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Tuesday, September 5
August Archives

Notes from a fan who's wondering if, with Dante Bichette now wearing the home whites, Fenway Park will ever be the same ...

  • Sometime in the next two or three weeks, a major career record will be broken, but nobody seems to be paying attention. And this lack of attention tells me that we still have a long way to go.

    The record? Career walks.
    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.

  • Speaking of records, I think you'd agree that Mark McGwire's chance of catching Hank Aaron has taken a tumble this season. To examine such issues, we use Bill James' Career Assessments system (formerly titled "The Favorite Toy").

    Prior to the 2000 season, McGwire had established a 48 percent chance of hitting 756 home runs. However, if he finishes this season with the 30 home runs he's got right now, his established chance drops precipitously, to 21 percent.

    Meanwhile, Ken Griffey's chance of passing Aaron has also dropped, though not as severely. At his current pace, Griffey will finish the season with 440 career homers, leaving him 316 short of the record, and with a 38 percent chance of reaching the mark.

    The new leader in the Hank Aaron Sweepstakes? None other than Sammy Sosa, who's on pace for 54 homers this season, 336 career, and could finish 2000 with a 39 percent chance of catching Aaron.

    Oh, and don't count out Alex Rodriguez, with a 14 percent chance.

    Of course, with all these guys having established decent chances at the record, it's not really a question of if, but rather who.

  • Nobody's really noticing because he spent so much time on the DL, but Manny Ramirez is essentially duplicating his incredible 1999 season. Look at this:

          Games  RBI   OBP  Slug    OPS
    1999   147   165  .442  .663   1105 
    2000    86    88  .444  .673   1117

    OK, 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.

  • Funny note in this morning's USA Today: "RHP Chris Holt tied a career high yesterday with his 13th loss ..."

    What this omits is that Holt has only been a major leaguer for three seasons; he initially set that career high all the way back in 1999. Can anyone name the last pitcher to lose at least 13 games two straight seasons?

  • Yes, it's true. In 1941, sacrifice flies were just regular old flies, so they did count against Ted Williams' batting average. According to John Holway in "The Last .400 Hitter," Williams "hit six long flies that drove a runner in from third."

    Subtract six at-bats from Williams' official total of 456, and he bats .411 rather than .406.

    I don't intend this note as a slight to Todd Helton, not at all. But as I've written before, there's no good reason why run-scoring fly balls aren't counted like any other at-bat, because it's rare for a player to hit one on purpose.
  • And finally, I'd like to refute the persistent rumors that the Mets "fans" who rocked Rick Reed's car Wednesday night are regular posters on the Rob Neyer message board.

    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:


      In the poll today -- "What is the best step MLB should take to curb batter/pitcher confrontations?" -- the winning response, with about 40 percent of the vote, was "Abolish the DH, make the pitchers hit."

      But do you think that making American League pitchers hit would drastically reduce the number of batters hit, and by extension the batter/pitcher confrontations? I'm surprised to hear everyone saying that the DH is why the pitchers hit batters. I just don't think it would make a dramatic difference.

      Susan Wolf

    You hear this wailing lament again and again, most often from middle-aged men who were paid to play baseball when they were young men ... If only these American League pitchers had to bat, they'd be a lot more careful about pitching inside, and they certainly wouldn't throw intentional beanballs.

    Really? You know, there's an easy way to check this. If making the pitchers hit really would cut down on the plunkings, then doesn't it follow that we'd see fewer hit batters in the National League than the American?

    Well, here's the data, from the beginning of the 1999 season through Tuesday night's games, with "Ups" being my colloquialism for all plate appearances:

                    Ups    HBP   Ups/HBP
      Americans   160533  1325    121.2 
      Nationals   183433  1518    120.8

    Hmm, 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.

    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.
    -- Jimmy Powers, The New York Times

    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        87

    You 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.

    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."
        --Rob Neyer,, February 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,

    First off, I think our definitions of "great" might differ a bit. The Mets are currently on pace for 96 victories, and I would argue that few teams that win fewer than 100 games are considered "great." And 96 victories is the same total they had through 162 games last year.

    What's more, they haven't won 96 games yet. Let's say they go 15-16 the rest of the way. That would give the Mets a 93-69 record, five games better than what I predicted before the season. And if I could come within five games for every team, I could make a big pile of money in Las Vegas.

    Still, the Mets are better than I thought they'd be, and I don't begrudge all the e-mail I've been getting on the subject.


      Isn't it time you revisit the little column you wrote on the Mets? I'll give you a break because I was skeptical this year too, considering the state of the outfield, lack of team speed, loss of Olerud and, at least at the start, a perceived lack of starting pitching depth. I thought you might find some reasons to explain why they've proved you wrong this year, despite the fact that the three main reasons you stated are all on target. Or is it that you dislike this team that much?

      Dan A.
      New York, NY

    Another thing that amuses me -- or annoys me, depending on which side of the bed I got up on this morning -- about letters like these is the silly supposition that because I was wrong about something, it must be due to bias. And further, that I must be gnashing my teeth every time I see that the Mets have won again.

    Sorry to disappoint you, but none of it's true. I enjoy being wrong, because it means I still have more to learn. A lot more. And I'm glad the Mets are playing well, because it means we get to enjoy what looks to be a great pennant race down the stretch.

    Anyway, let's figure out where I went wrong with the Mets. Here are some excerpts from my February 17 column:

    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  888

    There 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:

      Rob, I think that you're being too hard on yourself. Here are the pre- and post-All Star OPS totals for the principle Yankees that were with the team (Knoblauch isn't included because he has only 52 post-AS ABs):
                 Pre  Post
      Jeter     .853  .888
      Williams  .994  .885
      O'Neill   .789  .781
      Martinez  .768  .757
      Posada    .982  .956

      I 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,

    Thanks for the memories, Walt. That's the thing about predictions, nobody seems to remember the good ones (which reminds me, it's been a long, long time since I've heard from a Pokey Reese fan).

    Postscript: Regarding yesterday's note on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Robert Gilbert wrote in with the following ... "Two suggestions to would-be pilgrims: First, head to your local library and check out a book about the Negro Leagues, and read it on the plane to Kansas City. At least for me, the two hours of reading provided a useful knowledge base, making the relatively few relics in the museum that much more meaningful. Also, visitors should call in advance to see when/if Buck O'Neil will be at the museum. He provided a guided tour to our group, and I understand that he often hangs around and enjoys taking visitors through the museum on an ad hoc basis. And an hour with Buck O'Neil certainly is worth a plane ticket to K.C."

    I second that emotion.

    Correction: Jimmy Powers didn't write for the New York Times, as mentioned in Monday's column, but rather the New York Daily News (although the museum needs to correct its mistake).

    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.

  • As many of you know, I've got a rooting interest in various American League postseason contenders. I own season tickets at Safeco Field, so I'd like to see the Mariners make it. I'm spending this season at Fenway Park, so I'd like to see the Red Sox make it. And I enjoy watching Billy Beane perform his duties in Oakland, so I'd like to see the Athletics make it.

    But at this point, what'd I'd really like to see is someone, anyone, play particularly well over the next five weeks. Shoot, I don't care if it's the Indians. Seems like over the last couple of weeks, all of these clubs are not in a race for the wild card, but a race to see which can sink to .500 first.

    And if somebody does not start playing well, I'd be happy to see the American League skip the silly Division Series, and proceed directly to a Championship Series between the White Sox and the Yankees.

  • I was in Kansas City this weekend, and so I finally had a chance to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. It is, in all honesty, a humble space not far from the site where Municipal Stadium -- home of the Kansas City Monarchs and the Kansas City Athletics -- once stood.

    When you think of a "baseball museum," you probably think of The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Now, my favorite thing in Cooperstown is the artifacts: the old gloves, the old baseballs, the old watches presented to old ballplayers for meritorious achievement ... you know what I mean.

    Well, there's very little of this in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, presumably because nobody saved anything.

    As my companion put it, "It's kind of sad. They're trying to dredge up all this history, but there doesn't seem to be much of it left."

    When we think of museums, we usually think of things. But there simply aren't many things left from the Negro Leagues. Or if there are, they've not found their way to Kansas City.

    In a display devoted to Satchel Paige, do we find his uniform jersey from his days with the Monarchs? Or his spikes from his days with the Homestead Grays? Nope, it's a jersey from the Memphis Redbirds, a minor-league team for whom Paige briefly served as general manager (i.e. figurehead).

    A replica jersey.

    Similarly, display cases are accentuated by vintage baseball gloves and balls. But they're not labeled, which leads me to believe that they have no historical significance and are in the museum only as examples of what Negro Leaguers might have used. There's nothing dishonest about this, of course, but it's a far cry from Christy Mathewson's glove or Babe Ruth's pocket watch.

    Instead of the artifacts, what you get is a fairly affecting series of displays that run along the walls, depicting the history of the Negro Leagues in chronological order. It's interesting stuff, but a bit less than I expected.

    That said, I certainly got my six bucks worth. In fact, a single display card, included in the section on Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, is worth the six bucks:

    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.
    Jimmy Powers, The New York Times

    I don't have anything profound to say about this accompanying Jimmy Powers quote, but I am fascinated by the fact that, as late as 1946, the greatest (that is, the most prestigious) newspaper in the greatest (that is, the largest) democracy in the world could employ someone so patently stupid as Powers must have been.

    I can't recommend a special trip to Kansas City for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. But if you're in the area for another reason -- say, to see the Royals bullpen blow, or attempt to blow, a late-innings lead -- then I do heartily recommend a visit, especially if your knowledge of Negro League baseball is limited. And while you're there, be sure to visit the site of old Municipal Stadium, just eight blocks away.

    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 ...

      Hey Rob,

      Your column today was spot-on. The only point you might have added is this: the rounding of batting averages to three decimal places is a completely arbitrary convention, and has nothing to do with the actual definition of batting average, which of course is simply hits divided by at-bats.

      If encyclopedias had been printing four-digit batting averages for the last 50 years -- and there's no reason they couldn't have -- nobody would even be discussing whether a .3996 hitter should qualify as a .400 hitter.

      And just in case it matters, I'm one of those professors you mentioned yesterday!

      -- Kevin

    Your letter is spot-on, Kevin. There are people out there who think the rules dictate that batting averages be rounded, but there's no such rule. Rule 10.22 (b) simply says that to compute "Batting average, divide the total number of safe hits ... by the total times at bat."

    That's it. We use three digits because it's convenient, but sometimes we go further, don't we?


      Of course .3997 isn't the same as .400 ... if you're using four decimal points. But if you're using three decimal points, as baseball has done forever, then it's exactly the same.

      What Hirdt told you runs counter to everything he's ever done, because he and his employers have never counted a guy who hit safely in 33.55 percent of his at-bats anything less than a .336 hitter.


    Actually, that's not precisely true, Mark. Tom Hirdt told me about another similar situation, 20 years ago. With Reggie Jackson's average hovering around .300 at the end of the 1980 season, the Yankees wanted him to finish at (or above) that mark. He finished at .2996 ... but according to Hirdt, Elias did not, and still does not, consider Jackson a .300 hitter in the 1980 season.

    Of course, nobody knows about this because nobody cares. But people do care about .400, just as they care about batting titles. Believe it or not, Ted Williams figures into this, too. Here's how the batting race finished up in 1949:
                   AB  Hit    Avg
    George Kell   522  179  .3429
    Ted Williams  566  194  .3428

    Look 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?


      I hope you are posing that (what if Helton hits .3996?) as a complete hypothetical ... because it's impossible to hit .3996 in a season. In 600 at-bats, the difference of one base hit is 1/600, or .00167, so you can't ever get that close to .400 where it would round up.

      In 600 ABs ... he can either hit .40000 by going 240 for 600 or he can hit .39833 by going 239 for 600. So your scenario isn't a possibility unless Helton gets several thousand at-bats this season. I'll bet against that ... even batting against September call-ups at Coors Field.


    Maybe I'm misinterpreting your argument, David, but I think you're wrong. I mean, you're specifically right about 600 at-bats, but why would Helton finish the season with exactly 600 at-bats?

    Right now, Helton's got 455 at-bats to his credit. He's averaging 3.64 at-bats per game, and the Rockies have 35 more games on their schedule. Even if we assume that Helton leads off every game from this point and cuts down his walks, he's not going to finish with more than about 620 at-bats.

    What's more, Helton went 0-for-4 against Greg Maddux and Mike Remlinger yesterday, dropping his average to .393. If he collects five hits in his next five at-bats, he'll reach .400 exactly.

    So that's our range, 460 to 620 at-bats. And within that range, there are 32 combinations that would result in a ".400" that's actually less than .400:

       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 0.39968

    I 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.

    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?

    And if I'd written this column Monday night, I'm sure I would have laid into the Elias boys for changing the rules on us like this. Fortunately, I witnessed an incredible game at Fenway Park that evening, and decided to write about that instead. And given a chance to read some books and make some phone calls ... yeah, I can see their point.

    Of course, Williams was the last man to hit .400 over an entire season, and the way he did it is perhaps the cornerstone of his legendary career. Believe it or not, Williams didn't spend much time on the subject in his autobiography, "My Turn at Bat." As he remembered:

    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.

    Masters at the plate
    A breakdown of the numbers between Ted Williams' season in 1941 and Todd Helton this year:
      Williams Helton
    G 143 124
    AB 456 451
    R 135 114
    H 185 179
    2B 33 48
    HR 37 31
    RBI 120 110
    BB 145 80
    SO 27 42
    OBP .551 .485
    SLG .735 .718
    AVG .406 .397

    Yes, that's the way they do it in the encyclopedias. But what does that mean? Is a .4057 hitter really a .406 hitter? The Elias Sports Bureau would argue in the negative, and to find out why I called them. Tom Hirdt got on the phone, and after talking to him I believe that Elias' position is eminently defensible. As Tom told me, "It's a simple mathematical question. Ask any professor at any university, and he'll tell you that .3997 isn't the same as .400."

    Well, I'm not sure about any professor at any university; I can absolutely guarantee that after this column appears, I'll hear from at least two professors happily arguing that yes, .3998 really is .400, or at least close enough for government work.

    But what does .400 mean, most fundamentally? As Hirdt (somewhat impatiently) explained to me, it means that a hitter has collect hits in 40 percent of his at-bats. And it's quite true that 39.96 percent is not the same as 40 percent, any more than we consider ourselves 34 years old before our 34th birthday.

    It's all boils down to semantics. Or, if you prefer, mathemantics.

    If it actually happens, .3997 will be considered .400 by everyone but freaks and geeks like me and Tom Hirdt. I know it in my bones. The media wants a .400 hitter, and so do the fans. You know, this reminds me of the "controversy" over when the next millennium began/begins. You ask almost any professor at almost any university, and he'll tell you the millennium doesn't begin until the first day of 2001. But 99 percent of the public thought the millennium began January 1, 2000. Hell, we saw it on TV, so it must be true!

    Why? Because nobody wanted to wait. Similarly, nobody really wants to wait for the next .400 hitter. And that's why Todd Helton doesn't really have to hit safely in 40 percent of his at-bats. When it comes to hitting .400, (real) close is just like horseshoes and hand grenades, at least in the court of public opinion.

    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 ...

      I love that dirty water ...
      Oh, Boston you're my home

    I don't sing along because Boston's not my home, not really. But if you're a baseball fan, you haven't lived until you've heard 30,000-some New Englanders sing their victory song, in the greatest ballpark in the world. It's not a night I'll soon forget.

    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  .738

    Of 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  .820

    When 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.

  • Thanks to Aaron Rosenbaum for pointing out that, Friday night, Ramon Castro hit a three-run homer, thus becoming the first Marlins catcher to hit a home run this season.

  • And thanks to many readers for pointing out that, last night on ESPN, Rangers lefty Doug Davis threw 145 pitches on his way to a complete-game victory over the Red Sox. I was at the game, and I knew Davis had thrown a lot of pitches by the ninth inning. Shoot, even Don Baylor would have known that Davis had thrown a lot of pitches. Well, maybe not. But I didn't realize it was quite that many.

    Davis turns 25 next month, so there's not an obvious injury risk here. But I'll be watching Davis' next start. Even though he's always pitched well in the minors, Davis has been unheralded because he doesn't have a great arm.

    Blabberings and natterings while waiting for the Phillies to make their late-season move ...

  • I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't notice how wonderfully Gabe White has pitched until yesterday. White opened the season with Cincinnati and, in his first appearance, pitched one inning against the Brewers and gave up a two-run homer to Tyler Houston. That would be White's only game for the Reds this season, as two days later he was traded to the Rockies for Manny Aybar.

    Aybar racked up a 4.83 ERA for the Reds before getting traded again, to the Marlins (for whom he's pitched well in eight games).

    Meanwhile, here is White's record since moving to Colorado, arguably the toughest place to pitch in the history of the world:

                 Gm  IP   Hits BB  SO   W-L   ERA
    White, Col   51  62    44  10  70   8-1  1.60

    Without 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."

  • Dave Lichtman wishes to point out the following stat line:

     G	AB   H  HR   R  RBI  Slug  OBP   OPS
    84  260  89  21  48   54  .650 .410  1060

    Asks 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.

  • Have you checked out the ERA leaders in the American League lately?

    In the NL, the top five are completely and utterly conventional. In order, one through five: Johnson, Brown, Leiter, Maddux, Hampton. Robert Person sneaks into the No. 6 spot, but then Schilling's No. 7.

    But in the American League, things look weird. Yes, of course Pedro Martinez leads the AL with a 1.59 ERA.

    No. 2? Albie Lopez (3.51).
    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.

  • Speaking of awards, Mark Quinn is making a late push for Rookie of the Year honors. Since the All-Star break, Quinn is batting .368 with a 1051 OPS, and his season stats are now almost exactly where they should be, given his recent minor-league numbers. Yes, he's really this good, though given his age -- he's 26 -- it may not get much better.

    If the season ended today, I'd still vote for Kazuhiro Sasaki. Quinn spent part of this season on the bench, and part of this season in Omaha. And of course, he's not a good defensive outfielder. But if he continues to play well for the next six weeks, my preseason favorite might become the postseason favorite.

  • This is completely off the subject, but have you ever wondered why Bobby Bonds played for so many teams, seven in his last seven seasons, despite being a very good player?

    I have. And I recently ran across an interesting explanation. Here's Sparky Lyle in "The Bronx Zoo":

    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?

    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.

      Hey Rob,

      Loved today's column -- made a lot of sense, as usual. But as I'm sure you know from reading the Boston papers, Jimy Williams' theory on the lack of run support for Pedro is that other pitchers psych themselves up to try and outduel the best pitcher in baseball ... explaining why decent pitchers like Steve Traschel, Ramon Ortiz and Roger Clemens (while he was still going through his "floundering" period earlier in the season) seem almost godly against the Sox. Might that be something other than luck?

      Obviously Pedro's not the best example because, let's face it, the Sox couldn't drive anyone home if you gave them a map and the keys to your car these days. But it can't just be coincidence and dumb luck that Traschel's best games were against the Yanks and Sox, and Ortiz (whose ERA has been hovering around 5.00 most of the year) suddenly only gives up one run, can it?

      Tim Foley
      Boston, MA

    Yes, Tim. It really can just be coincidence and dumb luck.

    I actually thought about touching on this yesterday, but left out something Scott Hatteberg said because I didn't want to complicate my argument. Anyway, after Hatteberg floated the theory that Red Sox hitters didn't bother doing well with Pedro Martinez on the mound, he also said, "But a lot of times, the credit has to go to the other pitcher, because Pedro brings out the best in a lot of guys. Those pitchers know, 'We may not score a run tonight, I've got to be at my best.' "

    Uh-huh. Seems to me that pitchers almost always try their best, lest they be embarrassed in front of many thousands of people. But let's assume that one or both of Hatteberg's theories are correct. We would not only expect Pedro Martinez to get poor run support this year -- which of course he has -- but every year. Which he hasn't, as we saw yesterday. And we'd also expect to see other great pitchers receiving poor run support. Pitchers like Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens. Now, you might argue with the inclusion of Clemens in this group, but he won Cy Young Awards in 1997 and '98, his 3.62 ERA currently ranks fourth in the American League, and a generation of young power pitchers grew up idolizing him. So I have to think that other hurlers do "get up" when they face The Rocket.

    Anyway, here's Pedro's run support again, along with that received by Johnson and Clemens over the last four seasons:

           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     5.36

    What 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?

      Hi Rob, Good column and issue today. Of course, I agree that run support for a pitcher is somewhat a random event. Still, I'm not convinced that utter/total randomness applies.

      The key to this is your statement, "The performance of hitters has everything to do with who's pitching against them."

      The No. 1 starters tend to face the better starters on the other team. Other than Opening Day, you aren't going to see all the aces facing each other, but managers will try to make sure their No. 1 guy faces the other No. 1 guy, or at least the No. 2 guy, if possible. That's why No. 5 starters miss starts, to get the right guy on the mound on the right day. Random variability will make the number of runs unpredictable (that's why they play the game), but given a large enough sample it should be discernible. Dan Norris
      San Diego, CA

    I could swear I read an article about this a few years ago, but I can't find it. That said, I'm fairly sure you're wrong, Dan. You're right about one thing: After the first week or two of the season, the aces don't get matched up all that often. And I really don't see many (any?) managers altering their rotations to get their No. 1 starter to face their opponents' No. 1 starters. Or whoever. Why would they? You don't improve your place in the standings by matching up starters.

      Rob, I agree with most of what you write on the subject of ERA and run support. Still, it seems to me your work needs to be a tad subtler. For example, isn't there a way in which the ERA of a pitcher with outrageous runs support, such as Tim Hudson or Andy Pettitte, actually suffers? If they are pitching with a six- or seven-run lead on a regular basis, aren't they more likely to "just throw strikes" and give up a couple of runs that they might not have given up otherwise?

      A pitcher's job is obviously to give up as few runs as possible and to do whatever he can to ensure that his team wins. Sometimes, those two goals are at odds and the former, in some strange way, gives way to the latter. What are your thoughts?

      Alexander Yanos

    Hey, my work could always be a tad subtler. But if there's such an effect as you suggest, I suspect that it's a fairly minor one. Actually, an article in the STATS 1992 Baseball Scoreboard, titled "Do Pitchers Coast with a Big Lead?" is relevant to this discussion, I think.

    The STATS guys "separated all 1991 plate appearances into those in which the pitcher had at least a three-run lead, and those in which the lead was two runs or less." Now, you could argue a bit with the methodology, but I think this gets at the question fairly well. And, indeed, pitchers do apparently "just throw strikes" and perhaps "coast" when they've got a big lead. Here's the 1991 data, OPS only:

                Big   Non-Big
    American    730     720
    National    692     689

    What 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.

    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'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     4.27

    If 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   4.15

    Take 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.

    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's sortable stats and found three names:

    Mike Redmond
    Sandy Martinez
    Ramon Castro

    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 0 635

    You 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 Stearns

    A few notes about this list:

  • It's not happened since 1995, which shouldn't be a huge surprise, given the current environment.

  • Perhaps Pete Rose should get an asterisk or something, given that his Phillies played only 107 games in 1981 due to the strike. In 1980, the Phillies (and Rose) played 162 games, and the Hit King hit one home run. And the Phillies won the World Series.

  • Speaking of 1980, that was the last time that a team's catchers failed to homer. John Stearns was actually a pretty good player, batted .285 and drew some walks. Thanks to a broken finger, though, he caught only 54 games. Stearns' backup, Alex Trevino, was an awful hitter, and scrubeenies Ron Hodges and Butch Benton also failed to homer.

    That 1980 Mets club, managed by a young fellow named Joe Torre -- who looked exactly the same then as he does now -- was truly power-starved. They didn't get even a single home run from their second baseman (thanks, Doug Flynn!) or their shortstops (thanks, Frank Taveras!), either, and finished the season with 61 home runs. They also finished with 95 losses.

    A far cry from the current Mets, who are on pace for 95 wins. If they even approach that total, I'll lose a bet, and will devote an entire column to trying to figure out how the Mets did better than I forecast.

    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  897   

    Stynes 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.

  • Speaking of OPS ... wait, let me say this first. As some of you might have noticed, there's now a Rob Neyer message board available. I have not posted anything there yet, for technical reasons that I don't understand. I'm working on the "problem," however, and I promise you that at some point I will be joining the discussion from time to time, even if it's just to agree with the messages headlined ROB NEYER = LIBERAL IDIOT.

    I do occasionally read some of the messages there, and in my mind the most valuable are those that further topics from this column. That brings us to OPS. As I have admitted on many occasions, OPS isn't perfect. It's just a crude tool, but a crude tool that works better than the even cruder tools favored by most.

    Anyway, last week a reader named Art included in his message a link to an article he wrote, just for fun, evaluating OPS and attempting to find something better. And I think he did a hell of a job. There's other stuff like this, so if you have a few extra minutes, give the message board a try sometime. I'll join you when I'm able.

  • Anybody else notice that Tony Womack's drawn the grand total of 19 walks this season? Batting leadoff all season long, he's compiled a .304 on-base percentage, which would be funny if it weren't sad.

    And the strange thing is, he might be a more valuable player this year than last year. Why? Because last year he played right field, and this season he's playing shortstop. By most accounts he's doing at least a decent job at short, and given the thin ranks at the position (at least in the National League), Womack might actually be considered a decent player. I'll tell you this, though: Womack turns 31 next month, and he ain't getting any better.

  • Tony Batista for Dan Plesac?

  • I read the following in one of yesterday's game notes:

    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   785

    Gee, 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."

    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   740

    The 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.


      All right, it's time to discuss an extreme case of OPS.

      Russell Branyan of the Cleveland Indians is unquestionably a powerful hitter with great potential. His numbers this year prove to be the extreme test for the powers of OPS as opposed to the traditional barometer of batting average. With a .317 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage, he's posting a very respectable 835 OPS. That's decent ... but brother, he's striking out almost half of his at-bats, 55 K's in 122 at-bats!

      Branyan has said that he does not see this as a problem because striking out in a powerful lineup conveniently leaves any runners on base intact, eliminating the chance of grounding into double plays and ending potential rallies.

      This seems to make too much logic to be true: strikeouts are good (or better than groundouts) for an offense because they leave runners on base for the next hitters! Has Branyan defied logic? Can you strike out almost 50 percent of your at-bats and still be considered a valuable member of the offense?

      jon reimer

    Did Russell Branyan grow up reading Baseball Abstracts? Because that's exactly what Bill James used to write about strikeouts, that their negative impact is at least partially balanced by the avoidance of double plays. That was back in the 1980s; Bill has modified his methods in recent years, to the point where a strikeout is about one-twentieth as negative as a stolen base is positive. And if you know anything about Bill's methods, you know that he considers stolen bases significantly less important than do most people.

    So yes, even with the strikeouts an 835 OPS is plenty good ... except Jon's math is way, way off. Through Monday night's action, Branyan's OBP was .336 and his slugging percentage .590, which makes for a robust 926 OPS.

    Branyan, who is currently in the minors, can indeed be a valuable part of the offense, even when striking out in nearly 50 percent of his at-bats. But of course, this assumes that he keeps his other numbers at acceptable levels ... and I'm not at all convinced that he can. Nothing concrete, just the notion that no player who's struck out quite this much has ever been productive for long. Bobby Bonds struck out a lot, and he was a good, sometimes great hitter ? but he struck out "only" about a third of the time. Mike Schmidt struck out a lot, and he was the best-hitting third baseman that ever lived ... but he struck out less than a third of the time.

    Maybe Branyan's inventing a new way to hit, but I won't believe it until I see it for more than a couple of months.

    A number of readers tried to make me feel better about Brian Hunter, and here's one of them now ...

      Hey, don't feel bad about Brian Hunter. Remember that Hunter is taking a roster spot from somebody who can play. There are guys better than Hunter sitting around in mediocre farm systems. Wendell Magee and Bill McMillon sat around in the Phillies' minors for years before getting a chance this year. And Randy Smith didn't give up a AA pitcher to get them. And Smith is an idiot. What might a smart GM find in the minors if he looked hard enough?

      People criticized Bill James for flaying Enos Cabell and Omar Moreno. The fact is that no sport has more flunkies and hangers-on than baseball. The best players should be in the majors.

      Andrew W. Cohen

    I can't argue with any of this, Andy. There's no question, the best players do deserve to play in the majors, and there are indeed a number of players stuck in Triple-A who are better players than Brian Hunter.

    And it's certainly appropriate to measure Hunter's accomplishments, relative to his peers. It starts getting hazy, though, when people like me and Bill get mean about it, when we take pleasure in making up new ways to say that a player stinks. It's one thing (an awful thing, in my opinion) to execute a man, but it's something else to take pleasure in that execution, and do it where anybody can watch.

    I love the Baseball Prospectus guys, but it seems like every other player comment in the book is an exercise in thinking up a new, snide way to describe someone's inadequacies. Of course, I've often been guilty of the same childish pleasure. At some point, though, we should all ask ourselves if cleverly denigrating the skills of another is a worthy endeavor.

    All right, enough about that. Don't worry, I'll still occasionally sharpen my dull wit on the embarrassing numbers posted by the Brian Hunters of the world. But it's dirty work, and I'm the one who will suffer the bad karma.

    Finally, an excerpt from yesterday's chat:

    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.

    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 ...

      Hi Rob,

      Don't look now, but Brian Hunter is now playing for the Reds. He's currently slugging at a .315 clip for the year, .282 from the leadoff spot. Why is he still playing in the major leagues?

      -- Rob Mathews

    Ah, Rob, you've rediscovered one of modern life's perplexing mysteries, right up there with Tony Danza's TV career and the power wielded by the NRA in this demented republic. Let us review, just once more for grits and shins, Brian Lee Hunter's performance the last few seasons ...

    Tigers, 1998: Despite playing in 142 games, Hunter somehow managed to score only 67 runs. How (you ask) did he manage that? Shoot, it's easy when you post a sub-.300 on-base percentage; .298, to be precise.

    Tigers, 1999: Hunter took right up where he left off in 1998, posting a .311 OBP in 18 games ... at which point Tigers GM Randy Smith actually suckered another team into taking Hunter off his hands. The unlucky party was the Seattle Mariners, who actually thought Hunter would be a good fit in left field (the M's had a guy named Griffey in center).

    Mariners, 1999: He did what I didn't think even he could do, playing even worse than he had in Detroit. Now, I feel a little guilty pointing this out, because by most accounts Hunter is a good man, and for all I know there was a very good reason for him becoming perhaps the worst player in the American League. But I simply can't ignore the .277 on-base percentage and .300 "slugging" percentage that Hunter compiled after joining the Mariners. The Mariners finished 16 games out of first place last year, so you certainly can't blame their third-place finish on him. That said, it might reasonably be said that no single player hurt his team more than Brian Hunter did. (As David Schoenfield wrote in The Scouting Notebook 2000, "... Hunter nearly pulled off a unique triple crown. Among major leaguers with 502 plate appearances, he finished last in batting average and next to last in on-base and slugging percentage.)

    But baseball's an amazing game. If you can run and you're a Proven Veteran, there's always somebody that will give you money. Big, overstuffed bags of it, the kind that come with an armored car. And that's how Hunter found another job with ...

    Rockies, 2000: Nobody could ever explain this one to me. What in the world would a team that already had Tom Goodwin want with Brian Hunter? Despite being awarded 200 at-bats by the Rockies, Hunter managed but a paltry .320 slugging percentage while wearing the purple and black. And while his .347 OBP looks respectable enough, that broke down to .400 in the friendly confines of Coors Field, and .271 at more reasonable altitudes.

    Reds, 2000: OK, so the Reds don't have much defense at the corner outfield spots. And Brian Hunter, if nothing else, is a better defensive outfielder than Dante Bichette (so am I). But the problem with giving Brian Hunter to a manager is that the latter is always tempted to actually write Hunter's name on the scorecard, and usually at the top of the scorecard. Frankly, Hunter only belongs on a team with room to carry a pinch-running specialist. And with today's inflated bullpens, there aren't any such teams until September.

    (Interested in a little glimpse inside the mind of a baseball columnist? If not, hit the "Back" button on your browser ... Still here? OK, here goes ... When I finish writing something like the above about Brian Hunter, I don't feel particularly good about myself. There's always a part of me, the nice part that my mom tried to cultivate when I was a (smaller) boy, that feels sorry for Brian Hunter. After all, he's probably doing the best he can, so who am I to criticize him for it? And what if his mom reads this column? Can my generous paychecks, and the amusement provided to you, justify the pain that I might cause Brian Hunter and his family?

    I don't guess I rightly know. At the end of the day, I just hope that the good outweighs the bad. Otherwise, I shouldn't be here.)

    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 ...

  • I have, at least twice this season, made reference to Don Baylor's incompetence without getting real specific. Of course, this has resulted in a fair number of e-letters asking, "Hey Rob, would you mind getting real specific about Don Baylor's incompetence?"

    OK. Here's Exhibit A. Or Grade F, depending on your scale. Last night in Los Angeles, Baylor allowed 21-year-old Ruben Quevedo to throw 133 pitches. This, even though the Cubs held a four-run lead over the Dodgers after seven innings and the Cubs are playing out the string. No, I can't prove that 133 pitches represent a danger to Quevedo's young right arm. But let's say there's just a 10-percent chance they do. Isn't that enough? (Sorry to keep hammering on this theme, but it has been a few weeks.)

  • Did you know the Reds haven't been shut out yet? Kenny Mayne told me this last night. Anyway, this reminds me of a bet I made with my sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Rideout, back in the spring of 1977. He offered to bet me 50 cents that, at the end of the season, the Royals' run production, multiplied game by game, would equal zero. Being both headstrong and foolish at that point in my life, I accepted the bet. And of course, even though it would have taken only one shutout for me to lose the bet, the Royals -- enjoying what is still their best season -- were blanked six times (all before July).

    Anyway, the long and the short of it is that, safe in the wonderful torture chamber we called "junior high," I never paid Mr. Rideout his 50 cents. This, even though my fate had been decided on April 27, when Bert Blyleven beat my Royals 5-0. Given the magic of compound interest, I figure I owe Mr. Rideout approximately $637.84.

    Check's in the mail.

  • Did you see where Scott Erickson is slated for Tommy John surgery? Yep, they're going to take a tendon from his left wrist and transplant it to his right elbow.

    I've been noticing more and more of these, where a guy pitches horribly for weeks or months, until it's finally discovered that he's got a physical problem. And it always seems this discovery is tardy. I mean, does a healthy, veteran pitcher post a 7.87 ERA?

    Same thought occurred to me recently, when, after four straight terrible starts, Pete Schourek was diagnosed with:

    1. bone chips in his left elbow
    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.

  • Perusing the box scores this morning, I noticed that two of Tony La Russa's super subs, Craig Paquette and Shawon Dunston, are both doing what they always do -- and almost identically so. Here's what I mean:
              Games  AB   OBP  Slug   OPS
    Dunston     72  157  .275  .484  .759
    Paquette    95  285  .302  .421  .723

    I'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.

  • A few readers wish to point out the recent successes of Astros right-hander Scott Elarton. You might know that he's 12-4 (at 7-8, Shane Reynolds is the only other Astros starter with more than four wins). You might also know that his 4.76 ERA ain't nothin' special. But do you know how well he's been pitching lately?

    On June 16, Elarton got hammered by the Giants, his record dropping to 4-3 and his ERA rising to 7.97. Time for Tommy John surgery?

    Nope. In his nine starts since, Elarton is 8-1 with a 2.06 ERA. Yes, Burt Hooton replaced Vern Ruhle as pitching coach on June 23, but it's worth noting that on June 22 Elarton tossed eight innings of four-hit ball at the Dodgers. So you can draw your own conclusions.

    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   839

    None 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   797

    Granted, 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   606

    Now, 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 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  2.68

    Three 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.

    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'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  3.00

    That'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.

    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     68

    Given 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.

    Mike Lamb's another guy whose name came up in preseason Rookie of the Year discussions, and after opening the season in the minors he's taken over the third-base job in Texas. But Lamb's .414 slugging percentage is subpar for a third baseman, especially a third baseman who turns 25 a week from today.

    Ben Molina just turned 26, but he's a catcher, so we shouldn't hold it against him.

    Now, the pitchers ... of whom there are very, very few worthy of mention. Through Tuesday night's games, 45 American League pitchers had toiled enough to qualify for the ERA title, and only two are rookies; 45 American League pitchers had saved at least one game, and only one is a rookie.

    Here are the two starters:

                      Innings  W-L   ERA
    Mark Redman, Min    111    9-5  4.77
    Mark Mulder, Oak    113    6-7  5.03

    It'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).

    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 Timlin

    Frankly, 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:

  • My hopes for the Dodgers were dashed when they traded for Tom Goodwin, who has no business in a major league lineup. Yes, his OBP is fine this season, but that's all Coors Field, and Goodwin may be even less productive than Devon White once he changes his mailing address.

  • What is it about Carlos Hernandez that makes the hearts of general managers go pitty-pat, pitty-pat? He and Mike Matheny are both regarded as good glove men, and here are their career hitting stats:

              Games   OBP  Slug   OPS
    Hernandez  471   .295  .351   646
    Matheny    588   .281  .331   612

    OK, 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.

  • I like the Indians' moves, trading for David Segui, Wil Cordero, Bob Wickman, Steve Woodard and Jason Bere, at least in the short term. No, Woodard and Bere aren't going to push David Wells and Pedro Martinez for the Cy Young this season (or any other), but they're a far sight better than Paul Rigdon and Tim Drew and Kane Davis and (gasp!) Jaime Navarro. And the Indians gave up very little to acquire their new players.

  • Don't understand the Red Sox at all. Rolando Arrojo may thrive under Jimy Williams and Joe Kerrigan -- a number of veteran pitchers have -- but why on earth would Dan Duquette want Mike Lansing on the club? He couldn't even hit in Coors Field .. and he makes $6 million next year! To my mind, the most pointless acquisition of this trading season, although reports indicate taking Lansing's salary was the only way to get Arrojo.

  • When all's said and done, it looks like the Yankees -- yes, again -- came out on top. They picked up perhaps the best starter available in Denny Neagle, and they acquired potent complementary bats in Dave Justice and Glenallen Hill. With the possible exception of the Diamandbacks, the Yankees are the only club that measurably improved its postseason chances through trades.