25 September 2004

Generic Yankees Update

Speaking of the Yankees...it seems they're back on track.

With a 6-4 win last night, the Yankees have pushed their lead to 5.5 games over the Red Sox, which is a pretty tough lead to blow given that the two teams have fewer than ten games left in the season.

It's not exactly the case that the Yanks are firing on all cylinders, but the starting pitchers have a 3.67 ERA in September, 3.27 if you remove Estebomb Loaiza and Brad "Not Ready for Prime-Time" Halsey from the mix. Of course, Estebomb had his best outing yet as a Yankee in his last start, but 5 innings and change and two runs against the Blow Jays does not inspire a lot of confidence in me that he'll be able to get the Twins or Athletics or Red Sox out in October. Or for that matter, that he'll be able to get the Red Sox out tomorrow night, when he goes up against Schilling.

Interestingly, despite their recent success, the Yanks' starting rotation has been decimated by injuries. Barring something bizarre, this could be the first season since 1988 that the Yankees have not had a 200 inning starter, this after having had four of them last year.

But Jeter's now hitting over .290, an impressive resurgence after that dismal April, including .398(!) in September. Two more homers before the end of the season will set a new career high for him.

Jeter Posted by Hello

Alex Rodriguez is about to become the first Yankee since 1975 to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season. The late Bobby Bonds is the only player in Yankee history to do so thus far. A-Rod needs two steals to become the second. The Bondses (Barry and Bobby) are the only other players to have done so with more than one team, and A-Rod will be the first to have done so at more than one position, though Ho-Jo did it a couple of times playing a handful of games out of position for the Mets in the '80s.

Jason Giambi, while not exactly the Giambino right now, seems to be progressing. At least he's not laid up with a damn tumor and/or parasite anymore. And it's a good thing, too. John Olerud's resurgence seems to have been pretty short lived. He's hitting an unimpressive .271/.338/.400 in September after hitting .312/.393/.390 in August. With Tony Clark not exaclty living up to the "Tiger" moniker with his anemic .190 September average, and Ruben Sierra sitting around .226 for the month, the Yanks, it would seem, have little to lose playing Giambi every day in hopes that he gets his stroke back before the playoffs.

Now if Kevin Brown can just field a grounder...

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24 September 2004

Random Weekend Notes...

A few random notes on a note-worthy baseball news weekend...

The Smartest Pitcher Who Ever Lived...for 17 Years

Greg Maddux has done it again. He's won 15 games this year, for the 17th consecutive season. Everybody pretty much knows why: he's awesome. Not blow-you-away-with-108-mph-gas awesome like some pitchers, but rather I'm-smarter-than- whomever's-at-the-plate-and-I-know-it awesome, which might be better. Of course, it helped that he played for most of those Braves teams that averaged 98 wins per season for over a decade, and that he never does anything to get himself hurt (you listenin', Brown?), but it's still pretty remarkable any way you slice it.

Dumbest Athlete Baseball Player Writer BBTN Anchor Who Ever Lived

OK, so he's not the dumbest writer. I think Bill Conlin still works for the Philly Daily News. But John Kruk refreshes my amazement with him on a nearly daily basis by coming up with ever-more asinine things to say about baseball. His most recent column lists a few tongue-in-cheek awards and even acknowledges that The Big Unit has been a better pitcher than Roger Clemens this year, but c'mon, Chone Figgins for MVP?
What's next? Jeremy Affeldt for the Cy Young Award? Hey, Affeldt didn't know whether he was starting or relieving or closing on any given day, and his pitching was... um... mediocre, so why not?

Actually, I was in a Yahoo Fantasy League earlier this year that also thought Chone Figgins was pretty darn valuable as well. That league setup overvalued triples and steals while undervaluing silly things like, well, pitching, so I quit it. If MLB somehow starts giving awards to guys like Chone Figgins, I may have to seriously consider becoming a hockey fan. Oh wait, never mind.

Have You Seen This Pitcher?

Who Am I? Posted by Hello

GS  CG   IP    H   HR  BB   K   ERA   WHIP

30 4 217.1 177 20 60 271 3.35 1.09

He has fairly impressive credentials: over 270 strikeouts and barely more than a baserunner per inning in almost 220 innings of work. An ERA that ranks 4th in the AL this year. One of those complete games was a shutout, too, and the opposition has only hit about .215 off him. Not a bad resume, I'd say, except for this:


That's his record. In this day and age, that pitching line would put a guy at least in the running for the Cy Young award, if not at the head of the pack. Another 30 or so innings of work like that would nearly assure him of it, if not for the fact that he hasn't actually been able to win more games than he's lost (see Johnson, Randy). And besides, Johan Santana's running away with the AL CYA this year, with Schilling a distant second, right?

So why haven't you heard of this guy? What rock have you been living under to have not noticed someone who's struck out more batters than everybody but Randy Johnson?

Well, you have seen him. As a matter of fact, he's been on national television twice in the last week, pitching against (and losing to) the New York Yankees. You see, I've tricked you again (you keep falling for it...). The line above is Pedro Martinez, i.e. Punk-Ass, except it's his body of work against the Bronx Bombers over the course of his career, including three ALCS appearances. For reference, the rest of his career looks roughly like this, on average, not including postseasons:

GS  CG  IP   H   HR  BB   K   ERA   WHIP

29 4 210 159 16 56 241 2.65 1.02

In addition, you should know that his average record is 17-7 in games against not-the-Yankees. These numbers also include some of his relief work early in his career with Los Angeles, but you get the point. He's just about as stingy with the hits and walks, and just as prolific with the strikeouts, but for whatever reason, he just does a better job of keeping runners from crossing the plate when he faces everyone else. Granted, over the time he's been facing them (1998-2004 and counting) the Yankees have won their division every year, and have won three of the five World Series in which they've played, beating out (up, on) Pedro's Red Sox twice to get there. So I guess ascribing Wins and Losses to pitchers has some meaning after all.

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15 September 2004

"...I Knew Lefty, and Sir, You're No Lefty!"

Much attention this season has been paid to the plight of Arizona's Randy Johnson.

randy Posted by Hello

Naturally, it's hard to think of anything a world-famous man making bajillions of dollars a year to play a children's game in front of thousands of adoring fans would experience as a "plight". Nevertheless, it must be something of a drag to see your best efforts kicked to the curb like yesterday's hot dog wrappers, or, perhaps more poignantly, like an infield grounder to Chad Tracy.

ESPN Radio's morning show Friday mentioned that The Big Unit would pitch Friday night against San Francisco, and that despite his losing record, which stood at 12-13 entering the game (Note: Johnson won that game, pitching seven shutout innings to even his record at 13-13.) Mike Greenberg, a ~35ish sports reporter, proffered the idea that a case could be made for Johnson as the best pitcher in the NL this season, and that the only reason for his lackluster record was poor run support from a poor team, one that has already lose three more games to this point in the season than the Philadelphias did in '72, with three weeks yet to play. I tended to agree.

But Bob Pecose, a ~55ish newsman and self-declared purist, proved unwilling to concede the point. Bob still believes in Wins and Losses as a useful measurement tool for pitchers, and mentioned in support of his position the case of Steve Carlton, who somehow managed to go 27-10 and won the Cy Young Award for the 1972 Phillies, who lost 97 games for the worst record in the NL that year. Greenberg wondered aloud whether it might be determined that Carlton's record was indebted to unusually high run support, and suggested that they ought to look into it some time when they weren't so busy.

So I did.

I got to thinking about how this could possibly have happened, and whether or not something can be understood about the nature and/or usefulness of pitching wins and losses from comparing 2004 Johnson to 1972 Carlton. There are several factors here to consider here when cmparing two pitchers across eras like this.

Lefty Posted by Hello

For one thing, the starting pitcher's role has changed significantly in 32 years. Steve Carlton pitched 346 innings, while starting 41 games that year. He completed 30 of those starts, eight of which were shutouts. He easily led the league in starts, innings, complete games, ERA, strikeouts, and some more obscure stats. Johnson is second in the NL in innings pitched this season, but probably won't come within 100 innings of Carlton's total. At the rate at which Johnson consumes innings, he would have to start 50 games to equal Carlton's 346 innings pitched, and he would win 21 games...but would also lose 21. Carlton's 30 complete games were seven more than the next closest pitcher in the NL, but there were ten other guys with at least 13 complete games. This year Livan Hernandez will likely lead both leagues in that category without getting into double digits.

Carlton's 1.97 ERA was the lowest in the NL that year, whereas Johnson's 2.75 is currently pacing the NL, nearly a run higher. The NL ERA in 1972 was only 3.45, making CArlton's league-leading 1.97 was 75% better than the league average, whereas Johnson's on "only" 58% better this season, because as runs become more scarce, they also become more valuable.

This factor surprised me the most in my research. The 1972 NL average team scored 3.91 runs per game, as compared to 2004, when the NL is averaging 4.7 runs/game right now, again, almost a run higher. Carlton's horrendous team scored 3.22 runs per game on average, and about 3.28 when Carlton pitched, roughly 83% of the NL average. This was the big surprise for me. I figured that if he won 27 of the team's measley 59 victories, it must have been because they scored more runs when he pitched, but that wasn't the case. They scored almost exactly the same number of runs per inning innings in Carlton's starts as they did for anyone else, on average, which was substantially less than the NL average.

Again by contrast, the 2004 D-Backs average 3.88 runs per game, 3.92 when Johnson pitches, pretty much the same. The NL average this year is about 4.67 runs per game, which means that the 3.92 runs they score for Johnson are (wait for it...) 83% of the NL avearge! It should be noted that the D-Backs score slightly more than a run over the number of earned runs Johnson allows, but also that runs become "cheaper" as scoring increases. Johnson has allowed ten unearned runs this season as well, which hasn't helped. Carlton only let eight unearned runs score all season, while pitching almost 130 more innings than Johnson has to this point.

So clearly the expectations have changed. Starting pitchers rarely complete their starts, and if they allow three earned runs in six innings, it's called a "Quality Start" even though a pitcher who did that every time out would have a 4.50 ERA, which is basically mediocre.

That's the background you need to understand before we can really say anything about how good Randy Johnson is or is not. First, let's look at how well Johnson has pitched this year:

He's pitched 215 innings, starting 31 games so far and completing four. Both the innings and complete games totals are second in the NL to Hernandez. Of those 31 starts, 22 have been "Quality Starts" meaning that he pitched 6 innings or more and allowed three earned runs or fewer, theoretically giving his team a chance to win. Except that it doesn't win, because eight of his 13 losses have come in these so-called "Quality Starts." The team has scored a grand total of seven runs in those eight starts, and no more than two runs in any one of them, so Johnson is only 10-8 with four no decisions in those QS. Not surprisingly, the Diamondbacks proceeded to lose all four of those no-decisions as well.

In 1972 a Quality Start would have been assessed differently. The NL ERA was 3.45, so an appearance which leads to a 3.50 ERA might be aptly called "Quality", such as 7 innings and two earned runs, or eight innings with three earned runs. Carlton had 30 such appearances that year, and went 25-4 with only one no-decision, a 10 inning shutout that was lost when the first batter in the 11th inning homered off the relief pitcher who replaced the pinch runner who replaced the pinch hitter who replaced Carlton in the top of the inning. If I were Steve, I wouldn't ever give up the ball either.

One reason Carlton won so many games is that he almost never gave up the ball. He completed nearly 3/4 of his starts, was only replaced in the middle of an inning once all season, and even pitched the tenth and eleventh innings in three of his starts. As I mentioned, his run support was just about as feeble as Johnson's is, but he allowed so few runs to score, and refused to let a relief pitcher screw up his work unless he absolutely had to, that he managed to win.

Eight of his games, as I mentioned, were shutouts. Nine other times he pitched a complete game and allowed only one run, earned or otherwise. Five of his other complete games entailed only two runs by the opposition, and two of those were 11-inning jobs. In adidtion, he also had that 10-inning shutout bid ruined in the top of the eleventh, as I mentioned earlier. So that's 22 of his 30 complete games that included 2 runs or fewer, not all of which were wins. Johnson has only had 16 games of any length this year allowing 2 or fewer runs, and only seven of those have been eight innings or more, none more than nine. Pitchers just can't do the same type of job with any kind of consistency.

After 31 starts in 1972, Carlton was 20-7, with a 2.10 ERA and had just completed nine straight and 14 of 15 starts, including two 11-inning, 2-run jobs. And though he had pitched about 50 more innings than Johnson in those 31 starts, he had only one more decision, with seven more wins and six fewer losses. Carlton was, more often than not, so stingy with runs, and so reluctant to surrender the ball, that he usually managed to win.

In 1971 and 1973, Carlton pitched very similarly. He had an approximately league-average ERA, and pitched a lot of innings. But the 90-win, '71 Cardinals gave him enough run support to provide a 20-9 record at year end, whereas the 91-loss Phillies let him take it one in the "L" column 20 times in 1973. The difference in run support was less than two runs per game.

And for the most part, Johnson has done everything you could ask from a pitcher: he gets batters out, prevents runners from scoring, fields his position, etc. What he doesn't do is bat, at least not very well. Hey, if you had a strike zone the size of a screen door, you might have a little trouble making contact too. But Johnson's .114 average, with one Run scored and 4 RBI, certainly doesn't help his cause much. Carlton, though not exaclty Babe Ruth with a batting average that echoed his ERA (.197), did have 5 extra base hits, including a homer, 6 runs and 8 RBI. There were four times that season when a run that he scored or drove in made a difference in the game, four wins that (presumably) would have garnered the Big Unit a Big L.

Now we get into "what if" scenarios? What if Johnson got league-average or better run support? Well, looking at his game log, if the team could score runs to average out to 4.67, depending on how things worked out, Johnson might still only be something like 16-12, or with some breaks, 17-10, which would certainly put him under serious consideration for the 2004 Cy Young Award, but still isn't anywhere near as good as Carlton was.

Amazingly, though, Carlton did not win an inordinate number of games given his run support. The Pythagorean projection for his ERA and Run Support

[ERA^2/(ERA^2 + RS^2)]

suggests that 27-10 is exactly where Carlton's record should have stood in 1972. His team barely scored more than 3 runs per game, but he allowed only two, and didn't allow a relief picher to get in the way of victory. The margin for error was so close, but Carlton managed to be ever-so-slightly within that margin 27 times that season. Johnson's just had hard luck and bad relief pitching, as Pythagoras tells me that he should be 17-9 at this point, not 13-13.

This seems to make it fairly clear that though Johnson may be the best or one of the best pitchers in the league, he's still nowhere near as good as Carlton was that year. I doubt anyone would really argue with this. But you don't win a CYA by proving that you're better than some guy who pitched thirty years ago, you win by being better than anyone else pitching in your league now, theoretically. People like Bob Pecose and Joe Morgan need to wake up and smell the 21st century. Pitchers are asked to get batters out, in an effort to try to win games for their team. If the team doesn't score and they lose, 1-0, it's hardly the pitcher's fault. The fact that he has 13 wins on a team that might not win 50 is fairly impressive to begin with.

Let's not put a damper on his accomplishments by complaining that he's not another person in another time. That's a standard against which no one should have to be measured.

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08 September 2004

The Year of the Streak(s)

Forget Cal Ripken. Forget 1998.

 Posted by Hello
2004 is The Year of the Streak.

Or, more accurately, the Year of the Streaks, as there are several different kinds of streaks that have taken place or are currently underway.

For example, the Arizona Diamondbacks, though they might have been thought of as contenders before the season began, are easily the Worst Team in Baseball. Their current 42-97 record means that they have barely won 30% of their games, are eight games worse than the next most awful team in MLB, the pathetic Kansas City Royals. They're also 17(!) games worse than the Montreal Expos, the closest NL team, who are so bad that two countries don't want them. Montreal has the worst offense in the majors, averaging only 3.85 runs scored per game, which is only 2.98 with the exchange rate, and there's as much distance in the standings between the Expos and Diamondbacks as there is between the Expos and Cubs.

To be as bad as the Diamondbads are, sorry, Diamondbacks, you've got to have a few losing streaks, and boy do they. Arizona has lost nine games, eleven and even 14 games in a row, and has three other losing streaks of five or more, including the current one, which stands at six. When, in late August, they took two games out of three from the Cincinnati Reds (who should be ashamed of themselves, by the way...), it was only the second series the team has won since Mid-June. If you look at the games around those three largest losing streaks (9, 11 and 14 games, from June 18th to August 14th) the team won eight games out of 51, for a .157 winning percentage. Even the 2003 Tigers, who explored profound, new depths of futility in losing 119 games last season, never won fewer than 10 games in any 51-game span, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

The D-Backs are a Blur of Badness Posted by Hello

On the other side of the coin, the Florida Marlins have currently built a 9-game winning streak, which has helped them to get back into the NL Wild Card Race, where they are currently only 1.5 games behind the lead. Nine games is not that extraordinary a streak, but it sure is a timely one, as was the 7-game winning streak they had near the beginning of the season. That 7-game streak was helped by the Marlins getting to play the Phillies, who suck when they play Florida, as you may recall, and the Expos, who suck when they play anyone. It also served to put the Phils five and a half games behind the Marlins, which is just about where they sit now. This means, of course, that the Phillies and Marlins have played almost exactly as well as each other since the middle of April, and that the Phillies' lost postseason chance is owed entirely to their inability to beat the Fish.

Philadelphia has gone 69-58 in games they didn't play against Florida, while the Marlins have actually played at .500, 61-61, in non-Philly games. But Florida has won 11 of 12 contests between them, and, as I mentioned in a previous post, the two teams still have seven games against each other in September. So, while the Marlins' current winning streak is timely, it's really their success against the City of Brotherly BOO!! that they have to thank for even being in contention. And if the Fish should pull off another miracle and make it to the playoffs? The Phillies ought to get proper credit...for sucking exactly when they needed to.

Speaking of winning streaks, the Houston Astros have taken advantage of some of their NL Central rivals to win 12 in a row. Perhaps more impressively, they've won 15 out of 16 and 20 out of 23 since mid-August, to lead the NL Wild Card race, in a tie with the Giants, by half a game. This after the Astros were all but counted out, with a season-worst four games under .500 record at 56-60 on August 14th, and after losing two out of three to the Expos (who suck, remember?) Their next five games come against the Pirates, who also suck, but then a lot of the remaining schedule is against the Cardinals and Giants, who don't. Half a game isn't much of a lead, and while the Cubs are the class of the race on paper, they've done anything but put away the competition to this point.

And we can't forget Boston, though we might like to. The Red Sox comfortably lead the AL Wild Card race by five games over Anaheim, and are continuing to creep up on the Yankees in the AL East, only two games back now after beating Oakland 8-3 last night. That extends their current winning streak to a meager four games, but this follows shortly after a ten-game win streak and six-game streak, broken up only by singular losses, which means that the Dirt Dogs have won 20 of their last 22, and haven't lost consecutive games in over a month. It's almost sad that all this effort might prove to be for naught as the Division title and the Wild Card seem to offer about the same chance of making it t and winning the World Series. I Keep telling myself that Lady Luck will have to wake up at some point and start evening things out for the Sawx, but with the remainder of the Red Sox schedule taking place against Tampa, Baltimore and Seattle, streak or no streak, the Red Sox will not go away.

Well, not until October. When the Yankees beat them. Again.

It's just a matter of time... Posted by Hello

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05 September 2004

Looks Like I Picked The Wrong Week to Quit Sniffing Glue

It's been a rough week for the New York Yankees and their fans.

Though they took three out of four games from the Blue Jays in Toronto last weekend, they ended the series with a loss. One-time ace Mike Mussina could not get out of the seventh inning without allowing five runs, amking it the ninth time this season Moose had alowed at least five runs in a game. To his credit though, the six and a third innings he pitched marked his longest outing since returning from the DL. Still though, six innings and five earned runs is hardly the kind of performance you'd like to see from a pitcher making sixteen million dollars this year, especially against a last place team that's scored fewer runs than all but three teams in the AL (Seattle, KC and Tampa Bay.) An ace, he is not, at least this year.

As if that were not sufficiently depressing, the Yanks then traveled home to host the Cleveland Indians, in what should have been continued abuse of the American League's soft underbelly, but instead became an embarassment of historic proportions for the Yanks. Rather than showing the mediocre Cleveland Indians who's boss, the Yankees infuriated their own Boss by posting the most severe loss in the franchise's storied, 100+ year history, and equaled the most lopsided shutout in major league history, losing to the Indians 22-0. Jake Westbrook, who's having a decent season for the Tribe, shut them down for seven innings, and Jeremy Guthrie, making only his second major league appearance, pitched two scoreless innings to cap off the humiliation. Thankfully, they won the next two against Cleveland, but the bad press created by this demoralizing loss got a lot of people worried about the Yankees' chances in October, including me.

Without looking it up, I imagine that you'd be hard-pressed to find the last World Series championship team that had been beaten by something like 20 runs in the same season. Mercifully, they did manage to take the remaining two games of that series, but the damage had been done.

The next stop on the trolley through the American League Patsy-ville was Baltimore, who rolled into town Friday for a three game series that should have helped the Yankees pad their lead on division rival Boston, but instead turned out to be a nightmare of almost epic proportions.

Kevin Brown started on Friday night, and pitched reasonably well, allowing three runs in six innings, but ending his night rather abruptly when he punched a clubhouse wall in frustration after the sixth inning and broke two bones in his left (non-pitching) hand. He had been hit in the right forearm by Miguel Tejada's batted ball in the sixth inning, one inning after tweaking his knee covering first base on an infield grounder. Of course, Brown also missed a substantial portion of the season with lower back injuries and an intestinal parasite, so it's not as though they could afford to miss him for another few weeks. Heck, they needed him to pitch the very next inning, as his 81 pitches at the time certainly were not so many to have normally sent him to the showers at that point. Felix Heredia, his emergency replacement, walked the only two batters he faced before retreating to the showers in the clubhouse from the shower of boos coming from the stands. The Yankees still don't have a decent lefty in the bullpen, and by 'decent' I mean "doesn't completely suck."

The AP reported that the Yankees front office people began reviewing Brown's contract to see if anything like a self-inflicted injury would void his otherwise guaranteed money, another $15 mil next season, but that seems a moot point right now. Whether or not Brown is overpaid with the nearly sixteen million he's making this year (he is), he's still one of the best starters the Yankees have when he's healthy. Sadly, he won't be healthy enough to pitch again for about three weeks, perhaps even after the regular season has ended.

On this subject, I can speak a little from personal experience. About eight years ago, while I was in college, I did something like this as well. In my own anger and frustration, over a girl, a much better reason than Kevin Brown's, if you ask me, I punched something I should not have: my closet. The dorm closets at Lehigh were made of solid oak, and as you might have guessed, the bones in my hand were not, so you can imagine which of us lost that fight. (I have a rematch with that closet coming up in October. It's on Pay-Per-View.) My fifth metacarpal was broken just below the joint where it meets with my right pinky, what they call a "boxer's fracture" for obvious reasons. (Unlike Brown, I did not have the foresight to hit the closet door with my left hand.) I was told that they could perform surgery and reset the joint so that it would look nice again, but that the range of motion I would have if they did so might not even be as good as if they just let it heal itself in the semi-bent position, which took about 4-6 weeks in a cast, if I recall. I doubt that metacarpal fracture medical science has advanced all that much in less than a decade that Brown will be back before early October, even with his superior physical conditioning and probably better doctors. A bone is still a bone.

Ant to (literally) add insult to injury, the Yankees lost the only game I got to see in person this year, Saturday, also to the Orioles. And they didn't just lose, they couldn't even buy a hit. Sidney Ponson, at one time on a pace to lose 20+ games, with an ERA still pretty close to 6.00 as he entered the game, shut the Yankees out for the second time in a week, alowing only two hits and a walk in nine innings.

To his credit, Mike Mussina pitched pretty well overall. He struck out eight and allowed only two runs in seven innings, though he did need to work his way out of trouble on a few occasions. It's a shame his best performance in three months had to be squandered by poor offensive run support and a bad showing by the bullpen.

Down only 2-0 coming into the ninth inning, Yankees fans at the game had something for which to cheer, as Metallica's "Enter Sandman" began playing on the Stadium PA system, and The Best Closer in Postseason History sauntered in from the bullpen behind left-centerfield. Mariano Rivera, having been all but unstoppable this season with a miniscule 1.32 ERA and 46 saves entering the game, couldn't stop himself from allowing four runs while getting only one out. This rather intrigued me, as most managers won't bring in their best reliever, the Closer, in a non-save situation. Typically Joe Torre doesn't either, but we've seen often, especially in the postseason, that he's not afraid to buck convention with Rivera when it might help win a game. It didn't on Saturday.

The problems started with a solo home run by Rafael Palmiero into the right field bleachers, a no-doubt-about-it blast that traveled about 420 feet, and then traveled back about 40 feet, when the Bleacher Creature who caught it threw it back onto the field. Of course, Palmiero is a future Hall of Famer who's done that about 540 other times in his career, more than all but ten guys in history, so it was almost forgiveable. On the other hand, he hadn't hit one in over a month, and this was only his second homer since the All-Star Break. Still, with not such an insurmountable lead at 3-0, the Yankees still had a chance if Mo could buckle down and get some outs. But three singles and a fielder's choice grounder later he'd still only gotten one out, was down 4-0 and had men on first and third.

No pitcher wants to read the words "relieved by Bret Prinz" in a game story about himself, so I hope Rivera didn't pick up the Sports section on Sunday morning. Not being a good enough pitcher to keep Bret Prinz and his 5.25 ERA in the bullpen is a lot like not being a good enough lawyer to keep the state from calling in My Cousin Vinny to argue the case. And, as if that weren't depressing enough, Prinz came in and allowed Brian Roberts, whose "slugging" percentage ranks #139 out of 157 qualified major leaguers this season, to deposit his first pitch into the right field stands, scoring both runners and putting the Yanks down 7-0. Prinz did mercifully get the next batter out, but the Yanks' day was clearly over.

Sidney Ponson finished the game out with a perfect ninth inning to complete the Bronx Bombers' shame. It was his first complete game in over a month, his first shutout since mid-May. Just a bad week all-around for the Yankees.

Making things worse, the Red Sox had pulled, over the course of this week, from 6.5 games out to a paltry 2.5 games out of first place, with six games remaining in the season against the Yankees. The Sawx had to play insanely good baseball for a month in order to get this close, which would seem to indicate that the law of averages is bound to catch up with them and get them to lose once or twice in a while, but 2.5 games is hardly a comfortable cushion in a season that once saw the Yanks up by more than ten.

The remainder of New York's schedule is, as I mentioned, pretty easy, in theory: Six more games agains Toronto, five against Tampa Bay, and three each against Baltimore and Kansas City, besides the six against Boston and three against Minnesota. Boston's schedule isn't exactly tough though, and with the pitching rotation's struggles and injuries, the Yanks do have their work cut out for them the rest of this month.

If there's any solace to be had in this situation, it lies in that the AL East team that doesn't win the division will probably win the Wild Card, which we've already saeen offers a perfectly acceptable opportunity to win the Wolrd Series. But I think the Yankess would prefer to keep that streak of division titles going, if at all possible.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy some more rubber cement...

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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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