22 October 2007

"Miracle" Rockies? Hold on a Second...

Given the extremely unlikely nature of the 2007 Colorado Rockies' run to the World Series, it seems only natural to ponder the significance of their place in baseball hsitory, and how this accomplishment ranks with some of the other unlikely events and streaks in the annals of baseball lore.

Your hero and mine, ESPN.com's Rob Neyer, has penned a brief column listing the top ten "miracles" in baseball history. It's a good list, full of great stories, but I have a few issues with the rankings themselves. Here's the list, with some brief descriptions of the miracles in question, and why I may not think they deserve so much credit.

10. Philadelphia A's, 1929 World Series (Scoring 10 runs to overcome an 8-run deficit in the 7th inning of Game 4)

Overcoming an 8-run deficit against any major league team, excepting perhaps the Devil Rays, is quite an accomplishment. It sure doesn't happen much. But it does happen, occasionally. I think it's hard for us to visualize how differently the game was played 80 years ago, though. Looking at the box score of that game, I see that Charlie Root, a 19-game winner for the Cubbies in 1929, started, but faltered in the 7th inning, giving up 6 runs. In today's world, the manager would bring in his LOOGy or a righty specialist or whatever, maybe even his #4 or #5 starter, if necessary, to squelch the rally. But in 1929, there were no LOOGys and the righties in the bullpen weren't there because they were especialy good at getting righties out in tough spots. They were in the bullpen because they were not especially good at getting batters out in general, and didn't have the stamina to last very long.

Cubs' manager Joe McCarthy, having won the NL Pennant handily with a 10.5 game lead over his clostest competition, had three very good starters and a fourth who was decent, but nobody great, and nobody in the bullpen was all that good either. Having seen Root falter, he could not use Guy Bush (who had pitched a complete game the day before) or Pat Malone (the next day's starter) so he went to his next best option, Art Nehf, a 36-year old lefty whose 8-5 record in '29 belied the 5.59 ERA he put up, which was every bit as bad as it appears, compared to the league's 4.62 ERA. Art Nehfer pitched in the majors again.

When that didn't work, he went with his #4 starter, Sherriff Blake, who gave up two more runs without getting an out. Finally, desperate, he turned to Malone anyway, who struck out two batters to get them out of the inning, and 37-year old Hal Carlson pitched a scoreless 9th, but the damage had been done. The A's had three future Hall of Famers right in the middle of their lineup: Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx, not to mention Mule Haas and Jimmie Dykes, each having a career year, and Bing Miller, who hit .331 that season.

So yeah, it was pretty amazing. But "Miraculous"? Not really.

9. 1986 New York Mets (Curse of the Bambino, Buckner, etc.)

Down 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning, with two out and nobody on base, and they win anyway. Forget the curse of the Bambino. This was the curse of John McNamara, who left his immobile starting first baseman in the game so he could celebrate when they won instead of bringing in a defensive replacement for the aging slugger with rickety piano legs connecting his hips and his feet. McNamara brough in Calvin Schiraldi, who was excellent in the regular season and got the Save in Game 1, to finish the Mets off in Game 6, but he took the loss. That's all well and good, but then McNamara brought him back in Game 7. And left him in nthere after he allowed a homer to Ray Knight. And a single to Lenny Dykstra. And a wild pitch. And another single, this one to light-hitting rafael Santana.

8. Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series (The Hobbled, Heroic Homer in Game 1 off Eckersly)

Just for sheer drama, this has got to be one of the greatest moments in sports history, let alone baseball or playoff history. You know the story: Gibson, limping to the plate, hits a game-winning, 2-run, walk off homer against the Greatest Closer Ever. It's been parodied dozens of times, and in your head, even now, you can hear every little nuance of Jack Buck's harried cry, "I don't believe what I just saw!"

But The Eck, for all his flair, really wasn't all that much better than some of his contemporaries at the time. He went 4-2 and led the majors with 45 Saves, but that was only a few more than Jeff Reardon, who, along with Doug Jones, Lee Smith and even Mike Hennemann all had a lot of saves with as many or more innings and comparable or better ERA's to Eckersly's 2.35. Not to mention John Franco (39 Saves, 1.51 ERA), and Mark Davis (28 Saves, 2.01 ERA, 102 Strikeouts in 98 innings) in the NL.

The One-Inning Closer was kind of a new thing in 1988, and Eckersly was in his first full year in the role, and though a 14-year veteran, was playing in his first World Series. Gibson had faced him in the past, 37 times in fact, when he was in Detroit and Eck was with Boston, and had even homered off him once, back in 1982. We know that home run hitters can hit home runs even when their legs aren't working for them. Just look at the last couple years of Mark McGwire's career. He could hardly walk by then, much less run, but still hit homers all the time.

I don't mean to disparrage the accomplishment itself. It was still awesome. But it was just one at-bat, and if the Orel Hershiser and the rest of the Dodgers don't win that Series, suddenly, that homer in the first game doesn't mean so much. Let's keep it in perspective.

7. 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates (beating the Yankees despite being outscored, Maz's homer in Game 7)

It turns out that getting outscored in a World Series your team wins isn't that uncommon. With the small sample size, you can win a couple of blow-outs and lose some close games and the series could go either way, even if you do score more runs overall. It had just happened in 1959, 1957, 1940, 1931, and would happen again in 1962, 1964, and 1971, to name a few times. Of course, nobody was ever outscored by such a huge margin, but then you only get one win for a 12-0 blowout or a 1-0 pitching duel. Given 100 games to play, the 1960 Yankees probably beat the 1960 Pirates 60 times or more. It just happened that the first seven of those didn't exactly go the Yankees' way, you know?

Moreover, Mazeroski's homer in the bottom of the 9th was unusual, but miraculous? I don't think so. He hit 19 homers just two years earlier, and hit 11 of them in 1960, some of them off of some pretty good pitchers: Johnny Podres, Don Drysdale, Stan Williams, Robin Roberts and Warren Spahn, to name a few, all of whom were better pitchers than Ralph Terry, at least in 1960. Sure, Mazeroski was known for his defense, and deservedly so, but the man could hit a little, too. Let's give the little guy some credit.

6. 1914 Boston "Miracle" Braves

This one deserves every bit as much acclaim as Rob has given it, and then some. The "Miracle" moniker doesn't even come close to describing their run, not just from 5th place in 1913 to first in the NL and a World Series sweep in 1914, but from last place on July 18th, 11 games out, to 10.5 games ahead by the end of the year. They went 61-16, winning more than 79% of their games for two and a half months, and then sweeping the best team in the AL, the Philadelphia Athletics, with five Hall of Famers on the roster. Now that's a Miracle.

5. 1978 New York Yankees (overcoming a 14-game deficit in mid-July, Bucky-effing-Dent)

This one, too deserves a lot of credit for the miraculous run the yankees made. They went 52-21 after July 19th to catch the Red Sox on the last day of the season, and then Dent hit that homer, which was something he did about once every 139 at-bats against right handed pitchers over the course of his career. Part of the Yankees' ability to get back into the race has to be attributed to Don Zimmer, who managed the Red Sox into the ground by never giving his starters a rest, but still, the Yanks had to win their games, too. I'd rank this one as the #2, instead of way down here at #5.

Granted, the fickle nature of baseball means that if the Yankees hadn't beaten the Dodgers in the World Series, Dent's homer might have fallen by the wayside, an interesting footnote in an ultimately unsuccessful campaign, like Randy Johnson's complete game in the 1995 AL West playoff, Jim Leyritz hitting that dramatic homer off Tim Belcher a few days later, or Al Leiter shutting out the Reds to win the 1999 NL Wild Card. Close, but no cigar.

4. 1951 New York Giants ("The Giants win the pennant!! The Giants win the pennant!!)

This was an even more incredible run, statistically speaking, than the Yankees in '78, going 37-7 to finish the season tied with Brooklyn, then beat them in the three-game playoff. As much as that call still gives me goosebumps any time I hear it, I lost a lot of respect for those Giants when I heard about their sign stealing scheme a few years ago, which made them all but impossible to beat at the Polo Grounds, where they wend 20-3 in that stretch. Of course, they were also 17-4 on the road during that time, so I don't think taht talent had nothing to do with it. It's just that it muddies the picture a bit. Plus, the Yankees beat them in the World Series, so heck with 'em.

3. 2007 Colorado Rockies (from 4th place with 2 weeks left, winning 21 of 22 to get into WS.)

The Rockies came back from being 4.5 games behind the Wild Card on September 16th, nobody thought they could make it into the playoffs, one idiot even wrote:

Incidentally, for you Rockies fans who think you can still make up that 4.5 game spread in the Wild Card race...think again. All 10 of your remaining games come against division rivals with winning records (LA, San Diego, and Arizona), and six of those 10 are on the road, where the Rox are 33-42. Not gonna happen.

Of course, the Rockies actually won 11 in a row, 13 out of 14 to finish their schedule, and then beat the Padres in a one game playoff. You've heard a lot about their winning 21 of 22, because of course they haven't lost a game since that one to Arizona almost a month ago, but this is the rub. That's the real difference between these Rockies and the '78 Yankees or the '51 Giants: Those teams needed to win all those games to stay alive. They were chasing another team, or teams, and needed to win all the games they did, every game, just to stay in the hunt. That was true of Colorado through the 14-1 part of their 22 games, but the next seven wins were just kind of a nice topping on the dessert. It was great that they swept Philly and the Snakes, but they could have gone 7-5 in those games instead of 7-0 and they'd be in exactly the same position they are now, without quite so much fanfare.

2. DiMaggio's 56 in '41 (The Hitting Streak)

This ought to be #1. It's statistically impossible, for cryin' out loud! What more could you want? The only one on the list that doesn't particularly have anything to do with the playoffs, but it was so amazing, and so unlikely that you'd have to call it a Miracle. If this wasn't, then nothing in sports ever is.

Amazingly, the voting on ESPN.com has Joltin' Joe's Streak ranked 5th, which as is usually the case with Internet voting, is largely due to the fact that the millions of 14-year old voters have no idea about the history of American baseball. That, and they haven't had a class in Statistics yet.

1. Boston Red Sox, 2004 ALCS (returning from 0-3 to beat Yankees and win WS.)

The Red Sox deserve their snaps for beating the Yankees, but it should be noted that the Yankees were already on their last legs after they won Game 3, 19 to 8. Kevin Brown, coming back from a self-inflicted broken hand, wasn't himself, and Javier Vazquez and Esteban Loaiza were stinking up the joint for months even before the playoffs, and the bullpen was being held together by Tanyon Sturtze, Felix Heredia and Paul Quantrill. Granted, nobody in baseball had ever come back from being down 0-3 to win a 7-game series, but it did happen in hockey a couple of times, I think, so it's not impossible.

I would bump this down to sixth, after DiMaggio, the Miracle Braves, the '78 Yankees, the 2007 Roockies, and the '51 Giants, in that order.

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16 October 2007

Look for Fireworks in ALCS Game 4 Red Sox and Indians

Tonight's Red Sox-Indians game could get messy.

The Sawx are starting Tim Wakefield, the 40-year old knuckleballer, who's got a lot going against him coming into tonight's game. His ERA was almost a full run higher in the second half of the year, 5.25, compares to 4.39 before the All-Star Break. He was even worse in September, with an 8.76 ERA. Of his 17 wins this year, 16 came against teams with losing records, either at the time he beat them or by the end of the year. He hasn't beaten a winning team since April 13th, his second start of the year, when he topped LAnahfornia, who was then 6-5. He has not yet made an appearance in the postseason, with his last start having been on September 29th, which means that he hasn't pitched in almost three weeks.

He did pitch a little better on the road (4.26) than at home (5.27), but I doubt that will matter a whole lot, as Cleveland is not such a terrible place to hit. The one thing he (kinda) has going for him is that despite his 5-5, 6.12 ERA in 65 career postseason innings, he is 5-1, 3.89 in the LCS, though two of those five wins came back in 1992, when he was a Pirate. Raise your hands if you even remembered that he ever was a Pirate? LiaRRRRR!

On the other hand, Paul Byrd isn't necessarily a bird in the hand for the Tribe, either. Sure, he beat the Yankees in the ALDS< but he also gave up 10 baserunners in 5 innings, and could easily have lost that game if Chien-Ming Wang had his good stuff that night. Byrd's ERA this year was more than two full runs higher at Jacobs Field (5.68) than on the road (3.51), and it was 5.21 in September/October. He's been decent against Boston in his career (4-2, 4.12 ERA), but that's a pretty small sample size, and not necessarily representative of the current Boston players. The current Bostons have hit .326/.352/.547 with nine homers in 172 at-bats against Byrd over the course of their careers, though four of those homers were hit by Bobby Kielty, before he was a lousy bench warmer.

Add to this, for Boston, at least, the fact that they used Hideki Okajima, Manny DelCarmen and Mike Timlin last night, which means that there's a remote possibility that they'll have to call upon Eric Gagne to get an out or two tonight, which seems like an unlikely event, at least not without giving up a few runs first.

At this point, I don't much care who wins, as long as the games are fun to watch. And odds like this mean that there could be lots of runs scored tonight. Which is fun.

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08 October 2007

A Sad End to Two Careers?

The Yankees pulled out a win last night.

No thanks to Roger Clemens, who lasted less than three innings before giving up the ghost, but not before giving up three runs to the Cleveland Indians.

For his part, if that was the last time that Roger Clemens ever pitches on a major league ballfield,

1) The man who struck out more batters than anyone in major league history this side of Nolan Ryan went out on his own terms, striking out Victor Martinez before he walked off the field forever.

B) He didn't take the loss.


iii) He has perhaps stored up enough good deeds in his 24-year career that he didn't necessarily need to be thanked for last night's performance, one way or the other.

His efforts last night reminded me a little of his start in Florida in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, when he threw nine pitches to Luis Castillo in an effort to whiff him in what was (he threatened) his last major league game. For a guy with more Cy Young Awards than anyone, more wins than any pitcher since World War II, it's hard to begrudge him the chance to go out the way he wants. He's earned that much, and more.

But Clemens may not be the most significant Yankee whose career is coming to an abrupt end.

Manager Joe Torre, as you likely know by now, has been threatened with losing his job if the Yankees don't advance to the AL Championship Series. My initial thought, when I read that yesterday, was something like "Wow, he doesn't have to win the World Series? Steinbrenner's going soft!" But of course, there's more to it than that. I'm not sure I agree with Rob Neyer's assessment that anything King George says is, "little more than the ravings of an old man with little real power and just an occasional grasp of the reality around him. "

Frankly, whether he's got any grasp of reality at all is completely immaterial. Last I checked, George M. Steinbrenner III still owned controlling interest in the New York Yankees, Inc., which means that even if he's gone completely batshit crazy, he can still hire and fire anyone he chooses. Including the manager who brought him four World Series titles and has kept his team in the playoffs every season for 12 straight years.

If this is the end of his Yankee career, I would expect that this also would mark the end of his major league career. He's been threatening to retire for years anyway. With four World Championships, a certain Hall of Fame plaque waiting for him, more money than he could ever spend, and 67 summers under his belt, I doubt that he'll be pounding the pavement this winter looking for other employ. Mark my words: If Torre's fired, then this is it. He's done.

Most knowledgeable fans would suggest that Torre does not deserve to be fired (not that it matters), even if the Yankees do lose.

Game 1: He went with his "ace" pitcher to start the Division Series, Chien Ming Wang, a 19-game winner who came apart at the seams. The offense chipped away at the opposing ace, getting him out of the game after five innings, but they couldn't string together enough hits to compensate for the 8 runs allowed by Wang, much less the other four that the bullpen gave up.

Game 2: The sensible choice to start the game, Andy Pettitte, proved to be a good one, this time. Pettitte gave them 6.1 shutout innings and left with a 1-0 lead and everyone in the bullpen well rested to protect it. Little did he know though that the Indians would sone have several thousand more players on their team, in the form of mosquitoes who happened to be at their worst when Yanks rookie Joba Chamberlain was trying to protect that lead. Torre couldn't have done much about that. Clemens says he would have pulled the team, if the choice were his, but does the manager even have that option? I don't think so.

Later in that game, with the score tied at 1-1 going into the 9th inning, Torre actually brought in Mariano Rivera, in a non-save situation, apparently having learned from the mistake that cost him Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. Unfortunately, he followed up Rivera's two shutout innings by bringing in Luis Vizcaino, who made about as much sense as anyone, given that they didn't have a lefty in the bullpen to face Grady Sizemore and/or Travis Hafner. And who promptly lost the game for them. I guess you could blame Torre for that.

Or you could blame Clemens, if you wanted. It was Clemens who told Torre he would be able to start on Sunday, and so Torre was forced to put Clemens on the postseason roster and leave Ron Villone off. But of course, Steinbrenner doesn't get to exercise some form of power by blaming a departing, retiring free agent for his misfortune.

Game 3: Torre starts Clemens, of course, who told him he'd be able to pitch, but apparently pushed the envelope a bit too much and couldn't get the job done. Rookie Phil Hughes, however, capablypicked up the slack and gave them the bullpen help they needed to come back and win one. A lot has been made of this win, as though the Yankees had been asleep at the wheel for the first two games of the ALDS and their bats finally "woke up" in game 3.

In reality, they just had the good fortune of facing a pitcher who wasn't so darn good as C.C. Sabathia or Fausto Carmona. There's a reason that those two guys each won 19 games and Jake Westbrook won six. Well, OK, there are several reasons, but the biggest one is that he's not that good a pitcher. After he left, they did score two more runs, but they were unearned, thanks to a Trot Nixon error. As I write this, the Yankee bats have yet to score an earned run off the Cleveland bullpen, in 10.1 innings. (Update: Of course, literally as I typed the period on that sentence, I looked up to see Alex Rodriguez hit a homer off Rafael Perez to put the Yankees within three runs.) But still, you get the point. Westbrook, and only Westbrook, was the reason the Yanks won last night.

Game 4: Torre's choice to start Wang on three days' rest instead of Mike Mussina (who had not pitched in 10 days) was a curious one, but again, with the old (if not necessarily accurate) adage about sinker-ball pitchers being better on short rest, and Wang's remarkable superior performance at Yankee Stadium vs. on the road over the course of his career, you could see the logic in it. Unfortunately, logic soon gave way to reality, and the reality was pretty ugly. Wang's sinker didn't, and everybody in the Stadium knw it pretty quickly. Taking him out in the second inning to bring in Mike Mussina made Torre look like he realized his own error and wanted to stop the bleeding as soon as possible, so that even if it wasn't appropriate to blame him for the decision before the game, it looked like it was afterwards.

If they lose this game tonight (and as I write this the Tribe needs to get only six more outs without giving up three runs to eliminate the Yankees) then Torre will have gone out in much the same way that Clemens did: with a sputter and a slow, quiet walk off the field, instead of the glory and granduer you would expect for such an icon.

We'll miss you, Joe.

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04 October 2007

ALDS Game 1: New York Yankees @ Cleveland Indians

The first inning is almost over, and this has already been an unusual game.

First Batter: Johnny Damon facing C.C. Sabathia. As Damon works the count to 3-1, I'm telling my wife how Sabathia has walked very few batter this year, only 37 in 241 innings (about one per 6 IP). Sure enough, Damon lines the 3-1 pitch into the right field stands...but on which side of the Foul Pole? After initially getting it called foul, Torre emerges from the dugout, demands an Umpire Groupthink, and get his Christmas Present early: a home run, 1-0 Yankees.

Then Jeter works the count to 2-2 and then pops out to second base.

Abreu, who walked 84 times this year, drew one from C.C., despite the latter's typical stinginess with such charity. Alex Rodriguez, who was 7th in the al in walks (95) and 4th in OBP (.422), also walked, but then Jorge Posada struck out and Hideki Matsui grounded to second to end the threat.

But Sabathia has already thrown 33 pitches, and hopefully won't be around after the 5th or 6th. He definitely doesn't look like the 19-game winner and Cy Young contender we saw for most of the 2007 season.

Bottom of the First:

This is not good. Chien-Ming Wang hits Grady Sizemore with the very first pitch of the game. He hit only 8 batters in 200 innings this year, or one every 25 innings or so. I guess he's done for the postseason, right?

The next batter, rookie 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, grounded into a double play, and it looked momentarily like Wang may escape the first with his 1-0 lead intact, but alas, 'twas not to be.

Travis Hafner, an extremely patient and dangerous hitter, drew a walk, followed by a single by Victor Martinez. Ryan Garko then singled Pronk home, tying the game. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta then walked, and a conference was called on the mound to remind Wang that he should probably get somebody else out so they could go back to the dugout and take a load off for a while. Wang, however, being Taiwanese, missed this message and allowed a 2-run single to Kenny Lofton instead, and the inning only ended when Peralta was tagged out at second.

Analysis: Wang has two things going against him in this game:
1) His ERA for the year was 4.91 on the road, vs. only 2.75 at Yankee Stadium. The difference for his career (4.62 vs. 3.04) is not quite so severe, but still notable. Given that Wang relies so much on ground balls for his outs, it surprises me that there would be such a difference in his home/road stats. You'd think that infields are infields are infields, right? But mabe opposing teams cut the grass especially short on days when they know Wang will be pitching. Wouldn't be the first time. I remember the Padres especially watered down a patch in front of home plate at Qualcomm Stadium during the 1998 World Series. Not that it helped much.

B) He hasn't pitched since September 26th, eight days ago. Initially I thought this might be an issue, as the Traditional Wisdom dictates that sinker-ball pitchers tend to do better if they're a little tired, and that might be true. However, Wang's career ERA with 6+ days of rest is only 2.66, compared to 4.01 with the normal 4 days, so maybe that's not true in his case.

Second Inning:

Fortunately, nobody scored or anything whilst I pontificated about ERA and Home/Road splits. C.C. walked another batter (Robinson Cano, who doesn't walk very much) but then popped up Melky Cabrera to first and got Doug Mientkiewicz to pop up to short. Cano, who doesn't usually stel bases either, got caught stealing second and ended the inning.

In the bottom of the second, Wang again got two outs and then got himself into trouble. He got Franklin Guittierez to pop up to third, and then struck out Casey Blake (another rarity, for Wang, at least), but then Grady Sizemore singled. Sizemore is quite speedy, stealing 33 bases this year, but he was also caught 10 times, second most in the AL. So it wasn't a total surprise when Posada gunned him down at second to end the inning.

Third Inning:

C.C. seems to have settled down. He whiffed both Damon and Jeter, and though he walked Abreu again, A-Rod popped up for the third out.

Wang, on the other hand, still has not found his rhythm. He allowed a rare homer to Cabrera, even after getting two strikes on him. Hafner then grounded out and Martinez flied out, but Garko got another hit, a single to right that would have been an out if Bobby Abreu didn't have so little range. Jhonny Peralta then obligingly hit the second pitch he saw right into Abreu's glove, and the inning was over, with the Yanks down, 4-1.

Fourth Inning:

Posada serves a ball into right field that found the glove of Franklin Gutierrez without too much trouble, and then Matsui struck out.

Incidentally, why is Hideki Matsui playing in this game? Granted, he generally does not have a terrible righty/lefty split (.814 OPS vs. .872 this year, and .810 vs. .877 for his career), but there is a disadvantage there. In addition, he does't seem healthy. He's admittedly not well enough to run and play the field, and he hit only .185 in September, so why not let Shelley Duncan play? He's a righty, he's got power, both of his legs work properly...why not?

In any case, seeing that Matsui wasn't going to help, Robby Cano took thinks into his own hand, and his own bat, by hitting a line drive homer that just barely cleared the fence in right, bringing the Yanks to withing two runs. Cabrera then popped out to end the inning. Apparently the Melk Man does not always deliver.

Wang looked a little better in his half of the 4th, getting Lofton to pop up and Casey Blake to ground out and Sizemore to strikeout, even though he walked Gutierrez, the second batter of the inning. Gutierrez has only walked about once every 6 games in his brief major league career, but fortunately the INdians were unable to capitalize on this rare gift.

Interestingly, even though Wang had a 2.68 Ground Ball-to-Fly Ball ratio this year, 6th best in the majors, he's gotten four fly ball outs and only three ground-outs, at least up to this point. Clearly the sinker isn't sinking in its usual manner.

Fifth Inning:

Things are looking up for New York...

Joe Torre was apparently reading my blog between innings and decided to bring in Duncan to hit for Mientkiewicz. They're sacrificing late-game defensive needs for the offense they need now. Duncan dunked one into right field for a single and then went to second when Damon drew a walk. Jeter worked the count full but then flied out to right, not deep enough for Duncan to advance to third. But then Abreu doubled to left and Duncan scored, making it 4-3.

Of course, with first base open, nobody in their right mind would face A-Rod, so he got a free pass. Bases loaded, 1-out for Posada, who hit .338 this year, but is 0-for-2 in this game...it's 3-0 on him now, Sabathia's struggling...Posada fouled off the 3-0 pitch, then swung through the 3-1...full count...after two more foul balls, Posada whiffs on a high, 95-mph heater. Two out.

Matsui stands in. Have I mentioned that he's never gotten a hit off Sabathia. He was 0-for-9 against him coming to the game, which is admittedly a small sample, but a sample nonetheless. Godzilla looks more like Baby Godzilla as he pops a 2-0 pitch up to short and kills the rally. Still 4-3 Tribe.

Bottom of the Fifth...

Or, not.

Another walk, the third time that the leadoff man has gotten on base. Travis Hafner flied out, but then Victor Martinez hit a no-doubt-about-it homer to right, unfortunately just as the TBS announcer was interviewing the guy with the Indian drum in the outfield, so we got an extra-loud sample of the instrument as the ball cleared the fence.

Garko then grounded out, making it two-down, but Wang couldn't seal the deal. A bloop double by Peralta and then an RBI single by Lofton ended Wang's night, 4.2 innings, 7 runs (plus Lofton on first...make that second, since he just swiped it) only 5 ground ball outs. A very un-Wang like appearance, all told.

Rookie Ross Ohlendorf comes in to relieve Wang, but proves little relief. Rookie isn't the word for it. Ohlendorf has 6.1 innings pitched in his entire major league career, just a half dozen appearances. Sure, he pitched well, facing predominantly a bunch of nobodies during mop-up work in September. Torre may have jumped the gun a little putting him on the postseason roster ahead of Edwar Ramirez or Ron Villone. Ohlendorf struggled, allowing Lofton to steal, walking Gutierrez (his 2nd of the game) and then serving up a 2-run double to Peralta before finally (mercifully) getting Sizemore to fly out to left. Still, the damage was done, and the Yankees were down 9-3.

Sixth Inning:

With 114 pitches thrown already, Sabathia did not answer the bell in the 6th. Rookie southpaw Rafael Perez (1.78 ERA, 62 K's in 61 innings) took his place and did not disappoint. Robby Cano grounded to 2nd, and then Cabrera and Duncan both whiffed to end the inning without even putting up much of a fight.

Ohlendorf is still out there to start the bottom of the 6th. I guess with a 6-run deficit, you might as well let him pitch. We can only lose this game once, right? For what it's worth, Ohlendorf has good stuff: a mid 90's fastball that moves (a little too much, sometimes) and a sharp, 12-to-6 curve and a sinker or slider or something that hits about 83 mph.

Of course, Travis Hafner just Pronked one of those fastballs into the right field stands, so maybe it doesn't move as much as I think. 10-3 Cleveland. Martinez just doubled to left on another one, which earned Ross a lecture from Posada and pitching coach Ron Guidry, who evidently came out to remind him that this is not batting practice, and you know, maybe you wanna get some of these guys out. Ohlendorf, like Wang, may only speak Chinese, because his next act was to plunk Ryan Garko. He did manage to induce a grounder to short off the bat of Peralta, but then Lofton doubled and drove in the 11th run for the Tribe, and Ohlendorf's night was over.

Another rookie, Jose Veras, comes in to relieve. Veras was the closer for AA Trenton last year and AAA Scranton this year. He throws hard (that last one was 96 mph, but way high, as he looked like he was trying to throw it through Jorge Posada rather than to him) and has a slow curve, a good combo for a closer (just ask John Wetteland). He pops up Gutierrez and the inning is finally over. 11-3 Indians.

Seventh Inning:

Damon strikes out, the third in a row for Perez. Derek Jeter hits one of his patented inside-outers to right field, but Gutierrez makes a nice, running, diving catch for the second out of the inning. Abreu then strikes out looking and the half-inning is over.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Yankee Rookie Pitcher Parade continues with Phil Hughes. Hughes sandwiches a Sizemore pop-up between strikeouts of Casey Blake and Asdrubal Cabrera (finally, someone who can get him out!), to keep it close...only 8 runs down with two outs to go! Wooo-Hooo!

Eighth Inning:

Another Indian Rookie comes in, Jensen Lewis, who struck out 34 batters in only 29 innings this year, with a 2.15 ERA. Lewis made quick work of the Yankees, with a pop-up to A-Rod, a fly out to Posada and a strikeout of Matsui. Have I mentioned that Matsui shouldn't even be playing in this game?

Lewis is an interesting looking pitcher. They talked about him as a "flame thrower", but he seems to sit in the low 90's most of the time, 92-93 or so. What makes him seem faster is his delivery, a quick, explosive jump toward home plate, sort of like Roy Oswalt, but with less extension. Anyway, before you know he's pitching the ball is already past you. Which makes it harder to hit.

In the bottom of the 8th, Hughes is still pitching. A fly-ball pitcher, predominantly, like most 4-seam fastball, 12-6 curveball types, Hughes gets Hafner and Martinez to fly out, but then allows a homer to Garko before getting Peralta to fly out. 12-3 Indians.

Ninth Inning:

Well, this sucks. Rafael Betancourt just struck out Robby Cano. Two outs left...Cabrera's trying to keep the dream (fantasy?) alive...working the cout to 2-2...Betancourt is really taking his time, but Cabrera can't catch up to him anyway...He doesn't miss much, only 68 strikeouts in 545 at-bats, and you can see why as he keeps fouling pitches off. Eventually working the count full and then fouling out to left.

Down to one. The power lefty, Jason Giambi pinch hits for Duncan against Betancourt, the power righty. Even with the Giambi shift Jason singles right past the fielder in short right field. Damon stands in with the Yankees first baserunner since the 5th inning. He's quickly down, 0-2. Works the count to 3-2...and then flies out to center, ending the game.

See you tomorrow.

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03 October 2007

An Open Letter to Mr. Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, Lee Sinins


I read your ATM report today about your new definitions of the AL, NL and World Champions, and I wanted to respond. And, being hard up for topics on my blog, I'm posting this there as an open letter. I hope you don't mind. I'll be happy, of course, to publish any responses you may have to offer, as I am quite interested to read them. And I need the material.

Anyway, let me begin by saying thanks for all you do. It's interesting and useful work, and I appreciate your unique approach to baseball analysis.

With that said, this is just silly.

Sure, the postseason is a small sample size and anything can happen, so the "best" team doesn't always win. Your "new" system has some of the same inherent flaws as the real one, namely that teams are rewarded for good performance in a small sample size, after which they get the chance to pad their records by playing more games. They still may not be the Best Team, but may have played well enough to beat, and therefore eliminate the Best team from playing any more games and therefore from vying for your Championship.

Think of it this way: Most of us look at this year's records, with 4 AL teams that won 94+ games but nobody in the NL with more than 90, and we think that the AL is generally better, and their 137-115 record in Interleague games backs this up. But what if it didn't? What if the NL was actually a much better, more talented league, and they just happened not to play well in Interleague games? This is certainly not an impossibility, given that those series, too, are small sample sizes, even smaller than those in the post season. But the NL, being generally more talented across the board, spends the rest of the season beating up on each other, such that no team has a chance to win more than 90 games, but no team loses 95 games either. Parity, at it's finest, right? Except that your new system has almost precluded the team from the more talented league (in my analogy, anyway, of not reality) from becoming the Champion they deserve to be.

The real question, of course, is about team quality, and there are lots of ways to measure this besides wins and losses. But then what's the point of even staging the games if you're just going to ignore those? An argument can be made from the teams' run-differentials that the padres should be in the playoffs ahead of the Diamondbacks and that the Braves should supplant the Phillies. Those numbers, runs scored and allowed, are a better measure of team quality than wins and losses, at least in some cases, but the fact remains that those teams got the wins they needed to get postseason berths, and nobody can take that from them, at least not until their opponents in the NLDS get their shot. Would you prefer them to name playoff teams based on something other than wins and losses, and how would you have them sort it out once they get there?

Looked at a different way, how big a sample do you need to make it count? 10 games? 20? 50?? I'm guessing that you would prefer the two leagues to announce only one League Champion each, i.e. go back to the pre-1969 approach, admitting only the team with the best record (or perhaps the teams with the best RCAA + RSAA totals?) and then play a much longer series to determine the World Champion, but I don't know you all that well, so I could be wrong.

In any case, it seems to me that you're relatively unconcerned with how interested the fans are in their teams come September, or how interested people would be in watching, for example, a 35-game series between the same two teams, even if it would be a better way of determining a Champion than the current one. Fans like you and I, who would watch the whole season if it were 12 months long and 365 games, can have trouble relating to the mindset of the casual fan. I understand that. Do they have to play another entire season to make a decision on who the champion was from last season? Where does it end? What is your ideal scenario?

I would suggest that the current scenario is not so bad as you think. It rewards teams for playing well over the long haul, requiring them to win more games than anyone else in their division, or, barring that, more than anyone who doesn't win a division, to get a chance at October Glory. That's not perfect, but you have to balance the priorities of baseball purity with the political and economic realities that this is a business, and without the fans' interest, there's no business to be had, no money to be made, and therefore no reason to keep playing. Baseball does not exist in a vacuum, and is not played just for the sake of the Game, not on this level, anyway. Taking away those other three playoff teams, whether they deserve to be there or not, takes away millions of casual fans from the seats and sets where they would normally be watching baseball in the latter part of the season, and does damage to the game as a whole.
The system also rewards teams for playing well in the short term, in the clutch, as it were. Small sample size or not, you've still got to win 4 out of 7 games, and lousy teams generally can't do that against good ones. It's far from perfect, and I'll be among the first to admit that. I even think that there should be some kind of caveat worked into the system to prevent a "division winner" with a losing record form getting into the postseason, as I wrote after last year's postseason, so it's not as though I have anything invested in the system as it currently stands. I just find it arrogant and distasteful to change the definitions of the postseason champions and rename them all at your own whim. If you want to say that the 2006 Cardinals were really not as good as the Yankees or Mets or Tigers or whatever, we can have that discussion. if you want to say that they didn't deserve to win the World Series and did so only because they got lucky (or because the Tigers got unlucky, if you will), well, that's another point on which you'll get little argument out of me, or anyone else outside the realm of Cardinals fans, I expect. But if you want to say that they really did not win the World Series, well, then I think you've gone too far. You're just sticking your head in the sand. You're free to not like the system, but don't pretend it doesn't exist.

Well, if you've kept reading this far, I thank you, and as I mentioned, I do sincerely look forward to reading anything you have to offer in way of response, even if it is just raspberries.



Travis M. Nelsonhttp://boyofsummer.blogspot.com

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01 October 2007

Who Are You and What Have you Done With the Phillies!?!??

I hate to say 'I told you so', but...

Oh, who am I kidding? I love to say I told you so.

There are few experiences which so excite and gratify an engineer or a baseball writer, and I fancy myself a bit of both, as being correct about something. Excepting perhaps getting to rub everyone else's noses in it later, when the truth of it is demonstrated.

And so, with the Phillies at long last in the playoffs, I get a chance to gloat, just a bit, as I look back on my 2007 Philadelphia season preview and see how smart I really was.

I suggested that the Phillies hoped-for regular lineup would be:

Rod Barajas, C

Ryan Howard, 1B

Chase Utley, 2B

Wes Helms, 3B

Jimmy Rollins, SS

Pat Burrell, LF

Aaron Rowand, CF

Shane Victorino, RF
I suggested, however, my skepticism at Helms keeping the 3B job, and in fact he lost it to Dobbs by mid-season, though he started only four fewer games there than Dobbs, and only one more than Abraham Nunez. I also suggested that, "Carlos’ [Ruiz'] minor league numbers...suggest that he can be a contributor at this level, if he gets a chance to play" and "I expect that it’s just a matter of time before Ruiz supplants Barajas in the starter’s role", which he did, and he did.

In reality, the most common lineup used was this one, though it only happened 15 times:

C. Ruiz

1B. Howard

2B. Utley

3B. Dobbs

SS. Rollins

LF. Burrell

CF. Rowand

RF. Victorino

Though I did not project any numbers for Ruiz, if I had, I would have guessed that he would hit in the .280ish range, when in reality he hit only .259, but with doubles power and decent patiance, but few homers.

Ryan Howard, I suggested, was, "...a virtual lock to hit 40+ homers, 25 doubles and drive in 110 runs or more." Howard actually hit 47 homers, 26 doubles and drove in 136 runs, though he also set a new record by striking out 199 times.

I also said that, "...there’s no reason to think [Chase Utley] can’t do it again" in reference to his impressive 2006 campaign. In reality, he improved upon his 2006 numbers substantially, raising his batting average by about 20 points, his OBP by about 30 points and his slugging percentage by almost 40 points. A broken bone in his hand robbed him of a month's worth of games (and probably an MVP Award), so his counting stats did not notably increase, but he was a much better player this year when healthy, which is no small accomplishment. I did not foresee this drastic improvement, I will admit.

I had pencilled Wes Helms into the 3B spot in the lineup, suggesting that his true ability is "probably hitting about .270/.340/.450 and playing ugly defense at third base." In reality, he hit only .246/.297/.368 and lost his regular job by mid-May. He did, however, make 9 errors and start only 3 double plays in 68 games at the hot corner, and a .932 fielding percentage that would have roughly approximated the second worst mark in the majors if he'd had enough playing time to qualify for the list, so i was right about that much. With that said, it should be noted that Brewers' Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Braun gave renewed meaning to the phrase "ugly defense". He made 26 errors and a had a .895 fielding percentage, the worst in MLB since 1984, when Joel Youngblood had an .887 mark in 117 games at third, the first and last time in his 14-year career in which he was used as a regular third-sacker.
Helms' replacement, Greg Dobbs, I thought could hit ".290/.330/.450", and he actually hit .272/.330/.451, so I'd have to call that a minor victory.

I did not expect Jimmy Rollins to continue to develop, expecially his power, as he did, and I had hoped that if he continued to smack the longball as he had, that they would put him lower in the lineup to help drive in more runs. He did bat 3rd 23 times, especially when Utley was on the DL, but this did not stick, as the Phillies ended up with lots of power hitters, and wanted to keep their speed at the top of the lineup. Chalk that up to thewhims of narrow minded "baseball men" like Charlie Manuel or the lack of a viable alternative, your pick.

In any case, Rollins nearly matched his career best with a .344 OBP, and did set career highs with a .296 batting average, .531 slugging percentage, .875 OPS, 94 RBIs, 30 homers, 212 hits (2nd in the NL), 139 runs and 20 triples, both of which led the NL. He also stole 41 bases and got caught only 6 times, hit 38 doubles. He joined a handful of other players (Willie Mays in 1957, Frank Schulte in 1911, and Curtis Granderson this year) as the only ones in history with 20 each of homers, doubles, steals and triples. Rollins is the third of Philadelphia's viable MVP candidates, and would be the best choice of the three, though not as good a choice as Hanley Ramirez, or Matt Holliday or Prince Fielder or David Wright, all of whom created more runs than J-Roll.

Getting back to gloating...I had said about Pat Burrell, "...if you just let him play every day, he’ll hit .260 with patience and power, and will easily be one of the five most valuable left fielders in major league baseball." Burrell in fact hit .256/.400/.502 with 30 homers,97 RBIs, a career high 113 walks and according to Baseball Prospectus, was the 9th most valuable LF in MLB, by VORP. If Carl Crawford, Alfonso Soriano and Eric Byrnes had been centerfielders instead of left fielders, as I had expected, Burrell would have ranked 6th. Thank you, thankyouverymuch.

I said of Aaron Rowand, "it’s unreasonable to think that he’ll do much more than .275/.335/.450." Well, he actually hit .311/.376/.518 with 27 homers, 45 doubles, 105 runs and 89 RBIs. I missed that one. BIG time.

Regarding Shane Victorino, I warned fans not to, "be surprised if he manages to hit .310+ with 15 homers, 30 doubles and 25 steals, and if he can make some highlight-reel plays in center or right, maybe even winning a Gold Glove." In fact, Victorino hit .281 with 12 homers, 23 doubles sand 37 steals, closer to Baseball Prospectus' projection for him (.293, 13 homers, 24 doubles, but only 9 steals). Having not heard anything about him on highlight reels or in conversations around water coolers, I'm guessing that he'll have to wait at least anothe ryear for that Gold Glove.

As far as the Phillies pitching staff, I don't think anybody accurately predicted everything that went wrong there. How could you? How could you guess that Brett Myers, the team's ace in 2005-06, with no notable injury history, would spend most of the year in the bullpen as a closer, and the rest of it on the DL? That the newly acquired Freddy Garcia, who had averaged 220 innings and 15 wins per season for the last six years, would win one game, pitching only 58 innings with a 5.90 ERA and spend almost 2/3 of the year on the DL? That the Phillies would use 13 different starting pitchers? You couldn't.

But some things were fairly predictable.

I expected Jamie Moyer to "implode" though I did not define this. In fact, while his ERA shot up to 5.01, about 9% worse than the NL average, he did make 33 starts, win 14 games and keep the team in contention with a few decent starts in September, including 5.1 shutout innings yesterday in the game that clinched the NL East Division title for them. I expected him to retire by mid season, so I'm eating cro on this one as well, I must admit.

Cole Hamels, I had said, "could win 15 games and strikeout 200 batters if he stays healthy all year," though I admittedly thought this unlikely. In fact, hamels did win 15 games, but struck out only 177 batters, owing to the fact that he missed a month due to injury between mid-August and mid-September, and got only 28 starts and 183 innings.

Adam Eaton, I expected, would pitch horrendously and would lose his job inside of a month or two, but the Fates, the injuries, and the $25 million contract he signed conspired to make a fool of me once again (as though I needed the help!). As bad as Eaton was, and he was really, really bad (6.29 ERA in 161.2 innings), they simply could not afford to bench him. Garcia was injured, Myers was injured, and Jon Lieber didn't pitch after June 20th. There literally was nobody else to pitch on those days, as they had already bled their farm system dry of anyone who was likely to help, not to mention several who were (and did) not. Four rookies started one (and only one) game, none of whom got the win).

Without even an assortment of crummy re-treads in AAA from which to choose, the Phillies had to resort to trading for other teams' crummy re-treads, hence J.D. Durbin and Kyle Lohse. They dipped down to AA and brought up the surprisingly helpful Kyle Kendrick, who won 10 games but could be a flash in the pan, given his low strikeout rate. they enter the playoffs with Moyer, Hamels, Kendrick and Lohse, with (God help them) Eaton waiting in the wings in case anyone gets hurt and needs someone to come in and give up their runs for them.

As for the bullpen, this too was something of a mess. Tom Gordon got hurt, as I expected, and is the primary setup man for Myers. Geoff Geary came back to earth, but was still a useful pitcher, as I expected, and Ryan madson, left alone to pitch in relief, was the best pitcher in the bullpen for the first half of the year before getting hurt. Clay Condrey pitched exactly like you'd expect for a 30-something retread with lackluster careers in both the majors and the minors. He helped out where he could, which wasn't much.

Matt Smith, whom I had expected to be the #1 LOOGy, pitched badly and then went back to AAA, where he got hurt, too. Antonio Alfonseca, about whom I had said, "Unfortunately, neither his elbow, nor his body (all 250+ pounds of it) are in very good shape, and I’ll be very surprised if he can hang on for more than a month or two," is somehow still on the Phillies roster, despite his 5.44 ERA and 1.85 WHIP. I was right: I am surprised.

I estimated that the Phillies were, "a good shot at 90+ wins and a Wild Card, maybe even a division title," and specifically said that they would win 91 games, the Wild Card, and lose to Chicago in the NLDS. In actuality, of course, they won 89 games and the division (who knew that the Mets would tank so badly?) and are playing either the Padres or Rockies in the NLDS, not the Cubs, depending on whomever wins tonight's game.

So I'm picking the Cubs to beat them in the NL Championship Series.

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26 September 2007

The Joba Rules, v. 2.0

I. Thou Shalt Not Try to Contrive Clever Puns on Joba's Name.

No "Joba the Hutt" or "Joba the Heat" or "Joba Fett" or "Gotta Getta Joba" or "Take this Joba and Shove It" or anything of the sort. Enough, already. He's got a nickname. It's "Joba". His real name is Justin. If he wants a better nickname, let him do something in the postseason to earn it.

II. In Case of John Sterling, Thou Shalt See Rule I.

"A great job-a, by Joba"???? "Joba gets the job-a done"???? This is the best you can do?!

III. Thou Shalt Not Mispronounce Joba's Name.

It's JAH-ba. Not JOE-ba.

IV. Thou Shalt Not Continually Refer to the Original "Joba Rules" or "Book of Joba".

These appear to have fallen out of use.

Chamberlain's original handling rules included that he should not be brought in to pitch in the middle of an inning, but he did this on September 19th, relieving Andy Pettitte by striking out Melvin Mora with two outs in the 8th.

In addition, he is supposed to get two days of rest if he pitches two innings, but this rule has apparently been scrapped as well. Having pitched two full innings (30 pitches) on September 21st, he then came in to pitch after only one day of rest, on September 23rd (again with two outs in the 8th, tisk-tisk) and picked up his first Major League Save. This was the day after the Yankees had used 10 different pitchers in a 12-11, extra inning win over Toronto, so they were admittedly a little short handed (armed?) the next afternoon, but let's not pretend like Joe Torre and the Yankees have some priority higher than winning, shall we?

The last of these Rules, that Joba should not be used on consecutive days, is likely to be scrapped some time in the playoffs, wherein many of the games are played on consecutive days, and all are crucial. This is especially likely if Joba threw only a handful of pitches the night before and/or Torre needs him to get Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guererro or David Wright out in a pinch.

Mark my words. The original Joba Rules never outweigh the Steinbrenner Rules, which number exactly one:


V. Thou Shalt Not Attribute Joba's Fastball to his Size.

Joba is 6'2" and 230 lbs and can throw a baseball over 100 mph. Billy Wagner is listed at 5'10" and 180 lbs and in his prime, he could throw over 100 mph. I am 6'5", 255 lbs and my fastball would not get pulled over for speeding in a School Zone at 3PM, much less an Interstate. Clearly size has very little to do with it.

VI. Thou Shalt Not Refer to Joba's Native American Heritage as Though it Presented a Significant Roadblock to MLB.

Not to diminish the history of hardships suffered by the Native American people, which have been both real and severe, nor the currently sad state of affairs on many Indian reservations. I should know, as I used to be Native American myself (it's a long story). But the kid throws 100 miles per hour! If you can throw 100 mph with some semblance of accuracy, it doesn't matter if you're descended from Indians or Martians or antelope. It won't matter if your skin is black or red or green or purple or teal with orange stripes and a sort of light yellow hint of plaid. You will get a college scholarship, and if you help the Nebraska Cornballers get into the College World Series, a major league scout will find you.

VII. Thou Shalt Not Pretend That Joba's Being Native American is New to MLB.

Baseball Almanac lists nearly 50 players whom they identify as having some significant portion of Indian ancestry, including Hall of Famers Charles "Chief" Bender and Zach Wheat, All-Stars like Rudy York, "Indian" Bob Johnson, Allie "Superchief" Reynolds and Pepper Martin. In addition, according to baseball-almanac.com, Gene Bearden, Virgil Trucks, Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell & Early Wynn, among others, have some share of Native American blood. As recently as 2005 there was a Native American in MLB, Bobby Madritsch, with the Mariners. Red Sox rookie Jacoby Ellsbury was in the majors as early as June 30th and has been playing regularly (hitting .367!) this September. (Incidentally, Ellsbury, not Joba, is the highest-drafted Native American in history. Many outlets, including the Allen Barra article in WSJ linked above, have erroneously stated the otherwise.)

VIII. Thou Shalt Not Continually Bring Up Joba's Father and His Polio, and His Poverty, and His Divorce, and His Appendix...

Harlan Chamberlain used to catch Joba when he was a kid, sitting in his wheelchair (the dad, not Joba) and he finally got to see him pitch in the majors, in person, on September 7th in Kansas City. He struck out a batter and allowed only one hit in two scoreless innings (Joba, not the dad), so he did not disappoint, and his dad must be extremely proud and very excited and gratified for all the hard work they did finally paying off.

But you're killing me, here. Can't we come up with something more cheerful to talk/write about? Can't we just be excited for the kid and the cool things he might do in the postseason? Do we have to be constantly reminded of his dad's condition? And that he had an emergency appendectomy and nearly died last summer? And that his wife left when Joba was 3? What's next? Tornados and smallpox and packs of wild, rabid dogs? It's baseball, folks. It's a game. Leave the family melodrama for another original HBO series or something.

IX. Thou Shalt Not Fawn All Over Joba Like He's The Greatest Pitching Prospect Ever.

Listen, I'm as excited about all the talent oozing out of the Yankee farm system this year as aynbody, but just because he started his career with 16 consecutive scoreless innings (in 12 games), don't think he's going to be unhittable for his whole career. Sure, he's got great stuff, but he did just turn 22, and nobody ever comes up to the majors and cruises through an entire career without a few bumps in the road.

The immortal Victor Cruz started his career in 1978 with Toronto, at age 20, and rattled off 21.1 consecutive scoreless innings. By age 26, he was out of baseball. Erstwhile Yankees prospect Matt Smith came up last year and pitched a dozen scoreless games with New York before being traded to Philadelphia, where he added ten more games to the streak, totaling 18.2 scoreless innings before allowing his first run in the majors. This April, Smith walked 11 and struck out only one batter, allowing 5 runs in 4 innings, before being sent back to the minors, where he pitched until June and then went on the DL.

In total, going back 50 years, 17 different pitchers have started their career with at least a dozen games in which they did not give up a run, and most of them did not even pitch 5 or 6 years in the major leagues. The best of these was Dick Radatz, the briefly great Red Sox reliever from the early 1960's, whose last really good year was his third in the majors. The longest-tenured of these was Bob McClure, a crafty lefty who managed to stick around for 19 seasons but racked up 10 Wins or 10 saves only once each.

Joachin Andujar wisely summarized this peculiarity in one word: Youneverknow.

X. Thou Shalt Not Make Joba a Reliever Next Year.

This one is particularly important, even though it only applies to the Yankees front office and not to, say, anyone who might actually read this. Chamberlain is (if you'll forgive the pun) setting himself up here to be the Closer of the Future. We all know that Mr. Automatic is hardly that anymore, and that the Yankees need to start grooming his replacement. Mo will be 38 next year and can't last forever. But please, please, don't let Joba follow in his footsteps. Granted, you could do a lot worse than to have Mariano Rivera's career. He's 3rd on the Career Saves list, and will likely be at least 2nd by the time he retires. With his frequent 1+ inning use and postseason success, he's as good a bet as any among the modern closers to get a plaque for himself in Cooperstown.

But Joba could be much more than that. As a rule, the Closer is an overrated commodity. The Cleveland Indians are cruising into the postseason with Joe Borowski, who leads the AL with 43 saves but has a 5.15 ERA. Clearly, Saves are not that hard to accomplish.

Last year, the Red Sox installed rookie Jonathan Papelbon as their closer, despite his impressive numbers as a starter in the minors, because they needed one so badly. He was so good at it (a 0.92 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 35 Saves in 68 innings) that he nearly won the Rookie of the Year Award, and now he can't get his job back as a starter, even though they promised it to him after last season.

With Roger Clemens likely to really, really (no seriously, he means it this time) retire after the season, and the uncertain nature of much of their starting rotation after Chien-Ming Wang (Pettitte's got a mutual option, Igawa's sketchy at best, Mussina's old, the rest are young and erratic) they'll need Chamberlain to give them 6 or 7 solid innings every 5 days if they're going to get to the Promised Land. They can't afford to give him 70 innings of work when they need 200 out of him. There isn't enough bonafide talent on the Yankees pitching staff to pick up all that slack.

So, in short, if you follow only one of these new Rules, let it be this one. Let the fans see Joba pitch as much as possible, within reason, and the team will be better for it.

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20 September 2007

Yankees Only 1.5 Back…Who Cares?

There are probably things less important than whether or not the Yankees manage to wrest first place in the AL East from the clutches of the Boston Red Sox, but right now, I can't think of any.

I predicted back in June that there was no way this could happen, and though I wouldn't mind being proven wrong (it was bound to happen sooner or later) I stil don't expect it.

Don't get me wrong. As a Yankee fan, I would certainly like to see the Yankees continue their impressive streak of Division Titles. This would make ten in a row, if they can pull it off. The Atlanta Braves supposedly have a MLB record 14 in a row, from 1991 to 2005, but in reality, it's only 11 in a row, as they were decidedly not leading anything when the strike hit in 1994. MLB curiously did not name division winners for that year, even though all the other awards, batting and ERA titles, Cy Young and MVPs, etc., were named. Probably because if they had, Atlanta would not be on the list. However, that, and the chance to somehow demoralize the Arch Rival Bostons once again, are about the only reason that this division race is of any interest at all.

And why is that?

Because it really doesn't matter.

The Yankees and the Red Sox will both get into the playoffs, somehow or another. Barring some kind of historical collapse by the Yankees, Red Sox, Anaheim Angels of LAnahfornia, or the Cleveland Indians of Cleveland, there is no way that the four teams currently leaidng the AL divisional and Wild Card races will not all be in the playoffs this year. The reigning AL Champion Detroit Tigers are 7.5 games behind Cleveland and 5.5 games behind New York, so they've got a tough road ahead to catch anybody. The Seattle Mariners, just one game out in the Wild Card race when they beat the Yankees back on Labor Day, are now 6.5 games behind the Bronx Bombers, and 8.5 back in the AL West. In addition, eight of their remaining 11 games are against Cleveland and LAnahfornia, so they're not going to make it either.

Which leaves the Yankees, Sawx, Tribe and Halos.

"But wait," you say, "isn't there some kind of advantage to winning your division?"


There have been 12 World Series played since the onset of the three-division, Wild Card System. With eight teams in the playoffs each year, the odds of winning a Championship should be roughly one-in-eight, if you assume that winning has more to do with luck than skill, once you get into the playoffs (and after the patently mediocre, 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals managed to win it all last year, how can we assume anything else?).

Wild Card teams have made up eight of the 24 teams to play in the Series, including at least one each of the last five years running, and have actually won the Series in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004. That's 4-for-12, or 33%, almost three times the natural odds. So it would seem that there's no particular disadvantage to going into the playoffs as the Wild Card. If anything, there's a notable advantage to it, though it would have to be admitted that 12 years is a pretty small sample size.

So, if anything, the Yankees should hope not to win the division. Think about it: Four of the last 12 world championships have been won by Wild Card teams, and four of them have been won by the Yankees. If the Yanks falter a bit, and let Boston keep the division title, they would then be BOTH the Yankees and the Wild Card! That gives them something like a 67% chance of winning it all, right?

Maybe not.

Either way, all this made up melodrama about whether or not the Red Sox will cough up the division seems pretty pointless, especially when there are legitimate races for every single division AND the Wild Card over in the NL. San Diego is only one game behind Arizona in the NL West division, and leads the Wild Card by just 2.5 over the Phillies, whoe are just as close to the Mets in the East. In the central, The Cubs lead by a mere game over the Brewers. That's six teams within striking distance of only four playoff spots. Something's gotta give.

Incidentally, for you Rockies fans who think you can still make up that 4.5 game spread in the Wild Card race...think again. All 10 of your remaining games come against division rivals with winning records (LA, San Diego, and Arizona), and six of those 10 are on the road, where the Rox are 33-42. Not gonna happen.

The Cubs remaining games all come against the soft underbelly of the National League, the Pirates, Marlins and Reds, while the Brew Crew must play Atlanta and San Diego, in addition to St. Louis, who are not completely awful, so the Cubs should hold onto that division. Then again, these are the Cubs.

The Padres have a lot of road games left, where they haven't been great, but they should be able to handle San Francisco (especially if Barry doesn't make it back), Colorado and Milwaukee. Arizona's got the Dodgers, Bucs and Rockies, and their record is almost entirely due to how well they've played in 1-run games (32-18) which has a way of being kind of fickle. Their luck could change at any moment. Don't be too surprised if the Padres take the division from them and they miss the playoffs, with Philly picking up the Wild Card.

Seven of the Phils' remaining 10 games come against the Nationals, and while they don't look like they've got the pitching to get into the playoffs, the Nats don't have the pitching (or offense) to stop them either. They're not likely to catch the Mets though, as New York has no games left against teams that don't suck. They've got 7 left against last-place Florida, with the worst record in the Senior Circuit. They've also got three against Washington and a makeup game against the Cardinals, who, while they don't really suck, are not particularly good either. The Mets also play their last seven games at home, which should help.

So there you have it: If you want to get excited about the pennant races, the National League is the place to look. As for the Junior Circuit? That race was over a week ago, and only an unprecedented collapse by one or more teams will make it any different.

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18 September 2007

Three (3) tickets to Saturday 9/22 Yankees/Blue Jays game

I've got three tickets for sale for Saturday's Yankees/Blue Jays game at Yankee Stadium. It's "The Bronx is Burning" DVD Sampler Day, and the game starts at 1:05.

You can buy them on eBay here.

I have another commitment and need to get rid of them, but of course I don't want to take a loss. The $200 minimum bid covers my expenses only, though if I can make a profit, all the better.

Happy bidding!

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13 September 2007

Selig's Everywhere He Wants to Be

It must be great to be the commissioner.

Allan H. "Bud" Selig left his position as a team owner to try his hand at running Major League Baseball. He's the very face of the industry, and baseball's self-professed #1 fan. His name has been in the headlines several times recently, and not because he was doing anything inappropriate in a public restroom, either. Which is good.

One such time was when he endorsed the Houston Astros' choice of Cecil Cooper as their interim manager, and encouraged them publicly to make him the permanent successor to Phil Garner, who didn't deserve to be fired in the first place, I must add. Initially I thought this might be a way in for me, that perhaps Selig was looking for more managers who were born on December 20th, in which case, I'm set, you know? But it turns out that Selig thinks that there ought to be more ethnic minorities, especially blacks, holding managerial jobs, though frankly it seems to me more than a little inappropriate that he should be trying to influence a decision like this, especially based on race alone. Maybe MLB has some Afirmative-Action quotas we don't yet know about? In any case, I don't know that jackie Robinson would have approved of this sort of thing, or of the ridiculous tribute Bud started when he allowed 2,347 players to wear Jackie's #42 back on April 15th.

Selig, of course, chimed in important stuff, like when the Braves and the Cubs were both sold earlier this year. He spoke about starting the regular season in 2008 in Japan again. But he also had his name involved or at least implied in much more trivial matters, like whether or not the Red Sox manager is required to wear his jersey while out on the field, and allowing the Orioles and several other teams to play with pink bats to raise breast cancer awareness on Mothers' Day.

There have, of course, been lots of times where Selig's name has come up in a story about steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. He wanted Jason Giambi to meet with investigator George Mitchell. He responded to questions about Gary Matthews' alleged HGH use.

Selig also made a public appearance last month when the Minnesota Twins broke ground on the new stadium they plan to build. Or, more accurately, they plan for the taxpayers of Hennepin County to pay to build, as these will be footing about 75% of the bill, despite the fact that Twinkies' owner Carl Pohlad is one of the richest men in America. He could easily spend the $522 million the ballpark is supposed to cost (though that may increase, especially considering that they don't even own the land they want to build on yet) and still be worth over $2 Billion. Also, he's 92 years old. Didn't anyone ever tell him that he can't take it with him?

At this point, nobody has bought the naming rights to the new Twins Ballpark, but that's likely to change, if only because everyone else's new stadium seems to be at least partially funded with such a sale. Also, any monies the Twins would normally have contributed to the revenue sharing plan will be mitigated by those they spend on building the new stadium, so they will receive money from the revenue sharing agreement without actually sharing much (if any) of their own revenue.

If Pohlad wanted to, he could probably get PepsiAmericas Inc., in which he also owns controlling interest, to buy the naming rights to the ballpark, and then write that off as a business expense for the bottling company, saving himself several million more dollars. But I digress...

The irony here is that not too long ago, Selig and Pohlad were conspiring to get rid of the Twins entirely. Back in 2001, arguing that the Minnesotas couldn't possibly compete with that lousy, old, non-descript ballpark, Selig and the other owners threatened to contract the Twins, to basically disband the team, and pay owner Carl Pohlad a hefty sum for his trouble. This, of course, was a nonsensical and thinly-veiled extortion threat to try to get Minnesota taxpayers and, more important, lawmakers, to pony up the funds for a new ballpark.

It worked. So well, in fact, that Selig and Pohlad were both be there for the photo-op and to talk up how this new stadium will help them be competitive with the other teams in their division, all of whom either laready have a relatively new park or will have one soon.

Never mind the fact that the Minnesota Twins don't compete for fans with the Tigers, Indians, Royals or White Sox. The closest of those cities is over 350 miles away.

Never mind the fact that the Twins have won their division four times in the five full years since Contraction was first threatened, and had a winning record (83-79) in the other season, and might end up with a winning record this year as well (they're only two games under .500 right now).

Never mind the fact that their players have won two Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy in that time.

Never mind the fact that Twins attendance has increased from 1.7 million in 2001 to 2.3 million last year and are on a pace for even more than that in 2007.

Never mind that their 2007 average home attendance rank (7th out of the 14 AL teams) places them ahead of Texas (8th), Baltimore (11th) and Division rival Cleveland (10th), all of whom already have new stadiums in which to play.

And all of this is true long before they'll get the new stadium they supposedly need so badly. Nevertheless, Selig, according to the AP, had the nerve to say,

"They couldn't survive in the Dome. The revenue streams just weren't there. It was as simple as that, and I think mostly people up here understood. From time to time there were a couple that didn't, but it's too nice a day for me to go back to that."

Well, clearly they survived pretty well in the last several years. I think that the people who understood what Selig means were basically Carl Pohlad and the other Twins shareholders, if there are any. They wer ethe ones who wanted this new stadium, because they are the ones who stand to gain from its presence in Minneapolis and the fact that the county taxpayers are mostly paying for it. Andrew Zimbalist and others have demonstrated that there really are no significant, long-term benefits to the taxpayers that would justify shelling out the kind of money required to build a sports stadium.

Selig at least admitted,
"This is a day that we've looked forward to for a long, long time. [...] I don't mind telling you personally I've looked forward to this."

Well, of course he's looked forward to it. He's not paying for it. Selig doesn't live in Minnesota, so not a dime of his own money will go toward helping Carl Pohlad to make more money he can leave to his children when he dies. And yet Selig will get to check off the building of the new Twins stadium as something of an accomplishment of his tenure as Commissioner, along with the building of the new stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, Texas, Seattle, Chicago (AL), Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, plus soon-to-be-built parks in Washington, Miami, northern California, and two in New York.

Stadiums in Boston, LAnahfornia, Toronto and Kansas City have all either been recently renovated or are in the process now, though some of these just pertained to getting rid of the AstroTurf. Given that expansion teams Arizona, Tampa, and Colorado all had stadiums built for them in the last 15 years, that leaves only the Dodgers and Cubs who will not have either a new stadium or a newly renovated one by the end of this decade. That is a whole lot of feathers in Bud's cap, but even more of an accomplishment is that many of these stadiums are being largely paid for by the taxpayers themselves, who are shelling out their own money for the privelige of paying higher ticket and concession prices when the new places open.

What a country!

But Selig was conspicuously absent when Barry Bonds tied and then broke Hank Aaron's career home run mark last month. Back in February, Selig had said,
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: If and when Barry Bonds breaks that record, it will be handled in the same way every other record in baseball that has been broken has been handled."

Which made the situation about as clear as mud.

Selig, for example, was present back in 1998 when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single-season record, and everyone remembers that. People remember that Bowie Kuhn was there to see Aaron tie babe Ruth in 1974, even though he missed the record-setter in Atlanta, and they remember that Pete Rose's 4,192nd hit was witnessed by Peter Ueberroth in 1985, but they also remember that Selig did not make it to milestones like Roger Clemens' (or Tom Glavine's or Greg Maddux's) 300th win, or Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit, though it seems to me that i remember him being there when Tony Gwynn hit his 3,000th, but that might just be something I dreamed.

Nobody thinks that the Commissioner has nothing better to do than fly aorund the country watching players set milestones. The line's got to be drawn somewhere, and any time the event in question is something that a few dozen peopl have done (like winning 300 games or amassing 3,000 hits) I don't think there should even be a discussion, but 756 homers? Nobody had ever done that before, just like nobody had ever his 62 homers in a season before, and the Commish ought to have been there to congratulate him for it. Even if he thinks that Barry Bonds is nothing mre than a cleverly designed android, who's only this good because he's absolutely 100% synthetic, he still deserves to be congratulated in person for doing something nobody had ever done before. Innocent until proven guilty, you know?

But Selig, in an effort to save face for himself as he continues to construct his legacy, made himself scarce at that time last month. For good measure, he didn't attend the game when Trevor Hoffman's 479th Save was recorded either, if only so he could have some kind of precedent to which to point when asked about Bonds. Selig ssurely realizes that if Bonds is someday proven guilty of taking steroids or something, that he would look bad shaking hands and congratulating him in that picture, and if he's never convicted of anything, well, the great majority of public opinion is enough of a deterrent. And even if Bonds' name is somehow cleared, Selig can always point to scheduling commitments and other conflicts that kept him away at the time.

In short, he shows up where it serves him to do so: At a groundbreaking ceremony, chiming in against steroids or for Civil Rights, that kind of thing. But where he should be, where he by all rights ought to be, for good or bad, he's nowhere to be found. He could have made a great living in politics...

...but of course the money's here in the private sector.

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08 September 2007

Pirates GM Littlefield (Finally) Fired

Well, it's about damn time.

Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager David Littlefield was fired yesterday. He had held the job since mid-July of 2001, and though it was hoped that he would help to turn around a franchise that had not had a winning season since 1992, reality turned out to be quite a bit harsher than hope.

Littlefield's predecessor, Cam Bonifay, had essentially run the franchise into the ground by mid 2001, or long before that if you asked most Pirates fans, and Littlefield was expected to "turn things around", "build from within", "develop young talent", "win some games"...very little of which actually happened. Littlefield entered the job in 2001 with the deck already stacked against him. He had the albatross contracts of not one or two, but several aging, underproductive, overpaid players to deal with. Kevin Young, Pat Meares, Derek Bell, Todd Ritchie...and he got little or nothing for most of these guys in trade or free agency compensation.

Hard to blame him too much for that, given how worthless these players generally were, and Bell and Meares were done after 2001 anyway, but even the trades he made didn't seem to make much sense at the time. One of his first moves, at the 2001 trading deadline, was to get rid of John Vander Wal, a 35-year old backup OF/1B forced into a starting job and making almost $2 million the Pirates couldn't afford to pay him, and Jason Schmidt, who was a decent starting pitcher about to become expensve as a free agent. These two went to the Giants for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Schmidt, of course, promptly became one of the best pitchers in the National League, whereas Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong continued to be, well, Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong.

Terry Mulholland, an aging, replacement level relief pitcher having a decent season, was sent to the Dodgers for Mike Fetters, an aging, replacement level relief pitcher having a lousy year, plus a non-prospect. Mike Williams, another such commodity, was sent to Houston for Tony McKnight, who was young and cheap but got overworked and never again pitched in the majors after 2001. Williams, it should be noted, was brought back as a free agent in 2002, making twice as much money as he had in 2001, and was again traded in mid-2003, this time to the Phillies. Granted, he had an ERA of 6.27 at the time, but all they got for him was a minor leaguer named Frank Brooks, who had an occasional cup of coffee in the majors but never got to stick around long enough to finish his danish.

In the 2001-02 off-season, having promised to "build from within" Littlefield apparently decided that the best way to do this was to sign a whole bunch of retread free agent relief pitchers, who would then theoretically be "within" the Pirates organization and therefore count towards that goal. From the end of December 2001 to March of 2002, Littlefield signed Salomon Torres, Mike Williams, Scott Service, Al Reyes, Brian Boehringer, Wayne Gomes, Ron Villone, Joe Roa and Brian Meadows. All of these guys cost them something, and several of them never even pitched for the team before being released, and of those who did, only Torres had pitched effectively over the long term for Pittsburgh, and the others yielded little or nothing in trade.

Even those who could have fetched a marginal prospect were inexplicably allowed to continue pitching for the Bucs and were then lost to free agency, and this was generally true throughout Littlefield's tenure in the Steel City. Julian Tavarez, Matt Stairs, Reggie Sanders, Mike Lincoln, Daryle Ward, Joe Table, Rick White and others were signed as free agents and allowed to leave as free agents, despite demonstrating that they had some value in trade for Pirates teams that were going absolutely nowhere in the last several years.

Not that everyone was allowed to leave as a free agent. There were some trades made, and some of those proved worthwhile, at least for a time. Dave Williams was traded for Sean Casey and cash, and even though Casey was no great shakes, he was soon sent away for a minor league pitcher who might actually have a future, whereas Williams basically fell apart. They sent Rob Mackowiak, a sub-mediocre utility player, to the White Sox for Damaso Marte, who's been a pretty decent relief pitcher for them the last two seasons.

There were a few solid trades. They managed to get Freddy Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez from the Red Sox for two months worth of Jeff Suppan. Gonzalez was a good relief pitcher for them for a few years and then netted them Adam LaRoche in trade, and of course Freddy Sanchez won a batting title and led the NL in doubles last season and has been an All-Star twice. When Brian Giles was getting too expensive, he was traded to San Diego for Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, the 2005 NL Rookie of the year and a two-time All-Star. Those two probably complete the very short list of "good" trades that Littlefield made during his tenure in Pittsburgh.

Craig Wilson, who was declining rapidly in value, was traded to the Yankees for Shawn Chacon, who took his time at it but eventually became a useful pitcher again, while Wilson bounced around and looks washed up at age 30. After the 2001 season, when Todd Ritchie got too expensive, they shipped him and a minor leaguer to the White Sox for Kip Wells, Sean Lowe, and Josh Fogg. Wells was both decent and cheap for two years before injuries and arbitration made him lousy and expensive at the same time, and Fogg, if not particularly good, was neither terrible nor pricey, at least for a while. (Meanwhile, Ritchie promptly fell apart and was out of baseball by the end of 2004.) The Kris Benson trade netted them Jose Batista, their current regular thirdbaseman, Ty Wigginton, who could have been a regular something if they'd given him a shot, and a minor leaguer. Not a bad return for an injury-prone, sub-LAIM pitcher making $6 million in his walk year.

But for every good move, it seems there were about five bad ones. They lost Bronson Arroyo, Dave Ross, Chris Young, Ty Wigginton, Duaner Sanchez, Gary Matthews and others, all of whom have gone on to have notable success elsewhere, either by getting little in trade or by waiving or releasing them outright. Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez and CASH, which the Pirates can hardly spare, were sent to the Cubs for Matt Bruback, Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill, who was later flipped to the Padres for a non-prospect minor leaguer.

Jason Kendall is now generally thought of as a waste of a roster spot, but in the winter of 2004, he was a 30-year old catcher with a career .306/.387/.418 batting line who stole bases and played good defense. Nevertheless, all Littlefield got for him, due mostly to his exhorbitant contract, was Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes, and some money, though probably not as much as he sent along with Kendall. A year later, Redman was flipped for a couple of prospects you've probably never heard of and Rhodes was traded for Matt Lawton. And Lawton, when he was having a decent year that should have netted them some kind of prospect at the trading deadline, only got them Jody Gerut, an injury-prone retread from the Cleveland organization.

The last several years have seen the Pirates employ a maddeningly long list of has-beens and won't-be-anymores, like Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, Joe Randa, Jose Hernandez, Daryle Ward, Benito Santiago, Mark Redman, Joe Table, Chris Stynes, Raul Mondesi, Jeff Reboulet, Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs, Pokey Reese, and Jeff D'Amico, just to name a few. For a team that was supposed to "let the kids play" that's an awful lot of guys on the wrong side of 30, some on the wrong side of 35.

Even the players the Pirates developed themselves have turned out to be disappointments. The Pat Meares signing, which, to be fair, was not Littlefield's work, was widely ridiculed at the time, and I'm sure Littlefield was glad to be rid of him when his contract expired at the end of the 2001 season. But his successor, Jack Wilson, has been at if for seven seasons, is making more money than Mears ever did, and his #1 comparable player, according to Bill James' Similarity Scores, is (wait for it...) Pat Meares.

The current roster, with a few exceptions, does not have a lot of bright spots. Freddy Sanchez can hit for average, but has no power or speed and is not a good defensive 2B. Jason Bay is an excellent talent having an off year. It gets pretty thin after that. Xavier Nady and Adam LaRoche would be effective role players on a championship team, but are little more than stop-gaps on this one. Chris Duffy is already 27 and has proven that he can steal bases but can't get onto them in the first place. Nate McLouth may be in the same boat, except that he's only 25. Jose Bautista has aver 1000 major league plate appearances and a career .241/.329/.398 batting line. He's 26, and might get better, but will probably never be an All-Star. Catcher Ronny Paulino hit .310 last year but had a below average OPS because he doesn't walk and has no power. Jack Wilson ain't gonna get any better than he is right now, which is pretty bad to begin with.

What they do have is a trio of cheap and solid young starting pitchers. Tom Gorzellany, Ian Snell and Paul Maholm could form the core of a rotation that's both win- and cost- effective for years to come, and Matt Capps can close the few games they'll actually win for something close to the major league minimum for at least another year or two. They'll all get more expensive as they enter arbitration, but should still be manageable for a while, especially with all the money the Pirates must get from revenue sharing. That's a lot more than some teams can say. Young catcher/OF Ryan Doumit might be something special, but at 26, it's time to start proving it. After that's it's mostly question marks.

The top tiers of their farm system , with a few exception, don't have many pitchers who strike batters out with much consistency, which does not bode well for thir long-term success. Keith Law and others have outlined already how Littlefield's failure to effectively stock the farm system was ultimately his undoing, so I won't rehash all of that in this space, but there are two quick ways of looking at the situation to get a sense of how dismal his efforts have been.

1) The best players the Pirates have drafted on Littlefield's watch are Maholm and Gorzellany (1st and 2nd round, 2003), and maybe Matt Capps (7th round, 2002). In the meantime, they could have had Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, BJ Upton, Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, Matt Cain, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Francis, David Bush, Jesse Crain, Brian McCann and/or lots of others who've had more success in the majors than the best the Pirates have to show for their trouble. And those names are all just from the 2002 draft.

B) The Pirates #1 draft pick in 2002, Brian Bullington, is struggling to get to and stay in the majors. His minor league record is unimpressive at best. He walks too many and strikes out too few and has trouble staying healthy...and he's starting for the Pirates on Tuesday.

In short, it's been a long, strange trip with Littlefield at the helm for the Bucs, but most Pirates fans are probably glad to see someone else get a chance to Captain this once proud ship.

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