-best 2004 numbers, but returned essentially to his normal production levels. Brad Ausmus did what Brad Ausmus always does, namely: catch the ball and make outs, 290 of them in 387 at-bats, to be precise. But only one error.

So just about everybody in the lineup was worse than thier 2004 counterpart, except Lane, who was essentially a wash with the Biggio of 2004, and Morgan Ensberg, who brought his own OPS up over 200 points to establish career highs in virtually every offensive category. But even Ensberg struggled early in the season, and as a result of his and his teammates' inneptitude, the Astros scored the fewest runs in the major leagues for the first two months, one-third of the season. Even with the returns of Berkmann and perhaps with Bagwell as a DH a couple of times, the Astros still have to struggle to score.

Interestingly enough, their pitchers were also less effective on the road, going from a MLB-best 3.07 ERA at Minute Maid to 3.98 on the road, good for 8th in MLB and 3rd in the NL. Still very good, but not nearly as dominant as they were in Houston. Their overall ERA of 3.51 was 0.02 away from tying St. Louis for best in the majors. Pretty darn good, as they say in France.


The White Sox are a remarkably similar team to the Astros. Take a look at their rankings within their respective leagues for Runs Scored and ERA, and their home and road splits in those areas:

Home ERA Runs
Houston 1st 8th
Chicago 5th 7th

Away ERA Runs
Houston 3rd 15th
Chicago 1st 8th

Total ERA Runs
Houston 2nd 11th
Chicago 1st(T) 9th

Starter ERA
Houston 1st
Chicago 1st(T)

Bullpen ERA
Houston 3rd
Chicago 3rd

Like I said, remarkably similar.

Both teams have excellent starting pitching overall, and very good bullpens, but Chicago's pitchers are hurt slightly by U.S. Cellular Field, which has played as a hitter's park for five of the last six seasons, mostly because of renovations they've been making to the ballpark.

Both teams have sub-mediocre offenses overall, and both offenses are helped by their home ballparks, but this is where the similarity ends. While the White Sox a teeny bit of help from playing in Chicago, going from 9th to 7th in runs scored, the Astros are hurt tremendously by playing on the road, dropping from 11th to 15th in the NL, as I mentioned earler. In short, the Astros go from hitting like Rookie of the Year candidate Tadahito Iguchi at home to "hitting" like Aaron Boone, who will probably be unemployed this winter. The Sox, on the other hand, get some help at home, mostly in the form of the long-ball, hitting 115 of their 200 homers at home. Their closest analog goes from Jeromy Burnitz or Hank Blalock at home to someone more like Aaron Rowand on the road. Of course, Aaron Rowand hits like Aaron Rowand all the time. He can't help it.

Regarding Chicago's pitching, you've certainly heard by now about the four consecutive complete game wins by the White Sox in the ALCS against the Angels. Don't count on that happening again, though, as it had been 37 years since a team had four complete game victories in a postseason series, and that was in the Year of the Pitcher. It's been half a century since there were four consecutive complete games by one team in a playoff series, and there wer eactually five streainght by the Yankees that year, 1956, when I think some other significant postseason pitching accomplishment might have occurred. You have to go back to 1928 to find the last time four straight complete game victories were hurled by one team, so I'm guessing one week is not a long enough time to see anything like that again.

Certainly the Pale Hose have some good starters, as Mark Buhrle, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia finished 3rd, 9th, 11th and 21st in ERA among qualified American League pitchers in 2005. All four of them started 32 or 33 times and pitched at least 204 innings, all won 14 to 18 games, and all struck out at least twice as many as they walked. None of them is likely to win the AL Cy Young Award, though Buhrle in particular would be a good candidate if he'd gotten better run support. None of them has the presence or reputaiton of any of the Big Three in Houston, but all are certainly capable of keeping the White Sox in games, especially against a team that struggles to score runs the way the Astros do.

Chicago's offense is nothing special. They have only one player who drove in 100 runs, Paul Konerko, and he drove in exactly 100. Nobody scored 100 runs or hit higher than .290, on-based higher than .375, and only Konerko and Jermaine Dye had .500+ slugging percentages. Though they had six players with double digits in steals, only S-DOM Scott Podsednik stole more than 16, and as a team they led the major leagues in getting caught stealing, with 67 failed attempts.


So, that was my analysis, for what it's worth, but what do I think will happen?

Oswalt, Clemens and Pettitte dominate the White Sox, who get desperate and start making dumb decisions (and outs) on the basepaths. That is, assuming that Clemens' 42-year old hamstrings hold up, Andy Pettitte's church prays harder for him than they did in Game One of the NLCS, and Mr. Zapruder doesn't find a roll of film showing Oswalt entering the Book Depository. (I know, that joke is getting old. Sorry.) It should be a close, low-scoring series, which the Astros should win, 4 games to 3.

Unless they don't.

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12 October 2005

Yankees ALDS Post-Mortem

If I had told you two weeks ago that the Yankees would have held the Angels' leadoff hitter to a .143 batting average, that these "Runnin'Angels" would steal only one base in the series and that the Angels cleanup hitter would not drive in a run, you'd have thought the Yankees would win, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong.

How about if I told you that the Angels' ace pitcher would not win a game in the series, or for that matter, neither would any of their other starters? You'd have thought the Yankees would win that series, wouldn't you? Wrong again.

What if I told you that Derek Jeter would hit two homers in the series and that the Yankees' #3 hitter, Jason Giambi would hit .421(!)? What if I told you that Chien Ming Wang and Shawn Shacon would combine to allow only 3 earned runs in 13 innings of work, and that Randy Johnson would finish the 7th inning of the deciding game without having allowed a run in it? That in the five-game series the Yankees would draw 24 walks allow only five? Sounds like a sure Yankee victory, doesn't it?

Strike three. You're not very good at this, are you?

Well, it turns out that certain Yankees aren't very good at playing baseball in the postseason, either. While Jeter did his best to carry the rest of the team on his back, with two homers, 5 RBI and a .333 average, his successor in the lineup, Alex Rodriguez, hit only .133 with ZERO RBIs. Furthermore, he got caught stealing once and grounded into two double plays, so he made 19 outs in 22 plate appearances, which is, of course, a statistical anomaly, but it's also atrocious and a huge part of why the Yankees eventually lost the series. (For the record, he also made an error in Game Two, which eventually allowed the tying run to score.) Rodriguez was being called the "unclutchest" player in postseason baseball history by some of the AM sports talk radio personalities on Tuesday morning. You know, if they have to add a word to the language to describe how bad you are, things are not going well.

But before you crucify A-Rod, know that there is plenty of blame to go around. Randy Johnson may have pitched into the seventh inning of Game Five without allowing a run, but because starter Mike Mussina allowed five runs before getting out of the third inning, Johnson's relief efforts offered little relief as the Yankees struggled to score runs all day. The Big Unit also came up very small in Game Three, surrendering five runs in three innings and pressing the bullpen into service much sooner than expected, even though he didn't take the Loss. That dishonor was given to Aaron Small, who went 10-0 in the regular season, based on a little luck and a lot of guile, both of which ran out at the end of September, apparently.

Also running out at the end of September was the Yankees' lineup's abilities to hit for average and/or power, with the noted exceptions of Jeter and Giambi. During the regular season, the Yankees had five regular players hit .290 or better and a team batting average of .276. In the postseason? Two guys, and .253 collective BA. During the regular season, seven regulars plus Tino Martinez had a slugging percentage of .430 or better, but in the LDS, only three (though Cano was close at .421). The team got on base often enough, a .351 team OBP that was very close to their regular season mark of .355, which missed leading the major leagues by 0.001, but because they didn't hit for any power, they could not bring baserunners home, and therefore could not win.

If I may say so, the Angels got some help from the umpiring crew as well, at least in Game Five. Home Plate Ump Joe West called one of the least consistent strike zones I have ever seen, which generally seemed to be about eight inches wide and four feet tall, though it sometimes got considerably wider (and no shorter) if the Yankees had runners on base.

More importantly, West was also responsible for calling Robinson Cano out for running outside the baseline to end the fifth inning. Cano had struck out but ran to first on a passed ball and was safe when Angels' 1B Darin Erstad missed the throw from catcher Bengie Molina. Erstad set up across the 1B bag, effective blocking Cano's path, which is also against the rules if you don't already have the ball, though West didn't seem to mind that. Cano was running along the foul line, right on it the entire way, as shown by the replay, and Erstad could have set up with his left foot on first base and fielded the throw easily if Molina had thrown it that way, but neither of those things happened. At best, this was a too-close-to-call kind of situation, and you hate to see an umpire step in and swing the game around like that if it's not obvious. It's always better to see the players decide things on the field than to win or lose on a technicality. To wit, the next "batter" was Bernie Williams, who hit only .211 for the series and got only one hit with runners on base in the entire series, so perhaps even with the bases loaded and two out, the Yankees' hopes would have been dashed, but it sure would have been nice to play it out, you know?

Still, though, even this is the Yankees' fault. Branch Rickey may have been dead for almost 40 years, but luck is still the residue of design, and if the Yankees had taken care of business and gotten better hitting and/or pitching when they needed it, then a call like this would not have affected them so adversely. Isn't that right, Chuck?

Kudos to the Angels, who overcame injuries and illness to their starting pitchers, atrocious hitting by Steve Finley, Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera, and a complete lack of patience by the entire lineup, to win the series. They got just enough baserunners on, got key hits when they needed them, and their bullpen made fools of the Yankee lineup. The road to the World Series goes through the Bronx, as the last four teams to win it had to eliminate the Yankees to do so.

Here's hoping that particular streak ends now.

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08 October 2005

Book Review: Ebbets Field, by Joseph McCauley

Ebbets Field: Brooklyn's Baseball Shrine
by Joseph McCauley

c. 2004, Authorhouse, $34.75 (Paperback)

A brand new book on an old and endearing subject for baseball fans, Joseph McCauley's book Ebbets Field revisits a long-gone place and time, a favorite subject of young and old fans of the game. McCauley grew up and lives in the Midwest, and is too young (I think) to have ever visited Brooklyn's baseball shrine, but as an avid fan of the game and of baseball nostalgia, McCauley felt that there was a void, at least in his own baseball library, that needed to be filled. To this end, he set out to write the book he wished he could have read. He did two years of research on the subject, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Library of Congress and places in Brooklyn, both for historical reference and historical perspective. He interviewed numerous former fans, players and others who were involved with the franchise before it relocated to Los Angeles.

I am sorry to report, however, that the result is something of a disappointment, at least to me. Much of my criticism of McCauley's efforts probably stems largely from the fact that this is his first effort at writing a book. Because of that, and the fact that his publisher, Authorhouse, is really a self-publishing house, the book is rather cheap, ironically, without being inexpensive. It's a 3/8" thick paperback, and it costs almost $35, and that's without a lot of large color pictures, which generally tend to drive up the price of a coffee-table book. For that matter, this book doesn't seem well-suited to coffee tables, as the cover seems to curl back, even when it's just left sitting for a while. As humid as it gets when it rains around here, a book should not simply deform like that. Not a well-made book, anyway.

Another aspect of the book that makes it less than an ideal coffee table book is that the writing is too dense. There are 58 images in the 89-page book, but most of them are not more than about 2" x 3" and the writing in between is not broken up into sufficiently succinct chunks to be convenient for reading a little at a time. Furthermore, as a rookie writer, and perhaps without an editor, McCauley's book really needed some fine tuning. The book is rife with typos, misspellings, inappropriate punctuation and other errata, some of which would normally be forgiveable in a first edition, if it wre not coupled with these other problems. His journalism degree (as described on the book's back cover) should qualify him to be a writer, but he has only worked as a letter-carrier for the US Postal Service and does not seem to have written anything of consequence in the two and a half decades that have passed since college, and his lack of practice shows. He attempts to cover the histories of the park and of the franchise simultaneously, but it is sometimes hard to follow his train of thought while reading. Other things are not explained very thoroughly, which either means that he makes a lot of assumptions about what his readers know or that it does not occur to him to lay such groundwork in his prose, either of which makes for problematic reading.

All in all, I am truly sad to report that Ebbets Field (the book) offers little of the uniqueness, charm and craftsmanship that Ebbets Field (the ballpark) offered in its heyday. What it does offer is some interesting interviews, a few good pictures and a lot of nostalgia, as well as a chance for an upstart author to get his feet on the ground and a few dollars in his pocket. Best wishes to him.

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05 October 2005

Boston's Impending Demise, Cano's Hype, and That Other League, Too

Well, so far, so good for my post season predictions. After one game played in each of the four division series, all four games were won by the team I picked to win the series. Let's review...

Boston @ Chicago: Matt Clement got smacked around (8 runs in 3.1 innings), as I had suggested he might. What I did not anticipate was that A.J. Pierzynski would hit not one but two homers, something he'd done only once in over 2300 regular season games, and that was against the woeful Colorado pitching staff in 2003. "A.J." apparently stands for "Another Jack". I also did not count on All-Star Scott Podsednik blasting a three-run jack of his own, given that he had not hit one since September 30th. Of 2004. I wouldn't count on the White Sox scoring 14 runs in any of their remaining games against Boston, but I would count on them winning the series.

The second game proved much closer, as neither Sox lefty, David Wells nor Mark Buehrle, had his best stuff, but both kept his team in the game. Until the Bostons' defense blew it, that is. Tony Graffanino (which, ironically, turns out to be the Italian translation of "Buckner") allowed a double-play ball to go between his legs, allowed two runners to remain on base, and allowed the game to slip away when White Sox second-sacker and Rookie of the Year Candidate, Tadahito Iguchi, hit a three-run homer to put the Chicagos up, 5-4. Another rookie, Bobby Jenks, came in throwing 97mph gas for two innings (since Thursday is a travel day) for the save.

Boston returns home, down 0-2, with Tim Wakefield slated to stop the bleeding on Friday afternoon against Freddy Garcia. The Red Sox are very close to being eliminated, but then that was true in the 2003 ALDS before they came back to beat Oakland, and it was true last year when they were down 0-3 to the Yankees, and that seemed to turn out OK for them. And while it's much more common for a team to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a 5-game series to win (it's happened 4 times since the inception of the Wild Card in 1995, and Boston's done it twice), it's still not likely.

It should also be noted that the Oakland team they came back to beat in 2003 really beat itself in some ways, making 5 errors in those final three games. Additionally, the Yankees team that lost four straight to the Red Sox in 2004 was very thin on starting pitchers. This 2005 edition of the White Sox, with the 4th fewest errors and the second lowest team ERA in the American League, will not beat itself on either of those fronts, which is good because I hear you can go blind.

San Diego @ St. Louis: Jake Peavy was the Padres' only hope of winning a game in this series, and if they'd decided to bring him back on short rest for Game 4, maybe two. Now they'll be fortunate to get out of the series without completely embarrassing themselves. Peavy was nearly as bad as Clement last night (8 runs in 4.1 innings), though he had a better excuse, sort of. Jake had apparently broken a rib or two in the Padres' postseason clincher celebration last week. It seems to me that a team that was not even assured of having a winning record should not be celebrating at all, much less in so raucous and rambunctious a fashion as to break a bone in someone's torso. When will baseball players learn to point those champagne corks away from other people?

The San Diegos did not realize the severity of the injury until Peavy's ineffective performance, and so he won't pitch again this postseason, and neither will the Padres win a game, I suspect. This seems a fitting end for the Padres, a franchise whose own announcer once described its right-fielder's head hitting the outfield wall and rolling all the way back to the infield. This, too, is a terrible thing for the Padres.

Houston @ Atlanta: Andy Pettitte pitched well in Game One, even though he surrendered a homer to each of the Joneses on the Braves' roster (good thing there's only two of them!). This seems familiar, somehow. Anywho, Andy left the game after seven innings, leading 5-3, and despite some shaky work by the Houston bullpen, the Astros took game one thanks to nine walks and three HBP by Braves pitchers, leading to ten runs scored by Houston, despite the fact that they hit only three doubles and no homers in the game. Thursday night's Smoltz-Clemens matchup should be One for the Ages, and there will probably still be 10,000 empty seats in Atlanta.

New York @ LAnahafornia The Yankees took Game One in LAnaheim, 4-2, behind 5.2 shutout innings from Mike Mussina and mostly strong bullpen work. It's didn't hurt that Vladimir Guerrero got himself caught stealing to end the sixth inning with his team down 4-0, either. Well, it hurt the Angels.

Robinson Cano, (who was named after Jackie Robinson, in case you hadn't picked that up from the fact that the FOX and ESPN announcers mention it at least twice an inning, three times if Cano is actually batting that inning) hit a 3-run double in the 1st to put the team up, 3-0, and because the Yankees won, his limited offensive abilities and shoddy defense were largely overlooked.

I call his defense "shoddy" because, even though he was not charged with an error in Game One, he made at least two plays (or rather, he didn't make them) that a good defensive secondbaseman would not have screwed up. One was a bouncing "single" up the middle, I think by Darin Erstad in the 9th, which hopped right over Cano's glove, but didn't actually touch him, so they ruled it a hit, and Vlad Guerrero scored. The very next play, a hard grounder by catcher Bengie Molina to Jeter (right at him, or he wouldn't have gotten to it), should have been a double play ball. Instead, Cano hesitated for a moment before throwing to first base, almost as though he'd forgotten that they still needed two outs, and so Molina, who runs just slightly faster than most dead people, was safe at first. Again, they called it a "fielder's choice", because technically you can't anticipate the double play, and there was no error scored, but Cano should have made that play.

Because of where I live, and because I'm a cheapskate and won't spring for satellite TV, I harldy ever get to see a Yankee game, and yet it seems that whenever I do watch one, Cano makes an error, or doesn't make a play that a major league second baseman is supposed to make. This can't just be coincidence.

And as for his limited offensive abilities? Let me show you. These are the pitch-by-pitch descriptions of cano's at-bats in Game One:

1st inning, 2 out, 3 on base: Ball, Strike (looking), Strike (foul), Ball, Foul, R Cano doubled to deep left, J Giambi, G Sheffield and H Matsui scored

3rd, 1 out, none on: R Cano fouled out to left

6th, 0 out, none on: R Cano flied out to left

9th, 0 out, none on: Ball, R Cano flied out to left

Do you see a pattern here? This guy goes to his left more often than Howard Dean! Granted, Bartolo Colon has a heck of a fastball, but Cano is a left handed hitter, he know's the heater's coming, and he ought to be able to turn on it once in a while. Instead, he can't do anything with it except bloop it into left field and hope Garret Anderson is playing him too shallow, which is probably what happened in the first inning, as the Angels may have been trying to minimize the damage on a short hopper or a grounder through the infield. Cano saw six pitches in that first at-bat, with the bases loaded, but in three other at-bats with no one on base he saw a total of only four pitches, twice flying out on the first pitch, and the third time, on the first pitch near the strike zone. He was a little more patient in Game Two, seeing 14 pitches in his four at-bats, with a double and an RBI. Perhaps he was just a little over-anxious in his first postseason game.

We can hope, or we can analyze. Since I'm an engineer (and this is my website) I'm choosing Option 2.

Player AB R 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO
C 522 78 34 4 14 62 16 68
A 567 92 28 7 17 73 29 100

See the similarities? Player C is Cano, of Canourse, and Player A is 2003 RoY Angel Berroa, Kansas City Royals shortstop. If you think those numbers look similar, check out these:

Cano .297 .320 .458 7.68 32.63
Angel .287 .338 .451 5.67 19.55

That's almost creepy.

Cano doesn't strike out quite as often as Berroa does, but he doesn't walk nearly as often, which isn't much in the first place. Getting a free pass about once every 8 or 10 games does not bode well for his future. Joe Morgan indicated last night that Joe Torre thinks Cano can hit in the .330-.340 range, but if he doesn't learn to lay off a pitch once in a while, that's not very likely to happen.

Now, the six remaining Royals fans out there are probably thinking "Yeah, but Berroa stole 21 bases that year, too! And he plays good defense, and does other stuff, good, too!" Well, Berroa has only stolen 21 bases in the two seasons since then, and has been caught 13 times, including only 7-for-12 this season, so his speed does not appear to be much of a factor in his offensive "contributions" any more. Since we're trying to project what Cano might look like in a few years, the comparison seems valid.

Furthermore, Berroa may be a flashy defensive player, but even in his rookie season he made 24 errors, and he has made more errors than anyone in the major leagues for the in the last three years combined. Add to this the fact that in the last two years he's combined to "hit" below .270 with little power, little speed and even less patience than he showed as a rookie (he drew only 15 unintentional walks in over 600 at-bats in 2005), and you've got a guy that even the hapless Royals know will not help them to their next winning season.

Cano's an AL Rookie of the Year candidate based on his .297 season batting average and 14 homers, not (of course) on his 17 errors in 131 games. Those 17 errors constituted the third most among all MLB second-sackers in 2005, behind only ex-Yankee Alfonso Soriano and Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks, both with 21, although Weeks did that in only 96 games. Robinson Cano, it seems to me, is not so dissimilar to Berroa, and I wonder if it might make sense, especially if he wins the Rookie of the Year Award on the merits of those misleading batting average and home run numbers, to trade him and get some value in return before the bottom falls out, whenever that is.

Hopefully not before the Yankees finish sending the LAngels back to LAnahfornia to watch the ALCS on TV.

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04 October 2005

MLB Playoff Predictions & Analysis: Round 1

This is one of the easiest columns of the year to write, for three reasons:

1) Significance. I have a topic of obvious interest both to myself and to readers, and no shortage of other writers' analysis on which to draw.

B) Timing. I have a definite deadline by which the column must be done, namely before the start of the first round of playoff series, in order for my writing to be relevant.

iii) Accountability. I have none. I can make any prediction I want, and regardless of the outcome, there are absolutely NO consequences for me. I don't get fired, or docked any pay, or put on probation, or reassigned to cover high school girls JV field hockey. Nothing. Even if I'm wrong on all counts I probably won't lose one regular reader, which is fortunate, because that would leave me with so few of them that Mordecai Brown could count them on his pitching hand.

On the other hand, where I have two more fingers than Mordecai, I do have to look myself in the mirror every morning, so I'd better try to do this right.

ALDS: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago White Sox


Which ones? Who knows? The Red Sox will start Matt Clement (6.00), David Wells (4.50) and Tim Wakefield (3.15) in the first three games of the series, and presumably Curt Schilling (4.02) if it goes to Game Four. Those numbers in parentheses are their ERAs since the start of September. The Pale Hose will counter with Jose Contreras(1.99), Mark Buehrle (3.38), Jon Garland (3.71) and then Freddy Garcia (3.98) if it goes that far.

Clement has been all but awful since he was hit by a batted ball in mid-summer, and though you can harldy blame him ifhe's a little tentative on the mound these days, you also can hardly count on him to pitch a good game. Wells has been consistently inconsistent all year, and Buehrle should help to minimize the damage Boston's lefties can do, especially if they're away from the hitter-friendly Fenway Pahk. The Red Sox could be down 0-2 going into Game Three, with a knuckleballer controlling their fate, though statistically Wakefield vs. Garland seems to give them the best chance to win. Even so, It's hard to know which Curt Schilling will show up to face Garcia in Game Four.

Prediction: Sox in Five. Oh, sorry, White Sox.

ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Which is still a stupid name.

Game one pits Mike Mussina against Bartolo Colon, and while that matchup generally favors the Angels, the Yankees have generally hit Colon very hard throughout his career, whereas Moose has historically done much better against, um... LAnahfornia(?). Whether tonight's starter is the same Moose or not remains to be seen, but the Yanks certainly have a fighting chance in Game One.

The Yankees' Game Two starter was recently changed from Shawn Chacon to Chien Ming Wang, presumably because the Yankees' feel that Wang's sinker will sink more if he doesn't go a whole week between starts. Sinkerball pitchers often seem more effective if their arm is a little tired rather than over-rested, but Wang will have his work cut out for him against John Lackey, who quietly won 14 games with the 6th best ERA in the American League (3.44). Only Johan Santana and Yankees' Game Three starter Randy Johnson struck out more AL batters. If Lackey has a weakness, it's walks, as his 71 free passes also ranked him 6th in the AL, so the Yankees's hitters would do well to be patient with him. Given that the Yankees had the second most walks in the majors, that shouldn't be a problem.

Game Three matches the aforementioned five-time Cy Young Award winner against Jarrod Washburn, whose 8-8 record belies his 3.20 ERA, which ranked 4th in the AL. Unfortunately for him, his run-support was the 5th worst in the AL, hence the so-so record. With Johnson pitching much more like himself lately (6-0, 1.93 ERA in his last eight starts), look for the Yanks to win this one. And if it comes to Game Four, Shawn Chacon (2.68 ERA at Yankee Stadium) should beat Paul Byrd handily.

Prediction: Yankees in Four.

NLDS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres of San Diego

See how stupid that sounds?

Speaking of stupid, how stupid is a system in which a team that's 82-80 makes the post season and not one, not two, but three teams with better records get to watch the playoffs from the comforts of their own homes?

The Padres have no business being in the post season. They went 34-39 after the All-Star Break, stumbling to the weakest division title in history. The team does not have a player with 20 homers, or 85 RBI, or 95 runs scored, or 25 steals. It has one .300 hitter, Brian Giles, who hit .301. Certainly, PETCO Park is not a hitter's paradise, but the team was nearly as bad on the road (.741 OPS) as it was at home (.707). Only Jake Peavy is really a "good" starting pitcher, and he's better than that, but other than him, the Cardinals should not have any trouble with them. If the Padres are lucky, Carpenter struggles tonight and Peavy and a decent bullpen get them one win, but they'll either have to go to Woody Williams or to 15-game loser Brian Lawrence for Game Four, neither of which is an attractive option. Lawrence shut out the Barry-less Giants over 9 innings in a generally meaningless late September game, but still finished the month with a 6.18 ERA. Williams started thjat game the Pads lost 20-1 to the Rockies, a glorified AAA team.

Pedro Astacio, Williams and Adam Eaton do not constitute any kind of threat to Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker, and Albert Pujols, who ought to win his first of several MVP awards this year.

Prediction: Cards in Four. Tops.

NLDS: Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

This is the toughest pick of the bunch. You know the Astros have Pettitte, Clemens and Oswalt going in Games 1, 2 and 3. You know how good they've been this year. You know about Roger Clemens' seven Cy Young Awards and Oswalt's two straight 20-win seasons. You know Andy Pettitte's reputation as a "Big Game Pitcher". You may not know, however, that Pettitte has a career ERA of 7.54(!) against the Braves in the postseason, but it's also worth noting that the Andy Pettitte who put up those numbers in 1996 and 1999 was never as good as the 2005 version is.

The Braves' current rotation of Smoltz, Hudson and Sosa is not the stuff of legend that constituted their rotation in the 1990's, but it's capable of keeping the team in games. Smoltz, for one, actually has the numbers to back up his big-game pitcher status (14-4, 2.70 postseason ERA, and he's never lost a game in the Division Series) and Hudson's no slouch either (3.44 ERA in four trips to the postseason).

You know that Houston's offense has been just as bad as their pitching has been good, but this is not the same offense that struggled to score 3.5 runs per game through April and May. A healthy Lance Berkman, plus Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and the suddenly-powerful Craig Biggio give the 'Stros at least a decent offense.

The Braves' hitters are not an uber-patient lot, but they'll take a walk. Unfortunately, Astros pitchers don't really give up walks, as their 440 allowed were the fewest in the NL. They don't give up hits, either, (.246 opponent batting average was also lowest in NL) or extra-base hits (.389 opponent slugging percentage was second to the Mets, who had the help of a pitcher's park, unlike Houston). The Braves' best hitter, Andruw Jones, hit only .208 in September, lowering his season average to .262, which will hopefully end his chances of being named NL MVP. Other aspects of the Braves' offense are solid, but nothing seems to indicate that they'll be good enough to beat the Astros' Big Three.

Houston has a better rotation, a better bullpen, and an offense sufficiently capable to win some games, and beat the Bridesmaid Braves.

Prediction: Astros in three. Get out the brooms, baby.

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