21 June 2004

Generational Gap

On Sunday, Cincinatti Reds centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. finally hit the 500th home run of his career, ending a quest that sometimes felt like he had hit #499 on the day he entered th majors at age 19, and we had to wait 15 years for closure. Actually, I think it was only about a week. Griffey is now the 20th member of the 500-home run club, which I think means that he now gets the Grand-Slam Breakfast for half price at Denny's ("Welcome to Denny's! Pictures on the menu: Actual Size.")

It also means that virtually any of the silly arguments you may have heard over Griffey's last few, injury-riddled seasons, that he is somehow not a Hall of Famer, now go officially down the toilet. I argued almost a year ago that Griffey belongs in the Hall, but now the National Media Bandwagon has caught up with those of us who have a little more sense, since Griffey's reached an official milestone. Jayson Stark, Rob Neyer, John "I Ain't an Athlete, Lady...and I Ain't a Writer, Either!" Kruk and others have already chimed in on the issue, as well as presumably dozens of other local writers. Monday morning, in their commentary on the subject, ESPN's morning show guys, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, were attempting to do the impossible:

Establish an argument for Ken Griffey Jr, and NOT Barry Bonds, as the Greatest Player of My Generation.

I don't exaclty know how to define "my generation", and Roger Daltrey won't return my calls, so I'm going to try this from a couple of angles.

Clearly, Bonds is five years older than Griffey, has more service time, and has not had the same injury problems over the last few years, so I don't think any reasonable baseball fan or writer would actually attempt to make the argument that Griffey is somehow more valuable over the course of his career than Bonds has been. So there's gotta be another way to compare them. There are, as I see it, only three possibilities for fairly comparing Griffey to Bonds.

1) Look at only those seasons that overlap for both players, by age. This would be their age 21-34 seasons, with the caveat that Griffey's not done with his age 34 season.

B) Look at only the number of seasons for which you have stats for both players. This would be their first 16 years each, again acknowledging that we'll have to do something about the unfinished 2004 season for Griffey.

iii) Look at their accomplishments through their last mutual full season by age, and count Griffey's first two years, as he should get snaps for making it to the majors at age 19.

Within option B, the question arises as to whether or not you give Griffey some kind of credit for all the time he missed with freaky injuries from 2001-2003. You can project out his numbers from 2000, (.271, 40 homers, 118 RBI) for those and pretend he was healthy and consistent. Or you can project what he actually did when he played in those seasons out to a full season, sort of pretending the variations in performance caused by his injury would not have gotten him benched or something. This still averages out to 35 homers and 95 RBI, with a ~600 at-bat season.

Frankly, I'm not very comfortable with either of these. Nobody, in any kind of official way, gives Ted Williams or Willie Mays or Whitey Ford credit for service time lost during wars. Nobody cuts Joe DiMaggio a whole lot of slack for all of his injuries. Nobody ever tries to argue that Sandy Koufax was the greatest pitcher of the late sixties and early seventies, because despite his talent, Koufax didn't actually pitch in the late sixties and early seventies. So if nothing else, the Greatest Player of a Generation must at least PLAY, right? I mean, you know, more than say, Gary Matthews, Jr.

So we can't really give him credit for stuff he didn't do, but to be nice, we'll give him credit for stuff he might do, at least this season. If Griffey stays healthy, and that's a big IF, he's on a pace for 45 homers and 127 RBI. If we add this year's projections onto his actual career numbers through last season, and use the age First 16 seasons' stats for both players, we get:

Jr. 2067 7647 1370 2228 417 36 526 1511 1029 1380 179 66 .291 .381 .562 .942
Bonds 2296 7932 1713 2313 483 71 567 1542 1724 1282 484 138 .292 .422 .585 1.007
diff 229 285 343 85 66 35 41 31 695 -98 305 72 nil .041 .023 .065

In their first 16 seasons in the majors, Bonds amassed more raw numbers than Griffey in every category but one: strikeouts. Junior struck out nearly 100 more times, in almost 300 fewer at-bats, playing in 229 fewer games. The two players' batting averages are nearly identical, but Bonds walked almost 700 more times, and therefore has a considerable advantage in on-base percentage and a slightly less pronounced one in slugging. He did get caught stealing 72 more times, but also succeeded over three hundred more times, at a slightly better success rate than Griffey, so Bonds gets a big edge there. Bonds has more homers, more doubles, over twice as many triples, a handful more hits and RBI, and a LOT more runs.

Runs and RBI, which are largely situational in nature, have to be taken with a grain of salt. Bonds spent the first four seasons of his career as essentially a leadoff or #2 hitter, so naturally he scored a few more runs and garnered a few less (there's got to be something grammatically wrong with that phrase) RBI in those years. Nevertheless, Barry still comes out slightly ahead of Griffey, even with a bunch of RBI he hasn't actually driven in yet this year. I just don't see how Mike&Mike can make this argument, especially considering that the first five years or so of Bonds' career were spent in the late 1980s and early 90s, before offensive numbers started exploding in the mid 1990s.

So what about their respective accomplishments through Griffey's current age? After all, by his sixteenth full season, Barry Bonds was 36, and Griffey's only 34 right now. On the other hand though, Bonds entered the majors two years older than Griffey did, so Junior's got a big head start on him there. This is a credit to him, as he was brought up with only a little experience in A and AA, and none in AAA, but made an impact immediatley. Griffey was hitting .300, with power and speed, in the major leagues at an age when Bonds had still been terrorizing the Pac Ten. Bonds didn't hit .300 in a full season in the majors until he was 26! So we can't just ignore Griffey's first two seasons, but we won't exactly be comparing apples to apples if we don't, or will we?

If you discount Griffey's first two seasons (which you shouldn't really do, as I mentioned), once again, Bonds comes out WAY ahead in virtually every category, except a handful of RBI and homers, the reasons for which we have already covered. So I won't bother to run that table again here. But I will show you what they actually have both done through the age of 33, the last season they've both completed, healthy or not.

Jr. 1914 7079 1271 2080 382 36 481 1384 940 1256 177 66 .294 .379 .562 .941 144
Bonds 1898 6621 1364 1917 403 63 411 1216 1357 1050 445 130 .290 .414 .556 .970 164
diff -16 -458 93 -163 21 27 -70 -168 417 -206 268 64 .004 .035 -.006 .029 20

This table I find particularly interesting. Despite Griffey's 2-year head start, he missed enough playing time with injuries from 2001-2003 to allow Bonds to catch up, so to speak. The two players end up with nearly the same numbers of games played and plate appearances by the ends of their age 33 seasons. (That disparity in at-bats is essentially offset by Bonds' penchant for walking.)

In this comparison, Griffey's still got more homers and RBI, which seems (as we've said) to be attributable to the era in which Bonds' first few seasons were played and his position in the lineup. Griffey has considerably more hits than Bonds, but given Bonds' HUGE edge in walks, he still got on base more often, for a not-insignificant 35-point edge in OBP. As a rough overall measure, the adjusted OPS (the last column) clearly shows that Bonds' adjusted OPS was 64% better than his league average for this span, while Griffey's was "only" 44% better. Big edge to Barry, once again.

And the argument only goes downhill from there for Griffey supporters. You see, if you're going to compare these two players against each other to determine which was the best of this generation, you'll have to wait until both of their careers have ended, and neither has. I know because Daltrey called me back.

Bonds has the extremely unusual advantage of having gotten better, a LOT better, after his 34th birthday. Bonds had managed to hit over 230 homers since he turned 35, in less than five full seasons, winning three more MVP awards and setting all kinds of records in the process. That's more than Don Mattingly had in his whole career. You think Griffey's going to follow that path? Granted, Junior's a special player and everything, certainly, if healthy, capable of being a productive player for a few more years, maybe even a lot more years, but he'll have to become better than he was when he was in his mid-to-late 20's, in his physical prime, for about another five seasons, to even have a prayer of being as good as Barry has been to this point.

Ken Griffey Jr., as good as he is right now, is going to have to kick it up a notch or ten to win this title. Better get going, Junior!

The clock is ticking...

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16 June 2004

Quien Es Mas Catcher-o?

Not too long ago, Mike Piazza broke the all-time record for career home runs by a catcher, when he hit #352 in May. That homer surpassed Carlton Fisk's mark, which he set a decade or more ago, but which took him about 800 more games to do than Piazza, so clearly Piazza's the superior hitter of the two. For that matter, Piazza is easily the greatest hitting catcher ever, by virtually any measure you can conjure.

Piazza polarizes baseball fans. Lots of purists, old-schoolers especially, think that a catcher must catch, first, and any offense you get out of him is secondary, gravy, as it were. This is why Moe Berg and Bill Bergen had careers. For that matter, this is why Brad Ausmus and Mike Matheny have careers.

Seamheads like me will tell you that you can't possibly do enough with the glove, regardless of your position, to make up for being a terrible hitter, and that likewise an average hitter can't do enough defensively to catch up to the overall value of a great hitter.

Rob Neyer argued that the ten best catchers were, all things considered, in order:

                      Games  Caught  OPS+
1. Johnny Bench 2158 1742 127
2. Yogi Berra 2120 1699 126
3. Carlton Fisk 2499 2226 116
4. Bill Dickey 1789 1708 128
5. Gabby Hartnett 1990 1793 126
6. Roy Campanella 1215 1183 123
7. Mike Piazza 1493 1404 156
8. Mickey Cochrane 1482 1451 127
9. Gary Carter 2296 2056 116
10. Ivan Rodriguez 1652 1590 113

You can see fairly easily that one of these guys stands out significantly, and it's Piazza. He's essentially twice as good a hitter as anyone else on the list, as his 56% above the adjusted league average OPS is double Bill Dickey's 28%. No, I'm not saying that Piazza is worth two Bill Dickeys, but I am saying that he's a much better hitter than any of these other guys, and it's not even close.

The question Neyer wrestled with was whether or not Piazza's defensive liabilities take away enough from his hitting to knock him all the way down to #7 on the all-time list.

Rob would have been happy to take Fisk down a peg or two, and Piazza up a peg or two, if he were inclined to investigate the matter more, which he wasn't at the time. Subsequent responses to emails from his readers dealt more with the lack of Josh Gibson on the list (no, I don't know where he belongs either, but would be interested to hear arguments about him one way or the other) and the difficulty of comparing offense across leagues and eras. Nobody, apparently, wrote in to rally for Piazza's ranking to be higher, and evidently lots of people think that I-Rod belongs a lot higher, if not at the very top. I don't happen to be one of those, or at least I wasn't before I did a little research.

I had planned to try to give Mike Piazza a little more support than he seems to have gotten, and to support Neyer's contention that I-Rod is overrated, but now I'm not so sure. Let me tell you what I did and you can tell me if I'm all wet, OK?

I used Baseball Prospectus DT Cards for the ten players on the list (Josh Gibson is omitted from the discussion, of course). I used their WARP3 numbers, which stands for Wins Above Replacement Position, and includes hitting, pitching and fielding contributions, adjusted for all time. I then (roughly, I admit) prorated those ten players' numbers for the games in their careers they actually caught(GAC). This isn't perfect, but it assures us that players like Yogi don't get extra credit for prolonging their careers by playing the outfield.

I then divided the wins into the games as catcher, and prorated this over 162 games, to level the playing field and to get the numbers into a useful range. And do you know what I found? Of course you don't, or you wouldn't still be reading.

Name                WARP GAC WARP/162 GAC
10. Ivan Rodriguez 95 1565 9.83
7. Mike Piazza 80 1383 9.37
8. Mickey Cochrane 82 1451 9.16
4. Bill Dickey 96 1708 9.11
1. Johnny Bench 95 1743 8.83
6. Roy Campanella 63 1183 8.63
9. Gary Carter 107 2056 8.43
2. Yogi Berra 88 1699 8.39
5. Gabby Hartnett 87 1793 7.86
3. Carlton Fisk 100 2226 7.28

I found that Gary Carter was the greatest catcher of all time! Well, not really. I found that the Kid did in fact amass the most WARP (107) as a catcher in his career, thanks largely to its length, with Fisk not far behind.

But I also found, much to my dismay, that Ivan Rodriguez may very well be the best catcher ever. I don't even like Ivan Rodriguez. I think he's overrated, both on offense and defense, and arrogant and self-absorbed. But if Baseball Prospectus is right about him, then "pound for pound" as they say on boxing, his 95 WARP as a catcher in "only" 1565 games makes his rate of wins/season higher than anyone else. By a decent margin, too. Almost half a win per full season.

Piazza comes in second, with 80 WARP in fewer than 1400 games, followed by Cochrane, Dickey and then Bench all the way down at #5! Campanella and Carter follow, and then Berra at #8. (As a Yankee fan, I had hoped that Berra would do better, but what can you do?) Hartnett and Fisk round out the top ten.

I don't really know if this means anything or not, but from looking at the DT cards, I can see how Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez gain so much ground. Piazza's offense, which Neyer seemed to sort of glaze over, is SO much better than anyone else's that he can't help but jump way up in the rankings. He's got about 200 fewer equivalent runs (EQR) than Bench, but Bench needed about 2000 more outs to amass those! As a fielder, Bench was as good as Piazza is bad, with +155 fielding runs above average vs. negative 111 for Piazza. This helps Bench, but you just can't make up for such a tremendous difference in offense with your glove, I think.

This is the same reason that Rico Brogna wasn't as good a firstbaseman as Jason Giambi, or that Pokey Reese is not as good a secondbaseman as Alfonso Soriano. Granted, there's a lot more to the defensive requirements at catcher than there is at first base, but if the methods Baseball Prospectus uses to measure defense and offense are at all reliable, then, we've got to take the numbers seriously, and the numbers say that Piazza has thus far been worth approximately 15 fewer wins than Bench for his career, which includes almost 400 fewer games as a catcher. If Piazza can catch another 250-300 games, which is possible but not a foregone conclusion for a 35-year old catcher, and continue to produce at a similar rate, he can catch Bench in career WARP, again, in fewer games. Remember, again, that this is taking into account total contributions, with the glove and the bat.

I-Rod isn't quite as good a hitter as Bench was, but his defense (amazingly, to me) actually rates better! He's +203 fielding runs above average, in almost 200 fewer games than the First Pudge. Rodriguez has had six seasons of at least +20 Fielding RAA, whereas Bench had only two, at exactly 20, and his overall defensive numbers are hurt by the fact that he was a bad firstbaseman, a bad thirdbaseman and a bad outfielder, but even factoring that out probably doesn't give hime more than a win or two over the course of his career.

And don't forget: Pudge and Piazza are still amassing stats this season, and their competition on this list is not. Piazza's currently hitting .340/.412/.610 with eight homers as a catcher this season, basically splitting time between catcher and 1B.

Rodriguez is hitting .357/.386/.527, also with eight homers as a catcher, and presumably still making the highlight reels with his defense occasionally. I don't think he'll necessarily finish the season hitting .361 with 120 RBI, but clearly he's not as close to slowing down as we would have thought by his August-September slump last year or his rash of injuries from 2000-2002. His defense does appear to have dropped off a bit. Even though things like fielding percentage, Zone Rating, Range Factor and the like are all as good as ever, he's not catching base stealers as much as he used to, with only 5 CS in 18 attempts off him, that 28% caught-stealing rate is beneathe the AL average of 32%, probably for the first time in his career. But he set the bar pretty high for himself in that area, and still does enough with the bat to keep padding his record for a while, especially since he's still only 32 years old.

Like I said, I don't even like Rodriguez. I did this hoping to prove that Mike Piazza'a offense makes him the Greatest Catcher Ever, despite his defense, but it didn't happen. I found what I found, and even though I didn't necessarily like the result, I've got to be honest with you about it.

Now please, someone, tell me why I'm wrong.

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15 June 2004

Are the Reds for Real?

How the heck are the Reds doing it?

The team is currently 14th in the majors in runs scored, 5th in the National League. The team’s OPS ranks 16th in MLB, and is tied for 7th in the Senior Circuit. So it must be the pitching, right?

Wrong. The Reds’ pitching is even worse than their hitting. The team ERA is 16th in the majors, and 13th in the NL, which means that only San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado are worse right now, and Colorado is always at the bottom of this list. So after playing 56 games, and only scoring four more runs than they’ve allowed all season, how in the world are the Reds standing atop the NL Central with a 34-22 record?

You guessed it: Luck.

The Reds have played way over their heads so far this year, getting timely hits and clutch relief pitching exactly when they needed it almost every time. Their #16 ranking in total OPS jumps way up to No. 4 with runners on base, meaning that they’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits and walks with runners on base, which has helped them score runs. That kind of disparity, from No. 4 to No. 16, doesn’t usually last all season. There’s no such thing as a predictably “clutch" hitter, especially a clutch team. Eventually they’ll come back toward the average, missing a few much-needed hits, and end up being just a decent offensive team.

Meanwhile, the starters have been only decent overall, and outside of Paul Wilson’s 7-0 record and 3.18 ERA, they’ve been mediocre at best. The bullpen’s not spectacular, but it’s been better than the starters, with a 3.86 ERA 27 saves and 15 wins, which both lead the majors. Eventually that bullpen will give up a few homers, blow a few saves, and lose a few games, and when they do, the Reds will go back to struggling for .500. The Reds’ main competition, St. Louis and Houston, both have similar or better bullpens and much better starters. They just haven’t gotten the kind of luck from which Cincinnati has benefited all season. In addition, both the Astros and the Cardinals have better offense than the Reds, whose offensive success depends on Ken “I think I Pulled Something” Griffey staying off the DL, a 40-year old Barry Larkin staying both healthy and productive, and Sean Casey continuing to hit 200 points above his career OPS.

Don’t hold your breath.

See what the other Outsiders think...

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14 June 2004

Jocks for Justice?

I received an email from Peter Dreier, a professor of political science at Occidental College in L.A. on Friday. Professor Dreier alerted me to an article he co-authored with Kelly Candaele, brother of erstwhile Expo, Astro and Indian utilityman Casey Candaele. The article, he said,

"...celebrates the athletes, including baseball players, with the courage to speak out on important social and political issues and suggests why there are fewer outspoken athletes today than in the past. We also take a few whacks at the MLBPA."

I suggest you read the article first, or the rest of this post won't make a lot of sense to you. After I read the article, my response to Professor Dreier included the following:


Glad you found my website somehow. Thanks for
alerting me to this.

[...personal stuff, irrelevant, deleted...]

Regarding the article, I generally shy away from this kind of stuff myself, as I don't really believe that any of my readers comes to Boy of Summer to hear me
pontificate on politics or religion either, though occasionally I do lapse into the latter a bit, at least in terms of discussion of not actual preaching.

Though I see your point that athletes could and perhaps should be more vocal about social justice issues and the like, I don't see all the backlash to which you refer. You offer very few concrete examples of the media specifically criticizing an athlete's stance on an issue, though you do offer a few of an athlete's peers (David Robinson) or sponsors (Nike) doing so. You give passing reference to hearsay from a third party, like the professor on the Tiger Woods issue, but don't name any of the ones who actually perform the "crucifixion."

You mention the disparity between players who don't want to get involved in politics and owners who always seem to be, but you seem to glaze over the fact that the owners are also doing what is in their own material best interests: chumming up to the politicians who can serve them in their causes, for new stadiums or lower taxes or whatever. They're only activists for themselves, just like everyone else, for the most part.

I certainly agree with you that athletes have much more to lose, and considerably little to gain, at least materially, for voicing their opinions. This is certainly an enormous factor in the decrease in political and social activism among athletes, if this
does truly exist. However, I think that at least a portion of this perceived tendency is that athletes are gaining an understanding that the General Public, the ones who ultimately pay their salaries AND their endorsements, just don't want to hear it.

It is one thing for Adonal Foyle to start a grassroots organization with a website where people can go to find out what to do to help, or for Schoenke to organize a contingent of friends to support a presidential campaign. These athletes are doing what they believe is right and good, as is their right, and the people they're affecting are expecting what they get. They've signed up for it.

It is another ball of wax entirely for someone to wear a tee-shirt decrying the war on a nationally televised event or for an athlete to criticize the President in
a post-game interview (a hypothetical example). We tune in to these events to be informed about sports and entertained by its performers, not to hear/see
political rhetoric. Nobody's denying these people their first amendment right to speak their minds. We'd just prefer if they'd use their camera time appropriately, to entertain, as they're being paid to do.

If they want to do something to help a less fortunate group (like Piazza did for the food service union after the Strike), more power to them. Wealthy athletes should use their positions to help the less fortunate, and most of them do, but they shouldn't be
required to do it, by the media, their teammates, or their employers.

If I want to know what Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or anyone else thinks about an issue, I can probably find out by doing a little research on Google or writing a fan letter or something like that. I can listen to talk radio or read activist websites and get my fill of information to make a decision. I don't want to find out after the sports highlights on the evening news. It just doesn't belong there.

I feel for anyone who can't make up his own mind about an issue without consulting Steve Nash on it first, and I fear for anyone who's decisions are made in such manner.

As you've certainly detected by now, I tend not to agree with most of what your website preaches, and therefore will not be linking the article, at least not without something like this attached to it. I do try to focus on the baseball and only the baseball,
whenever possible.

Thanks again though. I am interested in your response, if any.


Much to my surprise, Dreier did not just write me off, choosing instead to continue the conversation:

> Travis,
> Thanks for the quick response to the "Jocks for Justice" piece.
[...more personal stuff...trust me, you don't care...]
> I enjoy your website. There are probably more
> baseball-oriented websites and blogs than political ones.
> I don't want anyone REQUIRING athletes to do anything but play ball. But I admire
> athletes who choose to speak out about social injustice. I don't mean athletes that
> shoot from the hip. I mean ones like Foyle who are well-informed.
> Many pro athletes come from poor backgrounds and are
> now (at least for a few years) making a lot of
> dough. They shouldn't be required to "give back" to
> society, but it would be nice if they -- as well as
> athletes from middle-class backgrounds -- did so.
> Lots of them to charity work, as we indicate. But we
> want athletes to do more than charity work, but to
> engage in the democratic process. Some, like
> Bradley, even run for office. Others, like Foyle,
> help educate people about what they can do to
> improve our political and social conditions. Whether
> we like it or not, athletes are role models and
> celebrities. They can use their status to enrich
> themselves or to help improve society (or both).
> We'd like the players' associations to do more, too.
> We hoped our article would trigger a discussion
> about these issues, regardless if readers agreed
> with us. So your email was a good example of what
> we'd like to see occur -- a public discussion about
> these issues.
> Peter Dreier

And so I decided to link him and his article after all, to see what my half-dozen or so readers might have to say about the issue.

Any thoughts?

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09 June 2004

Book Review - New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957

The Perfect Game. The Tape Measure Home Run. The Catch. Integration. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

You know the events. Now read the stories behind them.

The latest offering from noted author and historian Harvey Frommer, a reprinting of
New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957, (Paperback, University of Wisconsin Press, $19.95) does not disappoint. The original was published in 1980, with a reprinting and a new afterward in 1992. This edition has a new forward by Monte Irvin, but otherwise does not appear to include anything that the 1992 edition didn’t. But that’s OK. It’s got plenty.

The time period that Frommer and many other baseball historians call the Last Golden Era, 1947-1957, at least for New York baseball, saw the Yankees, Dodgers or Giants capture 17 of 22 possible pennants (9 by the Yankees) and nine of 11 World Series titles (7 by the Yankees). More than half of the MVP awards given in that span went to players from New York teams. It was truly a dominant time for the City That Never Sleeps, and Harvey Frommer does a great job of recounting the era. He discusses the teams myriad successes and few failures, the histories of each of the three NY teams, their rivalries, and the eventual move by the Giants and Dodgers out to the West Coast All of this Frommer carefully places within the framework of living and working, growing up and growing old in the booming, post-World War II era that allowed this country, and indeed New York City itself, to experience some of the most significant growth, socially, economically and otherwise, it has ever seen.

Frommer’s penchant for writing about history and his ability to get stories about history’s figures, often from the figures themselves, both serve him well in this book. One of the best aspects of his work is the numerous first-hand accounts of the happenings inside clubhouses and on trains, the little anecdotes that make our heroes human, but that we often do not hear about until they have passed. New York City Baseball is no exception to this rule, chocked full of these stories, which can be equally as poignant to the young fan who never saw Willie or Mickey or Duke play as to the older fan who spent his childhood arguing which of those was the greatest. Those of us who never got to hear Red Barber or Mel Allen call a game can appreciate their involvement in this time as much as someone who grew up with his ear glued to the radio, listening for a “How about that?”

Frommer’s style, the simple, straightforward prose that clarifies without embellishing, that gives the story without trying to impress you with his vocabulary, makes you feel almost as if you could see and hear these old-timers sitting across your kitchen table from you, telling their own stories over a cup of Joe.

Speaking of Joe, some of the greatest players in history either rose to stardom in this time or called it their heyday: DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Rizutto, Ford, Mays, Snider, Campanella, Hodges, Furillo, Monte Irvin, Johnny Antonelli, Sal Maglie, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dons Newcombe and Drysdale, Gils Hodges and MacDougald, Pee Wee Reese, and of course, Jackie Robinson, all saw prominence and success in this time, and Frommer has stories for each of them.

I have only two minor qualms with this book. The first is that it’s a little pricey for a ~200 page paperback that’s been around in some form for nearly a quarter of a century. I guess that’s inflation. But, as you probably know, the book can be had for much less than that on BestBookBuys.com, so it’s not really a problem.

The other issue is that the book seems a little dated at times. I know, that’s kind of a silly criticism for a book that purports to be about an era that occurred nearly five decades ago, but it’s true. Since the book was originally written in 1980, Frommer mentions in passing things like how Phil Rizutto calls Yankee games on WPIX TV, and Mel Allen hosts This Week in Baseball. Even the afterward, mentioning that erstwhile Yankees infielder Dr. Bobby Brown is now the president of the American League, seems a bit stale now, four years after the offices of the league presidents were dissolved, and a decade after Brown stepped down from a position that no longer exists. It’s by no means awful or anything like that, but it would have been nice to have something new from Frommer himself for this edition, don’t you think? Heck, Jim Bouton’s up to Ball Sixteen or something like that, isn’t he?

Ultimately, though, this book isn’t about something new. It’s about several things old, old and wonderful, at least for fans of New York baseball, which I am. We need books like this one, and writers like Harvey Frommer, to remind us that baseball isn’t just about statistics and dollars. It’s about people. Some of the greatest of these are now gone forever, but at least they left some of their memories with Harvey before they left.

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07 June 2004

Should the Yanks regret the A-Rod-for-Soriano trade?

Like the Run Down question I do approximately every week, this is a conversation I had over email with Brandon Rosage, who runs Baseball Outsider.com, a fans' perspective website with some pretty cool content in its own right. The original appeared here.

Should the Yanks regret the A-Rod-for-Soriano trade?

Travis Nelson: Absolutely not. The Yankees (and more accurately Aaron Boone) should regret the injury that necessitated the A-Rod for Soriano trade, but they should in no way regret the trade itself. As great as Soriano is, he's always going to be limited by his inability to take a pitch (or rather, to take four of them out of the strike zone). He's two years older than we used to think, and he's about to get very expensive.

Alex Rodriguez is, of course, already very expensive, but he's better than Soriano is, and the Yankees have what amounts to a bargain for his contract after getting Texas to pick up over 40 percent of A-Rod's remaining salary. It's been worked out that the Yankees are actually paying A-Rod less, on average, than five other players on their own team (Jeter, Sheffield, Brown, Giambi, and Mussina). What's to regret?

Brandon Rosage: From a business standpoint, a trade for A-Rod is golden. Alex Rodriguez in pinstripes draws fans and unparalleled interest, not to mention a can't-lose situation at third base.

But looking at the Yankees as a team (which is rarely done these days), I can't help but notice that, with the continued distraction of repeated superstar additions, the club doesn't function well. The best Yankee teams, and the best winning teams anywhere for that matter, had home-grown, time-tested chemistry that put together wins on the field -- not just on paper.

Sure, with eight All-Stars on the field, the Yankees have virtually guaranteed that their work on paper will translate into wins on the field. But the Yankee teams that have neglected to win rings in the past three years have lacked that team chemistry and proven ability to get business done on-the-field.

I'm not so sure Rodriguez fixes this situation. He's a quick fix. Granted, he's a bargain and a sure thing. But all that gurantees is a productive third baseman. Scrapping together nine productive players in February doesn't ensure your franchise will be a productive team.

Travis Nelson: With all due respect, I think that "Team Chemistry" may be the most overrated commodity in all of major league baseball, excepting perhaps "Momentum" or "Joe Morgan's Analytical Skills."

A quick perusal of the annual league champions on BaseballReference.com shows that winners aren't always guys that get along great. The Oakland Athletics that won three straight championships in the early 1970s? The late '70s "Bronx Zoo"? Did those guys win because they all hung out at the bars together at night after games and had picnics in each others' backyards? The 1989 World Series Champion Oakland A's, with McGuire, Rickey, Canseco, Eckersley, Dave Parker, Dave Stewart and others, might have been the biggest collection of eccentrics and egotists to call themselves a major league baseball team since...well, the 1988 Athletics, who also had Don Baylor in the mix, but won the American League anyway.

Baseball teams win on two things: talent, and luck, in that order. If you've got enough talent, you don't need luck. You can pummel the competition and if a few things don't fall into place, you still come out ahead in the long run. The Yankees have had and continue to have the talent to not just compete, but to succeed in the regular season. Chemistry is bred by winning, not the other way around. If your team's doing well, it's easier to let your teammates' annoying little habits roll off your back. When you're losing, everything irritates you. Having a good relationship with the guy who sits next to you on the bus or in the locker room in no way will help you to know how to hit Pedro Martinez's change-up or Randy Johnson's slider. Having talent will.

Consider this: If there had been no strike in 1994-95, and if the current three-division format had been in place in 1993, the Yankees would be working a post-season streak of eleven straight seasons, and I can tell you from having followed them for the last decade that this clubhouse has not always provided a sanctuary of fun and respite for every player. Through Darryl Strawberry's, Dwight Gooden's and Steve Howe's drug issues, Paul O'Neill's tantrums, Jack McDowell's finger, Luis Polonia's statutory rape, Ruben Rivera's theft, Ruben Sierra's selfishness, Danny Tartabull's brooding, Raul Mondesi's sulking, Chuck Knoblauch's brain-cramps, David Wells' bar fights, and Denny Neagle, Terry Mulholland, Hideki Irabu, Kenny Rogers, and Jeff Weaver just plain sucking, these Yankees have continued to win and win big in the regular season. Why? Because they have talent, not chemistry. And if they don't, then they can go pick some up, like you and I pick up eggs or beer when we realize we're running low.

The post season, on the other hand, is largely a craps-shoot. If you get in, you've got about a 1-in-8 chance of winning, since eight teams make it every year. The Yanks have won four championships in nine attempts, which is more than pretty damn good. This is where luck comes in, and in a short series, the team that plays well and gets a few breaks, not necessarily the best team, will win it all. The Yankees of the last three seasons have not failed to win championships because they didn't "click" as a team, they've failed because they didn't "hit" or "pitch" or "field" as well as their opponents did, for a week's worth of games. That's not chemistry. It's misfortune. Bad luck, plain and simple.

You can't blame A-Rod or any of the other new players the Yankees picked up this year on their last three seasons' misfortune. (Incidentally, I'm sure that lots of teams would love to have the kind of "misfortune" the Yankees have had this decade.) For one thing, they just got here. For another, they currently have the best record in baseball, leading the majors in runs scored, with all those new acquisitions helping the Yankees to function better as a team than any other in MLB, with the most productive lineup. And A-Rod, leading the team in hits, homers, steals and total bases, has been a big part of that. Soriano, in the meantime, has only six homers and eleven walks, and seems to have stopped stealing bases, which used to help compensate for the other limitations in his game. The numbers he has right now project out to look a lot like what Rich Aurilia has done the last two years. Do you think anyone would be pondering the success of this trade if it had been A-Rod for Aurilia? Me neither.

Like I said, what's to regret?

Brandon Rosage: I'd be stupid to argue that the Yankees can't win with a mixed bag of All-Stars. As you point out, the Yankees have been to all but one World Series in the 21st century. But the reason they haven't won those series is the fundamental difference between the great Yankee teams and today's Yankees team: chemistry.

There have been great teams with a$$h01es up and down their lineup that have won it all. But what separates the good clubs from the greatest is team chemistry. It's an overused word, I agree. But in the case of the Bronx Bombers, its a point of interest.

I also agree that winning a championship most often requires luck. Just ask the 2002 Anaheim Angels. But nothing defeats luck better than a team with great chemistry. If the Yankees, or any team for that matter, had the chemistry and trusted success that the late '90s Yankees had, luck wouldn't be an issue. And if luck isn't issue, your club is better than all the rest.

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04 June 2004

Storybook Ending

Let me ask you something.

If you could have your choice of the end result of a particular baseball game, what would it be? If the gods came down and said, "Listen [your name here], I know you're going to this game tonight, and you've never been to this stadium, and probably won't ever come again. How would you like the game to turn out?" ...you'd ask for a win for the home team, right? Assuming, of course that it does not otherwise much matter to you who wins, just that the environment would be fun and memorable, the first thing you'd ask for is victory.

But what if you could script out the whole game? What if you had every possible option at your disposal? If you could make virtually every aspect of this game turn out practically any way you want it, how would it go?

Well, since you asked, I'll tell you: It would go exactly like the San Francisco Giants / Colorado Rockies game went last Friday night.

Sold out stadium with a beautiful view of the San Francisco bay? No problem.

Forty thousand screaming fans? Done.

Free hat? Uh-huh.

Dramatic, come-from-behind, victory for the home team? Yep.

Bottom of the ninth inning, two-out, full-count, walk off home run? Got one of those too.

Oh, and just for good measure, it was hit by Superman.

My wife and I were out in SF visiting a couple of friends who moved out there last year, and they made the mistake of asking me if there was anything in particular I'd like to do while we're out here, just for this 5-day weekend. "Gosh," I thought to myself, "what would I like to do?" As you might imagine, it took all of about a nanosecond for Self to smack me in the head and yell, "Go see a ballgame, dummy!"

So Self and my wife and our two friends and I got tickets to see the Giants-Rockies game Friday night. Personally, it would not have mattered a whole lot to me who was pitching or anything else, as long as Barry Bonds was healthy and playing. He was. So I didn't much mind that the two starting pitchers, Brett Tomko and Shawn Estes, coming into the game, had combined to allow nearly 12 earned runs per nine innings. Amazingly, they both pitched fairly well. Of course, most of the Giants, besides Barry Bonds, can't hit their way out of a paper bag, and neither can most of the Rockies once they get placed in sea-level air, so let's not give the Cy Young Award to Estes or Tomko just yet. But still, it surprised me that neither of them sucked very much.

Speaking of sucking: The Giants' "Offense".

The San Francisco Giants, even with the single most significant offensive force known to man, have scored fewer runs this season than every team in MLB except the Devil Rays and the Expos, who both really suck, in case you've been under a rock or something for the last few years. So you can imagine how bad the rest of the Giant hitters must be, if His Awesomeness can only manage to carry the rest of them up to a #27 ranking.

My wife and friends, unlike Self and I, are not particularly baseball fans. In fact, my wife practically can't stand it, though to her infinite credit, she suffers my talking about it much better than I would suffer her telling me as often about, say, knitting. The friends we went to visit are not really sports fans at all, except for golf, and that's just the guy. His wife had never been to any kind of professional sporting event at all, so you can imagine how excited we all were at how this little escapade concluded.

Since my friends aren't much into baseball, their relative ignorance afforded me the opportunity to talk (entirely too much, I'm sure) about the game, its players and history. I got to explain park effects a little, since the Rockies, the poster-children for home/road splits, were in town. I got to explain some of the history of ballparks, since we were in a new one that replaced one of the old ones but had been designed to look and feel like a really old one. (They call that "retro" by the way.) And before the game, during the Rockies' batting practice, I got to explain how Roger Clemens, who was pitching for Houston, on the big scoreboard beyond centerfield, was probably the best pitcher of the last half century, and that we would get to see the best hitter of that span play live tonight.

And oh, did he play. Bonds' has easily led all of MLB in walks each of the last several years, and this year is no exception. At the start of last Friday’s game, he had 16 more than the next closest player, Adam Dunn, who is a walking machine himself, despite roughly 40 fewer plate appearances. This strength of Bonds’ performance as a ballplayer, that pitchers literally fear to challenge him, is also somewhat of a weakness in terms of his performance as an entertainer. To a novice, few things could seem like more of a let-down than having someone talk up how great a hitter Barry Bonds is, to have him swagger up to the plate with his music blasting over the PA system, his very presence threatening to break the game open, the pitcher standing in a puddle of his own pee on the mound, and then to have him walk on four pitches. Thankfully, we didn't have to see that, as Bonds went 3-for-5, with two singles despite the infield shift the Rockies used.

The rest of the Giants hitters, as I mentioned, aren't much with the stick. The only hitter other than Bonds having anything resembling a decent year is Marquis Grissom, with a .300-ish average but few walks or steals and not a lot of power. Edgardo Alfonzo and A.J. Pierzynski (who didn’t start) have respectable averages and a little patience, but no power, and Pedro Feliz is only doing as well as he is because Bonds has already been on-base in front of him about 100 times this season. Several other players are hitting in the low .200s, or, in the case of backup backstop Yorvit Torrealba, the low, low .200’s, like .182. Neifi Perez, I explained to my friends and wife, is so bad that I regularly use the term “sub-Neifi” to describe a particularly horrendous offensive performer, like say, Derek Jeter’s first two months this year.

So you can imagine my surprise when they kept getting runners on base throughout the game…and then my dismay as they, not too surprisingly, ended each inning without a run crossing the plate. However, the Rockies' bullpen did not seem to mind that they were not expected to suck, since they weren't at Coors Field, so they went ahead and sucked anyway.

Rockies' closer Shawn Chacon started the ninth inning having only to get the bottom of the Giants lineup out in order to finish the game, and he couldn't do it. After A.J. popped out, pinch "hitter" Dustan Mohr, a career .250 hitter in three years of part time duty with the Twins, and hitting only .149 coming into the game, walked. Michael Tucker, who's also a ~.250 career hitter, did the same, and then Edgardo Alfonzo grounded out to short, moving both runners up. Shawn Chacon, who ironically, started the only other game I've seen in one of the one of the ballparks of the new millennium, the Pirates 11-3 drubbing of the Rockies in May of 2001, blew the save by allowing Marquis Grissom to single up the middle, which scored both runners, tying the game. The Rockies then, to face Barry Bonds, brought in Tim Hara-kiri, er, Harikkala who worked to a full count and then promptly committed pitching suicide by throwing the ball over the plate, allowing Bonds to hit a home run that just barely cleared the fence in left center field, and ended the game, much to the jubilation of the 20,000 of us who didn't leave at the end of the seventh.

After the game, everyone walking down the concourse from the top level was chanting "BARRY! BARRY! BARRY!", which was cool. Never experienced that before. But my friend, who had never been to a game before, noted that perhaps Marquis Grissom deserved a chant or two. After all, he not only kept the game alive for Barry to get his shot, but tied it up with his own hit. Maybe she was right?

Shawn Shacon, who blew the save and took the loss, even though Harikkala gave up the homer, was only recently made the Rockies' closer. He was not a good starter for three seasons, and I guess he has stamina issues or something, so they made him the closer coming into this season. Age 26 seems a little young to be giving up on a guy as a starting pitcher, doesn't it? But with Jose Jimenez getting expensive, and about to be promoted to Chief Astronaut for the United States Interplanetary Expeditionary Force, they had to get someone to pick up those saves. Shacon hasn't really done that as well as they'd hoped, or as well as Phil Rogers expected, blowing 4 saves in 14 chances so far this year, only closing the door about 78% of the time. Not exactly Eric Gagne territory, here.

But Shawn shouldn't worry. If this doesn't work out, I've already found him a job:

I guess it wasn't a storybook ending for everybody. Posted by Hello

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02 June 2004

Which player's injury has been the most devastating to his team?

The most devastating injury thus far has not been the loss of Nomar Garciaparra. Despite Boston shortstops’ cumulative .604 OPS this season, the Red Sox are still competing for first place, compensating for Nomar’s loss just fine. Mark Prior’s absence hasn’t hurt the Cubbies all that much, as their surplus of starting pitching talent has generally picked up the slack. The most devastating injury wasn’t suffered by Richie Sexson or Marcus Giles or any of the myriad of stars the Anaheim Angels have placed on the DL this season. Even Barry Bonds’ recent absence has not hurt his team the most. In fact, you’ve probably already forgotten about the most devastating injury to happen to a baseball player this season.

Because it didn’t happen this season: It happened in January.

In a basketball game.

That’s right, now you remember. Erstwhile Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone left his keys, his wallet, and apparently his brain in a locker and went out to play basketball, where he suffered a torn ACL and essentially forfeited almost $6 million in salary. But he also set the wheels in motion on a series of roster moves that practically changed the entire character of the Yankees lineup.

"Yay!! Yippee!! Ya-hoo!!! Ow! ...I think I pulled something..."

Before the injury, the Bronx Bombers were just that, Bombers, with perhaps the most productive infield in major league baseball. Jason Giambi is so good he could lose 65 points in batting average and still be one of the best first baseman in the AL. Derek Jeter, when healthy and right, can reasonably be expected to put up .300/.390/.450-type numbers, with 15 homers and 30 steals, one of the best shortstops in the majors. Second base was also manned by one of the best players at that position in the majors. In 2002-2003, Alfonso Soriano had the most runs, hits, homers, and steals of any 2B in MLB. He was second in slugging percentage and OPS, and third in RBI, while mostly hitting lead-off. He was and is, in short, a great player.

The Yankees, however, needed an even greater player to help make up for the loss of Aaron Boone, and they got one in Alex Rodriguez, who’s been playing third for the Yanks this year, and doing a fine job overall. Boone was capable of a .270 average with 20 homers and 25 steals, which doesn’t seem like all that much for a third baseman, until you realize that Boone’s offense isn’t really being replaced by A-Rod, but rather by Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo. Yuk. Through late May, Yankee second basemen had “hit” for a combined .614 OPS, with three homers and twelve runs scored. Almost as pathetic as Boston’s shortstops, and not helping the team to rank any better than eighth in runs scored in the AL.

Furthermore, rumors out of New York suggest that Derek Jeter’s recently anemic bat may be caused by the added strain, pressure and competition of a guy 30 feet to his right who frankly deserves his job. I don’t personally believe that, but it’s worth considering that Jeter may not be having so much trouble if he were more comfortable with his job security.

So Boone’s injury, his simple and singular decision to play a game of pickup basketball and the aftermath that ensued, has affected the Yankees at three positions.

No one else on any of the 30 disabled lists in MLB can say that.

Check out the other BaseballOutsider.com writers' opinions on this issue...

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21 May 2004

Congratulations to my lovely (and smart!) wife, Sunny, who graduated from Moravian College last weekend. (And congratulations to all of us cheap Bloggers, who now have a free means of posting images on our websites!) Posted by Hello

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RUN DOWN: Which team has the best fans?


It’s too bad this question isn’t which club has the worst fans in baseball. That one’s easy: the Phillies.

Say what you want about the judgmental New York fans or the unforgiving Boston media, but the City of Brotherly Love has easily got the worst fans in sports. What other city would throw snowballs at the opposing team, loaded with rocks or batteries? Where else might the crowd cheer as an opposing player is carried off the field on a stretcher? Who else would boo their own pitcher for not throwing 100 mph? In what other city would they boo Santa Claus? And then tell you how proud they are of the occurrence?

That’s right: Nowhere but Philly.

But that’s not the question. The question is who has the best fans, and frankly, I don’t know. It’s tempting to say that the Yankees have the best fans, since I am one, but hey, how hard is it really to be loyal to the best sports franchise in history? Like rooting for U.S. Steel, as they used to say.

Boston is another option, I hate to admit, because by all reports the Red Sox fans are as knowledgeable as any in the game, probably more so, and that counts for something. However, the recent emergence of all these Boston fans from the proverbial woodwork leaves me a bit skeptical as to their genuineness.

After Tuesday night, I might have even offered up the Braves’ fans as the best, for who else would cheer the opposing pitcher as he hurled a perfect game against their own team? But Atlanta’s attendance has been dropping, despite the team’s continued success, and they can’t even sell-out first round playoff games anymore. Guess all that success has gone to their heads. Somebody ought to explain to the good people of Georgia that you can’t finish the season any higher than first place.

Perhaps the best measure of a team’s fans’ character is their attendance, not just overall, but in light of the team’s performance. With this in mind, it seems to me that the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals have had the most consistency in their attendance numbers for the last half-decade or so. These teams have also been fairly successful on the field, so it makes sense that their attendance has been good.

Furthermore, for St. Louis, even when the team wasn’t that good, they had Mark McGuire and his nightly home-run record chase as an incentive to watch. Not that this should discredit the good people of St. Louis, who by all accounts are great fans, but fair is fair. I’d go to the ballpark every night too if I thought I might see history.

We’d like to find, if possible, a group of fans that embodies the very spirit of support for the franchise. Fans that aren’t concerned with silly things like “winning” and arcane notions like, well, “winning”. Fans who go to the ballgame for one reason and one reason only: to get drunk, and get a tan. OK, so it’s two reasons. And with these criteria, one team stands cork-filled head and steroid-enhanced shoulders above the rest…

…the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs' fans sure have nostalgia, and a nice ballpark, if not much recent success.  Posted by Hello

That’s right, they made the playoffs last year, winning 88 regular season games and drawing almost three million fans to a ballpark that’s nearly 90 years old and seats fewer than 39,000!

The year before that? They lost 95 games, but still drew 2.7 million fans to that ballpark. In 1998, a 20 year old phenomenon named Kerry Wood took the NL by surprise, took 20 Houston Astros down on strikes in one game, took 13 of 19 decisions and took home Rookie of the Year honors. The Cubbies took in 2.6 million at Wrigley Field. In 1999, Wood missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery, but the Cubs drew even more fans, 2.8 million! For a team that lost 95 games! Same thing in 2000: 97 losses, 2.8 million fans. 2001? An 88-74 record, good for third place in the NL Central, but still 2.8 million fans.

OK, so maybe they were a little tough on Steve Bartman last year. And maybe they’re a little bitter and jaded. After all, it’s been almost 100 years since their last World Series title. Actually, it’s been that long since they won any series in the playoffs. But consistency is consistency, and the Cubs are nothing if not consistent. Consistently underachieving, perhaps, but their fans are right there with them.

All 2.8 million of them.

See what my colleagues at BaseballOutsider.com have to say about this issue...

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19 May 2004

the Big Perfect Unit

Who says modern baseball favors hitters too much?

Sunday, with all 30 MLB teams playing, 14 of them, nearly half, scored two runs or fewer, Including the Atlanta Braves, who struck out 18 times agains the Brewers' Ben Sheets. Sheets, however, at least had the courtesy to allow three hits and a walk, even a run to score, while beating the Braves.

Randy Johnson offered no such considerations last night. Again with all 30 teams playing, 11 of them scored two or fewer runs, including both teams that took part in Johnson's perfect game, a 2-0 win for the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Braves.

Of course, these are not your father's OldsmoBraves. They lost, as you know, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla over the winter to free agency, and those three have combined for a .309/.393/.517 line with 18 homers and 74 RBI in the first month and a half of the season. D'ya think John Schuerholtz is reconsidering his decision to let all three go? I do.

Add to this (or subtract, really) the fact that both Braves starting middle infielders, rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles, the lineup's table-setters, were injured and unable to play, further diminishing the team's chances of getting a hit, much less winning. You've got a recipe for disaster, which is exactly what happened.

Johnson struck out 13 en route to his second career no-hitter, the first perfect game since David Cone's in 1999, the first by a lefty sincd David Wells' game against the Twins on May 17th, 1998, almost six years ago to the day. It was the first in the NL (not counting David Cone's Inter-league performance against the Expos in '99) since El Presidente, Dennis Martinez, clean-slated the Dodgers in 1991. (For the record, the Dodgers have had perfect games pitched against them three times, more than any other team. Tom Browning did it for the Reds in 1988, and Don Larsen pitched one against Brooklyn in the 1956 World Series.)

There are, of course, several interesting things to note about this game, most of which are covered by the mainstream media, so I won't rehash them. You come to Boy of Summer for something other than what ESPN tells you, so I'll try to make good on that promise.

Rob Neyer notes that it's not a terrible surprise that Randy Johnson was able to pitch a no-hitter, given how stingy he always is at giving up hits, and he's right. Indeed, Johnson seems almost good enough to do so every time he toes the rubber. What surprises me though is that Johnson was able to not allow any walks. His control, admittedly, is not so bad as it was in 1991, when he walked 152 in 201 innings (yikes!), or when he annually led the league in walks allowed from 1990-92. His last no-hitter included 6 walks and eight strikeouts, and since 1995 he's averaged almost three walks per nine innings (3.6 overall for his career), so the perfect game is that much more surprising.

The other interesting thing, I think, is the frequency with which perfect games occur these days. Take a look at the list of 9-inning perfect games:

Date Pitcher Team Opponent League
5/18/2004 Randy Johnson ARZ ATL NL
7/18/1999 David Cone NYY MTL AL/NL
5/17/1998 David Wells NYY MIN AL
7/28/1994 Kenny Rogers TEX CAL AL
7/28/1991 D. Martinez MTL LA NL
9/16/1988 Tom Browning CIN LA NL
9/30/1984 Mike Witt CAL TEX AL
5/15/1981 Len Barker CLE TOR AL
5/ 8/1968 Catfish Hunter OAK MIN AL
9/ 9/1965 Sandy Koufax LA CHI NL
6/21/1964 Jim Bunning PHI NYM NL
10/ 7/1956 Don Larsen NYY BRK AL
4/29/1922 C. Robertson CHI DET AL
10/ 1/1908 Addie Joss CLE CHI AL
5/ 4/1904 Cy Young BOS PHI AL
6/17/1880 Monte Ward WOR CLE NL
6/12/1880 Lee Richmond PRO BOS NL

Notice anything?

There seems to be a significant bias toward recent years. The National League was founded in 1876, and in the first 76 seasons of MLB as we know it, there were five regular season perfect games, plus one in the World Series. Then, in the 1960s, during a very pitcher-friendly era, three were tossed inside of five seasons, and then another drought, til 1981.

But from 1981 until last night, there has been a perfect game pitched about every 3-5 years! What the heck? 1981, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2004? That measley five-year span between Cone's perfecto in '99 and Johnson's last night was the biggest gap since the 14-year span between Catfish Hunter in 1968 and Len Barker (Len Barker!?) in '81.

I don't really know what it means, but it's weird, isn't it? I mean, not as weird as, say, a couple that needs to be told to try actually having sex in order to get pregnant, but weird, nonetheless.

Spanning times in which offense was generally down (the '80s), and when it was at an all-time high (the late '90s), we still get a perfecto every three years or so.

Does it mean that this pattern will continue? Who knows? Past behavior may be the best indicator of future performance, but it's still no guarantee.

Is it a conspiracy among Bud Selig and those who run MLB to make sure interest in the game stays high? Doubtful. Selig and company can't conspire to tie their own shoes without consulting the 29 ownership groups, and there are just way too many loose lips in that bunch to ever hide something like this.

Well, whatever it means, I guess I'll look forward to 2007 or so, for the next perfecto. Any guesses on who's next?

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14 May 2004

Selig Responds to Challenges (no, not really)

Tongue-In-Cheek, Neb. (BS) -- MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's spoke at a sports banquet on Tuesday and miraculously managed not to mention illegal steroids, cheesy advertising ploys or the problems of the Montreal Expos. Instead, he rambled on ad nauseum about the beauty of baseball and its enduring popularity. Or at least he tried to...

Unaware that this was actually a gathering of disgruntled bloggers and baseball writers, Selig told a crowd of more than 1,200 that the momentum created by last year's dramatic playoffs and World Series has carried over. Crowds are up 15 percent compared with the first month and a half of the 2003 season, and he predicted major-league attendance would set a record at more than 70 million this year. Selig did not happen to mention how, exactly, one can legitimately describe events occurring five months apart as being somehow linked by "momentum" but then explaining what he means is something most of us have come not to expect from him.

"If nothing else, the major league baseball postseason demonstrated the remarkable power of the game, the attraction of the game, the durability of it and the ability to captivate the attention of the public," Selig said. He then followed this by saying that, "It also demonstrated that even a franchise as wealthy as the Yankees can't win all the time. Money doesn't always translate into success." Wait a minute. No, he didn't.

Selig took some ribbing from the head table regarding baseball's reversal of its decision to allow bases to be stamped with advertisements for the movie "Spider Man 2."

Unexpectedly, ESPN columnist Rob Neyer stood up and asked, "Hey, I thought you guys were doing that promotion thing for the kids, weren't you? To reach out to the youth of America? I mean, your own man, MLB President Bob DuPuy, actually said, 'It's part of our effort to market the game in a holistic style, but mostly to market it to a whole demographic: kids.' Aren't you interested in marketing to kids anymore?"

Selig wouldn't be baited, though. He essentially ignored Neyer's inquiry and tried to continue with his prepared remarks. Interrupted again though, this time by John Perricone, Selig was unable to finish his statements.

"Hey, Seligula, did you hear that the government released all those steroid test results? Turns out the entire 2003 Florida Marlins team was using, so you'll have to forfeit that World Series to Superman and the Giants! Ha! Just kidding!"

Selig did not respond verbally, though he did appear to pee his pants in the middle of Perricone's remarks.

During his 10-minute speech, Selig showed reverence for the sport he oversees. He said the game has a social responsibility to the nation.

"What about baseball's social responsibility to the people of Minnesota, not to threaten to contract a team that's smart enough to have three straight winning records and two consecutive division titles, despite a payroll one-third that of the Yankees and a twenty-year old stadium?! Contract THIS," the young man said, and then heaved a stack of papers toward the Commissioner. These later turned out to be previous blog entries, to which the young man attempted to refer in a conversation with Selig after dinner. The young man was identified as Aaron Gleeman.

Selig avoided the confrontation with Gleeman, stating that he had no idea what Bobby Kielty's GPA was, and for that matter, couldn't even recall where Kielty went to college.

Baseball's proudest moment, Selig said, came when Jackie Robinson became the first black to play in the major leagues in 1947. Selig also touted the millions of dollars baseball has donated to charitable organizations.

"Hey, you know what else was a pretty proud moment for the Dodgers?" another heckler stood up to ask, "turning a nice $120 million profit in just five years when they re-sold the franchise." It was Doug Pappas. "And did you really expect us to believe that the freaking Dodgers were losing $40 million a year? What kinds of fools do you take us for? Whose 'charitable organization' is getting all that money? Darren Dreifort? Mmfpph ack!" His words were stifled by a gag as several unidentified men in white suits subdued Pappas and dragged him from the banquet hall.

Selig attempted to continue. "Baseball has served as a bridge of the generations," he said. "How many of you still remember the first time you walked into a ballpark on the hand of a parent or grandparent and first experienced that great expanse of grass?

Apparently thinking that this was something more than a rhetorical question, David Levens and Zachary Manprin responded, "Hey, you know where's there's a pretty nice expanse of grass? Oakland Colliseum. All that foul territory? One of the few pitchers' parks left in the major leagues? An affordable day at the ballpark? I mean, sure it's kinda nondescript and not perfectly suited to baseball, but we've made the playoffs four straight seasons, with two MVPs and a Cy Young Award to boot. But maybe we should push for a publicly-financed new stadium, so we can become the booming success that, say, the Milwaukee Brewers are!"

Selig reiterated that he does not, in fact, own the Brewers anymore, but otherwise had no comment.

Feebly, and clearly worn out from all the confrontations, Selig labored on, "Baseball is a great game, but it is more than a game because of its incomparable history."

"Speaking of history," interrupted Mike Carminati, "did you ever decide what to do with Pete Rose? The Dowd Report is ridiculously biased, but the man's admitted to betting on baseball now, so there shouldn't be any question now. Here, take a look at this..." Carminati then attempted to pull out an Excel spreadsheet with some obscure statistics from players banned for gambling in the 19th century, but Selig left the podium before he could finish.

Selig, it should be noted, arrived at the banquet late and left early. He was whisked to a waiting limousine and was unavailable to reporters. A spokesman for Selig said that he had an appointment with a plastic surgeon, where he would undergo a procedure to prevent himself from talking out of both sides of his mouth.

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11 May 2004

Who is the best sleeper of 2004 thus far?

The baseball statistical leader boards, in April and May, are often filled with the names of relative unknowns. Who would have guessed that Ron Belliard, with a career .272 batting average, would be leading the AL with a .383 clip, or that Jake Westbrook would one of the best ERAs in the AL? Heck, Roger Clemens almost qualifies as a sleeper himself, as the retired-for-about-20-minutes pitcher has six wins, a 2.11 ERA and more strikeouts than Pedro Martinez.

Ah, but with a few exceptions, many of these names will not be there at the end of the season. Belliard, Westbrook, R.A. Dickey, Francisco Cordero, Tom Glavine and a host of others are getting it done with smoke and mirrors. Their presence among the league leaders is due mostly to luck, capitalizing on their good fortune either in terms of batted balls not falling in for hits (Al Leiter has 13 walks and only 22 strikeouts despite his NL-best 1.53 ERA) or run support (Shawn Estes has a 7.34 ERA, despite his 4 wins).

Clemens and Bonds and most of the usual suspects will still likely be among the names we’re discussing in September, as will some newer names, but the real sleepers are the ones who come out of nowhere and produce for most of the season. Lew Ford, currently hitting .344 as the Twins’ primary DH, may be one of those, as he hit ~.300 with good plate discipline at every level of the minor leagues.

But the best sleeper may still be sleeping. Twins 1B prospect Justin Morneau is hitting .361/.407/.664 at AAA Rochester right now, with 9 homers, ten doubles and 26 RBI in 29 games. He’s the real deal, too, as Baseball Prospectus 2004 said, “Morneau’s not just going to be a good hitter. He’s going to be positively great. How great? Healthy, prime Fred McGriff great.”

So stick around. When the Twins realize that the empty .300 average and overrated defense of Doug Mientkiewicz aren’t worth his $3 million salary, Justin the Sleeping Giant will wake.

The best is yet to come.

Now go see what the others at Baseball Outsider think about sleepers...

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06 May 2004

Say It Ain't So, Joe...

Would it not amaze you, if you were a business analyst, to find out that Jack Welch or Bill Gates was staunchly and stubbornly convinced that the secret to success in the business world was having a lot of money in your bank account?

Wouldn't you be astonished if, as an aspiring actor, you read an interview with Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner in which he stated that the primary concern for an upcoming actor is to make sure he gets roles in movies that will pay him $20 million?

Wouldn't you just laugh out loud if one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a press conference explaining that the key to winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is making sure we kill more of theirs than they do of ours?

Wouldn't you just stand there agape if you went to a Billy Graham Crusade and heard him say that the best thing for you to do with your life would be to make absolutely sure that God chooses you as one of The Elect?

How ridiculous would this be, for the so-called "experts in their field" to preach to you that the best measure of your value is something that is either completely out of your control, or a result of your circumstances, once you've already ascended to the pinnacle of your profession?

In a related story: Joe Morgan.

Well, as ridiculous and laughable as these scenarios sound, Joe Morgan manages to somehow get away with doing exactly that, pretty much all the time. Joe has written books on baseball, has a weekly chat on ESPN.com (which Mike Carminati performs the service of picking apart for us), writes columns for the website and he even propounds, from his nationally broadcast bully pulpit on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, these silly ideas about what makes a good baseball player. Morgan, as ESPN is so apt to point out, was the NL MVP in 1975 and '76, so you'd imagine that he would know what makes a good baseball player, since he was a great one. Except he doesn't.

Joe Morgan will tell you, for instance, that ERA is an overrated statistic, and that the real measure of a pitcher's abilities is Wins & Losses. Never mind that there's an entire league in MLB in which the pitchers almost never get an opportunity to actually produce some of the offense that would be necessary for them to be credited with a win in any given game. Never mind that even in the league in which pitchers do "hit", they do so at the bottom of the lineup, where there is little or no pressure to contribute very much offensively. A pitcher may do the absolute best he can, shutting out a team for nine innings, and striking out every batter in the process, but allow an unearned run to score because he has the Marx Brothers playing infield defense behind him, and be credited with a loss. Conversely, a pitcher may allow five or six runs per game, but still get credit for the win, because his teammates become indwelled by the 1927 Yankees whenever he takes the mound.

Take, for example, Jeroime Robertson, the erstwhile Astros rookie who "won" 15 games in 2003, with a 5.10 ERA. How good was he? He was so good that the Astros bumped him from the rotation for 14-game loser Tim Redding and his 3.68 ERA, and then sent him to AAA. Then, just to make it very clear how valuable those 15 wins were, they traded Robertson to the Cleveland Indians for a AA-level non-prospect and the rights to a minor league outfielder they had already taken in the Rule 5 draft. Sounds to me like the Houston front office believed that the 5.10 ERA said a lot more about Robertson's abilities (and future) than those 15 wins did.

But I digress. This column is actually going to look at another of the Sabermetric Sins that Morgan commits regularly: Overvaluing Runs and RBI.

Morgan's latest column on ESPN.com deals primarily with two issues, the "realness" of the 2004 Texas Rangers and the relative merits of Runs and RBI as compared to such arcane notions ar on-base percentage. Let's take the second part first, shall we?

On-base percentage has always been an important stat, but RBI and runs scored are the truest tests of what a player does to help his team win. Once runners get on base, someone needs to drive them in. OBP by itself does not equal success. How often does a team get four walks in an inning to drive in a run? OBP is essential, but a good OBP alone does not guarantee a win or a successful season.

To Morgan's credit, and he does deserve some, he admits that OBP is essential. This is, in fact, the best thing I think I've ever heard or read from him about the subject. And he's not wrong about someone needing to drive in the runners on base in order for them to score, but he fails to see that the crucial point in building an offense is finding the people who will get on base in the first place. He still manages to cling to the old adage that scoring and driving in runs are the best measures of a hitter's quality, without recognizing that the "skill" of clutch hitting doesn't really exist.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the teams that have led the majors in batting average with runners in scoring position over the last five seasons, including this one:

BA RISP 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
1 Rockies Indians ChiSox Royals Astros
2 Royals Seattle Angels Atlanta Detroit
3 ChiSox Rockies Yankees Seattle Angels
4 Giants Giants Rockies Toronto Atlanta
5 Indians Royals Astros Boston Twins
6 Toronto ChiSox Boston ChiSox Royals
7 Texas Astros Seattle Oakland Texas
8 Oakland Texas Cards Expos L.A.
9 Seattle Oakland Arizona Florida Reds
10 Yankees L.A. Texas Angels Florida

Five years, fifty positions, 23 different teams.

If you throw out Colorado, who until recently almost always led the majors in everything offense-wise due to their ballpark, you've only got three of the fifteen teams that manage to repeat their performances among the top 5: Atlanta(2003-04), Kansas City and the Tribe (both 2000-01). For that matter, Atlanta's standing on this list is in serious jeopardy, since they're clearly not as good an offense as they were last year and they've hardly got any of the same hitters they had last year (Sheffield, Lopez, and Castilla left in the off-season, and Chipper's been hurt this year), so there's really not much to compare anyway. In the top ten, it's a little better, with 18 of 38 possible non-Colorado teams repeating, or 47.4%. You can do better flipping a coin.

Well, you may say, "Those are teams, and teams turn over players a lot. Surely there must be players who can consistently hit in the clutch?" Well, by this same (admittedly limited) measure, there are, or I should say, there is.

Mike Sweeney.

	2000	2001	2002	2003

1 Helton Suzuki Ramirez Helton
2 Cirillo Alomar Sweeney Sweeney
3 Sweeney Conine Bonds Posednik
4 Delgado Biggio Tejada Sheffield
5 Thomas Beltran Bernie I. Rodriguez

The only players who re-appeared on the 2000-2003 top five lists of players's batting averages with runners in scoring position were Todd Helton (who plays in Coors Field, and therefore will almost always hit well in almost any situation) and Mike Sweeney. Don't get me wrong, Sweeney's a fine player, and he's hitting .367 with RISP this season, but he's not typically one of the first players mentioned when people start talking about drafting a fantasy team, you know?

The perfect example of this is the defending World Series champion Florida Marlins. Florida finished 15th last year in OBP (.333) among 30 MLB teams. But when the Marlins got runners on base, they were good at forcing the issue -- using the hit-and-run, stealing bases and exhibiting aggressive baserunning ... all of which help produce runs.

Unbeknownst to Joe Morgan (but knownst to us), the 2003 Florida Marlins are the perfect example...to illustrate my point, though, not his. Do you see what Morgan does here? It's subtle, but read what he says again and see if you can detect the flaw in his argument...

...back already? OK, here's what he does: He cites a team that is known to have had success in winning (the Marlins won the NL Wild Card and then beat three teams to win the 2003 World Series, of course) and mentions that they did so DESPITE the fact that they did not get on base any more frequently than the San Diego Padres (a .333 clip, to be precise). So far, this is true. He then mentions the things they did to supposedly augment this relative weakness and allows you (the reader) to assume that these tactics MUST have been successful, because after all, the Marlins won, right?

Well, yes, they did win, but not the way Joe's argument implies. It is true that they finished 15th in team OBP, but they also finished 17th in Runs scored. You'd imagine, wouldn't you, that if their small-ball techniques were actually helping them to score runs, to take advantage of the few times they had runners on base, that they might be ranked higher in runs scored than their rank in OBP, wouldn't you? Or at least the same? But the Marlins are actually ranked lower in run scoring than in OBP, which would tend to speak against stealing bases and moving runners over as useful approaches to scoring runs. In fact the 2003 Marlins won on the strength of their pitching (10th in MLB in ERA), and luck, as they won about 4 more regular season games than their Pythagorean projection would have suggested they'd win, based on the runs they scored and allowed. Not small-ball.

As I see it, a good hitter either scores runs or drives in runs -- and a great hitter does both. Great hitters will account for about 200 runs per season (a combination of runs scored and RBI). When you look at baseball history, that's the benchmark for great hitters like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays (as well as today's great hitters, like Barry Bonds). The most important stat in baseball is the combination of runs scored and RBI.
(bold added)

Is that true? Do managers and general managers and scouts really use the addition of runs and RBI as a measure of how successful a player is or will be? Seems to me I'd have heard something about that if it were actually happening.

Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't you say that these guys drove in/scored 100 runs because they were great hitters, rather than (as Joe implies) that they were great hitters because they drove in/scored 100 runs? I'm not a Minor League scout, but somehow I seriously doubt that there's anything on a standard scouting report discussing how many runs a player scores or drives in. Scouts talk about a hitter's swing, his mechanics, his physique, patience, power, batting eye, etc. They don't mention runs scored or batted in because those are situational stats, a result of opportunity more than talent, and not something you can project. The greatest hitters in history "accounted" for 200 runs because their managers knew they were great and therefore batted them amongst the other good hitters on the team, thereby maximizing their opportunities to score and/or drive in runs. Barry Bonds (who, by the way, must have had an "off" 2003 by Morgan's standards, with only 90 RBI) would not be a 100-Run, 100-RBI guy if you batted him 8th or 9th in that Giants' lineup.

Bill James did a study (in the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, p.785) in which he illustrates the silliness of walking a batter (Babe Ruth circa 1921, in this case) every time up. He placed a slightly modified Ruth in the cleanup spot within a lineup of really terrible hitters, and then ran separate simulations to show what would happen if

A) Ruth was walked every time he came up and
2) Ruth was allowed to hit within this terrible lineup.

Well, the A) lineup outscored the 2) lineup significantly, with about 10% more runs per season on average and winning about ten more games per season.

And the #5 hitter behind Ruth in this illustration? Gino Cimoli. An outfielder with a career line of .265/.315/.383, who never hit more than ten homers or drove in more than 72 RBI in a season in reality, suddenly becomes great by Joe Morgan's standards, with a .253 average and 9 homers, but 151 RBI. Can you say "victim of circumstance"? That's great. I knew you could.

I view baseball as an individual game within a team concept. It's individual because, whether you're hitting or pitching, you're the one standing there. But everything is done in the context of teamwork and team play (putting the team first). RBI and runs are the ultimate measure of a player's contribution to a team, and they're also dependent on teammates. Home runs, though, are the ultimate measure of a power hitter's individual accomplishment.
(bold added)

Again, Morgan does acknowlege that RBI and Runs depend upon one's teammates, but he doesn't seem to give enough weight to the concept. Look at the way he just throws this line in amongst a paragraph describing the role of home runs in the game and how the team/individual aspects of the game interact. Does that make it seem like Joe gets the notion that OBP is the most important component to scoring runs? I don't think so.

Look, Joe, if you had a published e-mail address, I wouldn't have to keep fisking you like this, but you don't, so let me lay this out for you:

1) To win a game, you need to score more runs than the other team.
2) To score runs, you need to have men on base, and then drive them in somehow.

I think we both agree on these points. Here's where it gets a little tricky:

3a) It is difficult, if not completely impossible, to predict which players will hit best when it most matters, and it is all but impossible to make sure your best hitters are at the plate when you've got runners on base

3b) It is much easier to predict/project which hitters will be able to get on-base consistently from year-to-year, as you can see here:

OBP	2000	2001	2002	2003	2004

1 Indians Seattle Yankees Boston Houston
2 Rockies Rockies Seattle Yankees Orioles
3 Giants Indians Arizona Cards Indians
4 Seattle Houston Boston Toronto Rockies
5 Houston Oakland Giants Atlanta Texas
6 Oakland Texas Angels Rockies Twins
7 Cards Giants Oakland Seattle Yankees
8 ChiSox Arizona Philly Philly ChiSox
9 Yankees Cards Texas Twins Boston
10 Angels Twins Cards Giants Reds

The same forty opportunities to repeat here as we had with the last table, but this time only 17 different teams appear, not 23. And even if you don't include the Rockies, the ratio of repeaters is over 68%. (At the end of the 2004 season, don't be surprised if that ratio is higher, as I have serious doubts about whether the two Ohio teams will still be among these ranks come September. Well, maybe the Reds will.)

there4) It logically follows that it is easier to build a good offense by acquiring guys who will get on base a lot, so that when they do hit, there will be runners to drive in. Not necessarily that it's the only way to do this, but it's easier.

So there you have it, Joe. I imagine that you've hear dthe argument before, but it seems that either you're unwilling or unable to consider it. If you had an email address, I could write to you directly, instead of having to bring this up in public all the time, but you don't, so everybody gets to read my rants instead.

Thanks for giving me something to gripe about.

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05 May 2004

Apprehending An April Apparition

Rob Neyer's latest column discusses the relative merits, and potential futures, of the reigning AL-Champion NY Yankees and the reigning Worst Team Anyone Can Remember, the Detroit Tigers. As recently as Saturday, the Yankees and Tigers had the exact same 13-11 record, despite the apparent gaps in talent and the definite gap in payroll. (Of course the Yankees have done nothing but win since then and the Tigers have done nothing but lose, but that's beside the point, at least for now.)

Neyer made the points that the Tigers have

A) Scored more runs this season than every team but Houston, which is remarkable after they outscored only the anemic Dodgers last season


2) Scored almost exactly the same number of runs (156) as they have allowed (161), which means that their (now) 13-14 record is just about what you'd expect.

What Rob didn't mention, at least not explicitly, was that if they've scored more runs than almost everybody, and they've allowed even more, then it logically follows that their pitching staff must not be very good.

In fact, their pitching staff is horrific, having allowed an average of almost six (!) runs per game, earned or not. The team's 5.76 ERA is lower than only Colorado's 6.38, which is so bad that the Rockies have already decided to throw in the towel on the season and are now experimenting with a 4-man rotation! In the long run, according to Baseball Prospectus' Rany Jazayerli, this may be the best thing for the Rockies and for all of baseball, but in the meantime it smacks of hopelessness.

The Tigers have a 5.52 ERA at home, despite the fact that Comerica is supposed to be a pitchers' park. The first 20-game loser in over two decades (actually 21, if you're scoring at home), Mike Maroth has a 3-1 record this season, as does Jeremy Bonderman (who lost 19 games last year, and only didn't lose more than that because Tigers' manager Alan Trammell mercifully removed the 20 year old from the rotation in early September). However, their 6-2 record belies the fact that the two have combined for a 4.81 ERA this year. For that matter, no Tigers starting pitcher has more than one win to his credit, and no pitcher with more than eight innings of work under his belt has an ERA lower than Maroth's 4.26. This is not a good sign, but then we expected their pitching to suck, so why should this surprise us?

Mike Maroth is the best pitcher on a bad team.

The other thing that Neyer didn't mention was that the Tigers aren't likely to keep up their run-scoring pace.

The real danger here, especially for those few remaining Tigers fans out there, is that you'll get your hopes up and think the Cats will actually pull off this ~.500 record thing for the whole season. Well, don't hold your breath. Even though their 156 runs scored ties them for second place among all major league teams, their .771 OPS places them squarely in a tie for 12th place in MLB, among offensive jugger-nots like L.A. (122 runs scored), Kansas City (126) and Florida (127). So how did the Tigers, with a relatively mediocre "offense" manage to put up more runs than almost everybody in their first 27 games?


Seriously, look at their splits, overall as compared to their runners on base and (especially) runners in scoring position


Total 0.278 0.422 0.349 0.771
ROB 0.296 0.443 0.382 0.825
RISP 0.317 0.498 0.409 0.907

A team that goes from hitting like D'Angelo Jimenez to hitting like Carlos Beltran, just because there are runners in scoring position? They can't keep this up.

For perspective, from 2001-2003, teams that finished the season with an OPS around .771 generally scored about 800 runs on the year, which isn't terrible by any stretch. It just isn't the 936 runs the Tigers are currently "on a pace to" score. There simply is no evidence that anyone, a team or an individual, has any kind of special ability to "turn it on when it counts" or "hit well in the clutch" or whatever. Sure, there are teams and players who in fact do these things, but you can't predict it, and you sure can't plan your offensive strategy around it. And so it appears that all their current lead in run-scoring really means is that the Tigers have that much farther to fall when the law of averages catches up with them and they get drawn back into the pack.

Of course, having the worst pitching staff in the AL and a mediocre offense is a huge step up from having the worst pitching staff in the AL and the worst hitters, but it might still make them the worst team in the League, overall. Still, though, the Tigers (and their fans) should be moderately pleased with the possibility of being a league worst 63-99 instead of a league-worst 42-119.

You've got to walk before you can crawl. Wait a minute, strike that. Reverse it.

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