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|Tuesday, September 5|
|FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 1|
Notes from a fan who's wondering if, with Dante Bichette now wearing the home whites, Fenway Park will ever be the same ...
The record-holder? Babe Ruth, with 2,056.
The record-breaker? Why, none other than Rickey Henderson. Henderson currently has 2,049 walks to his name. He's got 77 in 104 games this season, so if he continues to play nearly every game -- he did leave Wednesday night's contest with back spasms -- Henderson projects to pass the Bambino during Seattle's series against the Royals, September 11 through 13 at Safeco Field. When Henderson broke Lou Brock's stolen-base record in 1991, the game was stopped for a ceremony during which, among other things, Henderson gave a speech that lasted more than a minute. Later, as Henderson "wrote" in his autobiography, "The A's gave me a tremendous ceremony. They presented me with a statuette of myself holding up the record base. They gave me a huge plaque containing spikes, batting gloves, and a base. The even gave an award to my momma. They also gave me the keys to a '91 Porsche 911." Not to belabor the point, but something tells me that the pomp and circumstance will be somewhat less impressive when Rickey draws Walk No. 2057 this month. But there's a good chance I'll be in Seattle when he does break the record, and if I'm at Safeco Field when it happens, it'll be one of the bigger thrills of my baseball life.
Games RBI OBP Slug OPS 1999 147 165 .442 .663 1105 2000 86 88 .444 .673 1117OK, so he's no Carlos Delgado. But Ramirez has suffered no decline from last season, when he was a legitimate MVP candidate and finished tied for third in the voting. And when I handicap the American Leagu wild-card race, I have to rate the Indians the favorites, in part because they've got Ramirez patrolling right field.
Two hot topics these last couple of days, at least as manifested in my e-mailbox. One of them is the Mets' apparent over-achievement, vis a vis the Pythagorean method, but I'm going to let that one go for at least another day. The other is the recent discussion of batter/pitcher confrontations, and what needs to be done about them. To that end, here's one of the many letters received on the topic:
Ups HBP Ups/HBP Americans 160533 1325 121.2 Nationals 183433 1518 120.8Hmm, something tells me that a difference of 0.4 plate appearances per hit batter is something less than significant. (And note that the rate of hit batters is actually slightly higher in the NL than the AL.) I fear that my analysis is too simplistic, that perhaps I should account for interleague play, or the fact that HBP often follow home runs, or ... naaahhhh. I just can't come up with any league-specific influences that would make those nearly identical HBP rates go away. Now, let's think about a specific situation for a moment. Say a high-and-tight fastball gets away from Pedro Martinez, and hits somebody. "Ah," the opposing pitcher says to himself, "I'll teach Pedro a thing or two." Or does he? What happens if Enemy Pitcher plunks Pedro Martinez? Right, Pedro Martinez plunks Enemy Pitcher right back. And who's going to suffer the worst of that exchange? Right. Enemy Pitcher. There's another thing that amuses me about all of this. When the old-timers list their theories explaining the offensive explosion these last few years, "pitchers are afraid to come inside any more" is always mentioned. If today's hurlers only had the, uh, guts of Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale, then by God the hitters wouldn't always be crowding the plate and driving outside pitches over the fence. Fine. But then when one of today's hurlers comes inside with regularity, and occasionally finds Enemy Batter with one of those inside pitches, just stand back and watch the hand-wringing. You can't have it both ways, fellas. Given how close the hitters are to the plate, pitching inside is going to result in hitters getting hit. And if you don't want hitters getting hit, then you have to either move the hitters back, or make the pitchers stop throwing inside. Me? I'd like to see the batter's box moved three or four inches further from the plate. That's not going to happen, though. And I certainly don't think we should compel pitchers to stop throwing inside. In the meantime, if hitters like Gerald Williams aren't willing to distance themselves from the plate a tad, then they should be willing to simply trot down to first base when they get nailed. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30
Monday in this space, I reprinted a powerful Jimmy Powers quote that I spotted during a recent visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I think this is important, so I'm going to run that quote again, exactly as it appears in the museum:
Robinson will not make the major leagues. He is a thousand-to-one shot at best. The Negro players simply don't have the brains or the skill.And then I described Powers as "patently stupid" ... which was, I must unhappily admit, patently stupid of me. I fell for that placarded quote like Cecelia fell for Tom Baxter in "The Purple Rose of Cairo." First of all, Powers didn't work for the New York Times, he worked for the New York Daily News (my thanks to a veteran colleague for pointing this out). And second, Powers actually supported the integration of the major leagues. In my defense, I was far from my library when writing Monday's column. That said, I probably shouldn't accuse dead white males of stupidity and, by extension, racism, until I can check at least one other source. And that's exactly what I did last night, turning first to Jules Tygiel's seminal work on integration, "Baseball's Great Experiment." I also consulted Arnold Rampersad's definitive "Jackie Robinson: A Biography." Far from being a virulent separatist, Powers began agitating for baseball's integration back in 1931. And in 1939 he wrote, "I have seen personally at least ten colored ball players I know who are big leaguers. I am positive that if Josh Gibson were white, he would be a major league star." Now, do those sound like the jottings of a man who didn't believe that black players had the "brains or the skill"? From Rampersad's biography of Robinson:
The most unkind cuts from whites who opposed the ban [on black players in Organized Baseball] but saw Jack as the wrong choice. In the New York Daily News, columnist Jimmy Powers declared that with the flood of returning talent [from wartime military service] Robinson "will not make the grade in the big leagues next year or the next if percentages mean anything ... Robinson is a 1000-to-1 shot to make the grade."You see what was happening? Powers did support integration, but he did not think that Jackie Robinson was the man for the job. Powers wasn't the only one who held this opinion -- Bob Feller said that if Robinson "were a white man I doubt they would even consider him as big league material" -- but I also suspect that Powers' judgment was clouded by his quite public disdain for Branch Rickey. So what about that sentence -- "The Negro players simply don't have the brains or the skill." -- the single most powerful sentence you'll read at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum? Would Tygiel and Rampersad, had they seen that line, have declined to include this "grabber" in their books? Not bloody likely. Rather, I suspect that Powers never wrote any such thing, and that someone made a huge mistake, a huge mistake that I can only hope was an honest one. I did attempt to reach Raymond Doswell, curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, but he's not yet returned my call. In the meantime, I urge the museum to immediately remove the placard in question, because I believe that its continuing existence, on public display, represents an egregious insult to the good name of Jimmy Powers. Other stuff ...
Let's move on now and touch on a favorite subject of mine: the New York Mets. In response to yesterday's column, my colleague Itea Goldstein pointed out that the Mets, based purely on their runs scored and allowed, would be expected to have won 71 games rather than their actual 78. Now, it's fairly unusual for any team to outperform Pythagoras by seven games, as I've demonstrated on many occasions. Just looking at the American League clubs that would earn postseason berths if the season ended today: the Yankees are -1, the White Sox are +3, the Mariners are -1, the Indians are -1. In the National League, the Cardinals are +1 and the Giants are -2. And then you've got the 'mazin' Mets at an amazing +7. Oh, and the Braves? They're also +7. It's the strangest thing, the Mets and Braves are tied atop the East standings with identical actual records (78-54), and they also have identical Pythagorean records (71-61). Of course, 71-61 ain't great. It ain't great at all. And you know what? If you project 71-61 to 162 games, you come up with something very close to my pre-eason prediction for the Mets ...
Predicted Wins Neyer Pythagoras 88 87You know what this tells me? No, not that my original analysis was correct; there's no way of knowing such a thing. What it does tell me is that, if the Mets hadn't caught more than their fair share of breaks this season, my original analysis would look correct. And while I'm sure that doesn't matter to anyone else, it makes me feel a little better about "missing" with the Mets. Lest you think this stinks of sour grapes, I do realize that it works both ways. I'm sure I had the Braves winning approximately 96 games this season. Their Pythagorean projection falls about eight games short of that, and the loss of John Smoltz accounts for just a small part of the difference. TUESDAY, AUGUST 29
When I think of Mets fans, the word that always comes to mind is insufferable, as in "difficult or impossible to endure; intolerable." No, that's not completely fair. My best friend is a Mets fan, and another of my favorite people also worships the ground Shea Stadium stands on. But what's always struck me about New York baseball fans is they have everything in the world -- great financial resources and championships -- but the great successes are not accompanied by any graciousness at all. When they win, they're arrogant. When they lose, they're indignant. And when you (or in this case, me) predicts that they won't win, you'd think I insulted their mother and their mother's mother.
"I think the Mets are going to finish 88-74 in 2000."Dear Rob, As a lifelong Met fan, it gives me great pleasure to inform you that the Mets (now on an equal footing with the Braves in the NL East while also sharing baseball's BEST record) would need to go 10-21 the rest of the way to fulfill your dire and misguided prediction. That's about as likely as your prediction that the Astros would have a strong rotation, a deep outfield, and would lead the NL Central. (While I didn't think the Astros would be THIS bad, I did predict they'd finish no higher than third in their division). You may continue to bash the Mets as much as you like, but the facts are the facts. It's not too late to mend your ways ... why not recognize what a GREAT team they are? Thank you,
New York, NY
The Mets currently feature one of baseball's worst outfields. I mean, when none of your starters are good enough to break into the Royals lineup, you've got problems. Replacing John Olerud with Todd Zeile at first base is clearly a downgrade, and there's not a single returning player who has a good chance of being better this season than last.Let's take those in reverse order ... Whether I was correct about the "good chance" of a returning player being better, the fact is that Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo have both been better. And the fact is that both are not only better, but are enjoying MVP-quality seasons. Replacing Olerud with Zeile has indeed been a downgrade ... but not a significant downgrade. Olerud's OPS in 1999 was 890, Zeile's in 2000 is 851. As for the outfield ... well, it's been pretty mediocre. After Derek Bell's fast start -- a .400 batting average in April -- he's settled down, and his 2000 stats closely mirror his career stats, which of course aren't very good. Jay Payton's been in center, and has done almost exactly what we might have expected; that is to say, not much. His 768 OPS ranks eighth among 12 regular National League center fielders, and once you get past Andruw Jones (at No. 6) it's a weak group. However, there is one Mets outfielder who could indeed break into the Royals lineup. Much to my surprise, Benny Agbayani is again piling up some pretty impressive numbers. Here are his career stats, updated through last night:
AB Runs 2B 3B HR RBI OBP Slug OPS 571 90 36 4 26 93 .380 .508 888There was little or nothing in Agbayani's minor-league record to suggest this kind of performance, but 571 at-bats is not a small sample. Perhaps he really is this good, and credit goes to both Agbayani himself, and to Bobby Valentine for putting Agbayani in a position to succeed. OK, another excerpt ...
What's more -- and I want to thank one of my readers for pointing this out -- it's extremely unlikely that the Mets will allow only 20 unearned runs this season, as they did in 1999. Yes, I know that the infielders are all sure-handed fellows, but this simply won't happen again.Indeed, the Mets have now allowed 53 unearned runs (with a few more certainly to come). That figure is good, but nothing particularly special. The Braves have permitted 52 unearned runs, the Diamondbacks 50, and the Cubs only 40. And the last excerpt ...
The Mets did make a positive move this offseason, and it was a big one. But Mike Hampton won't balance everything else, and that's why I think the Mets are going to finish 88-74 in 2000.Hampton's been fine, in fact his 3.27 ERA isn't significantly higher than his 2.90 mark of last season. He's not going to win 22 games again, but then only a fool would have expected that. He's on pace for 16 victories, perhaps less than expected but certainly adequate. Those 16 victories, though, don't entirely explain how the Mets have essentially matched their success of last season. Hampton has been a factor, but so have the unexpected (at least by me) performances from Piazza, Alfonzo and Agbayani. I stand corrected. Anyway, While we're on the subject of New York baseball teams, I wrote in yesterday's column, "Now, you might remember -- especially if you're a Yankees fan -- that back in May, when the club was struggling terribly to score runs, I suggested that the Yanks would eventually suffer from their lack of offensive production." Bless your hearts, a number of you wrote to defend me from myself, and here's one of those letters:
Pre Post Jeter .853 .888 Williams .994 .885 O'Neill .789 .781 Martinez .768 .757 Posada .982 .956I don't remember exactly what you said in that May column, but I think it was something to the effect that (1) neither O'Neill nor Martinez would get much better (they haven't); (2) Posada would cool off (he has, slightly); and (3) only Jeter would put up better second-half numbers (he has, barely). The offensive boast has come from the new acquisitions, not the cast of characters that you were evaluating back in May. Sincerely,
A pair of notes on the Yankees, one of which makes me look foolish and the other smart: Foolish note: The Bronx Bombers are 34-19 since July 1, the best record in the American League. Now, you might remember -- especially if you're a Yankees fan -- that back in May, when the club was struggling terribly to score runs, I suggested that the Yanks would eventually suffer from their lack of offensive production. Some of you -- OK, many of you -- suggested that there was something wrong with me. How could I possibly be so skeptical about the Yankees' chances? And of course, they are now prohibitive favorites in the East. Smart note: In that same May column, I suggested that the Yankees' (then) superb record in one-run games was largely a matter of luck, and that eventually their wins and losses would correlate closely with their runs scored and allowed. Well, that's exactly what has happened. The Yanks are now just 17-14 in one-run games, but they've got the second-best record in the American League because they've won a bunch of games that were not close. The Pythagorean Method -- based purely on runs scored and allowed -- would predict a 73-54 record. Their actual record? Seventy-two and fifty-five.
After doing this for nearly five seasons, I should have known. I should have known that a discussion of what ".400" means, no matter how esoteric it might be, would be of great interest to the type of people who read this column. I could fill a small book with the e-mail I've received on the subject, but instead I'll just fill a large column ...
AB Hit Avg George Kell 522 179 .3429 Ted Williams 566 194 .3428Look in the encyclopedias, and both Kell and Williams apparently batted .343 in 1949. But were they co-winners of the American League batting title? No, they weren't. Only one hit separated the two of them, yet Kell took the title based on his infinitesimally higher batting average. And how did anybody know? They carried the averages to four digits. And why did they carry the averages to four digits? Because people cared. Nobody really gave a damn if Reggie Jackson hit .299 or .300 in 1980, and nobody really gave a damn if Ted Williams hit .405 or .406 in 1941. But people do care about batting titles, and people do care about .400. And that's why we should be strict with Todd Helton. Then again, will this situation even come up?
AB Hit Batting 463 185 0.39957 468 187 0.39957 473 189 0.39977 543 217 0.39963 548 219 0.39964 553 221 0.39964 608 243 0.39967 613 245 0.39967 618 247 0.39968I was going to run the whole chart until I realized just how boring that would be. But you can see, quite clearly, that it's not at all "impossible" to hit .3996 in a reasonable number of at-bats. Oh, you might notice a certain consistency in the at-bats column. As Jeff Hildebrand (another professor!) pointed out to me, "Fortunately, the odds of this even being an issue are small. The only way it could possibly come up is if the number of at-bats ends with either a 3 or an 8, and then of course he would have to have exactly the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) number of hits." What's more, as Chris Bartley points out, "There is no meaningful difference between .399 and .400." In other words, there's a great likelihood that this debate is entirely pointless. Yet we still care, don't we? Speaking of caring, here's another little window into my world ... From time to time, a reader will tell me that I'm a good enough writer, in my conversational way, but I spend too much time writing about numbers and such, and not enough time writing about issues and personalities. Fair enough. But Monday night, I witnessed one of the more exciting games of this season, and wrote an impassioned column that didn't mention any stats at all. Many of my friends and associates e-mailed kudos, but I didn't hear much from the rest of you. This was fine with me, because the amount of e-mail I receive from people who don't know the color of my eyes has gone way down since I stopped publishing my e-mail address a few months ago. But yesterday I wrote about a number -- a famous number, but a number nonetheless -- and suddenly everybody and his mother knows my e-mail address. Or so it seemed, as the opinions about .400 came flooding in. You guys obviously do care about this stuff, so I'm going to keep writing about it. Programming Note: For those of you fortunate enough to live in the very middle of this great land, Saturday afternoon I'll be talking about baseball and signing copies of "Baseball Dynasties" at Borders Books in Lawrence, Kansas. The fun begins at 2 p.m., and goes until everybody's too tired to continue or I have to leave for the Royals game, whichever comes first. Hope to see you there. Also, there will be no Friday column as I travel the country. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 23
Monday in USA Today, there was an odd note in Rod Beaton's column:
Hitting .400: If Colorado's Todd Helton or anyone else bats .3996, .3997, .3398 or .3999 this season, he will not join the list of .400 hitters. MLB's statistical service, Elias Sports Bureau, asserts there is no rounding up.Now, I'll admit that when I first read this, it struck me as the most asinine thing I'd seen since the last time I appeared on television. We round everything up, and suddenly Todd Helton is different if he dares to threaten the great Ted Williams?
It came down to the last day of the season, and by now I was down to .39955, which, according to the way they do it, rounded out to an even .400. We had a doubleheader left in Philadelphia ... The night before the game, [manager Joe] Cronin offered to take me out of the lineup to preserve the .400. They used to do that ? I told Cronin I didn't want that. If I couldn't hit .400 all the way I didn't deserve it.But in his book, "The Last .400 Hitter," John Holway casts some doubt on "the way they do it," writing, "Rounded off, Williams was batting exactly .400. But was it a real .400? The skies were cloudy as the players left the park. What if it rained tomorrow? Would it go into the books with an asterisk? Would the fans consider him a bona fide .400 hitter? Most important, would he himself?" Williams did play both games of the doubleheader, and collected six hits in eight at-bats to finish the season at .406 ... sort of. He actually finished at .4057, which gets rounded up to .406 in all the encyclopedias.
I was at Fenway Park Monday night with Marci Surpin, a friend of mine who knows nearly as much about baseball as anybody I know (and more about nearly everything else). Like me, Marci keeps score at the ballpark, which led the guy sitting next to me to ask, "So, what, do you two work for a sports magazine or something?" I get questions like this a lot, to the point where they've become tiresome, so now I usually just say something like, "Nah, I'm just a crazy fan who suffers from a mild case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder." This usually serves to stifle unwelcome conversation. But since Marci was with me, I just mumbled something about how much fun it is to keep score. Whatever. Of course, I like to keep score because it results in a document of my experience. Some experiences deserve documentation more than others, and last night's game deserved documentation about as much as any experience I've had. If I didn't have it down in my scorebook, in ink, then I probably wouldn't quite believe what happened. The contest moved along quickly, as most of the hitting action was concentrated within a slight number of half-innings. The Sox took a 2-0 lead in the third, the Angels tied the game moments later in their half of the fourth, and then they went ahead 5-2 in the sixth on Adam Kennedy's three-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen. A couple of close and questionable calls went against the Angels, the first of which led Mike Scioscia to lodge an official protest, the point of which is officially lost on this columnist. Anyway, it was 5-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth, and by this point in the game Marci and I had moved to the third row behind the Angels dugout (thanks to a pair of fools who left after the Sox failed to score in the eighth). This left us in perfect position to watch one of the more dramatic conclusions of the 2000 baseball season. Troy O'Leary led off against lefty Scott Schoeneweis and bounced out to second base. Bernard Gilkey followed with a hot grounder that Kevin Stocker fielded easily. That brought up Jason Varitek. Never the most of patient of fellows, Varitek nonetheless walked on four pitches. That brought up Brian Daubach. Rarely at his best against left-handed pitchers, Daubach nonetheless lofted a fly ball into the visitors' bullpen for a game-tying home run ... Oops, didn't really make a dramatic moment out of that, did I? Well, you already knew about that, I'll bet, and anyway there was still plenty of drama to come. With the game now deadlocked at five apiece and the crowd's enthusiasm approaching mass delirium, Mark Petkovsek trotted in from the bullpen and struck out pinch-hitter Trot Nixon. Made him look silly, too. The 10th inning passed fairly uneventfully, perhaps a necessary respite between Innings of Destiny. Troy Glaus -- who, by the way, looks huge from close up -- led off the 11th with a double down the left-field line against Derek Lowe, who was pitching his third inning. Bengie Molina moved Glaus to third with a routine sacrifice bunt. With the lefty-hitting Kennedy due next and Ron Gant on deck, I figured Jimy Williams would give him the intentional pass. I had a great view into the Sox dugout, though, and I didn't see anybody holding up four fingers. I did, however, see Williams giving some signs to Varitek behind the plate, and for some reason that made me suspect a squeeze play. Sure enough, on a 1-0 count Kennedy laid down the bunt, and Glaus sprinted home with the lead run. Gant ended the inning with a routine grounder to the mound. Nomar Garciaparra led off the bottom of the 11th with a four-pitch walk. The Angels brought in lefty Mike Holtz to face the left-hitting O'Leary. Everybody was expecting a bunt. I've written it before ... When the corner infielders are charging for the bunt, go ahead and swing away. There are more than a couple of reasons for this, but the two that come to mind are (1) the pitcher's not trying to do anything fancy, so you'll probably see a fastball in a good spot, and (2) a hitter that swings away with the corner infielders charging -- and, quite likely, the second baseman moving over to cover first -- must have at least a hundred-point boost in his batting average. Oh yeah, and you're not giving away an out. I don't generally make a lot of noise when I'm at the ballpark. But sometimes, when I'm sitting close enough and my blood gets to boiling, I let loose like any other loudmouth. After O'Leary squared around on the first pitch and took it for ball one and then squared around and took a strike, I couldn't control myself any longer. Swing the bat! Let him swing the bat! And sure enough, that's exactly what Jimy Williams did. O'Leary had a quick conversation with third-base coach Wendell Kim, who apparently told O'Leary to swing the bat ... and the result was a laser grounder past the drawn-in Mo Vaughn at first base. Garciaparra sailed to third, and suddenly things were looking good again. With O'Leary out of the way (or at least on first base), the Angels brought in right-handed Shigetoshi Hasegawa to face Gilkey. Williams countered with pinch-hitter Scott Hatteberg. Looking like a left-handed version of Jeff Bagwell at the plate, Hatteberg coaxed a six-pitch walk out of Hasegawa, thus loading the bases, and then exited the playing field in favor of pinch-runner Manny Alexander. Now, I didn't really understand why Alexander would pinch-run for Hatteberg. The runner on first, whoever he might be, didn't represent much of anything, since the winning run was on second base. And if by some happenstance the Sox tied the game but didn't win, one of their better hitters (Hatteberg) was now out of the game. Anyway, with the bases juiced, Varitek bounced one directly to Kennedy -- yes, him again -- who threw a strike to the plate to force Garciaparra, and then Molina fired to first base to retire Varitek by more than a step. Mo Vaughn then threw across the diamond, where O'Leary was sliding safely into third. What Marci and I didn't see, not until we watched Baseball Tonight, was that Vaughn could easily have turned the rare 4-2-3 double play into an even rarer 4-2-3-6 triple play. Alexander, for reasons known only to himself and God, didn't take off for second base with the crack of the bat. Rather, he was perhaps a third of the way to second base when Vaughn threw to third. I'm not faulting Vaughn here. He did have a chance to get O'Leary at third, and he'd have lost that chance if he'd taken a peek at Alexander. And there really wasn't any reason for such a peek, because most major league ballplayers would have been well on their way to second base. Alexander wasn't, but fortunately for him nobody noticed until it was too late. So now it's second and third, two outs, and Daubach's up, once again in the position to make a lot of New Englanders very happy. He got the count to two-and-one, then dumped a medium-sized blooper into short left field. In a normal ballpark that's an automatic single and the game's over. But of course, Fenway's far from a normal ballpark, and left fielder Orlando Palmeiro had a fighting chance to make a sensational play. He didn't make it, though, coming up a least a foot short, and Palmeiro's desperate throw plateward wasn't nearly in time to keep Alexander from scoring the decisive run, and move the Sox into a tie atop the wild-card standings. When the Red Sox win, the p.a. system immediately blares forth "Dirty Water," a No. 11 hit for The Standells back in 1966. It's usually little more than pleasant background music as we make our slow, slow way toward the exits. But after a dramatic win -- and tonight marked the Red Sox' third walk-off win in their last eight games -- a good percentage of the fans hang around and sing ...
Oh, Boston you're my home
Reading The New York Times yesterday, I found a great example of why baseball writers -- and for that matter, baseball fans -- generally can't be trusted when it comes to the players they follow. Writing about the American League MVP candidates, Murray Chass mentions Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez, then Carlos Delgado, and concludes with brief mentions of Carl Everett, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. But he saves most of his American League comments for Bernie Williams, writing, "Bernie Williams's statistics don't compare with Delgado's except for R.B.I. But he has been more responsible for the Yankees' continued presence at the top of the A.L. East." Chass then lists eight Yankee victories in which Williams played a dramatic role. Actually, that's not exactly true. In one of the games, "Williams tripled home a run that ignited an eight-run outburst." Uh-huh. Ignited. In another game, "Williams drove in the first run of a 2-1 victory." Uh-huh. First run. My point here is that if you want to pick through the game logs, you can probably find any number of key hits contributed by great players. But if you're writing for, say, The New York Times, you don't bother doing that for Delgado or Thomas or Martinez. So aside from the victory-important RBI, how good has Williams really been? His 969 OPS ranks 13th in the American League. His .689 offensive winning percentage ranks 21st (mostly because he's grounded into 15 double plays). Chass failed to mention, at all, a few good MVP candidates, chief among them Nomar Garciaparra. What I find a bit stunning, though, is Chass' failure to mention another Yankee enjoying a wonderful season ...
Games HR RBI Runs OPS OW% Williams 118 27 107 93 966 .689 Yankee X 112 22 65 68 966 .738Of course, Yankee X is Jorge Posada. Before this season, I described Posada (and not Jason Varitek) as the second-best catcher in the American League, and since then he's done nothing to make me regret that evaluation (the Astros, on the other hand ... ). Posada's way behind in runs and RBI, and I initially suspected that perhaps he simply hasn't performed well in "the clutch," but that's not the case at all. He's done just fine with runners on base and in scoring position, though it looks like he does become particularly patient in those situations; in roughly 125 plate appearance with runners in scoring position, Posada's drawn 40 walks (including nine intentional). Now, one might argue that with runners in scoring position, you don't want your hitter up there looking to take a walk. And I'm not sure I'd always argue the point. But I would argue that Posada's been just about as valuable as Williams, at least if you consider their positions. He's not going to get much consideration because of the voters' slavish devotion to the Great and Powerful God of Runs Batted In, but that doesn't mean he's not a huge reason the Yankees are in first place. Getting back to a certain Blue Jays slugger ... Chass writes, "Carlos Delgado of Toronto has compiled the most impressive statistics ... Toronto, however, may have to win the wild card for him to have a chance." I'm not sure if Chass is saying that he wouldn't vote for Delgado unless the Jays reach the postseason, or that his more dunderheaded colleagues wouldn't. Sad to say, I suspect that both are true. Delgado's putting together one of the finest seasons in recent memory, and it'd be a shame if he were ignored because Toronto's pitchers weren't good enough for the club to win 92 games. But of course, that's been going on for a long, long time, and there's no point in belaboring the argument here. (I might add, however, that if you ask people who watch the Blue Jays play every day, almost to a man they'll tell you that Delgado is indeed a wonderful guy to have on the club, one of the few "gamers" in the lineup.) I certainly couldn't vote for Thomas or Martinez ahead of Delgado, given that they're all 1B/DH types, and Delgado is enjoying the superior season. Plus, he does actually play the field more often than the other two. It seems to me that there are only three real MVP candidates, assuming of course that the season ended tomorrow, or within a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Games HR RBI Runs OPS OW% Delgado 124 36 112 100 1198 .883 Rodriguez 109 30 97 106 1065 .813 Garciaparra 103 18 74 79 1063 .820When I describe these guys as the "only real" candidates, I simply mean that they're the guys for whom one might construct a convincing argument as No. 1 on the ballot. In this humble writer's humble opinion, you have to take either the big bat at the left end of the defensive spectrum, or the slightly smaller bat at the right end of the defensive spectrum. And the guys in the middle, like Bernie Williams and Darin Erstad, get the table scraps. Looking at the stats, though, I suppose I'd really only have to decide between Delgado and Rodriguez. Though he plays half his games in a pitcher's park, Alex has been almost exactly as effective as Garciaparra. And his counting stats are significantly better. In the end, I have to go with Delgado, simply because he didn't spend two weeks on the DL. And Alex did.
Blabberings and natterings while waiting for the Phillies to make their late-season move ...
Gm IP Hits BB SO W-L ERA White, Col 51 62 44 10 70 8-1 1.60Without making an exhaustive search, I'd guess that Steve Reed's 1995 season -- 5-2 with a 2.14 ERA over 84 innings -- is the best by a Rockies reliever. Six weeks is plenty of time for White to go either way, but those are pretty impressive numbers, especially for a guy of whom it was written, just a few months ago, "White remains a serviceable lefthander who can pitch well in middle-inning roles. He's too hittable, however, to be viewed as an important part of the Cincinnati bullpen."
G AB H HR R RBI Slug OBP OPS 84 260 89 21 48 54 .650 .410 1060Asks Lichtman, "Who is this run-producing monster?" Answers Lichtman, "None other than the aggregated player known as Brian Cashman's Yankee Pick-ups Since June 28 ... For the record, they are Justice, Hill, Polonia, Canseco and Sojo. The man has a lot of cash to work with, but you can't fault his selection skills." True enough, though Polonia has been as bad as we should have expected, and Canseco's only got 22 at-bats with the Yankees. The majority of the above numbers are courtesy of David Justice, who's played in 40 games for the Yankees, and hit 11 homers while posting a 1067 OPS. Glenallen Hill's been fantastic, too, with seven homers and a 1390 OPS in 14 games. For an amusing contrast, check the combined numbers of the Boston's recent acquisitions, though in fairness, both Rico Brogna and Mike Lansing won games for the Red Sox this week.
No. 3? Rick Helling (3.57).
Nos. 6, 7 and 8? Paul Abbott (3.80), Frank Castillo (3.86) and Mac Suzuki (4.02). Really, the AL ERA leaders are simply another testament to the greatness of Martinez. After his 1.59, the next 14 qualifiers for the ERA title are bunched between 3.51 (Lopez) and Brian Moehler (4.25). And if anyone other than Pedro Martinez wins the Cy Young, a full-scale investigation should immediately be launched.
Bobby is going to get traded forever because for all his power, he can't hit in the fourth spot. He strikes out too much, so the manager always ends up leading him off 'cause you gotta get him out of the way as quick as you can. Let him do his damage if he's going to do any, and that's it. When we had him here in New York, we were expecting great things of him, but the next thing we knew, he was leading off! And you can't bat him sixth or seventh, not for what you're paying him. You might as well not even have him. That's why he keeps going from team to team because everybody who gets him figures here we've got a powerful guy with all kinds of talent who can run like hell, steal 30 bases, but then he starts striking out, and son of a bitch, all of a sudden they realize they have to lead him off ...There was actually a lot more to it, but it's true that in Bobby's day, strikeouts were regarded differently than they are now. And it's also true that in the latter part of his career, Bonds was not a good baserunner or outfielder. By the way, did you know that Bobby had a brother named Robert who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs? THURSDAY, AUGUST 17
I made a pretty hefty claim yesterday -- that the run support given starting pitchers is essentially random, aside from the fundamental abilities of the hitters in the lineup -- so it's appropriate to consider other opinions today.
Martinez Johnson Clemens 1997 3.54 4.86 4.98 1998 5.43 5.05 4.99 1999 6.03 5.13 4.94 2000 4.27 4.87 5.36What do we see here? While Pedro Martinez's run support is all over the place, Randy Johnson's and Roger Clemens' has been incredibly consistent. Neither fish nor fowl. This tells me that run support generally evens out over the course of a season, and it evens out in the neighborhood of the team's overall run production (naturally). If the opposition pitchers were consistently "getting up" for their starts against these future Hall of Famers, wouldn't those numbers be lower?
San Diego, CA
Big Non-Big American 730 720 National 692 689What happens is, pitchers do throw more strikes, which leads to higher batting and slugging averages ... but also a lower on-base percentage, because the walks are down. The overall effect, as you can see, is an OPS increase, but not a significant increase. Certainly not significant enough to explain the difference between the ERAs of Tim Hudson and Pedro Martinez this season. So we're right back where we started. You've all raised some good questions, questions that often come up. But the fact is that I've still seen no empirical evidence suggesting that run support is anything but random. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16
Monday afternoon, I turned on the TV just in time to see SportsCenter's Rece Davis say ...
San Francisco's on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, a great measure of offensive effectiveness, is tops in the National League.(Those italics are mine.) Rece Davis is, along with Kenny Mayne, one of my favorite ESPN personalities, but I certainly never thought I'd hear him reference OPS. I mean, Peter Gammons was one thing -- Peter's occasionally been dropping OPS into his columns and TV work this season -- but Rece Davis? This battle has been won, or nearly enough. OPS is on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, and if you do a little digging you can find OPS all over ESPN.com's statistical coverage, for both teams and players. In other words, my work here is done. And it took only four years. Anyway, with OPS out of the way, we can concentrate on other, more interesting things ... like the lingering, widely-held misconception that the number of runs a starting pitcher's team scores in his games is related to anything but dumb luck. As many of you know, the Red Sox have scored very few runs this season when Pedro Martinez was the pitcher of record. Among the 47 American League pitchers who have thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Pedro ranks 41st with 4.27 runs per nine innings of support. Here's what Red Sox catcher/DH Scott Hatteberg said about his club's failure to score when Pedro's pitching:
I think there have been times when it has been a lackadaisical thing for us, because we know we'll only have to score a few runs to win when he pitches.Interesting theory. Strangely enough, yesterday I ran across another interesting theory while flipping through "The Bronx Zoo," Sparky Lyle's diary of the Yankees' 1978 season. On June 7, Ron Guidry beat the Mariners 8-1, running his record to 9-0 for the season. Apparently the Yankees scored plenty of runs when Guidry pitched, leading Lyle to "write":
Billy [Martin] has an interesting theory that when Gid is on the mound, our hitters feel less pressure and hit better than they do for the other pitchers. They know he's only going to allow a run or two, so they relax at the plate and hit better.Friends, it's all a bunch of ... well, I can't use the word here that I would like to use. Let me say, instead, that any explanation that doesn't have randomness at its core is full of ... oops, almost did it again. Let's look at Pedro's basic stats, along with his run support, over the last four seasons:
W-L ERA Support 1997 17-8 1.90 3.54 1998 19-7 2.89 5.43 1999 23-4 2.07 6.03 2000 13-3 1.59 4.27If there's a discernible pattern there, I'm certainly not seeing it. In 1997, Martinez pitched brilliantly and was rewarded with the National League's Cy Young Award, but he went "just" 17-8 thanks to lousy support from his Montreal mates. In 1999, Martinez pitched brilliantly and was rewarded with the American League's Cy Young Award, and went 23-4 thanks to great support from his Boston buddies. Did the Red Sox hitters not realize, in 1999, that Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher in the world? Did they need this most recent offseason to comprehend his greatness? Were Scott Hatteberg and his fellow hitters holed up in their basements all winter, staring at Pedro's 1999 stat line until they understood what it meant? I doubt it. Remember that I said Pedro Martinez ranks No. 41 in run support, among 47 American League starters? Well, No. 47 on the list is Mike Mussina, who has been blessed with great support for the great majority of his career, resulting in a phenomenal .673 winning percentage entering this season. Mussina's been lucky for a long time. And this season, he's unlucky. It's just that simple. Oh, another of my favorite ESPN personalities is Joe Morgan. I like Morgan because he says things, things that jump right at you. About half of them are brilliant and half of them make no sense at all. The best-ever example of this may be found in Morgan's autobiography, Page 127:
The two most overrated stats in all of baseball are batting average and earned run average. I measure a player by his run production: Slugging percentage and on-base percentage actually tell you more about run production than batting average ... [Exactly right, Joe!] ... With pitchers, the same division occurs with earned run average and wins. It doesn't matter what a guy's ERA is, what counts is how many wins he has. Say a guy goes through a season with a 2.98 ERA but has a losing record. What that tells you is the guy pitches well enough to lose. A pitcher's job is to bring home the bacon, not to hold down his ERA.Exactly wrong, Joe! And I don't think he'd really argue this point with me. Here are three pitchers, all with the same records:
Tim Hudson 13-4 4.79 P Martinez 13-4 1.59 J Baldwin 13-4 4.15Take Morgan's logic to its ridiculous extreme, and you might conclude that Hudson and Baldwin are doing their job just as well as Martinez. But is anyone out there so foolish as to believe that's the case? Hudson is 13-4 not because he's pitching particularly well, but rather because the A's have scored 7.8 runs per nine innings for him. Martinez is 13-4 not because he doesn't know how to "bring home the bacon," but rather because the Sox have scored 4.3 runs per nine innings for him. None of it means anything. The performance of hitters has everything to do with who's pitching against them, and nothing to do with who's pitching for them. There are, contrary to my general air of confidence, actually few things, in baseball or otherwise, that I'm sure about. But the utter randomness of run support is one of those things. TUESDAY, AUGUST 15
Did you see the following in Monday's USA Today?
Philadelphia: 2B Marlon Anderson's homer Sunday in a 14-7 loss to Houston was the first by a Phillies second baseman this season. Except for pitchers, every position in the majors now has produced at least one home run except Florida catchers.Only 41 words -- and in case you're wondering, I do consider "14-7" a word, as it speaks volumes -- but those 41 words raise a number of questions, don't they? First off, who are these "Florida catchers" of which USA Today speaks? And why do these "Florida catchers" so regularly fail to hit long fly balls, or long line drives, or medium fly balls or line drives that sneak around the fair pole? To answer the first of these questions, I contacted the ESPN Department of Facts, which occupies its own underground lair on the grounds in Bristol, CT. They were busy. So I turned to ESPN.com's sortable stats and found three names: Mike Redmond
I knew somebody was missing, and a few hours of deep thought resulted in another name ... Paul Bako ... who was waived on July 21, then signed by Atlanta the same day.
Gm AB HR OPS Redmond 61 162 0 679 Bako 56 161 0 626 Castro 17 48 0 564 Martinez 7 14 0 357 Totals 141 385 0 635You have to give the Marlins credit; they kept the right guy, as Redmond is clearly a better hitter than Bako. Always has been and always will be. And he's better than he's shown this year, too. No, Redmond doesn't have any power at all -- three homers in 522 career at-bats -- but he hits for a decent average and draws some walks, resulting in a .367 career OBP that's excellent for a catcher with a good defensive reputation. Anyway, the Marlins catchers' quest for a single dinger gives us another Florida stat to track, along with Preston Wilson's pursuit of Bobby Bonds' strikeout record. Let us now move from the specific to the general ... I can't help but wonder how often a modern team goes through an entire season without getting even a single circuit clout from a particular position. This time, I really did consult another researcher, Tom Ruane. In his own prolific way, Tom regularly adds as much to the field of sabermetric research as anybody alive. You can read his work in The Big Bad Baseball Annual and its companion website, and Tom also is a frequent contributor to SABR's e-mail group. And Tom didn't disappoint, coming through with -- as usual -- even more information than I wanted. Tom was able to check the National League back through 1974, and the American League back through 1963. As you might expect, it's fairly common for a club to receive zero home runs from its shortstops. The last time was 1993, when Twins shortstops failed to homer (go, Pat Meares!). Here's a chart listing the positions that produced zero homers, along with the number of times it happened, the most recent team, and the player most responsible:
No. Last Regular SS 39 1993 Twins Pat Meares 2B 16 1991 Brewers Willie Randolph CF 6 1995 Rangers Otis Nixon 1B 1 1981 Phillies Pete Rose C 1 1980 Mets John StearnsA few notes about this list:
It's mid-August, so I'd better write something about Chris Stynes before I forget. Stynes, you see, is batting .348 in not-insignificant playing time (224 at-bats). Yeah, it's a fairly empty .348. Still, you can say what you want about the relative meaningless of batting average -- I have, on many occasions -- but it's tough to hit .356 and not put runs on the scoreboard. What's really interesting, though, is that Stynes has shown this "ability" before. Back in 1997, he batted .348 in 49 games ... and then, nothing.
PA OBP Slug OPS 1997 209 .394 .485 879 1998 379 .323 .340 663 1999 125 .310 .301 611 2000 246 .393 .504 897Stynes played brilliantly in 1997, at least for a utility guy. So brilliantly, in fact, that he fairly earned a shot at more playing time in 1998 ... and then he killed the Reds, essentially wasting nearly 400 plate appearances. He was lucky to be on the roster in 1999 and, after a miserable season at the plate in limited playing time, even luckier to be on the roster in 2000. And now here he is, essentially duplicating his 1997 numbers while playing a variety of positions. Which is the real Chris Stynes? While it's possible that an injury limited Stynes in 1998 and '99, what's more likely is that the real Chris Stynes is the one with the 749 career OPS. Numbers are funny things, and sometimes they do things we don't expect them to.
1B Kevin Young said the Pirates' season "has been a total disaster, but I still don't think we're that far away. The thing about a season like this is it really motivates you to do better." Young, despite having an off-year, has 71 RBI and could come close to matching last year's 106 RBI.Well, sure. He could come close. I could dunk a basketball next week. The Devil Rays could draw two million fans next season. The Republicans and the Democrats could agree on something important ... OK, now I'm just getting silly. Yes, Young might get hot and finish with 100-odd RBI ... but who cares? An off-year's an off-year, no matter how many guys are getting on base ahead of you. Actually, the relevant quibble here is with the "off-year" designation. Here are Young's 2000 stats and his career stats, through yesterday's game:
Games OBP Slug OPS 2000 106 .320 .449 769 Career 839 .329 .456 785Gee, those lines don't look much different to me. What that should have said was, "Young, despite having a year not nearly as good as his freaky, fluky, funky, out-of-character 1999, has 71 RBI and has a slight chance of matching last year's 106 RBI, even though it really shouldn't change our minds about him. Oh, and after committing 23 errors in 1999, Young is on pace to 'better' that mark, with 17 in only 104 games this season." FRIDAY, AUGUST 11
What the hell happened to the Arizona Diamondbacks? Sixteen days ago, they added Curt Schilling to their roster, and we all gave them the National League West pennant. Wrapped it in tissue paper, boxed it up, and over-nighted it to Bank One Ballpark (ATTN: Jerry Colangelo). Well, something funny happened on the way to October ... the Diamondbacks stopped winning, and the Giants didn't. Arizona is now three games behind San Francisco in the West, and four-and-a-half behind New York for the wild card. The D-Backs are now 62-52, for a .544 winning percentage that's essentially seven victories short of their outstanding .617 winning percentage last season. The Diamondbacks' recent struggles led Arizona Republic columnist Pedro Gomez to write:
Windows of opportunity open and shut in an instant. If change is going to happen, it's got to be at the top. Manager Buck Showalter has not shown the ability to rally his club ... Showalter's act is wearing ever so thin these days ... It's his laundry list of petty "team rules" and inability to communicate that rankle a group of veteran players, ones who have basically policed themselves, winning in spite of Showalter for two seasons.And that was printed Tuesday morning, before Arizona lost a pair of games to the Expos, and fell three games behind the Giants. Are those team rules really the problem? Here are some numbers:
HR RBI OBP Slug OPS Proven Veterans, 1999 73 254 .359 .546 905 Proven Veterans, 2000 15 59 .333 .406 740The Proven Veterans are Jay Bell and Matt Williams. Yes, they've still got a month to up those HR and RBI, but it doesn't look to me like they're going to match last year's totals. Now, let me ask you, if Bell and Williams were repeating their (admittedly unlikely) 1999 performances, wouldn't the Diamondbacks again be in first place? I believe that they would. Did Jay Bell lose his ability to hit for power, and Matt Williams his ability to stay in the lineup, because they're "rankled"? I don't believe that they have. It still amazes me how various members of the media are so eager to lionize a manager when the club is winning, then castigate him just months later when the club is not winning. Or in this case, when the club is simply winning slightly less often. So there you have it, my simplistic defense of Buck Showalter ... and I'm not sure that I believe it. As men smarter than I have written, very few managers are "good" or "bad." The great majority of managers are effective in some situations, ineffective in others. It might be that Showalter was exactly what the Diamondbacks needed in 1999, but something less than optimal in 2000. Here's Gomez again:
It's an aging club badly in need of some recharging, the kind that could surely come from a radical move, like finding a new manager. Time is of the essence with this bunch ... If change is going to occur, it needs to happen sooner rather than later, when it may be too late for this talented but still older collection of players to make a run at a World Series.And Gomez just might have a point here. It's probably true that this season represents Arizona's best pennant chances for some time, given its veteran-heavy roster. And it's possible that the veterans do need a kick in the pants, or (more likely) that they need a break from Showalter's act. Would I fire him? No, I wouldn't, because my gut tells me that the Diamondbacks still have what it takes to beat the Giants. Should Jerry Colangelo fire him? My gut's been wrong, many times. Colangelo should do what his gut tells him. Oh, and what did Colangelo think of Gomez's column? I have no idea. He told the Arizona Republic, "A question has been raised. Some might come to a conclusion or opinion. But from my standpoint, I don't need any advice from anyone. I've been around too long." When somebody publishes a translation of that, I'll be first in line at the newsstand. THURSDAY, AUGUST 10
Andrew W. Cohen
Thomas: The M's have the largest run differential in the majors, yet they're three games under their expected winning percentage (according to the Pythagorean Theorem, they should be 70-43, not 67-46). They also lead the league in caught stealings and sacrifice bunts. Are Lou's small ball tactics costing this team wins? Rob Neyer: I'm no fan of Uncle Lou's sick predilection for small ball, but three games off a Pythagorean projection actually isn't much, especially at this point in the season.I went back and figured Seattle's Pythagorean projection yesterday, and it seems that Thomas was a game off. The projection was actually 69-44, just two games off their actual record. And after last night's 19-3 drubbing at the hands of the White Sox, their projection is 68-46 ... just one game off their new record, 67-47. You can't stop Pythagorus; you can only hope to contain him. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9
Monday night, as you might remember from yesterday's column, Cubs rookie Ruben Quevedo threw 133 pitches on the way to his first major-league victory. Needless to say, I consider 133 pitches a tad excessive for a 21-year-old pitcher. Well, according to the game story in the Chicago Sun-Times (which as a number of readers brought to my attention), "Cubs manager Don Baylor didn't realize that Quevedo had thrown 133 pitches, according to official game statistics." "We had him for 112," Baylor said. "I would never let anyone throw 133." As lifelong Cubs fan Eric Nehrlich says, "OK, I'm not sure it's any better that among the n coaches they have, nobody can count past 112, but I figured I should point it out." Yeah. But even aside from raising some questions about the competency of the coaching staff, aren't there still some questions we might ask about Baylor? For example, wouldn't you expect a manager, someone who's seen perhaps 3,000 professional games, to intuitively know the difference between 112 and 133? And where, exactly, is the pitch-count cutoff? While Baylor might not knowingly let anyone throw 133 pitches, what about 127? Because that's exactly how many pitches Quevedo threw in his second major-league start, back on June 27 in Florida. (Plus, as reader Terence Nims points out, Baylor "let" Kevin Tapani throw 135 pitches back on May 21. Tapani may not be a great pitcher, but he most certainly does qualify as an "anyone.") Now, to the ol' mailbag ...
Completely at a loss for something substantive, which means -- you guessed it! -- a notes column. Hey, don't complain. If it's good enough for Peter Gammons, it's good enough for li'l Robbie Neyer ...
2. fraying of the left rotator cuff
3. bone spur within the shoulder cavity Seems like a lot of pitchers take the mound when they know something's wrong, and I wonder how many games this bravery costs their teams.
Games AB OBP Slug OPS Dunston 72 157 .275 .484 .759 Paquette 95 285 .302 .421 .723I've said it before and I'll say it again: I can understand why you'd want one player on your team who can play every position, even if he can't hit for beans. But do you really need two of them? Dunston's started games at first base, third base and shortstop, but has seen the great majority of his action in the outfield, even though he doesn't hit like an outfielder. Paquette's started five games at second base, but has seen seen the great majority of his action at the corner outfield and infield spots, even though he doesn't hit like a corner outfielder or infielder. I suppose I shouldn't argue with success, and La Russa's odd roster management does make for a more interesting game. But I can't help but be offended by two players with a composite .290 OBP sucking up 442 at-bats for a pennant contender.
Question of the Day: When do you give up on a guy? We don't know the answer, and there probably isn't a single, correct answer. But for the sake of argument, here are some 2000 stats for three once and/or future sluggers:
Games AB OBP Slug OPS Paul Konerko 98 367 .366 .480 846 Gabe Kapler 74 281 .334 .463 797 Dave McCarty 68 171 .330 .509 839None of these players are stars, yet each has been useful this season. In 1994, the Los Angeles Dodgers used their first-round draft pick, the 13th overall, to select Paul Konerko, a high-school player from Scottsdale, Arizona. At the conclusion of the 1996 season, "Baseball America" named Konerko the No. 42 prospect in all of baseball. A year later he was named Minor League Player of the Year by "Baseball America" after hitting .323 and leading the Pacific Coast League with 37 homers and 127 RBI. Yeah, it was for Albuquerque, but still ... those were the Triple-A stats for a 21-year-old. And Konerko did even better against Triple-A pitchers in 1998, hitting .346 with 14 homers in 63 games. But that same season, Konerko hit just .217 with seven homers in 75 major-league games, leading some observers to label him a fraud, just another result of the Dodgers' hitter-friendly minor-league ballparks. I half-expected to hear calls for Konerko to wear a scarlet "PCL" patch on his jersey. After that 1998 campaign, the Reds -- who had just traded for Konerko in July -- swapped him to the White Sox for Mike Cameron. It was a good deal for both clubs, as both players have become solid major leaguers. Given a chance to play nearly every day for the Sox, Konerko slugged .511 and posted a respectable .352 on-base percentage last year, and he's doing basically the same this season. Konerko may never be a superstar -- his minor-league stats were somewhat inflated by the ballparks in San Antonio and Albuquerque -- but he should be a solid major leaguer for a number of years. And that .217 batting average and 217 at-bats back in 1998? They really didn't mean a thing at all. Gabe Kapler wasn't a first-round draft pick; far from it. The Tigers mined Kapler in the 57th round in 1995. But in 1998, his third full professional season, Kapler led the Double-A Southern League in runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBI. Analysts weren't the only people impressed, as the Tigers skipped Kapler past Triple-A and handed him a roster spot in the spring of '99. That lasted for about a week, though, as the club couldn't find room for both Kapler and Brian Hunter (snicker). In his first Triple-A action, Kapler pounded away for 14 games before getting recalled to Detroit when Hunter was traded to Seattle (those silly Mariners!). Frankly, Kapler's rookie season was something short of a brilliant success. Despite playing in 130 games and hitting 18 home runs, Kapler didn't draw a single Rookie of the Year vote. And just after the World Series, he was one of six Tigers traded to Texas in the Juan Gonzalez deal. Kapler spent most of this season treading water. After homering twice on Opening Day, Kapler was injured and slumping. At the All-Star break, he'd played 50 games and posted a .245 batting average and .314 on-base percentage -- both figures virtually identical to last season -- and an awful .372 slugging percentage. Just a couple of weeks ago, Eddie Epstein asked me, "Do you think Kapler will ever hit?" Rangers GM Doug Melvin was probably asking himself the same. I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but I responded to Eddie with a qualified negative. Well, since the break, Kapler's been hitting and hitting, and hitting some more. Here are his two major-league seasons, through yesterday's game:
Games AB OBP Slug OPS Kapler, 1999 130 416 .315 .447 762 Kapler, 2000 74 281 .334 .463 797Granted, The Ballpark in Arlington is a great place to hit, and Kapler's really doing no better than he did a year ago. But there's obviously some talent there, and at 24 Kapler still has room to grow. Given a chance, he will become a quality major leaguer, perhaps a notch under Konerko as a hitter but at least as valuable when you consider his defense and baserunning. In 1991, the Minnesota Twins used their first-round draft pick, the third overall, to select Stanford first baseman David McCarty. He did well in the minors, but never established himself as a great prospect.
Games AB OBP Slug OPS Class AAA 543 1969 .350 .540 890 Major Lgs 278 749 .287 .319 606Now, Eddie often talks about "Triple-A repeaters," usually in the context of, "those numbers don't mean much because he's a Triple-A repeater." Now, to my knowledge nobody's ever quantified such an effect, but I do respect Eddie's opinions and knowledge. That said, there's a huge difference between McCarty's Triple-A and major league OPS, far too large to simply explain away. Is it possible that those 749 pre-2000 major-league at-bats, more than a full season's worth, did not truly indicate McCarty's abilities? Yes, it is. But before we give the Royals kudos for recognizing this salient fact, let us remember that they actually signed him for ... his glove. That's right. Desperate for defensive help at first base, the Royals acquired McCarty -- who Billy Beane has described as "the best defensive first baseman in the league" -- from the Athletics just before this season. And now McCarty rarely plays, because (1) Mike Sweeney is no longer a complete disaster at first base, and (2) Tony Muser has developed a sick fascination with Todd Dunwoody. So when do you give up on a guy? I believe there is a theoretical answer to this question, and I expect that someone out there will find it. One thing's for sure, though: until my dying day, I will believe that 307 at-bats did not prove that Roberto Petagine wasn't a major league hitter. FRIDAY, AUGUST 4
Friday is typically the day that brings the fewest readers to this space, so it's also the best day to admit past mistakes. Or, alternatively, to indulge in self-aggrandizement and I-told-you-sos. First, some Rookie of the Year candidates I might have missed; namely, Adam Kennedy and Kelly Wunsch. About Kennedy, I must admit that yes, he's a candidate. No, his .319 on-base percentage isn't good. Actually, that's being kind; .319 is horrible. But Kennedy's .432 slugging percentage is decent enough for a second baseman. And he's been in the lineup nearly every day, too, which certainly counts for something. So Kennedy joins the list of candidates who, if they play well over the next two months, might deserve to finish No. 2 in the voting behind Kaz Sasaki. Speaking of whom, at least one reader wished for a comparison between Seattle's Sasaki and Chicago's Wunsch. This columnist exists to serve, so ...
Games IP Hits BB SO ERA Kaz 44 42 30 22 54 3.67 Kelly 47 44 38 16 40 2.68Three columns missing here. Sasaki has give up eight home runs, Wunsch only two. Kaz has saved 25 games, Wunsch only one. And Wunsch has recorded 20 holds, Kaz only zero. It can certainly be argued that Wunsch has pitched better than Sasaki. And those 20 holds -- tops in the majors -- suggest Wunsch has been allowed to pitch fairly often in critical spots. As critical as Sasaki? Well, no. Probably not. And let's be honest, no relief pitcher with a 4-3 record and one save is going to draw much support, no matter how many holds he's got. Is that fair? I don't know, but I'd have a tough time voting for a middle reliever who finishes the season with 65 innings, unless they're 65 great innings. (By the way, Wednesday I suggested that Sasaki might well become the oldest Rookie of the Year. Two readers suggested I missed Satchel Paige, but ol' Satch didn't win the award. For one thing, in 1948 -- his rookie year -- there was just one Rookie of the Year for both leagues, and Boston Braves shortstop Alvin Dark won it. For another, fellow American League rookie Gene Bearden went 20-7 and would almost certainly have won an AL Rookie of the Year Award. However, as one reader did point out, Sasaki would not be the oldest Rookie of the Year. In 1950, Braves center fielder Sam Jethroe won the award, and he turned 32 the January before the season. Sasaki turned 32 last February, so Jethroe "wins" by about a month.) Now, the National Leaguers. The two most common words appearing in responses to yesterday's column were "Lance" and "Berkman." Fair enough, the only problem being that Berkman's not a rookie. I wish there were an on-line source for rookie status, but there's not. And I wish I felt like typing out the official definition of "rookie," but I don't. A few readers took great care to point out the season turned in by Padres right-hander Adam Eaton. Indeed, he's pitched well, posting a 3.46 ERA in his dozen starts. But guys, let's be serious here. Eaton has two victories to his credit. Toiling for a last-place club, how many games will Eaton win by season's end? Seven or eight? Nine? That's not a Rookie of the Year, my friends. Similar case: Pittsburgh's Jimmy Anderson. He tossed eight shutout innings in his last start and now has a 4.24 ERA ... but is stuck on four victories. Unless he wins a game per week through the end of the season, he simply won't be a viable candidate. This is completely off the subject, but I want to revisit something stupid that I wrote a few weeks ago, namely:
Speaking of the Royals, their pitching staff is not the most control-impaired in the major leagues. That honor goes to the Milwaukee staff, which collectively has issued an incredible 473 walks, 56 more than the Reds, the next-worst club in the National League. The Brewers look even worse when you consider they're pitching to pitchers two or three times per game.But as Phil Wickham pointed out, "I would argue that a NL team would have a higher amount of walks than a AL team. This is due to the intentional walks issued to the No. 8 hitters in order to pitch to the No. 9 slot -- usually a pitcher. Isn't that what the evidence supports?" It sure does. In 1999, National Leaguers drew a walk every 10.4 plate appearances, American Leaguers every 10.5 plate appearances. This year, it's 10.1 for the Nationals, 10.2 for the Americans. So clearly, there's no reason to think that American League pitchers are at some sort of disadvantage in the walks column. And I stand corrected. THURSDAY, AUGUST 3
Yes, I missed a few Rookies of the Year candidates yesterday. But no, I'm not going to discuss those omissions today; you Kelly Wunsch and Adam Kennedy fans will just have to cool your heels for one more day, because today's column is for the youngsters over in the Senior Circuit. Yes, everybody knows that Rick Ankiel is perhaps the most talented young pitcher in the game, with his overpowering fastball and killer curve. And most of us also know that wins and losses aren't the be-all and end-all when it comes to evaluating a pitcher's performance. That said, it's early August and Rick Ankiel has won the grand total of seven games (matching his seven losses). At his current pace, he figures to finish at 11-11, which of course is not particularly impressive. Ankiel's 4.11 ERA ranks 19th in the National League (among 47 pitchers who have pitched enough to qualify for the ERA crown), and that is fairly impressive (believe it or not, Ankiel is the only rookie among those 47 pitchers). Really, aside from the won-lost record, Ankiel's only problem has been an inability to work deep into games, because he runs a lot of high pitch counts. Rookie relievers? Not a single National League rookie has saved more than two games this season, according to ESPN.com's sortable stats (yes, that's a plug). However, there are a few rookie middle relievers who have posted some impressive numbers this year:
Gm IP Hits SO Hold W-L ERA A Almanza, Flo 45 35 18 35 10 3-0 2.08 M Herges, LA 44 66 58 58 4 8-0 3.00That's quite a strange line for Matt Herges, four holds (and zero saves, not pictured) and an 8-0 record. As well as he's apparently pitched, it's hard to give too much credit to a pitcher who's not allowed to enter the game when the Dodgers have the lead. As for Florida's Armando Almanza, we really need to see him throw more innings before we consider him for any kind of award. Almanza's a lefty, but he's actually faced about twice as many right-handed hitters as left-handed hitters, and he's been quite successful against both. So I don't know why he's not allowed to pitch more. OK, now the guys who get paid to hit:
Games OPS NL Rank Rafael Furcal, Atl 76 763 63* Mitch Meluskey, Hou 84 889 26* Jay Payton, NY (N) 95 757 68* Pat Burrell, PHI 58 823 41* Peter Bergeron, Mon 97 661 78 (of 81)What do the asterisks mean? Those four players don't have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Only Bergeron, with the worst stats in the group, has enough plate appearances. Astros catcher Meluskey was enjoying a brilliant season, but went on the DL Monday with a strained shoulder, seriously damaging his Rookie of the Year hopes. Burrell is a wonderful prospect, but he got a late start this season, and he's not actually playing that well. Burrell's got good numbers, but they're not Willie-McCovey-in-1959 numbers, the kind that make you ignore a relative paucity of playing time. I suppose if Burrell plays every game, or nearly every game, from this point through the end of the season, and ups his numbers a bit, we've got to consider him. But right now, he's just not there. Bergeron certainly has the playing time, but unless you think he's playing Gold Glove defense in center field, his performance falls far short of being Award-worthy. I still think Bergeron will become a quality major leaguer, but a 661 OPS simply isn't good enough for an everyday outfielder. That brings us to a pair of players with similar OPS who play in the middle of the field for National League East pennant contenders. Of course, Payton and Furcal aren't exactly the same players. Payton plays center field adequately; Furcal plays shortstop and second base erratically, it sometimes fantastically. Payton is 27 going on 28; Furcal is 19 going on 23. Payton slugs (.431) better than he on-bases (.326); Furcal on-bases (.393) better than he slugs (.370). When you consider Furcal's superiority in plate discipline and baserunning, he's the more productive hitter. Productive enough to be the Rookie of the Year? Well, less productive hitters have certainly won the award. But if Ankiel wins a dozen or more games and keeps his ERA close to where it is, he'll be the Rookie of the Year, and deservedly so. But if doesn't do each of those things, it should be a stretch-run free-for-all between Furcal, Payton and Burrell, and perhaps Meluskey if he comes back soon. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 2
Is it just me, or is nobody talking about Kazuhiro Sasaki? He's currently tied for third in the American League with 25 saves. When he blew one Monday night, it stopped a streak of 15 straight successes. And last night, he escaped a bases-loaded jam (not of his own making) in the top of the 19th, setting up Mike Cameron's walk-off piece in the bottom of the inning. So is Sasaki the American League's Rookie of the Year? Before we review his qualifications, let's take a look at the non-pitcher candidates:
Games OPS AL Rank Mark Quinn, KC 84 838 39 Terrence Long, Oak 83 776 61 Mike Lamb, Tex 85 764 64 Ben Molina, Ana 86 751 68Given my preseason fondness for Mark Quinn, I'd like to tell you that he's the 2000 Rookie of the Year ... but I can't quite do it. Quinn's been a disaster in the outfield, and was briefly loaned to Omaha after committing a variety of transgressions against Baseball the Way It's Meant to Be Played (as defined by Tony Muser). Remember back in March and April, when nobody seemed to know who was going to play center field for the A's? Terrence Long has been a wonderful surprise, especially with his new-found plate discipline. Looks like he's going to enjoy a long and profitable career. That said, a 776 OPS ain't much to write home about, not for a major league center fielder who's still a bit raw on defense.
Innings W-L ERA Mark Redman, Min 111 9-5 4.77 Mark Mulder, Oak 113 6-7 5.03It's still relatively early. It's certainly possible for Redman to win another five or six games, and if he finishes 16-8 with, say, a 4.38 ERA, then he deserves serious Rookie of the Year consideration. Right now, however, he's not there. Mulder simply won't win enough games to merit much consideration at all. The lone American League reliever with a save is, of course, Sasaki. Sasaki certainly hasn't been perfect. He's been more homer-prone than any closer in the league, permitting eight round-trippers in his 42 innings. And on the road, Sasaki is 0-4 with a 5.71 ERA. But he's also got 25 saves for a first-place team. Now, Sasaki is 32 years old. Without checking, I suspect that he'd be the oldest Rookie of the Year ever. And to that, I say, "So what?" A rookie is a rookie, and age or nationality shouldn't make any difference at all. There is some historical precedent, of course. In 1995, 27-year-old Hideo Nomo earned National League Rookie of the Year honors after coming over from Japan. Even then, there was some background grumbling. Not because of Nomo's age, but because of his experience at a high level of professional baseball. Nomo edged Chipper Jones in the voting that year, 118 points to 104. There will be similar grumblings about Sasaki, perhaps louder grumblings because of his age. But Sasaki's our man, unless he completely blows up over the next two months. The four position players have plenty of time to jockey around, but in the end I suspect Long will finish No. 2, if only because his team will get more attention. Then again, if the A's finish ahead of the M's, Long might actually win (and the same might be said of Molina and the Angels). TUESDAY, AUGUST 1
Has any team ever so thoroughly dismantled itself in late July as the Orioles these last few days? Of course, it's one thing to trade half your lineup away, and it's another to trade half your lineup away and receive good value. So let's look at what the Orioles gave up and what they received:
Departed Arrived C Charles Johnson 1B Chris Richard 1B Will Clark UT Melvin Mora SS Mike Bordick P Lesli Brea LF B.J. Surhoff P Luis Rivera DH Harold Baines P Juan Figueroa RP Mike TimlinFrankly, the Orioles didn't get much. And frankly, they didn't deserve much, either. Yes, they traded away roughly half their lineup ... but it's an old, expensive lineup for a club that currently ranks 11th of 14 American League teams in run production. The result, as Jayson Stark points out, is that "[o]f all the deals the Orioles have made this week, Rivera is the only high-ceiling prospect they've gotten back." And as Jayson also point out, Rivera has spent time on the DL in each of the last three seasons, with three different problems. So while the Orioles have improved their minor-league depth, they certainly haven't much improved their chances of fielding a competitive club next year or the year after. At least not with the talent at hand. The O's did dump a ton of salary, and this will presumably give them the freedom to sign a quality free agent or two after this season. Of course, the trick is knowing which ones to sign, and I can't help but wonder if the ancient Syd Thrift is the man for the job. To me, the strangest thing here is the apparent desire for B.J. Surhoff. Matt Lawton and Johnny Damon are more productive hitters. So are Cliff Floyd and Bobby Higginson and Carlos Lee. So is Al Martin, and the Mariners were able to acquire Martin at a significantly lower price in utilityman John Mabry and minor-league pitcher Tom Davey than what the Braves gave up for Surhoff. Some guys just get a reputation -- Mike Mussina calls Surhoff "a great player" -- in the face of any rational analysis. Surhoff is a good player who turns 36 this Friday, and in two years the Braves will be stuck with a part-time player making $4.5 million. Getting back to Al Martin (who is 32), he really should be in the lineup whenever a right-handed pitcher is starting against the Mariners (he has a 962 OPS vs. righties this year), but as Rickey Henderson recently observed of himself, "I think a lot of times in the past, I get into confrontations because I want to be out there playing everyday. I'm the type of player who doesn't like sitting on the bench." Yeah, no kidding. He also doesn't like hustling, and last night ended up on first base instead of second because he didn't bust down the line, and thus was stuck on first when Troy O'Leary misplayed a ball in left field. Love the walks, but Henderson isn't getting much else done out there. And I really can't understand the press in Seattle. One columnist referred to the trade for Martin as "a minor deal," and a reporter called it "a middle-level trade." I can't help but wonder if they'd have written the same if Surhoff were coming to Seattle rather than Martin. Quick hits on a few other deals:
Games OBP Slug OPS Hernandez 471 .295 .351 646 Matheny 588 .281 .331 612OK, so Hernandez is a tad better. He's also three years older than Matheny, so there's no reason to think he's going to be better from this point. Hernandez is just one of those guys, like Surhoff, that baseball men fall in love with for no discernible reason.