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Wednesday, September 5
 
September 2001 Archives

By Rob Neyer
ESPN.com

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21
Wednesday, I foolishly wrote of the New York Mets, "[T]his is probably the last you'll read of their pennant chances in this space. I say "foolishly" because yesterday my editor e-mailed me the following:

With the Mets “back” in the race and with them returning to Shea tomorrow, we're doing a Mets/Braves preview for our day top story.

Things for you to address in some shape/form:

-- probability of them winning

-- probability of them coming back from where they were ... although I'm not exactly sure where they were

-- how they're overachieving in the W-L department and why their record is misleading of their true talent level

Let's take these in reverse order.

As I'm sure many of you know, the Mets' record and their statistics don't exactly match up. The Mets have scored 578 runs and allowed 648. Typically, a team with a 578-648 run differential after 147 games will have a 65-82 record.

The Mets are 74-73.

How are they doing it? It's simple, really; they've been very lucky. The Mets are 29-19 in one-run games, which is excellent for a 74-73 club. By contrast, first-place teams Atlanta, Houston, and Arizona are, respectively, 18-21, 26-21 and 20-22 in one-run games. If we assume that the Mets "should" be 24-24 in one-run games, that makes up five games in the difference between their actual record and their expected record.

Of course, if one-run games are often influenced heavily by luck -- and we know that they are -- then wouldn't two-run games involve some amount of luck, too? Well, the Mets are 12-9 in two-run games; nothing significant there.

What about the other side of the equation, the blowouts? We can define "blowout" however we like, but let's say it's a game decided by at least seven runs. Well, the Mets have been the blowout-ees far more often than they've been the blowout-ers. By this writer's count, the Mets have won seven blowouts, but lost 13 of them. Another piece of the puzzle.

As for the Mets' "true talent level," I think that we're seeing their true talent level. No, they're not playing as well as they did last year, or the year before. But as we've seen (or, at least, as I would argue that we've seen), the Mets have also been lucky this year. I think it's essentially a wash, and that the Mets are, on some sort of fundamental level, roughly a .500 team. This means, of course, that they've got some real work to do this winter. But given the apparent weakness of their division, it wouldn't be surprising at all to find the Mets the favorites next spring.

As for the probability of them coming back from where they were -- 38-51 at the All-Star break -- to where they are, let's look at other recent teams like them. That 38-51 record works out to a .427 winning percentage. Since 1996 -- as far back as my easily accessible data goes -- no other team has posted a .427 winning percentage through the All-Star break, which means that we have to expand our range a bit.

How far? I decided to include all teams that won more than 40 percent of their games but fewer than 45 percent. That might strike you as a large range, but it's really not. If the Mets had won just two more games in the first half of this season, even they would just barely qualify for the study with a .449 winning percentage.

Anyway, from 1996 through 2000, 29 teams met the criteria. Would you like to guess how many of them finished the season at .500 or better?

One. One out of 29.

In 1996, the Red Sox were 36-49 at the break, but went 49-28 in the second half to finish at 85-77, seven games behind the first-place Yankees and just three games behind the wild-card Orioles.

And that's it. Make no mistake, the 29 teams did improve in the second half, from a .429 winning percentage to a .466 winning percentage. But if you win 43 percent of your games in the first half, to wind up at .500 you've got to win about 58 percent of your games in the second half. And that ain't easy, because there's probably a very good reason why you won only 43 percent of your games in the first half.

And finally, as for the probability of the Mets winning, I don't have a precise figure, or a list of the third-place teams that have, in the long course of major-league history, made up five-and-a-half games in two weeks.

It has happened at least once before. In 1964 the Phillies led the National League by 6½ games with two weeks left. But the Phillies lost 10 in a row and the Cardinals ended up winning the pennant by one game over the Phillies and Reds

But I suspect that such a list could be ticked off on the throwing fingers of Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20
Yesterday, I mentioned that baseball writers tend to "root for the story" rather than for a particular team. Well, there are a lot of great stories this year -- there are a lot of great stories every year -- but with just a bit more than two weeks left in the season, this columnist's favorite story is those Philadelphia Phillies, who took another game from the Braves Wednesday night and closed to within half a game of first place. And unless you live below the Mason-Dixon Line or watched too much WTBS when you were a kid, then I think you have to be rooting for the Phillies to catch the Braves.

There is a wonderful bit of symmetry here. Last year the Phillies finished in last place. The first team in National League history to go from last place to first place in one year did so 10 years ago. The team was, as you may remember, the Atlanta Braves, who vaulted to the top of the West after posting a 65-97 record in 1990.

And the Philadelphia Phillies' record last year?

65-97

Unfortunately for this little exercise, that's essentially where the similarities end. The Braves broke through in 1991 with a rebuilt infield and a passel of talented young starters, while the Phillies have broken through in 2001 with a rebuilt bullpen while depending on a makeshift rotation anchored by a 31-year-old who was, just three years ago, a struggling relief pitcher in Toronto.

The Phillies' rebuilt bullpen, by the way, is something that I quite happily mocked before the season. Why on earth (I wondered in this space) would Phillies GM Ed Wade want to stock his bullpen, which was dreadful a year ago, with veteran mediocrities like Jose Mesa and Ricky Bottalico? After all, here's what the two of them did in the two seasons prior to this one:

1999-2000      IP  Hits  BB   ERA
Jose Mesa     149   173  81  5.18
R. Bottalico  146   148  90  4.87

Bottalico hasn't been great this season, but he has managed to cut his ERA to 4.01, thanks in part to better control. But Mesa has been great, or close to great, with 38 saves and a 2.61 ERA. And if anybody knows how Ed Wade knew these guys could still pitch, please let me know. Because if Wade has some magical ability to spot relief talent, you certainly wouldn't know it from the performances of midseason acquisitions Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell. On the other hand, Wade has also seen good results from Rheal Cormier (5-6, 3.99), like Mesa and Bottalico a free agent last winter, and Jose Santiago (2-3, 3.81), who the Phillies got from the Royals in a trade this summer.

But you know, you don't win pennants with bullpens alone, and the Phillies' bullpen hasn't been the secret of their success. This is a club that finished L-A-S-T in the major leagues last season with 708 runs. No, the Phils haven't powered their way to offensive powerhousehood, but at this moment they do rank seventh in the National League.

And why? Last year the Phillies got absolutely nothing from their middle infielders, mostly Mickey Morandini and Desi Relaford along with a bunch of other guys who couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat. This year they've got Marlon Anderson at second base every day, and rookie Jimmy Rollins at shortstop. Now, neither of these guys are going to make anyone forget about Rogers Hornsby, but they're both huge improvements over their predecessors.

And that's been enough. Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu have been outstanding, but that's nothing new for either of them. Doug Glanville's a disaster; sorry to say that, but a .288 on-base percentage just ain't getting it done. Travis Lee, after a pretty good first half, is again looking like he did in Arizona, i.e. one of the bigger busts in recent years. Pat Burrell's been OK, but really no better than he was last year. Oh, and the catchers have been pretty awful; first Mike Lieberthal before he got hurt, and Johnny Estrada since.

You know, the more I look at the numbers, the more I have no idea how the Phillies have improved as much as they have. And if anybody knows how they've done it -- and yes, I do remember that scoring is down all over -- don't let me know. Let Ed Wade know, because a lot of people are going to be expecting big things from this club next year, no matter how this year's pennant race turns out. And if Doug Glanville and Travis Lee are still in the lineup next spring, then I'm picking the Florida Marlins to win the East, with the Phillies finishing third behind the Braves.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19
Going through my mail while putting off writing a reasoned response to those who think I'm a thoughtless bastard for writing last Friday's column ...

  • Joe Kuffler writes, "Rickey Henderson is only eight runs short of breaking Ty Cobb's 70-year-old record for runs scored. How has there not been a media frenzy counting down to the record? Certainly, Henderson is not a beloved player, but this should be a major deal, right?"

    Indeed it should, Joe. And as you might remember, I wrote about Rickey's chase just a couple of weeks ago, and concluded that he didn't have much of a chance to catch Cobb, based on his pace. That said, if the Padres want Rickey to break the record, he'll probably break it. He just needs to lead off nearly every game -- the Padres have 16 remaining -- and the record should be his, considering his still-solid OBP (.369) and the presence of Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin in the lineup.

    And by gosh, if Commissioner Bud isn't there to give Henderson the Commissioner Bud Lifetime Health and Happiness Award (or whatever it's called), then we should all back Sandy Alderson in a coup d'etat at MLB.

  • My friend David Rawnsley writes, "Rob, I invite you to write something about Rigo Beltran. In this day when every lefty with any major-league experience at all can get opportunity after opportunity, Beltran's inability to get a chance amazes me. His last three non-Rockies major-league ERA's are 3.48, 3.38, 3.48. He was second in the International League in ERA this year at 2.96, allowed only 87 hits in 116 innings, and punched out 113 for good measure. I have no idea what he has to do to get a full-time job, or at least a September call-up."

    I don't, either. It's very odd, this business of who gets a chance and who doesn't. But one of Beltran's problems is that he's no longer a young man; he turns 32 on Nov. 13. And while many teams will give a job to a 32-year-old pitcher with lousy major-league numbers, many teams will not give a job to a 32-year-old pitcher with great minor-league numbers. Me? I'd grab Beltran and tell him that the lefty set-up job is his to lose. But he's probably going to have to catch a big break.

  • Speaking of guys who aren't playing as much as they might, Charlie Wilmoth writes, "Rob, I know you have more important stuff to worry about, like pennant races, but I was wondering if you could tell us why the Pirates aren't playing Craig Wilson more. In 118 at-bats, he's got 10 homers and a 915 OPS. Also, he plays both catcher and first base. Kevin Young has been awful at first base pretty much all year, and I don't understand why Pittsburgh would waste 110 at-bats on Keith Osik (with Kendall playing left) when they've got Wilson around. Wilson is close to setting the Pirates' record for pinch-hit homers in a season (if he hasn't done so already); shouldn't that tell Lloyd McClendon Wilson is more than just a pinch-hitter? If this were happening at the beginning of the season, McClendon could at least argue that he's trying to cover Bonifay's mistake of signing Young; now he doesn't even have that excuse. What gives? Is Wilson a terrible fielder?"

    Well, I think it's probably safe to say that Wilson isn't a great defensive catcher. He started playing first base last season in Triple-A, and then last winter the good folks at Baseball America wrote of Wilson, "He might be best off as a DH in the American League."

    So the question is, as I see it, "Does Craig Wilson deserve to play ahead of Kevin Young?" This season, Wilson has a 915 OPS and Young has a 733 OPS. Big plus for Wilson. However, Wilson's problem has always been the strike zone. He doesn't walk often, and in the high minors he struck out roughly once per game. This season the strikeouts are out of control -- 118 at-bats, 46 strikeouts; if Wilson played 150 games he'd set a new record -- and managers absolutely despise strikeouts. But the real problem here is that Wilson and Kevin Young both bat right-handed, so there's no obvious way to use them effectively. All of which is to say that while I've not been at all impressed with McClendon as a manager, he's doing about as well as he can with the first basemen that are available to him. The real villain here is the now-departed Cam Bonifay, who stuck the Pirates with Young's ridiculous contract.

  • And finally, yesterday Jay Lista wrote, "Rob, how can you forget to consider the Mets when mentioning the NL East race? Granted, they are last in the league in runs scored and are seven games out with 17 remaining. But they have six games left against the Braves, and while the Braves and Phils battle it out six more times this season, the Mets could catch them both by cleaning up against the lowly Pirates (five games) and Expos (six games)!"

    Look, contrary to popular opinion, baseball writers generally don't play favorites. Sure, we might have our preferences, but most of the time we're rooting for the story, and it would be a wonderful story if the Mets could somehow get past the Phillies and the Braves, and then -- now we're really dreaming -- wind up battling the Yankees in another Subway Series in this of all years.

    But they're six games out of first place with 16 to play, and they've been outscored by 77 runs this season. The Mets have done very well just getting back to .500, but unless something truly wonderful happens, this is probably the last you'll read of their pennant chances in this space.

    TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18
    So let's say you're the Philadelphia Phillies, you're three-and-a-half games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves, and you have seven more games against the Braves this season ... how many of those seven games do you "need" to win?

    Mathematically, you don't need to beat the Braves at all.

    Realistically, you have to beat them at least four times.

    The Phillies host the Braves four times this week, and then in early October the Phils travel to Atlanta for a three-game set. Aside from those seven games, the Phillies have six against the Marlins and four against the Reds.

    If the Phillies can beat the Braves four times, they would have to make up two-and-a-half games in those other 10 games (the Braves have 11 non-Phillies games remaining). But while two-and-a-half games doesn't sound like much, it is much, and so while the Phillies don't need to take five of seven from the Braves, by golly it sure would help.

    Well, Monday night the Phillies got one of those five wins; what's more, they got it against Greg Maddux, thanks largely to Robert Person. Since a horrible start against the Giants on August 5, Person's stats, including his victory last night:

    GS   IP   H   W  SO   W-L   ERA
     7   52  33  14  53   6-0  2.73 
    

    Of course, Person doesn't have anything on Randy Johnson, who beat the Rockies last night and has done this since (and including) his start on July 18:

    GS   IP   H   W   SO   W-L   ERA
    12   88  60  22  133   8-1  2.40 
    

    The Rockies broadcasters, Dave Armstrong and George Frazier, wondered if Randy Johnson will win his third straight Cy Young, or if Curt Schilling will win his first. Neither hazarded a guess, but in case you're interested in deciding for yourself, here's a comparison of the two:

                     GS   IP   H    W   SO   W-L   ERA
    The Big Unit     30  228  165  66  342  19-6  2.37 
    The Big Patriot  31  228  206  35  257  20-6  2.85
    

    Not taking anything away from Schilling, but how on earth can anyone argue that Johnson hasn't pitched better this season? Pitching exactly the same number of innings, Johnson has allowed fewer hits plus walks, half as many home runs (not pictured here), and about half a run less per nine innings. So Johnson should win the Cy Young -- barring a collapse in the next couple of weeks, of course -- and Schilling should finish second.

    In case you're wondering, only twice have teammates finished one-two in the Cy Young balloting. Both times, they were Dodgers. In 1956, the first year of the award, Don Newcombe won it, with Sal Maglie the runner-up. In 1974, Mike Marshall finished on top, with Andy Messersmith a fairly close second. And it's probably worth noting that both teams reached the World Series, but lost.

    As noted earlier, Greg Maddux pitched last night, too. And it struck me, as it sometimes does, that Maddux and Johnson -- two of the three greatest pitchers of their generation -- have combined for the grand total of three 20-win seasons: two for Maddux, one for Johnson.

    What does this say about them? I don't think it says much of anything. Maddux has also won 19 games five times, and Johnson has won 18 or 19 games five times (including this year). It's just modern baseball. I exaggerate only slightly when I say that nobody wins 20 games any more. Or at least nobody except Roger Clemens, who has won 20 games five times (and going on six), and Tom Glavine, who has also won 20 five times. It's a far cry from the old days, though, when Warren Spahn won 20 games 13 times, Jim Palmer won 20 games eight times, Fergie Jenkins won 20 seven times, Steve Carlton and Juan Marichal won 20 six times, and Early Wynn, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver each won 20 games five times.

    The pitchers are just as good as ever, it's just that they're playing a different game.

    And speaking of the old days, it certainly was strange to see Julio Franco manning first base for the Braves last night. It reminded me of yet another thing that distinguishes baseball from most other sports. If you come to the NBA as a point guard, that's probably how you're going to leave the NBA. If you come to the NFL as a wide receiver, that's probably how you're going to leave the NFL.

    But in baseball, as long as you can hit you can play; you just slide leftward along the defensive spectrum as the years pile up. Here's what I mean, with Franco's major-league seasons to illustrate:

     DH   1B   LF   RF   3B   CF   2B   SS
    1992 1996                     1988 1982 
    1993 2001                     1989 1983
    1994                          1990 1984
    1997                          1991 1985
                                       1986
                                       1987
    

    It's been an extreme leftward shift for Franco, who started his career at the two toughest defensive positions, is ending it at the two easiest, and skipped everything in the middle. An odd career, made all the more odd by Franco's unlikely return to the major leagues at the age of 40 or 43, depending on who you believe.

    MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17
    Baseball returns to the national stage Monday, after a six-day absence following some of the most tragic events in American history. And somewhere near the very bottom of our "Things Lost" list is "MLB, 90 games" (and of course, in a sense they're not really lost at all, as all or most of those 90 games will eventually be played).

    This is not the first time that outside events have impacted the baseball schedule. In 1918, with the United States having finally entered The Great War, the government decided that every able-bodied baseball player must either find employment in a defense-related industry or join the military: "work or fight," as the saying went. So Organized Baseball, faced with the prospect of depopulated rosters, elected to end its season on September 1, with the World Series taking place immediately afterward (the Red Sox won the Series ... which is something they haven't done since).

    Incidentally, though the war ended in 1918, the baseball owners cut back the 1919 schedule by 14 games because they feared that the public wouldn't yet be interested in so trivial a pursuit as "base ball" (as it was known then). Not to worry; the fans turned out in droves and set a per-game attendance record (which would, in turn, be shattered in 1920).

    On the evening of Aug. 2, 1923, President Warren G. Harding suffered a fatal stroke (according to The New York Times the next day) while his wife read to him from the evening newspaper. And on August 3, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued the following statement from his office in Chicago: "It is the sentiment throughout baseball that no games be played either today or on the day of the funeral of the late President, and as a further mark of respect to his memory flags at all parks will be displayed at half-mast until after the burial."

    Thus, the nine games scheduled for August 3 were postponed. And a week later, when Harding was memorialized in Washington -- he had died in San Francisco, and the trip east took longer than expected -- seven more games were postponed. All postponed games were rescheduled.

    On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based airplanes attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, thus drawing the United States into World War II. Five weeks later, Commissioner Landis wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Baseball is about to adopt schedules, sign players, make vast commitments, go to training camps. What do you want it to do? If you believe we ought to close down for the duration of the war, we are ready to do so immediately. If you feel we ought to continue, we would be delighted to do so. We await your order."

    Roosevelt responded immediately with his famous "Green Light" letter, which read in part, "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before. ... Here is another way of looking at it -- if three hundred teams use five thousand or six thousand players, these players are a definite recreational asset to at least twenty million of their fellow citizens -- and that in my judgment is thoroughly worthwhile."

    Those "three hundred teams" Roosevelt referenced included, of course, the vast network of minor leagues that existed before the war. In 1941, Organized Baseball consisted of, in addition to the two major leagues, 41 minor leagues and 294 teams. By 1945, only 12 minor leagues and 80 teams remained.

    But only once during World War II did outside events bring about the cancellation of the major-league schedule. On June 6, 1944, Allied forces assaulted Normandy, France. With nearly every American mind focused on the other side of the Atlantic, the two National League games scheduled for that evening were postponed (and rescheduled); the entire American League had the day off anyway.

    One wonders if last Tuesday's tragic events had the same sort of effect on baseball players that the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 did. As Hank Aaron remembered in his autobiography, "The date was April 4, and we had stopped in Savannah for an exhibition game on our way to Atlanta. It was a casual time, and I didn't have much on my mind until a policeman walked up and told us that Martin Luther King had been gunned down at a motel in Memphis. I had a hard time sleeping that night. Laying there half awake in the dark, I kept staring at a pair of pants I'd left hanging on the doorknob and imagining that it was Dr. King coming through the door. I had to get up and call [wife] Barbara to straighten myself out. Then I had to get my thoughts together to play another baseball season in the South."

    Bob Gibson remembered, in his book, "That evening, some of the players got together at [Orlando] Cepeda's apartment and decided to inform the Cardinal management that we had no intention of opening the season as scheduled next week. As it turned out, the entire major-league schedule was postponed a day or so as the nation mourned the death of the greatest peacemaker of our times."

    Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell, too: "After we had compiled a 15-11 exhibition record, our season came to an immediate halt with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Black major leaguers, including myself, refused to play until after King's funeral. We canceled our final two exhibition games of the spring and postponed our first two regular-season games."

    At that time, Major League Baseball lacked a strong commissioner, and so the decision to postpone games was left to the individual teams. Most clubs quickly decided to delay opening the season until April 10, the day after Dr. King's funeral.

    Not in Los Angeles, though. Philadelphia was scheduled to open against the Dodgers on April 9, but a number of Phillies refused to play. Faced with an Opening Day forfeiture and a public-relations nightmare, the Dodgers finally postponed the game on the morning of the 9th. And so every team opened on the 10th.

    Since 1968, of course, Major League Baseball has "lost" many hundreds of games due to labor wars. In 1972, the opening of the season was delayed by 11 days, resulting in the loss of 86 games. In 1981, 59 summer days went baseball-less, and 706 games -- 38 percent of the schedule -- were canceled. In 1985, a two-day strike resulted in the loss of 25 games, all of which were rescheduled. In 1994, a strike ended the season after August 12. And the 1995 season began weeks late, much as it had in 1972, with all teams playing a 144-game schedule rather than the normal 162.

    Some of these interruptions, both those related to labor issues and otherwise, have led to predictions of a decline in baseball's popularity. But if there's anything that baseball history should teach us, it's that millions of people in this country love The Game -- love its daily, unpredictable drama and comedy -- and so The Game will go on, providing great rewards to all of us who care so deeply about it.

    FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 14
    Yesterday the NFL announced that it wouldn't play this weekend. After Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Major League Baseball would not play this weekend, either, he reportedly claimed that the NFL's decision had not been a factor in MLB's. But was it a coincidence that Selig's announcement came 30 minutes or so after the NFL's?

    No, it was not. Selig and MLB were, of course, leaning toward playing this weekend; nearly all signs pointed to a resumption of the schedule tonight. But once the NFL made up its collective mind, Selig followed suit, figuring that otherwise MLB would take a PR hit. What he missed is something that should be apparent to anyone: the NFL and MLB are not analogous. If the NFL had played, people would have accused that league of carrying on as if nothing happened; business as usual, just like in 1963. But Major League Baseball had already canceled 45 games, making it obvious to anyone who cared that MLB was not going about its business as usual.

    Baseball is not a totem feast or a mechanics laboratory or a microcosmic subculture, but it is more than just another form of entertainment. ... Baseball comes to us in the spring, when we all need healing and new life, and it reminds us of a green time in our lives. Its petty detail and endless speculation holds no import or danger, and so is balm. And in a world of sharp edges and cruel after-effects, baseball is slow and soft and sleepy as a fat old dog in the sun.

      -- Robert Lipsyte

    Lipsyte, a New York Times columnist, wrote those words on the day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral, a day that saw mourning all around the United States. And the next day, even though the threat of riots and arson existed in many cities, each major-league baseball team opened its season, thus facilitating the healing process. But this time around, baseball will not be a part of the healing process, at least not until next week.

    This weekend, we can spend time with our families, we can attend a place of worship if we're so inclined, we can watch -- for the two or three hundredth time -- jet airplanes plowing into skyscrapers on television. We can even, if we happen to be in Manhattan this weekend, catch a Broadway show.

    We cannot, however, watch a baseball game. And somewhere, a terrorist who knows something about America is chortling.

    Now, about eventually playing the postponed games ... Yesterday, Pat Gillick said, "I wouldn't replay them if they don't count (in the playoff picture). If we're 15 games ahead, why play the last games? It's not fair for the fans. What sort of effort would you get playing games that don't mean anything?"

    Pat Gillick is an astute general manager, but the above comments are, shall we say, a few IQ points short of common sense. By Gillick's reasoning, why don't clubs simply stop playing, every September, as soon as they've clinched a postseason berth? Or when they've been eliminated from postseason contention?

    And what on earth does this have to do with fairness to the fans, or effort? The Mariners essentially clinched a postseason berth sometime in June. Since then, the fans in Seattle have been regularly packing themselves into SAFECO Field, where they've seen the Mariners make great efforts in virtually every game. So maybe we should let the fans decide what's fair.

    Why do you play the schedule? Among other reasons, you play the schedule because people have tickets and they want to use them.

    TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
    Nathaniel Silver sent me a fascinating e-mail message, within which was this list:

    Cy Young
    Christy Mathewson
    Walter Johnson
    Juan Marichal
    Ferguson Jenkins
    Dennis Eckersley
    Bret Saberhagen
    Greg Maddux
    Pedro Martinez

    You probably don't need me to tell you that that's an impressive group of pitchers: five Hall of Famers (Young, Mathewson, Johnson, Marichal, Jenkins), three future Hall of Famers (Eckersley, Maddux, Martinez), and one guy who won a couple of Cy Young Awards but spent half his career with a sore shoulder (Saberhagen).

    What, aside from careers marked by great distinction, do these nine pitchers have in common? They're the only pitchers since 1901 to post strikeout-to-walk ratios greater than 6.0 in a single season, with a minimum of 162 innings pitched. It actually comes out to 14 seasons by the nine pitchers, because Cy Young and Pedro Martinez (so far) both did it twice, and the incomparable Greg Maddux three times.

    And why did Nathaniel send me that list of pitchers? Because Roy Oswalt, Houston's amazing rookie, has a chance to join that list. Oswalt, throwing a low-to-mid-nineties fastball and a baffling curve, has struck out 140 hitters while walking only 23, which works out to a 6.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    Amazing. Yet this season, no fewer than five pitchers have a good (or, in the case of Curt Schilling, a great) shot at posting a plus-6.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Through last night's games:

                  K    W   Ratio
    C Schilling  257  35    7.34
    R Oswalt     140  23    6.09
    G Maddux     152  25    6.08
    R Reed       126  21    6.00
    B Radke      119  20    5.95
    

    Oswalt might not make the innings qualification; right now he's pitched 137 innings, and figures to get three more starts (with perhaps an abbreviated fourth start as a postseason tune-up), so he'll need to average at least six innings per start to reach 162.

    More to the point, though, a glance at the table would suggest that while a 6.0-plus strikeout-to-walk ratio is historically rare, it's not all that rare today. What's more, if we set the bar at 6.0 -- a bar that Oswalt just barely clears -- aren't we rigging our analysis in his favor? It's like when you hear that somebody has just become "only the eighth major-league player to hit 400 home runs, steal 200 bases, and drive in 1,000 runs." The problem is that you're often putting this player in a group with players who have superior, or even vastly superior, numbers in the selected categories.

    So rather than putting Oswalt in a group with pitchers who posted K/W ratios of 6.0 or better, wouldn't it make sense to place him a group with pitchers who posted K/W ratios between, say, 5.2 and 6.8, than in a group with all pitchers with K/W ratios higher than 6.0?

    And with that question in mind, is 24-year-old Roy Oswalt more like the 27-year-old Fergie Jenkins who struck out 263 and walked 37 (7.10 K/W ratio) in 1971, or is he more like the 23-year-old Jim Merritt who struck out 161 and walked 30 (5.37) in 1967? Is Roy Oswalt more like the 29-year-old Greg Maddux who struck out 181 and walked 23 (7.87 K/W ratio) in 1995, or is he more like the 26-year-old Greg Swindell who struck out 169 and walked 31 (5.45) in 1991? Is Roy Oswalt more like the 34-year-old Curt Schilling, who has struck out 257 and walked 35 in 2001, or is he more like the 28-year-old Brad Radke who has struck out 119 and walked 20 in 2001?

    No, what distinguishes Roy Oswalt is the fact that he's a rookie. My search has not located even a single rookie who qualified for his league's ERA title and posted a K/W ratio higher than 4.5, let alone 6.0. Another odd thing: despite his amazing K/W ratio and (more to the point) his amazing record -- 14-2 with a 2.50 ERA -- Oswalt isn't even the No. 1 Rookie of the Year candidate.

    That honor goes to Albert Pujols, and deservedly so. Pujols isn't an MVP candidate -- not with Bonds and Sosa and Gonzalez doing what they're doing -- but he certainly might be considered as the fourth-most valuable player in the National League when you consider that (1) his 1022 OPS is the fifth-best in the league among non-Rockies, (2) he's spent significant time at four different positions, and (3) he's played in 142 of the Cardinals' 143 games.

    All things considered, it's one of the great rookie seasons in history, and even if Oswalt had spent this entire season in the majors -- he first pitched for the Astros on May 6, and he made his first start on June 2 -- Pujols would still be my choice for Rookie of the Year.

    MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
    Commissioner Bud's protestations notwithstanding, there's really not much else to watch in the American League this season, is there? Yes, it will be interesting to see just how many games the Mariners can win -- to set an American League record, they need to go 12-7 the rest of the way -- but the next three weeks will consist, mostly, of four managers figuring out how to get their teams ready for October.

    And when October arrives, shouldn't we expect to see some pitchers' duels in the American League games? Because when you look at the ERA leaders in the AL, you see a lot of Mariners, Athletics and Yankees.

     1 Freddy Garcia  SEA
     3 Tim Hudson     OAK
     4 Mike Mussina   NY
     5 Jamie Moyer    SEA
     7 Roger Clemens  NY
     8 Mark Mulder    OAK
    11 Barry Zito     OAK
    12 Aaron Sele     SEA
    14 Cory Lidle     OAK
    15 Andy Pettitte  NY
    

    Ten postseason-bound pitchers among the top 15 in ERA. Even when you consider that the Mariners, Yankees, and Athletics all play in pitcher's parks, 10 seems like a lot, doesn't it?

    I thought I'd check. This is the seventh season of three divisions per league, which means that we've had a dozen full league-seasons (1995-2000) using the current format. In those 12 league-seasons, it's never happened before, though the number 9 has appeared twice, and the number 8 three times. And of course, it's certainly possible the AL will drop to 8 or 9 this season. Still, this year's postseason teams will quite likely finish the regular season with a great number of pitchers among the ERA leaders.

    Now, some people will tell you that it's great pitching that gives the Yankees (or the Athletics or the Mariners, depending on which team you like) the edge in October, because of course baseball is all about pitching. But as no less an authority than Moe Berg once wrote, "Good fielding and pitching, without hitting, or vice versa, is like Ben Franklin's half a pair of scissors -- ineffectual."

    And in those aforementioned 12 league-seasons, three postseason teams placed four pitchers in the top 15 in ERA. How many World Series did those three teams win?

    Zero. The Braves did it in 1996 (Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Neagle) and 1997 (Maddux, Neagle, Glavine, Smoltz), but lost to the Yankees in '96 and the Marlins in '97. What's more, those Yankees and Marlins each had only one pitcher in the top 15 in ERA. And the Orioles did it in 1997, too, but lost to the Indians ... who didn't have any starters among the top 15 in ERA.

    Which is, of course, good news for fans of the 2001 Indians, who again don't have any pitcher in the top 15; with a 4.19 ERA, Bartolo Colon is closest, at No. 22 on the ERA list (right behind Seattle's No. 4 starter, Paul Abbott).

    THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 6
    Shuffling through my mail while wondering what happened to all those great races in the American League ...

      Hey Rob,

      Do you think that Rickey is going to reach Rickey's goals and therefore be able to call it a Rickey career? Rickey's pretty close to both Rickey's runs and Rickey's hits goals. Pretty impressive of Rickey, don't you Rickey-think?

      Have a great day.
      Michael Speiser

    I Rickey-do. But to the question at hand, will Ricky reach Rickey's goals? If you're interested in this question, I urge you to consult The Rickey Watch at your leisure. In the meantime, we know that Rickey is 18 hits short of 3,000, and 12 runs short of tying Ty Cobb for the all-time record.

    Rickey has come to the plate 391 times this season. Along with those 391 plate appearances, Rickey has scored 56 runs and collected 68 hits. That works out to seven plate appearances per run, and 5.75 plate appearances per hit. If Rickey were to exactly maintain those rates -- a highly suspect proposition, I know -- then he would need 84 plate appearances to tie Ty, and 104 plate appearances to reach 3,000 hits.

    Well, the Padres only have 21 games left, so Rickey's not going to get 104 plate appearances, and he's only going to get 84 if he starts virtually every game, which of course he's unlikely to do. Looks to me like Rickey's only got a legitimate shot at catching Cobb, and then only if manager Bruce Bochy starts Rickey in most of the games, and inserts him as a pinch-runner in the others.

    All of which is to say, he's probably going to fall short, just as Sam Rice finished with 2,987 hits and Al Kaline finished with 399 home runs. Because even though Rickey hasn't announced his retirement at the conclusion of this season, Rickey may not have much of a choice in the matter.

      Hi Rob,

      I'm interested to see if you can apply the Pythagorean method to other managers to see if you might be on to something bigger with what you did analyzing Buddy Bell last week. My guess is that Dusty Baker, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre come up positive in more of the years they've managed, and that someone like Tony Muser would be a minus. I really think managers have an influence on the team's won-lost record (how much, I don't know), and I think this analysis would prove it to a degree.

      Perry Miyashita

    I considered plugging every current manager into an Excel file, but instead I sent an empty Excel file to reader Rob Wittenberg, who did the plugging for me (what's more, he unintentionally taught me something cool about Excel, which I would tell you about except I know you don't care).

    He returned a file to me, and after adding in the data for this season, here's what we've got:

                      Seasons   VsExp  Avg
    Sparky Anderson      26      +21    +1
    Tony La Russa        24      +18    +1
    Joe Torre            20      +14    +1
    Whitey Herzog        18      +20    +1
    Earl Weaver          17      +19    +1
    Tom Kelly            16      + 6    +0
    Mike Hargrove        11      +17    +2
    Art Howe             11      + 6    +1
    Felipe Alou          10      +24    +2
    Dusty Baker           9      +19    +2
    Buddy Bell            5      -21    -4
    Tony Muser            5      -11    -2
    

    For those who don't remember the method from last week, what we're doing here is comparing a manager's team to the record we would expect from that team's wins and losses. My supposition has always been that a significant fluctuation from this expectation is generally a matter of luck, though I noted that Buddy Bell's teams have badly underperformed relative to their run differentials.

    The data above are rudimentary, but it strikes me that we might draw a simple, yet surprising, conclusion from this table ... When it comes to performance versus expectations, there is little difference among managers.

    Or rather, there is little difference between good managers, as none of the skippers here who managed at least a dozen seasons did appreciably better than expectations over the course of their careers. Mind you, they're all positive. But not by much, as none of them managed to exceed run-differential expectations by even one win per season; all those +1's you see had to be rounded up.

    Maybe the key to a long, successful career isn't winning more games than you should, but rather it's not losing more games than you should. With that in mind, I suspect that Buddy Bell's and Tony Muser's careers will end relatively soon. I'll be surprised if Bell ever manages again after this season, and Muser will (or should) be fired during, or at the conclusion of, next season. They just haven't done anything to merit further employment at the top of their chosen field. Hargrove, Howe, and Baker, on the other hand, have earned more years. And it'll be interesting to see if they come back to the pack, and join the Hall of Famers in Neutral Land.

    Wondering what's wrong with the Braves, and what's so right with the Athletics?

      Hey Rob,

      I have a good trivia question for you ...

      Who makes more money?

      (a) Brian Jordan, a corner outfielder for the Braves with an 804 career OPS?

      (b) Or the entire starting infield of the A's (Jason Giambi, Frank Menechino, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez), plus the A's starting left fielder, DH and catcher (Terrence Long, Jeremy Giambi and Ramon Hernandez), plus the A's best relief pitcher (Jeff Tam), plus the A's three best starting pitchers (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito)?

      The answer, of course, is (a) Brian Jordan. The Braves owe him $9,100,000 for the 2001 season. All 11 of those Athletics combine to make $9,094,083 this year.

      I guess necessity is the mother of invention.

      Rich Rifkin
      Davis, CA

    I checked the numbers, and Rich is absolutely right. Those 11 key Athletics make less money this season, combined, than Brian Jordan, who must be classified as part of Atlanta's run-scoring problem. Of course, this changes in a hurry next year, as Jason Giambi gets a huge raise if he does come back, and everyone gets at least a moderate raise. With the apparent demise of the Twins and the Phillies, though, the Athletics are the last low-payroll man standing.

    WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5
    Monday night, Bud Smith threw a no-hitter, throwing 134 pitches in the process. And while I've never done this before, today I'd like to extract a discussion, or at least a part of a discussion, from the Rob Neyer and his Adventures with OPS message board, and post it here along with a few of my comments.

      cardsfanboy
      I'm a fan of pitch counts, and I understand the possible damage a 120-pitch (or greater) game could do to a pitcher. But when you have a no-hitter going, if you are the manager do you keep the pitcher in for the no-hitter when you are winning 4-0? Or should you bring in a relief pitcher. In my opinion, no matter what you do, you're going to get flack for it.

      Remember, this pitcher is a future star, only 21 years old ...

    Followed by ...

      jeashe
      Leave him in. How many times is he going to have the opportunity to throw a no-hitter? And you know he wants it badly. Not a routine event, as it's not an ordinary complete game or an ordinary shutout.

      If Smith starts throwing no-hitters every time out, I'd start worrying about pitch counts.

    I'd have to agree. As most of you know, I'm militant when it comes to protecting the tender arms of young pitchers, but how many times does a guy go into the ninth inning with a no-hitter, and his mom sitting in the stands?

      Duck_Snort
      What about a 20-K game? I wonder if Kerry Wood would chuck chuck ... (sorry) ... if he would exchange that little piece of history for health down the stretch in 1998, no surgery and health in 1999, health in 2000, health down the stretch in 2001, and a much brighter future in years to come? I suspect he Wood.

    I suspect that Kerry Wood, too. On the other hand ...

      heltr skeltr
      Are you suggesting that it was the single 20K game that hurt his arm for two-plus years? I think the point was that you let the pitcher go for the no-no or K record or whatever, but that you do not leave him in for 130-plus pitches on a regular basis.

      Duck Snort
      That one game? No, probably not. But remember, 5 days after the 20K game, Wood struck out 16, giving him the 2 day K "record", and 5 days after that, he struck out 10 tying the 3 day K "record". All those games had to rack up high pitch counts, and he wasn't yet 21. What if this guy (Smith), gets into the 8th with 120 pitches thrown and no hits allowed in his next start? Do you allow him to go for Vander Meer?

      Remember earlier this year, Wood had struck out 14 through 5 or 6 innings, with a good shot at 21, and yet was lifted. So it looks like the Cubs aren't willing to sacrifice any more of his future for mere one-game feats.

    Point well-taken. (And, actually, Wood fanned 13 and then eight in the two games following his 20-K game.) Yes, Wood threw a bunch of pitches in his 20-strikeout game, but that wasn't the only 1998 game in which he threw a bunch of pitches. And while it's true that the Cubs have, at least to some degree, limited Wood's pitch counts this season, he still got hurt.

      mac1103
      Extra rest for Bud Smith was suggested, and seems like a good idea. The Cards have a day off this Thursday, so they could give all of their starters an extra day. The question then becomes whether extra rest can mitigate the ill effects of high pitch counts. I sure as hell don't know.

      If I was a Cards fan, I'd be very concerned. Tony La Russa and "pitching coach" Dave Duncan have slagged a lot of arms over the past few seasons. Matt Morris seems to have recovered nicely, but Alan Benes never has been the same. Bottom line, if you abuse your pitchers' arms and let them rack up high pitch counts, you increase the risk of career-threatening injuries. It will be quite interesting to see how Smith pitches his next time out.

    I don't know that Smith's performance in his next start will tell us much; after all, he got absolutely hammered in his last start before the no-hitter. If those 134 pitches did any damage, it's unlikely that it would show up five days later.

      cams68
      Given that what I know about pitchers could be summed up as follows -- when they are empty, you have to pay the bartender to fill them -- take this with a grain of salt.

      According to Steve Stone, among others, Kerry Wood's injury was mainly due to poor mechanics on his breaking ball. Also, he was abused in high school. So his arm injury was no great shock. His injury this year, when they have kept his pitch counts down, was a bit of a shock.

      I just hope the Cubs aren't rushing him back again for a playoff chase. His long-term health is much more important to the team than this year.

    I've heard much the same -- that Wood was overworked in high school, that he had poor mechanics, blah blah blah -- and I don't think it excuses the Cubs even a single bit. If you draft an overworked pitcher with poor mechanics, isn't it then incumbent upon you to (1) improve his mechanics and (2) make sure that he doesn't continue to be overworked?

    And while it's true (as I mentioned above) that the Cubs have supposedly been careful with Wood this year, maybe they weren't careful enough. His highest pitch count this year was 126 (on July 13), which doesn't seem like a lot. But as Don Malcolm noted, Wood also threw more than 100 pitches in 21 straight starts ... after which he went on the disabled list. And Malcolm also notes that the aforementioned Alan Benes -- who, like Wood, already had a history of arm problems -- made 21 straight 100-plus starts in 1997 before he went on the DL ... and missed almost two full seasons.

      CINThree
      Generally, pitch counts need to be monitored over a long period of time, so an extra day of rest won't do. Bud Smith should probably be limited to around 85 pitches the rest of the year ... over 130 pitches is too much ... one game can definitely hurt someone's arm.

    I don't know about "definitely," nor do I know that Smith should be limited to 85 pitches the rest of the way. But I do think that Bud Smith should be treated carefully from this point, all the more so because he may end up pitching more innings in October.

      mac1103
      So then, are you saying that too many pitches in one start is too many pitches, period, and it doesn't matter whether it's a four-day, five-day, or six-day rotation? Like I said before, I myself have no idea, but I am very interested in knowing whether extra rest between starts would help, and why or why not.

    I'm interested, too. There's something that William Goldman always says about movies ... I might be paraphrasing here, but it's something like, "Nobody knows anything." And that's nearly true about pitch counts, and extra days off, and all the rest of it. I mean, I think we know that 21-year-old pitchers should not, as a rule, regularly throw 130-plus pitches per start. But is the number 130, or 135? Is it 120, or 125? Or maybe 100?

    We continue to take stabs in the dark, while waiting for someone -- anyone? -- to exhaustively study the subject of pitch counts and injury prevention. And this just now occurs to me ... Wouldn't it make sense for each major-league team to kick in, say, a measly $5,000 into a kitty to fund such studies? More to the point, why are baseball men so bloody short-sighted?

    Anyway, as you might have seen, Bud Smith is the 18th rookie to throw a no-hitter since 1900; interestingly enough, the first of those 18 -- Christy Mathewson -- is the only one of the group who eventually was elected to the Hall of Fame. More to the point, a good number of them didn't even become real stars. Here are the 10 rookies to throw no-hitters after 1950 but before Bud Smith:

    Pitcher        Age   Year      W-L      ERA
    Bobo Holloman   28   1953          None  
    Bo Belinsky     25   1962    18- 40    4.31   
    Don Wilson      22   1967    93- 83    3.19
    Vida Blue       21   1970   206-160    3.24 
    Burt Hooton     22   1972   138-122    3.44  
    Steve Busby     23   1973    51- 38    3.68 
    Jim Bibby       28   1973   101- 86    3.77  
    Mike Warren     22   1983     4- 10    5.50
    Wi. Alvarez     21   1991    83- 74    3.96 
    Jose Jimenez    24   1999    11-  3    3.58
    

    Those last two columns sum each pitcher's performance in the seasons after his no-hitter. And with four of these guys failing to win even 20 games after the no-hitter season, it's clear that throwing a no-hitter while a rookie doesn't guarantee stardom ... but then, you already knew that, didn't you? While it's true that talent contributes to no-hitters, it takes a lot of luck, too. Just ask Bobo Holloman, who threw a no-hitter in his first major-league start, and was out of the major leagues for good by the next season. And Bo Belinsky didn't exactly set the world on fire after throwing his no-hitter, either.

    But Don Wilson, Vida Blue, and Burt Hooton all pitched well after their no-hitters (Wilson committed suicide when he was 29). Steve Busby threw a second no-no in 1974, but destroyed his arm soon afterward and never really made it back. Jim Bibby was a good pitcher, Mike Warren hurt his arm, Wilson Alvarez has had his ups and downs, and Jose Jimenez ... well, Jose Jimenez threw a no-hitter in 1999, and looked so bad the rest of that season -- 5-14 with a 5.85 ERA including the no-hitter -- that he got turned into a closer (and a pretty good one).

    TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
    Here's an actual e-mail message that I received last Friday night, a few minutes after Roger Clemens beat the Red Sox 3-1:

      You my friend must be an idiot, how do they let people like write sport. You must be another angry Boston Redsox fan. Just wait un till the end of the season then you can eat your words, you armature.

    Leaving me to wonder, yet again, how someone capable of writing something like this figured out how to use a computer (and if anyone knows how my words would qualify me as an "armature" -- the rotating part of a dynamo -- please let me know).

    Here's another one:

      I guess Clemens wins without run suppoet when he has to. A real gem tonite.

      1 run, 0 BB and 10 SO. I suppose you will have something negative, but, believe me you are in the minority among good baseball analysts.

    This sort of correspondence does represent a minority of what I receive (at least most days), as I'm blessed with an incredibly intelligent audience. And to be sure, a few intelligent readers suggested that while they did understand that Mike Mussina is a great pitcher, and that run support does play a part in a pitcher's record ... still, isn't there something to the notion that some pitchers just "know how to win"? And/or that pitchers "pitch to the score," resulting in win-loss records that don't necessarily correspond to their ERA?

    Taking the second of those, while it's true that pitchers occasionally alter their style depending on the score -- that is, a pitcher with a big lead might throw more strikes -- there's little or no evidence to suggest that this has a big effect on their ERA. Why not? Three reasons. One, there just aren't that many blowouts. Two, while throwing more strikes may result in more hits, it also results in fewer walks. And three, pitchers don't like to give up runs, even if they've got a 16-1 lead. They just don't.

    As for the "knowing how to win" argument, let me present you with a pair of pitchers ...

                 ERA   W-L
    Pitcher A   2.76   8-16
    Pitcher B   3.20  16-10
    

    Now, it's obvious that Pitcher A, while certainly effective at times, just doesn't know how to win. And Pitcher B, on the other hand, while perhaps not quite as talented as Pitcher A, really knows how to win.

    The problem here is that Pitcher A and Pitcher B are both Nolan Ryan, just two years apart. Now, while it's true that Ryan won 20 games only twice, does anyone really believe that he went 8-16 with a 2.76 ERA in 1987 because "he didn't know how to win"? And that he somehow remembered how to win two years later, when he went 16-10 with a 3.20 ERA?

    Here are two sections of Mike Mussina's career:

                 ERA    W-L    WinPct
    1991-1999   3.50  136-66    .673
    2000-2001   3.61   25-26    .490
    

    At the conclusion of the 1999 season, Mussina's .673 career winning percentage ranked sixth on the all-time list, and fourth among pitchers whose careers began after 1900. The only three post-1900 hurlers ahead of Mussina? Pedro Martinez, Whitey Ford and Lefty Grove.

    Did Mussina win more than two-thirds of his decisions because he knew how to win? No, he won more than two-thirds of his decisions because he pitched brilliantly and was gifted with good run support from his teammates.

    Has Mussina won fewer than half his decisions the past two seasons because he doesn't know how to win? Of course he hasn't; that notion is simply preposterous. He hasn't won even half his decisions because he's received lousy run support: 3.71 runs per nine innings last season, 4.30 runs this year ... the two lowest figures since his rookie season, 10 years ago. Now, is there really anyone out there who doesn't believe there's some correlation between Mussina's run support over the years and his W-L records?

    Yes, I know that I'm preaching to the choir; most of you understand the importance of run support, and most of you understand that Mike Mussina has pitched just as well as Roger Clemens this season.

    Or almost as well. If were voting for the Cy Young and had to pick between Clemens and Mussina, I would pick Clemens because Mussina has pitched poorly in more games than Clemens has. As I noted last week, Mussina has four starts this season in which his runs allowed exceeded his innings pitched, leaving the Yankees with little chance to win; indeed, the Yankees (and Mussina) lost all four of those games. Clemens, on the other hand, doesn't have any "disaster starts." So it might be argued that Clemens has, in each of his starts, given his club at least a reasonable chance to win. And yes, he deserves a bit of extra credit for that, enough to push him past Mussina on our hypothetical Cy Young ballot.

    And enough to push him past Freddy Garcia and Tim Hudson? Maybe, because of the ballparks in which Garcia and Hudson do half their pitching. Enough to push him past Mark Buehrle, he of the league-leading 3.07 ERA? Maybe, because Buerhle is just 12-7. My point last week, and one of my points today, is that when it comes to the Cy Young in the American League there are still a lot of maybes. I don't believe in anointing an award winner in late August if the anointee hasn't done enough to deserve it.

    Finally, one might reasonably ask, "Why do people continue to believe that won-lost records can be explained by 'knowing how (or how not) to win' "? Well, they believe it for the same reason that people believe a lot of untrue things; somewhat paradoxically, because of personal experience.

    I'm sure that the great majority of you have played sports at some level. Haven't you all played poorly in a game of some sort, but felt OK about your performance because your team won anyway? You were able to focus on the positive aspect of your performance, because after all your team did win.

    Well, the great majority of sports "wisdom" comes from professional athletes or ex-professional athletes, and in this respect they're little different than you or I; their primary focus is on winning. So when an ex-player tells you that winning is all that matters, he's merely expressing a heart-felt opinion from his own perspective. The problem, at least in this instance, is that it's a limited perspective. Just as players tend to value personality over performance in a teammate, they tend to value victories over effectiveness in a pitcher. It's all about perspective; as my friend Eddie Epstein often tells me, asking a player to evaluate baseball statistics is like asking a tree to evaluate a forest.

    I don't know how to throw a slider or turn a double play, and never will. What I do know is that when a pitcher's record doesn't match his other numbers, it's rarely because he doesn't know how to win. Most of the time, it's because his teammates didn't score any runs for him.




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