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They Say It's Your Birth-Joe-Morgan-Chat-Day-Happy
2002-09-21 02:29
by Mike Carminati

They Say It's Your Birth-Joe-Morgan-Chat-Day-Happy Birth-Joe-Morgan-Chat-Day To You

Yesterday was Joe Morgan's 59th birthday-Can that be true? Tomorrow is the 39th anniversary of his debut with the Houston Colt .45's. But most importantly: today is Joe Morgan Chat Day or JMCD as we call it here at Mike's Baseball Rants or MBR, not to be confused with MGD or TGIF or ESPN or LMAOROTFPIMP (which of course every emailer knows is "Laughed my ass off, rolling on the floor, peeing in my pants"-oh, it's great fun having our own little language like those idiot savant twins in that story).

Here at MBR we love JMCD. Joe obviously studied under the great philosopher Ludwig Weittgenstein. How do I know? Well, first Wittgenstein batted lefty. Second, Ludwig was always spouting off on his little theories in chunk just about the size of a chat session response that definitely were seminal in Joe's baseball analyst development. Witness: "For a large class of cases--though not for all--in which we employ the word "meaning" it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language." Sound like Joe? Of course, there are exceptions:

"the word "is" is used with two different meanings (as the copula and as the sign of equality)" but that its meaning is not its use. That is to say, "is" has not one complex use (including both "Water is clear" and "Water is H2O") and therefore one complex meaning, but two quite distinct uses and meanings. It is an accident that the same word has these two uses. It is not an accident that we use the word "car" to refer to both Fords and Hondas. But what is accidental and what is essential to a concept depends on us, on how we use it.

That's Joe all over. We have rules that we will spew about except when we don't, cause we don't. That's why we love him so. Happy Birthday, Joe!

Of course, the Wittgenstein/baseball parallels run even deeper. He had a Brown Book and a Blue Book. Baseball has a Blue Book as well and if you mix the NL Green Book and the AL Red Book together, you get brown. Then there's Jason Robards' character in Max Dugan Returns who calls himself Wittgenstein to hide his identity from his grandson, played by a teen-aged Mathew Broderick. Robards then hires Charlie Lau (really) to teach the weak-hitting Broderick to hit, and Broderick then, to the surprise of everyone who has never seen a movie, hits the game-winning homer in his high school baseball game. As he rounds the bases, a jubilant Broderick declared, "That one's for you, Wittgenstein!" Of course, the grandfather's dead by this point (sorry) and Broderick knows his real identity, so it's kind of pointless, but it was the '80s, the era of John Hughes, and that's what you did.

Now on to the chat:

The Good

Theo (Cincinnati): Why can't the Tigers pull it together? What are they lacking and what positives do they have to build on?

Joe Morgan: They are lacking talent. They have some young players to build on .. Pena and some pitchers. Other than that, they just don't enough talent.

[Mike: Don't sugarcoat it, Joe. Tell us how you really feel.]

Mike, New Brunswick, NJ: How dangerous do you feel the Twins really are in a short 5 game series? It seems as if they are being looked over and might upset either Oakland or Anaheim who will be focusing on getting past the Yanks.

Joe Morgan: It's pretty much the same answer as before.. when you are in a short series, anyone can get hot and anyone can win. When you get a group of good teams together, it's just a matter of who gets hot.

[Mike: Right.]

Alex (Somerville, MA): I know the Mets season is lost. However, is it possible we could still have the nucleus for a good team next year, especially if we get help with the starting pitching? Piazza, Alomar, Burnitz, Vaughn, and Cedeno all seemingly had off-years at the same time. Is it merely an impossible hope that at least some of them will return to form next year and make a playoff run?

Joe Morgan: That's true .. you can't blame the pitching though. They didn't get much run support. All those guys have to bounce back for them to have a good year. Some of them have good track records, but I'm not sure about all of them bouncing back. And I'm not sure Vaughn will be the Vaughn he was before.

[Mike: Hey, why is someone from Slummervile a Met's fan? Anyway, Joe's right, the Mets lineup has let down an acceptable, if not great, pitching staff. They are ninth currently in ERA in the majors. The bullpen is 10th in Adjusted Runs Prevented with 26.7 (Baseball Prospectus). The Support Neutral Value Added stat for the starter is -3.5, which is 19th in the majors, but everything else is at least better than average. They are 23rd in runs scored, 26th in OPS. And according to BP are outperforming expectations by 26 runs.

Suraj (Tokyo): Your article on Cy Young awards today states that the award has nothing to do with the pennant race, but rather to do with individual stats, then you suggest Zito over Pedro or Lowe because of his contribution to the A's playoff chances. I agree that Zito has been more valuable than the two Sox, but has he truly been better? If Pedro and Lowe played for the Angels, whom would you choose?

Joe Morgan: First, you need to read the article again. I said there is not as much importance placed on a team's success as in the MVP award. I never said it has nothing to do with it. I explain everything you just asked about. Zito has the edge over those two guys. Read it again .. slowly.

[Mike: Ouch! The man's right. Joe's correct about what he says in the article (not that I agree with it necessarily), but is this our usual cordial Joe? It seems that Evil Joe has made an appearance again. If you don't believe me, read again... slowly.]

The Bad

Jake (WV): Hey Joe, What do you think about Bobby Cox getting his 1800th win as a manager. The win put him 400 games above .500 for his career as a manager. AMAZIN!

Joe Morgan: The amazing thing is I don't think he has ever won Manager of the Year! He is always overlooked but I think he might get it this year.

[Mike: Bobby Cox won the award in 1985 with Toronto (the last year in which one award was given out in the majors) and in 1991, 1993, and 1999 with Atlanta. As a matter of fact, he has won it more times (4) than any other person, and the award dates back to 1936. Sorry, Joe.]

James (NC): Joe, Why are the Red Sox so bad? They have the talent to be as good as the Yankees (if you ask me, but I'm asking you)

Joe Morgan: That's a difficult question to answer in a short time. A lot has to do with the makeup of the Yankees and Torre and his staff.

[Mike: How about talent and injuries? This team has had no legitimate first baseman for a good part of the year (Clark and Offerman?). They never had a decent second baseman (Sanchez and Merloni?) They spent most of the year with two-fifths of a rotation (though Fossum and Wakefield have done well in the second half as the team unraveled). Ramirez and Pedro lost some time to injuries.

Tim (Chicago): After a very disappointing year, how do you think the Red Sox will finish next year?

Rob Neyer: Not like I want to make anybody in the Bronx mad at me, but I think the Red Sox are going to win next year. The Yankees have some real problems with their rotation, Jeter seems to be sliding, and the Red Sox have an owner who's taking steps to bring the organization into the 21st century.

[Mike: Yes, a special cameo appearance. This is one of the most unfortunate things that I've read from Neyer. He has really gotten way into John Henry. Great, he plays APBA, but he still needs a pitching staff. They have a question mark at each spot in the rotation: Can Pedro be healthy for an entire season? Is Lowe for real? Is Fossum a reliable major-league starter? Is Wakefield even a starter and if so can he keep it up? Do I have a fifth starter on my roster? They have no second-baseman, Hillebrand and Nixon may've had fluke years, Damon had a bad second-half, do they keep Cliff Floyd, etc. The Yankees are not perfect, but they can fill every hole, and they can get someone else if they cannot do it internally. Besides, it's September of the previous season. How do you even know who will be on the team come April? Let alone what obstacles (they're always there in Boston) they will face.]

Craig (Washington DC): Dont want to take up to much of your time. One question, real easy: Giants or Dodgers?

Joe Morgan: The Giants because the Dodgers starting pitching is what has got them this far and they are injured right now.

[Mike: I'm sick of his saying this. Why are the Dodgers worse off than the Angels-they both in essence lost one starter. Kevin Brown came off the DL, started one game, and was done. And yet he'll say that the Angels rotation is a plus when Mickey Calloway's in it. By the way, Joe. I don't want to take up too much of your valuable. Pardon me while I read the preamble to the Constitution before asking my inane, banal question.]

Jim Thome (Cleveland): What should I do now?

Joe Morgan: I don't have enough facts ... can't answer that!

[Mike: It's nice that Jim Thome told us his home is Cleveland. Of course, he was in KC today, But that wouldn;t have gone well with the gag. ]

This One's For You, Wittgenstein!

Tom (Troy, NY): What's the status of the Expos? Will they stay or will they go now?

Joe Morgan: I'm not sure what will happen.. I know they wont go to D.C. this year. I have heard talk about playing somewhere temporarily but I see them staying in Montreal for another year.

[Mike: How does Joe know this? The commissioner's office has ruled nothing out. The RFK authority has said that they can get the stadium ready even if they are given the go-ahead as late as mid-February. Oh, this is one of those Wittgensteinian semantic things. When Joe says "know" he means he heard some guy say it on SportCenter. Same thing. By the way, I tend to agree with him though-how scary is that?]

John St Louis: How are you Joe, i'm a big fan of yours my question is how well do you think the cardinals will fair in the playoffs. we all know they can play defense and score runs, but do they have the starting pitching and bullpen to match up with a team like the d'backs or braves. thanks for the time

Joe Morgan: Everyone thought they would love to the Dbacks last year and they did but it was 5 tough games. They can produce runs it will just depend on how healthy their pitching is. Anytime you get to the playoffs, you have a chance to win it all, you just have to get some breaks.

[Mike: Everyone thought they'd do what to the Dbacks last year? I bet it was 5 tough games with all of those pressures on you. You don't know if the other team even likes you. Your skin keeps breaking out. And you can't find a dress for the prom. Besides what if the Dbacks don't ask you anyway? Can you go solo or maybe ask that nice, fat team in Triple-A to go along with you as a friend. Decision. Decision. Pay me lawyer's salary.]

The rest of the ugliness is devoted to Joe's Cy Young column:

Joe Morgan: A team's placement in the standings is more important in the MVP voting than it is in the Cy Young voting. The Cy Young is more of an individual award than one tied to team performance.

[Mike: Why? Is there some sort of definition that makes the awards different? Why isn't most valuable just the best player? It used to be before pundits like you changed the connotation to mean best player on a playoff team that is hot in September. Then, you'll turn around and tell us that the ones in April mean just as much when the Angels lose the division because of their 6-14 start.]

Joe Morgan: Statistically, wins mean the most to me. After victories, I look at innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts -- in that order. While wins are the most important, I will use the other three statistics in a tiebreaker situation between two pitchers.

[Mike: I start with Turn-Ons and then move on to quality starts. Look, no one statistic will tell you everything about a player. There are important ones like wins. Yes, you don't want to give the Cy Young to a starting pitcher with only 9 wins, but does a 22-game winner really mean that much more to you than a 20-game winner? Besides that's how a Lamarrrrrr Hoyt ends up with the award. Innings are important, but it's basically a threshold to ensure that he didn't miss to many starts or get bailed out continually by his bullpen. ERA is by far the most important conventional stat for a starting pitcher. It measures how many (earned) runs the pitcher allowed. Runs are how we score the games. He can scoff at WHIPs and strikeout-to-walk ratios, but ERA?]

Joe Morgan: If a pitcher has a low ERA and consistently loses low-scoring games, like 2-1 or 3-2, it means the opposing pitchers are outpitching him. That is not a criticism; the pitcher may be pitching great. But he is pitching well enough to lose, not to win.

[Mike: It just gets worse. OK, let's look at this logically. When a manager is arranging his rotation, he tries to get favorable pairings if possible, right? His number one on the opposition's number one, #2 on #2, etc. if he can to minimize his exposure. So if your #1 loses to theirs 2-1, can you possibly be upset with him? He gave your team an opportunity to win-that's all he can do. If you look at it this way, every pitcher will get outpitched over the course of the season. Would you rather have him be outpitched 3-2 or 12-4? If he is outpitched consistently as Joe says he will not even be considered. Is Lowe outpitched consistently and that's why Ziti has two more wins than him? Besides with today's rotations a pitcher may leave in the sixth or seventh even in a close, well-pitched game. Can that pitcher be held responsible for a bullpen who cannot hold a lead or keep a game close?]

Joe Morgan: Everything in baseball is about production, not percentages. I view pitching statistics in the context of a hitter. ERA and batting average are percentages that don't help a team win. However, wins and innings pitched are productive numbers for a pitcher just as RBIs and runs scored are for a hitter.

[Mike: Just plain wrong. ERA measures runs qualified by the "earned" label. Preventing runs helps a team win. Batting average measures hits per at-bat which is not directly associated with runs. So it therefore has no direct connection to winning. Just because they are both percentages doesn't mean they do the same thing. Return on Investment and percent of orders fulfilled may be two metrics that a company looks at, but the former will tell them a whole lot more about its own strengths.]

Joe Morgan: There have been worthy exceptions among closers. When Mike Marshall (1974), Sparky Lyle (1977), Bruce Sutter (1979), Rollie Fingers (1981) and Willie Hernandez (1984) won Cy Young awards, all three pitched a lot of innings and sometimes closed games having to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Without a single start, Marshall pitched 208 1/3 innings in 1974, more than all but 14 pitchers that season.

[Mike: If you judge candidates by wins how do you view these five relievers as positive when they won a total of 49 games among them. That's less than 10 wins per season. Well, we'll let you off the hook on that one.

But were these pitchers the best in the leagues for their Cy Young year. For that we will use the best tool that I know of, Bill James' Win Shares. Marshall had 21 Win Shares in '74 (second among the Dodgers pitchers) and trailed Phil Niekro by 7 WS. Lyle had 20 WS in '77, 9 behind league leader Jim Palmer. Sutter had 22 WS in '79, 2 behind league-leader Niekro (again). Fingers had 17, 1 behind Steve McCatty (curse you, Billy Martin). Hernandez had 24, 1 behind Dave Steib. OK, most of those were decent choices (not Lyle or Marshall), but none were the best.

Why is that? Because the closer was a new concept. No one knew how to evaluate them. They were cool. Fingers had a funny mustache. Hrabosky psyched himself up. They were flaky. They had a lot of personality. The press liked them and gave them a lot of coverage. But their jobs had just really started to evolve.

Marshall was 15-12 with 208-1/3 innings in 106 appearances. He was basically a long reliever at the end of the game. The role evolved into a shorter stint and the other four individuals won a Cy Young. They had fewer saves but pitched more innings that today. Today, a closer does not usually pitch more than one inning and pitches less frequently-mostly in save situations. But that is just how the role evolved. The role from Marshall's day is now covered by the bulk of the bullpen. The rest of the Cy Young-winning relievers had the role of setup and closer for the most part.

Should players be penalized because the game has evolved? Well, yes, because their role is less important. The Cy Young is based on merit and opportunity. By being a closer or short reliever, your role limits your opportunity. And though your inning is more important than the starter's, say, third inning, it's not that much more important. Jesse Orosco can face every lefthander, one per game, that the Dodgers face, strike each out, and never approach the worth of Eric Milton. Early on the closer was a novelty and therefore drew more attention. Now, the pendulum has gone back the other way. Will it ever change back? Possibly, if the demands of the game outweigh the money that closers get paid. But don't bet on it.]

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