26 November 2007

The Santana Question: To Trade or Not to Trade?

Johan Santana is the 800-lb. gorilla.

OK, so he's really like 6 feet tall and 195 lbs, when it comes to contract negotiations, he's King Kong. The man can essentially write his next contract, and his employer, whomever that may be, just has to sit there and take it. The Minnesota Twins would love to hold onto him for another year, not to mention the rest of his career. They'd love for him to be the centerpiece of a championship team, but of course, so would the other 29 teams. Realistically, the Twins are not in the habit of committing scores of millions of dollars to players, even to players as good as Santana.

While their owner, Carl Pohlad, could buy any and all of the free agents he wanted with all the billions of dollars he has, that's never been his style. He's content to let the team pay for whatever the team can afford to pay on its own merits, and that is not likely to change any time soon. And that is not likely to include a pitcher who makes $25 million per year for half a decade or more.

Which means that they've gotta trade him. The "Now or later?" question is fairly easy to answer: Now. The only reason to hold onto Santana for most or all of the 2008 season is if you think he's going to help them to the playoffs. There's no way they'll get more for him in trade next June or July than they will now, so that's not a motivation to keep him. But would a reasonable assessment of the 2008 Twins suggest a team that has a good chance to make the playoffs?

The Twins finished third in the AL Central in 2007, behind the Tigers and the Indians. Cleveland looks like a team that could be very good again next year, and there's little reason to think that the Tigers are suddenly going to go away. Minnesota's pitching was very good last year, with and ERA that ranked 4th in the league, and keeping Santana, they could be even better next year, as some of their young pitching matures. The hitting was atrocious last year, as they finished 12th in the 14-team American League in runs scored, but they're a good bet to improve at a few different positions, if only because some of the players they ran out there in 2007 (Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Luis Rodriguez, Rondell White) were so horrendous that there's basically nowhere to go but up. Still, even with a substantial improvement, the offense would probably only be mediocre, and they'll have a hard time beating out the Tigers and the Tribe, much less the Yankees or Red Sox or any other Wild Card contender.

So it's not likely that the Twins will be contenders next year, which means that they ought to just suck it up, take the PR hit they'll get by trading Santana away this winter, and build for 2009 and beyond.

This is good news for the Yankees, for while the other 29 teams would all love to have Johan Santana on their roster, only a handful of them can actually afford him, and the Yankees are at the top of that list. Even fewer of those actually have the type and number of prospects the Twins would require to pry Santana away from them, and the Yankees (along with the Red Sox) top that list as well.

Buster Olney says that Peter Gammons says that the Twins would like a package of RHP Phil Hughes, CF Melky Cabrera, and minor league CF Austin Jackson. Based on name recognition alone, that looks like a heck of a lot of talent to give up for one guy, especially if you're then going to have to give that guy 6 years and something like $150 million. But how much are they giving up, really?

Let's start with the best-known commodity first: Melky Cabrera. The Melk Man has been a Yankee Regular more or less for the last two seasons, and I would say that his production level has been adequate, at best. He's very young, and by the virtue of being a major league regular at age 21 alone, his future looks bright, but based on his skills, I'm not so sure. He actually regressed in 2007 instead of improving, losing a few points in batting average and a lot of walks, without gaining anything in either power or speed.

By most accounts and metrics, he is a good or very good defensive center fielder, but whether his bat will ever come around enough to justify an everyday job on a championship team is another question entirely. My suspicion is that he can make a career out of being "serviceable" in center field, with just enough of a bunch of different skills that he's useful, and no glaring weakness (like being error-prone or striking out too much or otherwise pissing off the management and/or fans) that would justify benching or trading him. As long as he's making something below the major league average salary, he's not killing the team, but once he hits arbitration and free agency, look out. There are not a lot of center fielders who can get away with hitting less than 10 homers a year, and the ones who can have skills that Melky does not, like prolific base stealing or high batting averages. At this point, in my mind, Melky could go either way. He's far from a sure thing.

Phil Hughes, on the other hand, seemed like the closest thing to a sure one the Yankees have had in a long time, at least he did until he came up to the majors this year and took a few lumps. The praise for Hughes as a minor leaguer came from far and wide, and though he did not come to the American League and start mowing down batters like Kerry Wood or Mark Fidrych, his chances f being an excellent major league starting pitcher are still as good as anyone's we've ever seen. Again, anything is possible, but he should still be very good. With that said, he my still need another year of seasoning in the majors before he really gets the hang of it up in the AL, and the Yankees are nothing if not impatient with their prospects.

Austin Jackson, a name with which you may not be familiar, was the centerfielder for their High-A Florida State League team, and he hit .345 in half a year. (The first half was spent at Class-A Charleston, and he was decent there, but not spectacular.) Jackson's batting average and slugging percentage (.566) would have led the FSL if he had enough at-bats to qualify, and he hit 10 homers and stole 13 bases in half a season. All-told, he stole 32 bases in 43 attempts at two levels, and had 53 hits for extra bases in 493 at-bats, all at the tender age of 20. Unfortunately he also struck out 107 times and while he will take an occasional walk, they are just that: occasional. Once every 12 plate appearances or so.

Jackson is a kid, and unlike Phil Hughes or Melky Cabrera, he's a kid that's likely at least two full years away from being a major leaguer, if he ever makes it at all. Right now the best evidence in his favor is a half a season of at bats in the Florida State league in which he blew the competition away, but the list of players who have done that may not be riddled with successful major leaguers. For all anyone knows, he may regress to hitting .260 when he gets promoted to AA Trenton next year, may never learn patience at the plate, or may not be able to handle the defense of center field as he progresses through the ranks. After that .345 and 10 homers in Tampa, his value may be as high as it will ever go, so even if he doesn't go to the Twins in a trade for Santana, the Yankees might be well served to send him elsewhere now, as they did with C.J. Henry.

A variation of the trade from George King of the NY Post (and this is a suggestion, really, not a rumor) has Ian Kennedy in the package instead of Jackson, and this to me seems a lot more costly. Kennedy blew through three levels of the minors last year and then impressed nearly everyone, especially opposing batters, in the three starts he made in the majors before getting shut down for the season with a strained muscle in his back. Long-term, though, he should be great.

So, in short, a trade of Melky, Austin Jackson and either Hughes or Kennedy would be, or should be, a no-brainer for the Yankees. Of course they should do it. One pretty good bet to be a good pitcher in one or two years, on centerfielder who's got some potential but will probably never be a star, and a 20-year old in A-ball with exactly half a season of really nice looking stats? Why wouldn't you make tat trade? The money's not an issue for the Yankees, and they desperately need an ace, especially if Andy Pettitte doesn't return. With Joba Chamberlain and whichever of the two (Hughes or Kennedy) doesn't go in the trade, they've still got a pretty affordable starting rotation in 2009 and beyond.

Which is exactly why that trade will never happen. It's just not enough for the Twins.

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20 November 2007

AL and NL MVP Voting Problems

National League MVP

Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins won. You know that. Here's something you may not know:

Rollins 162 716 139 212 38 20 30 94 49 85 41 6 .344 .531 .296
Ramirez 154 639 125 212 48 6 29 81 52 95 51 14 .386 .562 .332

Hanley Ramirez had a very similar season to Rollins. Very similar.

He had exactly the same number of hits, and almost exactly the same number of walks and homers, despite getting about 80 fewer at-bats. His batting average, slugging percentage, hits, runs, steals, doubles, total bases, at-bats and some other stats were all among the top 5 in the NL, many of them in the top 2 or 3. Rollins waa similar of course, but he hit for a lower average, lower slugging and lower OBP. he walked less often, stole less often, and hit fewer doubles, though he also struck out a little less, got caught a few less times and hit more triples. He hit one more homer, but needed the help of the best home run park in the majors to do it.

Meanwhile, Ramirez outperformed him in most ways, despite playing in a slight pitcher's park. Unfortunately, Ramirez plays for the Marlins, who had the worst pitching staff in the National League, which means they didn't win much, which means that the voters tended to overlook him when considering their ballot.

I'm not saying that Ramirez deserved the award or that Rollins didn't deserve the award. (Actually, I think Albert Pujols or David Wright deserved it more than either of them.) I'm just saying that Hanley Ramirez deserved to finish higher than 10th.

American league MVP Voting Issues

There's been some heat about the fact that two Detroit beat writers voted for Magglio Ordonez first instead of Alex Rodriguez, as I mentioned yesterday. I read a column over on AOL's sports pages that included a snippet of one of the two writers trying to defend his vote, which was laughable. Here's the quote, or some of it, anyway:

"I saw Magglio play every day. What I saw was a player having an MVP year. I have no quarrel with anyone who voted for A-Rod. He also had an MVP year. But with the injuries the Tigers had and the effort and performance I saw from Magglio, there's no question he had an MVP year."

- Jim Hawkins, Oakland Press, Pontiac, Michigan

I didn't think of this when I was harping on the issue yesterday, but the thing I find really funny about this "logic" is that according to Hawkins, seeing Magglio play everyday told him that he was the MVP. That's it. His subjective experience of seeing Magglio Ordonez play baseball was all he needed to decide to vote for him. But the award is a comparative one, an award given for relative value, not an absolute. That's why it's called the MOST Valuable Player, and not, say, the RVP (Really Valuable Player) or just VP (Vice President, which you'll hafta wrest from Dick Cheney's cold, dead hands.)

This, means, at its logical end, that statistics don't mean anything, or at best that the numbers don't mean as much as the subjective experience of watching him play. Of course, in order to do the necessary comparative work to really vote fairly, to really know who the MVP was, Hawkins would have had to see all of the players play, every day (or at least the ones in contention for the MVP award). After getting home from the Tigers' game each night, he should have watched a tape of the Yankee game, right? And probably the Angels' game and the Red Sox game. Maybe Cleveland. Nah. Heck with Cleveland, he would think.

But nobody does that. Nobody has the time. At least I don't. That's why we keep statistics: So you don't have to watch every game. We can argue about the relative merits of various statistics, to be sure, but Hawkins' argument just throws them out on their ear. By his logic, the NY writers who saw A-Rod everyday could justifiably believe that Alex was the MVP, right? To his credit, Hawkins does not debate this, saying, "He also had an MVP year" without realizing that the logic doesn't work there. Two players, technically, cannot both be the MOST valuable, unless they are both equally valuable, right? But Hawkins doesn't even go that far. He just says, basically, that you can vote for whomever the hell you want to vote for, and getting to watch him play everyday qualifies to you be the resident authority on that player's MVP-ness. So there.

By that logic, someone from the Kansas City Star-Telegram could justify voting for David DeJesus or even Tony Pena for the MVP! After all, he saw them play every day! Who would know better than him? Why should he need statistics? Why would he need to see anyone else's game footage? Based on Jim Hawkins' "logic" a vote for David DeJesus would be beyond reproach, as long as it was from someone who saw him play every day!

Man, I hate Post-Modernism.

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19 November 2007

Good News All Around: A-Rod the MVP, Red Sox Getting Lowell

Just a couple of quick notes on the AL MVP Award...

...no surprise that Alex Rodriguez won it. A little surprised that it wasn't unanimous, but then, I shouldn't be. As long as they can somehow justify it, home-town writers will almost always vote for their guy. The two writers from Michigan both listed Magglio Ordonez first, and while Magglio had a great year, A-Rod was better. How much better? About 9 runs worth, according to Baseball Prospectus' VORP metric. When defense is facotred in, A-Rod wins, hands-down: 11.0 WARP to 8.7, as Ordonez is not much of a defensive outfielder. Actually, if you look at all the candidates, Magglio ties with Ichiro with that 8.7, well behind Curtis Granderson (10.4) and Carlos Pena (9.9). Jorge Posada sat just below them at 8.2 WARP, but nobody else was within two wins or so of that.

Incidentally, Magglio Ordonez' player page on MLB.com says that,

"He, his wife Dagly and three children, Magglio Jr., Maggliana and Sophia..."

How big an ego do you have to have to name not one, but two children after yourself? And one of them a girl?! Poor kid. Well, not that poor.

On the other hand, the Red Sox re-signing of Mike Lowell, who until recently had been rumored to have been courted by the Yankees to play either first or third base, depending on whether or not A-Rod returned, might seem like bad news, but it's snot not. Mike Lowell was coming off the second best year of his entire career, and this at age 33, when most players are starting to slow down, or at best, plateau. Granted, he hit that pretty .324 in 2007, and high batting averages sure do look good in that little box at the bottom of the screen when a guy ocmes to the plate, but in reality, Lowell's 2007 wasn't much different from his 2002 season with Florida, when he was 30 years old, and he hit .276/.346/.471 with 24 homers and 92 RBI's.

Both the high batting average and the high RBI total were due to the fact that he played for the Red Sox in 2007. He hit 6th most of the time, though sometimes 4th or 5th, with David Ortiz (AL-leading .445 OBP) in front of him, not to mention Kevin Youkilis (.390), and Manny Ramirez (.388). As for the batting average, that's an easy one: He hit .276 on the road, but .373 at Fenway Park. That's probably on the short list of the most severe home-road splits (Non-Coors Division) in history!

Looking at it another way, how likely is Mike Lowell to continue to produce like that? Well, coming into this year, Baseball prospectus (who pretty good at predicting these kind of things) thought he would most likely hit .269/.328/.432 with 13 homers and 67 RBI in 489 plate appearances. That was his 50th percentile projection, which means the weighted average of the accomplishments of similar players at age 33.

His 90th percentile was .299/.361/.503 with 21 homers and 85 RBIs, but his actual numbers .324/.378/.501 were notably better than those (Though the homers and slugging matched the 90th percentile projections almost exactly). So let's call what he actually did the "95th" percentile. That seems fair. How likely is it that Mike Lowell, after out-performing 95% of the major league baseball players like him in history at age 33, can do the same at age 34? How likely is it that he'll even do better than the 50th percentile for two of the three years to which the Red Sox have signed him, at about $13 million per?

Not very, I'll tell you that.

So be glad, Yankee fans. When Mike Lowell is coming back to Earth next season, hitting .270 with modest power or worse, at least he'll be the Red Sox problem and not yours.

Your problem is to find a firstbaseman who doesn't hit like an old lady.

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Alex the MVP, Should Stand for Millions inVested Poorly

Well, maybe things are not going to be so bad for the Yankees after all.

It looks like Alex Rodriguez is going to re-sign with the team, despite his having abandoned the contract he had with them and the subsidy they had for him from the Texas Rangers, and despite the Yankees' insisting that they would not negotiate with him if he left. Not that anyone actually believed that, but still. Rodriguez and the Yankees got around the bad PR on that issue by having Alex approach the team through a different agent, in this case, a couple of guys the Yankees know from the investment firm Goldman-Sachs, who helped to broker the YES Network deals.

Does that strike you as odd? It did me. I don't usually think of investment bankers and baseball players in the same vein, but then, there aren't many baseball players who can get contracts that will guarantee them more than the Gross Domestic Products of about half a dozen small countries, are there? I suppose if you've got that much to invest, someone from Goldman-Sachs would love to talk to you, and if they can stake a claim, a "finder's fee" if you will, on the total value of that contract (and why shouldn't they?) then it's obviously worth their while. A finder's fee of 1/2 of a percent is still worth over a million dollars on that $275 million contract.

A fairly obvious, though as yet (I think) unstated observation from this development is that yet another of the long list of Scott Boras Lies has been proven false. Boras had said, among other things, that,

"Alex's decision was one based on not knowing what his closer, his catcher and one of his statured pitchers was going to do," Boras said. "He really didn't want to make any decisions until he knew what they were doing."

That quote came directly from an ESPN.com article, which got it from the newswire. Boras has not said that he was misquoted, and Alex has not denied this.

Trouble is, those three questions have not yet been answered. Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Posada has re-signed with the Yankees (to an un-recommended 4-year, $52.4 million deal), but to date, Rivera and the Yankees are still working on a deal, and last week, when Rodriguez came back to the table, Rivera was still holding out for a fourth year. Pettitte opted out of his $16 million offer, and is still undecided as to whether or not he'll come back. If he needed to know about those three before making a decision, how can he be back already?

The one solid piece of information Alex does have now that he did not have when he opted out of the contract is that Joe Torre, his manager for the last four seasons, will not be back. If anything, you'd think that would push him away from New York, right? Torre was so good at taking the heat for Alex, trying to get the sportswriters to put things in perspective, maintaining that whatever ills he was suffering were temporary, even when he was knoblauching the ball all over the infield last season. If Torre's departure wasn't enough reason for him to leave, what would be? (NOTE: I'm sure, that in the public relations love-fest that will inevitably follow the signing of the new, record-setting contract, Rodriguez will tell us how much he loves Joe Girardi, and always has, even though he's never before said a single word about the man in public. You just wait.)

In any case, this much is clear: There were not many, if any, other teams out there willing to pony up the kind of dough that Boras and Rodriguez were seeking when they hit the free agent market. CNNMoney.com's Chris Isidore, who apparently just believes anything Soctt Boras tells him, was wrong about that. As was Boras, for that matter. These days, teams have more money than they know what to do with, but even so, nobody else is rich enough to be able to afford the mistake of spending almost $300 million on one player.

That's right: Mistake.

As good as Alex Rodriguez is, and he's very good, there is no way that the Yankees do not regret this contract before it's over, maybe even before it's half over. As I pointed out a few days ago, when Alex Rodriguez is 38 years old, the Yankees will still have 5 more years and something like $150 million worth of payments to make on this contract, since they tend to be back-loaded. Does anybody in his or her right mind think that any player's age 38-42 years could be worth $150 million?

Think of the greatest "old" hitters in modern history. The ones with similar skills to Alex Rodriguez (average, patience, power, maybe some speed in their younger days) include Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, Edgar Martinez...pick someone, almost anyone. Very few of them have many full, healthy seasons after age 37. Many of them were productive, at least some of the time, when they played, but they just didn't play enough to justify this kind of money. Among those I listed, only Winfield ever played 150 or more games in a season after his 38th birthday (he did it twice), though several of them are in the 140's. Granted, Barry Bonds did win two NL MVP Awards after turning 38, despite not playing more than 147 games in either season, because he was so damn good when he played. But of course, Bonds had a little "help", i.e. better living through chemistry as Dow used to say, and I don't think we want to count on that in Alex's case.

The reality is that the man is going to get hurt. He's going to have an off year or two or three some time during this ten-year contract. And insurance companies are smart enough not to insure that much money that far off in the future, especially not on a commodity as volatile as a 40-year old baseball player. Which means that when the other cleat drops for Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees will have to eat all of the $30+ million he'll be making that year.

Good thing they can afford it. Sort of.

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05 November 2007

Scott Boras & Alex Rodriguez: Making Sense of the Cents

There has been a lot of speculation as to why Alex Rodriguez decided to opt out of the remaining three years of his contract with the Yankees, and more specifically, why his agent, Scott Boras, chose to announce it when he did, i.e. during the last game of the World Series. Boras has said that he didn't mean to upstage the World Series, and he's "sorry", or whatever, but that's a load of crap, and we all know it. Scott Boras leaked that info (or had someone leak it) exactly when he wanted to, (and then crossed his fingers and prayed that the Red Sox would win that game) so that everyone would know that

A) they were serious about testing the market, and
2) Alex Rodriguez is the most important human being you have ever laid eyes on.

Screw the Red Sox. Screw the World Series. Screw Major League Baseball. Alex wants his money, and he wants it now. Don't believe that garbage about needing to know whether or not Mariano and Jorge and Joe Torre were returning. That was just a convenient excuse to do what they wanted to do in the first place: get ALex out there on the auction block, where he can go to the highest bidder.

Scott Boras never does anything wihtout a design on making more money for his players and ultimately, for himself. He's a master tactician, like Tony LaRussa without the surliness and with better hair. He works his butt off to get his players the best possible contracts, frequently to the dismay of the teams and towns that sign them. He spends hours preparing carefully worded statements and charts and graphs and tables full of specifically selected statistics and other data that will paint his players in the best possible light, even (and sometimes, especially) if that means completely obscuring their true worth.

There are more stories about Scott Boras getting ridiculously and inappropriately lucrative contracts for his baseball players than anyone in any sport you've ever heard of, and with good reason. Sure, he represents some great players, All-Stars, Cy Young and MVP award winners, etc., and has done well for them. Besides A-Rod, he represents or has represented Greg Maddux, Carlos Beltran, Barry Zito, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Eric Gagne, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones, Kevin Brown and J.D. Drew, to name but a few.

Many of those are or were very good players, but many of them also have created quite a headache for their employers by performing well below expectations while costing their teams millions of dollars. Beltran, Drew and Zito were disappointments in their first year of free agency, though at least Beltran has since redeemed himself. Bernie's contract was an albatross for three of its seven years. After the first two years of his seven-year, record $105 million contract, Kevin Brown waffled between being a Cy Young contender and not pitching at all, doing a lot more of the latter than the former while with the Yankees. Gagne, Damon and Varitek all got hurt soon after signing big free agent contracts.

But two players, specifically, highlight Scott Boras' ability to make teams pay through the nose for sub-par talent: J.D. Drew and Darren Dreifort.

Darren Dreifort earned $55 million from the Dodgers between 2001 and 2005, and he pitched just over 200 innings in those five seasons, winning exactly nine games in the major leagues. He didn't pitch at all in 2002 or 2005. Almost any contract he signed would have been a waste of money, and of course you couldn't have predicted that he would fail so miserably and so completely, so soon. But you could have predicted that a 29 year old with a 39-45 career record and an ERA just over 4.00 (despite spending his whole career in Chavez Ravine), one who had never managed to pitch more than 192 innings in his six, mediocre seasons in the big leagues, would not suddenly be worth $11 million per year. And you'd have been right. For some reason, though Scott Boras managed to cloud the Dodgers' judgment just long enough to get them to sign that ludicrous contract. And for some reason, teams will still talk to him.

But Drew may be the even more remarkable case. Under Boras' guidance, he spurned the Phillies and went to the independent leagues, not because he disliked the Phillies (which, in my mind, is both understandable and a pretty good excuse for not wanting to play for them) but becaus ethe Phils refused to meet his signing bonus demands ($8 million, if I recall correctly). Drew then signed with St. Louis, the following season, for way less than the previous year's demands, and played six injury-plagued, generally disappointing years. He was traded to Atlanta, where he played a solid and mostly healthy season and parlayed that into a $55 million, 5-year contract with Los Angeles. Whereupon he resumed the getting-hurt-and-generally-disappointing-the-fans act. Amazingly, Boras talked him into opting out of that contract after two years, and an organization I generally consider much smarter than the Dodgers, namely Boston, signed him for five more years and $70 million! Oh, and he played worse, and less often. Will they ever learn?

In any case, Scott Boras knows what he's doing. If he can get $55 million for a waste of roster space like Darren Dreifort, imagine what he can do for someone who's actually good, like Alex Rodriguez!

The only reason for Alex Rodriguez to opt out of the (depending on your source) $72 to $90 million he was already guaranteed plus an additional $150 million or more of guaranteed money is that he thought he could get more. He (and more important, Boras) thought they could do better than $222M to $240M for eight to ten years. Heck, they thought they could do better than $252M for ten years, his previous contract. They thought they could get ten years and $350 million out of New York, and if not them, then someone, or they would not have done it. Simple as that. They wanted A-Rod to be the highest paid player both in average dollars per year and total contract dollars, and they wanted it by a substantial margin, so that there could be no mistake who the most valuable player (and the most valuable agent) in baseball are at any time for the next decade.

The Yankees, however, obviously used the promise of non-negotiation as a threat to keep him from going, because obviously they stood to lose a lot if he did. They had a nice, $21 million si\ubsidy from Texas that was forfeit when Rodriguez became a free agent. But Boras, too, stands to lose a lot if the Yankees won't talk to them, because they're the ones who can offer the richest contract, and even if they don't, they're the ones Boras can allege to be offering the richest contract as he negotiates with other teams. He loses a big leveraging tool if everone knows that New York isn't in the discussions.

But the Yankees stand to lose even more if A-Rod and his prodigious talent go to help some other theam to a championship. They'll negotiate with him if they think it's in their best interest, in spite of the chiding they'll take from the news media for going back on their promise to shun him. In the long run, both the Yankees and the A-Rod Camp recognize this and won't let the media backlash get in the way of baseball and the (millions of) bucks.

Of course, $30 to $35 million per season is preposterous, but then so was $25.2 million per year back in Y2Krazy, when A-rod signed with Texas. No there's no real evidence to show that Alex Rodriguez will help prop up your regional sports network, as Boras has been saying, but there is evidence that ALex actually earned his salary last year. Baseball Prospectus has a metric they call MORP, Money Over Replacement PLayer, a measure of how much more a player's worth compared to a freely available talent, based on average salaries, inflation and some other stuff I don't really understand. According to their 2007 formula, Alex was worth about $44 million last year, and of course he "only" made about $23 million, a third of which was paid for by the Rangers, so the Yankees really got a deal, according to BP, anyway.

But for Alex to "earn" his $30 to $35 million per year, he has to have an MVP-type season every year for the next decade. He needs to be worth at least nine Wins Above Replacement for each of the next ten seasons, and thats just not going to happen. Nobody's ever been able to produce like that for more than four or five seasons in a row, and there's no way Alex Rodriguez has found some fountain of youth that has eluded everyone else on the planet for the last 150 years.

Between the ages of 20 and 31, a span of 12 seasons, Rodriguez probably deserved the AL MVP Award eight times. He actually won it in 2003 and 2005, and will win it this year, but probably also should have gotten the award in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2002 and maybe 2000, though that one was a lot closer. He didn't win any of those other five, of course, because too many of the voters don't know what the hell they're doing, but in any case, most people would agree that he was one of the three to five best players in the AL in each of those years, without question. But does anyone with any sense think that he can do that again? Earning two out of every three MVP awards for the next ten years? Let's be realistic, people.

Will he be good? Sure. Great even, at least for a few years. But even if he maintains the kind of production to which we've become accustomed, a .300 batting average, 40+ homers, 120+ runs and RBIs, 20+ steals at high success rate, how long can he be expected to do it? Five years? Six? How long before age and injuries start to slow him down? At the end of the 2012 season, when he's only half way through the $350 million contract that Boras is demanding, Alex will be 38 years old. And more than half of that $350 million will still be owed to him, as these contracts are usually backloaded. Does anyone think that an infielder (probably a firstbaseman by then) in his late 30's and early 40's will actually be worth $35 million per year?

How much more does Boras expect the dollar to fall, anyway?

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29 October 2007

A-Rod Opts Out of Contract; Yankees Consider thir Options at Third Base

Well, I may have been right about Boston trouncing the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, but I definitely missed the mark on whether or not Joe Torre would stay, and whether or not Alex Rodriguez would opt out of his current contract with the Yankees. A totally classless move, to announce it during the World Series. I'm not sure why baseball agents aren't held to the same standards that baseball teams are when it comes to this stuff. But of course, it makes sense that A-Rod wouldn't show up to get his hank Aaron Award in person: It would look really bad for the crowd to boo the award winner at his own ceremony, and he and his agent know it.

Up until yesterday, most people were expecting the Yankees to keep Rodriguez from opting out of the contract by discussing a contract extension. They had even gone so far as to leak to the press that it would likely be in the range of 5 years and $150 million, which would average about $30 million per season, making him the highest paid player in the game for most of the next decade. And this, I believe, would have been in addition to his remaining three-years and $72 million from the previous contract, plus another $3 million per year in deferred money from the Texas Rangers, which he gets regardless of whether or not he opts out of the contract. So, if I understand it correctly, he's going out into the open market, and in doing so, is walking away from what was likely an 8-year deal worth at least $220 million.

Why would he do that? Only if he, and more accurately, agent Scott Boras, believe he could get more in the open market.

Even if I'm wrong, and the 5-year, $150 million contract would have replaced, instead of supplemented, the remainder of his ten-year, $252 million deal from Y2K, he's still walking away form a guaranteed $150 million or so, plus likely player options for additional years and money, if he wants them.

I'm not certain that this could have been the case, though, as the Yankees would rather have signed him ot an additional contract than to surrender the remaining $21 million and change owed to A-Rod by the Rangers. The Yankees really had a pretty sweet deal there, so you can see why it was in their best interest to keep him talking. They had a deal where they had the best player in the American League, if not all of MLB, signed for three more seasons, and another team was paying almost a third of his salary! What more could they want?

But what sense does it make for A-Rod to walk away?

Personally, I didn't think there was a market for J.D. Drew last year, at least nt one that would have gotten him more than the $11 million per year he was scheduled to make for the next three seasons with the Dodgers. But then somehow Scott Boras talked the Boston Red Sox into signing Drew for 5 years and $70 million, averaging about $14 million per year. Drew dropped off precipitously in 2007, despite helping his team win the World Series, hitting only .270 with 11 homers in 140 games. Perhaps Boras is thinking that if someone this mediocre is worth $14 million, Rodriguez must be worth $40 million per season!

The Yankees have stated repeatedly that they will not negotiate with Boras and Rodriguez if he opts out, but they've always been more about winning than principles anyway, and they know that they have a much better chance of winning in the next half a decade or so with A-Rod on the roster than without him. if he wins another MVP award next year (as he will certainly do this year), then it won't take long for the fans and the sportscasters to forget, or at least to forget to mention, the fact that the Yankees went back on their word in signing him, and the Yankees know that.

Sure, they're out $21 million of free money, and signing A-Rod will cost a fortune, maybe 8 or 9 years and $250 million, but what's that compared with having a living legend playing everyday for them, pursuing Barry Bonds' career home run record, and the chance at October glory?

Put another way: What are their alternatives?

Eric Duncan: 23 year old, AAA-3B. Hit .241 with 11 homers in 411 at-bats this year. In five years in the Yankees minor leagues, through six different levels, Duncan has averaged .250 with about 12 homers and 54 RBIs in 103 games per season. In short: He ain't it.

Marcos Vechionacci Was the Yankees' 7th best prospect, according to baseball America, as recently as 2006, but hitting only .266 with 2 homers in the Florida State League has dimmed his star a bit. Even if he starts to hit, he's still two years away, at best. That's not gonna be soon enough.

Free Agents:

The best of the bunch is Mike Lowell, who just led the 2007 Red Sox with 120 RBIs, and then won the World Series MVP award. He's not gonna be cheap. Plus the Red Sox want to keep him. He's going to be 34 by the time Spring Training starts, and to date he has exactly one season in which he hit better than .293 (which just happens to be this year, .324) and one year in which he hit more than 27 homers (2003, with 32). he's never walked more than 65 times in a season, and has therefore never scored 100 runs. For that matter, he's never scored more than 88 runs, and he doesn't steal bases at all. He does play pretty good defense, but almost certainly will not earn the $15 million per year he's going to command as a free agent.

The list gets pretty thin after Lowell. The return of Aaron Boone? Pedro Feliz? Mike Lamb? The other free agents this winter are: Tony Batista, Russell Branyan, Jeff Cirillo, Corey Koskie, Greg Norton (option for 2008), and Abraham O. Nunez. Really, folks, there's just not much out there. If they don't get Mike Lowell (and they almost certainly won't), then it's gotta be a trade.

Trade Market:

The trouble with predicting trades is twofold. One is that actual Major League Baseball general managers rarely tend to be as risk-taking or creative with their trades as you might be with your fantasy team, for example. The other is that most of the general managers in MLB do not tend to be as dumb as some of the other managers in your fantasy league prove to be. (Incidentally, if you're not sure who the "dumb" owner in your league is...it's probably you.)

A subset of the second problem is that players who are both productive and affordable tend not to be available, and players that are available tend either not to be healthy or productive, or both, and are almost never cheap. Eric Chavez might be available from the Oakland A's, but he's now hit about .240 for each of the last two seasons, and given that he's owed at least $37 million over the next three years (including a $3M buyout for 2011), it's tough to see why anyone else would want him, let alone a team as smart as the Yankees.

So we need to find a thirdbaseman who's making too much money, and has either been unproductive, unhealthy, or both, and whose team would be willing to part with him, maybe even paying some of his contract, but who also is very likely to be both healthy and productive again next year and for the foreseeable future (because as we've already noted, the Yanks have nobody in the minors who's likely to be even remotely helpful in the majors for at least two or three years.)

The following players will be free agents after the 2008 season: Hank Blalock, Joe Crede, Morgan Ensberg, Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones, Greg Norton (if Tampa picks up his option), and Scott Spiezio. Jones, Blalock and Spezio all have options for 2009.

Blalock is only making $6M next year, with an option for about the same for 2009, and a cheap buyout, so he's not going anywhere. Glaus has another year on his existing contract, plus a player option for 2009 for over $11 million, and a full no-trade clause, so that's not gonna happen, either. Crede had back surgery this year and droped off a lot from his career year in 2006. He's got one more year of arbitration eligibility, but after last year's lack of performance, I imagine that the ChiSox can re-sign him fairly cheaply for another year. Even though Josh Fields played pretty well in his absence, they're not likely to get rid of Crede, though for a couple of decent prospects, they might part with him.

Chipper Jones is an intriguing possibility. He's owed $11 million for 2008, and has an option for 2009 for another $8 to $11 million, depending on performance bonuses. Plus, as a 10-and-5 guy, he can veto any trade, so you would imagine that the Yankees would have to guarantee 2009 at $11 million to get him to waive that, at the very least. He's still a very productive hitter, though not as durable as he once was, being almost 36 years old. He's always been a pretty lousy fielding thirdbaseman, and that trend isn't going to reverse itself as he enters his late 30's.

The Braves have made no secret about the facts that
A) they need to save some money on payroll, and
2) they're not afraid to part with big-name franchise icons to do it.

In the last several years, they've said goodbye to Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez, Rafael Furcal and even longtime pitching coach Leo Mazzonne. This year, it's Andruw Jones and GM John Schuerholz. Chipper Jones is not above most of those guys.

The trouble for Atlanta, of course, is that neither they, nor the Yankees have anyone who's likely to be ready to play third base in the majors any time soon. So then either they'll have to get another thirdbaseman on the free agent market, make another trade, or bring in a third team to facilitate the trade with New York.

Another possibility might be someplace like Tampa Bay, where they got a decent year out of Japanese import Akinori Iwamura, but Evan Longoria is looking increasingly ready to wrest the major league job from him. Colorado is another possibility, as Garret Atkins is being crowded out of a job by Ian Stewart. Atkins is young and good and cheap, so he would peobably take a couple of top-notch pitching prospects to get in trade.

Iwamura might be a better option. He's signed to a 3-yr/$7.7 million contract through 2009, with a $4.25M club option for 2010. He hit reasonably well, but without much power as a rookie in 2007. Like Hideki Matsui, Iwamura may have been leery of swinging for the fences too much, not wanting to embarass himself in his North American debut. He averaged 35 homers per season in 2004-06 in Japan, so he could show more power next year, now that he's been around the league once. Matsui jumped from 16 homers to 31 in his sophomore season, and has hit 25 and 23 homers in his two full seasons since, so it's not unheard of. And given that he's nearly a year older than Atkins, without a long track record of success in American baseball, he would come a lot cheaper than Atkins.

Or, alternatively, they could sign a defense-minded 3B and try to make up the offense with another free agent signing, maybe Andruw Jones or someone like that. Or they could sign a defense-minded shortstop and move Derek Jeter over to third base, where his lack of range would not be such a problem.

Whatever they do, you can be sure of this: The New York fans will be pissed.

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Red Sox Sweep Colorado, 2007 World Series Champions

I hate to say I told you so...

Courtesy ESPN.com

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25 October 2007

Red Sox Roll, Rox Rocked, 13-1 in WS Game 1

Game 1 of the 2007 World Series reminded us why we so treasure the proverbial Cinderella Stories: They happen so rarely.

The 2007 Rockies, for all the hype of having won 21 of their last 22 games, couldn't do much against the better hitters and better pitchers from a better team in a better league. Not in Game 1, anyway.

Certainly the 2007 Colorados are a fun story, an inspiring one, and a refreshing change from the Rockies teams that had averaged 72 wins per year in this millenium before this season. But they did only win 90 games in the regular season, and it took them 163 games to get #90, against a league that was generally considered inferior ot the 2007 Junior Circuit. They had a winning record in every month except April (10-16), but in three of the other five months, they were only 1 or 2 games over the .500 mark. Only in July (15-9) and September/October (21-8) did they really play well.

The Rox can sock, with eight regulars or semi-regulars who hit at least .288, and five of those at .299 or better. They led the NL in team batting average and team OBP, and were second in runs scored to Philadelphia. But they scored almost 100 more runs at home than on the road, and hit over 60% of their home runs at Coors Field as well, so clearly, there's still a pretty noticeable park effect, in spite of the humidor they now use to keep that in check. The pitchers, for their part, had almost exactly the same ERA at Coors (a record low 4.34) as on the road (4.29), so it appears that the Rockies' pitchers have found a way to succeed both at home and on the road. Well, it appeared that way until they gave up 13 runs in Boston last night.

Yes, the Rockies had played extremely well through the last two weeks of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. But lest we forget, the Rockies were the best team in the NL, at least by Run Differential. Their runs scored and allowed suggested a 92-win team, rather than a 90-win team, slightly better than the Phillies they swept in the Wild Card Series (with a projected 88-win record) and much better than the D-Backs, whose record projected to only 79 wins. They were supposed to beat those two teams, if not necessarily to sweep them.

But the Red Sox? No way. Boston projected to a 103-win team, the best run differnetial in MLB. They've got a potent lineup, especially now that Manny Ramirez is healthy again, having scored almost exactly the same runs per game at home as the Rockies did, and without the thin air of Denver to help them. Last night's starter, Josh Beckett, will probably win the AL Cy Young Award, and had already proven himself in the playoffs multiple times, so it should be no surprise that he mastered the Rockies so easily.

Curt "I Love Myself the Spotlight" Schilling goes tonight for Boston against a 23-year old whose entire major league resume includes only about 100 innings of work, including his two postseason starts. I fully expect him to wilt under the pressure of having to prevent the Rockies' first losing streak in a month, but that kind of youth and cockiness could be just the thing they need to eek out a win before returning to Denver.

When they get there, it will be Dice-K vs Josh Fogg and then Jon Lester vs. Aaron Cook. Unfortunately, Cook and Fogg were not among the Rockies' pitchers who figured out how to win in Colorado, with a 5.31 and a 5.97 Coors ERA, respectively, so I imagine that the Red Sox can win those games if their own pitchers can just keep them in them. The Rockies might have been better off giving Jimenez a start in Colorado, where he had a 3.81 ERA this year, and letting Cook or Fogg pitch in Boston, but it's too late for that now. And don't think they have much hope in a Game 5, if there is one: Josh Beckett's career record at Coors Field is 3-0 with a 3.60 ERA.

Anything can happen in a short series, of course, but it won't. The Rockies will probably steal a win somewhere along the line, and with it, perhaps retain a bit of dignity, but in the end, they won't prove much of a challenge to the Red Sox, who should win it in five games.

It was almost over before it started.

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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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