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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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