31 May 2005

Rochester Baseball Review

There comes a time in every man's life...and, and unlike Casey Stengel, I haven't had too many of them. However, despite being only 30, I still can grasp the value of a vacation, especially when my wife impresses it upon me with such vigor as she is capable of displaying when the need arises. Well, after three years of marriage without a vacation of our own since our honeymoon, the need arose. So my wife and I made some plans. We chose to stay at a spot called, fittingly enough, "The Chosen Spot", a modest but very accommodating Bed & Breakfast in Canandaigua, NY, which actually means "the chosen spot" in the Seneca tongue.

And so it came to be that I had the opportunity to visit Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings, AKA "The Twins of Tomorrow," not because they're planning to clone the entire roster tomorrow, but because the Red Wings are the Minnesota Twins' AAA franchise. The Red Wings were hosting the Buffalo Bisons, top farm club for the Cleveland Indians, in the first of a three-game, Memorial Day weekend series on Friday night, and the wife and I decided to attend. (Actually, I mostly decided to attend, and the wife acquiesced. Turns out she's pretty accommodating, too.) So we hopped in the car and headed off to Rochester, meandering through towns like "Victor" and "Hopewell", over rolling hills and past fields ("Centerfield", actually, another town) along routes so obscure that the local authorities only bother to label their numbers once in a while.

This commute, as you might imagine, was markedly different from the commutes to Philadelphia or New York to see the respective major league teams of those cities. Sure, I-78 in New Jersey has rolling hills, too, but appreciating the scenery as you zip by at 85 mph while swerving to avoid someone in a '73 Impala who's putting along at (how dare he?) the 65 mph speed limit is about as easy as trying to hit a major league fastball while enjoying the sunset. Needless to say, the 40-minute drive to Rochester left us both in a much better condition to see a baseball game.

Furthermore, buying front-row seats, right on the third base line, for $9.50 apiece sure puts you in a good mood as well. We even recieved a complementary "megaphone" also known as "a conically shaped piece of red plastic" from the local newspaper, which we proceeded to use throughout the game, mostly to converse with each other during its louder moments, but also to yell silly things at the players. And each other. OK, mostly each other.

If the concessions followed the same pricing scale, I reasoned, compared to game at Yankee Stadium, hot dogs should cost about 80 cents each, but apparently the concessions folks haven't been told that this is only a minor league town. Still, a Diet Coke for $3 is better than a Diet Coke for $4.50, and paying $5 for a fresh-grilled sausage and peppers (and peppers) and onions (and onions, and onions...) sandwich sure beats paying $8 for the privilege of consuming a cold sandwich, half the size, at Yankee Stadium. My wife and I both ate and were more than satisfied for less than $20 total. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as they say.

Oh yes, the game. We did get to the game just a little late, but not too late to be shown to our seats (by a gracious, elderly usher who even wiped them off for us) just in time for Red Wings' 2B Augie Ojeda's first at-bat of the game in the bottom of the first. Ojeda, you probably don't know, has had a largely undistinguished major league career as a reserve middle infielder for parts of several seasons with the Twins and Cubs. But Augie has the special distinction of having been born on my birthday, December 20th, and unlike Branch Rickey, Aubrey Huff and my mom, Ojeda was born on December 20, 1974, the same year as I was. How’s that for kismet?

One of the more noteworthy Red Wings players to see time in the majors was leadoff man/CF Jason Tyner, he of the impressive college batting average and the 6'1', 170-lb frame that couldn't generate power if the Hoover Dam were attached to it. Tyner hit .385 with 49 steals in 64 games his senior year at Texas A&M, but did not homer in 278 at-bats that year, even with the benefit of an aluminum bat. The Mets took him in the first round of the 1998 draft anyway, but now, eight years later, he has exactly one home run in over 3000 major and minor league at-bats, and has to be considered a flop. Other Red Wings who have been in the majors included Todd Dunwwody, who played right field and SS Jason Bartlett, who got a cup of coffee with the Twins last year and broke camp as the starting shortstop with Minnesota this season but got sent back down after hitting only .242 through mid-May.

The Buffalo Bisons also featured several former (and perhaps future) major leaguers, including DH Jeff Liefer, 3B Mike Kinkade, 1B Andy Abad, OF Ernie Young (who's not, anymore), CF Darnell McDonald, SP Francisco Cruceta and SS Brandon Phillips, who may still be the shortstop of the future for the Cleveland Indians, but hitting .203 in the International League is not a good way to solidify your position as a prospect. Just so you know. Liefer, McDonald, and 2B Jake Gautreau were all 1st round picks at some point in history.

But the real story was Juan Gonzalez. That’s right, the Juan Gonzalez. "Juan-Gone." "Gonzo." "Igor." Sir. Call him whatever you want, but he's still a two-time AL MVP, with 434 career major league homers, over 1400 RBI, over 1000 runs scored and almost 2000 hits. Unfortunately, he hasn't had a healthy, productive major league season since 2001. The Indians, in dire need of some production out of right field, activated Gonzalez this week in hopes that even at age 35 he might be able to do any better than the paltry .203 Casey Blake was hitting in that role. Gonzalez though, took a page out of the Frank Thomas Guide to Health & Rehabilitation, promptly re-injured his hamstring and was placed back on the DL. Oops.

But enough with the name dropping, you probably want to know what happened at the game, right? Well, just pretend you do.

Red Wings' starting pitcher Dave Gassner surrendered 5 runs in seven innings of work, including homers to Mike Kinkade and Brandon Phillips, and the Bisons led 5-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh. With the home team down by four runs, and things looking bleak, the 8,500 or so fans in attendance started to let them hear it, leading my wife to observe,

"Boy, people are really mad about this."

Which was the funniest thing I had heard all day. My wife, not being a baseball fan, per se, often comes up with observations at games that would never occur to me. Sometimes she's wrong, as when she says, "This guy sucks!" if the batter happens to swing and miss at a pitch. "That's only strike one, honey," I reassure her, before whomever it is proceeds to bounce into an inning-ending double play, thereby reinforcing her initial judgment. But this time she was right-on. It just wouldn't have dawned on me to think about it, as I'm so accustomed to hearing fans boo at games that I didn't even notice. I do live near Philadelphia, you know.

The seventh inning stretch was fun, as it always is. A children's choir led us in singing "God Bless America" although without the spiffy intro that Ronin Tynin does at Yankee Stadium ("When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars..."). Then we all sang "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" and I must say that I was pleased to find that it was not followed up with what Jay Jaffe, my colleague at The Futility Infielder, once called "the sonic horror of 'Cotton-Eyed Joe'."

Getting back to the game, Cruceta tired in the seventh, giving up 4 runs on five hits, as my favorite player who's exactly my age, Augie Ojeda, scored the tying run. Ojeda also made a diving stop to start a 4-6-3 double play in the eighth to get reliever Willie Eyre out of a bases-loaded jam, and had two hits in four at-bats to bump his average over the Mendoza line. Phillips had flashed some leather earlier in the game as well, making a diving stop of a grounder deep in the hole, but unable to hold onto the ball to make the play. This actually made my wife laugh out loud, as the image of a grown man trying to throw a ball forward and have it pop out of his hand and land on the ground behind him is apparently an amusing sight, at least to her. I suppose, if you take all the external ramifications out of the picture (i.e. the score of the game, the player's salary and career aspirations, etc.) it is a pretty funny image. Yet another observation that eluded me.

To be fair to her, later in the game my wife got so upset at seeing Bisons' left-fielder Ernie Young tumble and fall as he ran after and missed a bloop fly ball that she nearly started to cry. Not because he missed the ball, but because it looked like he had hurt himself. So it's not that she laughs at others' pain. Just their mistakes. Or something. She felt better after she saw that he got up and returned to his post in left field, apparently unscathed. The gentleman one section over from us who got hit with a screaming foul ball and had to be taken from the stadium on a stretcher was not so fortunate, and Sunny (appropriately) did not so quickly recover from that sadness. But she did take care to keep an eye on the ball during the game herself.

Anywho, with the game tied at 5-5 after the seventh inning, the Red Wings came back up in the eighth, and a kid named Josh Rabe (pronounced "ray-bee") came to the plate with nobody on base. We had been making fun of Yankees' announcer John Sterling most of the night, trying to think of awful and not particularly clever catch phrases to use for significant feats by various players, I suggested that if this guy hit a homer, they could call it a "Rabe shot". Stupid, I know, but no worse than "...AN A-BOMB...FROM A-ROD!!!" And naturally, Rabe did just that, belting a solo shot to put the good guys up, 6-5, which was the score by which they won. Red Wings' closer Travis (more kismet!) Bowyer pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save of the season, and Rochester had itself a win.

Following the game, I was able to procure a Red Wings' ceramic coffee mug for my baseball mug collection, and a tee shirt for myself and one for my wife, and then they even had fireworks, surprisingly good ones for a minor league ballpark in a small city. Traffic on the way home wasn't bad either, and we were able to get back to The Chosen Spot before 11:30. And if you're tired of the high prices, hectic travel and impersonal feel of major league stadiums, you could do worse than to make a place like Rochester your chosen spot for some entertaining and affordable baseball.

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24 May 2005

Subway Train Wreck Series Review

What a weekend.

We had the opening of Star Wars Episode III, almost 30 years after Episode IV debuted in 1977. We had the Preakness Stakes, in which the Kentucky Derby winner was not the favorite for the first time in forever, and with another surprise winner. We had that big showdown in the U.S. Senate, where the President's judicial nominees have apparently been blocked by a Democratic senator named Phillip Buster. What state is he from?

Not to be outdone, Major League Baseball held its first weekend of Interleague Play, with most of the regional rivalries taking place, including that classic Washington-Toronto Series we'd all been anticipating. These games generally tend to be the most popular, best attended games of the season for many teams, and the New York Yankees/Jamaica Mets rivalry is no exception. Unfortunately, in retrospect, much of the Subway Series looked too much like a train wreck.

Friday night's game saw some hopeful signs for the Yankees. Kevin Brown, despite getting into trouble a few times, managed to succeed in not failing once again, pitching only five innings but allowing no earned runs in that span. He did allow an unearned run, or rather Derek Jeter's two errors in the fourth inning allowed them. No Gold Glove this year, Derek.

Though he had walked four baters already, Brown had only thrown 90 pitches when his spot in the batting order came up in the top of the sixth, so he was lifted for pinch hitter Ruben Sierra, who had just come off the DL. Sierra, like Robinson Cano before him, was lucky enough to hit the ball right at a member of the Mets' porous infield defense. Sierra, however, hit his ball right at the normally sure-handed Doug Mientkiewicz, whereas Cano had been fortunate enough to hit a grounder to consistently inconsistent Mets' 2B Kazuo Matui, who's working hard this year to prove that he can suck equally regardless of which side of the keystone they want to station him.

Nevertheless, both plays resulted in errors, and runs scored for the Yankees, leaving the score at 3-1 Evil Empire, where it stayed until the Resistance struck back in the seventh. The Mets had another opportunity to score in the eighth, when Tony Womack returned the favor to Mientkiewicz by misjudging a fly ball to left and allowing him to get on base. Womack gets a little slack, since he's playing out of position in left field so someone who can hit can start at 2B, but with over 150 career games in the outfield, that excuse seems pretty thin. More sloppy play by the Mets infield helped the Yanks tack on two insurance runs in the ninth, and that's how it ended, 5-2, Visitors. Five errors, thirteen walks, but only seven runs. Not the neatest of affairs.

Saturday's game should have been closer than the 7-1 Mets victory it became, what with Randy Johnson on the mound and the most prolific offense in the majors at the plate. Alas, the Yankees couldn't do anything with Mets' starter Kris Benson (career: 49-54, 4.26 ERA) or Mets relievers, 36-year old rookie Dae-Sung Koo, 40 year old Roberto Hernandez or Braden Looper and his 4.41 ERA in 2005. In fact, not only did Koo strike out all three batters he faced, he also got his first major league hit off Johnson, an RBI double over Bernie "Can You Throw This For Me?" Williams' head, and then scored from second base on a sacrifice bunt by Jose Reyes. Jackie Robinson he's not, but jackie would have been proud.

Johnson, for his part, seemed something less than the 5-time Cy Young Award winner for whom the Yankees mortgaged their future in the off season. He allowed 12 hits and four runs in less than seven innings of work, while striking out five and walking none. Yankees' catcher Jorge Posada maintains that Johnson's relative ineffectiveness is simply due to growing pains in their relationship, difficulty in calling and shaking off signals, and the like. But unless Johnson is somehow confusing the sign for "98-mph, up and in" with the sign for "91-mph, belt-high, middle of plate" I don't buy that excuse.

Want some evidence that Johnson isn't quite right? After the sacrifice by Reyes, Miguel Cairo hit a home run off Johnson, and Cairo has never hit more than 5 bombs in any season of his 10-year career. To his credit, Cairo had owned Johnson coming into the game, with eight hits in 19 career at-bats against him (.421). However, only one of those was for extra bases, a double in April of 1996, Cairo's second major league game, and in the early part of an injury-plagued season for the Big Unit. Johnson would make three more starts after that one in 1996, none more than 5 innings, before spending three months rehabbing an injury.

Correlation? Sure. Causality? Who knows? I'm not saying that Johnson is headed for the DL again, but Randy's clearly not as spry as he used to be. Robert Adair explains in The Physics of Baseball that the elasticity of a pitcher's arm is as important a factor as strength, if not more so, for determining how hard he can throw. Like everyone else, the elasticity of tendons and cartilige tends to decrease with age, so if I were Randy, I'd be buying up as much collagen supplement as I could get my big, lanky hands on.

Sunday's rubber match between the teams wasn't quite the catastrophe that Friday's game had been. The defenses combined for only three errors instead of five, and the starting pitchers combined for only two walks and two earned runs in 14 total innings. But this time the left side of the Mets' infield threw (or bobbled) the game away, as Jose Reyes and David Wright both committed critical errors in the eighth inning. Both players recorded their sixth errors of the season on Sunday, and Reyes tacked on his seventh on Monday against the Braves, meaning that the left side of the Mets' infield is currently on a pace to commit a Jeter-esque 47 errors. No wonder Tom Glavine can't get anybody out.

But the Yanks won 2 of three, enough to keep their overall record above .500, 2.5 games behind the Red Sox, tied with Toronto for 3rd place in the AL East. It was not, however, enough to prevent WABC-NY AM talk show host, Guardian Angels' founder, Mets-hater and lover of his own voice, Curtis Sliwa from having to wear a Mets hat and jersey Monday morning, the result losing a bet that the Bronx Bombers would sweep.

See kids? That's what you get for betting.

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07 May 2005

The Moose is Loose!

Mike Mussina gave the New York Yankees exactly what they needed Saturday afternoon: a rest.

No, not a day off. They still had to play. But the offense didn't have to score 12 runs to win. Joe Torre and/or Mel Stottlemyre didn't have to walk out to the mound every other inning to make a pitching change. The bullpen didn't have to pitch perfect ball for four innings just to give them a chance at a 'W'. And the players didn't have to retreat to the clubhouse after the game only to be accosted by an army of reporters asking them exactly how ashamed they are to be the worst team ever to make $200 million.

Moose Posted by Hello

Everybody (except Moose, of course) got a nice little respite from the problems that have ailed them for the last month and change. Which is convenient because Kevin Brown is pitching tomorrow. Hopefully past, say, the third inning. But let's not think about that now.

Mussina had something of an "off" year for him in 2004, failing to pitch at least 200 innings in a non-strike year for the first time since 1993. Technically, his 164 innings were enough to qualify for the ERA title, but, well, let's just say that his 4.59 ERA (his highest since 1996) wasn't. He missed more than a month with some injury or another, and wasn't so great when he did pitch. Until today, 2005 wasn't looking like a particularly memorable campaign either, but a 4-hit shutout will help make almost anyone's stats look a little better.

This marked the first complete game shutout the Yankees have pitched since August 17, 2003, also by Mussina. But that shutout, 3 hits, no walks, 9 strikeouts in 121 pitches, seems like a wholly different animal from today's event. Mussina allowed only 4 hits today, but he walked two batters as well and only struck out three, hardly blowing anyone away. While I didn't hear a lot of the broadcast, it seems from the discussion I did hear between the Yankee commentators that Mussina's velocity had been up a bit, which is just about the only place it can go from the paltry 86 mph he'd been getting on his heater.

As a Yankee fan, I certainly love the fact that Mussina seems to be coming around. Including today's start, this makes three outings in a row in which he's pitched seven innings or more, and he's allowed only two runs in his last two starts, totaling 16 innings. Not to take too much away from him, but it must be said that these two starts came against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics currently sit #27 of the 30 MLB teams in total runs scored, and the D-Rays have averaged 7.33 runs per game against the Yankees, while scoring just over four per game against the rest of the field, so don't read too much into two good starts.

Something else that should at least be considered is the fact that Moose had to throw 131 pitches to get the shutout, whereas Torre could easily have replaced him with Mike Stanton or Tom Gordon when he got into some trouble in the ninth. Those 131 pitches were the most he'd thrown since August 6th of 2002, a 7-inning, 14-hit, 5-run losing performance against Kansas City. His next start? Six innings, eleven hits, four runs.

If this outing eventually proves to be the precursor to injury and/or more inneffectiveness for Mussina, Torre's gonna have a lot of 'splainin to do. Is it really necessary to risk injury to a star pitcher's arm for a minor statistical accomplishment that didn't even have anything to do with the win, especially against another bad team in early May?

After this weekend, The Boss won't be nearly as distracted by his horse being the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, though if this game isn't a harbinger of better times for the Bronx Bombers, Torre may finally have the free time he's always wanted to attend the Kentucky Derby in person.

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03 May 2005

Do the Yankee Shuffle

My mom is worried.

Two days ago, after hearing all about the woes of the New York Yankees on sports talk radio on my way to work, and the alleged plan to cure said woes, I received an email from said Maternal Yankee Fan describing the myriad of lineup and roster changes as well as her own panic over the state of said team. Said mom was not wrong to worry, though said Yankees may be. At the least, the Yankees may be overreacting to an otherwise appropriately worrisome issue.

On the other hand, the Bronx Bombers have done nothing in the last two days to assuage those fears. In fact, "bomb" is exactly what they did yesterday, losing 11-4 at Tampa. As I write this, the team is down 10-8 to those same Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team that had lost eight straight games coming into Tuesday night. Strike that, 11-8. The same team that currently sports a 9-18 record, good for (wait for it...) 28th best in the majors! Yep, KC and Colorado are jealous. Wait, that 11-8 is a final score.

In an effort to shake things up, the Yankees released Steve "Ow, My Elbow" Karsay, who had pitched a grand total of 12.2 innings in 2004 and 2005, all for the low, low price of six million dollars. Per year. If he clears waivers (and gosh, I can't imagine why the other 29 teams wouldn't want a guy who makes roughly $1 million per inning pitched...) Texas may pick him up, with the Yankees paying the sunken cost of Karsay's contract. As it works out, that's still only about half of what the Rangers are paying Alex Rodriguez to play for the Yankees, so maybe that wouldn't be so terrible.

Karsay's release made room for AAA 2B Robinson Cano, who hit well at AA Trenton in 2004, but struggled a little upon his promotion to Columbus. This year he was hitting much better at Columbus, and has gone 3 for 8 in his first two games with New York, though he made a costly error tonight. Of course, Cano has gotten eight at-bats as a secondbaseman because the regular second baseman, Tony Womack, is playing left field. Interestingly, the Baseball Prospectus projections for these two players in 2005 are:

Womack: .261/.303/.353
Cano: .255/.298/.389

Nearly identical, don't you think? Except they're not, because the 22-year old Cano makes the major league minimum, and has some "upside", whereas the 35-year old Womack has nowhere to go but down from his 2004 career year, and makes $2 million for each of the next two seasons.

Anywho, Womack is playing left because Hideki Matsui, currently hitting only .243 himself, mired in an 8-for-53 slump and homerless since April 8th, is playing center field. And center field, as you know, is avilable because Bernie Williams and his .247 batting average, .312 slugging percentage and gimpy throwing elbow are riding the pine. If this truly is the end of the line for Bernie as a starter, he deserves a better epilogue than I can compose in the short few minutes I have available right now. However, I am not yet convinced that we have seen the end of Bernie's starting days in CF. A little time, a little health, and maybe Williams returns to continue to build on his legacy as, far and away, um...the third or maybe fourth best centerfielder in Yankees history. You could do worse.

Until he's healthy, Bernie will serve only as a part-time DH, one of about six guys who help fill that role for the Yankees these days. Jason Giambi is the usual DH, but the "H" may be a bit of an overstatement in his case. Giambi's apparently got his batting eye, with a .394 OBP, but is "hitting" only .208, has only 6 RBI and hasn't homered since April 19th. Giambi was signed to his seven-year megadeal as a recent MVP firstbaseman, but after a season of injuries, infections and inklings of inappropriate usage of controlled substances, Jason's been reduced to a full-time DH, and a lousy one at that. The Yankees actually went out and signed re-tread Tino Martinez, a fan favorite and erstwhile hero of the Yankee franchise, but a firstbaseman whose best offensive years are far behind him, and whose most valuable asset is his glove, which is a little like carrying a relief pitcher because he knows a lot of good card games to play on those long road trips.

Rookie Andy Phillips hit .318 with 26 homers at AAA Columbus last season, but is off to a .160 start with the big club this year, after an 0-for-5, 5 strikeout performance on Tuesday night. If 0-for-4 with 4 K's is the "Golden Sombrero", what the heck did Phillips do last night? On the other hand, here's another interesting projection comparison from Baseball Prospectus:

Tino: .267/.350/.444
Andy: .263/.326/.456

Yet again, almost identical statistical projections, but 37-year old Tino is costing them almost $3 million this year, while Phillips, in his prime as a hitter at age 28, will make the MLB minimum. Not a good use of resources.

Amazingly enough, despite the offensive woes of several key players, The Yankees currently rank 4th in the majors in runs scored, behind only Boston, Baltimore and Texas, since Jeter, A-Rod, Sheffield and others are hitting reasonably well.

The real problem has been the pitching. The Yankees' 5.08 team ERA is better than only Tampa Bay in the AL, and the Reds and the Rockies (who both have a pretty good excuse given their home ballparks) in the NL. Randy Johnson's got a slight groin injury that might turn into a much bigger problem, and he was the "good" starter at 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA. Carl Pavano and Mike Mussina have not been great, but at least have given their team a chance to win once in while, which is more than Kevin Brown (8.25 ERA) and Jaret Wright (9.25!) could say. Wright's on the DL with a bum shoulder, and Brown ought to be on the DL, as in "Don't Let" him pitch anymore. Rookie Chein-Ming Wang pitched pretty well on Saturday against the Blue Jays, but AA starter Sean Henn didn't impress anyone tonight, giving up 5 earned runs in fewer than three innings. I guess he'll be going back to roost in the 'pen in Trenton.

Worse yet, they don't have a lot of options in the minors to replace these guys if they get hurt and/or continue to suck. Pete Munro? Wayne Franklin? Not gonna happen. These Yankees are in it for the long haul, because the franchise isn't equipped to replace them, and their contracts make them untradeable. They may be mediocre, they may be bad, they may just be working out the kinks on the way to another division title, but don't expect the roster to turn over much more from here on out. So keep worrying, Mom.

Ladies and gentlemen...your New York Yankees.

Like them or not.

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27 April 2005

"OK Alex Rodriguez, You Can Stay"

Alex Rodriguez had the most productive night of his career last night, driving in 10 runs with three homers and an RBI single in a 12-4 pounding of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which is still a stupid name.

Alex Rodriguez Posted by Hello

The Yankee thirdbaseman had been hitting a respectable but unimpressive .280 with 4 homers and 15 RBI entering the game, but earned himself a whole lot of respect his performance last night. It was the third three-homer game or A-Rod's career, having previously accomplished the feat for both Texas and Seattle. I wonder how many other players have had three-homer games for three different MLB teams... The ten RBI was a personal record for A-Rod, who had previously driven in 7 runs for Seattle twice, but never more.

Naturally, these accomplishments should be taken with a grain of salt, lest we risk dubbing Alex "Mr. April". Most Yankee fans certainly won't soon forget or forgive A-Rod's 2-for-17 performance in the last four games of the 2004 ALCS against Boston, but performances like the one he had last night will certainly help buy him some time to redeem himself.

Historically, Rodriguez usually does pretty well in April, hitting .320/.401/.616, with his highest OBP in any month, and generally somewhat better than his career line of .305/.381/.574. The problem is that in September he has hit "only" .267/.357/.506. Not that an .863 OPS is terrible, not by any stretch. It's just that when 55,000 people go to a game expecting to see "Alex Rodriguez" and all they get is Craig Wilson, well, let's just say they can get a little irate.

All three of the bombs came off Angels starter Bartolo Colon, whom I am very grateful I forgot to pick up for my fantasy team yesterday. Colon entered the game 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA, having given up only one homer (to KC Royals rookie Ruben Gotay, if you can believe that) but after it took him 101 pitches to get through fewer than 4 innings of work agains the Yankees, Colon's ERA had jumped to 3.73.

I heard part of the Yankee broadcast on 880 WCBS out of NY last night, actually getting out of my car just before Alex's first homer of the night. Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman mentioned that Colon has always had great "stuff" but that he tends to suffer lapses in concentration, making him something less than the pitcher his talent would portend. The argumant, such as it goes, is that Colon has trouble "gearing up" for the likes of the Royals, but no trouble getting himself prepared for the Yankees. So I looked into this, and not surprisingly, the conventional wisdom is not so wise.

Colon Posted by Hello

I looked at the winning percentages of teams over the span of time that Colon has been in the majors, from 1997-2004, using Baseball-Reference.com's schedule breaker-outer, to get a general idea of the qualities of the teams he's faced. A more accurate way to do this would have been to use the individual winning percentages from each season, as some teams that were bad in 1997 are now good (like the Twins and A's) and vice-versa (Baltimore, for example). But that sounds like a real time-consuming pain in the neck, so you're just going to have to suffer through my half-assed analysis with me.

-500 72 35 13 2 909.2 8.48 0.97 3.37 7.35 3.91 1.32
+500 49 41 15 5 718.2 8.87 1.15 3.36 6.99 4.12 1.36

The top line is Colon's combined performances against teams that have been, on average, sub-.500 for the years 1997-2004. The second line is for teams with a combined winning percentage over .500 for that span. (2005 is not included.)

Is it just me, or do those lines look pretty similar? He's got about 200 more innings against "bad" teams, owing to about 30 more games pitched, but all the averages per nine innings are very close. If anything, these numbers seem to show that he pitches better against bad teams, as most pitchers do (that's why they're bad teams), with slight edges in hit rate, home run rate, and strikeout rate providing an ERA not quite two-tenths of a run lower. And of course, better run support against "bad" teams gives him an impressive 67.3% winning percentage against them, compared to only 54.4% against "good" teams.

For the record, I don't think Colon is on his way to another 5.01 ERA for the year. Last season's stats were rathey flukey in that he gave up almost a hit more per 9 innings than he typically does, and his home run rate was a little high as well. If he can keep that one extra batter per game off the basepaths, there's no reason he can't win another 18 games with something like the 3.73 ERA he now sports.

And as for Alex Rodriguez, look for him to return to MVP-like form this year, leading the Yankees in most offensive categories, even if it does take him two weeks to drive in his next ten runs.

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22 April 2005

MLB Steroid Policy Not Working

The most recent round of steroid suspensions yielded nine new names, all of whom were minor leaguers and all of which again rhyme with "nobody." Or at least they mean that.

Only three players who were on major league 40-man rosters have been suspended for 10 days under the new policy: Tampa Bay OF Alex Sanchez, Colorado OF Jorge Piedra and Texas pitcher Agustin Montero. The latter two were in the minor leagues at the times of their suspensions.

The biggest name of the most recent group was Grant Roberts, who pitched for parts of the 2000-2004 seasons with the Mets, and had a largely undistinguishable 101 innings with a 4.25 ERA. Roberts got a 15-game suspension, rather than the 10 mandated by the major league policy, presumably because he was in the minors at the time it happened. The total number of suspensions stands at 47, but none of these suspensions was doled out to any kind of impact player.

Houston OF Adam Seuss was suspended for violating the steroids policy. Seuss immediately issued a press release in his own defense:

"I did not take steroids.
I would not take steroids.
I would not take them on a train.
I would not take them in the rain.
I would not take them in the clubhouse.
I would not take them with a mouse.
I don't like steroids, understand?
I did not take them, A-dam I am."

Three Baltimore Orioles minor leaguers were suspended: Gary Cates Jr., Rafael Diaz and Richard Salazar. Don't ask me, I don't know who they are either.

Two Atlanta Braves minor leaguers were suspended: James Jurries and Ricardo Rodriguez. Lucy is reportedly very upset with Ricky for getting suspended, and also because he wouldn't let her come to his games. The jury's still out on why James was suspended.

Eider Torrez, from the Cleveland Indians' organization, and Damien Myers, who had already been released by the Tigers, were the other two suspensions. Neither player was listed in Baseball Prospectus 2005, so I think it's safe to say that their clubs weren't counting on them for much output in the majors this year.

MLB reports that these nine suspensions were based on 251 tests performed Florida spring training camps. Cactus League testing yielded 37 suspensions (out of 925 tests). One came from off-season testing.

Grapefruit League Teams: 9/251 = 3.6%
Cactus League Teams: 37/925 = 4.0%
Offseason Testing: 1/Eleventy-Billion = ~0%

Hmmm...looks like maybe the offseason isn't the ideal time to try to test these guys, ya think? I expect that the vast majority of those tests were conducted under the previous testing policy, in which I believe that players were allowed to have their pet Rottweiler provide the urine for them. But don't quote me on that.

The only non-first offense suspension to date belongs to Oakland's David Castillo, who got a 60-game ban for the proverbial "strike three" offense. Doesn't look like David's going to have to worry about bringing the fruit salad to this summer's MENSA picnic, if you know what I mean. How can anyone be dumb enough to get caught three times, especially when the first two suspensions occurred under the old policy, which was supposedly so toothless that there were actually professional wrestlers on some teams' rosters?

Worse, yet, how can anyone be dumb enough to think this policy is actually working? We've got almost 50 suspensions to date, and not one of them is a guy you'd recognize on the street, even if he showed up in uniform. Until someone, a known player, a perennial suspect in the steroid conversation, actually recieves a suspension, I'm not buying this. It still reeks of the MLB Players' Association doing its best to protect its players, as it should, but not at the cost of the game's integrity and the fans' faith.

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21 April 2005

Random Yankee Baseball Notes...

Don't look now, but the Yankees have won two of their last three games! That's 67%! Woo-hoo!

They've scored 32 runs in their last three games. Of course, scoring 11 runs against the Blow Jays isn't really all that special. This is the team whose first two pitchers in their Monday game against the Red Sox were named "Bush" and "League". Honest. You could look it up.

Yankees hitters are currently combining for a .282/.369/.446 line, or an .814 OPS, almost exactly the same as the .811 OPS they put up in 2004, which helped them score 897 runs, second only to the Red Sox in all of MLB. The Yanks have scored 85 runs so far in 2005, good for 4th in the majors. If Tino Martinez (hitting .225) and Tony Womack (.245) don't start producing, it does not seem like the team will be able to maintain this pace, but at least for now the hitters have largely done their jobs.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Yankees' schedule has resulted in a 4-8 record, so their totals are not so impressive. To find out why, you need look no further than the pitching staff.

Ugh. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't look...it's too gruesome. An .843 OPS against and a 5.19 ERA, 23rd among the 30 MLB teams. Before yesterday they were 29th, ahead of only Colorado, which isn't saying much. The chief culprits have been...well, everybody, at some point or another, but the starters are mostly to blame. While racking up roughly 2/3 of the team's innings, Yankee starters have combined for a 5.48 ERA, better than only Tampa Bay and Colorado. Though they're only 1-3 between them, tonight's starter Mike Mussina and last night's winner Carl Pavano have a reasonably respectable 3.49 ERA. Before getting his first win last night, Pavano was on the verge of being run out of town, if not for the fact that the Yanks weren't in town. Yankee fans don't like to see a big-name free agent catch go winless in three starts to begin the season, especially after signing a $39 million contract over the winter. Last night's 8-inning, 2-run, no-walk performance seems to have bought him some time on the scheduled lynching.

Pavano Posted by Hello

The remaining starters, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Jaret Wright, have combined for a technically mediocre 3-3 record, which belied the fact that they have been pasted for an abysmal 7.14 ERA combined, including 10 homers in under 47 innings. If they don't get their respective acts together, they may not win more than the three games they've gotten credit for already.

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18 April 2005

You Complete Me

Is it just me, or is the ghost of Steve Carlton posessing most of the Florida Marlins' starting rotation?

Actually, Lefty's still alive, so it can't be his ghost. For that matter, it's not just the Fish either, it's most of the National League. Looking at the box scores from the last week or so, it seemed to me that there was a disproportionately high number of really impressive performances by starting pitchers. It seemed like every day there was another complete game, another shutout, aother 8-inning, 2-hit, 9 strikeout box score, and it didn't seem right.

Or, perhaps more accurately, it didn't seem normal. Isn't this supposed to be the Age of the Hitter? Isn't this supposedly the greatest offensive era in history? A time when a 40-year old with bad knees can win a batting title and get walked out of sheer fear more often than anyone else in his league gets a hit? An era in which everybody (it seems) can hit 20 homers in a season? When even a 5'9", 178-pound secondbaseman can slug almost .900, at least for two weeks? Where's the offense, man?

So, to figure out what was going on (I know this is gonna be hard to believe, but stick with me here...) I did some research. I looked at the contributions of starting pitchers through the first two weeks of this season and compared the numbers to last year's overall numbers. (Just comparing to the first two weeks of 2004 might have been more appropriate, but hey, what do you expect from someone who does this in his spare time?) And here's what I found:

I'm wrong.

Well, I'm wrong about the American League, at least. Take a look:

  G      IP     IP/GS   ERA  CG  CGF  SHO
170 1000.33 5.88 4.39 5 34 0
2266 13352.33 5.89 4.83 79 29 33

American League starters have averaged almost exactly the same number of innings per start (IP/GS) this season as they did all of 2004. Though there has not yet been a complete game shutout pitched in the Junior Circuit in 2005, they only happened about once every 69 games last year, so if two of them happened tomorrow we'd be nearly right back on pace. The frequency with which complete games occur (CGF) is actually down just slightly from 2004, as we've had a CG only once every 34 games this season, compared to once every 29 last year.

The one interesting thing to note here is that run scoring, at least scoring of earned runs against starting pitchers, is significantly down. Last year's AL starters had an ERA of 4.83, and so far in 2005, AL hitters are crossing the plate at a rate almost half a run lower than that. Unless there are just a lot more errors being made, this seems odd. I guess it seems odd either way.

The National League, however, may be a slightly different story:

184 1105.34 6.01 4.05 9 20.44 7 26.29
2266 13236.66 5.84 5.05 71 31.92 36 62.94

The Senior Circuit is showing a slight increase in average innings pitched by starters, from 5.84 last year to just over 6 this year, or a difference of about half an out per game. Starters' ERA is down an entire run, to 4.05, a huge drop from last season. Furthermore, complete games are happening much more often, every 20 games or so, compared to every 36 games last year, and complete game shutouts have occurred more than twice as often, ever 26 games compared to every 63 last season. Suddenly, at least in the National League, starters know how to pitch again!

Why might this be?

The first thing that occurred to me was: Barry Bonds.

Barry hasn't played, and he is an incredible offensive (and sometimes, incredibly offensive) player, so maybe he's the difference, right? Nope. Even if Barry is worth two runs per game more than whatever stiff they're trotting out to left field in his stead (he's not), that would still only bring the NL ERA up to 4.23, still more than 3/4 of a run below last season.

On a broader scale, maybe it's the steroid testing policy? I mean, if the players were afraid of getting caught and stopped taking them, then naturally you'd expect offense to be down, right? We can't know just how many players aren't taking steroids anymore, so there's really no way to measure this directly. On the other hand, (there's a wedding band,) and it's not as though the steroid policy has turned up anyone significant yet. The only two players to serve suspensions (Tampa Bay CF Alex Sanchez and Rockies CF Jorge Piedra) are unimpressive players on unimpressive teams, no one who might have been expected to alter their whole league's run-scoring abilities. (In his defense, as unimpressive as the Devil Rays may be, they have a better record than my favorite team...but then so does everyone else in the AL.)

Maybe the anomaly isn't this year, but last year. The rate at which complete games are occurring in the NL works out to about 127 over the course of the season, and even though the last year the NL saw that many complete games was 2000, last year's rate of 71 was an all-time low, by a significant margin, as the second-lowest occurred in 2001, with 96. Similarly, the American League total of 79 in 2004 was also an all-time low, way below the previous record of 103, also set in 2001. Without needing to pinch-hit for the pitcher late in a game, you'd expect the AL to have more complete games in general, even though run scoring tends to be lower in the NL.

So maybe all we're really seeing is the return of some sanity to major league baseball, in National League parks, if not in the American. Pitchers are supposed to be able to finish a start once in a while. It should be possible for a starter to pace himself and not have to exert all his available energy with every pitch, thereby ensuring that he will never ever be able to throw more than a hundred pitchers, and certainly never finish a game. If it really is the steroid policy, and some of the edge hitters have enjoyed for the last decade is beginning to recede, then I'm grateful. If pitchers can get batters out and complete a start without throwing 120-140 pitches to do it, the I want to see more of it. It will be better for everone involved.

Of course, two weeks into the season is not the best time to do a retrospective on it, so we'll need to check back in this October, and see if the policy is really helping. If NL starters are still holding a collective ERA around 4.00 and finishing a start every 20 games or so, I'll be happy even if the only other players suspended are more Darryl Hamilton than Darryl Strawberry.

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15 April 2005

Weekend Update...

I wish I had more to say about last night's Yankees-Red Sox game, but you probably already know it all: The Red Sox' manager and hitting coach both got ejected for arguing balls and strikes, Randy Johnson surrendered three homers but toughed it out for 7 innings, Gary Sheffield was assaulted by a drunken idiot Red Sox fan, Yanks lost, 8-5.

Now on to other stuff...

There is apparently a survey about steroids in baseball you can take over at Web Surveyor:

Steroids in Baseball Online Survey

I know this because people keep emailing me about it, so hopefully now they'll leave me alone. If this is the sort of subject that gets you hot under the collar (steroids, not annoying emails) then go take the survey and tell them Boy of Summer sent you. Apparently if I refer the most people to their survey I can win a free Sony PSP, whatever that is. About the only way this happens is if I take the survey myself and nobody else ever does, so I don't see it happening. Gosh, I hope that PSP thing isn't something I actually need.

On a more interesting note, someone named Peter Handrinos has a website called United States of Baseball, which I have linked at the left there, the spiffy-looking eagle logo. Some nice writing in general, including a retrospective on the 1994-95 baseball strike. Go check it out.

Dan Mclaughlin continues his Established Win Shares Studies with the NL Central EWSL here. Interesting stuff.

The Team Hub link to your right is a website offering stats and info packages for you based upon your favorite teams. It's a pay-for-play deal, but it seems like a neat little niche they've got there.

There are several other new links as well, like Shaking Spears (which reportedly does not have any effect on Britney's lack of common sense) and Potfry, which has a name I don't get but lots of sarcastic baseball writing I do.

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14 April 2005

Curt Schilling: Greatest American Ego

Sometimes life just isn't fair.

For example, despite being as big a baseball fan as I think I am, I had not yet had an opportunity to watch an actual baseball game yet this year. Even Opening Night, with my Yankees playing against the "World Champion Boston Red Sox" (my Spell Checker keeps trying to tell me that's a typo...), somehow I managed to miss. Something about hanging out with friends, I think. And then last night, with the same two teams playing on a channel I could actually watch (ESPN2), I was looking forward to getting home on time to see the start of the game, but work kept me at the office until nearly 7PM, so I had no choice but to only listen to and/or miss the first three innings or so as I drove the 45 minutes home and then made dinner. All of this while other people, not nearly the informed, intelligent and good-looking baseball fans that I am (though perhaps with more hair) get to watch games whenever the heck they feel like it.

But my lot was not so bad as some. Curt Schilling, for example, Red Sox Ace and Greatest PostSeason Hero He Can Remember, finally made his 2005 debut last night. Schilling, you may recall, was last seen in public bleeding profusely from a festering shrapnel wound in his leg, firing shots into enemy territory in a apparently doomed effort to keep the bad guys at bay, all the while trying not to drown in a pool of his own blood, which is generally considered a pretty nasty way to go. The advancing enemy onslaught always seemed just moments away from engulfing Schilling and his comrades, oozing ankle wound and all, but in an act of heroism not seen since the Greatest Generation stormed the beaches at Normandy, or maybe Jim Brown in the Dirty Dozen, Curt kept firing until he could fire no more...

...and then was lifted for a relief pitcher. OK, so maybe Normandy still has a bit more nobility associated with it, but you sure couldn't tell from listening to Schilling talk about himself, could you?

Curt Pitching Posted by Hello

Anywho, Schilling's long-awaited return finally occurred last night, and at least the Yankee radio announcers seemed to think that he was surprisingly sharp considering the long layoff. Through the first four innings, he had thrown 53 of 68 pitches for strikes, and though he was "only" hitting 91 on the radar gun, he had given up only three hits and no walks in that span. Then, in the fifth inning, he gave up a dribbler to the secondbaseman, who despite the Giambi Shift, somehow screwed up a routine ground ball so badly that he couldn't even throw out lead-footed Jason. Then Tino Martinez hit an automatic double to right-center field, and Tony Womack walked.

Let me say that again: Tony Womack, who walks only slighlty more often than Stephen Hawking, took a base on balls. When a pitcher who never gives up walks gives up a walk to a guy who never takes walks, it's called a "bad sign", you know? C'mon people, this isn't Quantum Physics. Oh, sorry Dr. Hawking.

So maybe Terry Francona should have had Mike Timlin getting ready at this point, but we all know what a tough guy Schilling is, so even if Timlin had been warm, they might have needed the Jaws of Life to pry Curt off the mound. Unfortunately for Curt and for Boston, they left him in, and Derek Jeter singled in a run, keeping the bases loaded with only one out. Gary Sheffield lofted a fly just deep enough to center field to sacrifice in a run, tying the game. A strikeout to Hideki Matsui ended the inning.

Upon reflection, even though he threw only 14 of 25 pitches for strikes in the fifth inning, Schilling wasn't really hit all that hard. He gave up a ground rule double and a bloop single, but Giambi's hit should have been an out and Sheffield's RBI actually was an out, so if it weren't for fluke infield single by Giambi, Curt might have gotten out of the inning unscathed. As it was, he was scathed twice, and now was pitching in a tie game.

Whether Francona should have yanked him after the walk to Womack or not is debatable, I'm sure, but it would seem that after laboring through the fifth inning, and now having thrown 93 pitches (at 5 MPH or so below his usual level) and not very far removed from a five and a half-month layoff, it seems like a 5-inning, 2-run, 93-pitch performance was a pretty reasonable expectation for this outing, and it might have been the wisest decision to send Schilling to the showers before the start of the sixth.

Alas, this was not to be, and Curt returned to the game in the 6th, proving even less effective than he had been in the 5th, and giving up three more runs, this time on homers from Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams. On the plus side, he did throw 9 of 13 pitches for strikes, but that hardly consoles a 5-2 deficit you won't have the opportunity to right.

The reason I bring up "fairness" is not that there was some debate as to whether or not one of the hits dropped inside or outside a foul line, but because this same night, Yankee pitcher Jaret Wright received much better than he deserved, in my opinion. Through the first four innings, he had allowed two singles, two doubles and four walks while throwing only half of his 78 pitches for strikes. Not many pitchers survive long allowing two baserunners per inning, and yet Wright somehow managed to give up only one run through that span. The third inning proved particularly brutal as he managed only 12-of-35 pitches for strikes, with a double and three walks but only one run on a sac fly by Big Papi.

Wright Posted by Hello

Unfortunately, this was the first inning I actually got to watch, and even I could see that his arm was in front of his body, causing him to rush his delivery and not follow through properly, leaving his pitches either way up or way down and out of the strike zone. Even though 9 of his last 11 pitches had been out of the strike zone, Edgar Renteria inexplicably swung and grounded out, though it did take a very nice play by Gold Glove Shortstop Derek Jeter (No Spell Check, not this one either...) to end the third. Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre must have given him a good lecture or something during the top of the fourth, because he came back and retired the Red Sox much more easily in his half of the inning, throwing 11 of 15 pitches for strikes and whiffing two while allowing only a single to Jason Varitek. Even the leadoff homer by Trot Nixon (apparently Wright got tired of walking him) in the fifth didn't seem to rattle him, as he got through the inning relatively easily.

And so, despite allowing 11 baserunners in only five innings, with two strikeouts, Jaret Wright picked up his first win as a Yankee. Somehow, on a night when Wright was wrong, the rest of the Yankees picked up his slack.

And despite pitching much better for the same five innings, Schilling lost because his manager didn't know when to say "when" and left him in too long in his first start of the year. A healthy, 23-year old may be able to hurl consecutive, ~100 to 115-pitch shutouts to start the year after a normal Spring Training experiance, but maybe a 38-year old recovering from surgery might be better handled with "kid gloves." Wouldn't hurt him to learn a little humility either, you know?

Even if he is the Greatest American Hero. No wait, that's someone else.

Greatest American Ego Posted by Hello

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11 April 2005

Pedro Martinez: Duel Personalities

A classic pitching duel. One for the ages? Probably not, but it must have been a lot of fun to been a Mets fan in the stands or in front of the TV yesterday afternoon as Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz went toe-to-toe for seven innings and change.

Pedro Posted by Hello

After a less than stellar re-debut (re-but?) as a starter on Opening Day (six earned runs in 1.2 innings), Smoltz was masterful this Sunday, as good as he had ever been, allowing only two runs and no walks while striking out 15 in 7.1 innings. If this performance was any indication, Smoltz will be just fine returning to the rotation this year, as long as he can stay healthy. That 7.1 inning performance was the longest he'd been out there since September 1999, before he missed all of the 2000 season following his eleventeenth reconstructive elbow surgery. And though I couldn't find the data to prove it, I'm sure 115 pitches are more than he's throuwn in several years as well. Let's hope he holds up, because it sure is a lot of fun to watch him pitch.

Unfortunately for him, he picked a bad time to be awesome, because Pedro was, er..., awesomer, fanning nine while allowing only two hits and one run in a complete game, his first since last August, which had been his first complete game since September of 2003.

Pedro Martinez was once one of the greatest pitchers in the game, and he will no doubt go down in history among the greates pitchers in history. But at this point in his career, 33 years old and having just posted the highest ERA of his career, he's certainly not what he used to be.

His reputation at this point is that of a 6-inning pitcher, or, if you will, a 100-pitch pitcher. The reality isn't quite that bad, though there is some evidence that his effectiveness drops off considerably after the 100-pitch mark:

2003-04 Splits for Pedro Martinez

                 BA    OBP   SLG  OPS     
Pitches 1-105: .227 .290 .363 .653
Pitches 106-?: .297 .350 .378 .728

Granted, lots of pitchers would love to only allow a .378 slugging percentage (you reading, Eric?), regardless of the game situation, but for Pedro, this denotes a considerable fall-off.

Two caveats should be given with these data, though. The first is that the high-pitch count data are gleaned from a very small sample size, only 74 at-bats, as compared to the first lot of data, which occurred in 3,154 at-bats. Because the sample size is so small, it's skewed severely by his 2003 numbers, when he allowed 12 hits (mostly singles) in 33 at-bats at the ends of high-pitch count games. Neither the 2002 nor the 2004 numbers show such a severe disparity, but I didn't think it was fair to look at his 2003 stats without showing his most recent work.

The second caveat is that this does not include his performances in the playoffs the last two years, when he was, shall we say, not so good late in games, especially when his pitch count exceeded 100. I didn't have a good way to evaluate those and I can't take the time to go through every pitch and do all the math. Sorry.

The other reputation, that of a six-inning starter, is one that should be taken seriously too, though. As I mentioned, it had been eight months since Pedro had hurled a complete game, and even though he tossed only 101 pitches this Sunday, I got to wondering how he tends to follow up such performances:

Comp Game 9 7 1 0 1 10 117 1.00
Next Game 6 6 3 1 1 7 101 4.50

Like I said in my last mini-analysis: small sample size, so take it with a grain of salt. It should also be understood that any drop in performance may have had more to do with the relatively high pitch count (117 on average) in these complete games than it had to do with the actual innings.

However, with that said, you can see that Pedro has not typically followed up these appearances all that well. He averages only 6 innings, and hit hit-, walk- and home run-rates all increase, as does the strikeout rate, ever so slightly. I only used his last four complete games and the games immediately following them for these data, but it does seem that at least for the last couple of seasons, Pedro found that he was a tough act to follow, even when he followed himself.

So, come Saturday when Pedro faces former Met Al Leiter, don't be toos urprised if he "only" produces a Quality Start, something like the 6-inning, 3-run performance he averaged above. Against Leiter, that may be enough to win anyway.

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07 April 2005

Frank Thomas, Hurt of Fame

UPDATE: Due to Frank Thomas' recent retirement announcement, I've updated this article a little, here.

The topic of yesterday's conversation on ESPN Radio's morning talk show was the Hall of Fame, not just for baseball, but for any sport. The basketball Hall of Fame had recently inducted two coaches who are still active in that role, something that no other sport does, including baseball. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, the hosts of the show, therefore felt compelled to ask...

1) why this disparity exists, and

B) if you could put current players in the Hall of Fame, who would get in?

Naturally, they discussed several players from several sports, but one of the few baseball players mentioned was Frank Thomas, and Mike Greenberg contested that The Big Hurt should not get into Cooperstown right now. Despite having covered the Chicago sports beat during Thomas' best years in the early 1990's, and admitting that Thomas was putting up numbers comparable to Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Hank Greenberg, Mike Greenberg maintained that his drop-off after that removed him from the running.

Frank Thomas Posted by Hello

This is about the silliest thing I've heard all week. I could understand if they were saying that Frank Thomas, moderately productive outfielder of several 1950s and '60s National League teams, didn't belong in the Hall of Fame. That Frank Thomas hit .266 in 16 seasons, never hitting .300 in any of them, finishing in the top ten of the MVP ballot only once (4th in 1958), and never leading his league in anything but games played, hit-by-pitch and sacrifice flies (once each). That Frank Thomas certainly doesn't belong in Cooperstown.

But this one? The Big Hurt? The 1B/DH who has terrorized American league pitchers for the last decade and a half? Let's look at his credentials, along with someone else's, shall we?

Name     AB     R    H     2B   HR   RBI
Hurt 6851 1308 2113 444 436 1439
Splint 6583 1598 2307 463 447 1607

Hurt .308 .429 .567 996 162
Splint .350 .489 .645 1134 190

The 'Hurt' line is, of course, Frank Thomas' career to this point. The second line is that of the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, through his age 39 season, a comparable number of games to what Thomas has played so far, with an adjustment to put them on equal footing in terms of plate appearances.

Are they the same? Of course not. Nobody was as good as Ted Williams, in his generation or any other, save perhaps Ruth and Bonds. But are they close? You're damn right they are. Williams had a few more of just about everything, but not a lot more of anything. He struck out a lot less, but so did everyone else at the time. Pitchers throw harder now, and relief pitchers are trained to get the strikeout, with Thomas having to face them much more often than Williams did.

The second set of stats, their averages, shows a much greater difference between them, but it also shows something else. That last statistic is park and league-adjusted OPS (On-base plus Slugging), a rough but effective measure of a hitter's prowess. Ted Williams ranks second all time, behind only the babe. Thomas is tied for 12th, with eight of those 12 already in the Hall. The other four are:

Joe Jackson, who's banned for life for a betting scandal, just like Pete Rose, or something.

Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, who aren't yet eligible, but who will be elected when their time comes, in all probability.

...and Pete Browning, who played almost half of his ~1200 game career in the 1880s American Association, beating up on sub-standard pitching while all the best players were in the National League.

Thomas is one of only a handful of players to hit over .300/.400/.500 in a career of over 1000 games. Almost all of the rest are in Cooperstown or will be some time soon. Here's that list:

Already in the Hall of Fame:
Brouthers, Dan
Cobb, Ty
Delahanty, Ed
Foxx, Jimmie
Gehrig, Lou
Greenberg, Hank
Heilmann, Harry
Hornsby, Rogers
Musial, Stan
Ott, Mel
Ruth, Babe
Speaker, Tris
Williams, Ted

Not eligible because of the lifetime ban for the 1919 Black Sox Scandal:

Jackson, Joe

Not eligible because they're still active or recently retired (years played):

Martinez, Edgar (18)
Thomas, Frank (15)
Walker, Larry (16)
Ramirez, Manny (12)
Jones, Chipper (11)
Abreu, Bobby (9)
Helton, Todd (8)

Walker and Helton are only on this list because they've played most or all of their careers in Colorado, and Walker is likely to drop off as he's now in the decline stage of his career, playing in St. Louis, and his career OBP stands at .401. Edgar Martinez, despite playing three more seasons than Thomas, played in only 120 more games, and did not hit for nearly as much power ("only" 309 homers). Ramirez, Jones and Abreu, all excellent players currently, aren't likely to improve upon their current career averages being already 30 or older, but are having Cooperstown worthy careers for now.

So that's 14 Hall of Famers, one banned but otherwise Hall-worthy player, one potential Hall of Famer in Edgar, three guys who should be enshrined eventually if they follow normal career paths, and two guys who needed the help of the best hitting environment in major league history to get into this discussion at all. Pretty good company, I think.

Let's look at where Thomas falls in history:

Rank: 100 77 47 31 51 19 77 11

Overall, he's got to be one of the two dozen or so best hitters in history, and maybe only beneath Jimmy Foxx and Joe DiMaggio among right-handed hitters. Even without giving him credit for time he's spent injured, his numbers are already Hall-Worthy. With 3 or 4 more years, he's going to end up in the top 20-25 in homers, RBI and Extra-base hits, the top 50 in doubles and total bases, and perhaps the top 75 or so in runs scored. Bill James listed him as the tenth best firstbaseman ever back in the 2000 edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, and since then he's had two and a half productive seasons, and one and a half seasons lost to injury. That still adds to his career value, in my mind.

The radio host's contention was that because Thomas has been injured so much the last several years, and because he didn't maintain the pace he started in the early 1990s, and "didn't do anything in the playoffs", his Hall of Fame chances have passed. While certainly the first two of those things are true, should they really cause us not to vote for Thomas when he becomes eligible for Cooperstown?

From 1991 to 1998, Thomas racked up eight consecutive seasons with at least 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBI. No, he didn't maintain that pace, but since no one had ever put together more than four such seasons consecutively before, why should we expect it from him? (Jeff Bagwell later had six.) And that streak includes not one but two strike-shortened seasons, making it all the more impressive.

Thomas made five All-Star Games in that span, and won two MVP Awards, in 1993 and 1994. He's also finished in the top ten in the MVP voting six other times, and 15th one other time. Only ten players in history have amassed more MVP shares than Thomas, and they're all in the Hall, except Bonds, who's still playing. We hope. For that matter, 12 of the next 13 players on that list after Thomas are also in the Hall, and the 13th is Pete Rose. (I guess 13 isn't his lucky number.) Only three of the next 25 or so elligible players have not been elected, and Thomas is obviously far above them. In short, anyone considered so frequently and so seriously as the MVP of his league is by definition a Hall of Famer.

It would be unfortunate if Thomas is unable to return to form in June or so, and even worse if he were unable to return at all. But if he weren't elected to the Hall of Fame when his time comes? That would really be a Big Hurt.

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04 April 2005

Alex Sanchez: Scapegoat or Closet Body-Builder?

The first casualty of the new MLB drug-testing policy was felled yesterday. Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez, an otherwise largely unremarkable player, now has a place in the record books. That is, besides being perhaps the only player ever to play on a 106-loss team and then get traded to an even worse one the folowing year. How's that for being born under a bad sign?

Actually, Sanchez was born under the Communist regime that rules Cuba, and having escaped from there in 1994, Sanchez now works in the Communist regime known as Major League Baseball. Well, Commissioner Bud Selig would like it to be Communist, or at least he'd like you to believe that it needs to be Communist in order to survive. But enough about politics.

Sanchez' suspension is not, to return to the battlefield metaphors, the slaying of Goliath by David. (Goliath was placed on the DL by, ironically enough, the Giants.) If anything, this is Goliath (MLB) stringing up David (Alex) by his thumbs for the rest of the Israelites to see as an example. This is the Philistine army taking a squire, nay, a waterboy, and having him dragged around the field by his ankles, except of course without all the glorious history that Hector had before Achilles so shamed him. Sanchez is nothing more than a display, a warning to the rest of the players, that they too could be so shamed.

But is Sanchez more than that? The suspension of Sanchez makes for headlines only for headlines' sake. He's not a star. Heck, he's barely even employed. Despite having hit .322 last season and stealing 19 bases, Sanchez was released by the Tigers this spring, and was competing for a spot with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team so bad that they set a franchise record last season by winning 70 games.

The reason for this is that while he did hit .322, he did so in only 79 games, and his measly seven (7!) walks gave him a .335 on-base percentage, good for 176th in the majors among the 276 players who got at least 300 plate appearances. As a leadoff hitter, Sanchez' OBP ranked 22nd out of 26 major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances in that role. And he more than engulfed those 19 successful steals with 13 unsuccessful ones, costing his team more runs than he produced in doing so. Even the Tigers can do better than that, they hope.

The Devil Rays, who never met a toolsy, impatient outfielder they didn't like, snatched him up to fill that role for them, at least while toolsy, impatient Rocco Baldelli is busy knee-habbing. D-Rays manager Lou Piniella complained about having to make a lineup change the day before the season began, saying, "Sanchez had come in here and hit the ball. Now we've just got to make adjustments, and we will." The Tampa Bay front office did not comment, at least not to me.

Generally speaking, I'm usually one of the first people to try to shoot down a conspiracy theory. The more people involved in an alleged conspiracy, the less likely that the conspiracy actually exists, as radio host and monthly conspiracy theory killer Michael Medved often explains. But this one has potential. Lemme 'splain:

MLB has a new drug testing policy. Lots of new substances banned, year-round, random testing, blah, blah, blah. You know this. Someone has to be the first person suspended. There are about 1200 players on the 30 teams' 40-man rosters, plus maybe another 300 or so on the DL or being shuttled back and forth between AAA and the majors. That's 1200 players, or an average of 100 or so being tested per month. We know that in 2003, with a much weaker testing policy, somewhere between 5% and 7% of the random tests came up positive, triggering the completely inneffective 2004 policy, probably because a player knew that once he'd been tested, he was in no danger of being tested again, making it much easier to avoid detection.

Even if only 5% of players are currently using banned substances, and I don't think any reasonable observer believes that the number is actually that low, we should be seeing an average of approximately five players suspended every month. Sanchez makes one. Where are the other four, or ten, or even one?

Are you going to try to convince us that Alex Sanchez, generously described as "5'10", 180-lbs", with 4 career home runs, is the only player among the 100+ players tested last month who came up positive? Such an assessment would be doubtful at best, downright preposterous and deceitful at worst. The management of MLB never ceases to amaze me in their underestimation of the intelligence of its own fanbase.

I expect that in actuality, Bud Selig had in his posession something like 6-10 or more "positive" test results, and wanted to set off this timebomb with as little "ka-boom" as possible. Let's see...suspend Bobby Superstar? Bad. Hmmm...Alex Sanchez? Who's he? Nobody. Expendable. A simple casualty of war. Good!

Better yet, perhaps a scapegoat, so the commissioner's office can say they're doing their jobs, suspending players who test positive, and prompting figures like Joe Torre to say stuff like,

"The fact that the testing evidently worked, that's what we want to find out. We want to get the fans' trust back, and that's the only way it's going to happen. This is a good sign - not for Sanchez - but it gives credibility to the way they are testing."

Actually, Joe, the fact that you seem to think it's working lends more credibility to the process than the suspension of some pip-squeak nobody on a team that will contend only for last place in the standings and in attendance.

And no kidding, "not for Sanchez". Alex has had a roller coaster of a month. He saw his mother and brother, recently escaped from Cuban opression themselves, for the first time in 11 years in mid-March. Then, two days later, after having hit OK but apparently playing lackluster defense for the Tigers, he was released. Picked up by a team with even worse prospects than Detroit, he hit extremely well and won a starting job, only to find out that he had become an unwilling pawn in the chess game between the MLB Players' Association and the Commissioner's office. Sanchez was sacrificed to appease the gods, or more precisely, the beat writers and by extension, the fans, that all is well with MLB and its shiny, new drug testing policy.

For his part, Sanchez contends that he's never taken steroids "or anything else like that", and it's hard not to believe him when he looks like that. But he apparently took something, and he and his colleagues ought to be a bit more careful about what they ingest from here on out, because now that this scapegoat has been loosed into the woods, there's nothing keeping El Bud from naming more positive test result victims. And the next set of names will probably be a bit more familiar to us, and not so easily forgettable as Alex, um...Alex..., er..something.

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31 March 2005

The Walking Wounded - National League

Spanning the globe, to give you a constant variety of...actually, not much. This is Boy of Summer. We do baseball here. If you want Variety, go buy a magazine.

Continuing my two-part series on Important Injury Issues, let's look at the Senior Circuit.

Arizona Diamondbads

Diamondbacks. Sorry, force of habit. Actually, Arizona's not in terrible shape injury-wise. Two potential closers in Jose Valverde and Greg Aquino are dealing with shoulder and elbow troubles, respectively, with the former recently placed on the 15-day DL.

Alex Cintron's nursing a hamstring pull, which might not be so bad for the D-Backs, as his 665 OPS was better than only Craig Counsell among qualified the 21 MLB shortstops who got more than 502 plate appearances last year. What's that? You say Counsell is Cintron's replacement? No, the Diamondbacks couldn't be that stupid, could they?

Atlanta Braves

Newly-aquired OF Raul Mondesi is day-to-day nursing a hammy, and probably won't be very good even with two halthy wheels. Far be it from me to argue with something that John Schuerholz and/or Bobby Cox dreamed up, since they've been right about almost everything for nearly a decade and a half, but isn't relying on Raul Mondesi to supply offense a little like relying on Venezuela to supply oil? I mean, it's great when you can get it, but the situation is so unstable that only a fool would bank on it long-term. Tune in this October when Mondesi wins the "Comeback Player of the Year" Award and Travis wins another "Would You Like Some Fries With Those Words?" Award.

Chicago Cubs

Pick your poison. You want a former NL Rookie of the Year who led the majors in strikeouts in 2003 with shoulder problems? Meet Kerry Wood, who should start Opening Day, but who knows when thereafter. You want a perennial Cy Young candidate with elbow problems? Meet Mark Prior, who will pitch for the first time in nearly a month this Saturday, albeit against minor-leaguers. A closer hit in the hand with a line drive? Joe Borowski is expected to miss six weeks with a broken bone in that hand. Speaking of closers and former Rookies of the Year, Scott Williamson's elbow troubles continue to haunt him and the fans of whichever team he's playing for. This team's hopes hinge on its pitching staff, especially Wood and Prior, and thisngs aren't exactly starting out well.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds don't have any big injuries currently, but it's early yet, and Ken Griffey's still on the roster.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies/Rookies aren't expected to do much this year. Shawn Chacon is apparently coming back from a hamstring injury and pitched well in an exhibition game last week, although you would almost think that the fact that he pitched well is an indication that he's still not healthy. Chacon provided the ultimate proof of how silly the save rule is, racking up 35 "Show Up In the 9th"s while going 1-9 with an ERA of 7.11. Thank you, come again! As long as him hamstring heals properly, Chacon will return to surrendering game-winning homers as a starter rather than a reliever.

Florida Marlins

Florida's offense depends on Juan Pierre, and Juan Pierre depends on his speed, which could be severely compromised if his calf strain turns out to be any kind of long-term concern. He's day-to-day.

Thankfully, Florida's pitching does not depend on Ismael Valdez, who is a (very distant) 5th starter on this team, and therefore will have a few weeks to get over some kind of virus that kept him on the sidelines at the start of spring training.

Houston Astros

Lance Berkman tore his ACL playing flag football this winter, but should be back in mid to late April. Jeff Bagwell's shoulder still isn't right, requiring a cortisone shot last week. It probably will plague him, and the 'Stros' playoff hopes, for most of the season. Roger Clemens may be the best pitcher of his generation, but the dude is 42 years old, and 42-year old hamstrings don't usually heal very quickly. This team is getting old and injury-prone quickly, and I haven't even mentioned Andy Pettitte's perpetually gimpy left elbow.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Pitching has typically been the Dodgers' bread and butter, and their notable injuries are naturally mostly to pitchers. Odalis Perez is making progress with his tendinitis, as is swingman Wilson Alvarez*. Brad Penny, with his own biceps injury, is somewhat farther behind in his progress, but is headed in the right direction. Scott Erickson, who has less cartilige in his pitching elbow than I have in my coffee cup right now (I hope), has won the 5th starter's job, but don't expect that to last long. Erickson hasn't pitched a full, healthy season since 1999.

Outfielder Jayson Werth had a broken wrist but is getting back to hitting and should be back soon after Opening Day.

Milwaukee Brewers

No major injuries, just day-to-day bumps and bruises for Junior Spivey and Dan=main Miller.

New York Mets

Pedro martinez may be a future Cooperstown enshrinee, but he's also the riskiest $54 million spent this winter. No other player has as much upside or as much downside associated with his contract, and Pedro's lower back strain this spring may be a harbinger of disaster for the Mets and their new management team. The ill-advised aquisition of Victor Zambrano continues to haunt this team as well, though Zambrano did OK last week in an intrasquad game. Now if he can just keep from walking 6 batters per game in the regular season...

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phils phace a touph phight with a pitching staph that's not phrequently both phit and ephective. OK, enouph with that.

Vicente Padilla's on the DL with tendinitis in his pitching triceps, which currently stands as Philadelphia's biggest injury concern. Both center field candidates, Kenny Lofton and Marlon Byrd, are dealing with minor leg injuries, and 1B Jim Thome has a sometimes stiff back, which would quickly become the team's greatest concern if it turns out to be more phrequent. Sorry, frequent.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates had a stroke of luck getting Jason Bay and his sweet stroke from the Padres for Brian Giles, providing them their first Rookie of the Year ever. Bay hurt his wrist this winter, but seems to be returning from that injury fine. Relief man Salomon Torres has some neck issues, but unlike Ryan Vogelsong, it's not whiplash from watching all those home runs he surrenders.

San Diego Padres

The Fathers hope to show the rest of the NL who it's Daddy is this year, but they need centerfielder and leadoff man Dave Roberts to be healthy. To that end, they'll let him start the season on the DL to rehab his groin injury and make sure he can run full speed upon his return. Roberts' only asset is his speed, so it's best for all involved to make sure he has it when he returns. They have a name for .250 hitters with no power and no speed: Coach.

San Francisco Giants

You know about Barry Bonds and his third knee surgery. (That must be a side effect of steroids, as most people I know only have two knees...) Bonds may be out a month, or two, of three, or all season, or he may be done entirely. In all likelihood, he'll be back by the end of May at the latest. If he takes any longer than that, the Giants have no chance in the NL West.

Leadoff man and 2B Ray Durham is also returning from a groin injury (What is it with NL leadoff men and their groins?), but should be OK, having gotten back into the lineup this week.

St. Louis Cardinals

Matt Morris anchored perhaps the least spectacular starting rotation ever for a team that won 105 games last year, but if his sore shoulder doesn't heal soon, his consistency will be missed. With Mulder, Suppan, Carpenter and Marquis, Morris will have a few weeks before they need a 5th starter.

Washington Nationals

For a guy who's only 26, it sure seems like Tony Armas has been injured a long time, doesn't it? He hasn't ever pitched 200 innings in a season, and he hasn't qualified for and ERA title (162 IP) since 2002, and just barely at that. A groin injury this spring has him back on the DL, suggesting that 2005 will not be the year he snaps out of that funk.

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29 March 2005

The Walking Wounded - American League

Spring is in the air.

Unfortunately, so are rumours of steroid use, allegations of falsehood and conspiracy, and bitterness from players, fans, writers and administrators alike. At a time when we should be hearing the relative merits of players and teams entering a new season, all anyone can talk about is Congressional hearings. We should be arguing about whether or not Tony Womack (TONY WOMACK!?)will actually hit .490 this year, or if Eric Bedard will actually put up a 2.11 ERA in the 2005 regular season, but instead all we can do is debate the month in which Barry Bonds might return, and the over/under on how many more times he might drag his family down with him in press conferences. (My money's on eleventeen.)

So, as Easter approaches, and Resurrection is perhaps on some of our minds, let me make an effort to resurrect baseball discussions. That is, discussions about baseball players and what we might get to see on the field this year. One of the saddest aspects of these distractions has been the other news lost in the noise of the steroid scandal. Did you know that there are a lot of big-name players dealing with potentially serious injuries this spring? One day last week, three of the best closers in baseball were all in the non-steroid headlines for the injuries they were dealing with, and I almost missed it. So, in my continuing quest to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go...wait a minute...that's Captain Kirk's quest. Sorry.

Mine is to be a public servant, to provide information and commentary on baseball for my fans. All three of you. So without further delay, herer are the most significant injury concerns for each team heading into the 2005 season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Man, that's a stupid name. All other things being equal, the injury to the franchise with that name change might have been the biggest blow to this team's chances in 2005, but then what should we expect from a team that once listed "periwinkle" amongst its seven (7!) official team colors. In the non-PR department, the Angels' biggest concern is obviously that reigning AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero's gimpy back will flare up, as it already has this spring, but perhaps more serious is the apparent back stiffness and/or herniated disk that rookie 3B Dallas MacPherson suffers from. The Angels allowed Troy Glaus to leave thinking that MacPherson would be ready to take over the 3B job this year, and if he's not healthy, they'll be forced to play Chone Figgins and/or Robb Quinlan at the hot corner, neither of whom has MacPherson's talent.

Baltimore Orioles

While not your classic injury, Sidney Ponson took a page out of the David Wells Guide to Off-Season Public Relations Strategies by getting into a bar fight and wrote his own Appendix to the tome by assaulting a judge, although not in that order. If the judge ever lets him out, his hand apparently won't hinder his pitching, as no broken bones were detected. If the Orioles are to have any hope at all, and frankly, there wasn't much to begin with, Ponson must get his act together. At least he's not blaming the media or using his children as a shield.

Boston Red Sox

Perhaps the most famous red sock (as opposed to Red Sock) in history, Curt Schilling, isn't quite ready for the regular season, though it's possible that his ankle could be fully healed by mid-April, in time to start at Fenway against the Yankees. Wade Miller could be out much longer, and could effect a more forceful blow to Boston's hopes for success this year.

Chicago White Sox

The collective gasp you heard coming from the South Side of Chicago last week was not surprise that Billy McCoy killed Leroy Brown, but rather the fear that Pale Hose ace mark Buehrle might miss significant time this year with a "Stress reaction" in his leg, whatever that means. Thankfully, it now seems likely that he'll be ready for opening day. Frank Thomas, however, is still big hurtin', unable to run (a relative term, I suppose) and therefore unable to play. He hopes to be back in mid-April, but may take longer. The Sox will need both of them healthy and strong for most of the season if they are to wrest the division from the hands of the Twins.

Cleveland Indians

Tribe ace C.C. Sabathia has a strained oblique muscle and is currently rehabbing, having not yet thrown a live pitch this spring. Sabathia is yet another player on whom his team's hopes ride if they are to succeed in 2005. C.C. has missed some playing time pretty regularly over the past two years with minor injuries, including a strained hamstring, strained biceps, a sore shoulder and an elbow injury. Though he's only 24 and has made at least 30 starts in every season of his 4-year career, he's pitched over 200 innings only once (2002). Listed at 6'7" and 290 lbs, he would do well to slim down a bit and take better care of his body, his meal ticket.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers don't have anyone of real consequence experiencing serious injury problems right now, which is more a testament to the lack of name-brand talent on the roster than it is to any real ability on the part of the team's stars to stay healthy. Outfielder Craig Monroe, who's probably more famous for shoplifting a $30 belt last December than for anything he did from April to September, has a strained shoulder. No big deal.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have several minor, day-to-day injuries on their staff, but nobody expected to miss serious time at this point. On the other hand, if you have to be worried about whether or not 79-year old Kevin Appier is going to make the rotation, your team has bigger concerns.

Minnesota Twins

The #1 pick of the 2001 draft, Joe Mauer, was expected to contribute at the major league level last year, but got hurt in the second game of the season and hasn't quite been the same since. Mauer hit well in the approximately 100 at-bats he got upon his return, but the knee still isn't 100%, and the Twins' backups aren't going to push a team towards a division championship if pressed into daily service. This is one of the few teams that has enough supporting offense and pitching that they can get by with a catcher who hits .250/.320/.400 for half a season, but it sure would be nice to see Mauer's .300/.370/.550 instead.

New York Yankees

With Derek Jeter having returned from his bruised foot, and Bernie Williams effectively rehabbing his back, the Yankees' biggest injury concern isn't Steve "Recunstructive Surgery" Karsay, or even Randy Johnson. No, the Yankee's biggest injury concern is Tony Womack. Womack isn't injured, and that's the problem, because he's had an unbelieveable spring, is coming off a career year, and is 35 years old, which means that there's nowhere to go but down from here, and down he'll go. Baseball Prospectus projects Womack to "hit" .261/.303/.353 this year, and frankly I'll be surprised if he does that well. The best thing that can happen to the team is for Womack to sustain some kind of non-life threatening injury and miss most of the year, making the decision to play Andy Phillips at the keystone easy for Joe Torre.

Oakland Athletics

The A's apparently don't have any big injury issues, possibly becaus ethey're all so, well, athletic.

Seattle Mariners

Erstwhile "Everyday" Eddie Guardado hasn't pitched in the majors on any day starting in August of 2004, but expects to be ready to start the 2005 season with the team. An effective closer was one of the lowest concerns for a team that lost 99 games last season, but the mariners expect bigger things this year after spending eleventy million dollars on Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, himself a perpetual injury concern. Nobody on the staff who pitched more than 140 innings had an ERA lower than Joel Piniero's 4.67, and Piniero may not be either healthy or good if his shoulder isn't as healed as he says it is. Even with a healthy Piniero and Guardado, Seattle's climb back to competitive respectability in the AL West will be all uphill. Like Mount Ranier.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Not that they're expected to do much, but the Devil Rays will miss Rocco Baldelli, currently on knee-hab and not expected back until mid-season. The D-Rays set franchise records last year in wins and division place finishing in 2004, but as they were only 70 wins and 4th place, I wouldn't get too excited yet.

Texas Rangers

Texas relies on its offense to succeed, and would like to rely on 2B Alfonso Soriano to leadoff that attack, his poor strike zone judgment notwithstanding, but his strained hamstring makes his one asset as a leadoff hitter, his speed, a non-entity. Closer Francisco Cordero is nursing a shoulder injury, but is making progress in his return, facing minor leaguers without pain. Relief pitcher Frank Francisco's sore elbow has him on the 15-day DL, but he should be able to throw folding chairs off flat ground in the next twoo weeks, and if that goes well, he's expected to start throwing chairs from a mound shortly thereafter.

Toronto Blue Jays

Perpetually gimpy Ted Lilly is making progress returning from his most recent shoulder injury, and should be back to facing major league hitters soon. Newly aquired 3B Corey Koskie is nursing his groin strain, which is not as much fun as it sounds. The Blue Jays' main concern is not finishing behind the Devil Rays again, which seems a pretty likely fate as long as Roy Halladay is healthy this year.

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