01 February 2005

Analyzing the Leftovers

In the past couple of weeks, ESPN analysts Jayson Stark and Rob Neyer have looked at the ten (allegedly) Most Improved Teams and ten Least Improved Teams, respectively. Subjective as they may be, I think that most of us would probably agree on at least seven or eight of each of these lists, if not more, so I won't argue too strenuously with either. However, it occurs to me that there remains a mid-range pack of ten teams whose offseason moves have not received the, quick, sound-bite filled, shallow and incomplete analysis they deserve. So I, your hero, am here to save the day and provide you with the almost completely useless service of examining...

The Ten (or so) Middle Static Misunderestimated Teams of 2005

Or something like that.

The ten teams that made neither Neyer's nor Stark's lists were, in no particular order:

Blue Jays

Let's take these one at a time. For the record, I didn't generally count a player if he didn't play some kind of significant role on the team in 2004. So if you're wondering why I don't mention Omar Daal or Todd Hundley after this sentence, now you know.

Philadelphia Phillies
Gained: Terry Adams, Jon Lieber, Jose Offerman, Kenny Lofton
Kept: Rheal Cormier, Cory Lidle, Placido Polanco, Todd Pratt, Amaury Telemaco, Geoff Geary
Lost: Kevin Millwood, Eric Milton, Todd Jones, Roberto Hernandez, Felix Rodriguez, Doug Glanville

I won't write too much here, because I've already written a much more detailed analysis of the Phillies, but on a cursory level, the Phils are tough to gauge. They lost some big "names" to free agency, but Millwood and Milton are both overrated, the latter having gotten a pile of money from the Reds despite never pitching a full season with an ERA under 4.32. Jones and Hernandez were going to be expensive and unnecessary, so they really didn't lose much there. Of course, Lieber and Adams don't really add a lot either, and Offerman isn't likely to play much, if at all, for the Phillies.

The really telling list for Philadelphia is that of the free agents they kept. Polanco and Cormier are both pretty good at what they do, and could have gotten more money elsewhere. Telemaco and Geary give some bullpen strength and Lidle is a solid, if unimpressive, presence in the rotation. They may get burned on the $21 million they gave Lieber, but if he's healthy, this team should compete in the NL East all season.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Gained: JD Drew, Jeff Kent, Jose Valentin, Derek Lowe, Ricky Ledee
Kept: Wilson Alvarez, Elmer Dessens, Odalis Perez
Lost: Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Alex Cora, Steve Finley, Jose Lima, Hideo Nomo, Scott Stewart

Lots of movement here, not a lot of improvement.

Derek Lowe certainly wasn't worth the $36 million for four years he got from LA, but Jose Lima was as good a bet to get injured or stink as he was to put up another 4.00ish ERA, so that seems like a wash. Nomo and Stewarts departures are classic "addition by subtraction." They won't be missed. Odalis Perez and Wilson Alvarez would have been, so they kept them.

Whether he matched last year's 48 homers again or not (hint: NOT), the loss of Adrian Beltre is a huge hit to this offense. Shawn Green, even though he didn't produce enough to justify being paid $17 million per season, was their second best hitter, and Finley was no slouch either. Drew more than compensates for Green, but Ledee won't ever hit like Finley did those last two months.

They also lost both halves of their 2B platoon (Cora and Hernandez), which combined for an .813 OPS in 2004, not much worse than the .836 new 2B Jeff Kent posted in road games last year. Unfortunately, Jose Valentin's 30 homers also come with his .216 average, 139 strikeouts, and 35-year old knees, so it's hard to see where they're going to get back the runs created by Green and Beltre, unless Hee Seop Choi and Jayson Werth somehow blossom given the chance to play every day. Stranger things have happened.

Houston Astros
Gained: John Franco, Orlando Palmiero, Dave Burba
Kept: Roger Clemens, Jose Vizcaino, Russ Springer
Lost: Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent, Wade Miller, Dan Miceli, Darren Oliver

I'm not sure how the Astros didn't make Rob Neyer's list.

Beltran and Kent accounted for 50 homers, 160 RBI and 166 runs scored between them, and that for Beltran in only half a season. Who's going to compensate for that? Vizcaino? Palmiero? Rookie Chris Burke put up nice numbers in the PCL in 2004, but he won't hit like Kent did, not this year. Lance Berkman missing the first month of the season will also hurt them.

After losing three games in the postseason last year, Dan Miceli may have been run out of town if he hadn't signed with a team in Japan, but during the season he was still their most consistent setup man. Wade Miller may have been injury-prone, but he was also a solid bet to be worth more than the $1.5 million he got from Boston.

They kept Clemens and a couple other role-players. Think of Clemens' arbitration award as "back-pay" for his 2004 season, in which he only made about $5 million plus some incentives. But don't think that Clemens is going to put up another 200+ innings of sub-3.00 ERA work in 2005. This is a team destined to take a dive in '05.

Washington Nationals
Gained: Vinny Castilla, Christian Guzman, Esteban Loaiza, Antonio Osuna, Jose Guillen
Lost: Tony Batista, Juan Rivera

The Nationals did not re-sign any of their free agents, but for once that's a good thing. Actually, they found crappy free agents elsewhere to fill out the 2005 roster, including Vinny Castilla and Christian Guzman, neither of whom should be terrible, but neither of whom is really worth the money they got either. Loaiza probably won't be as bad as he was in 2004 or as good as he was in 2003, which makes one year at $2.9 million a decent risk. Osuna's decent when healthy, the likelihood of which which is anybody's guess.

Jose Guillen was a nice pickup in a trade for Juan Rivera, capitalizing on the bad taste he left in the mouth of the Angels' front office, but he won't do enough to vault the Nats into contention, not in a division with three or four teams that could contend for the playoffs. Technically, after finishing in last place, they should have nowhere to go but up, but staying put is a more likely outcome.

Milwaukee Brewers
Gained: Carlos Lee, Ricky Botallico, Damian Miller, Tommy Phelps, Rigo Beltran
Kept: Nobody of Consequence
Lost: Craig Counsell, Scott Podsednik, Luis Vizcaino, Dan Kolb, Chad Moeller, Selig Ownership

Talk about your lackluster offseasons. The Brewers' only notable free agent acquisition was Damian Miller, to whom they inexplicably gave a three-year contract even though his knees are 35 going on mashed potatoes. Otherwise, they were very conservative this winter, which means either that

A) They realize that spending good money to keep mediocre free agents is not a winning strategy

2) They were in a holding pattern most of the offseason pending the sale of the team, or

iii) Their GM still isn't even allowed to buy a bratwurst without approval from On High.

Personally, my money's on the Patriots.

Seriously, though, the trade for Carlos Lee is a nice upgrade to the offense, as is losing Craig Counsell to the D-Backs. The bullpen's a little thinner, but relievers are so erratic anyway that the team might have two guys as good as Vizcaino and Kolb on the roster now and not know it yet. This team could surprise a lot of people and finish with a winning record, if only slightly.

Baltimore Orioles
Gained: Sammy Sosa, Steve Kline, Steve Reed, Enrique Wilson, Chris Gomez
Kept: BJ Surhoff
Lost: Jerry Hairston, Marty Cordova, Buddy Groom

The Orioles failed to lure any significant free agents this winter. For a team like Pittsburgh or Kansas City, that's not an issue, but for one of the wealthiest franchises in baseball, that's a serious problem. Sammy Sosa's presence makes an already formidable lineup (8th in MLB in 2004 with 842 Runs) even better, but the man can't pitch, and neither can much of anyone else on the roster. No team this winter did less with more, at least before last weekend.

Toronto Blue Jays
Gained: Shea Hillenbrand, Billy Koch, Corey Koskie, Scott Schoenweiss
Kept: Greg Myers, Gregg Zaun
Lost: Carlos Delgado, Chris Gomez

When the best thing you can say about your offseason is that you held onto Greg(g), The Two-Headed Catching Monster, your offseason was probably a bust. I suppose Corey Koskie isn't a bad player, but he's not Delgado either, and neither is Erik Hinske, who was slated to take over the first base job vacated when Delgado flew south for the rest of his career. Hinske's really, really not Delgado, and would be the worst regular first baseman in MLB in 2005 if the slide he's endured since his Rookie-of-the-Year 2002 season doesn't reverse itself quickly. Shea Hillenbrand, unwisely acquired by trade from the Diamondbacks, may instead be the regular 1B, with Hinske being the regular DH (emphasis not on the "H") or traded himself.

Their biggest addition to the pitching staff was Billy Koch, who started his career with Toronto, but has been with three teams the last three years. He won the Ridiculous Rolaids Relief Man Award in 2002, but has had a 5.12 ERA combined over the two seasons since, so I don't see how he helps much.

What the Blow Jays really needed was, well, everything. They were 11th in the AL in ERA in 2004, 12th in Runs Scored, 12th in home runs, 12th in batting average, 12th in OBP, 12th in slugging, 13th in steals. Their hitters were 4th in the AL in strikeouts, while their pitchers were (you guessed it) 12th. This team did nothing well on its way to 94 losses in 2004, and did very little o prevent another 90+ losses in 2005. This is another team that I think should have made Rob Neyer's "Least-Improved" list.

Minnesota Twins
Gained: Juan Castro, Eric Munson, CJ Nitkowski, Mike Redmond
Kept: Brad Radke, Terry Mulholland
Lost: Corey Koskie, Christian Guzman, Henry Blanco, Jose Offerman

The Twins expect first-round draft pick Joe Mauer to be ready to catch every day in 2005, but they signed Mike Redmond as a backup and safety net, essentially to replace Henry Blanco on the roster. He's the same age as Blanco, with comparable skills, but somehow was signed for a million dollars less than Blanco got from the Cubs, for the same 2-year deal. Go figure.

The Twins also have two good-hitting, 25-year old 3B candidates in Terry Tiffee and Michael Cuddyer, so they shouldn't miss Koskie much, especially not at an average of more than $5 million per year. Christian Guzman's at-bats will be taken by rookie Jason Bartlett, who showed the ability to hit for average and to take a walk in the minors, two skills that continually elude Guzman. He's only 24 though, so his backup is Augie Ojeda, whose main distinction in life is that he shares my birth date.

If they're smart, the Twins will trade one of their bigger name outfielders and let the younger guys play, maybe getting some help at 2B in return. This team won its division in 2004 despite finishing 10th in the AL in Runs Scored, and would do well to improve the offense however they can, because the pitching staff isn't likely to lead the league in ERA again.

The list of name changes on the Twins' roster doesn't really tell the story here. The real deal is that the Twins are virtually bursting at the seams with young hitting talent, and with Offerman, Koskie and Guzman gone, they could take some huge strides.

Cleveland Indians
Gained: Kevin Millwood, Alex Cora, Juan Gonzales, Jose Hernandez, Arthur Rhodes
Kept: Bob Wickman
Lost: Matt Lawton, Josh Phelps, Omar Vizquel, Lou Merloni, Jose Jimenez, Rick White

The Indians surprised a lot of people by contending for as long as they did in 2004. Ironically, they were in it until the weekend I visited Cleveland and watched the Twins beat them, and then went 17-27 down the stretch. If it's any consolation, I promise I won't visit Cleveland this summer.

But the Indians do not seem to be daunted by their late-season slide, but rather encouraged by how well they did perform. And so this offseason they went out and quietly made a lot of smart little moves. Everyone heard that they gave $7 million to Kevin Millwood, but it's only for one year, and if he's healthy, he'll more than earn it.

They shed some big-ticket items like Matt Lawton and Omar Vizquel, preferring instead to go with the no-frills versions (Juan Gonzales and Alex Cora) to replace them. Cora's nothing special, but he'll make a solid regular to hold down the job until Jhonny Peralta learns to spell, and to play everyday. Gonzales was signed to a minor league contract, but you have to admit he's got a lot of upside if he can stay healthy. Jose Hernandez and Arthur Rhodes are solid role players without huge price tags. Even Bob Wickman, despite his injury history, could prove to be worth the $2.7 million he'll be paid this year.

It looks to me like the Indians are planning on contending again in 2005, but know they don't have the money to go out and sign the Carlos Delgados and Beltrans of the world, so they've stacked the deck in their favor by getting several players with relatively low cost-to-upside ratios. If just a few of those pan out, they'll be in the playoff mix.

St. Louis Cardinals
Gained: Mark Mulder, Einar Diaz, David Eckstein, Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Myers
Kept: Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris, So Taguchi, Cal Eldred, John Mabry
Lost: Steve Kline, Kiki Calero, Mike Matheny, Tony Womack, Edgar Renteria, Woody Williams, Ray Lankford

There's not much of anywhere to go but down after a 105-win season and a trip to the World Series, so not surprisingly, the Cardinals probably will.

They turned over their starting double-play combo, losing Edgar Renteria to a $40 million contract with the Red Sox and Womack to the Yankees, but replaced them with Eckstein and Grudzielanek, capable if not spectacular players. They probably lose a win or two right there, but it's not as severe a dropoff as you might expect, since Womack was way over his head in 2004. They lost their starting catcher, and don't have anyone on the roster who got to the plate more than 150 times last year, so that looks like a weak spot in the lineup.

The rotation lost Woody Williams, but should be improved with the addition of Mulder, whenever he's not chasing aliens and/or government conspiracies. Steve Kline and Kiki Calero were two of their better relief pitchers, but they still have a solid bullpen, and the addition of Mike Myers gives them a situational lefty with a pretty funny Scottish accent.

Again, most of these transactions look like they'll even out, but remember that a lot of things went right for St. Louis last year. Their starting rotation was healthy all season, with a total of only eight starts doled out to someone other than the Fab Five. That almost never happens in today's game. Furthermore, their outfielders are all in their mid-30's, which also raises the possibility of injuries, and some of their role players (Womack, Mabry) hit well beyond expectations.

The Cardinals should still be in the thick of the NL Central race in 2005, but their 2004 performance was a tough act to follow. If they do suffer a severe drop in 2005 though, it will likely not be due to their offseason moves as much as the simple law of averages.


So there you have them, the Ten Kinda Sorta Not Sure What To Think Teams of the 2004-05 Offseason, AKA, The Rest of the Rest. They're the Major Majors of the baseball world, and somehow I managed to crank out over 2700 words remarking on them, the Ten Least Remarkable Teams in baseball.

God help us if I ever develop a talent anyone actually needs.

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29 January 2005

Play It Again, Sammy

Didn't see that one coming.

The Baltimore Orioles have reportedly agreed to a trade that will bring erstwhile Cubs rightfielder Sammy Sosa to Camden Yards, in exchange for Jerry Hairston Jr. and two minor leaguers, reportedly 2B Mike Fontenot and pitcher David Crouthers.

This was, as you may be aware, the Trade That Should Never Have Happened. Sosa's agent, when signing his last contract, had made sure that Sammy would remain with the Cubs throughout his career. A clause in his contract, which for the Cubs was guaranteed for $17 million in 2005, meant that if he were traded, an option for $18 million in 2006 became guaranteed, and that an option for $19 million in 2007 would be added, with a $4.5 million buyout. Faced with the daunting proposal of paying no less than $39.5 million for two years of an outfielder in his late 30's, with a bad attitude, who'd hit only .253 in the preceeding season, only a fool would make such a trade.

So Sammy, it would seem, despite his difficulties with Cubs management, would remain firmly planted in right field at Wrigley. But then, like Cleavon Little riding into town on a Gucci saddle, here comes Orioles' owner Peter Angelos to save the day. Angelos, that great humanitarian, picked up poor, old Sammy Sosa from the dust in which he lay, cleaned him up a little, and brought him into the fold at Camden Yard. Oh, and for his philanthropy, Sosa rewarded him by voiding the last year of his contract, and the Cubs rewarded him by picking up $10 million of the $17 million he's due in 2005. I guess altruism is rewarded once in a while after all.

Of course, under those circumstances, only a fool wouldn't make such a trade, especially when the asking price is only a 2B/OF for whom you have no room, whose career OPS barely crests 700 and who's about to become a free agent and therefore become expensive. Oh, and a couple of prospects. Obviously, the prospects will make the difference here, right?

Wrong. Prospect #1 is Mike Fontenot, a AAA 2B who's 25 and through three levels of the Orioles' minor league system has essentially hit like Adam Kennedy, roughly .280 with 10 homers, 50 walks and 100 strikeouts. Except that when Kennedy was in the minors, he was a better hitter than Fontenot, and now Kennedy has peaked out at "mediocre".

The other prospect (#B, if you're keeping track) is David Crouthers, who posted a 5.03 ERA at AA Bowie last year, despite being 24, AKA Old For His League, and despite the fact that it was his second tour of duty at that level. Not good signs, either. The problem, apparently, was that he surrendered 23 homers in 140 innings last season, after giving up only 9 in his previous three years combined. Whether that was a fluke or a harbinger of sucking remains to be seen, but it's clear that Crouthers is far from a sure-thing.

Lee Sinins reports that Orioles closer Jorge Julio and Cubs setup man Kyle Farnsworth may also be involved in the deal, but there's been no confirmation on those possibilities yet.

For the Orioles, this acquisition hardly compensates for the fact that they were able to lure exactly ZERO big-name free agents to Baltimore this offseason. Last year they brought in Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmiero and Miguel Tejada, and managed to improve seven games on their 2003 record, their best since 1999. But they still have almost no pitching to speak of, and no hope of competing with either the Yankees or the Red Sox, much less both. Nevertheless, Slammin' Sammy did still slam 35 of them last year, and the O's lineup looks formidable, so at least they'll be fun to watch half of the time.

Despite his downside, Sosa does still have a huge upside, and given that the Cubs were willing to pay more than half his 2005 salary, that Sosa was willing to surrender any future guaranteed money (not sure if he surrenders the buyout clauses as well), and that Baltimore didn't need to give up very much, it was well worth the risk. Unfortunately, Eric(k)s Bedard and DuBose, Daniel Cabrera and Sidney Ponson aren't going to make anyone in Baltimore forget Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar, so the Orioles are going to need something like a miracle (actually, three or four of them) if they're going to make another leap in the standings, to say, second place.

The Cubs, on the other hand, seem to have shot themselves in their collective foot. Sosa may have been trouble, but he was also their marquee star and the team's best outfielder after Moises Alou left for San Francisco. Rob Neyer detailed how poor the Cubs' outfield may be this year. Following this trade, they've got Corey Patterson in CF, possibly Hairston in right, though he belongs at 2B, given his decidedly "lightweight" bat, and some combination of Todd Hollandsworth and rookies Dave Kelton and Jason DuBois in left.

What Rob did not mention, however, is that Patterson's still only 25, and that his 2004 season was an improvement upon his last full year, if only a slight improvement. If you look at their numbers side-by-side, Patterson's age 25 season compares favorably to Alfonso Soriano's 2001. Soriano's 28 now and still has never walked 45 times in a season, as Patterson did last year, so Corey may be making bigger strides next year.

The other thing Rob didn't mention is that rookie Jason DuBois was a legitimate MVP contender in the Pacific Coast League last year, hitting .316/.389/.630, with 31 homers in fewer than 400 at-bats. His walk rate isn't anything to write home about, but he's got youth and power, so that's something. And besides, if the Cubs can use that seven million they saved on Whinin' Slammin' Sammy to get Magglio Ordonez, and Ordonez doesn't break down again, the Cubs are still a favorite to contend in the NL in 2005. Those are a few big "if"s, but we already know for sure that Houston is going to have a heck of a time competing in the NL Central after losing Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent and Wade Miller to free agency, and 20% of Lance Berkman's season to injury. So maybe it was worth the risk for the Cubs, too.

But can you imagine the dislike between Sosa and Cubs management? Can you imagine hating your employer enough that you would give up about $25 million just to get away from them? Can you imagine disliking an employee so much that you'd pay them $10 million to work for someone else? Personally, I hate to see a team pay a player $10 million a year to play for another team, unless the team he'll be playing for is mine, but we all knew that the relationship between Sosa and Chicago was over, and that there would need to be huge concessions to get him out of town, and we're not talking about hot dogs here. Actually, maybe we are.

Of course, Sosa's hot-dogging was much more acceptable when he was a team player and a legitimate, perennial MVP candidate. The Cubs know that even if he bounced back and had a sneeze-free season in '05, the headaches he would cause would disrupt one of their only chances at exorcising thier own Curse. We'll see if he can once again
carry a team on his back, or if the pressure (and the Press) will once again sour a relationship with a team and a town. Good luck, Sammy.

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24 January 2005

Oh, the Places You'll Go...Like Second Place

Travis Nelson's 2005 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

Maybe it's a little early for this, but what the heck. I live on the edge.

With the Philadelphia Eagles just about to face the New England Patriots for the championship of their league (soccer, I think), it naturally begs the question:

"By how much will they lose?"

Because, let's face it: This is still Philadelphia, a town whose teams have a worse reputation for choking than Latrell Sprewell. Players who buckle under the pressure like soda cans in a recycling plant. Managers and front office personnel who screw up more often that the old Twister ride at Six Flags Great Adventure.

And that reality begs the question:

"What should we expect from the 2005 Phillies?"

I mean, besides disappointment.

Sure, we're still a month from pitchers and catchers reporting, but a quick glance of the Phillies current roster tells me that there's not a lot thy'll be able to do before Opening Day. They may make a minor change, a small-name trade or a minor league free agent or something, but the roster is largely set for this year. Let's take a look.

Starting Lineup

1 Jimmy Rollins, SS
2 Chase Utley, 2B
3 Bobby Abreu, RF
4 Jim Thome, 1B
5 Pat Burrell, LF
6 Mike Lieberthal, C
7 Marlon Byrd, CF
8 David Bell, 3B
9 Pitcher

#1) Personally, I don't much care for Jimmy Rollins as a leadoff hitter. He strikes out too much, though he did improve significantly in that area last year, whiffing only 73 times after three consecutive 100+ K seasons. If he can keep that up, I'll have no cause for complaint here. Rollins doesn't walk as much as I would like either, fewer than 60 times each of the last three seasons, though that isn't terrible if he can keep hitting .290 or more. His impatience (3.45 pitches/PA marked the second lowest among qualified leadoff hitters in MLB last season) makes him ill-suited to this role, but he's got the speed to get triples and steals, and historically he hits better in the leadoff spot than anywhere else the Phillies have put him, so he's staying. You could do worse.

#2) Chase Utley will hopefully get to play a whole seaosn at one position, and in one league, and will be permitted to rack up 600 plate appearances. If he does that, look for something like .270 with 25 homers. He doesn't walk a lot, but doesn't strike out a ton either, and should be a productive hitter for the Phillies for some time, if not the second coming of Jeff Kent. His defense is probably better than you've heard as well, since the unstability of his playing situations cannot have been helpful. If he falters, Placido Polanco's capable hands, and bat, will be waiting to pick up the slack at 2B and the #2 hole.

#3) Will someone, anyone, please go out to Citizen's bank Park and take a look at the guy patrolling right field in the top halves of the innings? Someone who has a bigger audience than me (not that it would take much), please?

You see, there's this guy, Bob. I know, "Bob" sounds like such a boring, unassuming name. Not like "Jake" or "Hank" or something really impressive like "Colt". And I suppose Bob is pretty boring and unassuming. He's so damn boring, in fact than all he's done, for the last six years in a row, is hit at least 20 homers and 35 doubles, steal at least 22 bases, walk 100 times or more, score 99 runs or more, and play good defense. Since 1998, he has failed to hit .300 only once (.289 in 2001) and he more than compensated with 36 steals and 83 extra-base hits. Last year, he his 30 homers and stole 40 bases, the only 30-30 man in Phillies history, and he's done it twice. This is truly the greatest player nobody knows in today's game, and there's no reason to think either of those things will change in 2005.

#4) Firstbaseman and cleanup hitter Jim Thome, while not quite the player he had been in 2002, was still a great investment in 2003 and 2004. He led the senior circuit with 47 homers in 2003, and hit another 42 in 2004, good for fifth place. He still walks a lot, hits for decent average and tremendous power, accompanied, of course, by piles and piles of strikeouts. For Thome, though, that's not such a big deal. By the time he's at-bat, the pitcher's repetiore has already been seen, and he's trying to drive in runs, so striking out is better than hitting into a double play. And if he has to give up 10 homers to shave 30 K's off his season, it's not worth it. Expect Jim to scontinue to swing away in 2005, pounding his way toward 500 homers and a plaque in Cooperstown.

#5) Pat "The Bat" Burrell, besides having one of the dumbest and least creative nicknames in the history of organized American sport (not his fault), is an enigma. He bounced back considerably from a miserable 2003 campaign that saw him lose 73 points in batting average and 16 homers from his 2002 numbers. Three of his five seasons have seen him hit between .257 and .260 (how's that for consistency?), while the .282 and .209 he put up in 2002 and '03 look like flukes, both. Like Thome, he's got tremendous strikeout totals, along with the homers, to a lesser extent, but unlike Thome he's still relatively young. At 28, he should be coming into his prime, and may gain a little batting average this year. Without Larry Bowa ranting and raving at every strikeout, look for Burrell to put up something like a .275/35/100 season in 2005. With 180 strikeouts.

#6) Mike Lieberthal is what he is: A good, but not great-hitting catcher who doesn't give you a lot of anything, but gives you enough of everything that you can rely on him. Leiberthal can typically be penciled in for 130 games, 15 homers and a .270 average, with just enough walks to keep him above A.J. Pierzynski on most lists. He's not young though, as most catchers start to decline around age 33 or so, and his backup, Tank Pratt, is really, really not young, at 37. Between them, though, the Phillies will likely still have a catching tandem better than two thirds of the teams in MLB.

#7) "Put me in, coach! I'm ready to play today!" Apparently Larry Bowa was not a fan of John Fogerty. Or Marlon Byrd. For all the pleas made to him by Byrd, Bowa simply would not allow his young centerfielder to play. Jason Michaels proved a serviceable replacement, but being demoted for Doug Glanville is not a good way to solidify your status as a player. Even after returning from the June demotion to AAA, Byrd never did anything to prove that he belonged with the big league club, though he wasn't given a very long leash either. At 27, he'd better hope that Bowa was the only reason for his problems, and that Charlie Manuel can bring out the best in him. His platoon partner/competition, Kenny Lofton, is on the decline side of his career, and shouldn't be a regular on a team that wants to win its division.

If Byrd doesn't shape up, this is the easiest place to upgrade during the season, as they'll have neither a big salary nor a big ego to dispose of in order to get some production out of this spot in the lineup. Some noncontending team will likely have a proven producer available before the trade deadline. The Phillies have prospects to burn if they need to make a trade, but I'll get to them later.

#8) Even though 3B David Bell batted in the #5-#7 holes almost all of 2004, I have him slated for the #8 hole because I expect him to "earn" that slot before the year is out. The .291/.363/.458 line he put up last year was 30-60 points higher than his career averages in every category, and at age 32, it's rare that a player suddenly leans to hit better, especially when his "better" is only mediocre to begin with. In 2005, look for David Bell to regress to the .260/.320/.400 line that is consummate with his career numbers, and to once again make the Phillies' front office look foolish for giving him that 4-year, $17M contract. Thankfully, the Phillies have super-sub Placido Polanco, who is more than capable of playing every day if Bell should return to the tank from whence he emerged after the 2002 season.


C Todd Pratt
1B Ryan Howard
IF Tomas Perez
IF Placido Polanco
OF Jason Michaels
OF Kenny Lofton

Pratt and Lofton, as I emntioned earlier, are both old, but still serviceable backups. If either one of them gets more than 200 at-bats for the Phillies next year, it will not be a good thing. Jason Michaels is also a capable fill-in at any of the outfield spots, though without the talent of any of the Phillies' starters. Tomas Perez is nothing special. He doesn't hit a lick, but he's a decent defensive replacement at any spot in the infield, so they keep him around. Thankfully, Placido Polanco gets the bulk of any infield backup time, and considering that he's as good a hitter as three of their starting infielders, the Phillies have got themselves one heck of a player off the bench.

The really interesting member of this bench is firstnbaseman Ryan Howard. I expect that if he's with the big club, Howard will get first dibs at 1B/DH duties during any interleague games. After winning a Florida State League MVP in 2003, and hitting .290/.379/.632 last year at three levels, Howard has little left to prove in the minors. On the other hand, his 48 homers and 136 RBI were accompanied by 179 strikeouts as well, and he doesn't walk as much as someone like Adam Dunn or Jim Thome. The Phils have tried to help him learn to play a little in left field, but he's got only average defensive skills at best and doesn't run, so his future is as a firstbaseman, not an outfielder or a 3B.

Ryan's 24 now, and they may send him back to AAA, where he played only 29 games last year, to make sure he's ready, but then they'll have to trade him, as Thome's signed for another four years and $55 million. The Phillies would be wise to trade him sooner rather than later, in case he struggles a little in AAA to start the season and his stock falls. At this point though, they're not sure what they'll need, and they've deemed him "Untouchable", which is transparently false, given that they have nowhere to play him. If they still need a regular centerfielder in mid-season, this is the chip they'll use.

Starting Rotation

1 Randy Wolf (2)
2 Vicente Padilla (2)
3 Jon Leiber (0)
4 Cory Lidle (1)
5 Brett Myers (0)

Yikes. The numbers in parenthesis after their names are how many seasons, out of the last three, they've pitched 200 or more innings in the majors. Every one has failed to be a "workhorse" in at least one season from 2002-2004, due to injuries, ineffectiveness, or both. For Padilla and Wolf, the problem was just this past year, and Wolf was injured in 2001 as well. Jon Lieber, despite what is generally considered a successful return from Tommy John surgery with the Yankees in 2004, has not racked up 200 innings in the majors since 2001. Cory Lidle racked up 200+ innings for the first time in his career in 2004, but remains a decidedly-mediocre, LAIM (League Average Innings Munching) pitcher. Brett Myers has never done it, though that's mostly due to his youth. (With his time in AA he did pitch exactly 200 innings total in 2002.)

I'll be very surprised to see more than two of these guys pitch 200+ effective innings in 2005. Rookie Gavin Floyd or sophomore Ryan Madson stand to see the bulk og the spot-starting role if one or more of the above should go down with an injury or just plain suck.

Which brings us too...

Relief Pitching

LHP Billy Wagner
RHP Tim Worrell
RHP Ryan Madson
LHP Rheal Cormier
RHP Terry Adams
RHP Amaury Telemaco

This is a category in which the 2005 Phillies should be quite strong. A healthy Billy Wagner is still one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, and Tim Worrell is an experienced, capable backup in the closer role, when he's not setting up Wagner. Telemaco and Adams are decent if unspectacular veterans, who can both pitch long relief or even start in a pinch, and Cormier is not just a LOOGY. Geoff Geary, Aaron Fultz and Pedro Liriano should also see some work in 2005, though Liriano is likely to spend most of the season in Scranton, as he has fewer than 60 innings experience above AA in his career.

Ryan Madson was great in his first full season in the majors, and might even have gained some Rookie of the Year support if he hadn't missed a month and a half with a fluke hand injury. With the starters' injury histories, I expect Madson to get at least a dozen starts throughout the year. Hopefully most of them will be in Lidle's stead.


Charlie Manuel has only two and a half years of experience, but he was successful with a similar team in Cleveland. The 2000-2001 Indians had a strong lineup, with Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Travis Fryman, Manny Ramirez and/or Juan Gonzales all still in thier primes. Their bench was solid as well, with a young Richie Sexson, Russ Branyan, and old but still effective Davids Justice and Segui. The relief corps was solid both seasons as well, but the starting rotation had some holes in it. So it would appear that Manuel has some idea what to do with such a team, as he won 90+ games both years, albeit in a weak division.

So, what have we got? Well, we've got a strong, deep bullpen and bench. We've got a starting lineup that might lead the NL in strikeouts, but might also lead it in non-Coors runs scored. We've got a starting rotation that is talented but injury-prone, with a couple of serviceable backups. We've got a manager who's a nice change from Old Smoky wearing a path in the bullpen floor.

We've also got a division that's ripe for the taking. The Mets' made a lot of noisy off-season moves, which may improve them, but they're still not going to contend. Florida's going to be good, but they're certainly not a lock to run away with this division.

Then there's the Braves. I know, I know...I'm an idiot to pick against Atlanta. They've got a streak of 247 consecutive division titles and they're still the team to beat, and they are. On the other hand, theiur starting pitching gets really thin after Tim Hudson, and moving John Smoltz into it weakens the staff in two places. The bullpen isn't the worst in the majors, but nobody out there is particularly impressive or a good bet to significantly improve.

Another problem is that I just don't see how their lineup will improve much. They were only fifth in the NL in runs scored last year, but they needed uncharacteristically good years from Johnny Estrada, Charles Thomas and Eli Marerro, not to mention a career year from J.D. Drew, just to get there. Full, healthy seasons from Chipper Jones and Marcus Giles will help a little, but not enough to make up for losing their best hitter. Thomas, Marerro and Drew are now gone, with Raul Mondesi and (Yuk) Brian Jordan taking thier at-bats. Expect Chipper Jones to return to the outfield full time, expect rookie 3B Andy Marte to struggle mightily, and expect the Phillies to contend for the division title, even (Dare I say? Dare! Dare!) to win it, if their pitching holds together.


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14 January 2005

Random Notes...

Hey, it's January. There's not a lot of baseball being played for a fella to write about.

New Steroid Policy

The Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners have finally come to an agreement on a policy regarding steroids and other performance enhancing drugs that actually has some teeth to it. You've no doubt heard and/or read about the details, so I won't rehash them here. Random, year-round testing, stiffer suspensions, etc. It's all a big step in the right direction. Jayson Stark's Q&A answers a few of the questions you might not have thought to ask. Ultimately, there's still a few silly aspects to the policy, like the fact that they've declared a ban on Human Growth Hormone but there's apparently no test the find it. Mostly, though, they're making significant progress.

It will be interesting to seee how the fans react to players who've tested positive. I expect that, like always, they'll cheer the guys who produce and boo the guys who don't, regardless of what's found in their urine. ("Waiter! There's a fly in my...") I still can't figure out though why the minor leagues have a tougher drug policy than the major leagues. Doesn't make any sense to me.

Sale of Milwaukee Brewers Approved

Los Angeles investor Mark Attanasio bought the team from a used car salesman for $223 million.

I wonder how much a Major League team costs.

The Low Down on Lowe's Signing

Former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe has reportedly agreed to a 4-year, $36 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Good for him, but why? Ever since this was announced, everyone has been trying to figure out what the heck a smart dude like Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta was thinking when he commited $36 million to a guy who posted a 5.42 ERA last year. ESPN's Rob Neyer thinks the combination of Dodger Stadium and Lowe's extreme ground ball tendencies will make hima slightly better than average pitcher for the next few years. Baseball Prospectus' James Click thinks that Lowe was unlucky last year, and that a reversion to normal luck, coupled with park effects, will bring Lowe's ERA down to around 4.00 next year.

Lowe Posted by Hello

But still, an ERA around 4.00, or slightly better than average performance, does not constitute a bargain at $9 million/year. Odalis Perez is four years younger, has a much lower ERA, and yet only got 3 years and $24 million. So what gives?

I'll tell you: I have it on good authority, from my Baseball People (read: imaginary friends), that Derek Lowe will be a bargain next year and beyond. You see, DePodesta, like the rest of us, was watching the playoffs last Fall, and he saw two things:

1) Derek Lowe start on two days' rest
B) Derek Lowe beat the Yankees

So he figures that if he can start Lowe on two days's rest every time, and his luck returns, and Dodger Stadium and Lowe's grounders combine to drop his ERA just under 4.00, he'll get his money's worth! That's why he's paying the guy as much money as two mediocre starters normally get: He's going to take the place of two mediocre starters! If Lowe could just have a decent season he could become the first pitcher in almost 40 years to win 30 games.

Think about it. Starting with only two days rest, Lowe would make 58 starts next year, and pitch something like 350 innings. He only pitched more than seven innings twice all of last year anyway, and this way they can let Kaz Ishii pitch long relief instead of starting, which he's no good at anyway. A rotation of

1) Derek Lowe
2) Jeff Weaver
3) Odalis Perez
4) Derek Lowe
5) Brad Penny

...allows the Dodgers to have the deepest bullpen in the majors. Guys like Ishii and Wilson Alvarez, who might be starters on half the teams in MLB, are relegated to bullpen duty. Or they can trade them for someone who can hit, a commodity on which they are running a little thin.

Ok, so I made that up. But wouldn't it be cool if I hadn't?

North Dakota Resolution Calls for Maris in Cooperstown

I wouldn't expect too much out of these resolutions. The United Nations passed a few dozen of these things trying to get Iraq to disarm, and those didn't do much good.

Maris Posted by Hello

Lawmakers in North Dakota really, really want Roger Maris to be enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame. They're even sending delegates to Cooperstown to try to convince them that Maris belongs there. That's rich: send a bunch of lawyers and/or baseball fans to the Hall of Fame. This is the place where they keep the records and archives for major league baseball, where there are probably more relics, data and people who know and love baseball, as a percentage, than any other town in the world. You're going to lecture them about who should and should not be in their Hall of Fame?

Think about it. This is something like saying "I resolve to make the other commuters on my way to work drive more safely. By yelling at them. From my car." Even if they could hear you, or were paying attention to what you say, you can't make them do anything. You can just yell, and that's all the North Dakota legislature is doing: yelling.

"Hey, Maris won two MVP awards! He held the single season home run record for longer than anyone else! He lost his hair!!"

Never mind that he played only 12 seasons in the majors, only five of which could reasonably be considered "good". Never mind that he hit .260 for his career, and never topped .283 in a season. Ignore the fact that Baseball prospectus' fielding rankings indicate that Maris was an average defensive outfielder at best, Never mind that he was a "power hitter" who hit only 275 home runs in his career, fewer than contemporaries like Roy Seivers, Willie Horton and Joe Adcock. I don't see the state legislatures of Virginia, Missouri and Louisiana lobbying to get those three inducted.

Amusingly, Maris' supporters somehow have convinced themselves that the man was underappreciated in his own time, but then in the same breath tell you that he was a back-to-back MVP. The guy who sponsors his player page on Baseball-Reference.com says,

The greatest player not in Hall, no player achieved more with less appreciation from fans or writers. Won consecutive MVPs, a great defensive OFer, his departure started the Yanks’ darkest era. His 61 HRs stood as the mark longer than any other since 1900.

So which is it? Was he underappreciated, or did the beat writers of his day think he was the best player in the league, not once, but twice? Oh, and by the way, Mickey Mantle was a better player in both of the years in which Maris won the MVP.

Mantle's protection in the lineup, the eight extra games and the diluted pitching talent pool from a league that had added two teams in one season were the only reasons that Maris broke that record. Bill James' New Historical Baseball Abstract ranks Maris as the 28th best right-fielder of all time, behind such immortals as Bobby Murcer, Regie Smith and Rusty Staub. Sure, #28 is better than #82, but is there really room in Cooperstown, at this point in history, for everybody who played 12 seasons and hit .260? It's gonna get awfully crowded in upstate NY if those are the criteria.

Any North Dakota state lawmakers who might be reading this should ask yourselves this question: Would we be having this discussion if Maris had hit, say, 58 homers in 1961? Because three homers, in the grand scheme of things, is not a lot. And wet, without those three homers, for which he needed those extra eight games to hit, Maris has no legacy, and this conversation never happens. Sure, he hit them, and he gets credit for that. Cooperstown has the bat and the ball and his name on a plaque of former record holders and probably some other stuff. But the rest of his career was pedestrian. Good, maybe, but great? One of the best of all time? Not remotely.

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09 January 2005

Carlos the Great

Erstwhile Houston Astros centerfielder Carlos Beltran has reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $119 million deal with the New York Mets this weekend, a far cry from the ten-year, $200 million figures offered by Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, just after the World Series. The agreement comes on the heels of the expired negotiation window the Astros had with Beltran, which closed Saturday at midnight. It was reported that Boras, had indicated that they were generally satisfied with the Astros' seven-year, $108 million offer, but that they desired a full no-trade clause, an issue on which Astros owner (and, if I might add, Wise Businessman) Drayton McClane would not budge.

There are still, apparently, certain details for the two parties to iron out, such as salary structure and deferred payments, if any, but the contract is expected to be signed Monday with a press conference following as soon as Tuesday. Thus will end the long chase of this winter's greatest free agent prize, with the winner coming from the city, but not the franchise, almost everyone expected.

This signing, and the lack of its having been attributed to the Yankees, offers us a few interesting tidbits. For one thing, the Yanks may instead pursue Carlos Delgado to split the first base/DH time with Jason Giambi. He'll be a lot less expensive, and they can keep Bernie Williams in the outfield, where he belongs.

For another, there's the publicity thing. Normally, George Steinbrenner wouldn't think of allowing the Mets to steal his hard-earned, back-page publicity, and wouldn't hesitate to snatch up a commodity like Beltran, one that could help his team and keep the Mets' status as second-class citizens of the Big Apple well in hand.

Thirdly, though probably most important, was the money. ESPN's Darren Rovell did n a nice job last week of breaking down the taxes and other economic ramifications for Beltran, as well as for his suitors. For the Yankees to have given Beltran an offer comparable to Houston's, it would have cost them over $23 million next year alone in salary and luxury taxes, just to match Houston's $16 million. While Beltran's certainly talented, it seems that Yankee brass did not deem him more valuable than Alex Rodriguez, who's due to make only $21 million in 2005, or Derek Jeter ($18.9).

This is perhaps the first clear-cut example we've seen that the Luxury Tax is actually having the desired effect, albeit a little late. The tax was clearly structured to deter the Yankees from spending so much on free agents, so much so that some have even started referring to it as the "Yankee Tax", but to this point, it hadn't seemed to curtail them at all. Interestingly, there are rumors that Scott Boras actually offered the Yankees a discount of sorts, indicating that Beltran wanted to join the Yankees so desperately that he would have taken less than $100 million for seven years, but even then the Yankees didn't bite. Even at that rate, it would have cost the Yankees an average of $20 million per season for that seven year stretch, when luxury taxes are taken into account

The Mets have been essentially stinking up the joint ever since they went to the World Series in 2000. They've finished 16th, 13th, 15th and 12th in runs scored in the National League in the last four seasons, respectively, and they naturally hope that an infusion of youth and talent from their new centerfielder will help to remedy that ailment.

But what are they really getting? Tim Kurkjian seems to think that Beltran's getting this money largely because of how well he performed during the two weeks his Astros were in the playoffs last October. He sure was impressive, but, Tim tells us, "

The 2004 season was Beltran's first 30-home run season. He has five 100-RBI seasons, but none with as many as 110. His career slugging percentage is .490, which is 109 points lower than Manny Ramirez's. His career on-base percentage is .353, 79 points lower than Todd Helton's.

That's a little unfair, isn't it? So he has a lower career slugging percentage than Manny Ramirez...so do all but seven players who've ever played! His OBP may be lower than Todd Helton's, but again, Helton gets a LOT of help from the thin Rocky Mountain air, so it's not really a fair criticism, is it? Why doesn't Kurkjian just compare Beltran to Mickey Mantle while he's at it?

He does. Turns out (surprise!) Beltran comes up a little short there too. What a pity he's not quite as good as one of the three greatest centerfielders in history. Why doesn't he just hang up his spikes now and retire, before he embarrasses himself any further?

Well, because he's still the best centerfielder in the game, that's why. When Beltran won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1999, the only, and I mean ONLY, knock on his game was that he didn't walk enough. He hit .293 with 22 homers, 108 RBI, 112 runs scored, 27 doubles and 27 steals, but he only walked 46 times and he struck out 123 times. He was 22 years old. At that age, you can forgive a little impatience, can't you?

You can, especially if he develops patience as he ages, which is exactly what Beltran has done. Now, at age 27, he walks a LOT more, 92 times in 2004, against only 101 strikeouts. He may have hit only .267 for the year, but his on-base percentage was actually 30 points higher than when he hit .293 his rookie year.

He hit a career-high 38 homers last season, but despite spending much of his time in hitter-friendly parks (Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City and the JuiceBox in Houston), Beltran's stats were not inflated significantly by park factors. In fact, he hit only .225 at home, with an OPS about 250 points lower than his road numbers in 2004. Interestingly, though, this appears to be a fluke, as Beltran's home/road splits for his career are remarkably well-balanced:

       G    AB    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   

Home 445 1705 .292 .360 .486 .846
Away 440 1762 .276 .347 .494 .841

What he loses in batting average he makes up for in power, so it evens out. This essentially tells us that Beltran's new employers don't have to worry too much that he's somehow a creation of his environment, as they should be for, oh say, Todd Helton.

Beltran's age places him right in his theoretical "natural prime" as a hitter, meaning that the first three years or so of this contract should be the best of his career, barring injuries and/or a binge on steroids starting at age 36. Most hitters' power numbers increase as they enter their late twenties and early thirties, so that 38 in the HR column may not turn out to be his high water mark after all.

Beltran is also considered to be an above-average defensive centerfielder, and Shea Stadium is not a place that's particularly kind to fly balls anyway, so that should help his defensive numbers. Furthermore, his 192-to-23 career steal-to-caught stealing ratio is perhaps the best ever for a player who's that prolific at the art of the base swipe. A quick search on god of the machine revealed nobody born after 1885 to meet these criteria (190+ steals, fewer than 25 times caught), and the only reason for all the old-timers on the list is that they didn't even start recording caught stealings regularly until 1915.

So make no mistake. Carlos Beltran was far and away the best player on the free agent market this season, even if it wasn't the strongest market we've seen. And he'll be one of the best investments that new Mets GM Omar Minaya has ever made, whether he leads the Amazin's to the playoffs or not.

No, he's not the Mick, but what he is, is Great, and Great will just have to suffice for New York.

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03 January 2005

National Baseball Hall of Feign

The 2005 Baseball Hall of Fame voting results will be announced today.

Stark Bias

Numerous writers have constructed arguments and reasoning, sound and otherwise, for the players they supposedly think are most worthy of induction. You can read several of these at ESPN.com, if you haven't already, but be aware that the voters, just like the rest of us, are biased. So, in some cases, what they do is look for reasons to induct their favorite players, rather than just the best.

There is perhaps no better example of this than Jayson Stark. I do not mean to say that he's anything less than a decent human being, just that his judgment is somewhat clouded on these issues. If you look at the list of his votes, you find Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, and others that make a lot of sense, but then you find Jack Morris, without Bert Blyleven, which doesn't make a lot of sense, as I argued last year. You find Dale Murphy, even though nobody else who works for ESPN thinks Murphy deserves a vote, and no more than 10% of the writers voted for him last year.

Stark cut his teeth as a beat writer for the Philadelphia Enquirer, in the 1980s, so his picks are slanted toward players who were dominant in those days and places. It doesn't make Stark a bad person or a bad writer, just a little biased, like all of us.

Wade Bogged Down by Bickering

This year, sadly, Wade Boggs is the only sure-fire candidate. I say "sadly" not because I think that other candidates ought to be sure-fire, just that I wish there were more. A few years from now, when Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Mark McGuire all appear on the ballot for the first time, I'll probably complain that there are too many great players to do each of them proper justice in the remembering.

But for now, I'll complain that the media arguments over the likes of Bruce Sutter and Ryne Sandberg serve to do little more than take away from what should be a celebration of one of the half-dozen or so greatest third basemen who ever played major league baseball. Think about it: Who was better than Boggs? Mike Schmidt? OK, no argument there. Eddie Matthews? Sure. George Brett? Push. After that, it get's pretty tough to make an argument against Boggs. Paul Molitor only played 3B for less than half of his career games. Ron Santo? An argument can be made for his candidacy, but not that he was a better player than Boggs. Brooks Robiinson? Perhaps the greatest defensive 3B ever, but a .267 career average made him just barely above mediocre as a hitter. Pie Traynor? Not even close, and nobody else is even worth discussing.

So give Boggs the acclaim he deserves, as the greatest, and an appropriate first-ballot selection to Cooperstown.

Relievers Getting Little Relief

Now the rest of the field, as usual, is as clear as mud.

ESPN's Rob Neyer pointed out some holes in the arguments for Bruce Sutter as Hall-worthy, so I won't rehash those here, but he also asked about the weird voting results in the five years since Goose Gossage has been elligible. One reason I didn't think of yesterday is that a lot of guys get a boost in their second year on the ballott, because a lot of beatwriters won't vote for anyone on their first try, just as a rule. A silly rule, but some writers still consider that there's a difference between a first ballot Hall-of-Famer and Everyone Else.

For my part, in response, I sent Rob this:

A suggestion for the wacky HoF voting results on relief pitchers...

For one thing, the apparent "drop" in 2002 is not as severe as it looks, or rather, not a drop at all for Sutter. There were 515 members voting in 2001, but
only 472 the following year. Their percentages were much closer than the votes:

Goose: 44.3% in 2001, 43.0% in 2002
Bruce: 47.6% in 2002, 50.4% in 2002

The jump in 2002 may have been due to the relatively weak voting field (only Ozzie Smith got in), but that still doesn't explain why Goose lost, and has
continues to lose, support.

With that said, I think there are probably two reasons that Sutter's support continues to grow while Goose's fades. For one thing, people think he invented the
splitter, and a lot of pitchers have made a living off that pitch since then.

For another, and I know it's stupid, Sutter's career numbers just look nicer. His page on baseballreference.com is nice and neat, with evenly spaced columns and some bold type on the leaderboards. It makes it look like he played his heart out for a
decade or so and then nobly hung up his spikes when he couldn't compete like he wanted to, like Sandy Koufax or Joe DiMaggio or something.

Gossage changed roles a few times, and the perception (I think) is that he stuck around a little too long, past his "dominant" stage.

It's also possible that the voters are developing a better appreciation for relative ERA and that Sutter's edge in that stat (136 to 126) helps him, but I
wouldn't want to wager any money on that.

Personally, I'm with you on Gossage. I think he should already be in the Hall, as I argued in one of my first Blog posts over two years ago.

Ironically, Gossage doesn't even garner additional support for the types of dumb things that voters usually like, such as:

A. Postseason success: 3 World Series teams compared to one for Sutter. Of course, his teams lost two of those.

B. Country Hardball: Clocked at 103 mph in an All-Star game, 1973, I think. Sutter (traditionally) should get demerits for succeeding with a "trick pitch" like Phil Niekro or Burleigh Grimes.

C. Adapting: Was a great relief ace, and when asked to start, he gave the last-place ChiSox 224 innings of roughly league average work, then went back to closing and succeeded at that for nearly a decade. Became a middle reliever, and gave another 5 years of effective work.

D. Longevity. Goose provided better than league average ERAs three times after his 39th birthday. If he'd been a lefty, he'd probably still be pitching.

E. "Moxy." The fu-manchu. The potbelly. The heat. He was an intimidating SOB, you have to admit.

And he was also a great relief pitcher, one of the best we've ever seen, and for a lot longer than Sutter. His career numbers stack up nicely against Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, who's probably in because he was the first player to record 300 saves and because he retired young enough not to allow the beatwriters' memories of his dominance to be clouded by memories of his late-career struggles. That, and the moustache.

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20 December 2004

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

I'm 30 today.

30. There arrives with the advent of any such milestone a unique opportunity for retrospect upon one's life. Other life milestones I've seen:

17 (driving age in NJ),
18 (Selective Service),
21 (something, I forget...)
25 (lower car insurance!),
27 (the last cubic age before retirement...maybe that's just me)

...but 30 seems like a different animal. You want to be able to point to something and say, "Yeah, I did that before I was 30!" and not have people laugh at you behind your back over it. The "American Dream", according to Trivial Pursuit, is to be a millionaire by the time you're 30. Personally, my dream is to be out of debt by the time I'm 40, but I'll have to let you know how that goes. (Trivial Pursuit should probably update that question, if it's still in the box.)

Actually, I'm fairly happy with my lot in life thus far: I've got a house, a wife, a dog, a college degree and a modicum of success in my profession, having recently had an article I wrote on Scanning Acoustic Microscopy published in a significant trade journal. (The online version is members-only, but if by some odd chance you're interested, email me and I'll send you a copy.) Even my hobby makes me a few bucks on the side. Most hobbies actually cost people money, like paintball or collecting airplanes.

On the other hand, where I have five fingers and a new watch, a "Merry Birth-mas" present from my lovely wife, many of my greater dreams have yet to be realized. For example, I probably have little hope of ever being paid a living wage to write about baseball, and even less of actually playing it professionally. Therefore, I find myself still seeking vicarious joy through a bunch of total strangers, most of whom, coincidentally, are or will be millionaires by age 30: The New York Yankees.

Thankfully, if I had little cause for celebration in mid-October, the events of this offseason have brought be considerably more reason for joy, or at least hope. Let's review some of these, shall we?

* Perhaps the biggest prize, or at leas tthe most accomplished pitcher, of this season's free-agent market, was Pedro Martinez. At one time or another, various rumors had him staying with Boston, or fleeing Beantown for one of about a half-dozen different spots, including New York. New York, of course, is exactly where he wound up, except that he's wearing kinda tacky blue and orange, instead of the classic navy and white. For Yankee fans, this deal represents the best of all possible worlds: Pedro has been excellent throughout most of his career, but seems to be essentially a 6-inning pitcher who's variously described as a primadonna, a jerk, and several other things I wouldn't repeat in mixed company. In Boston, he might have experienced a resurgence that could have haunted the Yankees for years to come, especially if he beat them in the playoffs for once. As a Yankee, there was perhaps even more possibility of catastrophe, as martinez might not have experienced a resurgence in his pitching dominance, but rather in his shoulder injuries, making him a $13 million/year disaster.

But now, as a Met, even if Pedro's great, it won't likely affect the Yankees, as the Mets collectively aren't good enough to make it to the postseason, at least not yet. And if his shoulder craps out? Better yet, if only for all the "I told you so"s that Yankees fans can dole out to their cross-town rivals.

* Considering the dearth of left-handers in the Yanks' rotation in 2004, the Yankees had been considering signing 39-year old Al Leiter, who hasn't pitched in the AL since 1995, for something like $8 million bucks, possibly for two years or more. Leiter's certainly not the worst pitcher on the market, but his impressive ERAs have been helped significantly by Shea Stadium, and he hasn't exactly been the consummate workhorse throughout his career, pitching over 200 innings only once since 2000. Thankfully, the Marlins are now on the hook for that money, so he's not the Yankees' problem if he flops.

* Another lefty, and another aging ex-Yankee, David Wells signed with the Boston Red Sox. Wells was another possibility to fill the Lefty Void at Yankee Stadium, but at his age, and in his shape, he's a pretty high risk to flop as well. Amazingly, Wells somehow got the same $8 million that Leiter received from Florida, but for two years at $4 mil each. And he's two years older than Leiter is! David ought to fire his agent and hire Al's. Once again, not the Yankees' problem.

* The Yanks actually did sign Jaret Wright, who got three years and $21 million, essentially that Jon Lieber received from the Phillies. Sure, Wright's got a history of arm trouble, but so did Lieber, and he's six years younger. When you look at it that way, it's not so bad.

* New York also reeled in one of the biggest catches of the Free Agent market, ex-Fish Carl Pavano. Coming off an 18-win, 3.00 ERA season in 222 innings of work, Pavano was clearly the best bet of the market, and the Bronx Bombers got him. Also 28 years old, Pavano and Wright shave off quite a few years from the Yanks' rotation, considering that they essentially replace the 34-year old Lieber and the 59-year old Orlando "Old Duque" Hernandez, who thankfully rejected the Yanks' arbitration offer last week.

This helps the Yankees' future considerably, especially given the fact that Kevin Brown is still a Yankee, and will be 40 next year, and that 28-year old but kinda sucky Javier Vazquez is likely to be on the next plane to Los Angeles, where he will undoubtedly experience a Weaver-esque resurrection to his career, or at least his strikeout rate. Ironically, Vazquez was the Yankee rotation leader in innings pitched, wins, starts, assists, double plays and strikeouts, but they're getting rid of him. This is because he also led the team in losses (10), homers allowed (33), runs (114), earned runs (108), wild pitches (12), hit batters (11), balks (2) and partriges in pear trees (1). The other irony, and perhaps the more amusing one, is that Vazquez had roughly the same type of season as Phillies' lefty Eric Milton, as my colleagues at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog pointed out a few weeks ago, when the Yankees were actually considering trading for Milton.

Vazquez's departure is predicated upon the Dodgers' front office people getting up off their butts and submitting the paperwork for the deal that everyone already knows about, which will send Randy Johnson to the Yankees, Vazquez to the Dodgers, and half the population of Los Angeles County to Arizona, which as I understand it is where they wanted to go in the first place.

First place, however, is something the Diamondbacks will not be sniffing for a very long time. Despite spending $78 million over four years on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz, the D-Bads are, well, bad. Really bad. Their 111-loss season in 2004 marked the worst season in the National League since 1965, and the second worst record in either league in that 40-year span. A thirdbaseman and a pitcher will not make up for that, especially if you're about to trade away a much better pitcher you already had.

That too, however, is not the Yankees' problem. The Yankees' problem is getitng this deal done so that they can go buy the best centerfielder on the free agent market, Carlos Beltran. Beltran will give them perennial All-Stars at every spot in the lineup except 2B, where rookie Andy Phillips, who hit .318 with 26 homers playing 3B for AAA Columbus last year, and apparently has hit well at virtually every level of the minors. The only other question mark in the lineup is Jason Giambi, and it seems that they can afford to carry him, if it takes a while for him to regain his form.

And so it appears that the Evil Empire is once again poised to make a run at the World Series, and to begin the long run of success that will eventually merit them the title:

Team of This Century, Too.

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14 December 2004

Bonds-Giambian Steroid Blues

Travis Nelson's take on the steroid controversy, Bob Dylan style...

Posted by Hello

Trainer’s in the basement
Mixing up my medicine
I’m in the on-deck
Thinking about the upper deck
The man in the turtleneck
Fed up, ticked off
Signed a bad contract,
Feels like he was ripped off!

Posted by Hello

Watch Ja-son,
It’s steroids he’s on!
Came into camp
Having lost himself a ton!
He better duck down the hallway,
Avoid reporters today.

The man in the Yankees cap
With the Bic pen
Wants you out of this slump,
You get to ride the bench.

Posted by Hello

Barry seems bulked up
Looks like he could shot-putt,
Talkin’ bout the ‘roids put,
Unknowingly in his butt.
Fans cheer anyway
Barry says someday
He’ll pass ‘old Double-A,
Cooperstown? On his way!

Posted by Hello

The Say Hey Kid
Don’t believe what he did.
100 walks on four throws,
Seven hundred big-blows
They say he owes
Success at 4-0
To cream & clear dose.
Indict BALCO!
You don’t need a roadmap
To know the way Union goes.

Get sick, get well
Hitting now? What the hell!
Feel well? Hard to tell
If tumor’s gone and patell-
ar tendon’s all done,
You BUM! You failed,
But no jail, too frail
Plead your case to no avail!

Posted by Hello

Look out Gi-
No more MVPs
But User? Cheater?
Acts like Saint Peter!
Seven-time repeater!
Don't need the whirlpool,
Recover with 'roids, fool!
Follow Derek Jeter,
And Asterisk* the leaders!

Ah! Thin guy, with tie,
Short sleeves, (pet peeve), press release:
New tests, no Jest!
(Or McCain will arrest!)
Please her? Please him? Not miffed?
Sorry I'm a stiff.
Twenty years of ownin’
And they turn you into Commish!

Look out Bud,
They say you're a dud!
Better meet with Don Fehr
Help the Union this year
Don’t let Orza steer
Or discussions will veer.
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better play dumb,
The ploy don’t work
Just listen to those "Bronx Cheers"!

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10 December 2004

Travis Nelson Owns the Expos?

Some time ago, I submitted an essay to a baseball website called Mudville Magazine, which was sponsoring a "You Own the Expos" contest. A contest, I might add, which I did not win. I did not place. I did not even show. Someone named "Tom Lee" did, though I'm fairly certain that this is not the same "Tommy Lee" who didn't rush out onto the field with his heretofore unknown son and attack Tom Gamboa at Comiskey Park two years ago.

I was, however apparently good enough to be listed as "Rest of the Rest", specifically, 12th out of the 16 non-placing submittals. To save you the time of scrolling down past the eleven essays that were apparently better than mine, I've simply reprinted it here. I think I'm allowed to do that. I wrote it, after all.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming today. My Name is Travis M. Nelson, and I own the Expos. I know because an online magazine gave them to me.

I expect you're wondering why I've called you here for this press conference. Things are going to start changing around here, starting today.

First of all, we're canning Frank Robinson. We did some research and discovered that our most successful manager was Jim Fanning. He has the highest winning percentage in Montreal of any manager in history and he led this team to our only playoff appearance, in 1981. True, he only managed for parts of three seasons, hasn't managed anything in 20 years and is older than dirt, but heck, it worked for the Marlins!

Secondly, it will come as no surprise to you all that we're not staying in Montreal. Quebec has gotten a bad rap as a place that doesn't appreciate baseball, but it should be noted that this team was appreciated greatly in its heyday. Unfortunately, I think that day was sometime in 1983. But after what will soon become seven consecutive seasons of bringing up the rear in NL attendance, we're gone, man. Outta here. The honeymoon, and for that matter, the marriage, is over.

We're moving to Hawaii. The place is really pretty, and unless you're dumb enough to build a baseball stadium atop a volcano, it won't ever snow. Montreal, mangez your heart out. The weather will be beautiful year-round, and the occasional volcanic eruption will help save the franchise money on "Fireworks Night."

There's already a 50,000-seat stadium in which to play, which should require only minor alterations to make it "baseball ready". Mostly I think they just need to get all the coconuts off the field. If the weather and the appeal of "Major League Baseball" don't attract enough fans, we'll just build a new stadium and pay for it with revenue sharing deductions, just like the Yankees plan to!

We're renaming the team the Oahu "U-Know-Who's", because it rhymes, sorta, and let's face it: No matter what we name the team, people are still going to think of us as the Expos for entirely too long.

Hawaii's population is about 1.25 million people, which isn't much smaller than Milwaukee, Kansas City or Cincinnati. Granted, there was a minor league team that was forced to move to Colorado Springs in the 1980's but of course now everybody's moving to Colorado Springs. They were just anticipating the trend.

Also, if we can stick around long enough, the islands will eventually grow together as the volcanoes continue erupt and create additional land. We anticipate that by the spring of the year 1,502,006, the entire state will be connected, making every game accessible by car to every Hawaiian, and for that matter, most of California, which will have split away from North America and drifted our way several hundred thousand years earlier.

Ted Williams is scheduled to throw out the opening pitch."

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08 December 2004


What the hell is happening here?

The Yankees signed free agent secondbaseman Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million deal yesterday, the same day they signed Jaret Wright to a three year, $21 million deal. But I'll get to him later.

Tony Womack hit a respectable .307/.349/.385 last season, setting career highs in all three categories, and finally doing something to earn the "leadoff-hitter" moniker he's owned for so long. You don't necessarily need power out of a leadoff hitter who plays second base, but it's nice if you can get it. If you can't, you'd better get some other skills, like on-base percentage, defense, or prowess at stealing bases. Womack generally is good at the last of those, but even that skill is pretty limited in its usefulness if the man can't get on base more than 35% of the time. Furthermore, at the age of 35, Womack isn't very likely to improve on that ability at this point in his career. This is a guy who averaged almost 60 steals per season from 1997-2000, but hasn't stolen 30 bags in a year since then. Besides, with all those power hitters behind him in the lineup, who wants some huckleberry running back and forth at first base while Jason Giambi's trying to focus on smacking one out? Oh, I forgot: Giambi's not a power hitter anymore.

I don't know if Voros McCracken or anyone else has looked at Batting Average on balls in play ofr hitters like McCracken has for pitchers, but I found this interesting: Before 2004, Womack, for his career, hit .305 when he didn't homer (which was rare) or strike out (which is not). His 2003 season was especially poor, a career-low .257 in those situations. But last year, somehow, he hit .338(!) whenever he put the ball in play, helping to significantly boost his overall numbers, though not necessarily through any of his own "skill". Therefore, it seems likely that Womack should be expected to regress to something more like a .300 or so batting average on balls in play, perhaps even lower, as the loss of running speed he'll surely experience with age will prevent some of those infield hits to which he's become accustomed. This will bring his overall stats much closer to his career line of .274/.319/.362, and will once again make him an entirely unacceptable regular player, much less a leadoff hitter. Hopefully, with the likes of Jeff Kent and world-famous tenor Placido Polanco on the market, Womack is only expected to be a utility player/defensive replacement.

But even his defense isn't particularly impressive. Baseball Prospectus indicates that the man has only posted above average fielding runs numbers twice in his career, in 1998 and 1999, and that he's been well below average every other full season of his career. So that doesn't make a lot of sense either.

The really odd thing about this signing is that the Yankees already had an aging, journeyman secondbaseman who had an uncharacteristically good offensive season in 2004, and they let him go. And Miguel Cairo's only 30, not 35, plays better defense and doesn't rely on his speed to get on base. If they wanted a solid backup 2B, they could have kept Cairo, probably for less than $2 mil a season, and signed Kent or the Tenor to start.

"We're going in another direction," Yankees GM Brian Cashman told The Associated Press.

Yeah, Brian. Down.

The other signing I mentioned, Jaret Wright, isn't quite so bad. True, Wright's been in the majors since 1997 and still has never pitched more than the 193 innings he threw in his sophomore year of 1999. True, he sorta got clobbered in the postseason. True, he has a career ERA over 5.00. True, his shoulder has more holes in it than your local golf course. But...

A) He's still only 29.

2) He exceeded everyone's expectations last year, winning 15 games and setting a career low 3.28 ERA for the Braves.

iii) He pitched a full, healthy season and hasn't been on the DL since 2002.

So at leastt here's hope that Wright can build on his success in 2004, whereas Womack's was clearly a fluke.

I think fluke is in season now anyway.

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03 December 2004

So Much For Fiscal Responsibility

We're less than a month into the 2004-05 free agent season, with barely a dozen players signed to American teams, and already I'm irritated by how things are going. A slim buffer separates us from the alleged "market correction" we saw a few off-seasons ago, one that supposedly taught the owners not to over-spend for readily replaceable skills, not to give long term contracts to aging mediocrities, and above all, not to pay eight dollars for a warm beer.

But this offseason seems to bear little resemblance to the restrained, perhaps even collusive free-agent fishing expedition that was the winter of 2003-04. Consider:

The NY Mets re-signed free agent Kris Benson to a three-year, $22.5 million contract. Not that Benson is terrible, but "mediocre" strikes me as a rather appropriate word for him, you know? He's 30 years old, with a career ERA of 4.28 (4.59 since he missed all of 2001 after arm surgery). The 3.85 he posted in 217 innings in 2000 is looking increasingly flukey, owing to an unusually high strikeout rate for Benson. He has yet to prove that he's capable of pitching consecutive, healthy, effective seasons and yet the Mets will pay him to pitch not two, but three years, and pay him nearly eight million buck for each of those, on average. From listening to New York sports talk radio, it seems to me that the Mets ownership did this under intense pressure from fans, desperately seeking evidence that Fred Wilpon & Co. actually want to win, but I'm not sure he's worth it. Better to let someone else take the risk, because at that price, another injury to benson could severely hamper the Mets' ability to sign other players they'll need. Like a catcher.

Worse yet, Benson is "urging" the Mets to re-sign Al Leiter, who's a better pitcher than Benson probably ever will be, but is not young (39) and has pitched 200+ innings only once in the past four years. His 3.65 career ERA looks pretty good, but that's helped somewhat by his home parks (3.23 @ Shea, SkyDome and Pro Player, 4.10 everywhere else). Still, at $4-5 million for one year, he's probably worth it. At the $7 million the MArlins may reportedly give him, it's probably not.

The Washington Whatevers signed 3B Vinny "The Air Up There" Castilla to a 2-year, $6.2 million contract, which would be a great deal if the .271/35HR/131RBI line he posted playing for Colorado were anything like what he'll be able to accomplish playing in D.C. Castilla has spent the vast majority of his career in Colorado, and in the six seasons he spent playing everyday for the Rockies, he averaged .297/.343/.544 with 40 homers and 121 RBI per 162 games played. In the three seasons (2001-2003) he played elsewhere? A paltry .250/.286/.405 with only 20 homers and 84 RBI per 162 games. For his career he's hit .334 at Coors, .256 everywhere else. I realize that in today's game, three million buck a year doesn't seem so outrageous, but Washington is essentially a new franchise that needs to prove itself to a whole new fanbase if it wants to succeed, and locking yourself into a 37 year old mediocrity who will likely be a 40-year old failure by the end of his contract is NOT the best way to endear your brand name to your (hopefully) new fans.

Speaking of mediocrity, the gNats also signed SS Christian Guzman to a 4-year, $16.8 million contract. Granted, that's "only" a $4.2 mil/year average, but it's still almost seventeen million dollars spent on a replacement-level shortstop. Lee Sinins reports that Guzman has racked up the tenth-worst career RCAA level in history through age 26. Baseball Prospectus indicates that his EqA has been above .234 only once in his career, which was 2001, when he "peaked" at .269. (For reference, an average major league SS was .251 last season, or about the performance of David Eckstein.) To his credit, he finally posted an above average fielding runs number, according to Baseball Prospectus, with a +15 FRAA, the first positive number of his career, and better than "Gold Glover" Derek Jeter (+4). That still leaves him decidedly below average though, but not useless, IF he can keep up the defense, just not worth seventeen million bucks. Without the defense, well, he'd better learn to hit real soon.

Speaking (writing) of overpaid shortstops: Omar Vizquel.

Look, Omar Vizquel has had a heck of a career thus far. A solid (if overrated) defensive player and one who has learned some valuable offensive skills along the way. Bill James ranked him #61 among all shortstops through the year 2000 in his New Historical Baseball Abstract, with the caveat that a few more good years could bump him into the top 50. Well, he in fact had two of his best seasons in 2002 and 2004, so maybe he's around #50 in James's book at this point. With that said, the man is now 38 years old, which as Rob Neyer pointed out not so long ago, is old. For a shortstop, anyway. Not many shortstops still perform very well at the age of 40, which the age through which the Giants inexplicably signed him, at about $4 million per year. In this case, that $4 mil is not such an enormous amount of money...for a year. But three years? At his age? When nobody else was offering more than two?

And speaking of the Giants, they've also given a three-year deal to Armando Benitez, who is only 32 right now, but doesn't strike out as many batters as he once did, and has a worse reputation for choking than Latrell Sprewell. His deal was "only" $21.5 million for three years, again, when nobody else was offering more than two, and following a season in which he made less than half of that in Florida. John Perricone can't figure out why San Francisco continues to give out such contracts. Neither can I.

It should also be interesting to see how the steroid controversy, especially Jason Giambi's contract and recent non-steroid-enhanced performance, may affect contract language in the future.

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12 November 2004

Curse of the AL Cy Young

Minnesota Twins' left-hander Johan Santana won the American League Cy Young Award for 2004.

Should the Twins be worried?

Specifically, should Santana, the Twins and Minnesota fans be worried that Santana will see a significant drop in performance next year?

In a word? You bet your bippy!

Let me introduce you to a couple of friends of mine:

CYA 33 6 236 189 16 63 248 21 6 2.67
Johan 34 1 228 156 24 54 265 20 6 2.61
CYA+1 27 3 181 152 16 58 173 13 7 3.33

CYA is an average of the last nine American League Cy Young Award winners, from 1995 to 2003, a line almost eerily similar to Santana's performance this year, which is the second line. The third line, CYA+1, is the average performance of these 1995-2003 AL Cy Young Award winners in the year immediately after they won the award. Fewer starts, fewer innings, fewer wins, a higher ERA, a lower strikeout rate and higher walk and home-run rates. Not a terrible line, by any means, but a huge drop in performance, on average.

I only used the 1995-2003 seasons because the severely-strike-shortened 1994 season would have thrown things off a bit. But if you look back at the half-dozen or so AL Cy Young winners before 1994, many of them exhibited a marked drop in performance the next year as well. Jack McDowell, Bob Welch, Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, LaMarr Hoyt and others have all had a pretty tough time following up their own acts. I only used the American League because the National League Cy Young Award winners have not shown the same drop off, most of them repeating as winners at least once (Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson). I also stayed away from the NL because a relief pitcher screws up the averages a lot too, even a relief pitcher who strikes out 137 batters.

What's it all mean? (Surprise!) I don't really know. A lot of it is probably just a simple regression to the mean. In other words, what goes up must come down, or in the case of ERA, the reverse. But it's troubling. Mostly, it's troubling because even though Santana doesn't pitch for my favorite team, it's still a lot of fun to watch him make mincemeat out of his opposition, and I'd hate to think that he's doomed to something like a 13-8 record with an ERA around 4.00 next year.

Furthermore, at least since the three-division format started, only two teams boasting a Cy Young winner in one season have made the playoffs the following year with that pitcher on the roster. One was Roger Clemens, who won the Award in 2001 with New York, and the other was Barry Zito, whose A's teammates won their division in 2003 even though he won only 14 games in his encore to his 23-win 2002 season.

Randy Johnson won the Award in 1995, and the Mariners missed the playoffs in '96 as the Big Unit pitched only 61 innings. Toronto had three straight Cy Young Awards from 1996-1998, but still hasn't seen postseason play since they won it all in 1993. Roger Clemens, the recipient of the 1998 award, had to change teams to get to the postseason, which he did with the Yankees in 1999, winning his forst World Series. This remains the only AL team to win it all with a reigning Cy Young winner on the roster. Pedro Martinez won it in 1999 and 2000, but the Red Sox missed the playoffs in both 2000 and 2001. Roy Halladay won it last year, and the Blew Jays did just that as they finished dead last in the AL East in 2004, worse than the Devil Rays! For shame!

Thankfully we've seen a lot of trends bucked this year:

*The Red Sox' World Series drought,
*That Washington Redskins-losing/incumbent-political-party-losing thing,
*Hollywood finally dropping the sequel/remake crap and going back to making good, original films

...wait a minute, I may have dreamed that last one. Anyway, we now know that History doesn't always dictate the future, and that those pitchers' declining performances were actually caused by a gnome or small dwarf living in their stomachs. No, wait, that was just Kevin Brown.

So let's all hope that Johan Santana can excise his demons, or gnomes, and beat the Curse of the AL Cy Young.

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10 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 AL Cy Young Award

In 2003, Johan Santana finally escaped the Twins' bullpen and showed the baseball world what he could do. An off-season elbow cleanup left him a little tentative for a couple of months to start the 2004 season, but as he settled in, around mid-June, Santana made sure that American League hitters never would settle in against him.

Surely, a batter needs to be on his toes against a lefty who throws a 95 mph heater, a knee-buckling curve and a change-up that, if you saw it in a video game, you'd write to the game's creators and tell them to fix it because of the lack of realism. His last four months look like some of the best work Sandy Koufax ever performed, and Koufax had the help of a pitcher's park in a pitcher's era.

Santana faced one of the most prolific run-scoring leagues in history and made them look like fools. He led the AL in strikeouts, WHIP, and ERA, all by substantial margins. His 20 wins fell one short of Curt Schilling for the AL lead, but it should also be noted that Schilling had a LOT of help, as the Red Sox scored over 7.5 runs per game with him pitching, easily the best in the majors. Schilling's postseason heroics, magnificent though they were, cannot be considered in this race, as regular season awards cannot rely on postseason performances.

If Santana doesn't get the Cy Young Award, they should stop handing it out entirely.


By the way, brandy-spankin new blog: Braves New World, by Matthew Crowder. Matthew's blog title looks remarkably like thew title of a post I used almost a year ago. Matthew, I'll be expecting royalty checks shortly. Paypal's good. So's your website. Good luck.

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09 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 NL Cy Young Award

This race is easily the toughest to call. Roger Clemens came out of retirement, granted, a retirement that lasted only slightly longer than some episodes of the Simpsons, to post an 18-4 record for the NL Wild Card Houston Astros. He put up a 2.98 ERA and 218 strikeouts, both of which were his best numbers since his 1998 Cy Young Award Season in Toronto. But Clemens' ERA and strikeouts were both "only" 5th in the NL, and the man didn't complete a start all year. Call me kooky, but I think if we're going to say that a starting pitcher was the best in the league, he ought to be able to finish the job once in a while.

If you're into guys who finish the job, maybe Livan Hernandez is your guy. Don't laugh. He led the majors in innings (255) and complete games (9, including two shutouts), placed in the top ten in the NL in strikeouts, and had a pretty good 3.60 ERA, winning eleven games for the lousy Montreal Expos. Of course, he also lost 15 games, and walked more batters than only six other National League pitchers, so maybe he's not such a good choice.

Jason Schmidt had three shutouts, leading the majors, struck out more batters (251) and pitched more innings than Clemens, with only a slightly higher ERA (3.20) and just as many wins. But his excellent season was bracketed by two months (April and September, silly) in which he had an ERA over 5.50. Not exactly the model of consistency. Speaking of consistency, maybe Roy Oswalt is a better choice. He won 20 games to pace the Senior Circuit, with a very good 3.49 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 237 innings. Of course, it sure helped that the Astros scored over six runs per game when Oswalt pitched, so it's hard to give him an award for what they did.

The Brewers' Ben Sheets pitched 237 innings as well, striking out 264 batters while walking only 32 (!). Talk about a control freak. Sheets had horrendous luck, though, getting less run support than all but two qualified pitchers in the majors, making it tough to muster up a vote for his lackluster 12-14 record, even though it comes with those gaudy strikeout/walk totals. Which brings us to...

...Randy Johnson. Johnson pitched for the worst team in the majors, the 111-loss Diamondbacks, and got the fifth worst run-support in the national League, and yet still managed to win 16 games, though he also lost 14. His ERA may have been second to Jake Peavey, but Peavey barely qualified for the ERA title, with 166 innings under his belt, while Johnson trailed only Livan Hernandez in that department. He led the majors in strikeouts with 290, a healthy margin over his closest competitors, and led the NL in WHIP, opponent batting, and numerous other categories.

A pitcher's job is to pitch, not to hit. Nobody expects them so score or drive in runs. It's nice when you get a Mike Hampton or a Jason Marquis. A pitcher who can hit is like a firstbaseman who can play defense or a toy in the Cracker-Jack box: it's a nice little bonus, but it's not the main reason you got it. ANd Johnson accomplished that main reason like nobody else in the National League in 2004, in spite of the Eight Stooges playing along side him.

If I have my way (not that I ever do), The Big Unit will have to clear some space on The Big Wall Unit for another Cy Young trophy.

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08 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 NL MVP

With all due respect to Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre, is there really any serious argument to be made for an NL MVP other than the San Francisco Giants' left fielder? Pujols had a remarkable season. He's the best hitter on the best team in the National League, and at the age of 24, with the most impressive four-year start to a career that anyone has ever seen, Pujols should be winning MVP awards long after Barry Bonds has retired.

But not yet. Bonds' 45 homers did not quite lead the league, as Pujols, Adam Dunn (46 each) and Beltre (48) all had more. But each of those players had about 200 additional at-bats in which to hit their homers, while Bonds was lucky if he saw one good pitch to hit per night. He was walked an astonishing 232 times, 34 more than his own record set two years ago. The league so feared Bonds that he was intentionally walked 120 times, more often than anybody else in MLB was even un-intentionally walked. Mickey Mantle was only intentionally walked 126 times in his career.

Bonds won his second batting title, hitting .362, 15 points ahead of his closest competitor, Todd Helton, who had the help of Coors Field for half his games. His .609 on-base percentage, an all-time record, was 140 points better than Helton, his closest competitor, and marked the fourth consecutive year he's led the NL in that category. Ditto for slugging percentage, though his .812 clip marked only the fourth highest season in history. Boo-hoo. His 1.422 OPS also set a record, and outpaced Helton's Coors-inflated mark by about 350 points. There was, literally, no competition for him.

The Giants, however, did not make the playoffs, and some people like their MVPs to come from playoff teams. They finished a mere two games behind Los Angeles though, competing for the NL West until the very last weekend of the season, during which he went 0-for-3 with seven walks. That's right, three at-bats in a weekend, as the Dodgers refused to let him beat them.

It wasn't for a lack of effort on Bonds' part that the Giants missed the playoffs. He hit .349 in September, but with only 13 RBI, as his teammates tanked down the stretch. He even struck out 12 times, almost twice his total from any other month in 2004, apparently trying to make something happen for his team. This is not a selfish player.

This is a guy who wants to win and did the best he could with a weak supporting cast to get to the playoffs. According to Lee Sinins' Baseball Encyclopedia, Bonds had 152 Runs Created Above Average, which easily paced the majors (Helton was second with 78). This happened also to be exactly the number of RCAA that the entire Cardinals team had. The Giants were +90 overall, meaning that the rest of Barry's team racked up a nifty negative 62 combined. Put an average left fielder in his place and the Giants are on a par with the Expos and Rockies. With him, they had a shot at playoff glory until the second to last day of the regular season, when "closer" Dustin Hermanson coughed up four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Giants led 3-0. Hey, SuperMan can't do everything himself.

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06 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 AL MVP

Let me tell you a little about my pick for the American League Most Valuable Player of 2004:

* He did not win a batting title. Ichiro Suzuki had an historic season on a last place team, and even if he'd had the same season for a division-winner, he would not be my MVP. A singles hitter, even an extraordinary one, playing an easy defensive position will almost never get my vote.

* He did not lead the league in RBI. Miguel Tejada had an excellent season on a mediocre team, but he also had about 50 more plate appearances with runners on base than any other MVP contender in the AL. RBI have much more to do with circumstances than talent.

* He did not lead the AL in homers. Paul Konerko and a couple of idiots had a handful more.

* He did not lead the league in walks, falling well off Eric Chavez's pace of 95. (Interestingly, for the first time in a fuill season since 1976, the league leader did not have 100 bases on balls. I guess Barry Bonds took them all.)

He didn't have the best OBP, Slugging %, OPS, the most doubles, triples, or steals.

He did lead the league in Runs Scored. By one.

Other than that, all he did was win. All he did was to take a team that had a losing record a year ago, and carry them to the playoffs, beating out not one, but two very good teams for a division title.

Their big-name-free-agent "ace" had an ERA over 5.00. They got 118 games and fewer than 400 at-bats combined out of their starting thirdbaseman and starting DH, not to mention barely two-thirds of a season from their starting centerfielder and cleanup hitter. This team's firstbaseman was such a bad hitter that his OPS among AL regulars with at least 450 plate appearances at that position was better than only John Olerud, who was so bad that a last-place team released him in mid-season. Talk about having your work cut out for you.

Vlad the MVPer Posted by Hello

But Vladimir Guererro did just that, and more. He took his bat and his helmet, left the concerns over his gimpy back in the clubhouse, and went out every day to prove that the Anaheim Angels' 5-year, $70 million investment was not a waste. He picked up the team in September, hitting ten homers, winning AL Player of the Month honors and virtually holding open the door to the playoffs for his teammates, the Angels' first division title since 1986. All for the bargain-basement price of $11 million this year. Chan Ho Park This in the Right Field Stands made $13 million.

Oh, and he put fannies in the seats. Almost 3.4 million people came out to Edison Field this year, many of them to see their new star right fielder. That increase of over 300,000 from last year set an Angels' record. Most Valuable, indeed. In more ways than one.

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