20 March 2007

Don’t Saint Santo: No Hall Call for Cubs’ 3B

A few weeks ago, the Veterans Committee for the National Baseball Hall of Fame (and Museum) announced the results of their voting for 2007.

*Sound of crickets.*

That’s right, 83 men got together, considered basically everybody who has ever been significantly connected with major league baseball but is not either in the Hall already or on the current BBWAA ballot, and elected exactly nobody. Nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. The Hall of Fame should be an exclusive club, and if we have to keep out the marginally great guys to make sure that someday mediocre ones don’t get in, then so be it. Personally, I have no vested interest in who gets to call himself a “Hall of Famer” and who doesn’t, as I’ll never be one myself. That is, unless they create a special wing for Baseball Bloggers, and an award for Most Blog Posts Composed That Were Never Actually Read by Anyone but Me, in which case, I’m a shoe-in.

But Ron Santo is not, for a number of reasons.

Find out what those reasons are, on my MVN.com blog...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

12 March 2007

Random Observations from MLB Spring Training 2007...

Non-Baseball thought: Is it just me, or shouldn't the American Civil Liberties Union be working to defend the liberties of, you know, Americans? That's what I thought.

No Angel in the Outfield

Apparently the LAnahfornia Angels are kind of upset that their new, $50-million center fielder refuses to incriminate himself by answering questions about his alleged receipt of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in 2004. Hard to blame him for clamming up, of course, as there's absolutely no incentive for him to admit to something when the authorities have yet to garner any proof of it, and there are about 50 million reasons to keep his trap shut. He's never played with Barry Bonds, the real target of the performance-enhancing drug investigation, so there's no reason for them to offer him a chance to turn stool-pidgeon. Unlike Jason Grimsley, who was 39 years old when The Man caught up with him and had been with seven different franchises (three of them in two seasons), Matthews is not ready to retire. He had planned on playing for at least the next five seasons, the ones that would make him a millionaire, and isn't about to give that up just so his boss could save face.

More on Matthews, plus Josh Hamilton and Daisuke Matsuzaka on my Most Valuable Network blog...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

07 March 2007

What, Me, Worry? The 2007 New York Yankees Season Preview

I'm worried about the Yankees.

True, they ran away with their 9th straight divisional title last year, 10 games ahead of second-place Toronto.

True, despite not winning a World Series since 2000, they have won two AL pennants and averaged nearly 99 wins per year in this millenium. They led the major leagues in wins, hits, OBP and runs scored, and were 2nd or 3rd in a bunch of other offensive stats.

But there were some serious chinks revealed in the armor of the Yankee Dragon, not the least of which was the starting pitching. The 2006 Yankees ranked 10th in the majors (6th in the AL) with a 4.54 starters' ERA, an emminently pedestrian number for a team trying to win a championship. Sure, the Bronx Bludgeoners managed to beat their opponents into submission pretty regularly diring the season, but when faced with a Tigers team that could actually pitch (as evidenced by their best-in-the-majors 4.00 team ERA), the Bronx Bats wilted like so much stewed cabbage.

The most glaring need, however, is youth. Sure, the Yankees have some youngsters who are contributing, for the first time in several years, but overall, they're the oldest team in the AL, and if not for San Francisco GM Brian Sabean's inexplicable fear of anyone under the age of 35, they'd be the oldest team in the majors. According to www.baseballreference.com, the average age of the 2006 Yankee hitters was 30.9, almost half a year more than their closest AL opponent, the Boston Red Sox. In the NL, the Giants are in a league of their own, with hitters averaging 33.5 years, putting a whole new spin on the term "Senior Circuit". Nobody else in the NL is over 30.7 (Houston). Yankee pitchers averaged 32.5 winters last year, almost a year and a half older than the Red Sox hurlers, their nearest AL competition for that honor. This number led the major leagues last year, as the Mets, at 32.2, led the NL pack in pitchers' average age.

Randy Johnson (42), of course, was the most glaring reason for that, but even with his departure, the Yankees have age issues on the pitching staff, especially if they manage to convince 44-year old Roger Clemens to join them. Whether the Rocket returns to the Big Apple or not, the Yankees still have Mike Mussina (38), Mike Myers (37), Bergenfield's Ron Villone (37), Mariano Rivera (37), and Andy Pettitte (34). The hitters aren't a whole lot younger, either, with Jason Giambi (36), Jorge Posada (35, very old for a catcher), and a bunch of guys who are 32 or older, like Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu, and even His Clutchness, Derek Jeter. A-Rod will be 32 by mid season, though he's still very, very good. Recently signed backup infielders Miguel Cairo and Doug Mientkiewicz, who will both be 33 by the end of June, are part of the problem, not the solution.

I see a lot of similarities between the 2006-07 Yankees and the 1997-98 Baltimore Orioles. You remember them, right? I know it gets tough to remember the proverbial "good times" when a team goes ten years (and counting...) between winning seasons, but back in the mid-1990's, the Orioles were pretty competitive, winning the AL Wild Card in 1996, the A.L. East division in 1997, and...

...crashing like a de Havilland Comet in 1998.

Those Orioles got a mean case of "The Olds", and the team has finished better than 4th place in the A.L. East one time in the nine seasons that have since passed. Consider...

Find out why Yankee fans should panic at Most Valuable network...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

08 February 2007

Death of Anna Nicole Smith Will Spotlight Ephedra Problem that Bechler's Passing Didn't

Well, nobody really paid all that much attention when a no-name baseball player died from apparent complications related to mis/overuse of Ephedra-based weight loss products, but the death of former Playmate/quasi-actress/model/gold-digger/weight loss poster-child Anna Nicole Smith today, at age 39, will be sure to turn some heads.

For good or bad, Smith had become the person most closely associated with Ephedra-based Trim-Spa. (As of today, 4:30PM on the day she died, Smith was still the front-page pin-up girl on Trim Spa's website.) But if the coroner's report shows that the over-use (or, God help them, the "appropriate" use) of Trim Spa played a part in Smith's passing, the company will surely go bankrupt. Sadly, it seems that Smith traded her life for her fame, using the weight-loss product to get back into the limelight after years of being in the news only for her legal battles with the family of her deceased husband, oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II.

Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler, who died four years ago this month during pitchers and catchers' workouts. Had Bechler's death occurred during a game in Spring Training or the regular season, or if Bechler had been a more famous name, his passing might have done more to curb the sales of the so-called "all natural supplement" and force a little responsibility upon the company and others like it. Because such supplements are produced from herbs andor other natural sources, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate their distribution, advertising or the claims made on the product itself, requiring only a "statement not reviewed by the FDA" disclaimer. These kinds of things mislead consumers who don't know any better, who don't realize that things that grow in the ground can kill you just as easily as something synthesized in a laboratory, especially if abused.

Whatever you thought of her as a person, it is a tragedy that Anna Nicole Smith died today, especially if it turns out that it was somehow related to the Ephedra stuff. But it is even more of a tragedy that Steve Bechler and other valuable human beings had already suffered the same fate, and no real action was ever taken, because they didn't have huge boobs.

Trim-Spa Baby? I Don't Think So.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

01 February 2007

MVN.com: Travis Nelson's Yankees Tickets Oddysey: 2007

"Hey, what are you doing Saturday?"

"Nothing. Why, what did you have in mind?"

"How about a Yankee game?"

"Sounds great, you got tickets?"

"Nah, let's just buy them when we get there."

"OK, man. See you then!"

Have you ever had a conversation like this? Have you had one in the last five years or so? And, if so, could you actually buy tickets when you got there, without having to risk buying from a scalper? Me neither. For the last decade, as the New York Yankees have experienced unprecedented success, and have gained unprecedented popularity, it has become increasingly difficult for Joe DaFan to purchase tickets to a single game.

Yankees tickets went on sale to the General Public at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, 31 January 2007, and within an hour, virtually any decent seat to a weekend game was already off the market. One hour. So, with 26 home games on either a Saturday or Sunday, and, let's say, roughly 20,000 "decent" seats to those games in the stadium, that is, not part of season ticket plans, the Yankees are averaging almost 150 tickets sold per second, for that hour, anyway. And that's just for the weekend home games.

Right now, as I write this, it's just three, short hours since the flood ticket gates opened, and if you want three tickets to a Saturday game, you can still get them. I mean, not for games against Boston or the Mets. Or Detroit, or LAnahfornia. But, you know, against lousy teams, like the Royals, Pirates and Devil Rays, sure, you can get tickets. Those tickets are all either in the Tier or the bleachers. In some cases, you can get Tier Box seats to certain games. These tickets are about $45/each with applicable fees, and are only slightly closer to the playing field than, say, Alpha Centauri. They're called "Box" as opposed to "Reserved" seats because they're in the front of the Tier, which really just means that there are more people behind you who might spill their beer on your head. There are also, in some cases, Tier Box MVP tickets, where the "MVP" designation means that they're near the infield, but they're still in the 600-level of the Stadium, as you can see from the stadium map (complements of Ticketmaster and Yankees.com):

Read about the rest of my ordeal at MVN.com's Boy of Summer site...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

26 January 2007

Yankees Diving into China Baseball Talent Pool, Head-First

In a never ending effort to better the world in which they exist, the New York Yankees have found yet another way to provide social services for those in need. No longer satisfied with the retail efforts that principal owner George Steinbrenner had once spent on rehabilitating the likes of Steve Howe, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, the Yankees have now found a way to help ease the ills of an entire nation: The People’s Republic of China.

Sure, they’ve got more people than any other country on earth, over 1.3 billion of them according to a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimate last summer. Sure, they’re finally rebounding from decades of industrial atrophy, buying up available resources at a torrid pace, and rapidly becoming a real competitor in the world economy.

But they suck at baseball.

Find out how the Yankees will help the Chinese, er..., not suck at baseball, at my new MVN.com blog...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

24 January 2007

Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts and Nerve Took a Team to the Top

Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts and Nerve Took a Team to the Top
by Seth Mnookin

Hardcover, $26.00 US ($36.00 Can.)
c. 2006, Simon & Schuster

"...by the middle of November, they had a $20 million per year left fielder who wanted out, an $11 million shortstop so offended by the team's offer for an extension that his agent had told the Red Sox to trade him, and in Pedro Martinez, a $17.5 million per year starting pitcher who was already warning the team that if they didn't sign him to an extension before the season began, he wouldn't even speak with them once it was over. In the midst of all this, the Red Sox decided to pursue one of the most outspoken pitchers in all of baseball."

Any baseball fan with a modicum of intelligence (and who hasn't been under a rock for the last three years) should be able to deduce that this quote refers to the Boston Red Sox, in the autumn of 2003. In the wake of yet another heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Hated Yankees(TM), the Sawx threw caution to the wind, stockpiled the best talent available, and set out to win themselves the championship that had eluded the franchise for 86 long years.

It worked, of course.

Author Seth Mnookin, in his mnew (sorry, I couldn't help mnyself) book Feeding the Monster, chronicles not just how "Money, Smarts and Nerve Took a Team to the Top", as the subtitle indicates, but how ignorance, cowardice, mistrust, mismanagement and bad luck had kept that team down for decades at a time.

Read more about how the Hated Red Sox grew up, buckled down, and won themselves a trophy at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

16 January 2007

DPD: Big Mac's Attack by BBWAA Just a Slap on Wrist

The long-awaited 2007 National Baseball Hall of Fame voting results were announced last week, and as you know, there were two new entries. By nearly unanimous votes, San Diego padres outfielder Tony Gwynn and Baltimore Orioles SS/3B Cal Ripken, Jr. were both elected and will enter Cooperstown as the Class of 2007. Both were class-acts as people and as players, and both are richly deserving of this honor.

Speaking of honor, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) largely chose not to honor former Oakland and St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire with their votes, as more than three-quarters of them left him off their ballots in his first year of eligibility. The big questions stemming from that event are "Why?" and "Will he ever be elected?" Let's look at why the voters did or did not vote for him first.

The first thing to consider, as should always be the case for the Hall of fame, is why anyone should vote for a given player, so let's look at Big Mac's credentials. McGwire retired after the 2001 season with 583 career homers, which was 5th on the all-time leader list at the time, though he's since been passed by both Barry Bonds (734 and counting) and Sammy Sosa (588, and not). McGwire's relatively lackluster batting average (.263) and hit total (1626) are arguments against him as a Cooperstown Cronie, as was his generally paltry contribution to team defense, but five years ago, it was thought that his prodigious power and patience would more than compensate.

20 December 2007 Update:
The rest of this post was hosted on All-baseball.com last year, but then their server crashed and they had no backup, so my hard work is lost to posterity. Suffice it to say that, in my investigations, it seemed to me that most players who started out with around 25% of the vote eventually picked up enough steam to get in. Of course, there's never been an issue quite like this before, and it remains to be seen whether the BBWAA writers will be content to let their punishment be not voting for McGwire for one or two or three years, i.e. if they intend to vote for him eventually, just not now, or if they plan to leave him off the ballot forever.

I would think that McGwire would welcome the Mitchell Report and other such research, as the more names get linked to steroids, HGH and other performance enhancing drugs, the better he looks, right? According to at least one witness, in 2002, even the Marlins and Expos were using PEDs, and they weren't even any good! I mean, seriously, his cheating is really only a big deal if nobody else was doing it, right? But the more we learn, the more rampant the problem appears to have been, or perhaps, to still be. In short, if everyone (or almost everyone) was using PEDs when McGwire played, then the playing field was basically level again, albeit on a much higher plateau, and McGwire's dominance of that level is still very impressive.

If you want to keep Big Mac out of the Hall of Fame because you think he did something ethically wrong, essentially to take the "character" part of the Hall of Fame considerations out to their logical end, then sure, you can leave McGwire off your ballot as long as you want. But if the usage of PEDs was as rampant as Jose Canseco would have you believe in Juiced, or even as the Mitchell Report would suggest, then perhaps McGwire didn't have the advantage we think, and he really was that good.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

07 January 2007

DPD: Sad Epilogue to Big Unit's Career in Pinstripes

Randy Johnson's brief, underwhelming tenure with the New York Yankees is officially over.

A trade was completed last week, sending Johnson back from whence he came, to the Arizona Diamondbacks, for journeyman reliever Luis Vizcaino and three minor leaguers, but its completion was contingent upon a contract extension for the Big Unit, which was not finalized until Sunday, and a physical, which wa snot done until Monday. Having successfully completed both of those, Johnson has naught left to do but pack his extra-long suitcases and buy a plane ticket back to Phoenix. The five-time Cy Young Award winner undoubtedly leaves the Big Apple with some regrets, having failed to repeat the success he'd experienced in Arizona, and having failed to bring New York its first championship of the 21st Century. With such high expectations on the lanky lefty, the saga could hardly have ended in anything but disappointment, but most Yankee fans could not be happier.

Join the Randy Johnson pity-party at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

30 November 2006

DPD: Japanese Pitchers and American Dollars: A Match Made in Mystery

This is one of my favorite games. It's called "Guess the Pitchers". I give you their statistics and you tell me (telepathically, of course) who they are. Here you go:

      Yrs   G     IP      H    R    ER   HR   BB    K     W   L   ERA
Mr. I 8 190 1244.0 1149 504 435 116 395 1174 86 60 3.15
Mr. M 8 204 1402.7 1102 508 459 112 502 1355 108 60 2.95

Mr. M has a slight edge in most of the statistics, with a few more games pitched, innings, and strikeouts, and fewer homers, though notably more walks. His ERA is slightly better as well, and his win-loss record is much better, though we know that this is often due to the pitcher's teammates and their ability to hit more than his ability to pitch. The most astute of you have already guessed at who "Mr. M" is, and some of you may know who "Mr. I" is as well, especially if you've already figured out his competitor. Let me give you some more info:

                   Age   G   IP   H    R  ER  HR  BB   K    W  L   ERA
Mr. I 6-yr Avg. 27.5 29 198 182 79 68 18 61 187 14 9 3.09
Mr. M 8-yr Avg. 26.0 26 175 138 64 57 14 63 169 14 8 2.93

Those are the average seasons for the two pitchers since they've been starters. Mr. M is slightly younger, but has been a full-time starter for two years longer, whereas Mr. I pitched only a handful of innings for his first two seasons in this league, so I omitted them in looking at their averages. Mr. M certainly gets credit for having been so good at a younger age, but he also has suffered through a few truncated seasons in his career, which have helped to dampen the sheen on his otherwise sparkling statistics, for his "average" season, anyway. Mr. I now has a slight edge in innings, about 23 more per season than Mr. M, and as a starter, his HR/9 and K/9 rates are very similar, and his BB/9 rate is a bit better, though his hits/inning numbers are not nearly as dominant as those of Mr. M.

When you look at the pitchers strictly on their rate stats, the picture becomes a little clearer:

Name    IP  IP/G   H/9  HR/9  BB/9  K/9   ERA
Mr. I 198 6.80 8.27 0.82 2.77 8.50 3.09
Mr. M 175 6.70 7.10 0.72 3.24 8.69 2.93

Both pitchers provide almost seven innings per start, strikeout almost a batter per inning, and allow around three earned runs per nine innings, on average. Mr. I is slightly stingier with walks, to the tune of about half a walk per nine innings, but Mr. M is much more reluctant to give up hits, over a hit/game better, and is also slightly better at preventing homers.

The pitchers seem fairly even in many respects, with Mr. I's edge in durability largely offsetting Mr. M's edge in dominance with hits. Mr. M's year an a half of youth is an edge too, but not an enormous one.

Now, just one more stat for you to ponder:

Mr. I: $26 Million
Mr. M $51.1 Million

Who the heck are these guys? Find out at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

21 November 2006

DPD: 136 Million Reasons the Cubs Will Regret Soriano's Contract

OK, so its not quite that many...

Free agent OF Alfonso Soriano has reportedly signed an eight-year, $136 Million deal with the Chicago Cubs, with whom he is expected to hit lead-off, play left or center-field, and make lots of money while anchoring the better part of a decade's worth of disappointing Cubs teams.

Of course, that's not how the Cubs are billing it, but that's how it will be.

In many ways, Soriano was the biggest available hitter in this year's free agent market. Back in March, when Soriano made a big stink about being asked to play right field for the Washington Nationals, I argued that he was missing the point, and that working his butt off would do a lot more for his market value than just being a secondbaseman would. Turns out that he took my advice, had arguable his best season in 2006, and got himself a pretty nice payday for it. RFK Stadium wasn't quite the Death Valley for hitters in 2006 that it had been in 2005, but with a park factor of 97, it was still a bit more favorable to pitchers than hitters, and yet Soriano set career highs in homers (46) and slugging percentage (.560). More important, perhaps, is that he set a career high in on-base percentage as well (.351), Equivalent average (.300), and Wins Above Replacement Position (8.6), largely due to a career high in walks (67), more than doubling his walk total from 2005. (Granted, 16 of those were intentional, but that still makes 51 unintentional bases on balls, which are 20 more than he had ever had in a single season before.)

Soriano was expected to become a star. A shortstop in the Yankees minor leagues, his combination of speed and power made him a rare commodity as a player, so much more as an infielder, so it was reasonable to overlook his lack of plate discipline and his defensive shortcomings at second base, at least for a while. Though he was showing improvement in that regard while with the Yankees, he regressed considerably as a Texas Ranger, making it reasonable to consider switching him to the outfield, which seems to have worked. He also set a career high in Fielding Runs Above Average (+9) in 2006, which probably accounts for about two wins difference in his actual and expected WARP numbers all by itself.

Those improvements allowed Soriano to sign one of the half-dozen or so richest multi-year contracts in baseball history, with his annual salary trailing only those of A-Rod ($25 million), Manny Ramirez ($20M), His Clutchness ($19M), and Todd Helton ($18M). The real question for the Cubs and their fans: Is he worth it?

Find out if Alfonso Soriano will live up to his contract at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

13 November 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect Profile: Kevin Whelan

Kevin Whelan, RHP
Full Name: Kevin J. Whelan
DOB: 8 January 1984, Kerrville,TX
Ht: 6' 0" Wt: 200 Bats/Throws: R
College: Texas A&M University
Drafted: Tigers's 4th-round (120th overall) pick in 2005.

Part of the swag from the Gary Sheffield trade, Whelan was initially a catcher in college, but didn't hit much, and was converted from catching to pitching in 2004, his junior year. After spending his entire senior year as the ace reliever for an Aggies team that finished 9th, with a 9-18 record in the Big 12 Conference, (30-25-1 overall), Whelan was drafted by the Tigers last year. He anchored the bullpen for that lackluster team, going 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA, a team-best four saves and 40 strikeouts in 31 innings, though he also walked 20 batters.

Pro Career:
After the draft, the Tigers took the cautious approach with him, placing him in the NY-Penn League (Short-Season), where he struck out 19 and allowed only two hits (but six walks) in his first 12 innings of work. That got him a promotion to West Michigan in the Midwest League (A-ball), where he was even better. He allowed only 4 hits and two walks in 12 and one-third innings while striking out 22 and allowing only one run in 14 appearances. Granted, this was a polished, 21-year old collegiate relief ace playing against a lot of 19- and 20-year olds with less experience, but to some degree, success is still success.

Obviously ready for a tougher challenge, but still without even 25 innings of minor league experience, the Tigers kept Whelan on the slow-and-steady road, pushing him to the High-A Florida State League in 2006, where he stayed the year and did pretty well. With a little more exposure, his control was again shown to be his biggest weakness (29 walks in 54 innings), but he continued to otherwise embarass the opposition, striking out 69 batters and allowing only 33 hits all season, while going 4-1 with 27 saves and a 2.67 ERA that was considerably better than the league's collective 3.79 ERA.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

08 November 2006

DPD: American League 2006 Season Awards

2006 AL MVP Contenders

This year's AL MVP Award looks to be about as wide open a race as we have ever seen for such an award. The "experts" are predicting that Derek Jeter will win it, and so am I, but then both the experts and I thought that the Cardinals would get beaten in the first round of the playoffs, and look how that turned out. There's a distinct possibility that something wacky could happen with the voting, like we saw in 1999 when Pedro Martinez's AL MVP Award went to Ivan Rodriguez, and nobody saw it coming. I hope not, but then stranger things have happened.

There are essentially four guys who can lay some kind of claim to being the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2006, maybe five.

One of the early favorites for the award was White Sox OF Jermaine Dye, who had his best year ever, with a .308 average, 44 homers, 120 RBIs, and 103 runs scored. But that was before the defending champs faded in September and finished in third place in the AL Central, six games behind the Twins. ChiSox DH Jim Thome deserves a mention as well, with 42 homers, 108 rins, 109 RBIs and 107 walks (the 8th time in his career he's cracked the century mark in all three of those in a single season), and a .288 batting average that is the best he's had since he hit .304 in 2002, his last year in Cleveland. But third place and no defense makes Thome a fifth-place candidate for AL MVP, at best, though he'll likely win the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

If you like the new-fangled statistical measures of Baseball Prospectus and their ilk, then you have to at least allow Indians' DH Travis Hafner into the discussion. (Heck, even if you don't like those stats, you should consider him simply because he has the best first name in the history of mankind!) Travis had a .355 EqA, best in the major leagues, almost ten points better than Albert Pujols, who's generally considered the best player in the major leagues right now. Unfortunately for Hafner, he got hurt and missed the last month of the season, and his team finished 78-84, well out of contention in the AL Central Division. It's tough to get serious MVP consideration when you only play 129 games, no matter how good you are in them, so Pronk, you're out of the running too.

Speaking of Designated Hitters with cool nicknames, there's Big Papi. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, last year's AL MVP runner-up to Alex Rodriguez, looks like he'll probably place second once again to a Yankee infielder. Ortiz was phenomenal in 2005, and was even better this year, setting a Red Sox record for home runs in a season, and with a team that has boasted the likes of Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Manny Ramirez, that's really an impressive feat. Unfortunately for Big Papi, his teammates came up pretty small in 2006, finishing with a respectable 86-76 record, but 11 games behind the Yankees and, for the first time in a decade, in third place, behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Ortiz finished first in Equivalent Runs, second in Eq. Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP), and third in EqA, but it's tough to vote for a guy who doesn't play defense and whose team finished 11 games behind their division winner.

As I mentioned, of course, the Yankee infielder who will probably win the AL MVP is Shortstop Derek Jeter. He was only 7th in the AL in EqA, with a .316 mark, behind Hafner, Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi and Joe Mauer. However, because he got more playing time than almost everybody in line in front of him, he's third in Equivalent Runs, with 119.5 (behind Ortiz with 130 and Grady Sizemore with 125.5), and third in RARP, with 68.7, behind Hafner (70.7) and Ortiz (69.1). RARP is the most telling of the numbers because it adjusts for the relative strength of the position they play and shows how much the player was really worth to his team, above a replacement-level guy (say, Nick Green, for example), and two runs are essentially statistically insignificant. So if you've got three guys who are basically a statistical wash, but one of them plays for the best team in the AL and the other two play for teams that finished WAY out of contention, I think you have to give the vote to the guy who plays for the winner.

But that's not the only thing to consider. Since Hafner and Ortiz don't play defense, they neither contribute to nor detract from their team's success with their gloves, so that's the end of their contribution. Jeter, however, is an everyday shortstop, and depending on your perspective, is either one of the best or one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league.

Yankees Chick argued, about a month ago, for Jeter to win it, in part based on his defense, but I'm very reluctant to give him much credit in that department. If you look at traditional fielding stats, he's 4th in the AL in fielding percentage among nine qualified shortstops, he's 9th in double plays turned, 7th in Zone Rating (among 9 qualified SS candidates) and is dead last in range factor. I was at a game this year in which Jeter missed two easy grounders to his right, somehow managing to STEP ON HIS OWN GLOVE while trying to field the latter of the two. This is not a good fielding shortstop. The only reason he didn't make more than 15 errors is that he never gets to anything, so there's rarely a ball to bobble or throw away. Baseball Prospectus measures defense in Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and Jeter's a +7 in that area, a little better than average, which seems generous to me. He won another Gold Glove, but that's essentially a popularity contest, as Michael Young (+20 Fielding Runs Above Replacement) and Jhonny Peralta (+24 FRAA) both had much better cases for that. Nevertheless, the fact that he plays defense, and the fact that he's not a total disaster at it, only helps his case.

In addition, stealing a career-high 34 bases in 39 attempts sure adds to his offensive value. Not like, say, hitting 35 more home runs would, but a lot.

So overall, I'm inclined to give the AL MVP to Derek Jeter, by the slimmest of margins, over Big Papi and Pronk. My ballot would look like this:

1.  Derek Jeter
2. David Ortiz
3. Travis Hafner
4. Jermaine Dye
5. Johan Santana
6. Justin Morneau
7. Frank Thomas
8. Grady Sizemore
9. Joe Mauer
10. Jim Thome

Check out my take on the other 2006 American league Awards at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

31 October 2006

DPD: Worst. Champion. Ever.

Well, the regular season is over. The postseason is over, and we now officially have the Worst World Champion Ever, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, at least on paper. Their 83-78 record in the regular season is 1.5 games worse than the 1987 Minnesota Twins, who went 85-77, but actually got outscored over the course of the season, 786-806 runs. At least the 2006 Cardinals were a winning team by their Pythagenport Projection, if only slightly.

Though that sounds harsh, I really don't mean disrespect to the Cardinals or their fans. They did what they had to do to win, and they deserve credit for that. They beat the team that beat my Yankees, so kudos to them for that as well. But the system is broken when a team that barely wins half of its games over the regular season is even allowed to compete for something called a "World Championship". That's not the Cardinals' fault. It's baseball's.

Read the rest at Double PLay Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

26 October 2006

DPD: Jeter Wins Hank Aaron MVP Consolation Trophy

At the other end of the baseball players' class scale is Derek Jeter. Yankee Captain, His Clutchness, the anti-Sheff. Call him whatever you want, but now you can call him the Mr. 2006 Hank Aaron Award Winner.

OK, by a show of hands, how many of you even knew that MLB gave out a "Hank Aaron Award"?

Of those, how many knew what it was for?

How many of you knew who's won it in any of the last several years?

How many of you even know how long they've had the damn thing?

Well, since there are only three of you left with your hands up, (and you don't count, Mr. Selig...), I'll tell you. According to MLB.com:

This coveted honor is awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in both the American League and National League. Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.

First of all, I think it's hard to call something "coveted" if nobody knows it exists.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

DPD: Sheffield Needs Consolation for Earning “Only” $13M in 2007

With another (unplanned) off-day in the 2006 playoffs, the baseball media outlets are pretty desperate for stories. The rain in St. Louis last night prevented anyone from playing a game, which by extension prevented anyone from writing about the game, so ESPN and others are scraping the bottom of the barrel for baseball sotries. The Yankees are a big market, and therefore a big draw, so among their top nine headlines (alongside the lead story: "It Rained Last Night") are no fewer than four Yankees-related items.

• Sheffield angered over Yanks' plans to pick up option
• Jeter: No tension lingers in maligned Yankee clubhouse
• Phillies' Howard, Yankees' Jeter win Hank Aaron Award
• Rumor Central: Yankees looking to trade Sheffield

Of course, the first and last of those are related to each other, so if you'll indulge me, we'll handle them together, and I'll get to the Derek Jeter stuff in a separate column.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

24 October 2006

DPD: Kenny Rogers’ Cheating, Scuffs and Spit-balls, and LaRussa’s Mistake

Few things can help a writer get out of a funk like a postseason controversy, especially on an off-day.

After the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention two weeks ago, I had a hard time gearing up for writing anything else. The Mets beat the Dodgers? They were supposed to do that. The Tigers swept the Athletics? Well, they were the better team all year. The Cardinals ousted the Padres? Well, San Diego wasn't exactly a juggernaut. A thrilling, 7-game NLCS that came down to the last inning of the last game? Hey, Jeff Suppan was the MVP...how thrilling could it be? The Phillies spend over $10 million on a 43-year old pitcher? That probably won't even be among the Top Five Dumbest Things the Phillies Do in the Next Two Years.

But this Kenny Rogers thing has had a life of its own, and it's given me a new lease on my life as a baseball commentator. I got inspired yesterday and cranked out some statistics and a short column in about an hour, and I got the most visitors I've had in weeks, and each of the comments to that post has forced me to think harder, dig deeper, and analyze the issues even more thoroughly.

First of all, it has become apparent to me from some of the comments to yesterday's post, as well as some of the other articles I've seen out there in InterWeb Land, that there are some fundamentals of pitching physics that not everyone understands, so I thought I would expound on those.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

23 October 2006

DPD: Kenny Rogers’ Thumb Not the Reason for Scoreless Streak

Let me introduce you to two pitchers:

             IP     H   ER   BB   SO   W    L    ERA
Pitcher N 184.0 72 0 56 152 24 0 0.00
Pitcher P 170.2 296 160 128 120 0 24 8.44

There has never been so stark a difference in two pitchers in the history of major league baseball. Pitcher P is unbeatable, a perfect 24-0, never allowing a run. There has never been anyone this good for this long, excepting perhaps in SuperNintendo Baseball. On the other hand, Pitcher P has lost every decision, walked more than he's struck out, and allowed almost 300 hits despite pitching barely enough innings to qualify for the league's annual ERA title. The only real similarity between these two guys is that no one has ever been this bad for this long either, because anyone with an ERA over 8.00 for more than a month or two usually gets sent back to the minors, and anyone this bad for an entire season is probably bagging groceries for a living the next season.

Wait a minute. Here's one more similarity between them:

They're both Kenny Rogers.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

21 October 2006

World Series Preview 2006: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Detroit Tigers

After getting burned a bit on my previous round of postseason pics, I took a little time off to reflect, and see what I really know about baseball. OK, so "getting burned a bit" is almost as big an understatement as "a little worried about North Korea"...I went 0-for-4 on the Divisional Series, picking teh Mets, Dodgers, Yankees and Twins to go a combined 12-5, when in reality, all four teams lost their respective series, winning a grand total of two games among them. Just call me Travis "Golden Sombrero" Nelson.

I took the NLCS and ALCS off, more due to lack of time to read and write about baseball than some sort of profound re-evaluation of my life's ambitions, but it doesn't matter: Both series ended exactly the opposite of how I would have picked them anyway. In fact, I'll just go ahead her and state my post-dictions (?) for both series:

NLCS: Cardinals @ Mets: Mets in five. The Cardinals don't stand a chance.

ALCS: Tigers @ Athletics: A's in four. Barry Zito and Frank Thomas will tame the Tigers.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to analyzing the World Series that actually will happen...

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Detroit Tigers

It's easy to look at the way the Cardinals gutted out a dramatic, 9th inning win in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Mets Thursday night and call them the "hot team", but the fact of the matter is that the Cardinals' last three-game winning streak ended on September 1st. That's right: they haven't won more than two games in a row in over a month and a half. This is not a "hot" team. What they are is a team that has been fortunate to keep its foes at bay while they lick their collective wounds.

In the absence of Mark Mulder and Jason Isringhausen, perrenial LAIM Jeff Suppan (a sandwich) stepped up to win the NLCS MVP award, and Adam Wainwright has saved three games in three opportunities. The pitching has been solid in the postseason, but hardly dominant. Suppan allowed only 5 hits in 15 NLCS innings, but he also only struck out 6 and walked six, succeeding with moxy and solid defense rather than "stuff". (By the way, has there ever been a mediocre player on any postseason team that didn't have a lot of "moxy"? To hear Tim McCarver talk about it, "moxy" must be the most abundant substance on the planet.)

Regardless of their intangible qualities, Jeffs Weaver and Suppan will have a hard time repeating their success against the Tigers, not because the Tigers are a better-hitting team than the Mets (they're not) but because the Jeffs' luck is due to run out. Weaver had a 5.76 ERA this season, and had only one month with an ERA under 5.47 (September, when it was 4.15) before October, and hasn't had consecutive Quality Starts (6+ innings, 3 or fewer Earned Runs) since late May. Suppan went 6-2 with a 2.39 ERA after the All-Star Break and has a 1.86 ERA in 19.1 postseason innings, but he's been pretty lucky with hits to do that, and that can't last forever. With that said, Chris Carpenter has pitched exactly like, well, Chris Carpenter, this postseason, with the noted exception of his 5-inning, 5-run performance against the Mets in Game 2 of the NLCS last week. Unfortunately, Carpenter will likely get to pitch only once this series, because the Cardinals probably won't win any of the games in which he doesn't pitch. But I'll get back to that.

The Cardinals' offense hasn't exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either, for that matter. They've scored a total of 42 runs in the 11 postseason games they've played, or 3.8/game, hitting a collective .256/.337/.413, including .248/.341/.434 in the NLCS. They got homers from banjo-hitting (and now injured) 2B David Eckstein, reserve OF So Taguchi, starting Pitcher Jeff Suppan and not one but two bombs from catcher Yadier Molina, who went from hitting .216/.274/.321 to hitting, .348/.423/.652 in the NLCS. Time for him, and more specifically his bat, to turn back into a pumpkin. It's one thing to acknowledge a great performance when it happens. It's quote another to counton that happening every night out to get you the "W", and that's what the Cards have had to do for the last week or two.

The Mets' pitchers did their jobs, overall, but their hitters didn't show up and sophomore manager Willie Randolph simply got out-managed by veteran field skipper Tony LaRussa. Grizzled Tigers' manager Jim Leyland won't let that happen to his team, I assure you. (On the other hand, I just watched Albert Pujols stroke a two-run homer to right with two outs and first base open in the third inning, so I could be wrong about that.)

The Tigers, on the other hand, have won seven straight games in the postseason, and those were no slouches they were playing, the 97-win Yankees and the 93-win Oakland A's. Their team led the majors in ERA (3.84) and adjusted ERA (117), so it wasn't just the cavernous Comerica Park that helped them keep the ball in the yard. The Cards, by contrast, were 9th in the 16-team NL, with a 4.54 ERA despite te fact that Busch Stadium actually suppressed run scoring by about 2% this season.

The Tigers were 5th in the AL in runs scored per game, at 5.07, while the Cardinals placed a respectable sixth in that category in the Senior Circuit, at 4.85. Comerica has more of a reputation as a pitcher's park than does Busch Stadium, but in reality, there's been little difference between the two parks for the last few seasons.

The Cardinals had a lot of luck in the playoffs to get this far, after limping into the postseason on the merits of having the least-bad record in the weakest division in baseball. Their pitching is not as good as it has looked forthe last week and a half, and it's bound to revert to form sooner or later. My guess is that the Tigers find a way to contain Albert Pujols and the Cardinals pitchers' luck runs out.

Prediction: Tigers in six.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

03 October 2006

DPD: National League Playoff Preview

Cardinals Lose, but Win; Astros' Star Fades

See? I told you the Astros wouldn't make it this year!

But man, were they darn close.

It was a fairly convoluted set of circuimstances that would have gotten the Houstons into the playoffs again, but with the Cardinals having lost eight games of their 8.5 game lead in less than two weeks, it seemed like it just might be plausible. The Astros had to win and the Cards had to lose on Sunday, which would have left the St. Louises with a half-game lead, and they'd have had to play a make-up game with the Giants on Monday. If they lost that game, they would have had a one-game, winner-take-all playoff with Houston on Tuesday for the NL Central title, with the winner of that game starting its series against the NL West winner on Wednesday. Talk about an intense schedule.

Unfortunately Houston lost on Sunday, 3-1 to Atlanta, ending the possibility of what would have been the most dramatic collapse in MLB history. (That title still belongs to the 1964 Phillies. Couldn't have happened to a better city.)

In any case, the Cardinals "won" their division with a pretty unimpressive 83-78 record, and are only 36-39 since the All-Star Break. They've still got the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in Chris Carpenter, but he's given up 12 runs in 15 innings in his last two starts. Jeff Suppan has been his usual LAIM self, maybe aeven a little better than that, but the rest of the staff is full of question marks. Will young Anthony Reyes be able to buckle down under playoff pressure? Will Jeff Weaver pitch like someone who deserves to make over $8 million? Will Jason Marquis (2-8, 6.96 ERA since the start of August) um...not suck? Will the makeshift bullpen be able to keep their crap together? The bullpen is only 10-of-17 in save opportunities since the All-Star Break, and only 3-of-6 in September.

The Cards still have the best hitter in the National League at first base and some solid guys in Chris Duncan and Scott Rolen, but Jim Edmonds is a shell of his former self, and nobody else in the lineup is particularly scary.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

02 October 2006

DPD: Wild Finish for MLB Season; American League Playoff Preview

It's been a long time since we had this much excitement on the last day of the regular season. The advent of the Wild Card has often meant that formerly exciting pennant races have lost some of their luster, as frequently the team that loses the division title still wins the Wild Card. Rob Neyer lamented this problem in his Big Book of Baseball Blunders, calling the 1993 NL West race between the Dodgers and Giants the "Last Real Pennant Race", but I imagine that he was pretty pleased to find that he once again had a real pennant race to follow when the last day o fthe 2006 season rolled around. For that matter, in addition to the identity of the NL Central Division winner, the seeding of four other playoff teams was not yet know before the start of game play yesterday either. And even more exciting than that, my fantasy baseball team, the Flying Zucchini Bros, was just one point out of first place with a whole day of games left to play. I could hardly contain myself...

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

22 September 2006

DPD: Blame Rocket for Astros' Crash

Two years ago, the Houston Astros sat at exactly 52-52 by the end of July, the very picture of mediocrity. They then proceeded to rattle off 40 wins in their remaining 58 games, including a 23-7 record in September and October, and won the NL Wild Card by one game over the San Francisco Giants. Though they eventually lost the NLCS to St. Louis, they took that series to seven games and might have won it with a bit more luck. More important, perhaps, they actually beat the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series, three games to two, and finally shook off the stigma that this franchise could not win in the postseason.

One year ago, the Houston Astros were just 44-43 at the All-Star break, but got hot in July and again won the NL Wild Card by one game, this time over the *choke* Philadelphia Phillies. Again they beat the Braves in the Division Series, but this time they took care of the St. Louises in six games, advancing to the World Series for the first time since the founding of the franchise in 1962. Still a great year, by almost any measure.

And this year? Well, this year the good people of Houston will have to content themselves with being disappointed during the regular season, because there ain't no Miracle Comeback in this team's 2006 storybook. As things stand now, the NL Wild Card race looks like this:

Dodgers 80 73 0.523 -
Phillies 79 73 0.520 0.5
Florida 76 77 0.497 4.0
Giants 75 77 0.493 4.5
Atlanta 75 78 0.490 5.0
Reds 74 78 0.487 5.5
Houston 74 78 0.487 5.5
Arizona 72 80 0.473 7.5

Though they won last night, at the end of the day of September 20th, the Astros were 73-78, five games under .500. For comparison's sake, the Astros were five games under .500 last year as well. On July 1st, 36-41. They had over half their schedule remaining to make up those games, and they still only beat out the Phillies by one game. This year, with less than two weeks left to play, there will not be any such resurgence by this team. They will not find a way to climb over six other teams in two weeks and win a third straight playoff berth. They will not get a chance to defend their National League title.

And why? Well, the reasons, as you might expect, are manifold.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

14 September 2006

DPD: Strange Choices in DHL/MLB "Hometown Heroes" Promo, National League Edition

In my continuing series, which focuses on picking apart the choices given to you in the MLB/DHL Hometown Heroes promotion, we look today at the National League options...

Arizona Diamondbacks
On the list: Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, Matt Williams

What's He Doing Here??? Todd Stottlemyre? Are you kidding? He went 15-11 with a 4.77 ERA in 217 innings spread out over three years. He racked up eight Win Shares, one more than Rick Helling, and one less than Javier Vazquez and Mike Morgan. For comparison, the immortal Arizona hero Mike Koplove has ten more Win Shares as a D-Back than does Stottlemyre. Byun-Hyung Kim has almost eight times as many.

Where's the Love, Man? How soon we forget. The hitters listed above are ranked #1, #3 and #4 in all-time D-Back Win Shares among hitters. Number two is Steve Finley, who has almost twice as many (109) as Matt Williams (58). Also, Curt Schilling twice won 20+ games for Arizona in his three and a half seasons there, finishing 10th in the NL MVP voting and 2nd in the NL Cy Young voting both of those years, not to mention his World Series co-MVP award in 2001. Seems like there's a general aversion to recently departed free agents and/or guys who asked to be traded.

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: John McCain?

And the Winner is... Luis Gonzalez has the most Win Shares (191 to the Big Unit's 161) but Johnson won four Cy Young Awards. In a row. And he should have gotten the award that Clemens took home in 2004. That's a hero to me, even if he's not that pitcher any longer.

Atlanta Braves
On the list: Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones, Phil Niekro, John Smoltz, Warren Spahn

What's He Doing Here??? John Smoltz is the last remaining face from the team that won all those division titles, but he's got almost exactly the same number of Win Shares as Greg Maddux, and he took six more seasons to get them. Similarly, Chipper won an MVP award, but has almost 100 fewer career Win Shares that another former Brace third-sacker...

Where's the Love, Man? ...Eddie Mathews! Mathews was a walking, homer hitting (512 in his career, back when that meant something) machine who spent 15 years playing for this franchise and is the only person to play for it in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta, for whatever that's worth. Maddux, as I mentioned, should be on the list as well, gven that he's a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who made his mark in Atlanta, winning three of his four Cy Young Awards there, ten of his 15 Gold Gloves, and 194 of his 330 career wins.

Going way back, Kid Nichols won 329 games for the Boston Braves in the 1890's, amassing 411 Win Shares there, 133 more than Warren Spahn, on the way to Cooperstown.

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: Ted Turner?

And the Winner is... Henry Aaron. The man played forever, going to 21 consecutive All-Star games, and hitting 733 of his record 755 career homers in a Braves uniform. There's just no competition for him here.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

13 September 2006

DPD: Strange Choices in DHL/MLB "Hometown Heroes" Promo, American League Edition

I know it's just a promotion, and why DHL is associated with is is beyond me, but as I looked over the ballot for the "Hometown Heroes" voting it seemed to me that there were several curious selsctions on it, and off it for that matter. There was a bit of publicity about Sammy Sosa not making the list of five players for the Cubs about a month ago, but that was really all I heard, when it seems to me that there were more than a few players who could feel appropriatley slighted for having been left off the ballot of one team or another. For another thing, there were some that seemingly had no business being on the ballot but for some reason were, so I thougth I would run down these, just for grits and shiggles, and see if anyone else had any ideas on players I might have missed. In some cases these are public relations decisions, like Sosa, I suspect, but others are simply oversights because we've forgotten some of the rich (and older) history of theis great game.

Baltimore Orioles

On the list: Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson

What's He Doing Here??? Frank Robinson was a fantastic player, and he did win a Triple Crown, an MVP Award, and two World Series (including a World Series MVP Award) with Baltimore, but he only spent six years of his 21-season career in an Orioles uniform. Ken Singleton had more of most of the counting stats as an Oriole than Frank Robinson did.

Where's the Love, Man? George Sisler. Hello? Anybody remember that the Orioles spent the first 52 years of their mostly miserable existence in St. Louis? Granted, that's a different "home town" but it seems ridiculous to pretend that the franchise just sprang into existence from the ether in 1954, doesn't it? Sisler hit over .400 twice for the Browns, owns the franchise's all-time record for career batting average (.344), steals (351) and triples (145), and is third or fourth on the team in numerous other offensive stats.

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: Eddie Gaedel, Pete Gray?

And the Winner Is... Cal Ripken. Even if he didn't deserve it, he would win, since the collective memory of people who vote on the Internet is about ten years, at most.

Boston Red Sox
On the list:Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Cy Young

What's He Doing Here???Can't complaing much about these guys, four Hall of Famers and a borderline guy in Rice. Cy Young only spent 8 of 22 seasons in Boston, but the dud holds the career wins record (with the Rocket) for the Boston franchise, so you can't begrudge them his name on the list.

Where's the Love, Man?Pedro Martinez. He spent seven years in Red Socks, only one less than Cy, compiling a 117-37 record, for a .760 winning percentage that isn't only the best in Boston history, it's the best record of any pitcher with any team who's gotten at least 100 decisions. He won two Cy Young Awards, finished third or higher in the voting three other times, and probably should have won Pudge's 1999 MVP. All of that in seven seasons. Also, Wade Boggs won five batting titles and amassed over 2,000 hits as a Red Sock. Of course, who do you bump from the list?

Wouldn't It Have Been Funny if They'd Included: Bill Buckner?

And the Winner Is... The Kid. The Splinter. The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. Nobody is more closely associated with the Red Sox franchise than Teddy "F-ing" Ballgame.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

08 September 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Phul Hughes Videos from Wednesday's AA Trenton Thunder Playoff Game

In advance, I'm just going to apologize for the shaky nature and grainy texture of the videos below. I was using a 4-year old Sony handicam, and it does a nice enough job, but without a tripod (and really, without half a dozen of them stationed around the park), it's tough to follow the action.

Phil Hughes throws his first two pitches of the game, before allowing the leadoff single.

Phil Hughes allowed a leadoff single in the first inning.

Hughes was apparently unfazed by the leadoff single, as he proceeded to strikeout the side in the first. My brother and I, like one of yesterday's commenters, noted that the catcher's mitt wasn't really "popping" with his fastball early in the game, but we distinctly heard it later on. I don't think it occurred to us at the time that it was connected to having given up the run, but that supports the description Baseball Prospectus (I think) gave about him last year, that he normally lives in the 90-91 mph range, but can reach back and hit 94-95 when needed.

I was really impressed with Hughes’ mechanics. The videos (more after the jump) give you some sense of the consistency of his delivery over the course of the game.

I sort of down-played the baseball america quote in Hughes’ profile at the end of last year, the one where he was referred to as “Mark Prior Lite” but I see what they mean now. He’s well-built, finishes his delivery in good fielding position, with his shoulders square to the plate, no extra movement, no falling off to the side, and the ability to get batters out with less than his best fastball. This kid is going to be great.

See the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Pending Pinstripes: Hideki Matsui Videos from Wednesday's AA Trenton Thunder Playoff Game

These are some videos I got of Hideki Matsui during Wednesday night's Game 1 of the AA Eastern League's Northern Divisional Playoffs, Godzilla's first pro game in months.

Though a considerable number of media members turned out to cover this game specifically because of Hideki Matsui, as did a lot of the fans in attendance, the patronage was suprisingly low for a playoff game featuring a Yankee star outfielder making his first pro appearance in four months. Only 5,114 turned out for the Wednesday night game, compared to the Trenton season average of over 5,900. Nevertheless, when the teams were intorduced, Matsui got far and away the loudest cheers.

Yankee OF and Hero of All Japan, Hideki Matsui, getting cheered as he steps to the plate for his first at-bat in a professional game in nearly four months. matsui broke his wrist diving for a ball in the outfield on May 10th against the Red Sox, and he's now making his rehab starts as a DH for AA Trenton, which is in the Eastern league Norther Divisional playoffs.

See the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Pending Pinstripes: Phil Hughes Fans 13; Matsui Upstaged in Rehab Start

Godzilla hadn't been upstaged this badly since Mothra showed him who was boss back in 1964!

On a night when a myriad of reporters (90 media credentials were reportedly issued by the Thunder, two-thirds of them for Japanese reporters) and fans turned out to watch Yankees OF Hideki Matsui, Phil Hughes was the real star. He fanned 13 batters in six innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk, but did not factor in the decision for the Thunder. Trenton took the lead in the seventh inning and went on to beat the Portland Sea Dogs 3-1 in the first of a five game series, the first playoff win in Trenton's 13-year existence.

Phil Hughes apparently missed the memo about how young players are supposed to get nervous in high-pressure spots. The only spots Hughes concerned himself with last night were the four on the corners of the strike zone, which he hit consistently with his 94 mph fastball and knee-buckling curve. He just went out there and threw strikes, and let his "stuff" do the rest. I guess when you have major-league caliber stuff at age 20, you can get away with that.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

05 September 2006

Pending Pinstripes: AA Trenton Thunder 2006 Season Summary

Unlike the Columbus Clippers, the Trenton Thunder actually had a good year in 2006. They won the AA Eastern League's Northern Division handily, with an 80-62 record that is 6.5 games better than the second place Portland Sea Dogs. Portland clinched yesterday. The Thunder will have home-field advantage in a five-game series against Portland starting Wednesday, and if they win that series, they'll face either the Akron Aeros or the Altoona Curve, the first and second-place teams in the Southern Division. There's an even bigger gap between first and second place in the Southern Division than there is in the Northern, 10.5 games. Nevertheless, this playoff format awards playoff berths to not one, but two second-place teams. Also, the Eastern League must have some weird rules, because despite the fact that he hasn't swung a bat for them all season, Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui will be permitted to play for Trenton, making his rehab starts with them, in the playoffs.


Overall, the Trenton Thunder have hit only .257 as a team, good for 4th in the Eastern League, but they are second in OBP (.330), Slugging (.399) and OPS (.728), which is why they ended up second in runs scored (659, or 4.64/game). The Thunder are also second in total bases (1909), hits (1229), RBIs (603), tied for 2nd in doubles (253), third in the league homers (121) and steals (117), and tied for 4th with 32 triples. In every category in which the Thunder rank second, the Akron Aeros are first, leading the league in almost every offensive stat possible. The two stats in which Trenton does lead the EL are walks (475) and fewest steals (40), which gives them the best stolen base percentage in the league, at 74.5%. Akron, the offensive juggernaut that won the Southern Division by more than ten games, will likely be the Thunder's opponent for the Eastern League Championship, if Trenton can get past Portland in the first round.

Read the rest at pending Pinstripes...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

03 September 2006

Columbus Clippers 2006 Overview, 9/2/2006

The Yankees' highest minor league affiliate has had sort of an up and down year. With all the injuries that have decimated the major league roster, many of the attempts to get help have come from the Clippers, therefore decimating the AAA roster as well. Now seven games out of first place, and 4.5 games out of third place. The Clippers will finish the season in last place in the International League's West division, even if they win their last two games, as the best they can do is 70-72.

On the offensive side of the ball, the team does not have a lot of highlights. At least to this point, only Mitch Jones has hit as many as 20 homers, 21 actually, though Jones has only a .234 batting average and 145 strikeouts in 121 games). 1B/DH Carlos Pena had 19, with a team-high 63 walks, before he was picked up by the Red Sox organization. Nobody else has more than 13 homers. Bronson Sardinha has hit .286/.362/.497 since his promotion to Columbus a month and a half ago, but nobody with more than his 250 plate appearances has hit over .280. Danny Garcia leads the team with 19 steals, and Kevin Thompson has 17, but no one else has more than seven. Pretty down year for the Clippers hitters, as a whole.

Raed the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

01 September 2006

Red Sox Deal Wells in Wake of Unforseen Collapse

Back in January, I suggested that the 2006 Red Sox may not have been the mortal lock to make the playoffs, or even overtake the Yankees in the AL East, that everyone thought. While the ways I suggested the team might fail may not have all materialized, it seems that my predictions (and Red Sox Nation's fears), are about to come true.

As I write this, the first of September looms large on the horizon for the Boston Red Sox, who for the first time since 2002 will not be in serious contention for a playoff spot as the year's ninth month dawns. Speaking of things that loom large, David Wells was just traded to the San Diego Padres for minor league catcher George Kottras. Normally, at this point in the year, the Red Sox would be stocking up for the stretch drive, getting that one last pice of the puzzle to help give the team a boost into October. Not this year. This year they're shipping off the only starting pitcher on the roster with an ERA for the month of August under 5.22. Wells may not be much anymore, but he's still somewhat effective when healthy, and he seems healthy, for now. Furthermore, he's 10-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 120 postseason innings through his career, and Boston won't much need him in that role this season, not being 6.5 games out of the Wild Card hunt and eight out of the AL East race with a month of games left to play.

In case you're interested, the Red Sox' chances of making the postseason at this point are almost nil, and they know it. Since the inception of the Wild Card, only one of the 88 teams to make it to the post-season were as far as 6.5 games out of a given playoff race at the end of play on August 31st. The 1995 Seattle Mariners, just 59-57 at that point, went 20-9 the rest of the way to overtake the LAnahfornia Angels for the AL West title, overcoming a 7.5 game defecit. But those Mariners had a healthy Randy Johnson, who went 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA down the stretch, including a complete game victory in the one-game divisional playoff against the Angels. They also had an excellent relief corps, with Jeff Nelson, Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton, who went a combined 6-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 11 saves down the stretch. The team also had an impressive offense, averaging almost six runs per game for that month or so. Furthermore, those Mariners were chasing only one team, the Angels, for the division title.

The Red Sox, however, are chasing not one, but two teams, the White Sox and Twins, with the Angels not far behind. Their schedule in September is such that they have only three games remaining against those teams, when they host the Twins from the 19th to the 21st, so they can't make up direct ground on their rivals. That means that not only would the Red Sox need to win, but they would need both the Twins and the White Sox to lose, something the Twins especially have not done very much in the second half of the season. The 1995 Mariners had a healthy Edgar Martinez (who led the AL in all kinds of offensive stats that year), Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez, and Ken Griffey, who returned from a wrist injury to hit seven homers in September and drive in 20 runs that month.

The Sawx, on the other hand, have seen the staples of their offense dropping like flies. David Ortiz might not return to the lineup until after this weekend, having already missed four games with an irregular heartbeat, and who knows how this will affect him going forward? Manny Ramirez has played only once since August 23rd, as he nurses a gimpy knee. Wily Mo Pena hasn't played since 8/25, and having just received a cortisone shot, he won't be back for a couple of days at the earliest. Add this to the two weeks their starting shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, has missed, and the month that RF Trot Nixon and starting catcher/team captain Jason Varitek have missed, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster.

The 1995 Mariners had Randy Johnson in his prime, who almost single-handedly carried that team to its first playoff series, whereas the 2006 Red Sox have no such horse to ride. Curt Schilling has certainly shown that he's capable of such performances in the past, but this year he's just 4-4 with a 5.15 ERA since the All-Star Break, so it doesn't look like he's going to do much. With three starting pitchers on the DL (Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement and now Jon Lester), Josh Beckett struggling (3-5, 5.75 since the Break) and not much else in their rotation, the Sawx had no choice but to become sellers.

Actually, though, that's not exactly true. Years ago, before the team was bought by John Henry and Tom Werner, the old Boston management might have gone out and tried to add a piece to make a push for the Wild Card. Dan Duquette was exactly the sort of General manager who would pick up a "proven veteran" at the trading deadline even though it looks like his team is out of contention. Current GM Theo Epstein, with the blessings of Henry, Werner and CEO Larry Luccino, knows better than that, and so in 2006, you won't see the Red Sox picking up aging, overpaid retreads in an effort to overcome the impossible. Besides, they already did that, in 2004, remember?

No, the kinder, gentler Red Sox will instead recognize their 2006 season for what it is, one rife with bad luck, but also full of lessons to be learned. Just a few of them here:

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

Stumble Upon Toolbar