30 November 2005

Not (Yet) Panic Time in the Bronx

This is the part where I'm supposed to panic, right?

Over the last week, and especially since the weekend, the major sports news outlets and radio talking heads would have you believe that the Yankees are just sitting idly by the Hot Stove, not doing much besides raising ticket prices, while everyone else leaves them in the dust. Their competitors, both in the tabloids and in the AL East, have been signing free agents and trading for star players on an almost daily basis while all the Yankees have done is, well, raise ticket prices. And overpay Hideki Matsui.

Of course, this is silly. Heck, it's November, for crying out loud. How worried are we supposed to be about the Mets stealing headlines in November? Sure, they got Carlos Delgado, and all it cost them was Mike Jacobs, a major league-ready catcher/firstbaseman, an excellent pitching prospect and an excellent shortstop prospect. And $41 million dollars over the next three years, during the last of which Delgado will be 36 years old.

The Mets also grabbed free agent closer Billy Wagner, who didn't cost them any prospects (only draft picks), but will cost them another $43 million over the next four years, at the end of which he'll be 38. This contract gives him the highest average salary of any reliever in MLB, better compensated than even Mariano Rivera, despite Wagner's history of arm trouble and his lack of postseason success. He's a great relief pitcher, but that's a heckuvalotta money, and the Yankees weren't in the market for a closer anyway. Hard to be too upset about that signing.

More important than headlines, of course, are wins and losses, especially of teams in the Yankees' own division, such as Boston. The Red Sox recently acquired RHP Josh Beckett from the Marlins during Florida's Bi-Annual Fire Sale, sending Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia and SS Hanley Ramirez to the Fish for Beckett, 3B Mike Lowell and relief pitcher Guillermo Mota.

Those four prospects, a shortstop and three pitchers, all 22 years old or younger, are all very good, though Ramirez is the prize in the Cracker Jacks. He put up impressive numbers at three minor league levels in 2004 before cooling off a little in AA Portland in 2005, but he's still expected to be very good. He had hit for high batting averages at every stop until 2005, will take a walk once in a while, and has some speed. Only 21, he should develop some power as he matures, but is probably still a year or two away from the majors right now. The other three prospects, all pitchers, all have good strikeout rates and peripheral numbers in the minors, but only Sanchez has pitched above Class A, with 57.1 innings in Portland this past summer, so none of them is a sure thing by any stretch.

What is a sure thing? Well, Guillermo Mota being a decent-but-unimpressive relief pitcher for another year is pretty close to a guarantee. Josh Beckett having blister problems limiting him to something like 150 or 175 innings is fairly certain as well, though they could be great innings. Rob Neyer points out that Beckett's career road ERA for the last three seasons is over 4.00, and that Fenway Park has a way of being cruel to pitchers, so it's possible that Beckett will not put up such gaudy numbers in Boston when he does pitch.

And Mike Lowell? Well, your guess is as good as mine. He could prove that 2005 was a fluke, take advantage of The Green Monster, and return to the .280/25Hr/100RBI form that got him a $25.5 million, 3-year contract after the 2004 season. Or he could be done, and the Red Sox will waste another 1000 at-bats and $18 million on a washed-up thirdbaseman while a perfectly capable, young and cheap 3B prospect wallows in AAA and/or the Red Sox bench. I guess it could be worse for Kevin Youkilis. I mean, the Sawx did the same thing to Wade Boggs, and he eventually wound up in the Hall of Fame! Plus he got his hair back!

In any case, this is not a move over which any Yankee fan should get her panties in a bunch. If you're going to get upset about something, get upset about the possibility that the Yanks might give Tom Gordon a contract like the ones that Scott Eyre and Bob Howry recently received from the Cubs ($11 or $12 million for three years). Flash is 38 years old now, with a considerably less flashy strikeout rate in 2005 than he had posted the previous two seasons. Furthermore, before the 2003-05 stretch, he had not been completely healthy for even one full season since 1998, the first year Boston used him exclusively as a reliever. He's certainly been very good for the Yankees for the last two seasons, but shelling out something like $15 million for another three years? Wagering that kind of scratch on an unprecedented and completely unlikely stretch of six straight healthy seasons for Gordon seems like a sucker bet to me. Better to take their chances with the much younger Kyle Farnsworth, though the competition will be stiff for him.

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29 November 2005

B.J. Needs the Blue Jays More Than They Need Him

B.J. Ryan was signed to a $47 million, 5-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, who may not blue so hard in the near future. As a Yankee fan, this news was a little disappointng to read, but all the talk about Ryan coming to the Yankees as a setup man was never more than wishful thinking on the part of bored New York sports writers looking for fodder in a slow baseball news month.

Ryan, the erstwhile closer and setup man for the 0rioles (who blue pretty hard in their own right for much of the last decade), saved 36 games for the 4th place Baltimore club in 2005, striking out 100 batters in 70 innings. Jays' G.M. J.P. Riccardi cited the team's 2005 record of 16-31 in one-run games and indicated that he hoped Ryan would help win some of those games.

Ironically, relief pitching was not one of Toronto's major problems last year. Their bullpen was only 20-25, but had a respectable 3.81 ERA, and 35 saves. Their 21 blown saves were among the most in the majors, but many of those came in earlier innings, before a closer would normally have been used. Miguel Batista, Toronto's closer for most of the year, blew 8 saves in 39 chances, seven of which contributed to that 16-31 record, including one which Batista actually held on to win. Ryan blew 5 saves in 39 chances, so even if he cuts the closer's blown save rate in half, all other things remaining equal (which they never do) the Jays only improve from 80-82 to 84-80, hardly playoff contenders, unless Toronto suddenly and mysteriously gets placed in the NL West.

The Jays' real problem was their poor late-inning offense and the lack of a bench. Their .699 OPS in "Close & Late" situations ranked the team 11th in the 14-team AL, and their .710 OPS from the 7th inning on was 10th. Their pinch hitters were the best in the AL, but were also the most-often used, as their starting lineup left a lot to be desired. No regular player hit higher than .291, and nobody had 30 homers, 100 runs or 100 RBI on the entire team. The team as a whole hit only 136 homers, good for 11th in the AL, and they were closer to last than to 10th.

Toronto's not done spending this off-season, supposedly still trying to woo starting pitcher A.J. Burnett north of the border as well. In an effort to turn the Jays into as many J's as possible, Toronto is also thought to be pursuing trades for D.J. Carrasco, A.J. Hinch, D.J. Houlton, J.J. Davis, and J.J. Hardy, and are expected to pick up P.J. Forbes when the Phillies put him on waivers. T.J Mathews and C.J Nitkowski will be signed to minor league deals. P.J. Carlesimo is being brought in as a special assistant to the GM, B.J. Thomas will sing the National Anthem on Opening Day, and O.J. Simpson will throw out the first pitch, after which he will go look for the Real Killers in his SkyBox.

But if you ask me (and if you're still reading, then I guess you did), this is the wrong approach for them. (Not the "J" thing, that was a "J"oke.) They've already got Roy Halladay, 2005 Rookie of the Year candidate Gustavo Chacin, plus Josh Towers, who seems to be coming into his own. The Ryan signing allows Batista to go back to the rotation if they want him to, which gies the team a solid #4 starter, and the fifth spot in the rotation can be comprised of some cobmo of Ted Lilly, Dave Bush, or someone else. What they really need to do is get some hitters, preferably a few who are likely to jog around the bases every once in a while, ifyougetmydrift. No, not B.J. Surhoff, though that would be funny. Taking a chance on a Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmiero or Erubiel Durazo might not be the worst bet in the world. Russ Adams is still young, but bringing in Nomar Garciaparra to play short has a lot of upside. Even outfielders like Preston Wilson and Jeromy Burnitz, though flawed, at least threaten to hit one out occasionally. The risks aren't much greater than that of throwing almost fifty million dollars at a pitcher with two good years on his resume, especially when it's done to address an imagined need rather than a real one.

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21 November 2005

Early Offseason Ramblings...

It's a little early in the off-season to start complaining about the way the "market" is going, but there have been a few deals already, and already I'm confused. Lee Sinins sends out daily "Around The Majors" emails on the happenings of MLB, including signings, trades, notable game feats (when there are games), and even birthdays. Friday's list contained some curious entries...

1) The Cubs signed free agent P Scott Eyre to a 3 year, $11 million contract. There are incentives in the deal that could be worth an extra $2.4 million and the 3rd year is a player option.

Is this what a decent lefty reliever is going for these days? Almost $4 million a year, and more if he meets incentives? Eyre's OK, I suppose, but he's got a 4.52 career ERA in 480+ innings spanning eight seasons. He set career highs with 86 appearances and 68 relief innings, and a career low with a 2.63 ERA, the first time in his career that it's been under 3.32. He'll be 34 years old in May, and isn't likely to get any better than he was last year. In fact, his numbers are likely to look notably worse in 2006 both because of normal regression from the career year he enjoyed in '05 and because of the difference between pitching in SBC Park (a moderate to severe pitcher's park) and Wrigley Field (a slight to moderate hitter's park).

Eyre hasn't shown a particular left/right platoon split in the last two seasons, though there was a severe split before that, and he's still used as a LOOGY because of it, with 39 of those 86 appearances having been for two outs or fewer. Like I said, he's decent, "OK" as it were, but committing almost $12 million dollars for a guy who has exactly one season in his 8-year career you could objectively call "good" does not seem like an idea that's, well, good.

But I'll tell you this much: When I have a son (no time soon, Mom, sorry) I'm going to duct-tape his right arm to his torso and make him do everything lefty. None of this "finding out naturally" what his disposition is. He's going to be a lefty, dammit, and he's going to throw 90mph if I have to stand behind him with a wind machine to make it happen. He's going to have 2-3 decent years in a major league bullpen, and then he, his mother and I, along with any other siblings he may have are going to take the contract the Cubs or Yankees give him and buy an island in the South Pacific on which to retire. So there.

2) The Pirates re-signed CF Jason Bay to a 4 year, $18.25 million contract.

Sinin's RCAA (Runs Created Above Average) measure shows that Bay had marks of +18 and +59 in 2004 and 2005, respectively. His 2004 campaign (.282/26Hr/82RBI) earned him Rookie of the Year honors for the first time in Pirates history, and this year's numbers (.306/32/101, plus 44 doubles, 21 steals, 110 runs and 95 walks) made him one of the half-dozen or so best players in the National League, even if MVP voters didn't give him enough respect. At only 26 years old, Bay should be entering his prime as a hitter, and if the Pirates had anyone in the lineup around him at all, a guy like this could win an MVP award. Well, maybe if Albert Pujols got traded to an AL team.

And for the rights to those four years, which in all likelihood will turn out to be the best of Bay's (hopefully) long, distinguished career, the Pittsburgh franchise has shelled out approximately what Jeff Bagwell made in 2004 alone.

It would be amusing to write about how much smarter this deal is than, say, the ones that some team not too long ago gave to Pat Meares (5 years, $16 million) and Kevin Young (4 yrs, $24 million), for example. Good thing the Pirates aren't that stupid, right? Of course, it wouldn't be that instructive to do that, since those players were signed in the late 1990's, in a different economic climate and all that crap. Just amusing.

Any way you slice it, this is a tremendous deal for the Pirates, who have a franchise player, a potentially perrenial MVP-candidate, signed for LAIM money. League-Average Innings Munchers like Mark Redman and Kris Benson made that kind of money last year, about $5 million, but those guys are rotation fodder. This one's a star.

Also, those guys are pitchers, and this one's a left-fielder, so it makes sense to compare him to other left fielders signed in 2005, not shortstops in 1999 or pitchers in 2004, right? Well, lucky for us, we've got one of those: Hideki Matsui.

Matsui, who plays left field for the Yankees rather than the Pirates, and who did not win a Rookie of the Year award in 2003, when he was one, was signed to a 4-year $53 million contract, just two days before the Jason Bay deal. Unfortunately for Bay, his agent apparently never reads the newspaper, or he would have known that he could get a hell of a lot more than $4.5 million a year for his client's services. Not that Bay is likely to ever need help from PaydayLoans, but still. Fire that agent quickly, I say.

2004 25 18 .282 .358 .550 .907 26 82 4
2005 26 59 .306 .402 .559 .961 32 101 21

2003 29 5 .287 .353 .435 .788 16 106 2
2004 30 44 .298 .390 .522 .912 31 108 3
2005 31 26 .305 .367 .496 .863 23 116 2

Matsui gets on base less often, hits for less power, doesn't steal bases, and is four years older than Bay. The two have been worth roughly the same number of runs above average for the last two years combined (79 to 72 RCAA, according to Sinins, 72 to 62 Batting RAA, according to Baseball Prospectus) but the trend is up for Bay, and down for Matsui. In addition, Jason racked up those runs in 40 fewer games than Matsui. They play the same defensive position, and Matsui is at best Bay's equal, probably a little worse with the leather, according to most objective fielding measures.

And yet, for two reasons and two reasons only, Matsui will make almost three times Bay's salary for each of the next four years.

1) He played for nine years with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, a league with a skill level somewhere between AA and AAA in the American minor leagues, but to which the American mass media gives far too much credit.

B) He plays for the Yankees, who apparently can't find enough matches to set fire to all the money they want to spend next year.

Don't get me wrong. Matsui's a good player, but he was probably as good as he'll ever be in the last two years, and the Yankees paid through the nose for the right to make sure he doesn't go to some rival team and end up beating them.

3) The Blue Jays have reportedly offered free agent P A.J. Burnett a 5 year, about $50 million contract, with another team also offering a 5 year contract and 2 others expected to do so within the week.

Burnett strikes me as exactly the sort of pitcher who is bound to disappoint whichever team signs him, at least at that price. He's 28, with only two seasons in his 7-year career in which he's pitched 200 innings or more, and he's never pitched more than 210. His career adjusted ERA is only about 10% better than the league average, which isn't bad, but hardly seems like a good way to spend about $10 million dollars each year of the next half-decade. He's never won more than 12 games in a season, and has questionable control, walking about 3 batters per nine innings. Much of his "success" is owed to his home ballpark, Pro Player Stadium, which holds run scoring down by about 5% as compared to the rest of the NL. Burnett is 28-17 with a 3.20 ERA at home throughout his career, but only 21-33 with a 4.26 ERA elsewhere. Add to this the fact that he's only been healthy for two of the last four seasons, and you've got a $50 million recipe for disaster.

4) According to the Newark Star Ledger, Yankees P Carl Pavano wants to be traded.

Speaking of disappointing ex-Marlin free agent pitchers...

6) According to the Newark Star Ledger, if the Yankees are able to trade Pavano or find a team that likes losing so much that they will take Jaret Wright, then they could be interested in free agent P Jarrod Washburn.

Washburn has had the reverse of Burnett's problem, with an ERA between 1 and 2 whole runs higher on the road than at home for four of the last five seasons. Going to some other venue, especially one that's traditionally kind to lefties like Yankee Stadium, might do him good, but please, not for $10 million/year, OK? Of course this would require one of the Yankees' two stiffs getting traded, which isn't likely to happen. Their trade-values are probably as low as they ever will be, so it would behoove the Yankees to hold onto them for at least another year and hope they get helathy and bounce back a little.

7) According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Braves 3B Chipper Jones has agreed to a contract restructuring, contingent on him passing a physical.

So let me get this straight: Chipper Jones is doing the Braves a favor by restructuring his contract, and the team is still requiring that he gets a physical to ratify the deal? His existing deal pays him something like $15 or $18 million for each of the next three years and doesn't require him to have any physical other than the one he had when he originally sined it, but now they've got to make sure he's healthy enough to lower his salary by $5 million? Not sure I get that, but then I'm not a baseball player.

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15 November 2005

Book Review: The Sports Junkie's Book of Trivia, Terms & Lingo, by Harvey Frommer

Frommer's latest work, The Sports Junkies Book of Trivia, Terms, and Lingo, provides a resource to solve a problem I didn't know I faced. That problem is to find the origin and/or meaning of various sports terms, many of which have become so commonplace that most of us no longer have any idea of their sources. Frommer's book endeavors to fill that informational void, though I think with only moderate success.

Certainly, there can be no question that the book contains a lot of information. Frommer evidently combined two of his previous works to make this book, and it shows: An inch-thick paperback with dozens of terms on most pages. Like any dictionary, encyclopedia or other reference book, this one simply cannot be read straight-through, and I'm sure that Frommer did not intend anyone to do so. Just the "important" part of the book, i.e. the Baseball section, contains hundreds of terms, and even if you could read them all, you'd never be able to commit them all to memory. It is, however, a useful book if you want to know to whom a certain player's nickname belongs (like, "The Octopus", for example), or what a term means (i.e. that a lazy, fly ball is called a "can of corn"), or when a team's name changed (Like the Yankees, who used to be the Highlanders, who used to be the Baltimore Orioles) and so on.

Frommer covers all the "major" sports, like football, basketball, golf and hockey as well, but there is also a lot of space taken up on less traditional games. Archery, badminton, figure skating, volleyball, bocce, fencing, tiddlywinks...you name it, he's probably got some terms for you. He goes into more depth with certain terms and nicknames that he deems worthy of said attention, for certainly we should talk about "The Great Bambino" more than say, "Nails", or some arcane fly-fishing term, and that's fine.

Personally, I'm not all that interested in any of the terminology pertaining to cricket or curling, or anything other than baseball, for that matter, but then I'm something of a freak in that regard. I can understand that some people do like sports other than America's Pastime, so the ever-diplomatic Frommer makes sure he's got something for everybody.

I do have two minor problems with the book, but neither is really a reason not to buy it. Problem #1 is that the book isn't really complete. Frommer is from New York, even though he lives in New Hampshire now and teaches at Dartmouth, and his heavy New York bias shows. He has lots of terms and nicknames for players and teams from New York, but doesn't give the same in-depth treatment to say, Detroit, Houston, or Anaheim, for example. Hard to blame him for that, since it would be impossible to really cover every possible term and nickname, and Frommer never says that his list is exhaustive, but it's still something to consider. A book of nicknames that includes the ever-popular "Tanglefoot Lou" as one of Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig's nicknames and leaves out much more interesting fare like "Bear Tracks" and "Death to Flying Things", cannot be considered complete.

A related, but somewhat different issue (call it problem "1a"), is that the book does not really explain the origins of certain terms and names. Frommer tells you everybody who ever had the nickname "Moose" in professional baseball, for example, and sometimes the reasons for the nicknames, but does not often explain the origin of a term, such as why a high, lazy, fly ball is called a "can of corn" or where the term "rhubarb" (a heated on-field argument) comes from. This book could have been to baseball what "Red Herrings and White Elephants" is to the English language, but it's not. That would have been my personal preference, but it would have been an enormous amount of research work, and not everybody has the thirst for esoterica from which I suffer, so I can understand why Frommer did not follow this path.

Problem #B, one that may be less of an issue for my readers than it was for me, is that most of this book is re-hashed from other stuff Frommer has written. Indeed, the publisher's website indicates that it is a combination of two other books Frommer wrote, both over a quarter of a century ago, Sports Lingo and Sports Roots. Certainly, there is some newer information in it, but if you've read any of Frommer's 37+ other books, or his website, then you've read a lot of this before. Or at least I have.

On the other hand, with all that info in one place, it's still a handy reference tool, and can be recommended on that basis alone.

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14 November 2005

PRESS RELEASE: The Sports Junkies Book of Trivia, Terms, and Lingo, by Harvey Frommer

What They Are, Where They Came From, and How They Are Used

by Harvey Frommer
$16.95, c. Taylor Trade Publishing (October, 2005)


Move over SportsCenter, now there is a a new source for sports catch phrases, nicknames and jargon. The Sports Junkies Book of Trivia, Terms, and Lingo (October 2005, Taylor Trade Publishing) is the definitive book on the language of sports by celebrated sports author and journalist Harvey Frommer.

The prolific Frommer successfully fuses the common with the exotic, the arcane with the ordinary, the old with the new, and the poignant with the matter of fact. Admittedly, sports language comes and goes with the times, growing each year, changing in its attempts to describe the ever expanding world of athletics. In that vein, many of the words and terms defined here have become all but extinct in today's vernacular, while others have become incorporated into the mainstream like "Say it ain't so, Joe?"

Broken down by sport, Sports Junkies expounds a mind boggling number of entries in the sports vocabulary originating from clubhouses, media, rulebooks, and the bleachers. For any sports fan who ever wondered, where did that come from as they listened intently to play by play, tried to learn a new game, or to coach a kid in sports - -the descriptions here will not only define the words and terms, but give accurate historical relevance and acumen to each.

This book is a must have for any ESPN addicted, season ticket-holding, sports trivia buff that thought they knew it all. (Or a great tool for the sports journalist craving slang for a story or broadcast.)


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07 November 2005

Padres-Nats Trade Analysis: San Diego Will Soon Regret

This is probably a lot more in-depth analysis than a trade like like this deserves, but if there's one thing I'm not, it's concise. Hairy and concise. OK, two things. If there's two things I'm not, they're hairy and concise. And short...three things I'm not: Concise, hairy, and short...and perceptive. Four things!

OK, enough with the Spanish Inquisition (didn't expect that, did you?)

On to the analysis:

The recent trade of Padres pitcher Brian Lawrence and cash to the Washington Nationals for the corpse of 3B Vinny Castilla seems an odd way to try to upgrade an offense that ranked 27th out of 30 MLB teams in run scoring in 2005. Initially I thought that Lawrence might turn out to be a steal for the Nationals, since RFK Stadium played like such a severe pitchers' park in 2005 (Baseball-Reference.com reports a pitching park factor of 94, meaning that RFK decreased run scoring by 6%, compared to the league average). However, upon further research I discovered that Petco Park in San Diego actually played even more to pitchers' favor than RFK did, with a park factor of 91! Even Dodger Stadium, generally considered the best pitchers' park in history, has never gotten a rating lower than that for a given year.

So what does this mean? Well, it's not terribly encouraging for the Nationals, at least in terms of Brian Lawrence suddenly returning to the form of 2001/2002. At that time he had a better-than average ERA and about 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his first 325 or so innings in the majors, at the age of 26. Now three years later, his strikeout rate dropped to a career low of 5/9IP in 2005, his ERA rose to 4.83, 20% worse than the park and league-adjusted average, and he went 7-15 for a team that won its division, though it just narrowly escaped finishing the season with a losing record. Some of that was due to the fifth-worst run support in the National League, but his "expected" win-loss record was just 10-15, according to Baseball Prospectus, still not very good.

Now maybe 2005 was just a fluke. Maybe Lawrence goes home for the winter, takes a long, hard look at his numbers in 2005 and decides that he's going to do something to improve in 2006. Maybe he finds out that he's been traded, and in an effort to show the Pads' front office what fools they were for doing so, he teaches himself another pitch or gets in better shape or something to bounce back next year. Historically speaking lots have players have done exactly that. Heck, he is only 29 years old, and a lot of pitchers don't really find their niche until their early 30's. Lawrence's biggest problem continues to be lefties, who have punished him to the tune of an .821 OPS for the last three seasons, while righties have combined for a .692 OPS. A changeup or screwball would probably take care of that, but saying that and doing it are two very different enterprises.

More likely, Lawrence follows a more traditional career path for a RHP with good control and an underwhelming fastball: He racks up LAIM (League-Average Innings Muncher) numbers for a few years, becoming a solid contributor in the back of someone's rotation, and then has trouble finding a major league job by the time he's 35. Maybe he has some good luck with a low opponent batting average balls in play and/or good run support from his teammates one season and he wins 18 games. (In this scenario, the Yankees promptly trade three really solid prospects for him and/or sign him to a 4-year, $45 million contract, and Lawrence pitches badly and then gets injured in his first season in pinstripes, but that's just a guess.) But realistically, the chances of Brian Lawrence become a perrenial 200-inning, 15-win, 3.75 ERA type of guy are pretty slim.

Nevertheless, the chances of Brian Lawrence doing something like that in Washington next season are infinitely higher than the chances of Vinny Castilla coming back to life and hitting like a major-league third baseman again. Castilla had perhaps the worst fortune of any hitter in history last year in terms of team-movement. He left the hitter's paradise of Colorado, where he had managed to lead the Senior Circuit in RBI in 2004 despite hitting just .271 (.218 in road games), for Washington's RFK Stadium. At the time of his signing with the Nats, nobody knew how RFK would play, but there wasn't anywhere to go but down from the Mile High City.

And down he went. He hit .253 with 12 homers and 66 RBI while batting 4th, 5th or 6th most of the season. His walk rate, amazingly, stayed almost exactly the same as 2004, but everything else went into the toilet. Castilla apparently had some kind of knee tendinitis problem this year, which didn't help, but even if he had gotten some kind of knee braces online, getting only 11 at-bats at Coors Field instead of 250 of them was his biggest problem. Vinny didn't really hit on the road either in 2005, with a .683 OPS that was notably lower than his already-poor .765 at home. Vinny is going to an even worse park for hitters than RFK, will be 39 before the All-Star Break next year, and will probably lose his job before he gets to celebrate that birthday. You can certainly see why the Nationals would want to get rid of him, especially with a phenom like Ryan Zimmerman waiting in the wings, but how they managed to get some money thrown into the deal is beyond me.

Speaking of young thirdbasemen, the Pads were justifiably disappointed with Sean Burroughs, whose one-time, power-hitting, MVP-winning dad (Jeff) seemingly did not teach his son to hit for any power. Now 24 years old, with three years in the majors, Sean's already awful slugging percentage plummeted to .302 in 2005, at which point the Pads traded for Joe Randa and gave young Sean a Time-Out in the Pacific Coast League to think about what he'd done. Burroughs got about half of the total plate appearances by Padres' 3Bs in 2005, with most of the rest going to Joe Randa and Geoff Blum. Blum had hit poorly in spot-duty for the Pads until he was traded to the White Sox, for whom he hit even worse, with the noted exception of a go-ahead home run in the longest postseason game ever played. Randa had been with the Cincinnati Reds, where he was hitting .289/.356/.491 with 13 homers in 92 games, owing largely to the fact that my grandmother could hit home runs in the Great American Bandbox. But when traded to San Diego, he once again began hitting like, well, Joe Randa. In a sink hole.

So, here's the tale of the tape:

          AGE    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
Pads 3Bs 30 .254 .318 .366 .684
Castilla 38 .253 .319 .403 .722

Wow. Huge upgrade there, eh?

That "30" is a weighted average of the ages of Padres' thirdbasemen in 2005, quite a bit younger than Castilla. Vinny also missed about 20 games this season, and at his age, unlike the rest of his statistics, that number is more likely to go up than down.

Padres' GM Kevin "Ivory" Towers continues to show how out of touch with reality he is, as evidenced by the following quotes:

"In the 10 years I've been a general manager, I was tired of Vinny hitting home runs against us, either in Colorado or Washington. He's always been a Padres nemesis, not only from the offensive standpoint, but from a defensive standpoint. This guy, I think, is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game."

Towers is right about the nemesis thing, sorta. Castilla has 33 career homers against San Diego, more than any other team, but most of that came in the old days, when Vinny was a Rockie, and could hit a little. But he hit only .234 against San Diego pitchers in 2004 (though he did have 5 homers in 16 games) and only .250 with one homer in 2005. You know, Bernie Williams has hit pretty well against Tampa Bay in his career, and you don't see the knuckleheads who run the Devil Rays going out of their way to pick him up, do you? (On the other hand, it is only November...)

Regarding his fielding reputation, that seems to be justified. Even with his gimpy knee(s?), Castilla has been a pretty good defensive third baseman, with Baseball Prospectus' fielding runs above average and runs above replacement comparable to Mike Lowell, who won the 2005 NL Gold Glove at the Hot Corner.

Here's another Towers quote:

As we found out the last couple of years, right-handed power plays in Petco...

Well, that's not too tough to check. In 2005, Padres righties (excluding the pitchers) hit .269/.322/.396 at Petco Park, and .251/.307/.399 away from home. The slugging percentages are nearly identical, and the batting averave and OBP numbers aren't much different, so I'm not sure from whence he's getting this idea. Maybe Towers was thinking of 2004, right?

Wrong. In 2004, there actually was a notable split, but it went the opposite way. Padres' righties hit .255/.332/.405 at home, and .303/.357/.478 on the road, about a 100-point difference in OPS. Petco Park has yet to show a favorable disposition toward any kind of hitter, as far as I can tell.

So, in short, the Padres got hosed on this deal, even if Lawrence doesn't do any better for the Nationals next year than he did in 2005. Towers made several mistakes, including trading Lawrence when his value was lowest, after a 15-loss season that had as much to do with the way his teammates failed to hit as it did with his own performance.

Towers also made the mistake of rushing into this deal, desperate to fill a hole he could have plugged with a free agent for no more than Castilla is making. Bill Mueller can probably be had for something akin to the $2.5 million he made in 2005, is 34, rather than 38, and wouldn't be hurt as much by Petco as someone like Castilla, since he doesn't hit for much power anyway. Heck, a journeyman like Russ Johnson or Earl Snyder could probably put up numbers comparable to Castilla's for a quarter the price, maybe less, depending on how much dough the Nationals got with Lawrence.

Towers is also likely about to lose Brian Giles and Ramon Hernandez as well. Although Giles was vastly overpaid, he was also the best hitter on the team, and will be missed in the lineup, if not the payroll office. Their pitching is taking a huge hit as well, as the departures of Lawrence and free agent Pedro Astacio leave them with a rotation of Jake Peavy, Woody Williams, Adam Eaton and Chan Ho Park, all of whom have huge injury questions, and none of whom, except Peavey, is very good. Rookies Chris Oxspring and Clay Hensley are likely to get some playing time once Eaton, Williams and/or Park sustains his Inevitable Annual Injury, and they'll probably sign a lower-level free agent as an insurance policy, but this staff hardly has the markings of a repeat division winner.

This is the kind of move than can get a GM fired, and I'll be very surprised if Towers still has the job a year from now, especially if he makes another move that turns out badly.

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31 October 2005

Valentine's "Real World Series" a Bad Idea...for Him

Bobby Valentine's in over his head this time.

New Jersey's Bergen Record columninst and ESPN.com-tributor Bob Klapisch worte a piece discussing Valentine's challenge to have a "real" World Series, after his own Chiba Lotte Marines swept the Hanshin Tigers, 4-0, in the Japanese Series. Valentine became the first foreign-born manager in Japanese baseball history to even get to the final round of their playoffs, much less win them, so this accomplishment apparently went to his head pretty quickly.

Valentine had managed the NY Mets (1996-2002) and Texas Rangers (1985-1992) and never won a division title, though he did pick up an NL pennant with the Wild-Card winning Mets in 2000. He was also a very controversial manager, sticking with favorite players in spite of their repeated demonstration that they had no business in the regular lineup. His continued use of Brian McRae and Rey Ordonez in 1999 probably cost the Mets a Division Title, and if it didn't, then his use of Ordonez and Bernard "Innocent Until Proven" Gilkey certainly cost them the 1998 Wild Card. In a hilarious but extremely controversial move, Valentine returned to the Mets dugout after having been ejected from a game in 1999, in a not-particularly effective disguise.

I hope that was worth the suspension the commissioner levied upon you, Bobby.

Anyway, for all his faults, Valentine was reasonably successful as a manager, at least with the Mets, and in only his second year as a manager in Japan, he's as successful as anyone has ever been in that role. This success, as I mentioned, seems to have swelled Bobby's already sizeable ego:

"I can tell you the level of play is equal. [The Marines] are as good as any team I've ever managed.

Putting aside the fact that virtually any manager who wins a World Series (and any player who's won one and is in contention for another) always says this about his current team, we have yet one more reason not to believe Valentine: This team didn't win a World Series.

They won a Japan Series. Yes, I know. It's not polite to disparage the Japanese Leagues. They're people too, and it's racist or prejudiced or something to say that we're somehow inherently better than they are just because we're American. Well, I'm not saying that. If it were somehow an even-grounded competition, where it was just the best of Japan ogainst the best of the U.S., well, we'd still probably win that handily, because we've got more than twice the population upon which to draw for our talent in the U.S. Alone. Also, most of us are bigger. OK, well, I am. In reality, it's not even that close, though, as Major League Baseball has the best talent from around the entire world, and Japan, well, doesn't.

Heck, we could probably win with just the players born in California. All of the following players were either productive (or better) in 2005 or very recently before that: Garrett Anderson, Rod Barajas, Hank Blalock, Barry Bonds, Chad Cordero, Coco Crisp, Bobby Crosby, Doug Davis, Jermaine Dye, Jim Edmonds, Joey Eischen, Scott Eyre, Brian Fuentes, Nomar Garciaparra, Jon Garland, Jason Giambi, Brian and Marcus Giles, Troy Glaus, and Eddie Guardado, to name a few, all native Californians. We've got two decent starting pitchers, five good relief pitchers, two good shortstops, two good thirdbasemen, a first baseman, a catcher, a second baseman, five productive outfielders and Superman himself. And I haven't even gotten out of the first seven letters of the alphabet!

By contrast, the Japanese leagues have only the Japanese population upon which to draw, as well as a few Koreans and some cast-offs from the North American major and minor leagues. To give you an idea of the talent level, here are a few of the players I've found who had playing time on both sides of the Pacific Ocean:

Brian Powell: In the majors, he went 7-18 with a 5.94 ERA in parts of six seasons with four franchises. In the Japanese PCL in 2005, at age 31, he went 14-12 with a 3.51 ERA in 200 innings (2nd in PCL), 160 strikeouts (4th in PCL), 5 complete games and two shutouts.

Julio Zuleta: Hit .247/.309/.466 in parts of two seasons with the Cubs, spent two years in AAA, then went to Japan and became a star. He hit .284/37 hr/100RBI in 2004 and .319/43/99 in 2005, placing 2nd in the PCL in all three triple crown categories.

Alex Cabrera: Had a cup of coffee with the Diamondbacks in 2000, but by then he was already 28 and had a decade's worth of minor league at-bats under his belt. He had generally hit well, but apparently nobody in a major league GM's position took him seriously because he always did it in places like Mexico City and the Texas League, where offense is cheap. He's now been in Japan for 5 seasons and has averaged 43 homers a year, including 25 in only half of the 2004 season, and 36 more this year.

Fernando Seguignol: Hit .249/.303/.451 in parts of five major league seasons, went to Japan and has 75 homers and 192 RBI in the last two seasons.

Tyrone Woods: Woods never made it to the majors, but now in his mid-30's, he's averaged over 40 homers for the last three seasons with the Chunichi Dragons.

Alex Ochoa: Ochoa, a 3rd round draft pick by the Orioles in 1991, never panned out in the majors, hitting .279 with moderate patience but no power or speed in parts of eight seasons with six different franchises. Now healthy, he's been a fixture in Chunichi's lineup for three years, averaging 20 homers and over 75 RBI per season from 2003 to 2005.

Alex Ramirez: There do seem to be a lot of Alexes, don't there? Anywho, this Alex had power, hitting .299 with 34 bombs for Cleveland's AAA affiliate in 1998, at the tender age of 23. Unfortunately for him, the late '90s Tribe was loaded with talent at the corner IF/OF spots, and he never got much of a chance to break in. He also had terrible plate discipline, so it didn't take long for major league pitchers to realize that they didn't have to ever throw him a strike. In Japan, though, he's averaged 30 homers and over 100 RBI in five seasons, despite the fact that he still strikes out about 4-5 times as often as he walks.

That's only seven players, but all of them were wash-outs in the North American major leagues, and all of them are now or have been solid contibutors and/or stars in the Japanese leagues. If you're interested, you can look up Tuffy Rhodes, George Arias, Roberto Petagine, Greg LaRocca, and others as well. The list is almost endless.

Among the players involved in the 2005 Japan Series alone are a handful of washed-up major leaguers, a few on each team:

Andy Sheets: In parts of seven seasons and over 1000 major league plate appearances, Sheets hit .216/.271/.321 with 19 homers. His first three seasons in Japan have netted him 67 homers, 245 RBI and a .290+ batting average.

Jeff Williams: With a 7.49 ERA in parts of four seasons with the LA Dodgers, and an unimpressive 4.05 ERA in over 650 minor league innings, Williams signed on with the Hanshin Tigers in 2003 and has a combined ERA just over 2.00 and more strikeouts than innings pitched in 2003-05.

Benny Agbayani: Benny and his jets hit .274/.362/.445 in parts of five major league seasons, mostly with Bobby Valentine's Mets. His minor league numbers had been comparable, but then he went to Japan, AKA "The Land of the Rising (...and Rising, and Rising...) Baseball", where he promptly hit .315 with 35 homers and 100 RBI in 2004. His 2005 stats (.271/13/71) look more like his MLB stats because, as was often the case for him on this side of the ocean, he was injured and only played about 2/3 of the season.

Matt Franco: Another ex-Valentinian Met, Franco hit .267/.349/.391 with 22 homers in almost 1000 at-bats over eight years in the majors, the quintissential backup catcher. In Japan, Franco starts, plays 259 games and hits 36 homers over two seasons, including .300 with 21 of them in 2005.

Dan Serafini: Serafini spent nine seasons in the minors and went 50-45 with a 4.36 ERA and parts of 6 seasons in the majors, going 15-16 with a 5.98 ERA. In 2004, in Japan, he went 5-4 with a 4.13 ERA and in 2005 he became a rotation anchor for the eventual Japan League Champion Chiba Lotte Marines, going 11-4 with a 2.91 ERA.

So, as you can see, the talent level in the Japanese leagues certainly does not appear to be anywhere near the caliber of the talent in MLB. Probably somewhere between AA and AAA, I would think.

"But wait!", you say, "Japanese players have come here and succeeded! What about Ichiro? What about Matsui?"

Presuming that you mean Hideki Matsui, yes, I agree with you, to an extent. While it's true that Hideki Matsui and Hideo Nomo and most notably Ichiro Suzuki have had success in MLB, they're still not as good as they were in Japan. Ichiro hit something like .353/.415/.522 in Japan, but "only" .332/.377/.442 in the American League. Still excellent numbers, but not the kind he regularly logged for the Orix Blue Wave. Matsui, similarly, has seen a notable drop in production since joining the Yankees, going from .304/.412/.582 to .297/.370/.484. That's almost a 150 point drop in OPS, which is enormous.

Furthermore, the group of players who have struggled in the majors after doing well in Japan is much longer than those who have succeeded: Kazuo Matsui, Hideki Irabu, Kazuhisa Ishii, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo (who returned to Japan after struggling for three years in the NL and had the best season of his career in 2004), to name a few. There is at least another dozen I won't even bother to mention becaus emost of you have never heard of them. Their bids for MLB stardom never got out of the minors.

Now, with that said, I'm not sure that the Japan-American Series is necessarily a bad idea, just one that won't ever happen. It's certainly a good marketing idea, as those nutty sports fans over there in Japan are huge consumers and would certainly support such a venture. I'm not as certain that baseball fans on this side of the Pacific would really care all that much, except for nut-jobs like myself and Rogers Horsnby who sit around all winter, staring out the window, waiting for spring. For weirdos like us, having a chance to see major leaguers play a few games in November would be pretty appealing, even if it was against the likes of Dan Serafini and Matt Franco.

Here's another quote from Francona:

"I'd put them up against the winner of the World Series and I know we'd win at least a couple of games."

Well, Bobby, that depends on how many you'd play. In a ten or fifteen-game series, yeah, you might win a couple of games. But four out of seven? Not likely. Sorry to have to be the one to break this to you, Bobby, but the evidence simply does not exist to suggest that the level of play in Japan is "equal" to, or even remotely close to, that in the major leagues. While it's possible that an All-Star team from, say, the Eastern League or the International League, might beat the White Sox once or twice in a dozen games, it's also more than probable that the Pale Hose would make even quicker work of your team than they did of the Astros, a bonafide and talented major league team.

On the other hand, strange things do happen, and one of them could be a series lost by the White Sox, or whomever has won the World Series that year. And that possibility is exactly what will probably keep an exhibition like this from ever happening. When current MLB players go to Japan to play exhibition games, nobody takes it seriously, so even though the MLB teams usually win, nobody takes the losses too seriously. But a Championship Series? An all-the-marbles contest for global bragging rights? Losing that would totally strip the Fall Classic of any and all credibility. The World Series would be seen as an illegitimate waste of time. I mean, really, who cares who wins the MLB World Series if the possibility exists that the winner of that series might lose to some team most Americans have never before heard of?

The 2005 World Series had its worst TV ratings in history, down 30% from last year and down 7% from the previous historic low, the 2002 Angels-Giants series. But if you think that's bad, just wait until another World Series occurs that not only alienates two thirds of the country (like the 2002 and 2005 Series did), but also can be upstaged by an upset from some upstart team of up-washed... sorry, washed-up former major leaguers and nobodies. The empty suits who own and run MLB would never let something like this happen. As Jesse Ventura, former Minnesota governor and current spokesman for NCAA basketball betting or baseball betting or something, so eloquently put it,

"These people did not get the wealth they have by being stupid.”

Bobby Valentine is not stupid, just a little caught up in the moment. So don't hold your breath waiting for the moment the Chicago White Sox will play the Chiba Lotte Marines in any kind of meaningful baseball game. It's not coming.

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21 October 2005

2005 World Series Preview & Predictions

This is going to be good.


For the first time in history, the Houston Astros are in the World Series. Heck, last year was the first time in history the Houston franchise had ever won any postseason series, and they came damn close to getting into that World Series, missing the opportunity narrowly because injuries forced them to start Brandon Backe and Pete Munro twice each. Backe had barely 100 major league innings to his credit before the 2004 playoffs, with a considerably worse than league average ERA, and Munro was so good that the Astros released him after the season. This year he went 10-7, with a 4.56 ERA...in AAA Columbus.

But this season, it's different. Sorta. The Astros have not one or two, but three, top-flight, #1-type starting pitchers, in Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and 2005 NLCS MVP Roy Oswalt. Backe is still with the team, and is still mediocre, but if he gets more than one start it will be because Oswalt has assassinated Clemens and Pettitte, which isn't likely.

The trouble for Houston, as you likely know, is that they can't hit. As a team, the 2004 Astros were 5th in the NL in runs scored, 6th in OBP and 6th in slugging. Not awesome numbers, by any stretch, but they got guys on base enough and hit for sufficient power to score more runs than all but five of the 16 National League clubs.

This season, however, is a different story. The 2005 Astros were 13th in batting average, 12th in OBP and 11th in slugging, which allowed them to rank 11th out of 16 NL teams in scoring runs. (For reference, only one team in the American League scored fewer runs than Houston did: The Minnesota Twins. The Twins only scored five fewer runs than the Astros, and if you ask me, they have a better excuse, since there are only two of them, compared with nine Astros.)

There are two factors here that play into how good or bad the Astros' offense really is: Injuries and the Ballpark.

Or should I say, the "Juice Box"? Minute Maid Park played like a slight pitcher's park this year, but in actuality is generally thought to favor hitters, and for the Astros, it certainly did. The Killer Bees had a .776 OPS at home this year, averaging 4.44 runs per contest, but those numbers dropped to .687 and 4.06 on the road, second to last in the NL in road scoring, which helps to explain why they went onlu 36-45 in Away games.

In terms of injuries, the absence of Jeff Bagwell for most of the season and of Lance Berkman for the first month or so hurt them tremendously. Jeff Kent's departure hurt the team at two positions, sending Craig Biggio back to second base, where he hit approximately as well as he had in 2004, but not as well as Kent did, and forcing the Astros to play Chris Burke in left field, where he hit .248 with 5 homers in over 100 games.

The departure of Carlos Beltran, something of a blessing in disguise as it would turn out, made S-DOM ("Speed Demon/Out-Machine", pronounced "saddam") Wily Taveras the regular centerfielder. Bagwell's injury forced Mike Lamb into service at least until Berkman returned from the DL. Lamb was a shadow of his 2004 Self, hitting only .236 in half a season's worth of at-bats, compared to .288 last year. Even when Berkman returned, his injury limited him to mostly 1B/DH duties, and he could not hit with the authority he had shown in the past, and could not run at all. His OPS dropped from 1016 to 935, still very good, but not transcendent, as he had been in 2004.

With a chance to play every day in right field, Jason Lane did not disappoint, hitting 26 homers, but with a .316 on-base percentage due to an atrocious batting eye. Adam Everett lost about 50 points of OPS from his career-best 2004 numbers, but returned essentially to his normal production levels. Brad Ausmus did what Brad Ausmus always does, namely: catch the ball and make outs, 290 of them in 387 at-bats, to be precise. But only one error.

So just about everybody in the lineup was worse than thier 2004 counterpart, except Lane, who was essentially a wash with the Biggio of 2004, and Morgan Ensberg, who brought his own OPS up over 200 points to establish career highs in virtually every offensive category. But even Ensberg struggled early in the season, and as a result of his and his teammates' inneptitude, the Astros scored the fewest runs in the major leagues for the first two months, one-third of the season. Even with the returns of Berkmann and perhaps with Bagwell as a DH a couple of times, the Astros still have to struggle to score.

Interestingly enough, their pitchers were also less effective on the road, going from a MLB-best 3.07 ERA at Minute Maid to 3.98 on the road, good for 8th in MLB and 3rd in the NL. Still very good, but not nearly as dominant as they were in Houston. Their overall ERA of 3.51 was 0.02 away from tying St. Louis for best in the majors. Pretty darn good, as they say in France.


The White Sox are a remarkably similar team to the Astros. Take a look at their rankings within their respective leagues for Runs Scored and ERA, and their home and road splits in those areas:

Home ERA Runs
Houston 1st 8th
Chicago 5th 7th

Away ERA Runs
Houston 3rd 15th
Chicago 1st 8th

Total ERA Runs
Houston 2nd 11th
Chicago 1st(T) 9th

Starter ERA
Houston 1st
Chicago 1st(T)

Bullpen ERA
Houston 3rd
Chicago 3rd

Like I said, remarkably similar.

Both teams have excellent starting pitching overall, and very good bullpens, but Chicago's pitchers are hurt slightly by U.S. Cellular Field, which has played as a hitter's park for five of the last six seasons, mostly because of renovations they've been making to the ballpark.

Both teams have sub-mediocre offenses overall, and both offenses are helped by their home ballparks, but this is where the similarity ends. While the White Sox a teeny bit of help from playing in Chicago, going from 9th to 7th in runs scored, the Astros are hurt tremendously by playing on the road, dropping from 11th to 15th in the NL, as I mentioned earler. In short, the Astros go from hitting like Rookie of the Year candidate Tadahito Iguchi at home to "hitting" like Aaron Boone, who will probably be unemployed this winter. The Sox, on the other hand, get some help at home, mostly in the form of the long-ball, hitting 115 of their 200 homers at home. Their closest analog goes from Jeromy Burnitz or Hank Blalock at home to someone more like Aaron Rowand on the road. Of course, Aaron Rowand hits like Aaron Rowand all the time. He can't help it.

Regarding Chicago's pitching, you've certainly heard by now about the four consecutive complete game wins by the White Sox in the ALCS against the Angels. Don't count on that happening again, though, as it had been 37 years since a team had four complete game victories in a postseason series, and that was in the Year of the Pitcher. It's been half a century since there were four consecutive complete games by one team in a playoff series, and there wer eactually five streainght by the Yankees that year, 1956, when I think some other significant postseason pitching accomplishment might have occurred. You have to go back to 1928 to find the last time four straight complete game victories were hurled by one team, so I'm guessing one week is not a long enough time to see anything like that again.

Certainly the Pale Hose have some good starters, as Mark Buhrle, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia finished 3rd, 9th, 11th and 21st in ERA among qualified American League pitchers in 2005. All four of them started 32 or 33 times and pitched at least 204 innings, all won 14 to 18 games, and all struck out at least twice as many as they walked. None of them is likely to win the AL Cy Young Award, though Buhrle in particular would be a good candidate if he'd gotten better run support. None of them has the presence or reputaiton of any of the Big Three in Houston, but all are certainly capable of keeping the White Sox in games, especially against a team that struggles to score runs the way the Astros do.

Chicago's offense is nothing special. They have only one player who drove in 100 runs, Paul Konerko, and he drove in exactly 100. Nobody scored 100 runs or hit higher than .290, on-based higher than .375, and only Konerko and Jermaine Dye had .500+ slugging percentages. Though they had six players with double digits in steals, only S-DOM Scott Podsednik stole more than 16, and as a team they led the major leagues in getting caught stealing, with 67 failed attempts.


So, that was my analysis, for what it's worth, but what do I think will happen?

Oswalt, Clemens and Pettitte dominate the White Sox, who get desperate and start making dumb decisions (and outs) on the basepaths. That is, assuming that Clemens' 42-year old hamstrings hold up, Andy Pettitte's church prays harder for him than they did in Game One of the NLCS, and Mr. Zapruder doesn't find a roll of film showing Oswalt entering the Book Depository. (I know, that joke is getting old. Sorry.) It should be a close, low-scoring series, which the Astros should win, 4 games to 3.

Unless they don't.

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12 October 2005

Yankees ALDS Post-Mortem

If I had told you two weeks ago that the Yankees would have held the Angels' leadoff hitter to a .143 batting average, that these "Runnin'Angels" would steal only one base in the series and that the Angels cleanup hitter would not drive in a run, you'd have thought the Yankees would win, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong.

How about if I told you that the Angels' ace pitcher would not win a game in the series, or for that matter, neither would any of their other starters? You'd have thought the Yankees would win that series, wouldn't you? Wrong again.

What if I told you that Derek Jeter would hit two homers in the series and that the Yankees' #3 hitter, Jason Giambi would hit .421(!)? What if I told you that Chien Ming Wang and Shawn Shacon would combine to allow only 3 earned runs in 13 innings of work, and that Randy Johnson would finish the 7th inning of the deciding game without having allowed a run in it? That in the five-game series the Yankees would draw 24 walks allow only five? Sounds like a sure Yankee victory, doesn't it?

Strike three. You're not very good at this, are you?

Well, it turns out that certain Yankees aren't very good at playing baseball in the postseason, either. While Jeter did his best to carry the rest of the team on his back, with two homers, 5 RBI and a .333 average, his successor in the lineup, Alex Rodriguez, hit only .133 with ZERO RBIs. Furthermore, he got caught stealing once and grounded into two double plays, so he made 19 outs in 22 plate appearances, which is, of course, a statistical anomaly, but it's also atrocious and a huge part of why the Yankees eventually lost the series. (For the record, he also made an error in Game Two, which eventually allowed the tying run to score.) Rodriguez was being called the "unclutchest" player in postseason baseball history by some of the AM sports talk radio personalities on Tuesday morning. You know, if they have to add a word to the language to describe how bad you are, things are not going well.

But before you crucify A-Rod, know that there is plenty of blame to go around. Randy Johnson may have pitched into the seventh inning of Game Five without allowing a run, but because starter Mike Mussina allowed five runs before getting out of the third inning, Johnson's relief efforts offered little relief as the Yankees struggled to score runs all day. The Big Unit also came up very small in Game Three, surrendering five runs in three innings and pressing the bullpen into service much sooner than expected, even though he didn't take the Loss. That dishonor was given to Aaron Small, who went 10-0 in the regular season, based on a little luck and a lot of guile, both of which ran out at the end of September, apparently.

Also running out at the end of September was the Yankees' lineup's abilities to hit for average and/or power, with the noted exceptions of Jeter and Giambi. During the regular season, the Yankees had five regular players hit .290 or better and a team batting average of .276. In the postseason? Two guys, and .253 collective BA. During the regular season, seven regulars plus Tino Martinez had a slugging percentage of .430 or better, but in the LDS, only three (though Cano was close at .421). The team got on base often enough, a .351 team OBP that was very close to their regular season mark of .355, which missed leading the major leagues by 0.001, but because they didn't hit for any power, they could not bring baserunners home, and therefore could not win.

If I may say so, the Angels got some help from the umpiring crew as well, at least in Game Five. Home Plate Ump Joe West called one of the least consistent strike zones I have ever seen, which generally seemed to be about eight inches wide and four feet tall, though it sometimes got considerably wider (and no shorter) if the Yankees had runners on base.

More importantly, West was also responsible for calling Robinson Cano out for running outside the baseline to end the fifth inning. Cano had struck out but ran to first on a passed ball and was safe when Angels' 1B Darin Erstad missed the throw from catcher Bengie Molina. Erstad set up across the 1B bag, effective blocking Cano's path, which is also against the rules if you don't already have the ball, though West didn't seem to mind that. Cano was running along the foul line, right on it the entire way, as shown by the replay, and Erstad could have set up with his left foot on first base and fielded the throw easily if Molina had thrown it that way, but neither of those things happened. At best, this was a too-close-to-call kind of situation, and you hate to see an umpire step in and swing the game around like that if it's not obvious. It's always better to see the players decide things on the field than to win or lose on a technicality. To wit, the next "batter" was Bernie Williams, who hit only .211 for the series and got only one hit with runners on base in the entire series, so perhaps even with the bases loaded and two out, the Yankees' hopes would have been dashed, but it sure would have been nice to play it out, you know?

Still, though, even this is the Yankees' fault. Branch Rickey may have been dead for almost 40 years, but luck is still the residue of design, and if the Yankees had taken care of business and gotten better hitting and/or pitching when they needed it, then a call like this would not have affected them so adversely. Isn't that right, Chuck?

Kudos to the Angels, who overcame injuries and illness to their starting pitchers, atrocious hitting by Steve Finley, Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera, and a complete lack of patience by the entire lineup, to win the series. They got just enough baserunners on, got key hits when they needed them, and their bullpen made fools of the Yankee lineup. The road to the World Series goes through the Bronx, as the last four teams to win it had to eliminate the Yankees to do so.

Here's hoping that particular streak ends now.

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08 October 2005

Book Review: Ebbets Field, by Joseph McCauley

Ebbets Field: Brooklyn's Baseball Shrine
by Joseph McCauley

c. 2004, Authorhouse, $34.75 (Paperback)

A brand new book on an old and endearing subject for baseball fans, Joseph McCauley's book Ebbets Field revisits a long-gone place and time, a favorite subject of young and old fans of the game. McCauley grew up and lives in the Midwest, and is too young (I think) to have ever visited Brooklyn's baseball shrine, but as an avid fan of the game and of baseball nostalgia, McCauley felt that there was a void, at least in his own baseball library, that needed to be filled. To this end, he set out to write the book he wished he could have read. He did two years of research on the subject, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Library of Congress and places in Brooklyn, both for historical reference and historical perspective. He interviewed numerous former fans, players and others who were involved with the franchise before it relocated to Los Angeles.

I am sorry to report, however, that the result is something of a disappointment, at least to me. Much of my criticism of McCauley's efforts probably stems largely from the fact that this is his first effort at writing a book. Because of that, and the fact that his publisher, Authorhouse, is really a self-publishing house, the book is rather cheap, ironically, without being inexpensive. It's a 3/8" thick paperback, and it costs almost $35, and that's without a lot of large color pictures, which generally tend to drive up the price of a coffee-table book. For that matter, this book doesn't seem well-suited to coffee tables, as the cover seems to curl back, even when it's just left sitting for a while. As humid as it gets when it rains around here, a book should not simply deform like that. Not a well-made book, anyway.

Another aspect of the book that makes it less than an ideal coffee table book is that the writing is too dense. There are 58 images in the 89-page book, but most of them are not more than about 2" x 3" and the writing in between is not broken up into sufficiently succinct chunks to be convenient for reading a little at a time. Furthermore, as a rookie writer, and perhaps without an editor, McCauley's book really needed some fine tuning. The book is rife with typos, misspellings, inappropriate punctuation and other errata, some of which would normally be forgiveable in a first edition, if it wre not coupled with these other problems. His journalism degree (as described on the book's back cover) should qualify him to be a writer, but he has only worked as a letter-carrier for the US Postal Service and does not seem to have written anything of consequence in the two and a half decades that have passed since college, and his lack of practice shows. He attempts to cover the histories of the park and of the franchise simultaneously, but it is sometimes hard to follow his train of thought while reading. Other things are not explained very thoroughly, which either means that he makes a lot of assumptions about what his readers know or that it does not occur to him to lay such groundwork in his prose, either of which makes for problematic reading.

All in all, I am truly sad to report that Ebbets Field (the book) offers little of the uniqueness, charm and craftsmanship that Ebbets Field (the ballpark) offered in its heyday. What it does offer is some interesting interviews, a few good pictures and a lot of nostalgia, as well as a chance for an upstart author to get his feet on the ground and a few dollars in his pocket. Best wishes to him.

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05 October 2005

Boston's Impending Demise, Cano's Hype, and That Other League, Too

Well, so far, so good for my post season predictions. After one game played in each of the four division series, all four games were won by the team I picked to win the series. Let's review...

Boston @ Chicago: Matt Clement got smacked around (8 runs in 3.1 innings), as I had suggested he might. What I did not anticipate was that A.J. Pierzynski would hit not one but two homers, something he'd done only once in over 2300 regular season games, and that was against the woeful Colorado pitching staff in 2003. "A.J." apparently stands for "Another Jack". I also did not count on All-Star Scott Podsednik blasting a three-run jack of his own, given that he had not hit one since September 30th. Of 2004. I wouldn't count on the White Sox scoring 14 runs in any of their remaining games against Boston, but I would count on them winning the series.

The second game proved much closer, as neither Sox lefty, David Wells nor Mark Buehrle, had his best stuff, but both kept his team in the game. Until the Bostons' defense blew it, that is. Tony Graffanino (which, ironically, turns out to be the Italian translation of "Buckner") allowed a double-play ball to go between his legs, allowed two runners to remain on base, and allowed the game to slip away when White Sox second-sacker and Rookie of the Year Candidate, Tadahito Iguchi, hit a three-run homer to put the Chicagos up, 5-4. Another rookie, Bobby Jenks, came in throwing 97mph gas for two innings (since Thursday is a travel day) for the save.

Boston returns home, down 0-2, with Tim Wakefield slated to stop the bleeding on Friday afternoon against Freddy Garcia. The Red Sox are very close to being eliminated, but then that was true in the 2003 ALDS before they came back to beat Oakland, and it was true last year when they were down 0-3 to the Yankees, and that seemed to turn out OK for them. And while it's much more common for a team to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a 5-game series to win (it's happened 4 times since the inception of the Wild Card in 1995, and Boston's done it twice), it's still not likely.

It should also be noted that the Oakland team they came back to beat in 2003 really beat itself in some ways, making 5 errors in those final three games. Additionally, the Yankees team that lost four straight to the Red Sox in 2004 was very thin on starting pitchers. This 2005 edition of the White Sox, with the 4th fewest errors and the second lowest team ERA in the American League, will not beat itself on either of those fronts, which is good because I hear you can go blind.

San Diego @ St. Louis: Jake Peavy was the Padres' only hope of winning a game in this series, and if they'd decided to bring him back on short rest for Game 4, maybe two. Now they'll be fortunate to get out of the series without completely embarrassing themselves. Peavy was nearly as bad as Clement last night (8 runs in 4.1 innings), though he had a better excuse, sort of. Jake had apparently broken a rib or two in the Padres' postseason clincher celebration last week. It seems to me that a team that was not even assured of having a winning record should not be celebrating at all, much less in so raucous and rambunctious a fashion as to break a bone in someone's torso. When will baseball players learn to point those champagne corks away from other people?

The San Diegos did not realize the severity of the injury until Peavy's ineffective performance, and so he won't pitch again this postseason, and neither will the Padres win a game, I suspect. This seems a fitting end for the Padres, a franchise whose own announcer once described its right-fielder's head hitting the outfield wall and rolling all the way back to the infield. This, too, is a terrible thing for the Padres.

Houston @ Atlanta: Andy Pettitte pitched well in Game One, even though he surrendered a homer to each of the Joneses on the Braves' roster (good thing there's only two of them!). This seems familiar, somehow. Anywho, Andy left the game after seven innings, leading 5-3, and despite some shaky work by the Houston bullpen, the Astros took game one thanks to nine walks and three HBP by Braves pitchers, leading to ten runs scored by Houston, despite the fact that they hit only three doubles and no homers in the game. Thursday night's Smoltz-Clemens matchup should be One for the Ages, and there will probably still be 10,000 empty seats in Atlanta.

New York @ LAnahafornia The Yankees took Game One in LAnaheim, 4-2, behind 5.2 shutout innings from Mike Mussina and mostly strong bullpen work. It's didn't hurt that Vladimir Guerrero got himself caught stealing to end the sixth inning with his team down 4-0, either. Well, it hurt the Angels.

Robinson Cano, (who was named after Jackie Robinson, in case you hadn't picked that up from the fact that the FOX and ESPN announcers mention it at least twice an inning, three times if Cano is actually batting that inning) hit a 3-run double in the 1st to put the team up, 3-0, and because the Yankees won, his limited offensive abilities and shoddy defense were largely overlooked.

I call his defense "shoddy" because, even though he was not charged with an error in Game One, he made at least two plays (or rather, he didn't make them) that a good defensive secondbaseman would not have screwed up. One was a bouncing "single" up the middle, I think by Darin Erstad in the 9th, which hopped right over Cano's glove, but didn't actually touch him, so they ruled it a hit, and Vlad Guerrero scored. The very next play, a hard grounder by catcher Bengie Molina to Jeter (right at him, or he wouldn't have gotten to it), should have been a double play ball. Instead, Cano hesitated for a moment before throwing to first base, almost as though he'd forgotten that they still needed two outs, and so Molina, who runs just slightly faster than most dead people, was safe at first. Again, they called it a "fielder's choice", because technically you can't anticipate the double play, and there was no error scored, but Cano should have made that play.

Because of where I live, and because I'm a cheapskate and won't spring for satellite TV, I harldy ever get to see a Yankee game, and yet it seems that whenever I do watch one, Cano makes an error, or doesn't make a play that a major league second baseman is supposed to make. This can't just be coincidence.

And as for his limited offensive abilities? Let me show you. These are the pitch-by-pitch descriptions of cano's at-bats in Game One:

1st inning, 2 out, 3 on base: Ball, Strike (looking), Strike (foul), Ball, Foul, R Cano doubled to deep left, J Giambi, G Sheffield and H Matsui scored

3rd, 1 out, none on: R Cano fouled out to left

6th, 0 out, none on: R Cano flied out to left

9th, 0 out, none on: Ball, R Cano flied out to left

Do you see a pattern here? This guy goes to his left more often than Howard Dean! Granted, Bartolo Colon has a heck of a fastball, but Cano is a left handed hitter, he know's the heater's coming, and he ought to be able to turn on it once in a while. Instead, he can't do anything with it except bloop it into left field and hope Garret Anderson is playing him too shallow, which is probably what happened in the first inning, as the Angels may have been trying to minimize the damage on a short hopper or a grounder through the infield. Cano saw six pitches in that first at-bat, with the bases loaded, but in three other at-bats with no one on base he saw a total of only four pitches, twice flying out on the first pitch, and the third time, on the first pitch near the strike zone. He was a little more patient in Game Two, seeing 14 pitches in his four at-bats, with a double and an RBI. Perhaps he was just a little over-anxious in his first postseason game.

We can hope, or we can analyze. Since I'm an engineer (and this is my website) I'm choosing Option 2.

Player AB R 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO
C 522 78 34 4 14 62 16 68
A 567 92 28 7 17 73 29 100

See the similarities? Player C is Cano, of Canourse, and Player A is 2003 RoY Angel Berroa, Kansas City Royals shortstop. If you think those numbers look similar, check out these:

Cano .297 .320 .458 7.68 32.63
Angel .287 .338 .451 5.67 19.55

That's almost creepy.

Cano doesn't strike out quite as often as Berroa does, but he doesn't walk nearly as often, which isn't much in the first place. Getting a free pass about once every 8 or 10 games does not bode well for his future. Joe Morgan indicated last night that Joe Torre thinks Cano can hit in the .330-.340 range, but if he doesn't learn to lay off a pitch once in a while, that's not very likely to happen.

Now, the six remaining Royals fans out there are probably thinking "Yeah, but Berroa stole 21 bases that year, too! And he plays good defense, and does other stuff, good, too!" Well, Berroa has only stolen 21 bases in the two seasons since then, and has been caught 13 times, including only 7-for-12 this season, so his speed does not appear to be much of a factor in his offensive "contributions" any more. Since we're trying to project what Cano might look like in a few years, the comparison seems valid.

Furthermore, Berroa may be a flashy defensive player, but even in his rookie season he made 24 errors, and he has made more errors than anyone in the major leagues for the in the last three years combined. Add to this the fact that in the last two years he's combined to "hit" below .270 with little power, little speed and even less patience than he showed as a rookie (he drew only 15 unintentional walks in over 600 at-bats in 2005), and you've got a guy that even the hapless Royals know will not help them to their next winning season.

Cano's an AL Rookie of the Year candidate based on his .297 season batting average and 14 homers, not (of course) on his 17 errors in 131 games. Those 17 errors constituted the third most among all MLB second-sackers in 2005, behind only ex-Yankee Alfonso Soriano and Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks, both with 21, although Weeks did that in only 96 games. Robinson Cano, it seems to me, is not so dissimilar to Berroa, and I wonder if it might make sense, especially if he wins the Rookie of the Year Award on the merits of those misleading batting average and home run numbers, to trade him and get some value in return before the bottom falls out, whenever that is.

Hopefully not before the Yankees finish sending the LAngels back to LAnahfornia to watch the ALCS on TV.

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04 October 2005

MLB Playoff Predictions & Analysis: Round 1

This is one of the easiest columns of the year to write, for three reasons:

1) Significance. I have a topic of obvious interest both to myself and to readers, and no shortage of other writers' analysis on which to draw.

B) Timing. I have a definite deadline by which the column must be done, namely before the start of the first round of playoff series, in order for my writing to be relevant.

iii) Accountability. I have none. I can make any prediction I want, and regardless of the outcome, there are absolutely NO consequences for me. I don't get fired, or docked any pay, or put on probation, or reassigned to cover high school girls JV field hockey. Nothing. Even if I'm wrong on all counts I probably won't lose one regular reader, which is fortunate, because that would leave me with so few of them that Mordecai Brown could count them on his pitching hand.

On the other hand, where I have two more fingers than Mordecai, I do have to look myself in the mirror every morning, so I'd better try to do this right.

ALDS: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago White Sox


Which ones? Who knows? The Red Sox will start Matt Clement (6.00), David Wells (4.50) and Tim Wakefield (3.15) in the first three games of the series, and presumably Curt Schilling (4.02) if it goes to Game Four. Those numbers in parentheses are their ERAs since the start of September. The Pale Hose will counter with Jose Contreras(1.99), Mark Buehrle (3.38), Jon Garland (3.71) and then Freddy Garcia (3.98) if it goes that far.

Clement has been all but awful since he was hit by a batted ball in mid-summer, and though you can harldy blame him ifhe's a little tentative on the mound these days, you also can hardly count on him to pitch a good game. Wells has been consistently inconsistent all year, and Buehrle should help to minimize the damage Boston's lefties can do, especially if they're away from the hitter-friendly Fenway Pahk. The Red Sox could be down 0-2 going into Game Three, with a knuckleballer controlling their fate, though statistically Wakefield vs. Garland seems to give them the best chance to win. Even so, It's hard to know which Curt Schilling will show up to face Garcia in Game Four.

Prediction: Sox in Five. Oh, sorry, White Sox.

ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Which is still a stupid name.

Game one pits Mike Mussina against Bartolo Colon, and while that matchup generally favors the Angels, the Yankees have generally hit Colon very hard throughout his career, whereas Moose has historically done much better against, um... LAnahfornia(?). Whether tonight's starter is the same Moose or not remains to be seen, but the Yanks certainly have a fighting chance in Game One.

The Yankees' Game Two starter was recently changed from Shawn Chacon to Chien Ming Wang, presumably because the Yankees' feel that Wang's sinker will sink more if he doesn't go a whole week between starts. Sinkerball pitchers often seem more effective if their arm is a little tired rather than over-rested, but Wang will have his work cut out for him against John Lackey, who quietly won 14 games with the 6th best ERA in the American League (3.44). Only Johan Santana and Yankees' Game Three starter Randy Johnson struck out more AL batters. If Lackey has a weakness, it's walks, as his 71 free passes also ranked him 6th in the AL, so the Yankees's hitters would do well to be patient with him. Given that the Yankees had the second most walks in the majors, that shouldn't be a problem.

Game Three matches the aforementioned five-time Cy Young Award winner against Jarrod Washburn, whose 8-8 record belies his 3.20 ERA, which ranked 4th in the AL. Unfortunately for him, his run-support was the 5th worst in the AL, hence the so-so record. With Johnson pitching much more like himself lately (6-0, 1.93 ERA in his last eight starts), look for the Yanks to win this one. And if it comes to Game Four, Shawn Chacon (2.68 ERA at Yankee Stadium) should beat Paul Byrd handily.

Prediction: Yankees in Four.

NLDS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres of San Diego

See how stupid that sounds?

Speaking of stupid, how stupid is a system in which a team that's 82-80 makes the post season and not one, not two, but three teams with better records get to watch the playoffs from the comforts of their own homes?

The Padres have no business being in the post season. They went 34-39 after the All-Star Break, stumbling to the weakest division title in history. The team does not have a player with 20 homers, or 85 RBI, or 95 runs scored, or 25 steals. It has one .300 hitter, Brian Giles, who hit .301. Certainly, PETCO Park is not a hitter's paradise, but the team was nearly as bad on the road (.741 OPS) as it was at home (.707). Only Jake Peavy is really a "good" starting pitcher, and he's better than that, but other than him, the Cardinals should not have any trouble with them. If the Padres are lucky, Carpenter struggles tonight and Peavy and a decent bullpen get them one win, but they'll either have to go to Woody Williams or to 15-game loser Brian Lawrence for Game Four, neither of which is an attractive option. Lawrence shut out the Barry-less Giants over 9 innings in a generally meaningless late September game, but still finished the month with a 6.18 ERA. Williams started thjat game the Pads lost 20-1 to the Rockies, a glorified AAA team.

Pedro Astacio, Williams and Adam Eaton do not constitute any kind of threat to Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker, and Albert Pujols, who ought to win his first of several MVP awards this year.

Prediction: Cards in Four. Tops.

NLDS: Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

This is the toughest pick of the bunch. You know the Astros have Pettitte, Clemens and Oswalt going in Games 1, 2 and 3. You know how good they've been this year. You know about Roger Clemens' seven Cy Young Awards and Oswalt's two straight 20-win seasons. You know Andy Pettitte's reputation as a "Big Game Pitcher". You may not know, however, that Pettitte has a career ERA of 7.54(!) against the Braves in the postseason, but it's also worth noting that the Andy Pettitte who put up those numbers in 1996 and 1999 was never as good as the 2005 version is.

The Braves' current rotation of Smoltz, Hudson and Sosa is not the stuff of legend that constituted their rotation in the 1990's, but it's capable of keeping the team in games. Smoltz, for one, actually has the numbers to back up his big-game pitcher status (14-4, 2.70 postseason ERA, and he's never lost a game in the Division Series) and Hudson's no slouch either (3.44 ERA in four trips to the postseason).

You know that Houston's offense has been just as bad as their pitching has been good, but this is not the same offense that struggled to score 3.5 runs per game through April and May. A healthy Lance Berkman, plus Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and the suddenly-powerful Craig Biggio give the 'Stros at least a decent offense.

The Braves' hitters are not an uber-patient lot, but they'll take a walk. Unfortunately, Astros pitchers don't really give up walks, as their 440 allowed were the fewest in the NL. They don't give up hits, either, (.246 opponent batting average was also lowest in NL) or extra-base hits (.389 opponent slugging percentage was second to the Mets, who had the help of a pitcher's park, unlike Houston). The Braves' best hitter, Andruw Jones, hit only .208 in September, lowering his season average to .262, which will hopefully end his chances of being named NL MVP. Other aspects of the Braves' offense are solid, but nothing seems to indicate that they'll be good enough to beat the Astros' Big Three.

Houston has a better rotation, a better bullpen, and an offense sufficiently capable to win some games, and beat the Bridesmaid Braves.

Prediction: Astros in three. Get out the brooms, baby.

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15 September 2005

The Great AL MVP Debate: Ortiz or A-Rod?

Is it just my imagination, or does it seem also to you that every year there is some ridiculous argument about the MVP or Cy Young Award going to someone who clearly does not deserve it, at least by any objective measure?

In 2001, Ichiro won the AL MVP even though he wasn't even the best player on his own team (that was the now-unemployed Bret Boone), much less the best player in the American League (which was Seattle's Alex Rodriguez).

And lest you think I'm Yankees-biased, also in 2001, Roger Clemens won a Cy Young Award that probably should have gone to Freddy Garcia, who had an ERA nearly half a run lower and 19 more innings pitched than the Rocket, but went only 18-6 instead of 20-3, as Clemens did, due largely to the run-support he garnered from being a Yankee. Clemens became the first starting pitcher in the history of major league baseball to win the Cy Young Award without a complete game to his credit.

In 2002, A-Rod (now a Texas Ranger) was refused, nay, cheated out of another MVP Award when Miguel Tejada got some clutch hits in September and the Athletics won the AL West. Miggy got all the good press, while A-Rod, stuck on a last-place team, hit 23 more homers thasn Tejada, leading the AL in numerous offensive categories and winning a gold glove for his work at shortstop.

In 2003, some writers tried to convince you that Albert Pujols was the NL MVP, and not Barry Bonds. "Bonds only played 130 games", they said, "...Bonds didn't even drive in 100 runs," they said, while ignoring the fact that when Bonds did play, the rest of the league was so scared of him that he got walked 148 times in those 130 games. Mercifully, the press didn't buy their own argument, and Bonds won his 6th MVP in a landslide.

Last year, despite leading the NL in WHIP, opponent batting average, starts and strikeouts, being second in innings pitched, shutouts and ERA (to Jake Peavy, who pitched only 166 innings) and "winning" 16 games, including a perfect game against the Braves in May, for a team that lost 111 of them, Randy Johnson did not get the NL Cy Young. Instead, Roger Clemens became the first starting pitcher in the history of major league baseball to win two Cy Young Awards without a complete game to his credit. (In case you're wondering, this year Clemens has one complete game, or one less than Zach Greinke.)

And this year? Well, it seems that there are MVP and Cy Young debates in both leagues, but I'll just take the issues one at a time, and handle only the AL MVP for now. More on the rest later.

The two main contenders for this crown are:

"...in the white trunks with blue pinstripes, standing 6'3" and weighing in at 225 lbs, playing Gold-Glove defense at third base for the New York Yankees...Aleeexxx Rrrrrrodriguez!!!"

"...and in this corner, wearing the white trunks with red trim and (appropriately enough) red socks, standing 6'4" and weighing in at 230 lbs (on the Moon, maybe...), leading the American league in homers, RBIs and successful efforts to make sure his team's bench doesn't float away while his teammates are playing the field, Daviiiidd 'Big Papi' Oooorrrtiizzz!!!"

Let's look at some of their basic stats, where the numbers in parentheses is the player's current rank in the American Leage for the given stat:

        R      HR     RBI       BA       OBP      SLG       OPS
Papi 108(1) 42(1) 130(1) .297(16) .396(4) .603(1) .999(2)
A-Rod 108(1) 41(2) 112(4) .319 (3) .419(2) .596(2) 1.014(1)

Neck-and-neck, as they say. Or at least they would, if Ortiz had a neck.

These are the (mostly) traditional statistics, which is all that most of the BBWAA members look at, if they look at anything at all. Ortiz holds a very slight lead in homers and slugging percentage, while A-Rod has a slight lead in on-base percentage and OPS. Rodriguez has 18 fewer RBIs, good enough for only 4th in the AL, but Ortiz has a sub-.300 batting average that is good enough for only 16th in the AL. What I have not shown you here is that A-Rod has 13 steals in 19 attempts, and is generally considered a good baserunner in general, able to advance two bases on a hit when necessary. Big Papi was successful in his only stolen base attempt, probably because the opposing catcher was so dumbfounded at the sight of 250 lbs of Dominican Thunder rumbling along the basepaths that he forgot to throw the ball. For an hour.

In any case, there is no clear-cut winner emerging from this type of analysis, so let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

       RCAA  WARP  VORP    EqA     EqR     RAP    RARP
Papi 50(2) 7.1 73(2) .334(4) 121(2) 41(5) 62(2)
A-Rod 69(1) 9.2 86(1) .345(2) 129(1) 61(1) 81(1)

Now for the explanations:

RCAA is a stat created by Lee Sinins, and it stands for Runs Created Above Average. It's a measure of how many runs a player created for his team above an average player playing the same number of games at that position. A-Rod has a considerable edge here, which was as of Sunday, 9/11/2005. Remaining stats are all as-of Thursday 9/15.

WARP is a Baseball Prospectus stat, and stands for Wins Above Replacement Position. It takes offense and defense into account, even pitching, if that were applicable, and combines it to see how many more wins a player is worth than a replacement-level (not an average) player at that position. BP does not have this stat available on a page where I could check ranks, but the only player I could find with a number higher than Rodriguez's 9.2 Wins was Baltimore's Brian Roberts, at 9.6. For reference, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero and Derek Jeter all had WARP numbers equal to or higher than Big Papi's 7.1 Wins.

VORP, another BP stat, stands for "The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense." Again, Rodriguez has a notable edge here (13 runs) because Ortiz is essentially a DH, and while he's a great one, there are lots of good and really good designated hitters, but only a handful of good thirdbasemen.

EqA is Equivalent Average, Baseball Prospectus' all-encompassing rate stat, where EqR (Equivalent Runs) is the counting stat that goes with it. These numbers adjust for a player's home ballpark, the quality of the pitching he faced, and other factors that make people think Jim Rice belongs in the Hall of Fame. A-Rod holds a slight edge in both categories.

RAP is Runs Above Position, and is defined by BP as "The number of Equivalent Runs this player produced, above what an average player at the same postion would have produced in the same number of outs." This is where the case for Ortiz gets a little thin. Because he's expected to be a great hitter, Ortiz ranks "only" 5th in the AL in this category, behind Brian Roberts, Mike Young, Miguel Tejada, and of course A-Rod.

And finally...

RARP is Runs above Replacement Position, which Baseball Prospectus says "...compares a hitter's Equivalent Run total to that of a replacement-level player who makes the same number of outs and plays the same position." Again, A-Rod and Ortiz are ranked #1 and #2, but 19 runs is a big gap, even bigger than the one between David's front teeth!

None of this is to say that A-Rod will win the MVP, just that he should, if the season ended today. But since there are two and a half weeks to play, anything can happen. Ortiz might hit ten more homers while A-Rod goes 3-for-37 and makes nine errors, in which case Ortiz probably should win the MVP, especially if such events result in the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade. But that's all speculation.

Given the facts, as you can see, despite what certain on-air radio personalities will tell you, Rodriguez has been the better player this year. Sure, Ortiz has some impressive numbers with runners in scoring position and such, and that gives him a few more RBIs, but in just about every other regard, A-Rod has been the best player in the AL, has led a contending team all year, and is therefore the Most Valuable Player, any way you slice it.

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