09 October 2008

2008 National League Championship Series Preview

Tonight the Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78) and the Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) will face off in their best of seven series to decide the National league's representative in the World Series.

By rights, the Dodgers should not even be in this series. Throughout the Chicago Cubs schedule in the regular season, they were a vastly better team, with the best run differential in MLB, the best offense and the best record in the National League. Whether it was their lack of playoff experience, poor managing, overconfidence, or a livestock curse, the Cubs fell apart in almost every conceivable manner.

They made four errors in one game, and six in the three-game series, despite having had the second best defense in MLB, as measured by FRAA, a Baseball Prospectus stat. Their league-leading offense hit .240 with one home run. The pitching staff, which had the second best adjusted ERA in baseball, posted a 5.19 ERA in the three games, and only one of their three starters escaped the 5th inning. "Anything can happen in a short series." And it sure as hell did to the Cubs.

I give credit to the Dodgers, to a degree. They won their games. They capitalized on the mistakes the Cubs made. Of course, if they hadn't, the Cubs were going to make another one the next inning, anyway, but they didn't know that, even if the Cubs' fans did.

I mentioned in my column previewing the 2008 ALCS that Baseball Prospectus' Secret Sauce calculation can be a useful tool, but of course one-third of that is the closer's performance. In the case of the Rays, though they did not use Troy Percival in the ALDS, they could still use him in the ALCS, while Los Angeles almost definitely will not include Takashi Saito. Even if they do, it's unlikely, given how well Jonathan Broxton has thrown, to expect that Saito would again be made closer after not pitching for two months.

Using Broxton's number improves the Dodgers' Secret Sauce rank by three, bringing them into a virtual tie with the Phillies anyway, 41-40, with the Dodgers being fairly evenly ranked in the three components (14th in defense, 12th in K-rate, 15th in closer strength). The Phils, by contrast, are 22nd in K-rate, 17th in fielding, but make up for those by having the best closer in baseball, Brad Lidge. That 5-place gap in fielding should be taken with a grain of salt, though, as it represents a difference of only 5 runs over the course of the season, which works out to about 1/5th of one run over the course of a seven game series. Basically negligible.

So Secret Sauce is out for this one. What else can we use?

The Bill James playoff prediction system, which is a calculation based solely on the two teams' winning percentages in the regular season, gives the Phillies a 55% chance of winning this series, slightly better than tossing a coin. Coolstandings.com has that number as well, presumably because they used the same calculation I did. That's not much help either.

Over the regular season, the Phillies were second in the NL in runs scored (tied with the Mets, with 799, WAY less than the 1000 runs some were predicting before the season started). They were third in OPS, and second in slugging percentage to the Cubbies, who had a slightly larger park effect for offense. The Phillies walked fairly often, 5th in the NL, and led the NL (second in the majors) with 214 home runs. They also stole 136 bases, 4th in MLB, and had the best stealing success rate (84%) in baseball.

The bad news for Philly is that the Dodgers do not walk batters and do not allow home runs or steals. They were 2nd in the NL in fewest walks allowed (7th in MLB) trailing only Arizona in that respect. More important, they allowed the fewest homers in MLB, by far, only 123 in 162 games, and as I mentioned, only one to the Cubs' vaunted offense in the NLDS. And lest you think that this was just an effect of playing in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers allowed the 6th fewest homers in road games in MLB as well.

Los Angeles also kept baserunners in check pretty well, allowing only 82 successful steals all season, 5th best among the 16 National League teams. The Phillies, my Phriends, are out of tools.

Now we're going to have to start looking at actual players. Sheesh.

The Dodgers are going to have to score runs themselves, not just prevent them, if they want to win this thing. Though they scored just 700 runs this season, 7th worst in MLB, this is partially due to their home park favoring pitchers, suppressing run scoring by almost 16%, according to ESPN.com. Additionally, it's worth noting that the advent of MannyB in Dodger Blue has increased the team's runs scored by almost half a run per game. They averaged 4.63 R/G in the 54 games with MannyB, compared to just 4.17 without him.

In August the Phillies and Dodgers met eight times, and split the games evenly, each sweeping the other at home. The Dodgers won their four games by one or two runs each, outscoring the Phillies 22-16. But then, Philadelphia demolished the Dodgers, scoring 27 runs and allowing only five in the 4-game set. The clobbered both wily old veteran Greg Maddux and studly youngster Clayton Kershaw in the first two games, then chipped away at the bullpen in the other two games.

Again, there's a problem here for the Phillies: Greg Maddux won't be starting against them in the NLCS. Kershaw may, but not until Game 4. They'll have to face Derek Lowe, who's 4-1 with a 3.02 ERA in his career against Philadelphia, and who has held current Phillies to a .220 batting average. In Game one, Lowe opposes Cole Hamels, no slouch himself with a 2.57 ERA in 14 career innings against Philadelphia.

Friday's match up pits Chad Billingsley against Brett Myers. Both pitched well their last time out, but Brett Myers has been so flaky as a starter this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he just imploded. In fact, I fully expect he will. Billingsley has been much more consistent, and his ability to strike out a batter an inning should play well against the Phightin' Phils, who phought their way to 1117 whiffs this season 12th most in the majors.

Sunday's game matches Hiroki Kuroda, one of the unluckiest pitchers in the majors this year, against 57-year old Jamie Moyer, who was one of the luckiest. The 93-year old Moyer lasted just four innings against Milwaukee in the NLDS, and while he's seemed ageless at times this year, he's really 235, and the reality is that he's got to be reaching the end. Which makes sense, given that he's almost a thousand years old. The Dodgers should be able to get to Moy-thuselah without much trouble.

After that, it's uncertain who will start for the Dodgers, though the Phillies seem set. They should go with Joe BlandOne Blanton, who went 9-12 with a 4.69 ERA, the very definition and epitome of LAIM. Fifth starter Kyle Kendrick, who, on a scale of one to ten, was lousy this year, was left off the NLCS roster, so he's not an option, and you wouldn't want him anyway. Cole Hamels has never started on 3-days rest in his major league career, so I doubt they'd go that route.

The Dodgers could start Derek Lowe on three-days rest, or they could go with Kershaw. this may depend on how many pitches Lowe has to throw in Game One, on how well Kershaw looks throwing on the side, how desperate the Dodgers are if they're down 3-0 or 2-1, or perhaps something else to which we won't be privy. As a Yankee fan, I remember Lowe starting against us on 3-days' rest in the 2004 ALCS all too well, and if I'm a Philly Phan, it scares the crap out of me.

There are a couple of X-factors here. One of them is that Joe Torre's got a lot more playoff experience than Charlie Manuel, who was just 2-6 in eight playoff games before 2008. Torre's probably got the stinging defeat of the 2004 ALCS in his mind, not to mention three first-round exits from the playoffs before this year. Psychologically, he'd probably like nothing better than to get another shot at Terry Francona and the Red Sox, this time in the World Series.

And speaking of psychology, it's worth noting that Brad Lidge has not blown a Save all season. A friend of mine who's an avid Phillies Phan told me in September that he was actually hoping that Lidge would have a bad outing or two in September, to get it out of the way and take the pressure off, but of course this never happened.

Lidge went 41-for-41, and now everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Lidge doesn't have the long history of Philly collapses in his blood, but he's probbaly not unaware of them either, and it seems to me he's got some history of choking on his own anyway. The Dodgers are not a good enough team offensively to just blow the Phillies out and keep Lidge in the bullpen, so his ability to keep from imploding could prove crucial.

My best guess is that the Dodgers pull it out, 4 to 3.

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08 October 2008

2008 American League Championship Series Preview

American League Championship Series (ALCS)

The Boston Red Sox (95-67) will meet the Tampa Bay Rays (97-65) Friday night for the first of a best-of-seven series to decide the Junior Circuit pennant winner. Despite the fact that the Red Sox finished two games behind the Rays in the AL East, the odds are considered to be slightly in the Red Sox favor, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the Red Sox finished best in the American League in Run Differential, scoring 151 more runs than they allowed over the course of the season. Tampa Bay was only +103, and therefore would have been expected to win only 92 games rather than 97, based on the Pythagenport expectations. It's worth noting, however, that the best run differential in MLB belonged to the Chicago Cubs, who were swept by the lowly Dodgers. Things can happen.

The Rays have the best Relative Power Index, an indication of how well they did and how strong their opponents were, but they just barely edge out the Red Sox, so that's probably a moot point. Besides that, nobody on the Tampa team is an MVP or Cy Young candidate, so there's really nobody that you'd have to single out as an opponent to focus on beating.

Baseball Prospectus' Secret Sauce would suggest that the Red Sox, ranking 1st overall, should win this series, as the rays ranked just 6th in the majors, slightly ahead of the (ick) Royals. Secret Sauce is a metric that incorporates teams' adjusted strikeout rate, defense and the strength of their closer into a single number, which is the sum of the ranks of those three, so lower = better. Boston's total of 16 (6th in defense, 1st in K rate, 9th in closer strength) is the lowest in MLB, while Tampa (1+10+21, respectively) didn't rate nearly as well.

It's an interesting thought, though somewhat limited in its usefulness, as you might expect. You see, Secret Sauce adds up dissimilar items into a single number, without giving priority to one or the other. While it makes sense that teams that play good defense, strike out more batters and have a good closer will win more in October than other teams, the Secret Sauce number doesn't acknowledge the impact of these separate skills. having the best closer in the league, for example, doesn't do you much good if you never have a late lead to protect, as the Dodgers found out in 2004.

Last year's World Series winner, the Red Sox, ranked first overall in Secret Sauce, and by a healthy margin. Meanwhile, the NL representative in the October Dance, the Rockies, ranked 20th overall, but first in fielding. That defense, perhaps, got them all the way to the World Series, but wasn't enough against a team that could hit and field and pitch like the Red Sox. Since 1993, only three teams that have led MLB in Secret Sauce wound up winning the World Series, but two of them were the Red Sox, in 2004 and 2007. The other was Arizona in 2001, and it's worth mentioning that the 1998 and 1999 Yankees finished a very close second each time.

At least one if not both World Series teams has been ranked in the top four in Secret Sauce every year since 1988 except 2003 and 2006, that is, nearly 90% of the time, and Boston's the only team left from that quartet.

Tampa Bay won 10 of 18 contests between the two teams in 2008, but curiously enough, both teams showed significant home field advantages in the season series. In their nine games at The Trop, the Rays went 8-1 against Boston, scoring a total of 42 runs and allowing 33. By comparison, Boston went 7-2 at Fenway Park against the upstart Rays, and they dominated in those contests, 54-25.

Thanks to their record, the Rays have home field advantage in this series, but that's only one game's difference. Therefore, I think, if the Red Sox can win one game in St. Petersburg, the series will never make it back there. They'll finish off the Rays in Boston, 4-1.

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02 October 2008

2008 National League Awards

Well, this will be too late to preempt the NL and AL Comeback Player of the Year awards.

If you're interested, you can read my pick for the American league here.

The NL award went to the Phillies' Brad Lidge, who went 41-for-41 in Save opportunities while posting a 1.95 ERA in 69 innings. This came a year after blowing 8 Saves in 27 chances with the Astros last year, so it's seen as a major turnaround, I guess. I disagree. I think Lidge's real turnaround was from 2006 to 2007. He went 1-5 with a 5.28 ERA that year, even though he did save 32 games.

Christian Guzman, who hit .316 in 579 ABs after playing only 46 games last year, or Jorge Cantu would have been better choices. Cantu hit .277/29/95 with 41 doubles and 92 Runs after hitting a combined .252 with one homer in 52 games for Tampa and Cincy in 2007. Now that's a comeback! Ryan Dempster would have been a better choice, too, for going 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 200+ IP after several years of relieving, and not always well. Cantu would have been my pick, though.

Now on to the ones they haven't already named...

NL Most Valuable Player

An Albert Pujols love poem to the National League might read as follows:

How do I lead thee? Let me count the ways.
I lead thee in the depth and breadth and height
My bat can reach, to hit balls out of sight!
For though I seconded in the Batting Race,
I lead thee in Runs Created, Times on Base.
I lead in OPS,
by sun and candle-light.
I lead thee in
VORP, without much of a fight;
I lead thee in Total Bases and Slugging,
I lead thee in Walks Intentional, just for fun,
I lead thee in Percent, Offensive Winning,
In RCAA, Adjusted Batting Runs,
In Batting Wins, though
by threads my elbow's hanging.
I lead thee in WARP,
the best I've ever done.
I shall but lead next year in everything.

Albert Pujols is, far and away, the best player in the National League, and it's not even close. Besides the stuff I could rhyme, he alse led the league in EqA, RC/27 Outs, BB/AB, K/W, Fielding Percentage, Range Factor, Zone Rating, RZR and Double Plays Turned (for his position). In case you were wondering.

Discussions of Ryan Howard (because he leads in Homers and RBI) are laughable. The man also made 475 Outs, more than all but half a dozen men in the Senior Circuit. Chipper Jones was nearly as good as Pujols, with the bat if not the glove, but he played 20 fewer games. David Wright and Lance Berkman both had great years, but they're on a whole different plane from Pujols. Nobody else is even worth discussing, and for that matter, neither are these guys, but somebody's going to ask, so I figured I'd get this out of the way.

NL Cy Young Award

There are three main candidates for this award: Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana and Brandon Webb. Santana leads the NL in innings pitched (by 7 over Cole Hamels) and ERA (by 0.09 over Lincecum). Lincecum leads in strikeouts, by 59(!) over Santana and Edinson Volquez, as well as Adjusted ERA (164 to 163 over Santana), K/9IP, and Hits/9IP. Also Wild Pitches, which admittedly does not help his case, but I thought I should mention it.

He should lead in winning percentage, too, but they don't count innings for that, just decisions, so his 18-5 record is just barely edged out by Adam Wainright's 11-3, even though he tossed only 132 innings. Amazingly, C.C. Sabathia tossed 130 innings and went 11-2, but he's not listed there, so I guess the cutoff is 14 decisions. Sabathia, despite pitching only half the season in the NL, leads it in complete games (7) and shutouts (3 - tied with Ben Sheets). He also leads the majors with 253 innings, though he can't lead either league.

There's been some talk of C.C. getting the award, like Rick Sutcliffe did in 1984 when he was traded to the Cubs in mid season and won 16 games for them, but he went 16-1 in 150 innings, much gaudier than 11-2. And besides, that was an awful decision. Rick Rhoden and Dwight Gooden were both much more valuable than Sutcliffe had been that year. So were Rick Mahler and Larry McWilliams, for that matter. Let's not repeat the mistake.

Webb leads in Wins, with 22, four more than Lincecum, his next closest rival. Sadly, many of the BBWAA voters still pay too much attention to this stat. There's just no precedent for a guy leading the league with 20+ wins, without anyone else close to him, and not winning the CYA, unless it goes to a reliever or something, and, with all due respect to Brad Lidge, there's nobody in the NL who's a viable candidate for that.

Bartolo Colon won it in 2005 with a 21-8 record, despite the fact that it was a demonstrably inferior performance to that of Johan Santana, who went 16-7, just like this year. Roger Clemens over Roy Oswalt in 2004 isn't quite the same, as there was only a 2-win difference, plus a 6-Loss difference. Webb's 22-7 looks a lot better than 20-10.

My vote would be for Lincecum, partially because in allowing fewer hits and striking out more batters, he did a lot more of his own laundry than Santana, but Santana would hardly be an undeserving candidate. If a precedent can be set to give the award to the best pitcher instead of the guy with the most W's next to his name, this is the year. My guess is that Webb wins his second CYA by a nose.

Rookie of the Year

There are quite a few candidates for this one, too. Cubs' catcher Geovany Soto is the most likely candidate, a rookie catcher who helped the team to the playoffs, hitting 23 homers and driving in 86 while playing impressive defense. He finished the season with an NL-rookie-leading 39.4 VORP and 7.0 WARP.

The Reds' Joey Votto is the only other hitter in the discussion, as he led the NL rookie field in all four of the 3-digit stats, AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS, hitting .297/.368/.506/.874 with 24 homers, which also led all rookies. He also led in games played (151) hits, and at-bats. His 6.6 WARP was pretty close to Soto's, as was his 34 VORP.

Atlanta's pitcher Jair Jurrjens deserves some mention, as his 188 IP, 13 Wins and 3.68 ERA led all NL rookies. Hiroki Kuroda was nearly as good, but won't get much attention because of his modest 9-10 record. No other rookie won more than 9 games or saved more than 7, so there's really nobody else to discuss.

My vote would be Soto, Votto, Jurrjens, in that order, and I suspect that for once the BBWAA will agree with me.

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30 September 2008

2008 American League Awards

With the MLB regular season (almost) over, now, it's finally time to talk about the season's awards. Whatever happens in the White Sox/Tigers make-up game today is not going to have an effect on any of this.

First, the big ones...

American League Most Valuable Player -

Who should win it:
Based on the most comprehensive, unbiased statistical analysis available to us, the best player in the league (who is, by definition, the most valuable) in 2008 has been, unfortunately, Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox secondbaseman. Besides that, Pedroia leads the league in some of the obvious stuff, too, like Hits, Doubles, and Runs scored, not to mention being second in batting (.326), and third in Singles, Plate appearances, times on base, and at-bats per strikeout.

These stats may seem a bit obscure, but they're one of the reasons that he's likely to win the award: He was always playing, and hardly ever striking out, and therefore most of the voters won't remember times when he came up in a big spot and whiffed to end the game, or something like that. This is of course a silly reason to vote for him, but for once the perception actually matches the reality, so even if the BBWAA vote for him for the wrong reasons, it will be for the right man.

It's worth noting that the best hitter, perhaps even the best player in terms of quality, by a slight margin, has actually been Alex Rodriguez, with a VORP of 65.6, and a WARP of 8.9. Unfortunately, A-Rod missed more than 20 games with an injury, and it's tough to make up for that. The team went jut 9-15 in the games he didn't play, though that wasn't all his fault. Having him around for those three weeks or so might not have made the Yankees a playoff team, but it could have made A-Rod a clear MVP again, with about 10.2 WARP, assuming similar performance.

Following A-Rod on the VORP list are Grady Sizemore at 62.7 and Pedroia at 62.4. Both Pedroia and Sizemore played the whole year and hit very well, but where Sizemore's defense actually robs him of some value (he's -12 Fielding Runs according to Baseball Prospectus), Pedroia's value is added to by his work at the keystone, a +6 FRAA, which makes him a total of 9.8 WARP, or Wins Above Replacement Player (for his position), tops in the Junior Circuit.

It should be noted that Twins catcher Joe Mauer, despite missing about 20 games (which is pretty good for a catcher), finished a very close second, at 9.2 WARP. He should get his fair share of votes too, especially if he gets a key hit in today's one-game playoff or something. I still expect that Pedroia will win it, but I think it will be close.

The X-factor here, perhaps, is that Mauer may lose the MVP race if the Twins' beat writers don't agree on him and instead vote for Morneau (.302/23/129) and all his pretty RBI. The same thing happened to A-Rod in 1996 when he was a teammate of Ken Griffey. Cliff Lee should draw a few votes, too, for leading the league in wins and ERA, even though he had an easier time of it than Roy Halladay.

Close, but no Cigar: Sizemore, Josh Hamilton, Jermaine Dye, Kevin Youkilis, Miguel Cabrera

Felled by their Injuries: Ian Kinsler, Milton Bradley, Carlos Quentin

American League Cy Young Award

With respect to Mike Mussina's first 20-win season and Dice-K's 18-2 record, and K-Rod's 62 Saves, there are really only two serious contenders for the AL Cy Young Award, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and they're probably closer than you think.

Lee leads in ERA by about two-tenths of a point, 2.54 to 2.78, and in adjusted ERA 175 to 155 (with Dice-K in between at 158). Lee also leads in Wins, 22 to 20, and winning percentage, but those numbers have a lot to do with his defense, run support and bullpen help, so Lee shouldn't get as much credit for the Wins and Losses as he actually will. Halladay has a significant lead in innings pitched, 246 to 223, and strikeouts, 206 to 170, meaning that he's done more of his own dirty work, so to speak.

The innings difference doesn't look as sexy as that 22-3 record, but it would be difficult to overstate the effect that absorbing those innings has on the team. I've seen it discussed in terms of looking at the net difference between the two pitchers, i.e. Halladay pitched 22.7 more innings, but he gave up 13 more earned runs, so that's like adding 23 innings of a pitcher with a 5.15 ERA.

But of course, Halladay did not just pitch two and a half additional, sub-mediocre games than Lee did. He made two more starts, and he averaged slightly more innings per start, 7.38 to 7.20, plus he pitched 2.1 shutout innings and got credited with a Hold in his one relief appearance, something for which Lee was never called. Making more starts takes pressure off the rotation, and therefore the manager, to put a #5 guy in there, and his league-leading nine complete games (Lee had 4) took a lot of pressure off the bullpen.

Whether you buy my argument that Halladay has been just as good or better, considering his competition both on the mound and with the bat, is basically irrelevant. Lee is going to win the award going away, with Halladay and perhaps Frankie Rodriguez, Mussina and Dice-K far behind him.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, K-Rod's record of Sticking Around Til the End of 62 Games that Weren't Total Blowouts has already gotten more attention than it deserves, and he'll get more votes than he deserves for it, but he won't win it. We can thank Cliff Lee for that.

Rookie of the Year:

For a while there it looked like Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria would win the thing easily, but he got hurt and missed some time, and in his absence, a few others had a chance to make some noise. Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox set a rookie record by hitting four grand slams this year, and will get some votes, but his lackluster .315 OBP (thanks to walking unintentionally only once every ten games or so) and ineffectiveness on the basepaths (13 for 22 in steals) plus his awful defense at second base (-12 FRAA) should keep him out of serious discussions for the RoY.

Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury led the AL with 50 steals, and led AL rookies with 98 runs scored, but he slowed down after the All Star break, and didn't hit for power or hit for much of anything away from Fenway Park, so he won't get it either.

Kansas City's shortstop Mike Aviles turned some heads by hitting .325 in about two-thirds of a season, but I just don't think he played enough to get serious consideration.

What about pitchers? They can win this award, too, you know.

Detroit's Armando Galaragga won 13 games, pitching 179 innings with an impressive 3.73 ERA that ranks 15th in the AL. (NOTE: His insanely low .239 BABIP likely means that he's in for a rude awakening next year when Lady Luck catches up to him.)

Joba Chamberlain was even more valuable, in terms of VORP, but due to injuries he pitched only 100 innings and will generally be viewed as a disappointment, at least for this season. LAnahfornia's Jose Arredondo went 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA in 61 relief innings, but he probably won't get much support. Glen Perkins of Minnesota went 12-4, but then a decade ago El Duque did that too, with a better ERA, and he finished 4th in the voting.

Oakland's Brad Zeigler started his career with a record 38 consecutive scoreless innings, and ended the season as the A's closer, but nobody ever heard of giving an award to a guy who went 3-0 with 11 saves, even if he did post a Bob-Gibson-esque 1.06 ERA in 59 innings, so that's not gonna happen. Besides, he might not have been the best rookie reliever in his own bullpen, as Joey Devine finished the year with a 0.59 ERA in 45 innings.

So we're back to Longoria, which is where we should be. Not only did he lead all AL rookies in homers, RBI, slugging and OPS, but he led the field in VORP and WARP as well, by a healthy margin, thanks to his excellent defense.

My votes would go for Longoria, Galaragga and Aviles, in that order.

Comeback Player of the Year

I almost forgot it, but the award nobody wants to win has got to be won by somebody. Mike Mussina is an excellent candidate, pitching 200m innings, winning 20 games and finishing 5th in the AL in ERA, a year after posting a 5.15 ERA in 152 innings. Along those lines, Zach Greinke would be a good story, too, given his struggles since his promising rookie campaign five years ago and the 13 wins and 200 innings he posted this year. A.J. Burnett won 18 games after two injury plagued seasons.

There's no shortage of hitters with impressive credentials, either. Milton Bradley, despite a few minor injuries, came back to hit .321 with 22 homers a year after playing in only 61 games. Jason Giambi has 32 homers and 96 RBI a year after hitting just .236 with 14 homers. But the best hitter vying for this honor is probably Aubrey Huff, who, besides sharing my brithday, hit .304/32/108 (also 48 doubles and 96 runs) after bouncing around between three teams in two years and hitting just .280 with 15 homers last year.

But if they don't give this award to CLiff Lee, then there's no point in having it. Lee had previously won 18 games once and 14 games two other times, but he dropped to just 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA last year. If that's not a "comeback", I don't know how you would define it.

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28 September 2008

Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of the House That Ruth Built, 1923-2008, by Harvey Frommer

Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of the House That Ruth Built, 1923-2008, by Harvey Frommer

Harvey Frommer has outdone himself this time.

The Ivy League professor and celebrated and accomplished author of such works as Rickey and Robinson, Growing Up Baseball and A Yankee Century was humble enough to admit he could not tell the story of Yankee Stadium all by himself. An edifice of this magnitude, an icon of this importance, and a history this varied would require several voices to weave the tapestry of its lifetime. Frommer knew that the story of Yankee Stadium would best be told by the people who lived it, and not just by the writers and players, but by fans, hot dog and ticket vendors, broadcasters, coaches, executives, and even bloggers, though sadly none of my stories appear in the book.

Don't get me wrong: I had my chance. Frommer solicited help from anyone who would offer it, including anyone on his email list, and I could have submitted something. Alas, the book is probably better without my self-absorbed, incoherent rambling anyway. That's why I have a blog!

Remembering that I'm supposed to be writing a book review...Remembering Yankee Stadium is truly a wonderful book. For one thing, it's huge, an inch thick and 10" x 11" hardcover, with lots of photographs, many of which span both pages, meaning that they're almost two feet across when the book is opened flat. Some of these are team photos, or panoramic views of crowds in the stands, or of crowds out of the stands, rushing the field after a playoff victory. One shows Reggie connecting for his third homer of that 1977 World Series game, but the best is a full, 2-page shot of Mickey Mantle's follow-through on a home run swing. Simply classic.

There are lots of smaller photos as well, of course, from Ruth and Gehrig and Muesel to DiMaggio and Gordon and Heinrich to Martin and Mantle and Maris and Ford to Nettles and Chambliss and Reggie and Gator and Donnie Baseball and Bernie and Rocket and Pettitte and Moose and Jeter and A-Rod. Some of the famous and/or controversial plays are detailed four images on a page, showing the play in question as it unfolded. World Series programs and tickets are shown, including ones that have been blown up to make the inside front and back covers, not to mention all of the "inside" shots from the clubhouse and behind the scenes.

But my favorite from the whole book is on page 87, and it's this one:

It's from the archives at Cooperstown, in the chapter on the 1950's, and it's a full-page image looking southwest across Yankee Stadium to the Polo Grounds. The one in Frommer's book has about an inch and a half rip in the photo on the far right, on the edge of the page, traversing the road behind the left field grandstand, with another wrinkle below that, and another small, jagged tear along the third base line. The photo is reproduced so clearly that it will actually look like that page in the book is ripped.

Seeing those imperfections and knowing that this one came from the Hall of Fame makes me wonder who took it, and when, and who's had it for the last 50 or 60 years. Where did that tear come from? Was this in a shoebox in some reporter's closet, forgotten for 30 years? Did somebody's kid rip it accidentally, or did it happen in transit? Did Harvey do it? Was Cooperstown pissed? These kinds of questions come up, not just with this photo, but with nearly every one of those old photos and ticket stubs and programs, and that's most of the fun of paging through this book: Pondering who else has seen these images, who helped to create them and what they were thinking at the time.

And if those were not enough, the stories that have come from more than three quarters of a century in perhaps the most famous sports venue in history, as told by the people who lived them, make this book that much better. Frommer weaves the hundreds of stories shared by dozens of people into his own narrative of the history of the ballpark, to give you a personal feel for a myriad of moments throughout the history of this storied franchise and its famed home.

There are stories from Bobby Richardson and Brooks Robinson, Rollie Fingers and Whitey Ford, Jon Miller and Bob Wolff, Michael Dukakis and Rudy Guliani, Jim Bouton, Roger Kahn, Ralph Houk, Frank Howard, Don Larsen, Phil Rizzuto, Rod Carew, Bill Lee, Dick Groat and Monte Irvin, just to name a few. There are dozens of others, including some you've never heard of, because they're just fans, like you and me. All these varied viewpoints help to paint a broad, detailed, multidimensional picture of this hallowed ground and the men and women who've walked and run on it. For Frommer, the master painter, this must be considered his masterpiece.

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25 September 2008

Detroit Tigers' Todd Jones Surprises Everyone: Not Actually Already Retired

Todd Jones announced on Wednesday that he will be retiring at the end of the year. Even considering that I had assumed he was already retired, this kind of surprised me, since it seemed to me that Jones is exactly the sort of pitcher who would keep pitching forever, since he might be useful as a mop-up man throwing junk even after his fastball had deserted him. Jones always relied more on his sinker anyway.

He doesn't need the gig, of course, having drawn over $37 million in salary in his 16-year career. He also writes for the Sporting News, and will apparently continue to do so, though as Rob Neyer points out, I'm not really sure why anyone would care, once he's no longer playing.

Jones was drafted in the first round (27th overall) by the Houston Astros in 1989. That was a seriously talented first round draft, with eleven players who spent at least 8 seasons in the majors. Among them, Frank Thomas is easily the best, but Mo Vaughn won an MVP award, Charles Johnson was (for a while) an effective hitter with the best catcher's arm in the league, and Cal Eldred and Ben MacDonald were both dozen-game winners on several occasions. Also out of the later rounds of that draft (i.e. after Jones): Phil Nevin, Shane Reynolds, Denny Neagle, Ryan Klesko, J.T. Snow, and arguably the best player in LAnahfornia history, Tim Salmon. Oh, and futue Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell, Jim Thome, Jeff Kent and Trevor Hoffman, though he was drafted as a shortstop. Talk about a deep draft.

So anyway: Jones. He wasn't as good as any of those guys. For one thing, he was a relief pitcher. He made 982 appearances in his MLB career, but only one start. He was a starter in the minors, like almost everyone who gets drafted to pitch, but not a very good one, and therefore not for long. His career record at all levels in the minors was 27-24, 4.15 ERA, which makes him that rarest of commodities, the pitcher with a lower ERA in the majors (3.97) than in the minors. After three years of starting at Single-and Double-A, Jones had a career record of 23-22 and a 4.13 ERA, so they turned him into a relief pitcher while promoting him to AAA, and he...

...was mediocre.

4-2, 4.44, 31 walks in 49 innings. Surprisingly, that was good enough for the 1993 Astros to call him up, and he was a lot better than you'd think, though I imagine that a lot of the apparent improvement in his numbers had to do with moving from the hitter-friendly PCL to the pitcher friendly Astrodome. Let me check...

...yep: 1.42 ERA at home, 4.91 on the road.

But he stuck around for 15 more seasons, and didn't always have the inward-blowing air conditioning in the AstroDome to thank for his success. In 1996 he was swapped to Detroit in a 9-player trade, which wasn't all that unusual, since the father and son who served as General Managers of each team used to make a trade like that about once a week, or so it seemed. In Detroit he became the full-time closer and racked up about 30 saves a season for four and a half years. He led the AL in Saves and therefore won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award in Y2K, and was even an All-Star in 2000, finishing (brace yourself...) 5th in the AL Cy Young voting that year.

Of course, that was the second straight year that Pedro Martinez won the award unanimously, so 5th place was a very distant 5th. The 3 points he amassed mean that Detroit's two beat writers probably put him on their ballots last and second to last, respectively. Still, 5th in the Cy Young voting! Woo hoo! Oh, wait, that's the Indians.

Anyway, Jones was traded to Minnesota in 2001 for the stretch drive and became a setup man, a role in which he served for five different teams over the next three and a half years. In Florida in 2005, he again became a closer, saving 40 games with a 2.10 ERA for the Marlins, which could be argued to be his best season, though I would suggest that 1995 may deserve that honor. Yes, a slightly higher ERA, but he also pitched almost 100 innings of effective relief, and this in a strike-shortened year.

With the closer tag firmly affixed to his back, Jones returned to the Tigers and racked up 75 saves over the 2006-07 seasons, plus another 18 this year before giving way to injuries. His ERA this year is an unimpressive 4.97, but in truth the 3.94 he put up in 2006 and the 4.26 he had last year weren't great either. The standard for a good relief pitcher is to post an ERA at least a run below the league average, and Jones was just a hair better than average each of those two years, as he frequently was.

A typical season for him was 65 innings with an ERA around 4.00 and 30 saves. He'd walk just under a batter every other inning, with about a 2:1 K/W ratio. In other words, he was basically an average closer, but one who managed to stick around doing it for a decade and a half. Give him those three and a half years he speint setting someone else up and he's got 400+ saves, but then he wasn't very good in those seasons, so maybe that's asking too much.

He hasn't gotten a lot of respect as a reliever over his career, mostly because he's always made things a little too exciting in the 9th inning. A few excerpts from Baseball Prospectus' comments about him over the years:

1997: "He’s going to scuffle for a while."
1999: "...he doesn’t merit his role [as closer] - or the salary that
comes with it."
2000: "...he’s really no better than Turk Wendell or Tim Crabtree, and he’s
not likely to get any better."
2001: "...Jones wasn’t appreciably better than he'd been in previous
2002: "his peripheral numbers are getting scary; declining strikeout rates
and increasing hit totals are not good trends."
2005: "Another element in the Phillies' master plan to counteract the
injuries to their starting pitchers by acquiring as many washed-up middle
relievers as possible."
2006: "Given his age, he`s a very shaky bet to repeat."
2007: "...second-worst pitcher ever to reach that [300 save] mark...he
skirts the edge and could implode any minute now."
The irony here, of course, is that Jones managed to stick around for so long in spite of his inability to really impress anyone with his stuff. The truth is that you don't need to post a 1.39 ERA to be an effective closer, even though it's nice to look at those low numbers when folks like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman and Dennis Eckersly put them up.

But really, if you're staked to a two or three-run lead, you can give up a run or two every time out, and as long as you get three outs before giving up three runs, you can make millions of dollars a year. Jones parlayed that modest skill into a 16-year career as a pitcher and a gig as a writer for the Sporting News, two things I'll likely never get to do. More power to him.

In the end, he finishes with 319 saves, with an 81% success rate, an adjusted ERA 11% better than his leagues, and a 58-63 record.

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24 September 2008

Fred Merkle's B0ner, 100 Years Hence...

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of "Merkle's Boner", which while perhaps sounding a bit like the title of a stag film, was actually one of the more famous plays in baseball's first century, but sadly was not caught on film.

The Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants were coming neck-and-neck down the stretch in the final weeks of the season. Playing each other in a crucial game, tied at 1-1, Fred Merkle, the 19-year old firstbaseman for the Giants (though only trade-fodder for my All-Birthday Team) was on first when the apparent winning run was driven in from third on a single.

At the time, it was commonplace for fans to rush the ballfield after a dramatic win. Heck, with no walls in the outfield, half of them were standing on it already. Fearing for his safety, Merkle went straight to the dugout, but the Cubs realized that technically he was supposed to tag second in order for the run to count, since there were two out. When Chicago secondbaseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle had missed second, he signaled for the ball, stepped on second base, and umpire Hank O'Day called Merkle out, leaving the game tied, but impossible to play with all those fans on the field.

At the end of the season, with the two teams tied for the pennant, the Cubs won a one-game playoff, and eventually the World Series (their last postseason series victory of any kind, it should be noted). Ed Sherman's got a fairly concise piece on it over at ESPN.com.

SABR's Dead-Ball Era committee newsletter has a whole issue with various perspectives on Merkle's infamous play($?), including a comic strip! There's also a wonderful novel called The Celebrant, which I read a few years ago, by Eric Rolfe Greenberg, which follows Christy Mathewson's life, but which includes his fictionalized take on this famous game from 1908. In the book, one of the main characters, a Giants fan, actually catches the game ball and keeps it, which means that the one Evers uses to tag second base is not the right one, and that Merkle is not out. Technically, the game remains unfinished. Great book.

Merkle's career stats look pretty modest, mostly because he played in the Dead Ball era, and partially because he was a firstbaseman and our conception of what firstbasemen do has changed so much in a century. But Merkle was talented. He was the youngest player in the National League not once but twice, at ages 18 and 19, and he could hit. Not Mark McGwire kind of hitting, but a line-drive/contact type hitter who was also a nimble fielder and a good baserunner.
Put him in the National League today and he's a poor man's John Olerud, with less power but with 30-40 steals.

He was among the league leaders in homers, doubles, triples, steals, slugging percentage and batting average at various points in his career, though he never led the NL in any of them. Bill James ranks him #84 on his list of the 100 greatest firstbasemen in the most recent edition of the Baseball Abstract, just behind Wally Pipp, another underrated and now somewhat infamous firstbaseman. (Pipp famously sat out a game with a headache and lost his job to Lou Gehrig, who would not miss a day of work for 13 years.)

In any case, it seems that while the rules technically were enforced in calling Merkle out, that rule had generally not been enforced historically (including a similar play ruled exactly the opposite way by Hank O'Day just two weeks earlier) so it seems clear that Merkle does not deserve all of the blame, though perhaps he does deserve some.

It would be a fitting tribute, or perhaps just poetic justice, for the Cubs to lose the World Series on a technicality this year. That'll show 'em.

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Fred Merkle's B0ner, 100 Years Hence...

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of "Merkle's Boner", which while perhaps sounding a bit like the title of a stag film, was actually one of the more famous plays in baseball's first century, but sadly was not caught on film.

The Cubs and Giants were coming neck-and-neck down the stretch in the final weeks of the season. Playing each other in a crucial game, tied at 1-1, Fred Merkle, the 19-year old firstbaseman for the Giants (though only trade-fodder for my All-Birthday Team) was on first when the apparent winning run was driven in from third on a single.

At the time, it was commonplace for fans to rush the ballfield after a dramatic win. Heck, with no walls in the outfield, half of them were standing on it already. Fearing for his safety, Merkle went straight to the dugout, but the Cubs realized that technically he was supposed to tag second in order for the run to count, since there were two out. When Chicago secondbaseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle had missed second, he signaled for the ball, stepped on second base, and umpire Hank O'Day called Merkle out, leaving the game tied, but impossible to play with all those fans on the field.

At the end of the season, with the two teams tied for the pennant, the Cubs won a one-game playoff, and eventually the World Series (their last postseason series victory of any kind, it should be noted). Ed Sherman's got a fairly concise piece on it over at ESPN.com.

SABR's Dead-Ball Era committee newsletter has a whole issue with various perspectives on Merkle's infamous play($?), including a comic strip! There's also a wonderful novel called The Celebrant, which I read a few years ago, by Eric Rolfe Greenberg, which follows Christy Mathewson's life, but which includes his fictionalized take on this famous game from 1908. In the book, one of the main characters, a Giants fan, actually catches the game ball and keeps it, which means that the one Evers uses to tag second base is not the right one, and that Merkle is not out. Technically, the game remains unfinished. Great book.

Merkle's career stats look pretty modest, mostly because he played in the Dead Ball era, and partially because he was a firstbaseman and our conception of what firstbasemen do has changed so much in a century. But Merkle was talented. He was the youngest player in the National League not once but twice, at ages 18 and 19, and he could hit. Not Mark McGwire kind of hitting, but a line-drive/contact type hitter who was also a nimble fielder and a good baserunner.
Put him in the National League today and he's a poor man's John Olerud, with less power but with 30-40 steals.

He was among the league leaders in homers, doubles, triples, steals, slugging percentage and batting average at various points in his career, though he never led the NL in any of them. Bill James ranks him #84 on his list of the 100 greatest firstbasemen in the most recent edition of the Baseball Abstract, just behind Wally Pipp, another underrated and now somewhat infamous firstbaseman. (Pipp famously sat out a game with a headache and lost his job to Lou Gehrig, who would not miss a day of work for 13 years.)

In any case, it seems that while the rules technically were enforced in calling Merkle out, that rule had generally not been enforced historically (including a similar play ruled exactly the opposite way by Hank O'Day just two weeks earlier) so it seems clear that Merkle does not deserve all of the blame, though perhaps he does deserve some.

It would be a fitting tribute, or perhaps just poetic justice, for the Cubs to lose the World Series on a technicality this year. That'll show 'em.

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23 September 2008

Mark Reynolds Strikeout Record Watch...

The Arizona thirdbaseman made his 33rd error yesterday and struck out two more times, raising his season total to 198. The record for a season is 199, set last year by Ryan Howard.

#.  Name           (Age) Total Year
1.  Ryan Howard*    (27)  199  2007
2. Mark Reynolds (24) 198 2008
3. Adam Dunn* (24) 195 2004
3. Ryan Howard* (28) 195 2008
5. Adam Dunn* (26) 194 2006
6. Jack Cust* (29) 190 2008
7. Bobby Bonds (24) 189 1970
8. Jose Hernandez (32) 188 2002
9. Bobby Bonds (23) 187 1969
9. Preston Wilson (25) 187 2000
11. Rob Deer (26) 186 1987
12. Jose Hernandez (31) 185 2001
12. Pete Incaviglia (22) 185 1986
12. Jim Thome* (30) 185 2001
15. Cecil Fielder (26) 182 1990
15. Jim Thome* (32) 182 2003
17. Ryan Howard* (26) 181 2006
17. Mo Vaughn* (32) 181 2000
19. Mike Schmidt+ (25) 180 1975
20. Rob Deer (25) 179 1986
Ryan Howard and Jack Cust are not far off the mark either...

This list, as you can see, consists of

1) Bobby Bonds
2) Rob Deer
3) Mike Schmidt
4) Pete Incavilia
5) Guys who've played in the 1990's and 2000's.

So it's players who were anomalies in the 1970's and 1980's, and then a bunch of players, and pretty good ones, too, who are playing now or have played recently. Obvioulsy, the game is changing.

Several years ago, when it looked like Jose Hernandez would break Bobby Bonds' long-standing record, his manager benched him toward the end of the year to keep his name out of the record books, and I blasted him for it, as did others. As far as I can tell, nobody else has been benched for that reason, but I could be wrong there.

I had thought that there was a general prejudice against the strikeout and this dubious record, but it seems that Jerry Royster, trying to salvage what would become the worst finish in Brewers' history, is the only one. Of course, he was replaced by Ned Yost the next spring, so that didn't work. Managers appear to recognize now that if a hitter can smack 30 homers, drive in or score 100 runs, but he has to strikeout 200 times to do it, you'd better let him.

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22 September 2008

Notes and Observations...

* Yankee Stadium hosted its last game last night, with Andy Pettitte picking up the win for the Pinstripes and Mariano Rivera throwing the last pitch. Fans had been allowed to walk on the field before the game, which was a nice touch. Too bad this also marks the first time in 15 years the Yankees will miss the playoffs, but at least that wasn't the game that mathematically eliminated them.

* I was looking through the box scores yesterday and noticed that Arizona 3B Mark Reynolds made his MLB-leading 32nd error of the year, and nobody else is particularly close. Edwin Encarnacion is second with "just" 23. Reynolds also leads the majors in strikeouts with 196, only three short of the all-time record set by Ryan Howard last year, though Howard's right on his tail.

The last time a player led the majors in both errors and whiffs was 1950, when Roy Smalley the elder did it for the Cubs, at the age of 24, like Reynolds. To show you how the game has changed, Smalley never played more than 92 games in a season after that, and I imagine his dubious duo of D'oh! had something to do with that fact. Reynolds, by contrast, leads his team with 28 homers, 60 walks and 94 RBI, so he'll likely be the starter next year as well.

* The Pirates signed their #1 pick, Scott Boras client 3B Pedro Alvarez, ending an extended litigation/negotiation process. He gets $6.4 million instead of $6 million, but the signing bonus is stretched out over 4 years instead of two, so it's nearly a wash with inflation anyway. What's important is that Boras did not wrangle additional millions of dollars out of the Bucs, and did not set a precedent for voiding contracts agreed to by his clients but not himself. Chalk one up for the teams in this one, I think.

* Some of the Houston Astros are lashing out about their so-called "home games" played in Milwaukee (aka "Wrigley North") last week. Hurricaine Ike had forced a lot of people from their homes, and it seemed inappropriate to play baseball down there even if the weather did permit, but did they have to play the Cubs in a venue two hours from their own city? I happened to be in Milwaukee on business and I saw Cubs fans in the airport and heard reports of others around the city. It would be like having the Yankees play the Mariners in Baltimore or Philly and pretending it was a "home game" for Seattle.

Nobody likes a sore loser, of course, but it seems to me that these guys have a legitimate complaint. It could potentially be argued that the Ike-spurred bad weather might have affected Arlington and some of the cities in the midwest, like Kansas City or St. Louis, though it should be noted that there were games played in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Chicago that Sunday, with no problems from Ike.

But if they wanted a place away form the weather, away from the NFL and a potential drawing problem, and in an area that was at least neutral, if not partial to Houston (as Arlington Texas might have been) they needed to look no further than Atlanta. The Braves were away on Sunday and off on Monday, and the weather was fine. Atlanta's been drawing over 31,000 fans per game this year, so it's not like they would have been trying to get fans who don't normally watch their own team to come and watch a different one (as would have been the case in KC, Tampa or Miami).

And they wouldn't have had to fly all the way to the West Coast and back to play in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Houston had a series in Miami starting Tuesday, so that would have been too long a haul, theoretically. Want to know where the next series was for the Cubs? You guessed it: Milwaukee.

So what this really accomplished was twofold:

1) Minimize the travel expenses for at least one of the teams involved. Check.

B) Make sure there are fans at the game. Check.

There were 23,441 paid tickets for Sunday's game, which turned out to be a no-hitter by Carlos Zambrano, and then another 15,158 on Monday. That's not a stellar turnout, but it's not bad for a previously-unscheduled Monday afternoon game between two non-local teams. Well, one and a half.

A better approach would have been to wait and see if the games were needed until after the season, which ends early this year, on September 28th. But that would have meant that these two teams might not have played, if the games turned out to be meaningless, and all that ticket and ad revenue would have been lost. So maybe ther were three things accomplished in those two days.

Too bad one of them wasn't, "Make sure the Astros are well-served by the solution."

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18 September 2008

DVD Give-Away: A&E's Essential Games of Yankee Stadium

Giveaway Details: I've got a copy of this DVD set to review, which I will do soon, but I also have two to give away.

One will be strictly opportunistic in nature: My hit counter sits at 84,890 right now. Whomever sends me a screenshot showing hit number 85,000 (marking the 85 years at Yankee Stadium!) will get one of the DVD sets. Just email me the screen shot and whomever is closest to the 85,000 mark gets the set. (If there's a tie, for example 84999 and 85001, then the first one to arrive in my inbox gets it. If they arrive simultaneously, the one who's over 85000 gets it. If you won the last contest, you're excluded.)

The second DVD set contest will be completely subjective. You can see from the press release what's on this list of "essential" games at Yankee Stadium...tell me what's missing. What should have been included that wasn't? Roger Maris' 61st homer in 1961? Cone's or Wells' perfect game? Jim Abbott's no-hitter? Righetti's no-no against Boston on July 4th? Clinching the pennant agains the Red Sox on the last day of the 1949 season? Something I haven't considered? Email me and make an argument for the best game they didn't include, and I'll send you the other copy of the DVD set, a $60 value.

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Press Release: A&E's Essential Games of Yankee Stadium

Celebrate the Final Season at Yankee Stadium™ with a collection of the most unforgettable games ever played at the “House that Ruth Built”


Packaged in Collectible Steel Book™ Casing, This Must-Have Piece of Bronx Bomber History ($59.95 suggested retail price) Features 6 Full Game Broadcasts from ‘76 to ‘03 including: Chambliss’ Walk-off Homer in ALCS Game 5, Mr. October’s 3 HR Game in the ’77 Series and the 2003 ALCS Game 7 vs. the Sox, Plus Hours of Bonus Programming, Uncut Interviews and Rare Game Footage!


NEW YORK, NY – On September 21, 2008 the last regular season game will be played at Yankee Stadium, as the newly built home of the Bronx Bombers continues to be raised in the distance. The grandest stage for baseball stars, history, lore, and countless achievements, Yankee Stadium -- from its heavenly white façade to its rich hues of blue -- possesses a regal magic and aura that, to fans of the team and baseball die-hards, can’t be overlooked. Here, the grass shimmers with a brighter green, the flag flies prouder, and the full-throated fans cheer louder there than anywhere else. Two days following the last home stand at the stadium the Bombers have called home since 1923, A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball Productions proudly presents THE NEW YORK YANKEES®: ESSENTIAL GAMES OF YANKEE STADIUM.

This superlative six-DVD set, priced to add to every baseball fan’s home entertainment library at $59.95, showcases six television broadcasts of games that shaped the mystique of this fabled baseball cathedral. Selected entirely by Yankees.com readers, these outstanding games each mark glorious chapters in the history of the winningest franchise in any sport. Covering four decades, dozens of legends, and millions of memories, this set -- celebrating everything that is quintessentially Yankees® and 100% baseball -- digitally preserves magic moments from Yankee Stadium, the greatest stage in sports. Also included are hours of bonus features and highlights including Ron Guidry’s 18k game in ’78, Bobby Murcer’s walk-off homer following Thurman Munson’s tragic plane crash, highlights from the 2001 Subway Series and much more.

The legendary games featured, uncut and commercial-free, on THE NEW YORK YANKEES®: ESSENTIAL GAMES OF YANKEE STADIUM, include:

1976 ALCS™ Game 5 vs. Kansas City Royals® -- Chris Chambliss’ walk-off home run sends the Yankees to their first World Series® since 1964.

1977 World Series® Game 6 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers® -- Reggie Jackson’s historic three-home-run-game propels the Bronx Bombers™ to another World Series Championship.

1995 ALDS™ Game 2 vs. Seattle Mariners® -- This 15-inning drama ended with Jim Leyritz’ walk-off home run and featured home runs from Don Mattingly, Paul O’Neill and Ruben Sierra. With 3.1 innings in relief by a young Mariano Rivera, who notched the win.

1996 World Series Game 6 vs. Atlanta Braves® -- After New York lost the first two games of the 1996 World Series, they won the next four and finished with a Game 6 celebration that shook Yankee Stadium with delight.

2001 World Series Game 4 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks® -- History unfolded when Tino Martinez hit a 2-out, bottom of the 9th, two-run homer to tie the game. Then in the 10th, “Mr. November” Derek Jeter’s game-winning home run ended another remarkable victory.

2003 ALCS Game 7 vs. Boston Red Sox® -- With a World Series appearance at stake, aces on the mound, and a white knuckles everywhere, Aaron Boone stroked the game-winning home run to seal the Yankees 11-inning victory.

This September, don’t mourn the passing of this hallowed venue. Instead, join the roaring crowds that shook Yankee Stadium’s rafters for over eight decades to celebrate its resonant history with THE NEW YORK YANKEES®: ESSENTIAL GAMES OF YANKEE STADIUM.

DVD Features:
■ Chris Chambliss on his 1976 ALCS™ Game 5 home run
■ June 17, 1978 Ron Guidry 18 Ks
■ August 6, 1979 first game after Thurman Munson died, Bobby Murcer hits the game-winner
■ 1996 ALCS Game 1 hometown fans aid Derek Jeter’s home run
■ 1999 ALCS Game 1 Bernie Williams’ walk-off home run beats Boston
■ 2000 World Series® Game 1 first Subway Series™ since 1956
■ 2001 World Series Game 5 Scott Brosius repeats the impossible, Alfonso Soriano wins it
■ July 1, 2004 “The Dive” by Derek Jeter

A&E Home Video, part of the Consumer Products Division of A&E Television Networks (AETN), is a video distributor of non-theatrical programming, featuring collectible DVD editions of the high quality programming from A&E Network and History™, as well as acquired classic programming. A&E Home Video brings the best of critically acclaimed entertainment presented in award-winning packaging to the special interest category. For more information about ordering these and other titles from the A&E Home Video Collection, call (212) 206-8600 (TRADE ONLY). Consumers please call 1-800-423-1212 (A&E). In addition to placing orders by phone, A&E Home Video products may be purchased over the World Wide Web at ShopAETV.com.

Major League Baseball Productions is the Emmy® award-winning television and video production division of Major League Baseball. With unparalleled access to the game and its players, Major League Baseball Productions produces original programming for growing audiences worldwide through its network specials, exclusive home videos, commercials and other specialty programming.

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12 September 2008


I lost a friend this week.

Anyone who knew us in high school knows that Billy Johnson was more than a friend to me. We were the best of friends, so far as such things can go with high school kids. I was at his house so often that I started referring to his mother Cynthia as “my other mom” and she called me her “other son”, something I appreciated more than she ever knew. For several years, the two of us were inseparable.

I used to joke that we shared the same brain. No, wait…now that I think of it, we used to make that joke about other people. But we did often finish each others’…well, you know.

We did everything together, including going off to volunteer at week-long camps for the handicapped in the Poconos, where we often got in trouble, as young boys do. We also spent a whole summer together in the Catskills working for Word of Life Inn, a summer I still count as the best of my young life. We got into some trouble up there, too, as you might expect.

Of course, Billy was proud of all the trouble he got into. It was just his nature. If you told him to go left, he’d go right. If you told him to crouch, he’d jump. He wasn’t maliciously spiteful, he just didn’t like being hemmed in. For example, punishment for “bad behavior” at Word of Life was to scrub the nasty pots and pans in the Dish Pit, but Billy wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of thinking they’d gotten to him. He would literally dive in, turning himself upside down in the huge sink, beating the caked on lasagna and sloppy Joes off the pots with a Brillo pad while the blood rushed to his head. He made it fun imself, and for everyone else.

Nearly every weekend for four or five years, I would walk or ride my bike over to Elmwood Park, or he’d come over to where I lived in Lodi. We’d spend the day playing pickup basketball and trying to scrape together enough change to go to Burger King and get a small soda, which could be refilled about 17 times before the paper cup got too soggy. Then we’d spend Saturday night playing chess or video games and inevitably staying up until 4 or 5 AM. If we ever seemed a little “spaced out” at church on Sunday morning, now you know why.

Billy was not the most punctual of people. He’s the only guy I ever knew who could somehow show up late to his own house when he had already been there. Trouble seemed to follow him around, like a neighborhood stray that kept expecting some milk, and Billy just embraced it. It was what made him so much fun to be around.

As is often the case when someone goes off to college, we lost touch after high school, or at least weren’t all that close for about four years, though Billy and his family came to my college graduation, and even took me and my mom out to dinner the night before. Despite having seen each other just a handful of times over the next few years, Billy came to my wedding as well, and was, not surprisingly, the life of the party. A few months later, when he was looking for a fresh start after a rough patch, he moved to Bethlehem, hoping I could help get him back on his feet. Not that I deserved such an honor, but I appreciated that he still felt such a connection. Or maybe our friendship was all he had left.

Billy’s troubles, like that darn stray neighborhood cat, followed him to Pennsylvania. He lived with me and my wife, on and off, for the better part of the next eight months. It was crowded in our small house, and challenging, with just one of us working. Sunny and I were still trying to figure out how to live as a married couple. Meanwhile, Billy was just trying to figure out how to live, and none of us was really having much success.

So we got a dog. “It was crowded…so we got a dog”? Well, that wasn’t really the reason, but that clumsy segue allows me to tell one of my favorite stories about Bill. He was home all day while I was at work and Sunny was taking classes, but we were trying to crate-train the puppy, McCartney, to get her used to being in there while we were away.

Well, McCartney was smart enough even at 15 weeks old to be able to tell when there was a person in the house, and she was not happy about being stuck in the crate while there was fun stuff like “napping” going on in other parts of the house. So Billy, unable to take said nap with the dog making all that noise, and unable to let her out for fear of what she would destroy when he did nod off, laid down next to her crate and promptly fell asleep that way: On the floor, halfway in the bedroom, half in the hallway, with one hand inside the bars so the puppy could touch him and be quieted. His excuse, when my wife found him that way (and woke him up with the camera flash) was, “She just wouldn’t stop barking.”

It was during this time that I realized how little I had known this man, whom I had referred to as my “best friend” so many hundreds of times. I learned about some of his deeper struggles, things we’d never discussed before. In high school our relationship had consisted mostly of sports and games, laughing at each other, and seeing who could punch the other one harder in the shoulder. He usually won those, of course.

But as adults, we had much deeper conversations, and he shared with me some of his struggles, some of the pains and trials that had marked the years we were apart, and really, most of his life. He opened up to Sunny even more than he did to me, partially because he got to spend a lot of time with her while I was working, and partially because she’s such a good listener. I admitted to him once that I never really understood why someone as cool as him would take so much interest in me as a friend, and to my great surprise, he said he had felt the same way about me. I got to know Billy better in those few months than I had in the 15 years we’d spent growing up together, and I treasure those memories now more than I ever thought I could.

I was sad to learn that he had a wife and two children I didn't know about, and I'm ashamed that I did so little to check up with him after he mved to New York. We all assumed that we had more time for that. We could always do it later.

There’s a hymn called “Jesus Paid it All” that talks about trusting God in our weakness, about God’s power being the only thing that alters anyone’s character, that softens anyone’s heart. Jesus’ blood covers all of our failings, and washes away all the myriad of ways in which we fail. My voice would fail to do this song justice, but those lyrics express our great hope for Billy, and for ourselves, that God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice will pay for our many sins.

I don’t pretend to understand this, to know why God would take someone so young, seemingly with so much life ahead of him, with a family to support and so much left undone. But I do know that God is ultimately in control of everything and everyone, and that nothing happens outside of his design and purposes. I’m not saying I agree with him on this one, but eventually we just have to admit that God knows a lot more than we do. He sees the whole of history at once, and he will not fail to accomplish his goals. One of those was bringing Billy home to be with him.

He must have heard how much fun Billy was.

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09 September 2008

Roy Halladay is Better Than Cliff Lee

Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan has a column this morning arguing that some of Cliff Lee's success this season is due to the fact that he has faced much softer competition than his chief competitor in the AL Cy Young race, Roy Halladay. This sounded awfully familiar to me, since I had spent the better part of last week arguing that exact point in two different forums after some Cleveland fans got on my case for supposedly belittling Lee's accomplishments after he won his 20th game.

It turns out, however, that Sheehan's argument is based on the hitters that Lee and Halladay have faced, whereas my argument had to do with the starting pitchers who had opposed them. Here's Joe:

Cliff Lee has made 28 starts this season, Roy Halladay 29. Of those, 13 are in-common starts: the A’s, Rays and Rangers twice, and the Angels, White Sox, Reds, Royals, Twins, Yankees and Mariners once. Those starts cancel out. Of the remaining starts, there seems to be a very wide gap in the caliber of competition, enough to at least mention. Of the 15 starts Cliff Lee does not have in common with Halladay, nine have come against teams in the bottom third in offense, as ranked by team EqA, and none have come against a team ranked in the top six.


Let me run the data this way, because I think it illustrates the point. The following numbers are the team EqA ranks for each not-in-common opponent, highest to lowest.

Halladay: 3, 4, 4, 4, 9, 9, 9, 11, 11, 14, 14, 14, 14, 17, 18, 18

Lee: 7, 7, 7, 12, 13, 13, 21, 22, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 28, 28

It helps if you read those numbers right to left. It’s clear from this data that Cliff Lee has seen a significantly inferior set of opponents than Halladay has.
If it's not as clear to you as you might like it to be, let me help you out this way: The average EqA rank for Lee's opponents is about 19th, while Roy's opposition has averaged a rank just under 11th in the majors. Right now, for example, Baltimore ranks 11th in MLB in EqA, and they've averaged 5.1 runs per game. Houston ranks 19th in EqA, with just 4.47 R/G. The Runs Scored difference is exaggerated by their respective park effects, but you get the picture.

This average, however, is a disservice to you, as it does not sufficiently express the disparity between these pitchers' competition. Over the course of 15 starts, even if we took those Runs/Game numbers at face value, we'd have a difference of only 9 or 10 runs total, far less than one per game. If you look at Equivalent Runs (BP's attempt to normalize and neutralize for everything under the sun) the difference between 11th and 19th is more like 3 runs over 15 starts, i.e. not much.

This of course does not tell the whole picture, which is probably why Joe didn't present it that way. Halladay and Lee have not faced these "averaged" teams 15 or 16 times. They've faced actual teams, and the teams they've faced have been very different in terms of their offensive prowess. This helps to explain why Lee's ERA is lower than Halladay's. He's capitalized on his comparatively soft schedule.

My arguments last week
, in the comments section of my blog and of the post on Bleacher Report, centered around Lee and Halladay's respective opponents on the pitching mound, i.e. the starters their teammates had to face. One of the main reasons that lee is now 21-2 is that his teammates score almost six runs per game when he pitches, while Halladay gets only 4.75 R/G.

Looking at starting pitchers, these two have only five opponents in common: Zach Greinke, James Shields, Chien-Ming Wang, Sidney Ponson, and Matt Garza. If you take them out of the mix, the aggregate records of their respective foes are as follows:

Lee: 156-174, 4.60 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.1 K/W
Roy: 195-176, 4.35 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2.3 K/W

The biggest difference here is the W/L records, though with enough data recovery there are notable (if not enormous) differences in all the pitching numbers. (These may be bigger if we were to adjust for park factors and such, but this is too time consuming as it is.) Lee has faced twice as many 10+ game losers as Halladay has (10 to 5), while Halladay has faced several more 10+ game winners (11 to 7), and this naturally leads us back to Sheehan's analysis, of how much tougher the offense has been against Halladay.

It may look like Lee has pitched slightly better overall, but the weak opposition on offense has helped his ERA tremendously, and the huge amount of run support he's gotten, thanks to facing some inferior pitchers, has helped a lot. Give Halladay 6 Runs per game and he's 22-5 instead of 18-9, and suddenly we've got a real race for the CYA.

Unfortunately, the BBWAA voters like shiny objects such as a 21-2 record, and rarely pay attention to things like how many times a pitcher gets to face the horrendous Kansas City Royals (hint: four). Neither do they fret much over whether Dontrelle Willis or Livan Hernandez or Clayton Richard or Chris Lambert or Carlos Silva were as tough to beat as Jose Contreras and and Josh Beckett and Andy Pettitte and Rich Harden and Jon Lackey. (Hint: No.) They just look at the pretty numbers in the newspaper and then vote whomever the heck they feel like voting. Which, this year, will undoubtedly and unfortunately be Cliff Lee.

I'm not saying that they shouldn't vote for him, just that they ought to think about the process a little more than they probably will.

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08 September 2008

It's Do or Die for the Kansas City Royals

Joe Posnaski's got his usual, interesting and eloquent (if not terribly focused) reflections on the major league return (and brief success) of Tony Pena Jr.

Looking back, sure, you might have suspected that Berroa’s staunch anti-walk
platform could cost him in future years. Looking back, sure, you could have
suspected that since he was two years older than originally thought (25 instead
of 23) that the good would not last. Looking back, yeah, maybe we should have
seen imminent disaster approaching. But, honestly, no one in Kansas City was
looking for signs of the apocalypse in 2003. Those were heady days. Angel Berroa
could have worn a T-shirt on the field that read, “Enjoy me now because man oh
man am I going to suck starting next year,” and we would not have noticed it.

This reminded me of an email I received from a Royals fan calling himself "tad pole" in late July of 2003. Here it is, word-for-word:

Subject: boys of summer are the boys in blue!

The boys of this summer come in a shade of royal blue! You guessed
it! The Kansas City Royals are going to take their small payroll and shock
the world! It seems everybody has completely discounted the "miracles" and
continue to be skeptical! When the Royals sweep the Yankess in August over
six games, everybody will be forced to jump in the KC bandwagon! Keep
doubting the Royals and keep watching them win!

We will all "believe"!

Let the record reflect that I "believe" the the "Royals" went 2-4 against the "Yankess" in August! They went 26-30 overall after that email was sent! They finished "3rd" in the AL Central!

I guess he wasn't wrong about shocking the world, though, since we were all pretty surprised that they were able to finish with a winning record. Heck, a few years later the Cardinals would win the same 83 games and then go on to win the World Series, so maybe that was a pretty big deal.

In retrospect, though, the little bit of hope afforded by the team's first winning season in nine years led to a whole bunch of really poor choices by Royals management, which led directly to the absolute worst record in baseball for the next three and a half years. Seriously. the Royals are 306-484 since the start of the 2004 season, so far behind the Pirates (at 334-455) that even if they won all of their remaining games and the Bucs lost all of theirs, they'd still be 7.5 games out of 29th place.

The really astonishing thing about the Royals, to me at least, is that every time you think they've hit rock-bottom, they somehow manage to do even worse.

  • They lose an appalling 104 games in 2004, and then charge to a 56-106 record in 2005.

  • Not happy with Tony Muser? Here's Tony Pena. How about Buddy Bell?

  • Think we wasted a lot of money on 1st round high school pitcher Mike Stodolka? Let me introduce you to Colt Griffin!

  • You think Neifi Perez stinks? How about Angel Berroa? Not lousy enough? Meet Tony Pena Jr!

  • Does signing Mike Sweeney to a long-term deal seem like a poor investment? Here's Jose Guillen!

  • Not happy with the return from the Johnny Damon trade? Well, look how little we got back for Carlos Beltran!

  • Not sure Scott Elarton was a good idea? Here's Brett Tomko!

  • You think Hideo Nomo is washed up? Umm...OK, well, you got me there.

It's like playing Let's Make a Deal except Monty Hall's got crappy stuff behind all of the doors.

Door #1: Goat.
Door #2: Broken blender.
Door #3: Jeff Fulchino.

In any case, you get my point. It seems like things only get worse. It's got to suck to be a Royals fan these days, especially if you're old enough to remember when they were actually good, like Posnaski and Rob Neyer.

On the other hand, there are a few reasons for Royals fans to hope this year. Zach Greinke has bounced back to form after struggling for a couple of seasons. Gil Meche has surprised everyone by LAIMing it up for almost two whole years. Mark Grudzielanek's contract is almost up! Billy Butler can crush left-handed pitching. Mike Aviles has hit well for half a season, and while he won't likely do that again, he might prove a useful cog in the Royals engine for a few years.

They have a good, young closer and a couple of other decent arms in the bullpen. Minor league firstbaseman Kila Ka'aihue might be a pretty decent hitter. He's got to be better than Ross Gload. Kyle Davies might make something of himself.

Alex Gordon and and/or Luke Hochevar are still young enough that they might grow up to be useful major leaguers, if not the stars you'd expect from first-round draft picks. David DeJesus is steady and useful, if unspectacular.

The real problem is that there's almost nobody on the team, or even in the minors, who could conceivably become a star, and without that, there's almost no way the Royals have any hope of competing in the near future, or any other future, for that matter.

I wrote a column for All-Baseball.com almost three years ago (since lost to posterity when their servers all took a dump), arguing that the Royals should not be signing players like Scott Elarton and Mark Grudzielanek, not in their position. I was told by optimistic Royals fans that they need seasoned veterans to help steady the ship for all the so-called young talent coming up. That they needed solid defense to inspire confidence in the young pitchers. That these were just stop-gaps, placeholders intended to keep roster spots warm until the Royals' youngsters were ready.

Well, here we are, almost three years later, and they don't look a whole lot more ready than they did in the winter of 2005-06. Without a wholesale change in the approach the Royals' front office takes in how they run their organization, there's no hope of ever winning.

Just ask the Rays.

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