30 August 2004

Thank God for the Wild Card.

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

Anywho, the Wild Card.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the survey said...

1995-2003 Playoff Breakdown Posted by Hello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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22 August 2004

Cleveland Rocks!

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

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

Rapid Robert Posted by Hello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This guy:

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

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

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

More about Cleveland...

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

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

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

Jacobs Field Posted by Hello

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

Guitars Posted by Hello

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

Bethlehem mule Posted by Hello

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

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

Even if they lose, you win.

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10 August 2004

Edgar's Effort Stays in the Park

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

 Posted by Hello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rank Name                       Games    OPS+

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

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

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

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

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

...19 are already in the Hall of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Split-Personality Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Presley, uh-huh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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03 August 2004

A Tale of Two "Mil"s...

Let me introduce you to two pitchers:

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Millwood Posted by Hello

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

Compared to:

Eric Milton Posted by Hello

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

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

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

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

	 W  L

M1 11 2
M2 9 6

Oh. That's why.

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

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

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

Larry Bowa is snorting mad  Posted by Hello

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

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

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

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

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02 August 2004

Bad Spellers' Sad Lexicon

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

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

No-mah. Posted by Hello

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

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

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

Breaking this down into more easily comprehensible terms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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30 July 2004

Random Trading Deadline Notes...

Sorry for the long layoff.  I was on a mission trip with my church last week and was catching up on stuff this week. 

A few random thoughts and observations while wondering if anyone knows anything about where Randy Johnson might end up...

On the (lack of) Big Trades...
I think we may have gotten a little spoiled during the last few seasons, when a lot of good and/or overpaid players on bad teams all happened to be in the last years of their contracts.  The months of June and July in 2000 saw David Justice, Denny Neagle, Andy Ashby, Todd Walker, Esteban Loaiza, Glenallen Hill, Curt Schilling, Richie Sexson, Bob Wickman, Charles Johnson, Melvin Mora, B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Steve Trachsel, Rondell White, Henry Rodriguez, Mike Timlin and others.  The 2002 trading season saw Bartolo Colon, Jeff Weaver, Raul Mondesi, Cliff Floyd, Chuck Finley, Ray Durham, Terry Mulholland, Scott Rolen, Ismael Valdes, Tom Gordon, and Shawn Estes change sides, among others.  Last year, Ruben Sierra, Rickey Henderson, Ugueth Urbina, Carl Everett, Jeromy Burnitz, Shannon Stewart, Kenny Lofton, Jose Hernandez, Aramis Ramirez, Armando Benitez, Scott Williamson, Jose Guillen, Sidney Ponson, Aaron Boone, and Robin Ventura all finished the season wearing a different uniform from the one in which they started the season, to name a few notables.   

This year?  Kris Benson.  B-F-D. 

Don't get me wrong, he's not a bad pitcher, but if The Big Unit stays put, Steve Finley won't just be the biggest star traded in July 2004, he'll be the only one.  I don't know what this means, but hopefully it's an indication that General Managers aren't making as many silly mistakes as in the past, and therefore are not forced to trade players to cut salary if they're out of the race by late July.  Or it could just be coincidence, and next year we'll have another dozen or so "big name" players sent packing before the trading deadline. 

What's Wrong With the Yankees?

Well, in simple terms, they're hurt.  Their starting Firstbaseman, Jason Giambi, has an intestinal parasite so rare that weaker people die from it.  One of their starting pitchers, Kevin Brown, had the same parasite, and a strained back, and will start tonight (July 30) for the first time since June 9th.  Another starting pitcher, Mike Mussina, has missed more than three weeks with a sore elbow, and probably won't be back for at least three more.  Oh, and when Moose was healthy, he stunk.  Orlando Hernandez won't be doing any of his patented high leg-kicks for a while, having strained a hamstring Tuesday night.  Not many teams can afford to lose three starting pitchers, especially ones of the caliber of Mussina, Brown and El Duque, and still succeed over the course of the season. 

The Giambi parasite is certainly a drag on the offense, but the Yankees have six other all-Stars in the lineup and a decent bench to help pick up his slack, whereas the starting pitchers' injuries have been that much tougher to take because no onein the rotation is really doing all that well.  Javier Vasquez has 11 wins and was named to the AL All-Star team, but he also has an ERA over 4.00 and hasn't strung together more than three straight quality starts yet this year.  Jon Lieber's coming off Tommy John surgery and doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of, say, the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Devil Rays or Mariners, none of which is known for its offensive prowess and all of which have beaten him this year.  Hernandez's hamstring may be OK with some rest, but don't bet on his 2.37 ERA staying that low for long.  The Yanks really need Moose and Brown, two potential Hall-of-Famers, to come back healthy and pitch like potential Hall-of-Famers down the stretch and in the playoffs, if they want to keep playing deep into October.  Oh, and they need Randy Johnson, but that's looking increasingly like it's not gonna happen. 

What's Wrong With the Phillies?

The Phightin' Phils currently have a 52-50 record, which ties them with the reigning Champions of Ridiculously Good Luck, the Florida Marlins for second place in the NL East, 3.5 games behind the Braves.  If you look at the grid that shows the teams' records against each other, you can see that the Phillies have a .500 or better record against all but 4 teams, and are within one game of a .500 record against all but two teams. 

The Phils are 6-7 against the Braves, basically holding their own in those competitions, with six games left against Atlanta on the schedule, and they're 1-2 against Pittsburgh, with three home games in late September to which they can look forward.  Neither of those is a terrible problem, if the patterns continue.  The more concerning issue is their records against their other division rivals, the Mets, and especially the Marlins.  They're 5-8 against the Mets, with six more games to play against them, and 1-11(!) against Florida, with six more games.  One and eleven.  Ouch.  Those trends, if they continue, would mean that the Phillies would lose roughly nine of the twelve remaining games against those teams, including 6 out of 7 against Florida, pushing them 5  games behind the Marlins for second place in the NL East, regardless of what they do against the rest of the league.  So essentially, if the Phillies can't figure out a way to beat the Fish, they're done-for. 

They would have to out-play Florida by at least five games, out of the remaining 54 on the schedule, not including the 6-out-of-7 we're assuming they'll lose to Florida, just to finish even with the Marlins.  That would mean that if the Marlins only go a game over .500 in their remaining 53 games, which is not unreasonable to assume, the Phillies would have to go 33-21, winning over 60% of their remaining games, just to finish in a TIE with the Marlins for second place, with 85 wins, which likely will not be enough to win the Wild Card, much less the division.  And it's not as though the Phils' schedule is kind to them down the stretch.  More than half of their remaining games are against teams with .500 rtecords or better, and another 18 are against the Brewers, Reds, Pirates and Mets, none of whom will just roll over for Philadelphia.  The only bonafide patsies left on their schedule, Colorado and Montreal, total merely ten of their remaining 60 games.  The Marlins' schedule isn't easy either, but they do have ten games in which they can beat up on Montreal, plus another six against the Rockies and Diamondbacks (with or without Randy Johnson) combined.  And of course, history seems to indicate that the Phillies also become patsies when they play Florida.  I wonder why? 


Perhaps we'll never know... Posted by Hello

Speaking of Silly Things on Which to Spend $8 million...

Francisco Cordero?!

A two year, $8 million contract extension with an option for $6 million if he's still the closer in 2007. 

He's not terrible or anything, he's actually pretty good, but he also almost thirty years old, and has exactly one full, healthy season in his career with an ERA under 5.00.  Granted, he's done OK for himself this year as the Rangers' closer, saving 30 games in 32 opportunities, but last year he was just 15 for 25, blowing ten saves, and he's consistently walked a batter about every other inning or so throughout his career, including 2004.  What makes them think he won't go back to blowing saves next season, or even this season

If he's still an "effective" closer, I guess $4 million a season isn't a bad deal, but if it goes sour, it's deals like this one, (and Jay Powell's, and Jeff Zimmerman's and Chan Ho Park's and Rusty Greer's...), overvaluing a few good months, that has kept the Rangers from being competitive for so long, not the one they gave Alex Rodriguez. 


Well, here's hoping that something interesting happens to Randy Johnson over the weekend, so I'll have something to write about. 


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15 July 2004

Astros Rearrange Cargo on Titanic, Dump Dead Wood, Pick up Scrap Iron

Yesterday the Houston Astros, currently in fifth place in the 6-team NL Central, 10.5 games out of first place and 4.5 off the Wild-Card leading SF Giants, canned their manager, Jimy Williams. WIlliams had been with the Astros since the beginning of 2002, and had managed the team to consecutive second-place finishes, but was mired in struggle to stay above .500 this season, and lost some of his credibility for some of his managerial and public relations decisions.

A manager like Williams, whose trademark is his ability to relate to and teach young players, seems an odd fit for a veteran-heavy team like the 'Stros. For that matter, he seemed an odd fit for the veteran-heavy Boston Red Sox team he helmed for five years before he went to Houston, but he was good enough as long as they were winning. In Boston, too, you should recall, he lost his repoire with and the respect of the players and was eventually ousted in mid-August of 2001. Despite a 65-53 record at the time, they brought in Joe Kerrigan, who promptly ran the ship aground, plummeting the Sawx into a 17-23 spiral for the rest of the season.

Though Williams has only once manages an entire season and finished with a losing record(1997, before the Red Sox had any pitching), he has never finished better than second place in any full season he managed either. I don't know how much that means, exactly, since the five years he spent with the Red Sox happened to coincide with the Yankees' run of division titles and playoff appearances, and if the current divisional format were in place in the 1980's, his 96-66 record in 1987 would have won the AL East. But it's at least interesting to note that the Astros brought in a guy who had a history of underachieving and then fired him when he underachieved.

Williams' replacement, Phil Garner, doesn't fit the usual mold they use when replacing a manager. Typically, a feisty manager is replaced with a more low-key guy (Bobby Valentine out, Art Howe in), or a strict rules type is replaced by a laid-back, Go-Do-Your-Job type (Buck Showalter out, Joe Torre in), or a "players' manager" is replaced by more of a disciplinarian (Lou Piniella for Hal McRae). In this case, both Garner and Williams have the reputation of no-nonsense, down-to-earth, players' managers, except that one is six years younger than the other, and had a significant part of his playing career occur in Houston. Why that should matter, you've got me.

In the meantime, there are reasons for the Astros' disappointing season other than Williams' perceived failure(s). Andy Pettitte is collecting ten or eleven million dollars (half of it deferred) from the Astros this year, and has spent half of it on the DL. He's made only ten starts, and did not pitch more than six innings in any of them until July 9th. Wade Miller has been and is again injured, and will probably need rotator cuff surgery after the season, if not sooner. Tim Redding has been a study in contrast, putting up a 6.07 ERA(!) so far this year after the 3.68 he compiled in 2003, which led all qualified Houston pitchers and was 15th in the NL. Pete Munro and Brandon Duckworth are hardly picking up the slack.

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick wrote that Roy Oswalt has been a disappointment, but disappointment depends on expectations, does it not? Oswalt is only 8-7, but his 3.65 ERA is actually pretty good, and he's got 13 quality starts to his credit. The trouble is that the Astros have lost six of those 13 games, with either the hitters or the bullpen, or both, letting Oswalt down. After three seasons in which he had an aggregate 2.92 ERA, 3.65 may seem a little high, but lots of managers would love to have a guy as "disappointing" as Oswalt is right now.

Unfortunately, there are enough guys like Redding and Pettitte to offset the Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalts, making the team's pitching staff mediocre overall. The Starters are mediocre, the bullpen's mediocre, that's just the way it's been. Now, if some of that is due to injuries and those injuries subside, or if Tim Redding figures out what's wrong with him, then the pitchers are right back on track.

Sadly though, the hitting is also mediocre. The Astros rank 8th in runs scored in the 16-tema NL, and 9th in ERA. Jeff Bagweel may be a Hall of Famer, but right now he's hitting .268, with fewer homers, fewer RBI and a lower OPS than Casey Blake. Morgan Ensberg, the darling of fantasy players everywhere last season with 25 homers in under 400 at-bats, needs to call Pat Robertson to join the 700-Club, because his OPS won't get him there. Craig Biggio's been decent, but Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus have been, well...Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus, so they're not much help either, on offense, anyway. Richard Hidalgo stank up the joint before getting taded to the Mets, where he somehow suddenly remembered how to hit like he did in 2000, a supposed breakout performance that got him a couple of points in the MVP voting (would have been more if the Astros hadn't finished in 4th place that year) and his likeness on the cover of BP 2001.

As I mentioned, however, he's now doing that for the Mets, so that's not helping either. The recently acquired Carlos Beltran is quite talented, but he can't do it alone, and Scrap Iron can't go out there and score more runs for them, so they either need Bagwell and his pals to start hitting like they're capable of hitting, and for the pitchers to get and stay healthy and effective, or they'll be lucky to finish the season with the .500 record they have now, much less winning the division.

This Astros team, it seems to me, has had a history of chewing up managers and spitting them out, scapegoating whomever is convenient, in spite of any evidence that failure wasn't their fault. Art Howe managed the team from 1989-1993, taking them from being a decent, 86-win, 3rd place team to a 97 loss team and back to third place in those five years.

That tumultuous ride ended after Howe had guided them back to respectability, and they brought in Terry Collins. Collins had never managed in the majors previously, but had the Astros in a near-tie for the NL-Central division when the strike hit in 1994, and he guided the team to second place finishes in 1995 and '96 as well.

Collins was replaced in 1997 by Larry Dierker, long-time pitcher and broadcaster for the Astros, but also new to managing, who led the Houston franchise to four division titles in five years. (The one blemish on his record was 2000, when the pitching all fell apart and the Astros had the worst ERA in the NL, the first time since 1993, when Colorado joined the NL, that a team that was trying to win finished below the Rockies in ERA. Florida had done it in 1998, but that hardly counts.)

The knock on Dierker, though, was that he somehow couldn't get it done in the clutch, because the Astros were eliminated in the NLDS all four of those years. Of course, nobody bothers to mention that three of those four times, the Astros had to face the Atlanta Braves' pitching, which has beaten a lot of teams in the playoffs over the past decade or so. So Dierker was ousted as well, with "Non-Clutch" stamped on his forehead and a "Kick Me" sign placed on his back by the players. Brad Ausmus and Bagwell and Biggio and probably others all had detrimental things to say about Dierker before and after he left, but the numbers speak for themselves, and his .553 career winning percentage in over 800 games should have said more than his 2-12 record in fourteen games spread out over 5 years.

They've scored 396 runs and allowed 379, so their record is right where it should be, according to Pythagoras, at least. The Astros aren't losing games they ought to win, they're losing games they were expected to win. Once again, the manager is taken out and shot to set an example, and to appease players who aren't doing their jobs well, and to scapegoat a front office that's spending millions of dollars on aging, underproductive players who need to win now, while they still have a career.

For his part, I have a hard time imagining that Garner will make much of a difference. He's never finished higher than 2nd place either, and that was 12 years ago, his only season above .500. Of course, he had to manage the Brewers and the Tigers before, so it's hard to blame him. Nevertheless, if the Astros don't at least win the Wild Card (the division, 10.5 games away, is clearly out of reach), blame him is exactly what they're likely to do. But should they? Since the inception of the three-division, Wild-Card format, only four of the 18 Wild-Card winners were as many as 4.5 games out at the All-Star Break, which is exactly where the Astros currently sit:

Year	AL WC      GB	NL WC     GB

1995 Yankees 7.5 Rockies 0
1996 Orioles 3.0 Dodgers 0
1997 Yankees 0 Marlins 0
1998 Red Sox 0 Cubs 3.0
1999 Red Sox 0 Mets 0
2000 Mariners 0 Mets 0
2001 Athletics 7.0 Cardinals 5.5
2002 Angels 0 Giants 2.0
2003 Red Sox 0 Marlins 4.5

Most of those teams that actually won the WC were already either leading the Wild Card race or theor own division at the Break, and it took tremendous second-half runs by the 2001 A's, the 1995 Yankees and the 2001 Cardinals to get into the playoffs. With that said, the Astros have all the elements in place for such a run: Underperforming talent, first-half injuries, and a new manager, all of which played into one or more of those second-half surges that got those teams into the playoffs.

If nothing more, it will be interesting to watch what happens.

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14 July 2004

Observations and Thoughts on the 2004 All-Star Game

Once a year, the best baseball players in the world get together and stage an exhibition to demonstrate the talent and skill and determination that makes them the best in the world. In no other sport is the All-Star game as real, as true-to-form as it is in baseball.

*In professional hockey, the goalies may be the best in the league, but they're not accustomed to facing five of the best players in the league simultaneously, and no one bothers to play defense much. This means that you regularly get NHL All-Star scores like 14-9, or 11-8, whereas regular season hockey game scores rarely venture into positive numbers.

*In professional basketball, the players are all too busy working on their rap record deals and trying not to get cappes by Allen Iverson's posse to bother playing defense, so we regularly see at least 250 points scored in the NBA All-Star Game, and that's just by the high-school kids!

*In professional football, the players don't even wear pads, and they're not even allowed to play defense, so that scoreboard usually gets a workout as well. Last year's Pro-Bowl saw a combined 107 points scored, a Pro-Bowl record.

Of course, this almost pales in comparison to my own Pro-Bowl accomplishments in 1993 Tecmo Super Bowl. That Super Nintendo game was set up to allow the user to choose the rosters for the pro bowl, as well as the starters and the play book. So I set up the AFC roster to consist entirely of injured and/or really poor players, and their playbook to consist of easily detectable running plays and very complicated passing plays (double backs, handoffs, etc.) This allows me to regularly run up the score on the AFC with my fully stocked NFC roster, and scores like 110-0, or 126-3 are not uncommon. It's a nice way to relax. In fact, it's a bad game if I score fewer than 100 points, allow any points to the AFC, if the AFC actually completes a pass or has more than negative 50 yards in total offense. Hey, I don't like losing.

But I digress.

Baseball is different. Baseball requires players to still throw the ball with the same force or spin or lack of spin they miht otherwise use in a real game. There just isn't much of any way to "pretend" to throw 95 mph, or to swing half-assed in order not to hurt yourself. You've still got to slide to avoid the tag, and you've still got to jump to catch that ball at the top of the wall, so baseball's greatest exhibition game has always carried with it a little more authority and intrigue than those of the other major American sports.

With that said, we lost a little something two years ago when the game ended in a tie, due to the AL and NL managers treating the game like an exhibition rather than a serious contest for bragging rights. For 2003, they came up with the "This Time It Counts" slogan, and senseless though it may be, made home-field advantage for the World Series contingent upon winning the All-Star game. Lots of good it did the Yankees last year. The All-Star game needed something to make it more intriguing, since we've lost the league-loyalty that used to be the hallmark of this competition. No fewer than nine of the 60 players on the two All-Star rosters were in the opposite league last season, and Carlos Beltran was in the other one this year! Twenty two of them, over one third, had played for the opposite league at some point in their careers, so you just can't see the game as the "Us against Them" kind of cnflict they'd like you to perceive.

So like I said, they came up with "This Time it Counts" for 2003, and last night, the sidelines said "This One Counts". It strikes me that at this rate, pretty soon they're going to start running out of phrases that include "count" in them to bill the game. I understand from sources close to actually existing, that some of the options they're exploring for next year are:

"This Time It Counts...Unless You're Eric Gagne!"

"Don't Count Your All-Star Game Victories Before They're Hatched!"  Posted by Hello

"Vun! Vun beaut-i-vul All-Star Game!! Ahh-Ah-Ah-AHHH!!"

They're also considering the possibility of simply re-using previous years' slogans with "...Bitch!" added to the end, but my sources are a little sketchy on that.

Otherwise, to my eyes, two years and a new system to add meaning to the game later, the managers don't seem to be managing much differently. The 2002 game saw all 30 players form both teams get into the game at some point. Last year's game saw 26 players from each team getting into the game, and last night, 28 players from each team made it into the record books. So aside from perhaps saving one pitcher or position player for an emergency (read: embarassing situation), it still looks a hell of a lot like an exhibition to me.

It was, however, one hell of an exhibition. The Greatest All-Star Outfield in History, Bonds-Griffey-Sosa, didn't even play together, as Griffey was (surprise!) injured. Bonds, Sosa, and Griffey-replacement Lance Berkman went a combined 1-for-6 with a walk and an RBI, leaving four men on base. Real exciting.

Well, for the American League, it was pretty exciting. Joe Torre may have managed it like an exhibition, but he also managed it to win, and he did, aided significantly by homers from Manny Ramirez, All-Star MVP Alfonso Soriano, and David Ortiz, whose 6th-inning shot landed in the JuiceBox upper deck. The AL also hit two triples, both by Rodriguezes (Ivan and Alex) who used to play for Texas, in which Houston lies. Talk about conspiracies!

Yes, let's talk about conspiracies, or rather the lack thereof.

So Roger Clemens started the game for the NL, with his supposed nemesis Mike Piazza as his batterymate. Clemens promptly gave up two homers and six runs in the first inning, something he's never done before in his "Hall of Fame twenty-one career" as Bud Selig so eloquently put it in the fourth inning ceremony in which Clemens was awarded the Commissioner's Award for Broadcast Excellence or for getting 1600 on the SATs or whatever the heck it was.

Theories I've heard about why this might have happened:

1) Piazza was tipping Clemens' pitches to get back at Roger for throwing baseball equipment at him four years ago.

I'd like to think that nobody could hold a grudge that long, but I've seen enough mafia movies to know it's not true. Any semblance of intelligence on Piazza's part will dictate to him that "home field advantage" won't mean a whole lot to him as he watches the World Series from his couch, so what does he care which league gets it? However, there were enough cameras, microphones and other recording equipment on that field last night that you could have heard Mike Piazza fart as he squatted behind the plate, if he had done so. It certainly would have been easily detectable if he'd been telling the batters what pitch was coming. So the Crash Davis Theory crashes and burns.

b) Clemens was tipping his own pitches, trying to let the AL win, thinking that he might be traded to an AL team going to the postseason before the season's over.

This is pretty ridiculous. If we know anything about Clemens after his "21-career", it's that the dude hates to lose. Hates it. Besides this, he doesn't expect to be traded, and the Astros don't really need to trade him, since he's only making about five million this year, and a lot of that is deferred. He doesn't have much control over the team to which he would be traded, and besides, I'm not sure Clemens is smart enough to come up with something like that. If he had, this would be the only possible Conspiracy Theory that might hold water: the Conspiracy of One.

iii) "That freakin' jerk Clemens got what he deserved! Fate caught up with him and he paid the piper for what he did to Mike Piazza, who is at least a Class Act, and probably a saint!!"

Admittedly, this theory came predominantly from Mets fans on WFAN radio out of New York, and therefore has about as much credibility and deserves as much discussion as, say, the Mets.

IV) Clemens was out partying til 2:30AM the night before the game and somehow couldn't get his fastball over 91 mph, so he had to rely on his breaking stuff, and he got rocked.

At least this theory doesn't have some dastardly scheme behind it. Just a guy who was out too late partying and couldn't perform at work the next day. Of course, the time at which he needed to perform was nearly 20 hours later, so you can safely presume, I think, that Clemens found time for rest at some point before he went on for the first pitch at, what, 8:30PM?

Certainly this theory seems more plausible than any of the others floated thus far, but the reality is that we still don't know everything there is to know about baseball. Sure, we know some things, especially when it comes to looking at the entire season: We know the Yankees will make the postseason, and that they'll pick up a notable player or two in July to help them do it. We know the Red Sox will choke, though we don't always know when. We know Ken Griffey will get hurt. We know Barry Bonds will walk. A lot. We know Alex Sanchez won't.

But we certainly don't know what's going to happen in any single game. There's still drama and suspense. That's why we watch it, right, because we don't know what's going to happen? If we did, they could just computer simulate the entire season, and we could all save a lot of money on baseball tickets. And I'd lost all my advertisers, which would suck.

It may be true that Roger Clemens had never previously given up six runs in the first inning of any game in his major league career, but in fact he has had worse games. Retrosheet tells us that Clemens has given up nine runs in a game six times, eight runs in a game ten times, seven runs 18 times, through 2003. He's even given up six runs in an inning on more than one occasion (as recently as last August and as long ago as 1987). He's given up two homers in a game over 60 times, and I know that at least a few of those occurred with multiple dingers in an inning.

So ultimately, there's a lot more evidence to suggest that this was a fluke than anything else. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Or if they try to, at least don't let them convince you that Piazza is actually descended from Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ.

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08 July 2004

Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank Ron Gardenhire, I'm Free at Last!

Through most of last season, everybody's favorite ridiculously prolific baseball blogger, Aaron Gleeman, had a sidebar on his website, exhorting Minnesota Twins management to "Free Johan Santana" as well as Bobby Kielty. In response (no, not really) the Twins proceeded to

A) Trade Bobby Kielty to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart, a player almost as good as Kielty, making $6 million, instead of, say, half a mil. At least he's "free" now. And playing for Billy Beane in Oakland, where he's currently hitting .221. I guess Aaron's not always right. Welcome to the club.

2) Allow Santana to start consecutive games on June 7th and 13th, during which he pitched 13 innings, allowing five hits, two walks and and two runs, striking out 14 in winning both starts...so they returned him to the bullpen, where he would languish until July 11th. At this point they made him a starter full-time, and after ironing out some of his wrinkles in July, he pitched an August to remember, and won MLB's Pitcher of the Month Honors for his efforts:

 IP    H  ER  BB  SO  W-L  ERA

42.0 30 5 10 44 5-0 1.07

Santana wasn't quite that good in Spepember of 2003, but he clearly emerged as the Twins' best starting pitcher down the stretch, even to the point that he started Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees. Thankfully and arm injury stopped him, cuz Lord knows the Yanks couldn't.

Well, Santana might have been even better this June, though Mark Mulder actually won that award this time. Frankly, I'm not sure how they justified that:

June 2004

Mulder 46.0 41 14 14 33 4-0 2.74
Santana 37.2 21 10 6 46 4-1 2.39

Well, maybe I can see it. Mulder made one more start than Santana in June, due to the way their schedules happened to fall, and pitched just as well in it as he had in the other five. Santana's first start in June was only OK, so even if Mulder wasn't as dominant as Santana, he was at least as effective, probably more so.

But since his second start in June, Santana has easily been the best pitcher in baseball:

6 47 23 8 5 6 64 5 1 1.53 0.62

Take a look at those numbers again. Less than a hit every other inning. More than ten strikeouts for every walk. Over twelve strikeouts per nine innings. Barely one and a half earned runs per nine innings! And that one loss? An eight-inning, two run, 12-K effort in which the Twins scored only once against Jon Garland and his ruby slippers. Can't really blame that one on Santana, y'know?

It's not as though this has come out of nowhere. As I mentioned, the dude was the AL Pitcher of the Month last August, and he's doing pretty well this year overall: leading the AL in strikeouts (125), 2nd in opponent batting average, 13th overall in ERA and 9th in innings. His lackluster 7-5 record is more an indication of his teammates' inneptitude with their bats when he pitches than his own quality as a pitcher: They've scored a combined total of eight runs in four of his five losses, not exactly picking up his slack.

In any case, he's been damn good for the last month or so. And when I say "damn good" I mean "peak-Sandy Koufax" good. What if you could project Santanas numbers for the last month across the same amount of starts and innings Koufax pitched in 1966, his best and last season? That year, Koufax won 27 games and the Cy Young Award, leading the NL in virtually every imagineable pitching category, and then retired. Well, Santana's been better, at least for this month. A lower ERA, fewer hits AND walks, a lot more strikeouts, and would win more games, again, assuming 41 starts and about 320 innings for the season, which will never happen again, sadly.

But how good was he really? Sure he shut out the Royals on Tuesday night, but so did Brad Radke. And so did Kyle Lohse, with a 4.71 ERA for the season. So did Mark Mulder, who's a great pitcher. So did Zach Day, who's not. So did Jason Johnson and two relievers, who had a combined ERA over 5.00 at the time. So apparnetly it's not that difficult to do, as only Montreal (12 times!) and Seattle (8) have been shut out more often this season.

Speaking of which, it turns out that Montreal was among the teams that Santana faced in the last month. Montreal's got the worst offense in the majors, averaging fewer than 3.4 runs per game. He also faced the New York Mets, ranked #22 out of 30 teams in runs per game, with 4.5, and the Brewers, twice, who score 4.4 runs per game on average, good for 24th place, in addition to Kansas City (4.15 runs/game, #28). The only team Santana faced in that stretch with any kind of decent offense was the White Sox, who rank 4th in MLB with 5.5 runs per game. As I mentioned earlier, they beat him, but only scored two runs in the process.

So how good was Santana really? Well, on average, these teams might have been expected to score about 23 runs in his 47 innings of work over the last month, whereas they actually only scored eight, so Santana saved about 15 runs, even though he did so against mostly pretty terrible offensive teams. I guess that's pretty good after all.

But don't be too surprised if he comes back to earth a little in the next few months. Of the remaining 79 games on the Twins' scheduly, only 12 of them are against teams in the bottom half of the league in run scoring. Fifty seven of those games are against teams in the top ten in the majors in run-scoring (Texas, the Yankees, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Baltimore), and another ten games are against Anaheim (12th) and Oakland 13th). So the Twins, and Johan Santana, have their work cut out for them.

But hey, at least the man's got his freedom.

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06 July 2004

Observations and Projections from the (Approximate) Halfway Mark...

As most of the teams in the majors are currently right around 80 or 81 games played, this seems as good a time as any to take stock in the season to this point, if only because the math is easiest.

This is how the season would end, if todays standings are played out over 162 games, which of course, will almost definitely not happen:

American League						

East W L Pct GB RS RA
 NY Yankees 103 59 0.638 - 903 792
 Boston 87 75 0.538 16 863 770
 Tampa Bay 80 82 0.494 23 722 800
 Baltimore 73 89 0.450 30 844 901
 Toronto 71 91 0.439 32 717 761
Central W L Pct GB RS RA
 Minnesota 88 74 0.543 - 754 778
 Chi White Sox 87 75 0.538 1 910 768
 Cleveland 78 84 0.481 10 892 882
 Detroit 74 88 0.457 14 870 866
 Kansas City 59 103 0.363 29 689 909

West W L Pct GB RS RA
 Texas 93 69 0.575 - 921 790
 Oakland 93 69 0.575 - 812 715
 Anaheim 84 78 0.519 9 798 768
 Seattle 65 97 0.400 28 652 759

National League
East W L Pct GB RS RA
 Philadelphia 88 74 0.543 - 868 786
 NY Mets 82 80 0.506 6 718 690
 Florida 82 80 0.506 6 689 714
 Atlanta 81 81 0.500 7 759 721
 Montreal 56 106 0.346 32 560 754

Central W L Pct GB RS RA
 St. Louis 99 63 0.610 - 851 672
 Chi Cubs 91 71 0.561 8 765 636
 Cincinnati 87 75 0.537 12 761 848
 Milwaukee 85 77 0.525 14 715 719
 Houston 83 79 0.512 16 747 699
 Pittsburgh 75 87 0.463 24 747 780

West W L Pct GB RS RA
 San Diego 89 73 0.549 - 709 658
 San Francisco 88 74 0.542 1 812 802
 Los Angeles 87 75 0.538 2 705 691
 Colorado 64 98 0.395 25 868 998
 Arizona 58 104 0.361 31 710 898

Things to notice:

Wins and Runs:

...Only the New York Yankees are on a pace for 100 wins or more, though St. Louis is currently paced for 99, so that could easily change. The last time a seaosn ended with no team winning 100 games was 2000, when the Giants led everybody with 97 wins, but the Yankees got the wins in October, when they counted, to bring home their 26th and (hopefully not) last World Championship. Interestingly enough, that was also the last time no team lost 100 games. The Phillies and Cubs both lost 97 that year. Call it Parity, Mediocrity, I'm not sure what it means, but it's interesting.

...Three teams, Montreal, Arizona and Kansas City, are on a pace to lose 100 games or more. All three teams had winning records in 2003, were in the hunt for at least a Wild Card berth through some significant portion of the season, and KC and 'Zona both fostered some aspirations to make the playoffs this season. Ain't gonna happen.

So what happened? KC and the Expos both did it with smoke and mirrors last year, actually getting outscored over the course of the season despite their winning records. Montreal lost its two best players (Vlad and Vasquez) and didn't do much to replace them in the short term. Carl Everett, the main guy they expected to help pick up some of Guererro's slack, has two homers and eight runs scored through half of the season, most of which he has missed with injuries. Orlando Cabrera, Tony Batista and Brad Wilkerson are all hitting about .230, and the team is on a pace to score fewer runs than the Tigers or Dodgers did last season.

Kansas City failed to recognize Lady Luck when she bit them in the collective ass. They added the players they could afford, instead of the players they needed, and most of them have been inneffective, injured or both, and many of the starters who helped them win a little in 2003 have either gotten hurt or come back to earth. On the plus side, Scott Sullivan is having a decent year, as always, and might net them another half-decent prospect if they can dump him on some contender who actually needs dependable middle relief.

The Diamondbacks traded away Curt Schilling over the winter, and didn't get much to replace his innings, but fortunately Randy Johnson has returned to form. Brandon Webb had pitched decently, though gotten no run support, and no other pitcher who has started a game has an ERA under 4.50. If you throw out Shane Reynolds' 2-inning start and one run allowed, no other starter has an ERA under 5.13. And the bullpen has been almost as bad. Time to start the fire sale in Scottsdale!

...Nobody is on a pace to score more than 921 runs (Texas, in spite of losing Alex Rodriguez over the winter). So much for having seven All-Stars in the lineup (Yankees) or the sequel to the Boston Dirt-Dogs that was supposed to be even better.

...Tampa Bay only has to go 30-51 over their last 81 games to set a franchise record for wins. Of course, that record would only be 70 wins, but they stand a pretty good chance of doing that. You gotta start somewhere.

...Colorado is perilously close to allowing 1000 runs for the season, currwently on a pace for 998. The last time a team allowed 1000 runs was 1999 when (surprise!) Colorado did it. The last non-Colorado team to achieve this dubiouss honor was the 1996 Detroit Tigers, who allowed a 20th Century record 1103 runs. Colorado and Detroit are the only teams since the offense-inflated 1930's to allow 1000 runs in a season. [Church Lady Voice:]Well isn't thas special?

...Montreal's "offense" is on a pace to score 560 runs, which would (I think) be the fewest in a full season since the 1992 LA Dodgers (532). Those Dodgers had one (count 'em: 1) player with more than six home runs. Eric Karros hit 20...with a .257 average and 103 strikeouts. Nobody drove in or scored 90 runs. These Expos aren't quite that bad...but give them a chance!

Playoff Picture:

...San Diego could go worst-to-first, and take the NL West by a game over the Giants. The Giants and Dodgers are both playing a little better than what you'd expect based on their runs scored/allowed ratios, so the Padres may pull away from the pack more as the season wears on and the Law of Averages catches up with the competition...but it wouldn't hurt to pick up an outfielder who can hit, y'know?

...In the NL, the Chicago Cubs are currently on a pace to win the Wild Card, and they would play the Padres in the first round while the Cardinals play the Phillies.

...In the AL, there would be a tie in the West between the Rangers and Athletics...for an exciting, 1-game winner-take-all bout...except that the loser takes the Wild Card anyway, so it really doesn't matter much.

...The AL Central is currently led by the Twins, but the White Sox have actually played better, and could overtake them by year end, especially if Freddy Garcia pitches as he is capable of pitching.

...Currently half of the teams that would make the playoffs (Cardinals, Padres, Phillies and Rangers) were not in the playoffs in 2003, and of those, only the Cards were in them in 2002. If Chicago takes the AL Central, that would be 5 of 8 non-repeat teams. It's becoming increasingly difficult to take Bud Selig's contention that the same teams make it to the playoffs every season, or that only teams with the highest payrolls make it (only four of the eight teams that are currently slated to make the playoffs are in the top ten in payroll.)

...The Yankees, Athletics, Cubs and Twins are the repeaters on the list, and the Twins are likely not to be there at the end of the year, though it would be their third straight season in the playoffs. (Contract THIS!) It would be Oakland's fifth straight year in the playoffs, and the Yankees' tenth (or eleventh, if you want to give them credit for winning their division in the strike-shortened 1994 season...but you probably don't, Yankee-hater!).

...Boston ain't gonna make it. Sorry. Oh, wait. No I'm not.

Damn Lies and Statistics (hitters):

...Phillies' firstbaseman Jim Thome is on a pace to hit 53 homers, the only player in MLB who is tracking to hit more than 50. Scott Rolen leads all hitters in both leagues with 80 RBI right now, which would give him about 160 for the year. Yeah, he was worth Placido Polanco and Bud Smith.

...Texas SS Michael Young is on a pace ofr 242 hits, which would be the most since Ichiro broke into the league in 2001, and the ninth highest total in history. Sorry, I don't see that happening.

...Tampa Bay out-maker, er...sorry, outfielder Carl Crawford is on a pace to steal 77 bases, which would be the highest total since Marquis Grissom had 78 in 1992.

**Barry Bonds is on a pace to walk 239 times! Did you read that? Two Hundred and thirty nine times!!!!! If he does that...

...he would (probably) have more walks than anyone else in baseball had hits!

...He would shatter his own record of 198 walks in a season.

...By contrast, it took Garret Anderson, who is widely gonsidered a pretty good hitter, ten years to amass 239 walks.

...Bonds would also break his own record for single-season OPS (currently 1.400, his own record is 1.387).

...The .618 OBP he currently sports would demolish his own single season on-base percentage record (.582) set in 2002.

...Sadly, his .781 slugging percentage would only be fifth on the all-time single season list, behind Himself, Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth, and Himself. Oh, and ahead of Babe Ruth. Pretty select company, if I do say so Himself.

Damn Lies and Statistics (pitchers):

...Will the real Kenny Rogers please stand up?

Kenny Rogers is on a pace to win 24 games.

His previous best was 17, back in 1995, and he might become the oldest player to win 20 for the first time in his career, I think, for whatever that's worth. Even if he stinks up the joint next season, they seem to have gotten their $6 million worth. In any case, the Rangers hafta be happy with that gamble. (Get it, Kenny Rogers? Gamble? Ha!) About seven other pitchers are also within striking distance of 20 wins.

...Cincinatti reliever Danny Graves is on a pace to save 61 games. This won't happen. The record is 57, and nobody else has ever had more than 55, so I don't see 61 happening, especially since Graves hasn't really been that good, allowing a home run about every five innings, and not striking many batters out. If he starts walking people again, that pace will slow down soon. His next save will tie his career high (32). Four other pitchers are on a pace for at least 50 saves.

...Devil rays starter Victor Zambrano is on a pace to allow 152 walks this year, which would make it consecutive seasons leading the AL in that undesirable category, and would also be the highest single season total since 1991, when Randy Johnson allowed as many for the Seattle Mariners. Somehow I don't see five Cy Young Awards in Zambrano's future...

...Baltimore starting (and immediately ending) pitcher Sidney Pnson is on a pace to allow 306 hits, which would be the highest total since 1979 when Phil Niekro allowed 311. Of course, Niekro is in the Hall of Fame, while Ponson, at least these days, is usually in the hall on the way to the showers. It's doubtful that he'll get a chance to be this bad over the second half of the season, as he's also on a pace to lose 24 games, and I imagine that the Orioles' front office would just assume that the Detroit Tigers keep the honor of having hosted the last 20 game loser in the majors. Nobody else is on a pace to lose 20 this year, since Hideo Nomo, his 8.06 ERA and his "inflamed" (read: LOUSY) shoulder are on the DL right now.


Well that's it. Obviously, a lot can happen over the next three months, but it's always fun to wonder "what if?" Well, unless you're Sidney Ponson.

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