Monthly archives: September 2003
Fearless Predictions…That Are Invariably Wrong
Here are my predictions for the playoffs. Be forewarned that I picked the White Sox to trounce the Twins in the AL Central:
Division Series:NL: Giants over the Marlins in 4
Why? I don't know. I looked at the pitching matchups in the first round and then went with gut feelings after that. Will it be right? No, but then again what is?
On Thursday Carlos Delgado hit four home runs in four consecutive at-bats to become just the 15th man to collect four homers in a game and just the sixth man to hit four consecutive in one game.
Given the rarity of the event, it got me to thinking about the odds of such an accomplishment. Given that Delgado had 42 home runs and 704 plate appearances on the season, the odds in any plate appearance of hitting a home run are 5.97%. The odds of him jacking one out of the park four times in a row are equal to the odds above multiplied four times or 0.0013%, pretty remote. Given that Delago played 160 games, the odds of his hitting a home run in his first four plate appearances in any one of those games are .20% (160 x .0013%) or one in five hundred. Given that he averaged about 4.4 plate appearances a game, he often had the opportunity to hit four home runs in more than 4 plate appearances, increasing the four-homer odds fivefold and doubling the odds of hitting four consecutively. His odds of hitting four straight in one game improve to .28% and of hitting 4 in a game increase to .53% given this approach (96 games at 4 plate appearances and 64 at 5—Of course Delgado did not just have four- and five-PA games but this is as close an approximation as possible without delving into each box score and it will also jibe with the historic research that follows).
So at best, Delgado had a one-in-200 chance of hitting four home runs in a game this year. The fact that he was facing the Tampa Devil Rays didn’t hurt his odds much though.
Actually, using this methodology revealed that Delgado's odds of hitting 4 dingers in a game were second all-time to Barry Bonds great 2001 season (.5274 to .5270). Though the odds don't seem to have panned out for anyone besides Delgado and Willie Mays, whose 1955 season ranked 31st (he hit 4 homers in a 1961 game though and his odds were 280th all-time that year).
By the way, using this method for setting the odds for 4-HR games predicts that there would only by about six all-time (6.222654872 actually). The year with the best odds was 2001 in the NL with a one-in-five shot and the worst was 1878 in the NL with a 0.00060% chance.
Given that Delgado was the fifteenth man to hit 4 homers in a game, one can either declare that the probabilities based on estimated plate appearances per game don't accurately reflect reality or that players can affect their own performance when such a feat is theirs for the taking. Take your pick. Given that a 6-plate appearance game (such as Bobby Lowe's 4-HR game in 1894) improves your odds greatly (30-fold over four plate appearances), the estimates are surely just that. However, I like to think that great performances require great effort not just favorable odds and that 4-home-run games are no exception.
End of Days
The 2003 regular season is now in the books. I just wanted to review some of the stories in the final weekend before girding my loins (and we all know how painful that can be) for the playoffs:
Detroit!?! No, Not Detroit!
With no one compelling story in baseball Today ESPN's coverage was a panorama of games reflecting the short attention span of a truly great sporting event like, say, the Olympics. Alas, they could not fit synchronized swimming or curling into the schedule.
They did however rest for some time on the Phillies last game at the Vet—of course, a loss. The also showed passing interest in Barry Bonds attempt to reach Willie Mays home run total, and therefore third place all-time, on the last day of the season. Did you know Mays is Bonds godfather? Why that's revelatory! They should mention it every time that Bonds comes to bat.
ESPN also saw fit to bring America the last half inning in the 2003 Detroit Tigers' season. God bless them. You see, the mighty Tigers were beating a Twins team that featured Lew Ford leading off and had just one starter play the whole game. The replacement Twins went down meekly in the ninth and the Tigers ended the season one loss shy of the Mets' all-time loss total of 120.
The win went to Mike Maroth, his ninth against 21 losses. Jeremy Bonderman, who was just one loss short of twenty for the year, did his best to reach that promised land, but even he could not overcome a 9-2 though he did his best giving up three hits and two unearned runs in his one inning of work.
The Tigers celebrated as if they had taken a game from the Yankees in the postseason. Manager Alan Trammell was especially jubilant, jogging out to congratulate his puissant pussycats. In the broadcast booth, the commentators were so excited they jettisoned the 1962 Mets footage that they had on ice had the Tigers lost.
So, the Tigers were able to lay their collective demons to rest: they certainly are not the worst team of all time. Right? The Tigers finished 43-119 for a .265 winning percentage. There are 47 teams in baseball history with worse records. True, a number of them are short-lived teams that didn't survive the season in professional baseball's nascent days. However, even if we just look at teams that played 100 or more games in a season, Detroit is still just 17 worst:
Besides their expected winning percentage was .305. That's still very bad (in the top 50 worst all-time), but it does say that the team did underachieve even with its modest talent pool.
The 2003 Tigers were an awful team, but surely not the worst ever. Right?
Well, I disagree. For one thing, the 1962 Mets, the team that the Tigers were chasing or rather were chased by, were a horrible team, but they were a first-year expansion team. The other teams on the list have plenty of good excuses for avoiding worst team ever status.
The worst team ever, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, were a victim of circumstance or rather owner Frank Robison. Robison had purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns, renamed them Perfectos (now the Cardinal), and stocked them with many of the Spiders stars including Hall-of-Famers Cy Young and Jesse Burkett. The Spiders went from a team in 1898 that had a .544 winning percentage and hadn't had a losing season in seven years to the team with the worst record in baseball. Robison also profited at the season's end as the NL lopped off four flagging teams to get down to its classic eight-team structure. Surely if this club had been run by an owner who had their best interests at heart, they would not have had such a poor record.
The 1890 Pittsburg(h) Alleghenies lost a number of players to the Pittsburgh club from a one-year rival league started by the players union (then called brotherhood) called the Players' National League. When the PL was dissolved by a deal between the league owners and the established major league, the players returned to their original teams. The 1891 Pirates were still a poor team (in last place, 25 games under .500), but they were nowhere near the worst of all time. By the way, the Pittsburgh club was dubbed the Pirates that year for signing former Philadelphia A Lou Bierbauer as he returned from Players' League, and the name stuck.
The 1916 and 1919 A's were the result of Connie Mack purposely dismantled a team that went to four straight World Series 1910-14 and is often mentioned among the best ever. The 1935 Boston Braves and 1897-98 St. Louis Browns were just about to go bankrupt. The 1886 Washington Nationals, 1962 New York Mets, 1884 Indianapolis Hooisers, and 1886 Kansas City Cowboys were first-year clubs. The 1890 Brooklyn Gladiators and Pittsburghs and the 1884 Detroit Wolverines and Indianapolis Hoosiers had the bad luck of playing in a year in which an independent major league competed with the organized leagues. And the 1904 Senators could at least say they had been a major-league team for only three years before the debacle of a season, in which the Senators started 0-13 but barely improved thereafter.
The Detroit Tigers have been a going concern since 1901. Actually, the Detroit franchise dates back to 1894, when the American League was just a nascent minor league known as the Western League. That's over one hundred years of history no matter how you look at it. The Tigers were 8035-7750 for a .509 winning percentage all-time when the season started, and this was a team that hadn't had a winning season in the last nine. This is a team that is trying to win but has been so poorly mismanaged it ranks with the worst teams of all time.
Consider that the majority of the teams competing with the Tigers for the worst team title played in the 19th century when shorter schedules and haphazard ownership resulted in wild swings in a leagues winning percentage. Take a look at the average winning percentage of first-place teams by decade:
It wasn't until the 1910s that leagues had stabilized enough to say that they were comparable to today's multi-billion-dollar entertainment giants. The dropoff in the Sixties is attributable to some degree to expansion, of the schedule and the leagues. As the first-place teams flourished, the tailenders floundered. Today that is much less the case.
As a matter of fact if you look at the teams that are the furthest away from the norm based on the league average variance (i.e., winning percentage standard deviation), the 2003 Tigers are right near the top:
(I know that standard deviations are affected by the sample size. As more teams are added the standard deviation shrinks and the extremes look more extreme. However, if Rob Neyer can write his dynasties book based solely on this type of analysis, I can at least use it as a nail in the Tigers' coffin.)
The Tigers may have avoided displacing the '62 Mets in the record books, but in my book they are the worst team of all time.
It was nice to see Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas remove the last number in the Phils' countdown to a new stadium. Of course, it was a nod to Harry's old boothmate, Hall-of-Fame player Richie Ashburn, whose number for the Phils was one.
It was also great to watch ESPN's coverage of a guy trying to remove the seat number from his chair. They must have covered it for an inning and a half. The guy never got the plaque off nor was he arrested. I just feel bad for the poor sap that pays $280—that's the Phils' asking price—for that pair of seats.
The last game as the Vet is now in the books—"Hard to believe, Harry." So what is the Vet's legacy? Veterans Stadium witnessed the Phillies' only golden period (1976-83), during which the Phils made the postseason six times, reached the World Series twice (two of the five times in their history), and won their sole World Series championship. It also witnessed the abuse of the last two decades in which the Phils made the postseason just once in the excitingly fluky year of 1993.
Here are the Phils all-time records by home stadium:
The Phils ended up below .500 during the Vet years even with their great success in the late Seventies and early Eighties.
As for me, I misspent my youth in the 700 level of the Vet. I didn't see a losing Phillies team until I was in college. But after living in Boston and New York and seeing what a ballgame is like at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, I can't say that I'll miss the old tin can much (though Shea Stadium made me appreciate the Vet).
Perhaps when the Vet is imploded and filled in and they pave that paradise and put up a parking lot, I'll start to get nostalgic. I think my eulogy would be, to paraphrase Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins, "Here lies Veteran's Stadium, and why not?"
[By the way, after using an Arnold Schwarzenegger title in the headline, I have to publish 134 other articles with references to each of the other California gubernatorial candidates to give them equal time. Get ready for lots of "What you talkin' about, Willis?" during the Marlins playoff run.]
A Joe Morgan Chat Day at the (Pennant) Races
Either he's dead or my watch has stopped.
I've finally figured Joe Morgan out-he's an absurdist of the highest degree in the vein of Groucho Marx. But first, for something completely different...We here at Mike's Baseball Rants-and by we I no longer mean the royal "we", nor Michelle Wie, bur rather I am acknowledging the fact that I had myself cloned now that I have two kids-, we love the Joe Morgan, but we love the Joe Morgan chat days even more. He was one of our favorite players and he, even though he tries to forget, was a member of the 1983 Wheeze Kid Phillies, the last remnants of the Phils "golden" age starting in the mid-Seventies, before they slunk back into the primordial slime from whence they came, like Godzilla at the end of each of his umpteen billion movies.
The 1976-83 Phillies were a Neanderthalic, still-born end to an evolution that was to bear no further progeny. Maybe that's why I'm sick of all the bellyaching by Red Sox fans. "Boo hoo, my team hasn't won a World Series since 1918", and not only do the sports media eat up this pap and even serve it up themselves in the form of the self-appointed Boston sports conscience, Jiminy Shaughnessy, but now HBO has given them their own hour-long documentary, dare I say sob-umentary, to pour out their whining ways. It had to be hosted by Ben "My team wicked sucks and I wicked can't act, but I'm a bazillionaire who bagged J-Lo" Affleck. Poor guy. "Well, my team's name is the Philadelphia Phillies and they have lived in a van down by the river for decades" (god bless Matt Foley a.k.a Chris Farley). The fan base is now inured to losing and teams peopled by the likes of Steve Jeltz. The even think that the merciful euthanasia of the Vet is an historic occasion (and are willing to pay the Phils $280 a pop for a pair of Vets Stadium seats). The Red Sox fans biggest problem is trying to differentiate between the Boston-only homonyms "beer" and "bear" at the ballpark-When you hear "Bear here" in Fenway, it's just a Swamp Yankee beer man; don't run for the exits-and trying to survive the wait at the "T" platform after the game ("Danger! Third rail!").
Sorry, I'm back now.
Morgan the analyst has had a career that belies the tenets that he played by. Morgan the player was a great on-base man. Morgan the analyst eschews on-base percentage preferring a little of the old HR-RBI-BA in-out in-out. Morgan the player won World Series with a great offensive team that had a relatively weak starting rotation that picked up cheap wins. Morgan the analyst evaluates pitchers based solely on wins.
...Or does he? Could it be that Morgan's entire analyst act has been completely tongue in cheek and it has just been beyond our ken all along? Are we afraid to laugh at the god-like Morgan when he says of Barry Bonds, " [I]f he doesn't expand his zone, he won't hit much at all in the playoffs"? Could it be that we just don't get it?
Well, of course not, but wouldn't the world be a better place if it were the case? And I'm all for improving the world through confabulation.
I also have to commend ESPN for adding time stamps to Joe's comments. It's like watching the hamster in his brain going around on the wheel. Wow, it's like the thrill of watching the seconds tick by as 24's Jack Bauer is tortured to death and back again while his daughter Kim is being ogled by a merely curious cougar as she stumbles into a trap from which even Helen Keller could have extricated herself.
So they're coming around the final turn and it's Joe Morgan Chat Day by a length. And at the finish it's, it's...Beetlebum!
(Duck Soup actually)
Marty (Nashville): Pitching or Hitting? Which will dominate the playoffs?
(10:30 AM ET ) It's going to be a little of both. Some teams will have some pitchers who can dominate but overall, other teams won't have that. You will see some high scoring games and some very low scoring games. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses that are pretty glaring.
[Mike: Pitching? Did they make the playoffs this year? What's their magic number anyway?
It sounds a pretty inane answer: it'll be the high-scoring of times. It'll be the low-scoring of times. But then again, ask a stupid question...]
Woman: Hold me closer...closer...closer.
John - Philly: If Thome gets the Phils to the playoffs, how much serious consideration will he get for MVP?
(10:32 AM ET ) I think he'll get a lot anyway because he has been phenomenal down the stretch. He has carried that team. But he is still playing for the Wild Card. You have Bonds and Sheffield with such great records and obviously Pujols. It's a difficult year for him to win but he should get some good support.
[Mike: "John - Philly"? I don't get these French names.
I think Thome will get 10% serious consideration, 40% not-so-serious consideration, and 50% fillers and byproducts. Thome's had a great year, but we are living in Barry's "world, chico, and everything in it" is his (to quote Tony Montana).]
Dr. Hackenbush: Oh, well, uh, to begin with I took four years at Vassar.
Roberto Sanchez Okinawa Japan: What do you think about the Alex Rodriguez MVP controversy?
(10:36 AM ET ) I think ARod should always finish in the Top 5 MVP voting. Anytime a guy plays his position, the most difficult on the field, and puts up the numbers he puts up, plays everyday and plays Gold Glove caliber defense. What else do you have to do? It's not his fault that his team is not good. I'm not saying he should win but he should be in the running. The guys that will get serious considertion will not match his production so he should still be in the Top 4 or 5.
[Mike: Joe, your facade is cracking. I was just going to quote John Winger and say, "I think it sucks."-slightly less erudite a response. This is almost an enlightened statement by someone in the media proper. Too bad it's his last one.]
Chicolini (Chico pretending to be a peanut vendor in Duck Soup): Peanuts...to you!
Jeff (Tulsa, OK): Barry Larkin and the Reds could not come to terms on a contract for one more season. Do you think Larkin's presence in the clubhouse with a bunch of young players is worth a good-sized one-year deal? Is there another team out there who will want a 40-year-old shortstop with a recent history of injuries?
(10:34 AM ET ) Unfortunately there comes a time when a team and player has to seperate. Barry Larkin has been a great player in Cincinnati for a long time. But the last few years he just hasn't played much. I understand the Reds' side of things. From a player perspective, you want to leave on a better note. But I do think it's time for them to seperate.
[Mike: Oh, I thought Joe was talking about Matt-Ben and J-Lo. What is Morgan, Arnie Becker or something? Why is he emulating a guy who in Major League couldn't throw out Mike Lavalliere?
Barry Larkin is still the Reds' best bet at short in 2004, but he will be 40 in April and he is often injured. The young players they have used to fill in for him have not done the job. Larkin is a potential Hall of Famer who has played for the Reds his entire career. I think they could have allowed him to Ozzie his way off into the sunset. What, is he a bad influence on Junior? Sorry he's no Dave Concepcion, Joe.
He's not worth another $9 M, but given the P.R. nightmare season this has been in Cincinnati, one would think that the Reds brass would want to retain one of its most popular players.
As far as another team being interested in Larkin, d'ya ever hear of the Newark Bears?]
Dr. Hackenbush: She's so in love with me, she doesn't know anything. That's why she's in love with me.
Bill Jeffries Torrance, Ca.: Joe, What do you have planned for the off season?
(10:41 AM ET ) I relax as much as possible but also spend as much time as I can with the family. I go to Hawaii every year with a group of friends. I've been doing that for 27 years. We leave the day after Thanksgiving for 10 days and play golf.
[Mike: "Oh, isn't that special, Marjorie?"
"Oh, yah, that's sweet, Gwendoline. Check the TV paper, would you, dear?"
"Ooh, we only have an hour until Regis and that nice, sweet new girl come on. Let's watch the weather channel."
"Ooh, yah. Marjorie dear, can you turn it up?"
GBTFB-"Get Back To F'ing Baseball!"]
Mrs. Upjohn: [who has been instructed by Dr Hackenbush to wave her arms up and down, as part of a physical examination] How long do you want me to do this, Doctor?
mark (Durant, OK): Joe, is it possible that the Cubs would go to a three man rotation the last 6 games of the year, putting Clement in the bullpen to spell tired starters? I would hate to see Cruz or Estes on the mound for any remaining games.
(10:43 AM ET ) One of the reasons Dusty Baker is considered by me to be the best manager in the game is he knows his players and knows who can handle clutch situations. It's not as easy as just saying pitch Prior, Wood, Zambrano every game. I think will make the right decision. The Cubs are in a favorable position, They just have to play well and not mess it up. Houston will definately have problems. They still have the Giants for two more games.
[Mike: Oh, great and powerful Joe, please grant my wish. Is it possible for the Cubs to pitch Wood and Prior every day if they learn how to pitch with both arms a la Greg Harris?
Look, anything is possible. Does it make sense to go with a three-man rotation for the last two series of the year against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati? I think not. However, they could skip the number five man today (Estes this go-round) and go with Zambrano, whose regular turn would be today anyway. Clement could go tomorrow. The only problem is that both had nagging injuries. So, especially this time of year, the extra day off will help them immensely. The Cubs fate is now their own and if they can't handle these two Punch and Judy teams with Larry Biitner starting, they don't deserve to go to the postseason.]
Dr. Hackenbush: Emily, I have a confession to make. I really am a horse doctor. But marry me, and I'll never look at another horse.
Mark - DC: Who do you think is playing the best ball down the stretch in the AL? Who will be the toughest team to knock out of the playoffs?
(10:44 AM ET ) Easy. Minnesota. They've won 9 in a row. They have gone from 2.5 out to where they are now. leading by 5 games.
[Mike: With all due respect to the Twins, who certainly are very hot right now (10 in a row now), they are the third seed in the AL. And the AL Central is the weakest division in the AL. The Yankees have 10 games on Minnesota. Even with the Twins being so hot in September, they are only two games better than New York and the Red Sox over that period.
I'm not sure what they will do in the playoffs. But I wouldn't be shocked to see them fold in three to the Yankees.]
[Tony offers Dr. Hackenbush a hint book.]
John H.:(Crofton,MD):: I noticed that the Phillies and Marlins have very similar team pitching stats for this season. What differences do you see that will help decide this crucial series for the NL Wild Card.
(10:40 AM ET ) I think the Phillies have been pretty consistent as far as the starters go. The Marlins have good starters as well. But the Phillies pitchers at times have been a little more consistent. But the fact they will be on the road evens things out. I don't expect a sweep. It should go down to the last weekend of the season.
But, you have to give a little edge to the Marlins because Willis should be able to control Thome who is the man right now.
[Mike: Good call, Joe. Thome was 1-for-2 with a walk, a runs scored, and a run batted in yesterday against Willis.
Actually, overall their staffs are pretty close in ERA: Phils are sixth in the NL with a 3.97 mark and the Marlins' 4.04 is eighth. However, the Phils' staff has fallen apart in the second half. They have a 4.57 ERA (11th) and have only won one more game then they've lost in the second half. Florida's 3.78 second-half ERA is sixth in the NL (and they are 14 games over .500). The Phils starters have been bad in the second half: Duckworth 5.34 ERA, Wolf 5.42, and Myers 5.48. However, their bullpen stalwarts have been even worse: Silva 5.68, Williams 5.87, Wendell 6.00, and Joe Table 9.53. Meanwhile, the Marlins' only real pitching sore spots in the second half have been Dontrelle Willis (4-5 with a 4.91 ERA) and Braden Looper (6.59 ERA despite 11 saves), the two men who allowed Phillies rallies in the first game of the series.]
Whitmore: Just a minute, Mrs Upjohn. That looks like a horse pill to me.
Dave (Chicago): Joe, in a short series will the Atlanta Braves fall short without a true ace. (Schmidt Prior etc)
(10:45 AM ET ) Well, a lot of teams do not have a true ace. I think this is the best prepared Braves team in a long time. They have good enough pitching with Maddux, Hampton, Ortiz and a more balanced offensive attack with Sheffield. I think they can win it all.
[Mike: Hold the phone. Did anyone notice the hoopla attending Greg Maddux's 15th victory. He was dubbed the greatest pitcher since Sliced Bread a.k.a., Cy Young for recording 15 or more wins in 16 consecutive seasons. Then there's Russ Ortiz who's 21-7, and Hampton has been OK. I know that their ERAs are in the high threes, but Hampton's second half ERA is 2.88 and Maddux's 3.00.
Joe's always praising the likes of Sidney Ponson for their experience, how about Maddux for goodness sake? Further proof that he is just joshing us.]
...Whitmore: May I examine this, please? Do you actually give those to your patients? Isn't it awfully large for a pill?
Jeff: Kansas City: Do you see the Royals being the next A's if they stay healthy?
(10:46 AM ET ) The Royals have done a great job. I give Tony Pena a tremendous amount of credit for what he has done. I'm not sure how they will stay together. We will have to wait to next year to see if they can be as good as they were this year.
[Mike: No, I don't think they are the next A's. I think they are the next 1998 San Diego Padres.
Have you seen their rotation this year? Big Three? They'd be happy with a big one. Darrell May has been their only consistent starter all year and he's 31. None of their young starters survived the year in the rotation.
The Royals do happen to have a nice core of young players in Beltran, Berroa, Ibanez, and Sweeney. However, Beltran may be gone next season, and there's not much else on the team (Ken Harvey?).
Besides, it's not like they had a plan like Bill Beane in Oakland. They just happened to get a decent group of good, young, cheap players. The rotation alone should tell you that the organization cannot evaluate young talent consistently.]
[After taking his watch from under Steinberg's gaze and tossing it in a wash basin]
Steve (Plattsburgh, New York): Joe, is there any reason to think the Red Sox bullpen is just good enough for the Red Sox to win a series with Oakland and beyond?
(10:47 AM ET ) Boston's chances of winning against Oakland will depend on their offense. I don't think the A's offense is a big a threat as people think. But the Red Sox will have to score on their starters. I don't think Oakland is as good heading into the playoffs as they were last year.
[Mike: "[I]s there any reason to think the Red Sox bullpen is just good enough...?" No, there's not. The Red Sox were feted on ESPN for picking up at the trade deadline relievers who were superior to the Yankees' acquisitions. Since their acquisitions, Scott Sauerbeck has a 6.75 ERA and Scott Williamson a 7.00 ERA. The Red Sox bullpen has been awful all year. The bullpen ERA has been just a hair under 5.00 all year (second to last in the AL). Only Kim and Timlin can be relied upon. Adding tail-end starters Burkett and Suppan to the pen for the postseason shouldn't help either. The A's only have a .660 OPS against the Sox in their seven games this year, but one would have to think that Oakland's offense, which is admitted mediocre (exaggerated by their park), could improve on that in the postseason. As far as 2003's version of tha A's not being "as good heading into the playoffs as they were last year", they were 18-8 in September last year. They are 14-8 this year. Take your pick. ]
Tony: Have you got a woman in here?
Jeff (Cleveland, Oh): What is missing from Houston that holds them back from getting both into the playoffs and through the first round.
(10:48 AM ET ) Oswalt was out for awhile but has been pitchign well since he came back. If he can hold up that will be huge for them. I'm not sure if they are good defensively as you would like. But I don't really see any one thing holding them back. It's just a matter of how well they play.
[Mike: Intagibles, it's gotta be. Look, the Astros are 14-8 in September. It's just that the Cubs are 16-6. It's not like this is Seattle we are talking about.]
Flo: Why, I've never been so insulted in my life!
Blake, Minneapolis MN: Do the Twins have the starting rotation and enough offensive firepower to oust the Yankees in the Division Series?
(10:50 AM ET ) Anybody that has to go through NY will have a tough time. The fact still remains that the Twins have some starters who have been through this before. They sort of ran out of gas last year but that shouldn't be a problem this year. Once you get to the playoffs, ANYBODY can win 3 out of 5 or 4 out of 7. If you get to the playoffs, you have a chance to win it all and that is the mindset of everyone, even the underdogs.
[Mike: Well, Santana and Radke have been great in the second half (17-2 with a 3.32 ERA). They just got Eric Milton back. Lohse and Rogers have pitched acceptable as well. (The rotation is Santana, Radke, and Lohse by the way).
The offense has been a pretty sound unit with a .777 OPS since the break. The starting position players have OPSs ranging from .877 (Mientkiewicz) to .708 (Rivas). No one player has been excessively hot but none are cold either, sounds like the 2002 Angels offense.
The Twins are 0-7 against the Yankees this year, so one can just assume that their miseries will continue. However, the 1983 Phils were 1-11 against their LCS opponents, the Dodgers, but won in four games (best-of-five). That's why the play'em.]
[Dr. Hackenbush is pointing to a portrait of one of Judy's parents]
Colin: (Aberdeen, Scotland): Will the A's style of play (waiting for the 3 run homer) work against them in the post-season.
(10:31 AM ET ) It has for the last three years. If they play that way it will work against them again. You have to manufacture runs in the postseason. They will be facing better pitching. The 3-run HR theory can work in the regular season because you face teams with bullpens that aren't as good. They have to figure out a way to manufacture some runs or they won't win the whole thing.
[Mike: We've heard that mantra enough that we actually believe. It's too bad that it has little basis in fact. Actually the A's outhit their opponents in all three series and scored well in two of the three series. Only in 2001 could one say that the A's were over-reliant on the 3-run home run which never came. Their best offensive series was in 2002 against the Twins, but they were done in by their pitching and Art Howe's dubious rotation decisions:
[referring to Ms. Marlowe]
Ben (Syracuse NY): Do you think halladay should be the cy young?
(10:52 AM ET ) At this point, it appears that way. I think he's definately pitched well enough to win it. I'm not sure if Loiza is going to get his 20th win. Pettitte has 20 wins. If they all end up with the same amount of wins, you have to look at other things like innings pitched, ERA. But he has pitched well enough to win. Unlike the MVP, it doesn't matter that his team isn't winning. It doesn't say most valuable pitcher, just best pitcher.
[Mike: Joe really doesn't like the A's, does he? I think the A's have two candidates just as strong as the ones Joe mentioned. They are Tim Hudson and Keith Foulke. Foulke has 9 wins, 43 saves, and a 2.10 ERA in 85.2 innings. With all the hoopla surrounding closers Eric Gagne and John Smoltz, I find it interesting that Foulke's name is never mentioned. I wouldn't vote for him, but he should get some mention. As for Hudson, his mere 16 wins will dissuade many voters. It's a close race that's getting closer seemingly by the day, but I think Hudson would get my vote. He has the innings and the ERA. The Win Shares have a dead heat betweeb Hudson, Halladay, and Loaiza with Foulke, Martines, and Zito, in that order, right behind. However, that does not include Hudson and Loaiza's last starts.
Look, I guess I'm picking on Joe a little here (who me?). Halladay is a fine choice and he will probably win especially if he picks up one more win. But in my opinion, an ERA that is a half a run per game better in about the same number of innings gets my nod. Joe could have at least mentioned Hudson instead of the extremely fortunate Andy Pettitte (17th among AL pitchers in Win Shares).]
Dr. Hackenbush: [to Dr. Steinberg] Don't point that beard at me! It might go off!
Brian Beliso San Francisco, California: Do you think that the Giants have the best fielding team in baseball, and is that a major contributing factor to their success in Pacific Bell Park?
(10:54 AM ET ) When Seattle has all their parts together, I think they are the best. They have the best OF and a great right side on the infield. The Giants don't make mistakes late in the game so they may be the best in the NL. It does have a big effect. Two things will make a big difference in the postseason, baserunning and defense. They are both equally important. A lot of teams are making baserunning mistakes.
[Mike: According to defensive Win Shares, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Arizona all outrank Seattle. San Fran is even farther behind. I'm somewhat dubious of them, but they are better than anecdotal evidence.]
Tony: She's in with Whitmore. She's trying to frame you.
Ben (Norwich, CT): Is Dontrelle Willis tired, or have major league hitters just learned how to hit him?
(10:55 AM ET ) They haven't learned how to hit him. In th minors you only pitch 100 or 120 innings. All pitchers during their first year, at some point, have a lull. Their only hope is if they get into the playoffs, the adrenaline will push him the rest of the way. But if you have played mostly in the minors, you will get tired late in the season.
Mrs. Upjohn: Dr. Hackenbush tells me I'm the only case in history. I have high blood pressure on my right side and low blood pressure on my left side.
Scott (New Lenox, IL): Joe: I'm a diehard Cardinal fan. What am I missing with everyone's infatuation with Tony LaRussa? He's come up short every year he's been in St. Louis and recently Cardinal owner-Bill Dewiit Jr. just gave him a vote of confidence to return next year.
(10:56 AM ET ) I read where he was going to return next year. Tony is a guy that is well prepared, a good strategist and gets the most out of his players. That is what a manager is supposed to do. Things have not gone well there the last year because they couldn't add any payroll, couldn't get pitching for him, and they have a poor bullpen. I'm not sure what else you can expect him to do. He is a very good manager is my point.
[Mike: Another of the greatest baseball fans on the planet, a Cardinal fan. LaRussa has won over 3700 games as a manger. LaRussa's Cards had won the division the last three years and 4 out of 7 of his seasons. They've won 90 or more in each of the last three years and have only two losing seasons in the last eight. I pick on LaRussa and his eccentricities as much as anyone, but he is a Hall of Fame manager after all. He is starting to show ear around the edges but if I were the Cardinals brass, I would concentrate my energies on the rotation rather on LaRussa's job.]
[Stuffy has grabbed some poison to drink]
Los Angeles, CA: Mr. Morgan, the Dodgers over the past few years have focused on a pitching/defense philosophy which has resulted (especially this year) in a mediocre and inconsistent offense at best, with no current leadership in the batting order. What is the best way the Dodgers can get back to the playoffs consistently?
(10:58 AM ET ) Two things with the Dodgers, they lost Brian Jordan, an RBI man and Shawn Green has not hit like he has in the past due to an injury. That really hurts you. They were relying on pitching and defense and that doesn't work in this day and age. You need offense to go with it. The teams in the playoffs will have good pitching, offense and a strong defense.
[Mike: Boy, the whole city of Los Angeles is so distraught they wrote to Joe.
The Dodgers have always had a poor offense. It's exaggerated by their stadium. Joe is right in that Jordan and Green's productivity dropoff have hurt the team. Plus they lost Marquis Grissom in the offseason. The basic problem with the Dodgers is that they have so few weapons that when one is lost (Grissom), or hurt (Jordan), or unproductive (Green), there isn't enough depth to cover for that one. Half the team was slightly better than average to very good offensively and the rest were stiffs. They stiffs are just outnumbering the decent players.
I disagree that relying on pitching and defense won't win ballgames. Look at the A's this year. But a team needs enough offense. They can't forego offense altogether. The Dodgers have four starting position players with OPSs worse than .650. Ouch!]
Dr. Hackenbush [In a mud throwing fight at the race track]: I haven't seen so much mudslinging since the last election!
Zach (Morehead, KY): Do you think the Bengals can rebound from their 0-3 start and get back to the glory days of Boomer and Anthony Munoz?
(11:00 AM ET ) The one thing you have to say is they have been more competitive than they have been in the past. Far more competitive. The NFL has so much parity, so I think they will win some games. To get back to the glory days will take a couple years.
[Mike: First, GBTFB!
Second, way to defend your sport, Joe! Football has more parity than baseball? The Bengals have not had a winning record since the last Bush administration. Scores of teams from Detroit to Arizona spend better parts of a decade mired in ruts where their record is worse than the worst team in baseball. The Tigers could become the worst team in baseball history, and yet there were four NFL teams with worse record last year.]
More Groucho quotes:
Alexandria, VA: Mr. Morgan, During last year's NL playoffs Tony LaRussa suggested that Barry Bonds should expand his strike zone. I've noticed that other big hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Sammy Sosa, get a lot more piitches to hit because pitchers know that they are willing to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Do you think Barry Bonds should expand his strike zone in order to cut down on walks and possibly get more pitches to hit?
(10:38 AM ET ) That was always the way it was in the past. They said the same thing about Ted Williams. But, the fact still remains, that's the way Bonds has become a great player, by staying in his own zone. Same thing with Ted Willams. It's hard to do what you suggest. I think it's a good thing but you can't just do it overnight. It's just very hard to change like that. But I will say this, if he doesn't expand his zone, he won't hit much at all in the playoffs.
[Mike: Joe said the magic word and won $100. The magic word was, of course, "expand the zone". I know that's a phrase and not a word, but there you have it just the same.
You know that Joe is mocking us here. LaRussa dared Bonds to get in his head last year. Besides, Bonds did not take the bait and had a fabulous postseason: 1.559 OPS, 8 home runs, .356 batting average, .581 on-base percentage, .978 slugging, 44 total bases to lead the team, and 16 RBI. I thought this misreporting was over after Bonds' postseason in 2002. I guess will have to endure it a bit more. And with that I bid adieu...]
Go! And never darken my towels again! (Duck Soup)
[Thanks to Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) for the quotes.]
Seventh Inning Stench
"I don't know what the artist got for painting this, but he should have gotten life."
The Phlegmatic Phillies lost to the Marlins tonight, 5-3, in a game that epitomized the Phils' season. It was all there in broad relief, the good and the bad. And just like this season, the Phils lost control of the game just as it seemed as if it was there's for the taking.
As for the good, Kevin Millwood gave the Phils six strong innings of shutout ball. He allowed four hits and no walks through six. The Phils got to Dontrelle Willis, scoring two runs in the second and another in the third. Willis did not look good an he missed his spots often. Appropriately, Jim Thome was involved in two of those runs, scoring the second and driving in the third.
And then along comes the seventh... (with nods to the Association) Here's a recap of what happened next from my notes on the inning (Bottom of the seventh, Philadelphia leads 3-0):
Derrek Lee -Strike one called down the middle of the plate
The Phils waste a great performance by Millwood. They pull him one batter too late instead of thanking their lucky stars after Encarnacion flied out. They again go to execrable Williams, who has a 5.09 ERA with the Phils and has walked as many as he has struck out. Way to throw fuel on the fire. And then it's their typical trip down bullpen memory lane to ensure that each reliever puts his own personal touches on the debacle.
The Phils did storm back in the eighth but it was a typically stillborn rally. The got one run in but Chad Fox whiffed Marlon Byrd with the tying run on third to end it. Then they went meekly in the ninth.
Well, there it was, a masterpiece of mediocrity, a Tintoretto in trepidation. Just like the Phils' 2003 campaign, a season on the stink.
I'm no angel, but I've spread my wings a bit.
Yesterday we looked at how the Angels have fallen from baseball grace, but what does the future hold for the team? Was 2002 just an anomaly or is 2003 just a bump in the road for a team full of young players?
Anaheim will have between 20 and 26 fewer wins this season than last. How do teams, who have lost 20 to 26 wins from season one to season two, perform in season 3 historically anyway? Is it too much to overcome?
Here are all the teams whose win totals full by 20 to 26 games from season one to season with their performance in season three:
On average the improved in the third year by about 8 wins. However, you will note that there are a number of teams whose falloff occurred during a strike year or who just weren't all that good to start with (1990 Indians).
What if we filtered out any team with fewer than 85 wins to find just those clubs who were somewhat comparable to the 2002 Angels? Let's find out (thanks, Mr. Owl):
Well those clubs were back to .500 by the third year. That fate would probably land the Angels in the second division in the AL West again (if there such a thing).
Well, maybe we are still shortchanging the Angels. Are the 1976 Mets and A's truly comparable to a championship team? What if we just included those teams that won a World Series in season one?:
Those teams came back to being very competitive in year three.
Let's pose the question another way: has any team ever come back from a 20-26 game dropoff to win a World Series the next season. Actually, a few have:
Has any gone from World Series champ in year one to 20-26 game worse in year two to World Series champ in year three? Actually, two teams have done it:
So what is ahead for the Angels? Washburn, Lackey, and Ortiz should bounce back to form the core of a decent, fairly young group of starters. Callup Kevin Gregg should get a shot to contribute as well (2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in three starts). They will probably eat the last year of Aaron Sele's contract ($8.5 M, yum!) and the starter Scott Shield experience should come to an end. David Eckstein should bounce back somewhat after a 100-point OPS dropoff this year-Did you notice how many choice Eckstein as their favorite player in 2002? Where are they now? They're probably hanging out with all those people who were huge Journey fans in the early Eighties? (What happened to all those people anyway?) Unfortunately for the Angels, Darrin Erstad is still into them for another three years and $24 M. His .642 OPS in 258 at-bats is lower than his career average (.770) but is not far from his performance in the last three years (.682 in 1999, .691 in 2001, and .702 in 2002). His career year in 2000 (.950 OPS) is fading in the rear-view mirror. Even worse for the Angels this season is the one major offseason acquisition, Eric Owens, has filled in miserably for Erstad (.601 OPS!).
The Angels will be a team defined more by their strengths going into next season. Can their Achilles heel of a rotation turn around next year? Can the weaknesses at short and center by mitigated? Can aging stars Garret Anderson (.668 OPS in September) and Tim Salmon be relied on next season? There are a number of question marks, but there should be no reason why the Angels cannot be competitive in 2004. Depending on what happens this offseason, the AL West may be a four-team race next year (but don't worry-Jayson Stark will still find a way to deny Alex Rodriguez an MVP).
Unrespited, unpitied, unrepriev'd.
The reigning World Champion Angels fended off the Texas Rangers, 11-6, tonight thanks to a seven-run seventh. At the start of the seventh, the Angels trailed 5-2 and were within three innings of being swept by the Rangers by a cumulative score of 21-8. Not only that, if the Angels had fallen tonight, their lead on third place in the AL West over the Rangers would have been cut to one game. They could have gone from World Champs to one game above the AL West cellar.
There has been only one team in baseball history that has gone from World Series champion to last place. That was, of course, the infamous 1998 Florida Marlins, whose place in history is secure as the team that "bought" the 1997 World Series and then sold off all its players the next year.
The Angels are now three games ahead of Texas with six games to play. The Rangers will play a series against the surging A's, who are looking to clinch the AL West crown, at Oakland. The Angels host the equally floundering Mariners for three games. Seattle is still fighting for a playoff spot though their effort of late doesn't really reflect that. The two teams will meet in Anaheim for the last three games of the season, but by that point their fates may already be determined.
Anaheim, even if they win all of their remaining games, is assured of joining an unhappy crew: They will be the seventeenth team to go from World Champions to sub-.500 team. That is including the Temple Cup champions of the 19th century. Here are those few, those unhappy few, sorted by winning percentage:
Anaheim's current .468 winning percentage puts them right up (or is it down?) with the top five worst teams on that list.
If the Angels do fall to worst to join the '98 Marlins, they will have gone about it in an entirely different way. Whereas the Marlins divested themselves of their championship players due to payroll issues, the Angels tried to retain the same team this year that they fielded in their World Series run.
So the on-field product has not changed, then what happened? I've seem a few broadcasts in the last month or so that have blamed the Angels condition on injuries. They have had their fair share of injuries, it's true-Darrin Erstad, Brad Fullmer, Troy Glaus, and Bengie Molina are all currently out-, but they can't explain away all of the Angels problems. Even before all the injuries the Angels were never contenders this year.
The problem was that a number of those players had career years and the Angels collectively are returning to their previous talent level. Their pitching is sixth in ERA in the AL, but their starters have had an ERA a hair under 5.00, about a run higher than last year. The Angels offense is tenth in the AL in runs scored and in team OPS. This is a far cry from last season when they were fourth in runs and fifth in OPS. Their one saving grace is the bullpen, which ranks first in the AL in ERA just a hair over last year's league-leading performance (3.02 vs. 2.98).
One must remember that the Angels were 75-87 in 2001 and had been playing out a string of mediocre seasons for about the prior 15 seasons. The Angels will go into this offseason with basically the same weaknesses as last (i.e., starting pitching and a few weak position players). The only difference will be that they won't have the glare of their World Series rings to blind them to those weaknesses.
Down with OBP
Check out the Baseball Crank who looks at teams with high on-base percentages.
Detroit's Mike Maroth became the first man since 1974 to lose over twenty games tonight, succumbing 10-6 to Toronto at home. Maroth helped his cause greatly by allowing eight hits and seven runs in five and two-thirds innings.
Maroth's 21 losses is the first time that plateau has been reached since four men including future Cy Young winner Randy Jones scaled it 29 years ago. Maroth could pitch two more times, and therefore could reach 23 losses for the year. The last time anyone exceeded 22 losses was Fat Jack Fisher of the Mets in 1965. The last person before that was Roger Craig of the-you guessed it-1962 inaugural Mets, the team that the Tigers are competing with for the worst record in "modern" baseball.
Here are all the players to exceed 20 losses since 1940:
The '62 Mets were 40-120 with a .250 winning percentage, 60.5 games out of first in a ten-team, no-divisions NL. The Tigers are now, thanks to tonight's loss, 38-114 with a .250 winning percentage and 45.5 games out of first in the AL Central. Detroit is pouring it on with six straight losses and only one win in the last 13 games.
Tomorrow night the Tigers will start Jeremy Bonderman, who had been mercifully removed from the starting rotation after falling to 6-18. Bonderman too could get two starts and finish with 20 losses. The last two teammates to lose twenty were-sorry!-not from the Mets. They were rubber-armed Wilbur Wood (24-20) and Stan Bahnsen (18-21), no longer burning, for the 1973 Chicago White Sox, a team that finished 77-85 though fifth in the AL West. The two teams prior to this were the 1962 and 65 Mets though. 1962 featured Roger Craig (10-24) and Al Jackson (8-20) while 1965's version was led-as in "lead" balloon-to a 50-112 record by Jackson again (again 8-20) and Fat Jack Fisher. Those are the only such 20-loss teammates in baseball since the Thirties.
The Tigers are losing at such a quick pace that each day brings a new wrinkle to their putrescence. This is a team that will inspire odes to awfulness for decades to come. I'm glad that we got a chance during the pennant races to stop and smell the reek.
Tonight at Wrigley Kerry Wood pitched a four-hit, eleven-K gem of a shutout (2-0) that not only finished a three-game sweep of the Mets, but drew them to within one game of division-leading Houston (who are still playing and losing in Colorado).
The oddest thing about the game was not the fact that Wood was close to being scratched for a bad back but pulled off a Michael Jordan-esque recovery. Nor was it Jack Black's explosivo rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch (he must have used his invention, inward singing, to belt it out).
The strangest thing, in my humble opinion, was Wood hitting Roger Cedeno with a pitch in the first? "Plunking Cedeno-How is that so odd?" you ask? Is it because Cedeno had not been hit by a pitch all year? No, he had been pasted by a pitch eleven times in his career coming into the game, the same number of times that he has been intentionally walked. Is it because giving Roger Cedeno a free pass to first is like letting Jeremy Schaap host "Outside the Lines"?-it just should not be allowed. No, balls get away from pitchers, even against batters with .326 on-base percentages. Was it because his heart was two sizes too small? No, now you have him confused with the Grinch.
The reason it was so odd was that Cedeno became the 21st man this season to be soaked at the plate by Wood. No pitcher has exceeded 21 hit batsmen since Howard Ehmke hit 23 in 1922. Of course, it's nowhere near the all-time high of 41 by Iron Joe McGinnity in 1900. Here are the all-time leaders (thanks to Lee Sinins' sabermetric database):
It got me to thinking-is a high hit-batsmen total indicative of a wild pitcher or of a pitcher who is willing to throw inside and sometimes pays the consequences? Well, this may be less than scientific, but my thought was to take the ratio of hit batsmen to the ratio of walks and wild pitches (above). Is the ratio of those ratios consistent for our list of ne'er-do-wells? If so, then one could say that high hit batsmen totals are a result of wild hurlers.
Well, the ratios run from almost 50% (Gus Shallix in 1884) to a little over 10% (Mike Morrison in 1887). Wood is somewhere in the middle with 19.81%. The average is 23% or about 1 hit batsmen for every four walks or wild pitches. And the standard deviation is rather large at 7.19 or a swing of about one in every seven for those pitchers less than one standard deviation away from the norm.
So, what the heck am I saying? It appears that high hit batsmen totals result as much from a pitcher's approach as from any wildness inherent in the pitcher's arm. "Well, of course", you're saying. I know that the estimable Coach from "Cheers" did extensive work on this topic. I just wanted to see it for myself.
Pitch Counting in a Pinch
IN most Big League ball games, there comes an inning on which hangs victory or defeat. Certain intellectual fans call it the crisis; college professors, interested in the sport, have named it the psychological moment; Big League managers mention it as the "break," and pitchers speak of the "pinch."...
Boy, things were a bit different in Matty's day. Walking two men to load the bases with no outs is de rigueur today: it's the prevailing strategy and one that quite often backfires. The strategy has become so ossified that now analysts look at ways to debunk its supposed advantages.
A few weeks ago at Baseball Primer's Primate Studies, Tangotiger came up with a set of formulas that estimate pitch counts for all pitchers since 1889. I don't want to discuss the reliability of the estimates. If we are not sure how many walks Ted Williams drew in 1941, one of baseball's biggest hitting stars in one of its most memorable seasons, estimating the number of pitches thrown by a pitcher a hundred years ago of course involves a good deal of guesswork. Tangotiger should be commended for dividing the darkness from the light on the matter. I doubt even Retrosheet can be able to revivify enough game accounts to determine the number of pitches Old Hoss Radbourne threw in 1884. (it would be nice, however, if we could decide on the number of wins he registered-is it 59 or 60?)
I thought it would be interesting to use those estimates to look at pitch use/overuse historically especially as it relates to the long-term expectations of young pitchers. Have approaches evolved as strategies evolved and become inculcated?
I also thought that it would be interesting to see if different teams used pitchers differently in different eras. Do winning teams approach pitch counts differently than losing ones? Are losing teams catching on more and more over time thereby affecting competitive balance?
Before we delve into these sorts of studies, I have to comment on a limitation in the data that has nothing to do with Tangotiger's research. The problem is one inherent to pitching statistics or rather the way that they are recorded. Pitchers, historically, have been used in different ways at different times. At the turn of the last century some very good starters were used as "closers" in the bullpen. Mathewson himself was posthumously credited with 28 saves for his career and a career high of 5 in 1908 when he went 37-11 with a 1.43 ERA in almost 400 innings. 84 of Matty's 635 games pitched were in relief. So the problem is that we have no way of knowing how many innings were pitched as a starter and how many as a reliever-not to mention all the other pitching stats.
So what does that mean? If we want to do analysis for pitch counts by starting pitchers, we are limited to those pitchers who were used purely to start games. The same goes for relievers. Pitchers who both started and relieved I call "swingmen", and they forma third category with which we can't do much, on its own.
To be continued...
It was either rookie hazing day or the senior prom at Yankee Stadium today.
Here Matsui shows off the bling-bling, dog:
(Thanks to Murray for the link.)
I just wanted to express my appreciation for all the congratulatory emails I received when I mentioned that my wife and I (mostly her) had a baby. I have gotten a bit behind in my email, but I wanted to say thanks and let everyone know that I will respond to each one.
Cy Young-ian Archetypes
Roy Halladay beat the Devil Rays tonight, 3-1, to record his 20th win of the season against sis losses. Meanwhile Esteban Loaiza lost in his bid to record twenty wins as the White Sox lost, 5-2, to the Twins at home evening their records in the AL Central standings yet again. Loaiza fell to 19-7.
Some would say that these two events alone place Halladay in front of Loaiza for the AL Cy Young. Halladay has twenty wins, his win-loss differential is 14 as opposed to Loaiza's 12, his .769 winning percentage edges Loaiza's by 38 points, and Halladay has pitched more innings.
However, I wouldn't and I hope most of you would agree. If we base the award solely on wins and losses Halladay and Loaiza were tied going into today's games and one faced one of the worst teams in the AL and the other faced one of the hottest teams in the AL playing a division rival. As far as the innings, Halladay has had three more starts in which to collect them. Couldn't one turn around and state that Halladay's extra starts while entering the day with the same record as Loaiza is a detriment as easily as someone could say they are an asset? Besides, Loaiza's ERA is nearly six-tenths of a run lower and ERA is the most important individual stat for a starting pitcher. Isn't it?
Well, according to the estimable Rick Sutcliffe, whose chats make Joe Morgan's seem an Algonquin Roundtable, it aint. Perhaps it's due to his winning the ERA crown one year and receiving "a piece of paper that was folded so many times I couldn't even put it in a frame." (Thanks to Matthew Lovell for the tip.) Witness:
John (San Francisco): Hi Rick! Do you agree with Joe Morgan's assertion that wins are more important than ERA for a pitcher? To me, a pitcher can only put you in position to win a game, he can't win the game himself. The Dodgers have scored only 11 runs in Nomo's 10 losses this year. Is he a worse pitcher than if he played for the Braves who would bash in more runs and get him more wins?
Yeah, I've seen ERAs explode by one single Joe Mesa appearance. They are not things to be trifled with.
So in Rick Sutcliffe's world, "Innings, a lot of innings" and "the difference between your wins and losses" are the two keys to winning a Cy Young. Of course, Sutcliffe himself only pitched 150.1 in the NL the year that he won the award (plus nearly one hundred execrable innings in the AL-4-5 with a 5.15 ERA).
The first person these criteria made me think of was Mike Norris who went 22-9 with a 2.53 ERA while pitching 24-count 'em 24!-complete games and over 280 innings in 1980. Norris finished second to fellow one-year wonder Steve Stone in the Cy Young voting that year. Stone was 25-7 with a 3.23 ERA in 251 innings that year. Both were very quickly out of baseball, Stone because of age and Norris because of abuse. Of the two, I would have voted for Norris in a heartbeat-.7 difference in ERA.
However, maybe Sutcliffe in all his bluster is right about the criteria employed by the voters in selecting Cy Young candidates. I decided to put his assertion to the test.
I created a table of pitching superlatives since 1956, the first year of the Cy Young award. I included Sutcliffe' win-loss differential and innings pitched, along with ERA, wins, won-lost percentage, WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), strikeouts, and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (why not?). From 1956 to 1966 the award was given to the only one pitcher in all of baseball, but since 1967 it has been given to one pitcher per league. Therefore, I based my yearly leader table on all of baseball from 1956 to 1966 and on each league from 1967 until 2002.
I then calculated the percentage of the Cy Young winner's votes the leader in each criterion received (a 1.00 would indicate that the criterion leader won the Cy Young; also, if there were multiple leaders, I averaged the vote percentage). Then I averaged out those percentages over time to determine which criterion was viewed as most important by the voters.
Here are the results:
So what does it all mean? Well, the award is the Cy Young Award-and like it's namesake, winning is the most important criterion historically. It does seem that Sutcliffe is correct in that the voters have been slightly more impressed by a better won-lost differential than win total since 1990, but then again that is a rather small sample.
Since 1990 leading in ERA is becoming more important to the voters, and being a league leader in one of the criteria has impressed the voters more of late. One could still say that they are not extremely sabermetrically minded however. Heck, they might even vote a guy who only tosses 80 innings the NL winner this year.
One last note on Sutcliffe's comments, total innings have been and continue to be a minor criterion for Cy Young voters. I guess I would begrudgingly give him a 1-for-2 on that set of ABs. Though if I were the pitcher in this at-bat analogy, the next pitch might be headed straight for him, though I would never throw at his head-that's his least vulnerable spot.
I guess "Sut" has his finger on the pulse of the award voters more than I do. Perhaps that is the best explanation possible for all of the carping by the fans once the award winners are announced.
G. I. Joe Morgan Chat Day
Friday's Joe Morgan chat was kind of lame: nary a comment to sink one's teeth into. So I present a classic Joe Morgan Chat from the end of last August. It's a retro thing like Britney Spears tonguing Madonna. She must have confused her with her grandmother and things got out of hand.
Yester-Joe-Morgan-Chat-Day All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away
We (and yet another reference to myself in the first person plural) here at Mike's Baseball Rants would like to say that we almost declared a one-week moratorium on Joe Morgan Chat Day because of Joe's excellent article on ESPN today entitled, "Why Strike?" Joe hits just about everything in the article out of the park.
Well, we almost suspended but finally we come-as always-to praise Morgan and Joe Morgan Chat Day not to bury him, er, them. Joe Morgan is to baseball analysts what Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness is to literature. He'll say things like, "I am the self which I will be, in the mode of not being it." Some people will sit there agape, some will coo approval, and some will scratch their heads and, "That makes no sense whatsoever, but it's kind of cool." If you count yourself among this last group, welcome, brother, to the world of Joe Morgan Chat Day (with the added bonus of Joe Morgan Article Day):
Joe Morgan: In 1972, the owners wanted a salary cap, and the players said no. Discussion of a cap was always a deal breaker. When I first came to the big leagues, former MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller always preached that the players did not want a salary cap.
As I've said in the past, to make it happen, the words "salary cap" had to be changed for something to get done. So now "salary cap" has been changed to "luxury tax" because a luxury tax is sort of a salary cap. At least that's what it is meant to be. And the players have agreed to it.
By allowing for a luxury tax and for revenue sharing, players are basically agreeing with the owners that the monetary system needs to change. The players are happy with the status quo, but they realize the status quo may not be good for the game. So they have made concessions on things they fought to gain in the past...
[Mike: Right, Joe. To all those misinformed columnists who claim that Donald Fehr is still trying to emulate Marvin Miller when the world of baseball has changed so dramatically, why is Fehr accepting a salary cap in the form of a luxury tax when Miller never would?]
Joe Morgan: [T]he players... Their slogan could be, "We are not asking for anything." They just want to be treated fairly and to not give up on too much of what they gained from past negotiations...Therefore, it is unfair to blame the players.
[Mike: Still think the players won't compromise?]
Joe Morgan: First, however, the owners need to stop blaming George Steinbrenner for their problems... He has played within the system, one the owners created, which is indicative of where the problems really lie.
[Mike: Take it to the streets, Joe]
Joe Morgan: The players are the game. Without the players, there is no game.
[Mike: You're preaching to the choir, man. Who ever went to a ballgame to see John Moores or Tom Hicks?]
Ben (Boston): Hi Joe. You mention in your most recent piece about the strike that the players are not to be blamed, that they just want to keep what they allready have. My question is how can the players justify making amazing salaries when the rest of the country is cutting way back? Many have lost their entire savings to Enron or Worldcomm, taken pay cuts and even lost jobs. It seems that the ball players of today do not want to have to make the sacrifices that many amaericans have allready had to make due to the economy. I believe, and I could be wrong, that the majority of pro ball players could never make another penny and live out their life in a very lavish style. I certainly dont think it is too much to ask for them to slow down the rapid growth of salaries. I do think the owners also have a responsibilty in this too and hopefully, if they get what they want they can pass off their savings to the fans. I havnt been to a game at Fenway in three years and dont plan on ever going again due to the price of tickets. thanks for your time.
Joe Morgan: First of all, I didn't say the players weren't to blame. I said the players have given a lot. Comparing a ballplayer to an average player is not fair. An average player can work 30 years; a ballplayer's average life span is five years. It's apples and oranges. You can't even compare players to movie stars, who can work longer. I understand, though, your feeling in that they make more than the average fan. In '94, I said both were to blame. If they strike again, both will be to blame again. But the players have given a lot in terms of agreeing to a luxury tax, which is like a salary cap. Unlike what people believe, there are a lot of people who work a long time and make a lot more than ballplayers do in a lifetime. Not every player like Bonds, A-Rod and other players. And as far as Enron and all that, that has nothing to do with baseball.
[Mike: You're on a roll, Joe]
Bob (Woodstock): What does a short career span have to do with anything? Players make so much money they don't need to play forever. Why not compare ball players to the average Joe? Are they that much better than us?
Joe Morgan: If you have a special skill in this country, you are paid for that skill. Whatever it is. Doctors, lawyers -- they are paid more than the average Joe too. Baseball players have a special skill too, but not all make $8 million a year. A lot make the minimum or a little more. You only read about the guys who make a lot of money. In this country, we reward people who have special skills. Will you compare yourself to Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg? Should they be compared to the average Joes as well?
Joe Morgan: Entertainers are paid differently than anyone else in this country. They are paid more than school teachers, which I don't agree with, but it's a fact of life. Baseball players are paid more than I make, and I agree with that. They are paid more than the average person who works 9-to-5, and I agree with that too.
[Mike: Right, it's entertainment but it's also a business. If you don't like it, enjoy some other form of entertainment.]
Bryan (Kentucky): A lot of these people seem to be trying to criticize you and discredit you Joe. But what it seems that they don't realize is that not just anyone can play professional baseball. I am now into the college level of baseball as a pitcher and I see guys trying out for the team who have never played before. Why do so many people take basbeall for granted? Is it because it is so accesible to the public to see? When will they realize that regognizing a fastball that is going 90 miles an hour and THEN trying to hit it is the hardest thing to do in sports physically?
Joe Morgan: Finally, a sane voice in the wilderness. People think baseball is just a game because they tried to play it at one time. It takes a special skill to be a professional athlete. One more time: Baseball players make a lot more than I do, but I'm not mad at them. I don't have the skill to do it anymore.
Joe Morgan: I love what I do, and I'm not complaining because I can't do what someone else does.
[Mike: Joe, we feel your pain.]
John (Hamden, CT): With one week untill the strike, who will be the first party to budge, the Union or the owners?
Joe Morgan: I can't answer because I'm not in the meetings. I think the players have given a lot in admitting the need for a luxury tax, and I think the owners realize that both parties lose if there is a strike. I don't think of it as blinking; I think of it as being more concerned about baseball than their own personal agendas.
[Mike: Right, it's not a game of chicken. It's a negotiation process. I think you're going to make this week, Joe.]
Joe (Peoria): Pardon my ignorance, but if the players have played this long without an agreement, why can't they wait to strike until November and have all off season to work it out?
Joe Morgan: The players reasoning is if they wait until the season is over, the owners can implement their own rules without a contract. The only way the players have power is to strike now, which causes the owners to lose something. If they wait until the end of the season, the owners wouldn't lose anything and wouldn't be obligated to make a deal. The players feel a strike is the only weapon they have in the dispute, to cost the owners money down the stretch.
[Mike: Geez, Joe from Peoria, read the papers one time in maybe the last year before you join the venerable Joe Morgan Chat Day session. Oh, no. I feel that that bit of negativity may have jinxed Joe's roll, like when Linus said, "If the great Pumpkin arrives" and not "when" and the Great Pumpkin didn't arrive. Come on, Joe. You can do it.]
Stack (NYC): Earth to Joe - Baseball IS just a game!!!
Joe Morgan: OK.
[Mike: Uh, what was that? Was that a question? This can't be good. Oh, no!]
Andy (DC) : Joe, do you remember a better race than this years AL West? Who do you think has the best offense out of the three? We all know Oakland's pitching is superior.
Joe Morgan: That's a good question. Neither Seattle's nor Anaheim's offenses are as consistent as last year. If Glaus and Salmon hit like they are capable, the Angels would have more power. Both teams have been inconsistent offensively. The A's offense is inconsistent as well, although they are starting to use more speed at the top with Durham and Ellis. But they don't have a lot of power, other than Chavez and Tejada. It's a great race at this point. There are still a lot of games left. I expect one team to get hot and get up by a few games. I don't know which team it will be. It could be Oakland with its pitching, but Anaheim and Seattle are good teams and will hang in there.
[Mike: Psst. Joe, you didn't answer the question. Besides, Salmon is ninth in the AL in OPS, above MVP favorite Alfonso Soriano. He's really have a great year. Besides the Angels are 8th in OPS and 2nd to last in HRs in the AL because the have a first baseman with 8 HRs, The four position players up the middle (Erstad, Kennedy, Eckstein, and Molina) have not provided much offense (they have 30 HRs among them). But the team is stil first in batting average, for what that's worth. Oh, and the A's are 4th in the AL in home runs, 1 behind the White Sox for third, and they are actually last in the AL by ridiculous comfortable margin in stolen bases. The Mariners are fourth in the AL in batting average and OPS and second in on-base. Also, the three teams are 1 (Oakland, 3 (Anaheim), and 4 (Seattle) in ERA in the AL. It's debatable which is best. But that's Ok, Joe, get back up on that horse. No, that's just a figure of speech, Joe.]
Utek (LA): Certain players have been known for their intensity on the field---Guys like Pete Rose, Jackie Robinson and Ty Cobb. Is there a player today who brings that same burning intensity to win each and every inning?
Joe Morgan: There are a lot of players like that today. A lot of players who played with those three guys played that way. Those three were more outgoing on the field than other players may have appeared. Bob Gibson probably had more intensity on the mound than anyone I know. You are looking at their personality more than their intensity on the field.
[Mike: Psst. Joe, you forgot to answer the question again. Besides, Cobb was probably the most hated man in baseball. The only way in which he was outgoing was when he was going out into the stands to beat up on heckling fans. Bob Gibon is not playing today, but that's OK. If at first yuddah yuddah.]
Jay (Oneonta, NY): I want to comend you on taking the time to answer some very tough questions. I thought your article on nothing to strike for was insightful. If there is not a settlement by Friday can the players overrule Fehr and extend the deadline, or are they committed to August 30?
Joe Morgan: Very good question. They can always overrule Fehr. I don't think they will. Even Fehr can extend the date. Just because you come up with a date, it's not etched in stone. You can always extend the deadline. Like what they did that Monday, saying they wouldn't set one until Friday. I'm sure they will extend the date, but they can.
[Mike: Uh, excuse me, Joe, but Donald Fehr did not set the strike date. The players did. They voted on it. Hey could vote to extend it, but depending on the situation, it might make them look kind of weak. Don't you think? By the way, your last sentence made no sense. Are you OK? Remember you're ahead in points. You want to jab and move.]
Andrew (San Jose): If the Giants make the playoffs is Barry a lock for MVP? and if not?
Joe Morgan: I don't think he is a lock either way. There are a lot of players contributing to their teams' success. Shawn Green gets credit on the Dodgers. Albert Pujols gets credit on the Cardinals. There is Sosa, who is having a great year. Even though I don't like it, Schilling may be as valuable to his team as others are to theirs. I don't usually think a pitcher who pitches every fifth day qualifies as an MVP candidate.
[Mike: What?!? What have you been smoking? Bonds has a 266-point lead on the second-place man, Larry Walker, in OPS (1.339). That breaks down to a 134-point lead in on-base (.566) and an 131-pont lead in slugging (.773). Let's put that in historic perspective: His OPS is the fourth highest all-time-only Babe Ruth (twice) and Bonds last year ever exceeded it. His on-base would be the highest ever beating Ted Williams in 1941 by a good 13 points. His slugging average would be the fourth highest behind only Ruth and himself, again. He's on a pace to break his walk record from last year. He's batting .354. I dare you not to give it to him.
Pujols is 12th in OPS in the NL, Green is 9th, and Sosa is 4th but on a team that has not contented all year (not that that would eliminate him for me, but it would for the voters). ]
Being and Nothingness
Red_ice: Are you seriously comparing doctors to baseball players? Gee, I wonder which one is more important in this country. You don't see doctors going on strike, do you?
Joe Morgan: Yes. I guarantee you every profession has been on strike in this country. All I said was if you had a special skill, you are paid more. I didn't say anything about baseball players and doctors. I talked about their special skills. Read what I say rather than putting words in my mouth.
[Mike: Right, baseball players and doctors have special skills. Uh, I don't think doctors are striking much, Joe. You might want to reconsider that one.]
Tony, Everett (WA): Hi Joe, always love the chats. Alfonso Soriano is having an amazing year, becoming the first 2nd baseman to hit the 30-30 mark. But I can't stand people talking like this is the greatest season ever for a 2nd baseman. He's got a long way to go before he beats Rogers Hornsby's .756 SLG in 1925, or your own .444 OBP with 27 HR and 60 SB in 1976. Heck, I'd probably even call Jeff Kent's 2000 numbers better. What do you think?
Joe Morgan: I agree that this is not the greatest season by a second baseman, but he plays in New York, and that adds to anything you do. But make no mistake, what he is doing is very special. It's awesome, and he could end up with 40-40. Hornsby had some unbelievable years. When the Yankees won 114 games in '98, they were heralded as the greatest ever. But when the Mariners won 116 games last year, they were talked about in the same way. Everything in New York is heightened.
[Mike: Huh? OK, let's piece it back together. Exhibit A: Soriano is having a great year. Exhibit B: Hornsby had some great years. Exhibit C: The Yankees were considered the best team when they won 114, but then when Seattle won 116, they were considered better. But Exhibit D: Everything in NY is heightened. How? What does it have to do with Soriano and a player most people, regrettably, don't remember and who had not played in living memory? Dammit, Sam, I just can't figure it out. I am giving up forensic pathology and am moving in with a neat freak. Bye.]
While I Was Away
My wife had a baby on Friday, so I've been otherwise disposed of late. However, here's a rundown of what I missed:
- The Red Sox outscored the Yanks 22-6 in the Bronx but ended up only taking two of three in the series, thanks to a nicely pitched game by David Wells today. It couldn't have come at a better time for New York: the Sox were just 1.5 back and Wells hadn't won since July 19. The Yankees now have 17 games against the D Rays, O's, and Tigers in their twenty remaining. The Red Sox have nearly an identical schedule except they draw the Indians instead of Detroit (and the Yankees have a makeup game with Toronto). It's going to be hard for Boston to make up ground with that competition.
- Mike Maroth lost 20 games on the season. Stock in Brian Kingman Inc. plummeted worse than Enron post shedding. Maybe this will put an end to the 23-year-old stigma associated with the loss feat. Maroth has been far from a revelation but he is basically a representative pitcher on the awful Tiger staff.
- Drew Henson was no longer a baseball player-- to quote Mel Brooks in The History of the World, Part I when told "The peasants are revolting," he responded, "You're telling me--they stink on ice." Henson's Triple-A career was in retrograde, but suddenly the rumors were quelled by his appearance on the Yankees' September roster. Maybe he just needed to feel loved.
- The Cubs took over in the Central. I think that I may have predicted this. Either that or Joe Morganed (i.e., punted) and picked all three teams to win. Either way, I was right. The Cubs face flailing Montreal and a bunch of stiffs the rest of the way. Houston and St. Louis have two more series and six games together. The Astros draw the Giants at home, and the Cards the D-Backs. The Cubs should have a clear path if they can tread it.
- A radio prankster in Montreal got Bud Selig to admit on the air what basically everyone knew he thought of the Expos chances of staying in Montreal. The funniest part was that MLB could possibly call someone else's actions "reprehensible".
- Speaking of Montreal the once-hot Expos have all but faded from the wild card. The Marlins and Phils quickly showed that there is some difference between them and Montreal in the East by taking 6 of 7 from Les Expos.
- The White Sox and Twins are locked in an steel cage match in the AL Central. Minnesota and Chicago have seven games remaining, starting with a game at the erstwhile Comiskey tomorrow. Minnesota also plays Cleveland and Detroit. Chicago has only playoff contenders the rest of the way: 7 with the Twins, 7 with the Royals (if they count), 3 with Boston and 3 with New York. Kansas City has just the Chicago series and Cleveland and Detroit series remaining. I bet no one from the South Side drew up that schedule.
- The Mariners wnet from a game and one-half up on the Red Sox to 1.5 behind them in a week. That week saw the M's play Tampa Bay and Baltimore and saw Boston play Philadelphia, the White Sox and the Yankees on the road. Is Ichiro still the MVP leader in the AL? The man is batting .248 with a .661 OPS and only 5 stolen bases in the second half of the season. Ouch!
Oops, I Must Have Slud
Daffy Duck: Slide, DiMaggio! Slide!
My friend Murray reminds me that, "The guy who plays for the Mets is Jason Phillips, and he should not be confused with the lousy Giants first base prospect of a few years back."
Here are a few recent emails of interest:
Regarding Joe Morgan's .001 ERA, Ken Zeitung writes:
9000 innings is about 6-7 teams worth. So that .001 ERA is really something! Joe Morgan (as a sports reporter) is truly a national treasure.
Good point with Ryan's 1987 season (league-leading 2.76 ERA, 42% better than the park-adjusted league average, but 8-16). Joe would probably just say that he forgot how to win that year. After all he lost seven games by two or fewer runs. Joe would have just said that he pitched well enough to lose. When he lost 1-0 to Floyd Youmans on July 8, it was his fault that the 'Stros had just one hit off Youmans.
Three times he lost games when he left in the fifth of a close game (losing 1-0, 3-0, and 2-1), he left once after six trailing 2-0, and in the third in a 1-0 game. Of his 12 no decisions that year, all but one would qualify for a "Quality Start" (and that one was 5.1 IP with one earned run). He had three NDs with 0 ERs and at least 7 IP. He had a 9-inning, 1-earned run ND. His ERA in NDs was 1.88! But in Joe's book, he was a loser.
Re. my criticsm of the estimable Lawrence Bowa, Mike Roca writes:
You wrote:So where do the Phillies go from here? It would have been best for them to have parted ways with Bowa before this season. They are underperforming as compared to their expected win total by four games, the lion's share of which is Bowa's responsibility. Some would say that the Phils are lucky to be in the playoff hunt after the offensive dearth in the first half and their pitching debacle in the second half and that they have Bowa to thanks for it.
You asked for it, you got it, Toyota:
Sept 1 vs. Boston: Bowa used three pitchers to get out of the fifth, thinking that he needs to finish the inning with the Phils leading to make the game official before rains prematurely end it. This strategy causes the Phils to go to Jose Mesa and Turk Wendell in the disastrous ninth. The fifth includes an appearance by Dan Plesac, who pitches to and eventually walks two left-handers, Johnny Damon and Todd Walker, to load the bases. First, Damon hits equally well against lefties and righties (.746 vs. 764 OPS). Second, Plesac even though he is left-hander, pitches much better to righties than lefties (.520 with no homers vs. .633 and two homers). He went to Williams to save the lead in the fifth.
Aug. 26 at Montreal: The Phillies lead 10-4 at the start of the seventh. They have men at the corners and no outs with the pitcher Vicente Padilla up. Bowa pinch-hits lefty Tyler Houston for Padilla. The Expos bring in lefty Joey Eischen. Bowa counters with right-handed Jason Michaels, who strikes out and the trailing runner is tagged out going into second. The Phils fail to score, the bullpen collapses, and they lose 14-10.
July 13 at New York: The Phils and Mets are tied in the bottom of the ninth. The Mets have men at the corners with one out. The Phils intentionally walk Jeff Duncan to load the bases, which allows get to J.R. Phillips to win the game with a single to right over a drawn-in infield on a 2-0 fastball. Duncan is batting .196 with a .567 OPS. He was 0-for-4 on the day with two K's. But Duncan is a left-handed hitter, right-handed Terry Adams was pitching, and right-handed J.R. Phillips was on-deck. Never mind that Phillips was 2-for-4 with a RBI on the day already.
Is that enough or do you want more? Look, Bowa is a poor situational tactician but so is Bobby Cox, and Cox is one of the best managers of his era. I don't care a whit of Bowa is unpopular with the players or more fiery than Earl Weaver at his base-flinging best. I don't care if he can't perform a double-switch.
My problem with Bowa is that he has caused unrest in the clubhouse. I agree that most often a manger makes very little difference in a team's outcome. However, when is as caustic as Bowa while making very poor decisions about the team, it's a disastrous combination.
Bowa threw 280 leadoff at-bats to the incredibly overrated Jimmy Rollins and his electric .314 on-base percentage (as a leadoff man). Rollins also has 96 at-bats with a .269 OBP as the #2 hitter. I see this as more of a problem than any one tactical error that he committed.
As far as "underperform[ing] their pygathorian projection" being "luck, not the manager", I think you're wrong. I projected the expected win-loss percentage for all managers who won at least 100 games. I then summed all whose actual wins exceeded expectations and then those whose actual wins were less than expected. Here's what I found:
Group W L PCT W>Exp W 97935 91046 .518 Exp W>W 69396 72006 .491
Good managers tend to exceed expectations. Bad ones tend to fall short of expected win totals. By the way, Bowa falls in the latter category but Billy Martin, another fiery manager had teams that exceeded expectation. So much for fieriness being an issue.
Joe Morgan Chat Labor Day
The happiness of men consists in life. And life is in labor.
Joe Morgan, the baseball analyst, is a lot like being in labor (and I should know because my wife is nine months pregnant). Analyst Joe leads a bloated existence, his ideas are scattershot and scatterbrained, and he retains water. I never said it was a perfect analogy.
What better time to celebrate Joe's analytical pregnancy (as well as to celebrate bad puns) than Labor Day itself. Many's the time that I hear or read one of Joe's comments and the first thing that pops into my mind is "Fecund!" or homophones to that affect. Joe's analyst career was born from one of the best playing careers in recent memory, but like Adam's Cher-like rib removal from which sprang Eve, Joe's analyst life was born of great sorrow.
Joe's thoughts give birth to many prolific ill-conceived myths in the sport: batters are best evaluated by runs and RBIs, pitchers are best assessed by wins alone, baseball was just better in Joe's day, etc. My goal is to be Laurence Olivier in The Boys from Brazil trying to nip the Mini Hitlers (i.e., Joe's malaprop ideas) in the bud before they take root (of course, he should have followed Elvis Costello's advice and let the "Two Little Hitlers" fight it until one little Hitler does the other one's will).
So without further ado, let's get it on but remember to practice safe sabermetrics:
Ryan (PA): Hey Joe, Is there anything you could look forward to in 2004 if you were a Reds fan? Thanks
Yeah, that the season will open on time. I can't give you much more encouragement than that. I wish I could.
[Mike: Wow, it's a pity party for Reds fans. Oh, boo-hoo, we haven't won a World Series in 13 years. The Reds have stunk since letting Davey Johnson supposedly for living with his wife out of wedlock.
Look, the Reds have a lot to look forward to: the return of Ken Griffey, Adam Dunn, and Austin Kearns, the best outfield in baseball, from injuries; the growth of Jose Acevedo and Ryan Wagner; a new (official) manager that has to be better than Bob Boone; an offseason without Jim Bowden's bumblings, etc.]
Jon (CT): Seattle, Oakland, or Boston. Who plays golf in October???
This is what makes baseball such a great sport. Two weeks ago it looked like Seattle was in easy. But things change. Right now the Mariners look to be on the outside looking in. There aren't any great teams anymore. Good teams but not great. Everyone has weaknesses. Anytime those weaknesses show up, you go on a losing streak. That's what we've seen with Oakland and Seattle lately. Boston's offense fell off for awhile but now it's back. Every team's weakness will show up again before the end of the season. Whoever is hot at the end will be in.
[Mike: To quote Billy Ray Valentine in Trading Places, "Thanks, you've been halpful." Let's look at their second-half stats. Oakland is 4th in ERA, Seattle is 14th, and Boston a whopping 26th (4.92) in the second half. Offensively, Boston is 2nd in OPS, Oakland 13th, and Seattle 16th in the second half. I'd say that Oakland has the best shot. Seattle and Boston will battle it out for the wild card. Seattle is steadily average whereas the Sox have huge holes in their staff but have been knocking the leather off the ball all year. I would bet on steadily mediocre, but the Sox could capture lightning in a bottle: get enough pitching and eke out the playoff spot.]
Claudell, NJ : Joe, Is Aaron Boone pressing, is it tough changing leagues mid-season, or a combination?
It's a combination of changing leagues and trying too hard. You go to the Yankees, you want to impress everyone and your new teammates. Sometimes you try too hard. He is a good player and will be OK.
Albuquerque, NM: Are the Dodgers ever going to get any real offense? I mean, even if they should go and get top free agents this off-season...Do you think they're offensive skill will fall when they walk into the Dogers' clubhouse?
I don't think they can get enough this season. But I think they will over the winter. It depends on who will own the team. There will be some good players available and guys will want to play in LA. It's a good place to play.
[Mike: Hmm, companion pieces. First, Boone is not pressing. He just left a hitter's park and his stats are suffering. He'll be OK. He's just not as good as his first half stats purported him to be.
The Dodgers play in a pitcher's park. They like it that way. They have been caught from time to time doctoring the mound to make it even more of a pitcher's park. I think that the Dodgers as a result are the reverse Rockies. Their offense will never be overpowering. It will just be good enough to win. Extreme stadiums seem to affect their hitters in extreme ways. The Rockies home-road splits are always awful (this year they are 27th in Road OPS). The Dodgers suffer in the same way, their home and road OPS are both awful (.658 at home-29th in the majors and .665 on the road, last in the majors). Jeromy Burnitz saw his OPS drop 200 points after joining the Dodgers.
Should the Dodgers go after no-hit, all-field types like Cesar Izturis? It's the same question (or the reverse thereof) that the Rockies have been facing over their tenure in Coors. I guess they should work a few in that are worth it, i.e., play defensive positions already and play them extremely well. Adrain Beltre is a third baseman that gets out-hit by most shortstops. Can they possibly get by with two middle infielders with OPS under .600? Is Dave Roberts .304 slugging average something that they can continue to carry?
For next year, a normal Shawn Green should help immensely. He has 2 home runs in the second half so far. Last year, he had 16. The rest of the team should be up in the air going into next season. As far as help this year, to quote Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca, "It would be a miracle...and the Germans have outlawed miracles". ]
Alvin (Bay Point, CA): Hey Joe....the Giants are cruising in the NL west and are on there way to October baseball once again....Do u think that we are a better team this year than last??...and can we win it all this year??...cuz im concerned about our in-consistant offense...what do u think?
I think they are more versatile than last year. By that I mean they can manufacture runs in more ways and are a better defensive team. I'm not sure their pitching is better but overall they might be a better team. They are certainly a different team. They way they are set up now, and esp. before they got Ponson, you had to question how far they could go. They just didn't have the experience.
[Mike: The Giant staff is fourth in the majors in ERA this year (3.73). They were second last year (3.54). Their team OPS is .751 which ranks 18th in the majors. Last year it was .786, second in the majors and in a pitcher's park. They are also 20th in runs scored (613) and in 2002 they were 11th (783).
So what's the difference this year? They are six games above their expected won-loss percentage. I think the difference is Barry Bonds. He won three games in the last two weeks with walk-off homers (and he hit another game winner tonight in the ninth). I think he just makes them seem like a better team than they may actually be. Meanwhile, Pujols' Cardinals are two games worse than expected. If Bonds is not the MVP, I don't know what is.
Oh, by the way, "before they got Ponson,...They just didn't have the experience": Ponson is 26 and has never appeared in the postseason.
Walter, Mt. Vernon IL: Hey Joe! I love the way you don't take any lip from people in here! Can the Cubs get by on a 4-man rotation or is it too risky for their young pitchers? Who can they(cubs)add to the bullpen, if anybody, at this point?
I think the answer is yes and no. They could get by the last 2 or 3 weeks. I don't think they can do it from this point on, because of the young arms. I've noticed that anytime Kerry Wood pitches 9 innings, he just isn't as good in the next outing. I just don't think they can do it for a long stretch, but they could for the last couple weeks.
I don't take any lip because I do understand fan's frustrations ..
[Mike: Kerry Wood has thrown nine innings twice this year to mixed results the next appearance. On June 18, he went nine allowing one run and the next time he went seven innings and allowed one run. On July 9, he went nine and allowed one run. His next appearance was 10 days later and that was his second nine-inning outing, a shutout. His next appearance (7/24) lasted only five innings and he allowed 8 runs. Last year he had two nine-inning appearances (5/7, a shutout and 5/25, one run allowed). They were followed by a six-inning, three-run affair and one five and one-third with five runs allowed.
Also, Juan Cruz had two effective outings in August and as he is 24, should enter into their plans for the coming year. Therefore, a four-man rotation is not necessary.
Lastly, Joe should "understand fan's frustrations" because he causes a good deal of them.]
Drew-Madison, WI: Hey Joe, great job this season. What are your thoughts on the rebuilding teams this year (Reds, Pirates, Brewers, Mets, Etc) which has the best chance to be competitive in a few years based on thier farm systems and history of making deals to improve?
Hard question to answer. You never know who is willing to take chances next year as far as bringing in new personnel or someone that will make a difference. You never know how minor league guys will perform once they get to the majors. There is no clear cut map as to how to rebuild in today's game. In the past you could always depend on your minor leagues but now I'm not sure there is enough talent down there to rebuild a system. Because of expansion, most teams just don't have enough in their minors to change things around. They have to get help from the outside.
[Mike: I'd say none of the above. How about the Cleveland Indians? They have a decent young club, their minor-league organization is currently ranked first by Baseball Weekly (I don't recognize any other name), and they are in a relatively weak division. Of the teams mentioned the Mets should be giving their prospects a chance to prove themselves (#2 organization). They may also grab a free agent or two in the offseason and they may not be total busts with the inept Steve Phillips now gone. The Brewers organization is ranked 12th, the Pirates 8th, and the Reds 28th. Others worth mentioning: the Rangers (4th org, but in a tough division) and Toronto (5th, ditto).
Eric (Wheeling, WV): Hi Joe! Love chatting with you! I was wondering who on the RedSox is the most crucial for them to make the playoffs this year? A lot of people would say Pedro, Nomar, or Manny. However, I think that Derek Lowe is. What are your thoughts on this?
Well, it depends on how you view the team. You know what you will get from Ramires, Nomar and you know what you'll get with a healthy Pedro. I guess in your terms, if Lowe can pitch like we know he can, he could be the most important piece. All of them are important, if you take Pedro away and add Lowe it doesn't do you any good. Same with the other guys. If all those other guys do their thing, then you will need Lowe to do his part to make it work.
[Mike: Joe's view of the team is multitudinous and variegated. Witness, from last week's AL MVP article:
"Day in and day out, Manny Ramirez is Boston's most important player, but Nomar is the most valuable player. Ramirez makes the Red Sox go offensively, but Nomar contributes excellent shortstop defense as well as a potent bat. "
Why not mention Mueller, Nixon, Kim, Millar, Walker, Ortiz, Wakefield, etc? Look, for a team to succeed, its players must excel. This isn't the NBA where one star can carry a team (well, maybe Bonds can). This is a true team sport. Grady Little apparently doesn't even see the need to have Ramirez, arguably their best player, in the lineup.
Besides who cares about the "most critical" senior superlative tag. I would worry more about the M's.
And here's some advice to Red Sox fans: enjoy the game. There's enough drama in the game itself; you don't have to invent through some ancient curse and its subsequent mythology. That way leads to madness and to more Dan Shaugnessy book sales.]
Dré, Sacramento/CA: What would happen if... A batter is pissed off with the umpire has words and gets close to being ejected. He gets a pitch that he hits for a home run. Before he leaves the batters box, he says something to the umpire to get himself ejected. Does the umpire have to wait until he rounds the bases? If the ump tosses him right there does the run not count? Will a pinch runner have to be sent in to circle the bag?
I'm not exactly sure. I think the umpire would wait until he runs the bases. Once a home run is hit, it counts. You can't take it off the board. They would probably have to send a pinch runner to run the bases.
[Mike: No. From Rule 9.01:
(d) Each umpire has authority to disqualify any player, coach, manager or substitute for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language, and to eject such disqualified person from the playing field. If an umpire disqualifies a player while a play is in progress, the disqualification shall not take effect until no further action is possible in that play.
Jeff, TX: how good does getting Giles make SD next year??
Hard question. It looks like they could lose 100 games if they don't lose well. Giles is a very good productive player. If they can keep the nucleus of the team, they can be good. I don't expect them to win the division next year but they will be a better, more entertaining club.
[Mike: Brian Giles makes the Padres much better. He is clearly the best player on the team and arguably the best in franchise history.
That said, San Diego still has their problems. They have a staff ERA of 4.90. Mark Kotsay and Sean Burroughs have been a disappointment this year. Is Miguel Ojeda the solution at catcher? Can they build a rotation around Peavy, Eaton, and Lawrence?]
randy, conover, nc: Patch work bullpens seem to be dominating the division leaders - Braves, Royals, Yankees, St. Louis just a few. Which teams / bullpens will make it through the Playoffs?
Very good observation. It's a strange phenomenon that's going on now. 2-3 years ago a lot of teams had good bullpens. I'm not sure if they have been overused or used improperly or what. Most teams now do have a bullpen problem. That in itself does not bode well for the playoffs. But since everyone is having the same problem, maybe it's a non issue.
[Mike: Nice copout, Joe. Of course, not "everyone is having the same problem." Two things about postseason bullpens: 1) good ones are usually not as valuable in the postseason (ask the Braves) and 2) given that the team uses only three or four starters, they are deeper in the postseason and don't necessarily reflect the makeup or use of the bullpen during the year.
That said, I would say that looking at each team's overall staff numbers in the second half may be the most informative. Using that criterion, the Royals (5.47 ERA), Red Sox (4.92), Phillies (4.90), Cardinals (4.73), and Yankees (4.70) may have the most to worry about. ]
Kelso, NY: Hi, Joe. Matsui played 120 games per year in Japan, so I'm wondering whether fatigue is a potential issue with him down the stretch?
I'm told by people who have been there that Japanese players are in better shape overall than American players. They work harder all year round. Their training regimen is tougher than American players. He will feel some fatigue but I think he'll get past it. Ichiro was even more of a risk because he was smaller but he made it. I expect Matsui to do the same.
[Mike: Yeah, and you probably believe they make better cars. Hmm, well they do make better cars, but Ichiro has experienced a very large dropoff each year in the second half. Will Matsui? How about a peek at real, live statistics instead of guessing? It's just crazy enough to work!
Here are the numbers per month:
He has dropped off significantly since June but is better now than he was prior to June. His year has been one tremendous month yet far. I am not certain we can determine what expectations should be for him. I guess you could say that he was learning the majors until June and then has been declining due to fatigue since. You can say it; I don't think you can determine if it's true. Give the guy a year or two and then we'll know what to expect from him. However, I would say that the possibilities for another June are slim (you may have noticed that June comes but once a year).]
Utek (LA): With Rafael Palmiero having another quietly productive season with 30+ HRs and 100+ RBIs, it is worth remembering that the Cubs once traded him because they felt he couldn't hit for power. Yet whereas Palmiero learned to hit for power, the man who replaced him, Mark Grace, never did, even though Grace was a very good hitter for many years. My question is, how does one "learn" to hit for power, and if it can be learned, why don't more hitters (like Mark Grace) learn how to do it?
Good question. When he was with the Cubs he hit to the opposite field and it's hard to be a power hitter doing that. He learned to pull the ball more and when to pull it. I'm sure he matured as a hitter and learned which balls to hit for singles and which balls to pull.
[Mike: Three things: 1) Yes, Palmeiro bloomed late but he is one of the greatest late bloomers in baseball history. It's not like everyone can be expected to "learn" to hit for power at the major-league level like Palmeiro did, but it's not rare for a player to develop more power as he matures even in the majors. 2) Two seasons before he was traded he hit 14 homers and slugged .543 in 221 at-bats. He dropped off in 1988 to eight taters but slugged .436 and hit 41 doubles. Grace slugged .403 in 1988. 3) Palmeiro played mostly left for the Cubs and was not replaced by Mark Grace but by Dwight Smith. ]
Evan (Canada): It was a great week to be an Expos fan! It was stunning to see them sweep the Phillies and exciting to see fans starting to come back to Olympic Stadium! It would be even sweeter to see them stick it to Jeffrey Loria's Marlins this weekend! I know there's still a month to go until playoff time, and the whole NL Wild Card race is still a mess, but do you think the Expos have what it takes to get to the playoffs and cause some damage in the postseason?
If you are going to pass out kudos to players for doing a great job and overcoming adversity, Montreal is head and shoulders above everyone. It's a travesty how they have been treated by MLB. A 23-game roadtrip? If Vlad hadn't have been injured and they didn't have that massive roadtrip, they would be first in the wild card. It will be hard to overcome everything they have had thrown at them, but I'm pulling for them. They have shown a lot of charachter as a team.
[Mike: Again file under the "Halpful" rubric. Do the Expos have what it takes? Who knows? They have a .722 OPS which is 24th in the majors. Couple that with a 4.09 ERA, which is 9th, and you do not have one of the strongest teams in baseball. They've just fallen off the wild card pace by four games, which is probably where they should be. Like all baseball fans, I am pulling for them, but they are now seventh in the wild card.]
Kevin Henderson, WASH DC: Hello Mr. Morgan... I grew up in Michigan, thereby making me a lifelong Tigers fan. It is one of the hardest things to do. For over ten years they have been horrible at best. I continue to cheer and hope but I see no change. What is going on with that organization? How can we have no decent farm system, and so many big money, no game players evry single year for over a decade? Is it because Mike Ilitch puts all his money in the Red Wings? Or is it because they haven't had the right people in the front office and in the dugout? Thanks
Without being close to the situation I can't say you don't have the right people in the front office. It's hard to be fair in evaluating an organization.
[Mike: Never did. Never will. This is the worst organization in baseball since the Cleveland Spiders, who were purposefully gutting by owner Frank Robison, who bought the St. Louis Browns (now Cardinals) in an auction and transferred the best Spiders to that club, which he renamed the Perfectos.]
Tim (Ottawa): Hey Joe, considering the travel, injuries and uncertainty, involving the Expos this year, does Frank Robinson have a decent shot at Manager of the Year in the NL? Thanks.
I think he has a shot. It depends on where they will finally finish. If I was voting, you have to look at Bobby Cox, Felipe Alou, Dusty Baker. The Cubs lost 95 games last year! A lot of managers have done a great job and Frank is one of them.
[Mike: Hey Joe, I know he doesn't meet your criteria for a great manager because he wasn't a player when you were, but Jack McKeon took over a 16-22 team and has them contending for a playoff spot. He is 58-42 since taking over.]
Dennis,Portland: Mr. Morgan, you rock by the way...I've become a Pujols fan even though I root for the Yankees. Do you think this kid will eventually post Bonds like numbers by the time he's done?
I think he will have a great career. Barry Bonds like numbers? No. People think you can have a couple good years and be like Bonds but you have to have MANY GREAT years to be like Bonds. The only guy who might have a chance is Alex Rodriguez.
[Mike: Which numbers? Pujols does not have Bonds' baserunning nor defensive skills. Given that, it is difficult to project Pujols as a being a great hitter at 39-one would expect his game to atrophy much earlier because he doesn't have other skills to rely on. He could do it. He has been more dominant in his first three years than Bonds or A-Rod were in their first three. It's just too early to say. One does get concerned when a player is not as well rounded as a Bonds or A-Rod to project that player as one of the best ever.]
Chris, Houston: Hey Joe, do you think Bagwell and Biggio will be the 1st Stros in the HOF? And if you never got traded do you think you could have won any MVP's or made it to the HOF eventhough we had bad teams in the mid 70's? Your still one of are top 5 players ever!
To answer the first question, they definately have a shot. Bagwell a better chance than Biggio. And I doubt I would have made the HOF if I had stayed there. My talents were showcased better on a team like Cincinnati.
[Mike: Actually, Houston has six Hall of Famers: Don Sutton, Eddie Mathews, Joe Morgan, Nellie Fox, Nolan Ryan, and Robin Roberts. I guess he means HoFers who wear Astros/Colt .45s hats. Who cares?
By the way, Joe is being to rough on himself while demonstrating his inability to understand park- and era-specific stats. Morgan never had the kind of years he had with the Reds in Houston but he did register three 130+ park-adjusted OPSs in six full years. That seems Hall-worthy for a second baseman who has yet to turn 27.]
Ron, Boston, MA: Hey Joe, I just wanted to change the tune from MLB to LL for a second. I was watching one of the games last weekend I believe, and I saw one of those little leaguers topping out at around 100 pitches. How do you feel about how little leaguers are managed in big LL games like that?
I can't really address LL. I did college games and the better pitcher was used constantly. Started one day, relieved the next, started two days later. They were overrused. Many think that is what happened to Ben McDonald. Many times pitchers are misused in those types of tournaments.
[Mike: How do I feel about it? To quote John Winger, "I think it sucks."]
Kelso, NYC : Hi Joe. I was at one of the White Sox-Yankees games earlier this week, and some of the White Sox were using aluminum bats during batting practice. How widespread is this, and is just to "put on a show" for the fans?
I don't know what the purpose would be there. I don't think it was to put on a show. It must have been for some reason I just don't know what it would be.
[Mike: Hey, ever since Sammy-gate no one can cork their bats for batting practice especially in Chicago.]
Danny (NYC): Hi Joe, Do you think Jose Reyes is the most exciting position player right now?
I think he is a really good player. He has a lot of energy and a lot of charisma. I still think Ichiro is probably as exciting as you are going to get. Reyes definately has stardom written all over him.
[Mike: Jose Reyes? This guy probably still thinks David West is a prospect.
Reyes may end up being "really good". However, right now he has only 274 at-bats under his belt, has been struck out three times more than he gets walked, gets on base at a .334 clip, and has committed 9 errors in 69 games.
As far as Mr. Excitement, how about Barry Bonds, who has hit ninth-inning homers to win a game four times in the last two weeks? (Actually Jackie Wilson was Mr. Excitement.)]
The Ugly: Knowing less than Butterfly McQueen about birthing no babies
Mark (Bangor, PA): Joe, do you think there needs to be some change in what constitutes a rookie? I know there has been a lot of debate about the Japanese players really being rookies. I think MLB needs to acknowledge the professional service over there to keep ROY award true to rookies.
Originally I agreed with you. I didn't think Ichiro or Matsui deserved the award. But Japanese baseball is not MLB. It's like going from AAA to MLB. The other part of my argument was Jackie Robinson and others who played in the Negro Leagues and were able to be Rookie of the Year. If you have been a professional player you should not be ROY but I'm not saying I'm right. The writers voted for those guys.
[Mike: So Joe is advocating that only players who go directly from college or high school to the majors can be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award? All minor-leaguers are professionals, you know.
"The other part of my argument was Jackie Robinson and others who played in the Negro Leagues"? What other part. He seems to be saying that they should be eligible but then says pro players shouldn't be. It's a bit galling if an African-American who benefited from the players toiling in the Negro Leagues for years saying that those men should not be eligible for the award once they had gained admittance to the majors.
Frankly, I have no problems with the rule. Japanese players are locked in to play in Japan for a number of years. They have to earn their freedom before they can play in the majors. So is Joe saying that they can never be eligible for the award? Does that seem fair?]
Francisco Vicens, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: You stated that wins are most important for determining the Cy Young, yet the only statistic which depends completely on the Pitcher's performance is his ERA, whereas wins depend also on the teams' performance (run support, defensive support, relief pitching, etc.). How could wins serve as the most important statistic over ERA or opposition batting average if the Cy Young is for the best individual performance for a pitcher, not which good pitcher had good luck and a good team to back him up ?
Everything you have said depends on the team. ERA also depends on errors and how good the team plays. If the team makes mental mistakes, the pitcher still pays for it. The game is still wins and losses. The Pirates led the league in ERA in 1989 or around there. The finished last. I guarantee you those pitchers would have rather had wins. You don't send a pitcher out to the mound and say "get a good ERA." You want him to win games. A good ERA might come with wins, but the wins and losses are the most important. If you had a guy with a .001 ERA but never won a game and another guy had a 3.5 ERA and won 25 games, who would you give the award to? Wins and losses is the column that matters most.
[Mike: The granddaddy of them all!
Where to start? ERA does not depend on errors as Joe states. ERA is based on earned runs only. However, a pitcher may lose a game due to errors by his defense. That;s how "the pitcher still pays for it."
My friend Murray points out that it was the 1984 Pirates to which Joe refers. The led the NL with a 3.11 ERA and finished last in the NL East. They were 75-87, which is a decent record for a last place team. According to the Pythagorean formula, they should have been the exact opposite, 87-75. That's a big swing. As a matter of fact it's historically high. Here are the largest swings in baseball history (based on win and expected win differential):
They were 6-12 against the Mets, who seem to be the main beneficiaries of the Pirates negative swing, while outscoring them 58-52.
I can't really completely explain the underperforming. They had a good staff including a pen--four relievers with an ERA at or below 3.02 (though Lee Tunnell's 5.27 ERA and 1-7 may have hurt).
They had an anemic offense. Jason Thompson led them with 17 dingers. They had Bill Madlock and his .297 OPS at third, Dale Berra's .273 OBP at short, Doug Frobel's .271 OBP in right, but perhaps worst of all was Marvell Wynne. They threw 653 at-bats at a leadoff hitter who batted .266, got on base at a .310 clip, had a .647 OPS (82% of average), 42 walks (a career high), and stole 24 bases but was caught 19 times (55%). He set the tone for a team that stole 96 bases while being caught 62 times, were last in the NL in walks, and second to last in OBP (.310).
Their home and away stats: Home: 41-40, 282RS-263RA, Away: 34-47, 333-304. It seems that the road really hurt them.
Looking them over at Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet, they are basically an odd team. I guess that's sort of the point: Morgan had to go back 20 years to find a team that proved his point, and they were an odd one at that.
"A good ERA might come with wins": Right, that's the point. Wins and losses are not entirely dependent upon the pitcher's performance.
Finally, his .001 ERA comment: To achieve such a record, a pitcher would need to pitch 9000 innings and only allow one earned run. If someone could do that in a season, I think we would have to give him the Cy Young even if he was 0-25.]
[Epilogue] I want to make sure people understand why wins and losses are more important .. ERA is like a batting average. You judge a player by how he scores runs, drives in runs, etc. The batting average is just a personal thing. In the case of a pitcher, the only way you can truly judge a pitchers is his wins and losses. Take Gagne as an example. He may have 60 saves this year. Would you give him the award for his ERA or for how many games he has won? I've talked to pitchers over and over and they all think innings pitched and wins are how the award should be judged. I feel the same way.
[Mike: "ERA is like a batting average... The batting average is just a personal thing." Q.E.D., by Modus Ponens, ERA is a personal thing, right? Compare and contrast that to, "Everything you have said (re. ERA) depends on the team. ERA also depends on errors and how good the team plays." So ERA is a team thing. "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?"
Now, "Take Gagne as an example. He may have 60 saves this year. Would you give him the award for his ERA or for how many games he has won?" Well, neither. But of the two ERA is tremendously more important. With today's post-modern closers, wins represent blow leads that the closer is allowed to regain. Rarely do closers come in in a tie or losing situation. Therefore, a win, if anything, is a negative for a closer. At least ERA represents something the pitcher did.
"I've talked to pitchers over and over and they all think innings pitched and wins are how the award should be judged. I feel the same way." So Gagne should be disqualified because he has pitched very few innings (70.2) and won even less (2).]
The Yankees re-signed 38-year-old Luis Sojo after almost two seasons in retirement. Sojo last played in 2001 and batted just .165 in 79 at-bats.
Also, Drew Henson appears ready to call his baseball career a bust and move on to football. The Yankees could sign Phil Mickelson to fill the two-sport, non-baseball star role. (What's Deion Sanders up to?)
The Phils hosted the Red Sox today at the Vet, their final meeting there the Phillies e-newsletter proclaimed. Yeah, and their meetings have such a rich and illustrious history. It was a wild one that the Sox ended up winning, 13-9, on a Trot Nixon grand slam.
Ah, a classic Phils-Red Sox one-game series in September, it's just another reason to hate interleague baseball. The game had been originally scheduled for June 20, but had to be postponed because of the deluge that was early summer this year. My first reaction when I saw the weather in the Northeast today was that the game would have to be called again. That left the lovely prospect of a the game having to be replayed after the season since the Phils have no more empty non-travel days this year. Take the scenario that the Phils end up one-half game ahead of, say, the Expos and Marlins and the Red Sox end the season one-half game behind the M's. The game would have to be replayed on the day after the season, and any potential playoff games would have to be played the next day. What a mess!
Anyway, that fiasco did not materialize as they got the game in. However, the game itself may have been as big a mess in the end. Both bullpens imploded, the Phils' pen should be awarded the Monty Python nit of the year award having been able to commit suicide at a more productive rate. The Phils held a 6-5 lead after six after Mike Williams defused a bases-loaded, non-out situation to hold the lead. The bases were loaded because of Larry Bowa's insistence on bring in Dan Plesac to pitch to two lefties in the fifth and of course, Plesac walked them both. With Williams efforts, the Phils pen actually was unscored upon for their first two innings. But it wouldn't last long as Cormier, Mesa, and Wendell allowed eight runs in three innings. The Phils also allowed 14 walks on the day (including 7 by starter Brett Myers).
The Phils actually held a 9-7 lead in the ninth. But then-closer Jose Mesa walked off the leadoff man in the ninth, allowed a single, threw a wild pitch, intentionally walked Garciaparra, and then allowed an infield single to Leo Merloni, really. Tomas Perez attempted to barehand Merloni's weak chopper down the third baseline and go home, but could come up with the ball. I couldn't understand why Perez was concerned with the run with a 2-run lead. If he hadn't rushed the play, he would could have gotten Merloni at first for the second out.
As it was, Wendell relieved Mesa and promptly walked Kevin Millar-san for the tying run. Then came Nixon's upper-deck slam to seal the win on a 1-0 hanging slider. Earlier in the game, Nixon had been hit on the wrist by a pitch that looked to be about middle of the plate and high. That's how far he was hanging over the plate.
The Red Sox pen had its troubles in the eighth, allowing three and coughing up a 7-6 lead. But with one out and men at the corners, Byung-Hyun Kim came in to double up Pat Burrell to end the threat. The Phils went meekly in the ninth against the Kim.
The loss puts the Phils one game behind Florida for the mild card. Boston gained a game on the Yankees who were clobbered by the Blue Jays in Toronto, 8-1. They also picked up a half game on idle Seattle in the AL wild card and now trail by one game.
The Red Sox at least do not have the travails of the Phils. First, manager Larry Bowa excoriated the team on Thursday after the Phils started a road trip 1-9 and falling into a virtual tie for the wild card with practically the entire National League. They went on to sweep the Mets, so all, one would assume, would be right in their world.
Well, no, Pat Burrell hit a home run on Friday and failed to shake Bowa's hand. Spot third baseman Tyler Houston was then released the next day, he says, for backing Burrell up and as an example to the rest of the team. Whatever the reason, it's an odd move to do in a playoff run when your competition is expanding its roster. He gave an interview over the weekend that was published yesterday and it goes a little something like this:
"I've read that the team is winning because of Bo's meeting," Houston said. "It's not winning because of Bo's meeting, it's winning because of the players' meeting.
Houston has been given surprisingly little playing time even though starting third baseman David Bell has been out much of the year, but he has also done little with the playing time that he got (.722 OPS in only 97 at-bats, though Houston was out for about two months with a broken finger).
Bowa responded with "He's a loser. You can put loser in the paper with his picture," and "All I've got to say about him was seven teams in seven years. And that's the last thing I'm going to say on the matter." But of course it wasn't. He defended himself in his own particular idiom, "I haven't thrown one thing in the dugout this year." Sounds great, Greg (to quote Bobby Brady). To be truthful, Houston has played on five teams, not seven, in seven years and he played almost three full seasons each for the Cubs and Brewers. The Dodgers and Indians, his other two clubs besides the Phils, added him for late season playoff-run depth. Bowa even messed up the old "look up X in the dictionary and you'll see his/her picture" joke (where X is some derogatory trait).
"I was dumbfounded," Houston responded (not about the awkward joke by Bowa). "They never even called me into the office, never talked about it, none of that. All it was was covering this up about me not being happy with my role. This is the way they want to say it went down because they can't run their own clubhouse."
Ed Wade on the Phillies website repeated the club mantra, "He was a divisive influence in the clubhouse, and I told him this might be an indication why he's on a different team every year." Bowa responded with "Na nana na na."
Bowa was called the worst manager in baseball by a recent players' poll in Sports Illustrated. Besides anyone who pays even passing attention to the team can readily tell that Bowa's main contribution to the team is the mass consumption of sunflower seeds. Though Bowa's presence did not frighten off potential free agents as Houston warned, he did have some impact on Scott Rolen's decision not to re-sign with the Phillies, which led to last year's clubhouse rhetoric and Rolen's eventual departure. So Bowa is not exactly a people person.
But we all knew this. The real decisions are made by coaches John Vukovich and Joe Kerrigan. However, even the redoubtable Kerrigan, the best pitching coach this side of Leo Mazzone, is getting caught up in the furor. He is becoming extremely frustrated with his young pitchers not sticking to the established game plan during their losing streak.
So where do the Phillies go from here? It would have been best for them to have parted ways with Bowa before this season. They are underperforming as compared to their expected win total by four games, the lion's share of which is Bowa's responsibility. Some would say that the Phils are lucky to be in the playoff hunt after the offensive dearth in the first half and their pitching debacle in the second half and that they have Bowa to thanks for it.
I guess the manager's job is to a large degree based on perception. And perception is what the Phils are trafficking in as they prepare to move to a new stadium in 2004. This season was supposed to be the one in which they upsurge for next season began. The Phils signed some big name free agents after years of inaction in the market. They finally spent money like the large-market team that they are. But it was not a newfound altruism towards the fans that caused the Phils' brass spending spree even while most teams were cutting payroll. The Phils expected to get to the playoffs, either by bumping off the then-tottering Braves or via the wild card route, making this season an ad for the big payoff next year.
Somehow, they allowed the mercurial Bowa to be a part of that plan because as an ex-player he is a fan favorite, which shows you that even with all their spending their baseball acumen had not changed appreciably. If the Phils had jettisoned Bowa during the first go-round with Rolen, perhaps their biggest hole-Phils' third basemen are second to last in the majors in OPS as a group-that was created first by the ineffectiveness of and then by the injury to David Bell would never have been opened in the first place. Some would say that the Phils used moneys earmarked for Rolen to sign Jim Thome, but given that their wallets had been opened less frequently than Jack Benny's ("Well!"), they could have scraped together deals for both.
Anyway, whatever you think of Bowa, you have to admit that his clubhouse has been a house of cards at best for the last two seasons. Even if Houston is a troublemaker, his comments about Bowa are clearly not far from the mark.
What happens to Bowa again depends largely on perception. If the Phils win a playof spot, the season is validated. If they lose after expectations (and the payoffs for next season) were so high, the owners will look for blame. If those of talk radio ilk blame Bowa, it will be time for the Phillies to part ways with the manager. If the Conlin-ites absolve Bowa, then so too will the brass. They will create as much positive publicity as possible in the offseason through free agent signings and/or trades and hope for the best. Unfortunately, there probably will not be another Jim Thome signing or Kevin Millwood trade to buoy the locales.
Maybe the best-case scenario for all involved is for the Phils to make the playoffs and then part ways with Bowa in the postseason excitement that would ensue. However, that would make too much sense so expect more bandaids-on-a-compound-fracture moves like the acquisition of third-string catcher Kelly Stinnett (who by the way is on his fourth team in seven years) over the wekend.
This is my site with my opinions, but I hope that, like Irish Spring, you like it, too.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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