30 November 2006

DPD: Japanese Pitchers and American Dollars: A Match Made in Mystery

This is one of my favorite games. It's called "Guess the Pitchers". I give you their statistics and you tell me (telepathically, of course) who they are. Here you go:

      Yrs   G     IP      H    R    ER   HR   BB    K     W   L   ERA
Mr. I 8 190 1244.0 1149 504 435 116 395 1174 86 60 3.15
Mr. M 8 204 1402.7 1102 508 459 112 502 1355 108 60 2.95

Mr. M has a slight edge in most of the statistics, with a few more games pitched, innings, and strikeouts, and fewer homers, though notably more walks. His ERA is slightly better as well, and his win-loss record is much better, though we know that this is often due to the pitcher's teammates and their ability to hit more than his ability to pitch. The most astute of you have already guessed at who "Mr. M" is, and some of you may know who "Mr. I" is as well, especially if you've already figured out his competitor. Let me give you some more info:

                   Age   G   IP   H    R  ER  HR  BB   K    W  L   ERA
Mr. I 6-yr Avg. 27.5 29 198 182 79 68 18 61 187 14 9 3.09
Mr. M 8-yr Avg. 26.0 26 175 138 64 57 14 63 169 14 8 2.93

Those are the average seasons for the two pitchers since they've been starters. Mr. M is slightly younger, but has been a full-time starter for two years longer, whereas Mr. I pitched only a handful of innings for his first two seasons in this league, so I omitted them in looking at their averages. Mr. M certainly gets credit for having been so good at a younger age, but he also has suffered through a few truncated seasons in his career, which have helped to dampen the sheen on his otherwise sparkling statistics, for his "average" season, anyway. Mr. I now has a slight edge in innings, about 23 more per season than Mr. M, and as a starter, his HR/9 and K/9 rates are very similar, and his BB/9 rate is a bit better, though his hits/inning numbers are not nearly as dominant as those of Mr. M.

When you look at the pitchers strictly on their rate stats, the picture becomes a little clearer:

Name    IP  IP/G   H/9  HR/9  BB/9  K/9   ERA
Mr. I 198 6.80 8.27 0.82 2.77 8.50 3.09
Mr. M 175 6.70 7.10 0.72 3.24 8.69 2.93

Both pitchers provide almost seven innings per start, strikeout almost a batter per inning, and allow around three earned runs per nine innings, on average. Mr. I is slightly stingier with walks, to the tune of about half a walk per nine innings, but Mr. M is much more reluctant to give up hits, over a hit/game better, and is also slightly better at preventing homers.

The pitchers seem fairly even in many respects, with Mr. I's edge in durability largely offsetting Mr. M's edge in dominance with hits. Mr. M's year an a half of youth is an edge too, but not an enormous one.

Now, just one more stat for you to ponder:

Mr. I: $26 Million
Mr. M $51.1 Million

Who the heck are these guys? Find out at Double Play Depth...

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21 November 2006

DPD: 136 Million Reasons the Cubs Will Regret Soriano's Contract

OK, so its not quite that many...

Free agent OF Alfonso Soriano has reportedly signed an eight-year, $136 Million deal with the Chicago Cubs, with whom he is expected to hit lead-off, play left or center-field, and make lots of money while anchoring the better part of a decade's worth of disappointing Cubs teams.

Of course, that's not how the Cubs are billing it, but that's how it will be.

In many ways, Soriano was the biggest available hitter in this year's free agent market. Back in March, when Soriano made a big stink about being asked to play right field for the Washington Nationals, I argued that he was missing the point, and that working his butt off would do a lot more for his market value than just being a secondbaseman would. Turns out that he took my advice, had arguable his best season in 2006, and got himself a pretty nice payday for it. RFK Stadium wasn't quite the Death Valley for hitters in 2006 that it had been in 2005, but with a park factor of 97, it was still a bit more favorable to pitchers than hitters, and yet Soriano set career highs in homers (46) and slugging percentage (.560). More important, perhaps, is that he set a career high in on-base percentage as well (.351), Equivalent average (.300), and Wins Above Replacement Position (8.6), largely due to a career high in walks (67), more than doubling his walk total from 2005. (Granted, 16 of those were intentional, but that still makes 51 unintentional bases on balls, which are 20 more than he had ever had in a single season before.)

Soriano was expected to become a star. A shortstop in the Yankees minor leagues, his combination of speed and power made him a rare commodity as a player, so much more as an infielder, so it was reasonable to overlook his lack of plate discipline and his defensive shortcomings at second base, at least for a while. Though he was showing improvement in that regard while with the Yankees, he regressed considerably as a Texas Ranger, making it reasonable to consider switching him to the outfield, which seems to have worked. He also set a career high in Fielding Runs Above Average (+9) in 2006, which probably accounts for about two wins difference in his actual and expected WARP numbers all by itself.

Those improvements allowed Soriano to sign one of the half-dozen or so richest multi-year contracts in baseball history, with his annual salary trailing only those of A-Rod ($25 million), Manny Ramirez ($20M), His Clutchness ($19M), and Todd Helton ($18M). The real question for the Cubs and their fans: Is he worth it?

Find out if Alfonso Soriano will live up to his contract at Double Play Depth...

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13 November 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect Profile: Kevin Whelan

Kevin Whelan, RHP
Full Name: Kevin J. Whelan
DOB: 8 January 1984, Kerrville,TX
Ht: 6' 0" Wt: 200 Bats/Throws: R
College: Texas A&M University
Drafted: Tigers's 4th-round (120th overall) pick in 2005.

Part of the swag from the Gary Sheffield trade, Whelan was initially a catcher in college, but didn't hit much, and was converted from catching to pitching in 2004, his junior year. After spending his entire senior year as the ace reliever for an Aggies team that finished 9th, with a 9-18 record in the Big 12 Conference, (30-25-1 overall), Whelan was drafted by the Tigers last year. He anchored the bullpen for that lackluster team, going 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA, a team-best four saves and 40 strikeouts in 31 innings, though he also walked 20 batters.

Pro Career:
After the draft, the Tigers took the cautious approach with him, placing him in the NY-Penn League (Short-Season), where he struck out 19 and allowed only two hits (but six walks) in his first 12 innings of work. That got him a promotion to West Michigan in the Midwest League (A-ball), where he was even better. He allowed only 4 hits and two walks in 12 and one-third innings while striking out 22 and allowing only one run in 14 appearances. Granted, this was a polished, 21-year old collegiate relief ace playing against a lot of 19- and 20-year olds with less experience, but to some degree, success is still success.

Obviously ready for a tougher challenge, but still without even 25 innings of minor league experience, the Tigers kept Whelan on the slow-and-steady road, pushing him to the High-A Florida State League in 2006, where he stayed the year and did pretty well. With a little more exposure, his control was again shown to be his biggest weakness (29 walks in 54 innings), but he continued to otherwise embarass the opposition, striking out 69 batters and allowing only 33 hits all season, while going 4-1 with 27 saves and a 2.67 ERA that was considerably better than the league's collective 3.79 ERA.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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08 November 2006

DPD: American League 2006 Season Awards

2006 AL MVP Contenders

This year's AL MVP Award looks to be about as wide open a race as we have ever seen for such an award. The "experts" are predicting that Derek Jeter will win it, and so am I, but then both the experts and I thought that the Cardinals would get beaten in the first round of the playoffs, and look how that turned out. There's a distinct possibility that something wacky could happen with the voting, like we saw in 1999 when Pedro Martinez's AL MVP Award went to Ivan Rodriguez, and nobody saw it coming. I hope not, but then stranger things have happened.

There are essentially four guys who can lay some kind of claim to being the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2006, maybe five.

One of the early favorites for the award was White Sox OF Jermaine Dye, who had his best year ever, with a .308 average, 44 homers, 120 RBIs, and 103 runs scored. But that was before the defending champs faded in September and finished in third place in the AL Central, six games behind the Twins. ChiSox DH Jim Thome deserves a mention as well, with 42 homers, 108 rins, 109 RBIs and 107 walks (the 8th time in his career he's cracked the century mark in all three of those in a single season), and a .288 batting average that is the best he's had since he hit .304 in 2002, his last year in Cleveland. But third place and no defense makes Thome a fifth-place candidate for AL MVP, at best, though he'll likely win the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

If you like the new-fangled statistical measures of Baseball Prospectus and their ilk, then you have to at least allow Indians' DH Travis Hafner into the discussion. (Heck, even if you don't like those stats, you should consider him simply because he has the best first name in the history of mankind!) Travis had a .355 EqA, best in the major leagues, almost ten points better than Albert Pujols, who's generally considered the best player in the major leagues right now. Unfortunately for Hafner, he got hurt and missed the last month of the season, and his team finished 78-84, well out of contention in the AL Central Division. It's tough to get serious MVP consideration when you only play 129 games, no matter how good you are in them, so Pronk, you're out of the running too.

Speaking of Designated Hitters with cool nicknames, there's Big Papi. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, last year's AL MVP runner-up to Alex Rodriguez, looks like he'll probably place second once again to a Yankee infielder. Ortiz was phenomenal in 2005, and was even better this year, setting a Red Sox record for home runs in a season, and with a team that has boasted the likes of Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Manny Ramirez, that's really an impressive feat. Unfortunately for Big Papi, his teammates came up pretty small in 2006, finishing with a respectable 86-76 record, but 11 games behind the Yankees and, for the first time in a decade, in third place, behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Ortiz finished first in Equivalent Runs, second in Eq. Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP), and third in EqA, but it's tough to vote for a guy who doesn't play defense and whose team finished 11 games behind their division winner.

As I mentioned, of course, the Yankee infielder who will probably win the AL MVP is Shortstop Derek Jeter. He was only 7th in the AL in EqA, with a .316 mark, behind Hafner, Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi and Joe Mauer. However, because he got more playing time than almost everybody in line in front of him, he's third in Equivalent Runs, with 119.5 (behind Ortiz with 130 and Grady Sizemore with 125.5), and third in RARP, with 68.7, behind Hafner (70.7) and Ortiz (69.1). RARP is the most telling of the numbers because it adjusts for the relative strength of the position they play and shows how much the player was really worth to his team, above a replacement-level guy (say, Nick Green, for example), and two runs are essentially statistically insignificant. So if you've got three guys who are basically a statistical wash, but one of them plays for the best team in the AL and the other two play for teams that finished WAY out of contention, I think you have to give the vote to the guy who plays for the winner.

But that's not the only thing to consider. Since Hafner and Ortiz don't play defense, they neither contribute to nor detract from their team's success with their gloves, so that's the end of their contribution. Jeter, however, is an everyday shortstop, and depending on your perspective, is either one of the best or one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league.

Yankees Chick argued, about a month ago, for Jeter to win it, in part based on his defense, but I'm very reluctant to give him much credit in that department. If you look at traditional fielding stats, he's 4th in the AL in fielding percentage among nine qualified shortstops, he's 9th in double plays turned, 7th in Zone Rating (among 9 qualified SS candidates) and is dead last in range factor. I was at a game this year in which Jeter missed two easy grounders to his right, somehow managing to STEP ON HIS OWN GLOVE while trying to field the latter of the two. This is not a good fielding shortstop. The only reason he didn't make more than 15 errors is that he never gets to anything, so there's rarely a ball to bobble or throw away. Baseball Prospectus measures defense in Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and Jeter's a +7 in that area, a little better than average, which seems generous to me. He won another Gold Glove, but that's essentially a popularity contest, as Michael Young (+20 Fielding Runs Above Replacement) and Jhonny Peralta (+24 FRAA) both had much better cases for that. Nevertheless, the fact that he plays defense, and the fact that he's not a total disaster at it, only helps his case.

In addition, stealing a career-high 34 bases in 39 attempts sure adds to his offensive value. Not like, say, hitting 35 more home runs would, but a lot.

So overall, I'm inclined to give the AL MVP to Derek Jeter, by the slimmest of margins, over Big Papi and Pronk. My ballot would look like this:

1.  Derek Jeter
2. David Ortiz
3. Travis Hafner
4. Jermaine Dye
5. Johan Santana
6. Justin Morneau
7. Frank Thomas
8. Grady Sizemore
9. Joe Mauer
10. Jim Thome

Check out my take on the other 2006 American league Awards at Double Play Depth...

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31 October 2006

DPD: Worst. Champion. Ever.

Well, the regular season is over. The postseason is over, and we now officially have the Worst World Champion Ever, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, at least on paper. Their 83-78 record in the regular season is 1.5 games worse than the 1987 Minnesota Twins, who went 85-77, but actually got outscored over the course of the season, 786-806 runs. At least the 2006 Cardinals were a winning team by their Pythagenport Projection, if only slightly.

Though that sounds harsh, I really don't mean disrespect to the Cardinals or their fans. They did what they had to do to win, and they deserve credit for that. They beat the team that beat my Yankees, so kudos to them for that as well. But the system is broken when a team that barely wins half of its games over the regular season is even allowed to compete for something called a "World Championship". That's not the Cardinals' fault. It's baseball's.

Read the rest at Double PLay Depth...

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26 October 2006

DPD: Jeter Wins Hank Aaron MVP Consolation Trophy

At the other end of the baseball players' class scale is Derek Jeter. Yankee Captain, His Clutchness, the anti-Sheff. Call him whatever you want, but now you can call him the Mr. 2006 Hank Aaron Award Winner.

OK, by a show of hands, how many of you even knew that MLB gave out a "Hank Aaron Award"?

Of those, how many knew what it was for?

How many of you knew who's won it in any of the last several years?

How many of you even know how long they've had the damn thing?

Well, since there are only three of you left with your hands up, (and you don't count, Mr. Selig...), I'll tell you. According to MLB.com:

This coveted honor is awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in both the American League and National League. Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.

First of all, I think it's hard to call something "coveted" if nobody knows it exists.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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DPD: Sheffield Needs Consolation for Earning “Only” $13M in 2007

With another (unplanned) off-day in the 2006 playoffs, the baseball media outlets are pretty desperate for stories. The rain in St. Louis last night prevented anyone from playing a game, which by extension prevented anyone from writing about the game, so ESPN and others are scraping the bottom of the barrel for baseball sotries. The Yankees are a big market, and therefore a big draw, so among their top nine headlines (alongside the lead story: "It Rained Last Night") are no fewer than four Yankees-related items.

• Sheffield angered over Yanks' plans to pick up option
• Jeter: No tension lingers in maligned Yankee clubhouse
• Phillies' Howard, Yankees' Jeter win Hank Aaron Award
• Rumor Central: Yankees looking to trade Sheffield

Of course, the first and last of those are related to each other, so if you'll indulge me, we'll handle them together, and I'll get to the Derek Jeter stuff in a separate column.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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24 October 2006

DPD: Kenny Rogers’ Cheating, Scuffs and Spit-balls, and LaRussa’s Mistake

Few things can help a writer get out of a funk like a postseason controversy, especially on an off-day.

After the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention two weeks ago, I had a hard time gearing up for writing anything else. The Mets beat the Dodgers? They were supposed to do that. The Tigers swept the Athletics? Well, they were the better team all year. The Cardinals ousted the Padres? Well, San Diego wasn't exactly a juggernaut. A thrilling, 7-game NLCS that came down to the last inning of the last game? Hey, Jeff Suppan was the MVP...how thrilling could it be? The Phillies spend over $10 million on a 43-year old pitcher? That probably won't even be among the Top Five Dumbest Things the Phillies Do in the Next Two Years.

But this Kenny Rogers thing has had a life of its own, and it's given me a new lease on my life as a baseball commentator. I got inspired yesterday and cranked out some statistics and a short column in about an hour, and I got the most visitors I've had in weeks, and each of the comments to that post has forced me to think harder, dig deeper, and analyze the issues even more thoroughly.

First of all, it has become apparent to me from some of the comments to yesterday's post, as well as some of the other articles I've seen out there in InterWeb Land, that there are some fundamentals of pitching physics that not everyone understands, so I thought I would expound on those.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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23 October 2006

DPD: Kenny Rogers’ Thumb Not the Reason for Scoreless Streak

Let me introduce you to two pitchers:

             IP     H   ER   BB   SO   W    L    ERA
Pitcher N 184.0 72 0 56 152 24 0 0.00
Pitcher P 170.2 296 160 128 120 0 24 8.44

There has never been so stark a difference in two pitchers in the history of major league baseball. Pitcher P is unbeatable, a perfect 24-0, never allowing a run. There has never been anyone this good for this long, excepting perhaps in SuperNintendo Baseball. On the other hand, Pitcher P has lost every decision, walked more than he's struck out, and allowed almost 300 hits despite pitching barely enough innings to qualify for the league's annual ERA title. The only real similarity between these two guys is that no one has ever been this bad for this long either, because anyone with an ERA over 8.00 for more than a month or two usually gets sent back to the minors, and anyone this bad for an entire season is probably bagging groceries for a living the next season.

Wait a minute. Here's one more similarity between them:

They're both Kenny Rogers.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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21 October 2006

World Series Preview 2006: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Detroit Tigers

After getting burned a bit on my previous round of postseason pics, I took a little time off to reflect, and see what I really know about baseball. OK, so "getting burned a bit" is almost as big an understatement as "a little worried about North Korea"...I went 0-for-4 on the Divisional Series, picking teh Mets, Dodgers, Yankees and Twins to go a combined 12-5, when in reality, all four teams lost their respective series, winning a grand total of two games among them. Just call me Travis "Golden Sombrero" Nelson.

I took the NLCS and ALCS off, more due to lack of time to read and write about baseball than some sort of profound re-evaluation of my life's ambitions, but it doesn't matter: Both series ended exactly the opposite of how I would have picked them anyway. In fact, I'll just go ahead her and state my post-dictions (?) for both series:

NLCS: Cardinals @ Mets: Mets in five. The Cardinals don't stand a chance.

ALCS: Tigers @ Athletics: A's in four. Barry Zito and Frank Thomas will tame the Tigers.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to analyzing the World Series that actually will happen...

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Detroit Tigers

It's easy to look at the way the Cardinals gutted out a dramatic, 9th inning win in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Mets Thursday night and call them the "hot team", but the fact of the matter is that the Cardinals' last three-game winning streak ended on September 1st. That's right: they haven't won more than two games in a row in over a month and a half. This is not a "hot" team. What they are is a team that has been fortunate to keep its foes at bay while they lick their collective wounds.

In the absence of Mark Mulder and Jason Isringhausen, perrenial LAIM Jeff Suppan (a sandwich) stepped up to win the NLCS MVP award, and Adam Wainwright has saved three games in three opportunities. The pitching has been solid in the postseason, but hardly dominant. Suppan allowed only 5 hits in 15 NLCS innings, but he also only struck out 6 and walked six, succeeding with moxy and solid defense rather than "stuff". (By the way, has there ever been a mediocre player on any postseason team that didn't have a lot of "moxy"? To hear Tim McCarver talk about it, "moxy" must be the most abundant substance on the planet.)

Regardless of their intangible qualities, Jeffs Weaver and Suppan will have a hard time repeating their success against the Tigers, not because the Tigers are a better-hitting team than the Mets (they're not) but because the Jeffs' luck is due to run out. Weaver had a 5.76 ERA this season, and had only one month with an ERA under 5.47 (September, when it was 4.15) before October, and hasn't had consecutive Quality Starts (6+ innings, 3 or fewer Earned Runs) since late May. Suppan went 6-2 with a 2.39 ERA after the All-Star Break and has a 1.86 ERA in 19.1 postseason innings, but he's been pretty lucky with hits to do that, and that can't last forever. With that said, Chris Carpenter has pitched exactly like, well, Chris Carpenter, this postseason, with the noted exception of his 5-inning, 5-run performance against the Mets in Game 2 of the NLCS last week. Unfortunately, Carpenter will likely get to pitch only once this series, because the Cardinals probably won't win any of the games in which he doesn't pitch. But I'll get back to that.

The Cardinals' offense hasn't exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either, for that matter. They've scored a total of 42 runs in the 11 postseason games they've played, or 3.8/game, hitting a collective .256/.337/.413, including .248/.341/.434 in the NLCS. They got homers from banjo-hitting (and now injured) 2B David Eckstein, reserve OF So Taguchi, starting Pitcher Jeff Suppan and not one but two bombs from catcher Yadier Molina, who went from hitting .216/.274/.321 to hitting, .348/.423/.652 in the NLCS. Time for him, and more specifically his bat, to turn back into a pumpkin. It's one thing to acknowledge a great performance when it happens. It's quote another to counton that happening every night out to get you the "W", and that's what the Cards have had to do for the last week or two.

The Mets' pitchers did their jobs, overall, but their hitters didn't show up and sophomore manager Willie Randolph simply got out-managed by veteran field skipper Tony LaRussa. Grizzled Tigers' manager Jim Leyland won't let that happen to his team, I assure you. (On the other hand, I just watched Albert Pujols stroke a two-run homer to right with two outs and first base open in the third inning, so I could be wrong about that.)

The Tigers, on the other hand, have won seven straight games in the postseason, and those were no slouches they were playing, the 97-win Yankees and the 93-win Oakland A's. Their team led the majors in ERA (3.84) and adjusted ERA (117), so it wasn't just the cavernous Comerica Park that helped them keep the ball in the yard. The Cards, by contrast, were 9th in the 16-team NL, with a 4.54 ERA despite te fact that Busch Stadium actually suppressed run scoring by about 2% this season.

The Tigers were 5th in the AL in runs scored per game, at 5.07, while the Cardinals placed a respectable sixth in that category in the Senior Circuit, at 4.85. Comerica has more of a reputation as a pitcher's park than does Busch Stadium, but in reality, there's been little difference between the two parks for the last few seasons.

The Cardinals had a lot of luck in the playoffs to get this far, after limping into the postseason on the merits of having the least-bad record in the weakest division in baseball. Their pitching is not as good as it has looked forthe last week and a half, and it's bound to revert to form sooner or later. My guess is that the Tigers find a way to contain Albert Pujols and the Cardinals pitchers' luck runs out.

Prediction: Tigers in six.

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03 October 2006

DPD: National League Playoff Preview

Cardinals Lose, but Win; Astros' Star Fades

See? I told you the Astros wouldn't make it this year!

But man, were they darn close.

It was a fairly convoluted set of circuimstances that would have gotten the Houstons into the playoffs again, but with the Cardinals having lost eight games of their 8.5 game lead in less than two weeks, it seemed like it just might be plausible. The Astros had to win and the Cards had to lose on Sunday, which would have left the St. Louises with a half-game lead, and they'd have had to play a make-up game with the Giants on Monday. If they lost that game, they would have had a one-game, winner-take-all playoff with Houston on Tuesday for the NL Central title, with the winner of that game starting its series against the NL West winner on Wednesday. Talk about an intense schedule.

Unfortunately Houston lost on Sunday, 3-1 to Atlanta, ending the possibility of what would have been the most dramatic collapse in MLB history. (That title still belongs to the 1964 Phillies. Couldn't have happened to a better city.)

In any case, the Cardinals "won" their division with a pretty unimpressive 83-78 record, and are only 36-39 since the All-Star Break. They've still got the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in Chris Carpenter, but he's given up 12 runs in 15 innings in his last two starts. Jeff Suppan has been his usual LAIM self, maybe aeven a little better than that, but the rest of the staff is full of question marks. Will young Anthony Reyes be able to buckle down under playoff pressure? Will Jeff Weaver pitch like someone who deserves to make over $8 million? Will Jason Marquis (2-8, 6.96 ERA since the start of August) um...not suck? Will the makeshift bullpen be able to keep their crap together? The bullpen is only 10-of-17 in save opportunities since the All-Star Break, and only 3-of-6 in September.

The Cards still have the best hitter in the National League at first base and some solid guys in Chris Duncan and Scott Rolen, but Jim Edmonds is a shell of his former self, and nobody else in the lineup is particularly scary.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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02 October 2006

DPD: Wild Finish for MLB Season; American League Playoff Preview

It's been a long time since we had this much excitement on the last day of the regular season. The advent of the Wild Card has often meant that formerly exciting pennant races have lost some of their luster, as frequently the team that loses the division title still wins the Wild Card. Rob Neyer lamented this problem in his Big Book of Baseball Blunders, calling the 1993 NL West race between the Dodgers and Giants the "Last Real Pennant Race", but I imagine that he was pretty pleased to find that he once again had a real pennant race to follow when the last day o fthe 2006 season rolled around. For that matter, in addition to the identity of the NL Central Division winner, the seeding of four other playoff teams was not yet know before the start of game play yesterday either. And even more exciting than that, my fantasy baseball team, the Flying Zucchini Bros, was just one point out of first place with a whole day of games left to play. I could hardly contain myself...

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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22 September 2006

DPD: Blame Rocket for Astros' Crash

Two years ago, the Houston Astros sat at exactly 52-52 by the end of July, the very picture of mediocrity. They then proceeded to rattle off 40 wins in their remaining 58 games, including a 23-7 record in September and October, and won the NL Wild Card by one game over the San Francisco Giants. Though they eventually lost the NLCS to St. Louis, they took that series to seven games and might have won it with a bit more luck. More important, perhaps, they actually beat the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series, three games to two, and finally shook off the stigma that this franchise could not win in the postseason.

One year ago, the Houston Astros were just 44-43 at the All-Star break, but got hot in July and again won the NL Wild Card by one game, this time over the *choke* Philadelphia Phillies. Again they beat the Braves in the Division Series, but this time they took care of the St. Louises in six games, advancing to the World Series for the first time since the founding of the franchise in 1962. Still a great year, by almost any measure.

And this year? Well, this year the good people of Houston will have to content themselves with being disappointed during the regular season, because there ain't no Miracle Comeback in this team's 2006 storybook. As things stand now, the NL Wild Card race looks like this:

Dodgers 80 73 0.523 -
Phillies 79 73 0.520 0.5
Florida 76 77 0.497 4.0
Giants 75 77 0.493 4.5
Atlanta 75 78 0.490 5.0
Reds 74 78 0.487 5.5
Houston 74 78 0.487 5.5
Arizona 72 80 0.473 7.5

Though they won last night, at the end of the day of September 20th, the Astros were 73-78, five games under .500. For comparison's sake, the Astros were five games under .500 last year as well. On July 1st, 36-41. They had over half their schedule remaining to make up those games, and they still only beat out the Phillies by one game. This year, with less than two weeks left to play, there will not be any such resurgence by this team. They will not find a way to climb over six other teams in two weeks and win a third straight playoff berth. They will not get a chance to defend their National League title.

And why? Well, the reasons, as you might expect, are manifold.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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14 September 2006

DPD: Strange Choices in DHL/MLB "Hometown Heroes" Promo, National League Edition

In my continuing series, which focuses on picking apart the choices given to you in the MLB/DHL Hometown Heroes promotion, we look today at the National League options...

Arizona Diamondbacks
On the list: Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, Matt Williams

What's He Doing Here??? Todd Stottlemyre? Are you kidding? He went 15-11 with a 4.77 ERA in 217 innings spread out over three years. He racked up eight Win Shares, one more than Rick Helling, and one less than Javier Vazquez and Mike Morgan. For comparison, the immortal Arizona hero Mike Koplove has ten more Win Shares as a D-Back than does Stottlemyre. Byun-Hyung Kim has almost eight times as many.

Where's the Love, Man? How soon we forget. The hitters listed above are ranked #1, #3 and #4 in all-time D-Back Win Shares among hitters. Number two is Steve Finley, who has almost twice as many (109) as Matt Williams (58). Also, Curt Schilling twice won 20+ games for Arizona in his three and a half seasons there, finishing 10th in the NL MVP voting and 2nd in the NL Cy Young voting both of those years, not to mention his World Series co-MVP award in 2001. Seems like there's a general aversion to recently departed free agents and/or guys who asked to be traded.

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: John McCain?

And the Winner is... Luis Gonzalez has the most Win Shares (191 to the Big Unit's 161) but Johnson won four Cy Young Awards. In a row. And he should have gotten the award that Clemens took home in 2004. That's a hero to me, even if he's not that pitcher any longer.

Atlanta Braves
On the list: Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones, Phil Niekro, John Smoltz, Warren Spahn

What's He Doing Here??? John Smoltz is the last remaining face from the team that won all those division titles, but he's got almost exactly the same number of Win Shares as Greg Maddux, and he took six more seasons to get them. Similarly, Chipper won an MVP award, but has almost 100 fewer career Win Shares that another former Brace third-sacker...

Where's the Love, Man? ...Eddie Mathews! Mathews was a walking, homer hitting (512 in his career, back when that meant something) machine who spent 15 years playing for this franchise and is the only person to play for it in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta, for whatever that's worth. Maddux, as I mentioned, should be on the list as well, gven that he's a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who made his mark in Atlanta, winning three of his four Cy Young Awards there, ten of his 15 Gold Gloves, and 194 of his 330 career wins.

Going way back, Kid Nichols won 329 games for the Boston Braves in the 1890's, amassing 411 Win Shares there, 133 more than Warren Spahn, on the way to Cooperstown.

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: Ted Turner?

And the Winner is... Henry Aaron. The man played forever, going to 21 consecutive All-Star games, and hitting 733 of his record 755 career homers in a Braves uniform. There's just no competition for him here.

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13 September 2006

DPD: Strange Choices in DHL/MLB "Hometown Heroes" Promo, American League Edition

I know it's just a promotion, and why DHL is associated with is is beyond me, but as I looked over the ballot for the "Hometown Heroes" voting it seemed to me that there were several curious selsctions on it, and off it for that matter. There was a bit of publicity about Sammy Sosa not making the list of five players for the Cubs about a month ago, but that was really all I heard, when it seems to me that there were more than a few players who could feel appropriatley slighted for having been left off the ballot of one team or another. For another thing, there were some that seemingly had no business being on the ballot but for some reason were, so I thougth I would run down these, just for grits and shiggles, and see if anyone else had any ideas on players I might have missed. In some cases these are public relations decisions, like Sosa, I suspect, but others are simply oversights because we've forgotten some of the rich (and older) history of theis great game.

Baltimore Orioles

On the list: Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson

What's He Doing Here??? Frank Robinson was a fantastic player, and he did win a Triple Crown, an MVP Award, and two World Series (including a World Series MVP Award) with Baltimore, but he only spent six years of his 21-season career in an Orioles uniform. Ken Singleton had more of most of the counting stats as an Oriole than Frank Robinson did.

Where's the Love, Man? George Sisler. Hello? Anybody remember that the Orioles spent the first 52 years of their mostly miserable existence in St. Louis? Granted, that's a different "home town" but it seems ridiculous to pretend that the franchise just sprang into existence from the ether in 1954, doesn't it? Sisler hit over .400 twice for the Browns, owns the franchise's all-time record for career batting average (.344), steals (351) and triples (145), and is third or fourth on the team in numerous other offensive stats.

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: Eddie Gaedel, Pete Gray?

And the Winner Is... Cal Ripken. Even if he didn't deserve it, he would win, since the collective memory of people who vote on the Internet is about ten years, at most.

Boston Red Sox
On the list:Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Cy Young

What's He Doing Here???Can't complaing much about these guys, four Hall of Famers and a borderline guy in Rice. Cy Young only spent 8 of 22 seasons in Boston, but the dud holds the career wins record (with the Rocket) for the Boston franchise, so you can't begrudge them his name on the list.

Where's the Love, Man?Pedro Martinez. He spent seven years in Red Socks, only one less than Cy, compiling a 117-37 record, for a .760 winning percentage that isn't only the best in Boston history, it's the best record of any pitcher with any team who's gotten at least 100 decisions. He won two Cy Young Awards, finished third or higher in the voting three other times, and probably should have won Pudge's 1999 MVP. All of that in seven seasons. Also, Wade Boggs won five batting titles and amassed over 2,000 hits as a Red Sock. Of course, who do you bump from the list?

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: Bill Buckner?

And the Winner Is... The Kid. The Splinter. The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. Nobody is more closely associated with the Red Sox franchise than Teddy "F-ing" Ballgame.

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08 September 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Phul Hughes Videos from Wednesday's AA Trenton Thunder Playoff Game

In advance, I'm just going to apologize for the shaky nature and grainy texture of the videos below. I was using a 4-year old Sony handicam, and it does a nice enough job, but without a tripod (and really, without half a dozen of them stationed around the park), it's tough to follow the action.

Phil Hughes throws his first two pitches of the game, before allowing the leadoff single.

Phil Hughes allowed a leadoff single in the first inning.

Hughes was apparently unfazed by the leadoff single, as he proceeded to strikeout the side in the first. My brother and I, like one of yesterday's commenters, noted that the catcher's mitt wasn't really "popping" with his fastball early in the game, but we distinctly heard it later on. I don't think it occurred to us at the time that it was connected to having given up the run, but that supports the description Baseball Prospectus (I think) gave about him last year, that he normally lives in the 90-91 mph range, but can reach back and hit 94-95 when needed.

I was really impressed with Hughes’ mechanics. The videos (more after the jump) give you some sense of the consistency of his delivery over the course of the game.

I sort of down-played the baseball america quote in Hughes’ profile at the end of last year, the one where he was referred to as “Mark Prior Lite” but I see what they mean now. He’s well-built, finishes his delivery in good fielding position, with his shoulders square to the plate, no extra movement, no falling off to the side, and the ability to get batters out with less than his best fastball. This kid is going to be great.

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Pending Pinstripes: Hideki Matsui Videos from Wednesday's AA Trenton Thunder Playoff Game

These are some videos I got of Hideki Matsui during Wednesday night's Game 1 of the AA Eastern League's Northern Divisional Playoffs, Godzilla's first pro game in months.

Though a considerable number of media members turned out to cover this game specifically because of Hideki Matsui, as did a lot of the fans in attendance, the patronage was suprisingly low for a playoff game featuring a Yankee star outfielder making his first pro appearance in four months. Only 5,114 turned out for the Wednesday night game, compared to the Trenton season average of over 5,900. Nevertheless, when the teams were intorduced, Matsui got far and away the loudest cheers.

Yankee OF and Hero of All Japan, Hideki Matsui, getting cheered as he steps to the plate for his first at-bat in a professional game in nearly four months. matsui broke his wrist diving for a ball in the outfield on May 10th against the Red Sox, and he's now making his rehab starts as a DH for AA Trenton, which is in the Eastern league Norther Divisional playoffs.

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Pending Pinstripes: Phil Hughes Fans 13; Matsui Upstaged in Rehab Start

Godzilla hadn't been upstaged this badly since Mothra showed him who was boss back in 1964!

On a night when a myriad of reporters (90 media credentials were reportedly issued by the Thunder, two-thirds of them for Japanese reporters) and fans turned out to watch Yankees OF Hideki Matsui, Phil Hughes was the real star. He fanned 13 batters in six innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk, but did not factor in the decision for the Thunder. Trenton took the lead in the seventh inning and went on to beat the Portland Sea Dogs 3-1 in the first of a five game series, the first playoff win in Trenton's 13-year existence.

Phil Hughes apparently missed the memo about how young players are supposed to get nervous in high-pressure spots. The only spots Hughes concerned himself with last night were the four on the corners of the strike zone, which he hit consistently with his 94 mph fastball and knee-buckling curve. He just went out there and threw strikes, and let his "stuff" do the rest. I guess when you have major-league caliber stuff at age 20, you can get away with that.

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05 September 2006

Pending Pinstripes: AA Trenton Thunder 2006 Season Summary

Unlike the Columbus Clippers, the Trenton Thunder actually had a good year in 2006. They won the AA Eastern League's Northern Division handily, with an 80-62 record that is 6.5 games better than the second place Portland Sea Dogs. Portland clinched yesterday. The Thunder will have home-field advantage in a five-game series against Portland starting Wednesday, and if they win that series, they'll face either the Akron Aeros or the Altoona Curve, the first and second-place teams in the Southern Division. There's an even bigger gap between first and second place in the Southern Division than there is in the Northern, 10.5 games. Nevertheless, this playoff format awards playoff berths to not one, but two second-place teams. Also, the Eastern League must have some weird rules, because despite the fact that he hasn't swung a bat for them all season, Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui will be permitted to play for Trenton, making his rehab starts with them, in the playoffs.


Overall, the Trenton Thunder have hit only .257 as a team, good for 4th in the Eastern League, but they are second in OBP (.330), Slugging (.399) and OPS (.728), which is why they ended up second in runs scored (659, or 4.64/game). The Thunder are also second in total bases (1909), hits (1229), RBIs (603), tied for 2nd in doubles (253), third in the league homers (121) and steals (117), and tied for 4th with 32 triples. In every category in which the Thunder rank second, the Akron Aeros are first, leading the league in almost every offensive stat possible. The two stats in which Trenton does lead the EL are walks (475) and fewest steals (40), which gives them the best stolen base percentage in the league, at 74.5%. Akron, the offensive juggernaut that won the Southern Division by more than ten games, will likely be the Thunder's opponent for the Eastern League Championship, if Trenton can get past Portland in the first round.

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03 September 2006

Columbus Clippers 2006 Overview, 9/2/2006

The Yankees' highest minor league affiliate has had sort of an up and down year. With all the injuries that have decimated the major league roster, many of the attempts to get help have come from the Clippers, therefore decimating the AAA roster as well. Now seven games out of first place, and 4.5 games out of third place. The Clippers will finish the season in last place in the International League's West division, even if they win their last two games, as the best they can do is 70-72.

On the offensive side of the ball, the team does not have a lot of highlights. At least to this point, only Mitch Jones has hit as many as 20 homers, 21 actually, though Jones has only a .234 batting average and 145 strikeouts in 121 games). 1B/DH Carlos Pena had 19, with a team-high 63 walks, before he was picked up by the Red Sox organization. Nobody else has more than 13 homers. Bronson Sardinha has hit .286/.362/.497 since his promotion to Columbus a month and a half ago, but nobody with more than his 250 plate appearances has hit over .280. Danny Garcia leads the team with 19 steals, and Kevin Thompson has 17, but no one else has more than seven. Pretty down year for the Clippers hitters, as a whole.

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01 September 2006

Red Sox Deal Wells in Wake of Unforseen Collapse

Back in January, I suggested that the 2006 Red Sox may not have been the mortal lock to make the playoffs, or even overtake the Yankees in the AL East, that everyone thought. While the ways I suggested the team might fail may not have all materialized, it seems that my predictions (and Red Sox Nation's fears), are about to come true.

As I write this, the first of September looms large on the horizon for the Boston Red Sox, who for the first time since 2002 will not be in serious contention for a playoff spot as the year's ninth month dawns. Speaking of things that loom large, David Wells was just traded to the San Diego Padres for minor league catcher George Kottras. Normally, at this point in the year, the Red Sox would be stocking up for the stretch drive, getting that one last pice of the puzzle to help give the team a boost into October. Not this year. This year they're shipping off the only starting pitcher on the roster with an ERA for the month of August under 5.22. Wells may not be much anymore, but he's still somewhat effective when healthy, and he seems healthy, for now. Furthermore, he's 10-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 120 postseason innings through his career, and Boston won't much need him in that role this season, not being 6.5 games out of the Wild Card hunt and eight out of the AL East race with a month of games left to play.

In case you're interested, the Red Sox' chances of making the postseason at this point are almost nil, and they know it. Since the inception of the Wild Card, only one of the 88 teams to make it to the post-season were as far as 6.5 games out of a given playoff race at the end of play on August 31st. The 1995 Seattle Mariners, just 59-57 at that point, went 20-9 the rest of the way to overtake the LAnahfornia Angels for the AL West title, overcoming a 7.5 game defecit. But those Mariners had a healthy Randy Johnson, who went 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA down the stretch, including a complete game victory in the one-game divisional playoff against the Angels. They also had an excellent relief corps, with Jeff Nelson, Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton, who went a combined 6-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 11 saves down the stretch. The team also had an impressive offense, averaging almost six runs per game for that month or so. Furthermore, those Mariners were chasing only one team, the Angels, for the division title.

The Red Sox, however, are chasing not one, but two teams, the White Sox and Twins, with the Angels not far behind. Their schedule in September is such that they have only three games remaining against those teams, when they host the Twins from the 19th to the 21st, so they can't make up direct ground on their rivals. That means that not only would the Red Sox need to win, but they would need both the Twins and the White Sox to lose, something the Twins especially have not done very much in the second half of the season. The 1995 Mariners had a healthy Edgar Martinez (who led the AL in all kinds of offensive stats that year), Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez, and Ken Griffey, who returned from a wrist injury to hit seven homers in September and drive in 20 runs that month.

The Sawx, on the other hand, have seen the staples of their offense dropping like flies. David Ortiz might not return to the lineup until after this weekend, having already missed four games with an irregular heartbeat, and who knows how this will affect him going forward? Manny Ramirez has played only once since August 23rd, as he nurses a gimpy knee. Wily Mo Pena hasn't played since 8/25, and having just received a cortisone shot, he won't be back for a couple of days at the earliest. Add this to the two weeks their starting shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, has missed, and the month that RF Trot Nixon and starting catcher/team captain Jason Varitek have missed, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster.

The 1995 Mariners had Randy Johnson in his prime, who almost single-handedly carried that team to its first playoff series, whereas the 2006 Red Sox have no such horse to ride. Curt Schilling has certainly shown that he's capable of such performances in the past, but this year he's just 4-4 with a 5.15 ERA since the All-Star Break, so it doesn't look like he's going to do much. With three starting pitchers on the DL (Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement and now Jon Lester), Josh Beckett struggling (3-5, 5.75 since the Break) and not much else in their rotation, the Sawx had no choice but to become sellers.

Actually, though, that's not exactly true. Years ago, before the team was bought by John Henry and Tom Werner, the old Boston management might have gone out and tried to add a piece to make a push for the Wild Card. Dan Duquette was exactly the sort of General manager who would pick up a "proven veteran" at the trading deadline even though it looks like his team is out of contention. Current GM Theo Epstein, with the blessings of Henry, Werner and CEO Larry Luccino, knows better than that, and so in 2006, you won't see the Red Sox picking up aging, overpaid retreads in an effort to overcome the impossible. Besides, they already did that, in 2004, remember?

No, the kinder, gentler Red Sox will instead recognize their 2006 season for what it is, one rife with bad luck, but also full of lessons to be learned. Just a few of them here:

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24 August 2006

The Team That Changed Baseball: by Bruce Markusen

The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates
By Bruce Markusen

c. 2006 Westholme Publishing Inc. 240 pgs. $25.00 (paperback)

Fellow blogger Bruce Markusen's newest book covers the story of the 1971 Pirates team from beginning to end, and goes beyond that, really, since it starts with General Manager Joe Brown’s assembly of the club in the winter of 1970-71 and ends with a “where are they now” epilogue. Markusen’s fond memories and thorough research, buttressed by numerous personal interviews with some of the surviving personalities form that team and that time, provide for an extremely detailed description of the season, the players and the games. The reader is led through the year, month by month, game by game, and gets the kinds of details most people would only know from having been there, which is generally a good thing. But baseball isn’t called “the long season” for nothing, with a month of spring training, 162 regular season games and (mercifully, in 1971, only) two rounds of playoffs to cover, not to mention the important events of the preceding and following winters. Over such a long span, the particulars of individual games get a little tedious, especially if you aren’t as invested in the Pittsburgh franchise as Markusen evidently is.

The premise of the book is that the 1971 Pirates, being the first team in Major League Baseball to field an all-minority lineup, and actually winning as they did so, showed the rest of MLB and the world that success could be achieved regardless of the colors of players’ skin. GM Joe Brown’s acquisitions of players to bolster his roster based on his team’s needs, and the players' talents, rather than their status as black or white or Latino, served as a model for other franchises to consider abandoning any official or unofficial racial quotas they may have utilized. That manager Danny Murtaugh daily filled out his lineup card without regard to race or ethnicity is a credit to his open-mindedness and gave other managers an example to follow. But if the team had not succeeded, if they had not won the National League and eventually the World Series, perhaps fewer heads would have been turned and the impact that Markusen discusses might not have been realized in MLB for much longer.

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11 August 2006

DPD: Stark, Stats, and South-Side Starters' Struggles

ESPN's Jayson Stark appeared on Mike & Mike in the Morning on Wednesday, his weekly radio appearance in which he frequently makes bold, polarizing types of statements. Such contentions regularly play havoc with the show's email in-box, as fans and listeners feel compelled to write the show and either agree or disagree vehemently with Mr. Stark. This week was no exception to that rule, but since I have a number of blogs from which I can pontificate on this issue, I don't need to further clutter the Mikes' email system.

This week's polarizing remarks were that the reason for the Chicago White Sox struggling starting pitching this year is...

They've pitched too well.

OK, so that's not exactly what he said. He actually said that the White Sox starting pitchers are currently struggling because they've thrown so many pitches in the last two years, and because they throw a lot of pitches in an average game. Trey Wingo (sitting in for Mike Golic) pointed out that the White Sox received a lot of quality innings from their starters last year, which led to their success, and that this year's pitching struggles are largely to blame for the team's difficulty in repeating that success. He asked Stark if we could expect more of the same from this point on, to which Stark replied (audio here):

"I think what you're seeing is a rotation that is paying the price for all the pitches and all the innings that Ozzie Guillen has allowed it to throw over the last two seasons. [...] If you look at the numbers, of the top 12 pitchers in the American League in pitches thrown per start, the White Sox have four of them: Contreras, Garland, Vazquez, Garcia...and the fifth guy, Mark Buehrle, has thrown more total pitches in the last two seasons than any pitcher in the American League except Barry Zito, and he'd be first if you count the post-season. So, I think all those pitches, all those innings, are wearing this rotation out."

Well, this was easy enough to validate, if not particularly convenient. Neither ESPN.com nor mlb.com has pitches per start available in their sortable stats pages, but BaseballProspectus.com does. Now Jayson didn't mention his source on this, but I emailed him and he graciously responded. He told me that the first stat came from Stats, Inc., which is of course the supplier for ESPN and a lot of other news agencies out there. The other number, about Buehrle's total pitches in 2005-06, he said came from the Hardball Times.

As far as I can tell, his sources were wrong on both counts. Here are the top 40 American League pitchers in average pitches per start in 2006, according to Baseball Prospectus:

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07 August 2006

DPD: Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders

Mr. Wrigley [...] announced [...] the College of Coaches. The idea was that eight top coaches would rotate through the organization, from Class D all the way up to the big club, ensuring that players at every level were taught the same way to botch rundowns, miss cutoff men, ground into double plays, and so forth. [But...]

Who would manage the Cubbies?

Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders

by Rob Neyer (duh)
c. 2006, Simon & Schuster, NY
Paperback, $16.00 US/$22.00 Canadian

The newest book from ESPN's Rob Neyer, the self-named Big Book of Baseball Blunders, follows on the heels of last year's Big Book of Baseball Lineups. I don't know if Neyer is planning a while series of such works, (Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Managers, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Equipment, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Ballparks, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Bubblegum...maybe not.) but you can count me in on the rest of the collection.

In this book's introduction, Neyer makes a particular point of defining the difference between a blooper and a blunder. Bloopers, i.e. on-field, spur-of-the-moment mistakes, happen all the time, and while they make the game more interesting, there's not really any way to second-guess a blooper. They just happen, and if you could prevent them, you would do so. But blunders, pre-meditated, well-thought out decisions that somehow go horribly, horribly wrong, those make for some pretty good conversations, and a pretty interesting book.

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31 July 2006

Pending Pinstripes:Abreu and Lidle for…These are Prospects???

As dawn broke this morning, a stream of desperate electrons came coursing through the InterWeb, crying out for some understanding, a bit of calm in this tumultuous pre-trading deadline world:


So --- are we happy? Did we give up anybody we shouldn't have?
How do the Phillies see it? Do we care?

Me & my shadow

That was my Mom (and her weird cat). She's appropriately desperate to know whether yesterday's deal will go down in the annals of Yankee history as Ken Phelps for Jay Buhner (or worse yet, Fred McGriff and Mike Morgan for nobody of consequence) or David Cone for Mike Gordon, Jason Jarvis and Marty Janzen. My guess? More like the Cone deal than the Crime Dog's.

Lemme 'splain. No, is too much. Lemme summup:

Yesterday the Philadelphia Phillies traded RHP Cory Lidle and OF Bobby Abreu to the New York Yankees for minor league SS C.J. Henry, LHP Matt Smith, C Jesus Sanchez, and RHP Carlos Monasterios.

Cory Lidle's the easiest one of the group to describe: LAIM. He's a League-Average Innings Muncher, which, as I mentioned in a column I wrote last week, is an upgrade over the bottom two-fifths of the Yankee starting rotation this year, especially Jaret Wright, who can't often get past the fifth inning. Lidle theoretically gives the Yankees a guy who can take the ball every fifth day, give them something like six innings and change allowing four earned runs, and let their potent offense bludgeon the opposition into submission. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bobby Abreu has been one of the most underrated players in the major leagues for years, and consequently one of my favorite players. People started paying attention when he won the Home Run Derby at the 2005 All-Star Game, but his power numbers dropped off precipitously since then. He had hit 11 homers in May 2005, was named an NL Player of the Week as well as May 2005 NL Player of the Month and then won the aforementioned Home Run contest. He came into the All-Star Game with 18 homers and a .954 OPS, and things were looking pretty bright, but in the second half of the 2005 season, he hit only .260/.376/.411 with six home runs. Consequently, a lot of the blame for the Phillies' inability to close the gap on the Atlanta Braves or the Houston Astros in the Wild Card race was inappropriately laid on his broad shoulders.

This season, with Great Expectations again laid at the Phils' pheet, Abreu was expected to come up big, and through two months of the season, he was doing exactly that. He was hitting .273 /.446/.509, with seven homers, 14 doubles, 8 steals, 41 RBIs, 41 runs, and was leading the NL in OBP at the end of May. But since then he's hit only one homer (none since June 13th), his batting average has stalled at .277, and his OBP is about the same, but he's lost nearly 100 points on his slugging percentage, which is down to .434, not exactly the power expected from a "slugger" making $14 million. So the Phillies phront opphice had to do something to prevent continuing to pay someone who looks like he's in decline, and to whom they still owe about $4.5 million for this season and another $15 million for next year. What they did was trade him to the Yankee, who can afford to pay that salary on the chance that he bounces back and starts hitting homers again. Even if he doesn't, the Yankees got a darn good player. Let me show you:

           AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB  CS  BB   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
Player A 343 61 95 26 2 8 65 20 4 92 .277 .427 .434 .861
Player J 390 69 138 26 3 7 65 21 2 44 .354 .427 .490 .916

Almost eerily similar, aren't they? The biggest difference, of course, is that player A has 48 more walks and Player J has 43 more hits, but they come out dead-even in on-base percentage, which is only the most import statistic in baseball when it comes to scoring runs. They're both excellent base-stealers with doubles power who can hit an occasional homer. Before I reveal the identities of our two pals, let me add two more columns to the mix:

          Date of Birth   2006-07-08 Salary
Player A 11 March 1974 $44.6 million
Player J 26 June 1974 $65 million

Wow. That is a big difference.

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29 July 2006

DPD: MLB Trading Deadline Stuff, American League

The MLB Trading Deadline looms large for several teams today, both buyers and sellers. A quick run-down of the greatest needs for each team that has some shot at the playoffs, and what they're doint (or not doing) about them:

Boston Red Sox: 61-39, First place in AL East

Offense: The Red Sox have averaged over 5.5 runs per game this year, and their hitters are fairly healthy, so no real worries there. The closest thing to a weak link in their lineup is the two-headed Alex tandem at shortstop, Gonzalez and Cora, and they've combined to hit around .280/.330/.390, which is pretty good for a #9 hitter. Coco Crisp seems to still be struggling to regain his form after his early-season injury, with an OPS around 700, but the rest of the lineup is pretty solid.

Pitching: The starting pitching, after Schilling and Beckett, gets pretty thin, and for that matter, Beckett's been pretty inconsistent himself this year. The Sox sock for him, so he's got 13 wins despite his 4.77 ERA, and he's shown some disturbing tendencies this year. His ERA is 2.75 during day games but 5.66 at night, which is of course when most playoff games occur. He's got a 3.09 ERA at Fenway Park but 6.17 on the road. In any case, with Wakefield injured, they really need some help in the rotation, and they've gotten some from rookie Jon Lester (5-0, 3.04), but Kyle Snyder and others have not helped much. They're hoping for returns from matt Clement and/or David Wells, so they may not make a trade, but your guess is as good as anybody's on thier success after their injuries.

Trade Possibilities: What they really need is another reliable starting pitcher. Doesn't have to be Sandy Koufax, just someone who can keep them in the game for six innings so Manny can be Manny and Big Papi can drive him in. Now that the Tribe is just counting coo, maybe they'd be willing to part with paul Byrd?

New York Yankees 59-40, 1.5 behind Red Sox in AL East, leading Wild Card Race

Wow, what don't the Yankees need?

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28 July 2006

DPD: How a Love so Wright Can Turn Out To Be So Wrong

I was watching the Yankee game Wednesday night, but unfortunately for me, I got home a little later than I had planned, and tuned in during the sixth inning, which means that I turned the game on just about in time to see Yankee starter Jaret Wright get yanked from the game. Having seen Wright pitch a few times this season, and having never seen him escape the sixth inning, I began to wonder if he ever pitches more than six innings, and if not, why not? I started crunching some numbers, mostly from ESPN, but also from a few other websites, and then it occurred to me that there might be another source I might use to analyze this pitcher's contributions to the Yankees' efforts in 2006:

The Bee Gees.

The words that title this column were released by the Bee Gees thirty years ago, and as far as I can tell, the Brothers Gibb probably weren't thinking about the 2006 Yankees' pitching needs when they wrote and sang them. On the other hand, if people like Pat Robertson can take Jewish prophecies written 3,000 years ago and apply them to the United States in the 21st century, then it seems to me considerably less of a stretch to say that a disco love song written a mere 30 years ago might shed some light on the Yankees' pitching woes. Dammit.

The first thing we've got to do is get our spelling right, or rather, correct. Because the Yankees have a pitcher (and I use the term loosely) named Jaret Wright, so the Bee Gees must have been talking about him. Let's see if the words of this song can offer us anything...

She came on like the night and she held on tight

And the world was right when she made love to me

We were free

If the subject of the song is Jaret Wright, then really, it's a 'he', not a 'she', so we'll just figure that the Bee Gees were ahead of their time in using a female pronoun to describe someone who may or may not have been female.

While hopefully Jaret hasn't been making love to anyone in the Yankees front office, but the announcement of his signing did come at night, as the official news archive story on mlb.com shows 12:59PM as its posting time. And of course, with his history of injuries and only one "good" year since 1998, naturally he'd want to "hold on tight" to any contract he signed. And since he signed for three years and $21 million dollars on his birthday, I imagine that the "world was right" to him. What could be wrong on a day like that?

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25 July 2006

DPD: Hillenbrand-ed a Trouble-Maker

Shea Hillenbrand played his first game for the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, getting a hit in four at-bats and scoring a run to help the San Franciscos defeat the San Diegos, 4-3. He went only one-for-six on SUnday and the Giants lost, 6-5. Now hitting only .200 with zero RBIs as a Giant, he probably sat around sulking on Monday night because he didn't get to play. Of course, neither did the rest of the Giants, who didn't have a game scheduled, but that's beside the point.

Shea was traded by the Toronto Blue Jays last week, along with reliever Vinny Chulk, for 24-year old RHP Jeremy Accardo. The trade followed a week of "he said, she said" between Hillenbrand and Toronto Blue Jays' GM J.P. Ricciardi, not to mention peanut-gallery quotes from teammates of Hillenbrand on the Blue Jays, both for and against him.

In case you haven't already heard it, the story goes this way:

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24 July 2006

Pending Pinstripes: AA Trenton Thunder Team Report, 7/24/2006

Thirdbaseman Eric Duncan hit his third home run in two days tonight, so I guess he's finding his stroke. Duncan, the New York Yankees' #2 propect according to Baseball America, has missed some playing time this year due to injury, but leads the Thunder with a .938 OPS (minimum 150 plate appearances.) Due to the missed games, he has only 8 homers and 24 RBI to go with his respectable .286/.380/.558 averages, and he's shown impressive plate discipline this year, having walked 21 times but struck out only 18 times in 147 at-bats. By contrast, 1B Randy Ruiz, who leads "qualified" Thunder hitters with a .904 OPS, has 22 walks...and 87 strikeouts (!) in 308 at-bats. Ruiz does lead the team with 27 doubles, 51 RBIs and a .305 batting average, but with plate discipline like that, he's likely to crash and burn in AAA next year.

Other Trenton hitters of note:

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17 July 2006

DPD: Sweep Smell of Victory; Yanks Take Three From ChiSox

The New York Yankees sent a resounding message this weekend as they swept the defending World Champion Chicago White Sox in a three game series at Yankee Stadium: We're not out of anything yet.

Despite the decimation of the Yankees' roster by injuries and the general lack of quality starting pitching, the Bronx Bombers have made it very clear that they are quite capable of winning. Even with their starting left fielder, starting right fielder and starting second baseman on the disabled list, they managed to score 26 runs in the three game series. Even with a starting rotation that averages fewer than six innings per start, and a bullpen that's been showing signs of overuse in the last several weeks, they held the White Sox, who lead the majors in runs scored this season, to only 12 total runs. Three games are still only three games, but this weekend had to feel like a shot in the arm for just about everyone in that clubhouse.

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14 July 2006

Press Release and Yankees DVD Give-Away!!!

A&E Home Video has asked me to announce the impending release of a series of vintage World Series DVD sets, and as part of their promotion, they have given me five of these sets to give away to you!

New York Yankees Vintage World Series DVD Set Posted by Picasa

The first of these five sets will be given to visitor number 50,000, according to the counter on the right. So all you have to do, if you're visitor number 50,000, is take a screen shot and email it to me, along with your name and address. Also you have to send me $5 via Paypal to cover the shipping, within the continental US. (If nobody happens to send me a page with #50,000 exaclty, I'll take the closest number to that, not less than 49,999.)

The other four sets will probably go via some kind of obscure trivia contest, but I haven't decided yet. I'll be posting a review of the set itself as soon as I get a chance to watch it, so stay tuned for that as well. In the meantime, here's the press release:


‘43, ‘47, ‘49, ’50-‘53, ‘56, ‘58, ‘61, ‘62, ‘77, ‘78, ’96 & ’98-‘00

VINTAGE FILM COLLECTION: 1966, 1970 & 1983

VINTAGE FILM COLLECTION: 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 & 1988



VINTAGE FILM COLLECTION: 1972, 1973, 1974 & 1989

All Titles in this New Collection, Featuring the Finest Moments in Fall Classic History from Some of Baseball’s Most Storied Franchises, Will Be Available on July 25, 2006

NEW YORK, NY, July 2, 2006 -- A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball® present a new collection of DVDs featuring the finest moments in Fall Classic® history. Equally appealing to both the die-hard and casual fan, each set showcases the team’s World Championship seasons highlights, bringing together all of the greatest plays of the teams’ World Series wins. These new collections include, for the first time, all of the unique World Series® Films for each teams winning year since 1943. Eye-catching packaging and team-specific content has never before been assembled in such definitive anthologies. Remarkable, authentic, and charged with history and super stars, these official DVDs are attractive and affordable collectibles – the ultimate in sports memorabilia!

VINTAGE FILM COLLECTION: ‘43, ‘47, ‘49, ’50-‘53, ‘56, ‘58, ‘61, ‘62, ‘77, ‘78, ’96 & ’98-‘00

All the glory and timeless moments from 17 New York Yankees® World Series® Championships are digitally preserved on this one-of-a-kind, five-DVD collection featuring the finest moments and memories from 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999 & 2000. No other team in Major League Baseball history has had such an unparalleled record as the New York Yankees. In these remarkable 17 World Series films the legendary Bronx Bombers® create an unmatched championship legacy for the ages. The Fall Classic® films in this collection includes, the Yankees five titles in a row (1949-1953); dynasties with Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, and Reggie Jackson and the four titles in five season by Joe Torre and Derek Jeter.

VINTAGE FILM COLLECTION: 1966, 1970 & 1983

Spanning both three decades and three managers - Hank Bauer, Earl Weaver, and Joe Altobelli - the enduring, common trait of the Baltimore Orioles® success was stellar pitching, well-timed power, and peerless defense. The arrival of Frank Robinson in 1966 catapulted the Orioles to their first Fall Classic®. Baltimore’s pitchers dominated, holding the Los Angeles Dodgers® to just two runs – for the entire four-game World Series. Four Octobers later, the Birds power hitting and fielding were on display. The rally-ending defense of Brooks Robinson and the club’s 10 home runs in five games helped the O’s to a second Championship. In 1983, the familiar formula and a familiar face held an encore. The Orioles staff, including Jim Palmer who provided a bridge to the 1966 victors, stifled the Philadelphia Phillies® allowing only seven runs in the five games. All the glory and classic moments of these three Orioles World Series Championships are now digitally preserved on this official DVD.

VINTAGE FILM COLLECTION: 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 & 1988

The passion and excitement of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball was on full display in the first three Fall Classic® games in 1959. Each record-setting crowd at The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum swelled beyond 90,000, and a tradition of October Baseball in Los Angeles was born. In 1963, Sandy Koufax set the World Series strikeout record of fifteen in Game One. Again in 1965, pitching was supreme, but this time the Dodgers’ speed charged the offense as well. And, in the 1981 and 1988 World Series championships’ the team was fueled by the optimism of manager Tommy Lasorda. All the glory and classic moments of the Los Angeles Dodgers World Series Championships from 1959 to 1988 are digitally preserved in this one-of-a-kind two-disc DVD collection.


The champion Minnesota Twins® of 1987 and 1991 were recognized for their charisma and fun-loving personalities as much as their relentless, opportunistic style of play. The1987 World Series® was the first to be played indoors and the raucous Twins® fans did everything they could to blow the roof right off the Metrodome. Record-books will note this Fall Classic for Kent Hrbek’s Game 6 grand slam, while Twins fans will never forget the thunderous, homer-hanky waving crowds that propelled them to a record-setting four home victories. 1991 was even more remarkable. Considered to be one of, if not the greatest World Series, the Twins battled through seven extraordinary games. Kirby Puckett’s stellar Game 6 including his game-winning, 12th-inning home run was matched the next night by a game for the ages, as the Twins captured their second championship with a Game 7, 1-0, 10-inning victory from Jack Morris.


“The Catch” -- a magnificent moment in time when action, athletic genius, and history collide. This celebrated play of the 1954 World Series® created an iconic image and defined the competitive fire, excellence, and grace of the remarkable Willie Mays. Along with manager Leo “the Lip” Durocher, the electrifying Mays and the New York Giants® met the heavily favored Cleveland Indians® with their
American League® record 111 victories. Games One and Two took place on the hallowed Polo Grounds in northern Manhattan, while cavernous Cleveland Stadium was the site of the final two contests of the Fall Classic®. In addition to the stupefying defensive play by Mays off a prodigious blast by Cleveland’s Vic Wertz, Game One also featured the pinch-hit, game-ending home-run heroics
of James “Dusty” Rhodes. Stunned and defeated, the Indians could not overcome the stellar pitching and patient hitting of the Giants who swept all four games to claim the championship. All the glory and classic moments of the New York Giants 1954 World Series Championship are digitally preserved on this official DVD.

VINTAGE FILM COLLECTION: 1972, 1973, 1974 & 1989

This DVD features the official World Series® films of the A’s® World Championships from 1972, 1973, 1974, and 1989. Catfish Hunter’s pitching led the way in 1972 against the Reds when six of the seven games were decided by one run. The 1974 Fall Classic® versus the Dodgers® featured the hitting of Joe Rudi and Bert Campaneris, and pitcher Ken Holtzman’s timely home run that sealed the A’s third title in a row and place in history. Fifteen year later the A’s met the San Francisco Giants® in a historic World Series. After the A’s won the first two games, Game Three was delayed ten days by an earthquake that left sixty-seven people dead and rolled destruction across sections of the Bay Area. After much consideration, the World Series continued with Oakland sweeping all four games. All the glory and classic moments of the Oakland A’s World Series Championships from 1972 to 1989 are digitally preserved in this one-of-a-kind two-disc DVD collection.

A&E Home Video, part of the Consumer Products Division of A&E Television Networks (AETN) is a video distributor of non-theatrical programming, featuring collectible DVD editions of the high quality programming from A&E Network and The History Channel, as well as acquired classic programming. A&E Home Video brings the best of critically acclaimed entertainment presented in award-winning packaging to the special interest category. For more information about ordering these and other titles from the A&E Home Video Collection, call (212) 206-8600 (TRADE ONLY). Consumers please call 1-800-423-1212 (A&E). In addition to placing orders by phone, A&E Home Video products may be purchased over the World Wide Web at ShopAETV.com.

Major League Baseball Productions is the Emmy® award-winning television and video production division of Major League Baseball. With unparalleled access to the game and its players, Major League Baseball Productions produces original programming for growing audiences worldwide through its network specials, exclusive home videos, commercials and other specialty programming.

New Video Group Inc. is an entertainment, marketing, and sales company specializing in bringing classic television, feature films, quality children's programming, and documentaries to home video and DVD. Since 1993, the company has grown to become one of the leading non-studio DVD distributors, reaching retail, rental, direct to consumer, as well as library and educational markets. New Video is the exclusive marketer and distributor for A&E Home Video and the exclusive retail distributor for the Scholastic Video Collection, an acclaimed line of classic children's titles on DVD from Scholastic Entertainment. New Video also operates Docurama, a five-year-old home entertainment label dedicated exclusively to bringing critically acclaimed and cutting-edge documentary films to the home entertainment marketplace. Its youngest label, New Video NYC, brings to DVD an edgy, eclectic blend of indie gems and classic cult television. The New Video Group website is www.newvideo.com.

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DPD: It’s Official: Dusty’s Getting the Ax!

On Wednesday, Chicago Cubs' General Manager Jim Hendry was asked about the status of his field manager, Dusty Baker, for the 4,237th time. Since Monday. In typical Handry fashion, he denied not only that he's considering Dusty's fate, but he even went so far as to deny that he said he would be considering Dusty's fate.

This was because reports last week indicated that he would be doing exaclty that. According to the Associated Press and ESPN news sources, Hendry said:

"I'll spend a lot of time over the break not just with the way the situation is, but with your own players. I'll sit back and reflect on the first half,"

Forget for a moment that he manages to lapse not only tense (present and future) but also person (I/you) in that one sentence. Think about the fact that this really shouldn't be news at all. A General Manager of a baseball team, especially one whose team has played incredibly disappointing baseball for all of this season and most of the last one, is going to take a few days to think about things? Isn't that his job? He's supposed to be thinking about the team pretty much all the time, isn't he? Nobody writes a news story when a CEO goes to a board meeting to think about how to make more money for his company, so how do Jim Hendry's musings over the future of one of his employees qualify as news?

Another Hendry quote from the AP last week:

"You are getting ready to go into a month where you have to evaluate what you have. You want to give everyone a fair chance to succeed,"

Well, yeah, I suppose that's true. Granted, his comments are a little vague, but it would be tough to construct an argument saying that this quote in particular had anything to do with anyone other than Dusty Baker, right? You wouldn't say that the presence of, say, Greg Maddux or Todd Walker on the Cubs' roster isn't giving "everyone a fair chance to succeed" would you? No, I think that you would only say this about a manager, or a coach, perhaps, especially one who you think might be holding some players back.

So it seems therefore that it was fair of the reporters who interviewed Hendry last week to construe those comments as being about Dusty, and it was therefore fair of them to ask him about Dusty 4,329 times (it's been a few minutes since I wrote 4,237).

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07 July 2006

DPD: All-Star Game's Pleasant Surprises, National League Edition

Yesterday, after getting briefly off-track, I gave you a few of the more uplifting stories surrounding the 2006 MLB All-Star Game. I had intended to do only one such column, but golly, there were just so many of those stories in the American League alone that I was forced to do an entirely separate column on the National League. So, without further delay, here are some of the more notable positive stories for the Senior Circuit's team.

The NL Starting Infield

No shortage of positive and encouraging tales here. Three quarters of the National League's starters in the infield are making their All-Star debuts. Including...

David Wright, 3B, New York Mets
In truth, Wright is hitting almost exactly as well this year (.320/.390/.571) as he did last year (.306/.388/.523), though with a bit more power in 2006. The trouble, thoguh, is that the Hot Corner is a very deep position in the majors right now, and the 2005 NL team featured no fewer than four thirdbasemen (Aramis Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Miguel Cabrera and Morgan Ensberg, though technically Cabrera played a lot more left field than third base last season). In addition, Wright didn't really "turn it on" until the second half last year, hitting a respectable but non-Star-worthy .281/.369/.470 before the Break. This year, however, he's leading all NL thirdbasemen in homers and RBIs, and is a deserving starter in what should be the first of many All-Star games for the Mets star.

Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets
Another budding, perennial All-Star playing in the Mets' infield is Jose Reyes. Reyes leads the NL with 109 hits, and leads the major leagues with 73 runs scored, 12 triples and 37 steals. Reyes has long been heralded as a star, but hasd not had the health to prove his worth intil the last two seasons. He's gotten his batting average up to .299, but more importantly, he's walking more. Of course, he could hardly have walked less than he did last year, but he's already set a personal, single-season best with 30 this year, after walking only 27 times in 710 at-bats last year. He led the2005 NL with 60 steals, and this year he's on a pace for 72, which would be the most in the NL since 1999. His run-scoring pace of 142 would be the most since Sammy "Say it Ain't Steroids" Sosa scored 146 in 2001.

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