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Cotton-Eyed Joe
2005-09-19 09:14
by Mike Carminati

There was only so much of the Phils' Sunday Night Baseball drubbing last night that I could take because of a) having to suffer through the drubbing itself—in stark contrast the other Philly team playing that day, the Eagles, devastated the 49ers 42-3—and b) suffering the even harder to take Joe Morgan analysis.

In the bit that I could stomach, Lil Joe offered his analysis of one of the many Phils' pitchers on the night (six in total), Alquilino Lopez, offhandedly and dismissively said that Lopez had at least allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, which is rare today.

First, this is a pitcher who was appearing n just his eleventh game this year (tenth with the Phils), but he did throw 72 with the Jays two seasons ago. So Joe should have some awareness of Lopez. Do your homework, Joe.

Second, Lopez' problem has never been in giving up too many hits. It's been giving up too many walks, 34 in 72 innings in 2003 and 13 in 21 innings last year. So far this year he's allowed just five against 19 Ks in 15.1 innings He has registered no stint in his short major-league career in which he has allowed more than one hit per inning pitched.

So clearly, Joe didn't know anything about the pitcher and was just trying to get in a jab or two against the pesky players of today (and their dog, too!). You know, pitchers today re lazy and give up way too many hits, not like in Joe's days.

Now. I agree that pitchers today are less likely to give up more than a hit per inning than the pitchers of Joe's days, given that he played through the greatest pitcher's era in baseball history. However, is the trend a building toward the overall ineptitude of all pitchers today or more a slight upward spike in a cyclic trend?

I thought a quickie study might shed some light on the subject though I already have my own opinion. I ran the numbers for all pitching stints of at least 25 innings and counted the years in which pitchers allowed fewer than a hit per inning and ones in which they allowed a hit per inning or more. I summed it by decade. Here's what I found:

Decade<1 h/ip>=1h/ip%

Yes, the likelihood of a given pitcher allowing a hit or more per inning pitched has been increasing steadily since the Sixties. But aside from the myriad changes that have occurred in the last forty years (the designated hitter, the ascent of relief pitcher, many rounds of expansion, the internationalization of the game, a number of new hitter's ballparks, etc.), have pitchers become fundamentally different?

Look at how dramatically things changed as the deadball era changed into the era of Ruth. What we are seeing over the last forty years is nowhere near as dramatic, as rapid or as large, as in that era. Yes, the 2000s are higher than the overall average but just slightly.

Also, clearly given the sweeping changes in percentages over time, Joe's implication that today's pitchers are less worthwhile because of this slight trend is laughable. It's pitcher's era myopia plain and simple. Or textbook good ol' "Things were better in my day"-ism at its best. Thanks Joe for making an example, among other things, of yourself.

The thing that scares me is that prior to the game Mighty Joe picked the Phils and Astros—oddly, his two former teams— over the Marlins to win the wildcard (Thanks to Murray for the link). That's a sure kiss of death.

"Florida can't score runs," Joe said before witnessing the Marlinsfourteen-run onslaught. Yes, the Phils' offense is sixth in runs scored in the majors while the Marlins are 15th and the 'Stros 24th. But aside from mentioning that Joe has always lauded the Marlins for their allegedly smallball approach, the Astros and Marlins have better pitching staffs. Houston is second in the majors in team ERA. The Marlins are jut one spot (14) ahead of the Phils (15), but .11 separates their ERAs. And Houston and Florida are in the top seven in the majors in starters ERA while the Phils are 14th.

But like Tony Montana, Joe has an answer to that, too:

"The game has changed so much,. Everybody used to talk about pitching, pitching, pitching, but now I'd rather have decent pitching and good hitting than good pitching and no hitting, which is kind of like Houston."

"The teams that are kind of surging right now are the teams that can score runs. The Phillies are surging, the Red Sox and Yankees are surging. Pitching without offense is like offense without pitching. I think the Phillies have a very good chance."

I'll Neyer this and simple say that balance is preferable always and forever. Given that, That favors the Marlins, whose bullpen has been killing them. The Phils rotation could dry up and whither away at any point and their offense is too closely tied to the many vicissitudes of putative leadoff man, Jimmy Rollns.

And then there's the easy Astros schedule (11 of 13 vs. the Pirates and Cubs). Well, Joe doesn't believe in schedules, I guess:

"Every game there's pressure for Houston to win, just like there's pressure for the Phillies," he said. "Now the Astros may not be playing the same teams that the Phillies are playing, but if you're a wild card team you're supposed to beat those teams anyway."

Ah, Bach! And then to top himself, Joe offers this contradictory bit of wisdom, "[The Nationals leading 5-0] can't close San Diego out? You don't deserve it. San Diego's not as good as all the teams in the NL East." Well, maybe, but are the Cubs and Pirates as good as the Braves and Nats?

Fight on, little soldier.

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