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.

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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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