This Date in History
Lou Gehrig, in 1932, was the first player to go deep four times in a game in the 20th century. Mays, Gehrig, Ed Delahanty, Chuck Klein, and Mike Schmidt are the only Hall of Famers to accomplish this feat. Among active players, Mike Cameron, Carlos Delgado, and Shawn Green have gone yard four times in a contest.
Here is how Maloney fared from 1963-1969:
IP H R ER BB SO W-L ERA ERA+ 1963 250.3 183 84 77 88 265 23-7 2.77 121 1964 216.0 175 72 65 83 214 15-10 2.71 133 1965 255.3 189 77 72 110 244 20-9 2.54 148 1966 224.7 174 75 70 90 216 16-8 2.80 139 1967 196.3 181 76 71 72 153 15-11 3.25 115 1968 207.0 183 100 83 80 181 16-10 3.61 88 1969 178.7 135 64 55 86 102 12-5 2.77 136
Maloney was 134-84 (.615) with a 3.19 ERA for his career, which ended prematurely in 1971 due to a damaged Achilles tendon and a shoulder injury. He ranked in the top seven in ERA from 1964-1966 and in the top nine in ERA+ from 1963-1966. The fireballer once struck out eight consecutive Milwaukee Braves--including Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews--and he also fanned 18 Mets in an 11-inning game in 1965.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Maloney's most similar pitchers by age include Roger Clemens (26), Steve Carlton (27), Koufax (28 and 29), and Bob Gibson (31). In my opinion, the most comparable pitcher today is Kerry Wood.
I received the following email from Repoz of Clutch Hits fame Thursday evening:
Overheard on the YES Network Yankee game tonight (not verbatim)...
Repoz adds that the exchange "ended with Kay coming back from a break and stating that Weaver goes to Long Beach State and thanking one of the guys in the booth for the info".
I'm going to pull a Mike Carminati here and evaluate that little chit chat. Let's take 'em one at a time.
Yeah, maybe your wife and mother-in-law don't know, Michael, but that doesn't mean the rest of us are in the dark, too. It must be nice to have such inside information at your disposal. Gee whiz! Thanks for sharing.
Yep, and I believe Mike Mussina pitches for the Mets or the Phillies. And to think Kay gets paid for such wisdom. My oh my!
Gosh, I bet it's one of those four schools, guys. It's just so doggone confusing. Weaver has been compared to Mark Prior, who went to USC. And Jered's brother Jeff went to Fresno State. And hasn't Fullerton State been Long Beach's biggest nemesis? I mean, how does one keep all of this information straight?
Catch Him If You Can
Mike Piazza hit his 351st home run as a catcher Tuesday night ironically against the Los Angeles Dodgers--the team that originally signed him--at Dodger Stadium. Piazza's homer tied Carlton Fisk for the most ever by a catcher.
The 35-year-old superstar has now gone deep 362 times in his career (177 with the Dodgers and 185 with the Mets), passing Joe DiMaggio for 58th on the all-time list. Should Piazza reach the 400 mark in 2005, he will most likely rank 41st in HR--behind the 36 players who currently have that many plus four more active sluggers (Jim Thome, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez) who are also within striking distance of that level.
TOP HR-HITTING CATCHERS OF ALL TIME
1 Mike Piazza 351 1 Carlton Fisk 351 3 Johnny Bench 327 4 Yogi Berra 306 5 Lance Parrish 299
Remarkably, Piazza, who was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988 by Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers as a favor to his father Vince, tied Fisk in HR playing 832 fewer games than the Hall of Famer (1,394 for Mike and 2,226 for Carlton). Another way of looking at it is to say that Piazza has played only five games behind the plate for Fisk's eight.
Recognizing that Fisk played in an era of fewer home runs, it would only be fair to compare the two catchers versus their league averages. (For this purpose, I have used their total career HR rather than those accumulated while catching.)
HOME RUNS RELATIVE TO THE LEAGUE
RATE PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Gabby Hartnett 249 236 95 2 Johnny Bench 235 389 166 3 Mike Piazza 229 362 158 4 Ernie Lombardi 222 190 86 5 Yogi Berra 208 358 172 6 Gene Tenace 207 201 97 7 Bill Dickey 194 202 104 8 Mickey Tettleton 186 245 132 9 Gary Carter 185 324 175 10 Lance Parrish 181 324 179 11 Walker Cooper 181 173 96 12 Carlton Fisk 179 376 210As shown, the unanimous National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 ranks third behind Gabby Hartnett and Johnny Bench in terms of home runs hit as a ratio of the league average. Fisk ranks 12th.
After Piazza hits his next four bagger, an argument could still be made that Hartnett or Bench hit home runs at a greater clip than Piazza but there will no longer be one made on behalf of Fisk. (Josh Gibson undoubtedly is the most prolific HR-hitting catcher in baseball history, but this comparative study is based on statistics while playing in the major leagues only.)
OK, Piazza is arguably the top HR-slugging catcher in the history of the majors. But is the Norristown, Pennsylvania native the best catcher ever? Questionable defense and all, I think one can make a case that he is. However, I believe defense is an important component when it comes to judging catchers so I am not comfortable annointing the 10-time All-Star as unequivocally the best ever. Nonetheless, I believe it is safe to say that he is the best-hitting catcher in major-league history.
The following two rate tables are based on career averages for catchers with a minimum of 1,000 games through 2003.
ON BASE PLUS SLUGGING (OPS)
RATE PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Mike Piazza 124 .959 .770 2 Mickey Cochrane 116 .897 .776 3 Johnny Bench 115 .826 .716 4 Gabby Hartnett 114 .858 .754 4 Roy Campanella 114 .860 .753 6 Ernie Lombardi 112 .818 .727 7 Bill Dickey 112 .868 .773 8 Ted Simmons 112 .808 .720 9 Yogi Berra 112 .832 .742 10 Carlton Fisk 111 .799 .718
Piazza (.319/.387/.571) has the highest OPS in absolute terms and relative to the league average by a fairly wide margin.
To Piazza's credit, he is number one in OPS despite playing in two home ballparks that are among the toughest on hitters in all of baseball. He has a significant advantage over his peers in OPS adjusted for park effects.
OPS+ 1 Mike Piazza 153 2 Mickey Cochrane 128 3 Bill Dickey 127 4 Johnny Bench 126 5 Gabby Hartnett 126 6 Yogi Berra 125 7 Ernie Lombardi 125 8 Roy Campanella 124 9 Ted Simmons 118 10 Carlton Fisk 117
Piazza, who was traded by the Dodgers to the Florida Marlins in a salary dispute in May 1998 and then to the New York Mets a week later, also ranks number one in Runs Created Above Average and Runs Created Above Position with his closest pursuers in generally the same order. (For the purposes of the following two counting stat lists, I used the career totals of players who appeared in more games as a catcher than any other position.)
RUNS CREATED ABOVE AVERAGE
RCAA 1 Mike Piazza 433 2 Bill Dickey 339 3 Yogi Berra 312 4 Mickey Cochrane 303 5 Gabby Hartnett 254 6 Johnny Bench 247 7 Ted Simmons 217 8 Carlton Fisk 216 9 Gene Tenace 160 10 Joe Torre 159
RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION
RCAP 1 Mike Piazza 528 2 Bill Dickey 473 3 Yogi Berra 430 4 Mickey Cochrane 425 5 Gabby Hartnett 364 6 Carlton Fisk 360 7 Johnny Bench 347 8 Ted Simmons 321 9 Gary Carter 251 10 Wally Schang 249
Using the top dozen catchers as rated by Bill James in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (elevating Ivan Rodriguez, listed at #13, over Bill Freehan at #12), I thought it would be informative to see how they stack up in Win Shares, WS per 100 games, and number of seasons with 30 or more WS. The beauty of Win Shares is that it also accounts for defensive contributions whereas all of the previous rankings were based solely on offensive value.
WS WS/100 >30 1 Yogi Berra 375 17.7 4 2 Carlton Fisk 368 14.7 3 3 Johnny Bench 356 16.5 4 4 Gary Carter 337 14.7 4 5 Gabby Hartnett 325 16.3 0 6 Joe Torre 315 14.3 1 6 Ted Simmons 315 12.8 1 8 Bill Dickey 314 17.6 1 9 Mike Piazza 285 19.5 4 10 Mickey Cochrane 275 18.6 2 11 Ivan Rodriguez 240 14.8 0 12 Roy Campanella 207 17.0 2
As detailed, Yogi Berra has the most Win Shares (375), Piazza tops the group in Win Shares per 100 games (19.5), and Berra, Bench, Gary Carter, and Piazza tie for the most seasons with at least 30 Win Shares (4 each).
Berra is the only one who ranks in the top five by all three measures. Fisk, Bench, Carter, and Piazza rank in the top five in two of the three. Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, and Rodriguez are the catchers in the above list who do not place in the top five in any of the three categories.
MVP T10 GG 1 Yogi Berra 3 7 0 1 Roy Campanella 3 4 N/A 3 Johnny Bench 2 5 10 3 Mickey Cochrane 2 6 N/A 5 Gabby Hartnett 1 4 N/A 5 Ivan Rodriguez 1 3 10 5 Joe Torre 1 2 1 8 Mike Piazza 0 7 0 8 Bill Dickey 0 5 N/A 8 Carlton Fisk 0 4 1 8 Gary Carter 0 4 3 8 Ted Simmons 0 3 0
Berra and Roy Campanella, forever linked in baseball history as the catchers of the rival Yankees and Dodgers during the late 1940s to late 1950s, each won three MVPs--twice in the same year. Bench and Mickey Cochrane picked up two MVP Awards each, while Hartnett, Rodriguez, and Torre won one each (the latter as a third baseman). Piazza finished second in the MVP balloting in back-to-back seasons in 1996 and 1997.
Berra and Piazza placed among the top ten in the MVP voting the most times (7). Bench and Rodriguez earned the most Gold Gloves (10). It should be noted for fairness that the first Gold Gloves weren't awarded until 1957, eliminating the possibilities for Cochrane, Dickey, and Hartnett and effectively doing the same for Campanella while reducing Berra's opportunities. James claims that Harnett deserved eight Gold Gloves by the Win Shares method, "ranking him among the greatest defensive catchers in the history of baseball".
After a comprehensive review, I am at peace with the idea that Piazza is the best-hitting catcher ever. As far as the game's best overall backstop, I would be inclined to place Piazza in my top three along with Berra and Bench.
Interestingly, of the top twelve, there is representation from every decade going back to the 1920s (Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Hartnett) through the 2000s (Piazza and Rodriguez). Simmons and Torre are clearly inferior to the other ten catchers and would rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in my book.
Although Piazza is no longer the player he once was, he still deserves to be included in any discussion as to who is the greatest catcher in major-league history. With A-Rod now at third base, an argument as to the best ever at a position among active players could only be made on behalf of Piazza and Barry Bonds. Elite company indeed.
Hello and welcome to the new Wait ‘Til Next Year. What used to be a daily blog has been insufficient of late, with posts that come sparingly, and just not the type of work that All-Baseball deserves. So, at the suggestion of reader Tom DeCola, I have decided to join the Lederer ranks and write weekly articles. My commitment to the Hardball Times, as well as a busy schedule on the side, has left me to think this is the best option.
In these weekly articles, I hope to encompass everything that I do well as a writer. I’ve never wanted this to be a traditional website, and that will not change now. The things you’ll see on a weekly basis:
- First of all, thoughts and updates on the minor leagues. This is the single most uncovered area of on-line ‘blogs’
And that’s it. These articles will appear on Mondays, so check back each week, and please, leave your comments below. Enjoy the first ever edition of Wait ‘Til Next Year Weekly...
So I turn on Sunday Night Baseball yesterday, excited to see a former Cub try and extend his scoreless streak. Dontrelle pitched well, starting a little shakily but getting hotter as the night went on. Much to my chagrin, another former Cub, Hee Seop Choi, was on the bench for the start of the game. Choi was traded to the Marlins for Derrek Lee, a deal I was very excited for when it happened. Many Cub fans were disappointed, seeing the potential that Choi had, but I knew that Lee’s present day value outweighed Choi’s future value.
And then the season began, and I was getting made fun of right and left. Why? Well, because by April 15, Choi’s ninth game as a Marlin, he had already hit 5 home runs. Lee’s power still hasn’t piqued, as he currently sits at two home runs. I still remain optimistic about the trade, but in a fit of panic, had to consult the SBE to predict exactly what Choi might become.
After looking into sub-25 players with very bad seasons, I ran across three players. Jason Thompson, the most fitting example, was a big left-handed first basemen with Detroit in the mid-70s. After a .218/.328/.376 rookie season, Thomspon bounced back to hit 31 homers his next year, good for a .487SLG. Thompson played eleven seasons in total, and would manage to hit more than 200 homers for his career. Despite being opposite than Choi in build, Mo Vaughn is a decent example. In 1992, Boston gave the first basemen 355AB, and he produced for a .234/.326/.400 line. The next year Vaughn exploded, hitting .297/.390/.525, including 29 home runs. Finally, Andre Thornton split the 1976 season between Chicago and Montreal with a sub-.700 OPS, and an average below the Mendoza line. Thornton would hit 28 jacks the next year, improving his slugging from .373 to .527.
There is a pattern here. After very poor seasons, all three of these players saw massive improvements in their slugging percentage, and hit between 28 and 31 home runs. None of the bunch lasted long, including Thompson, who was out of baseball before turning 32. I look for Choi to follow a similar trend: about 30 home runs this year, and around that number for the better part of eight to ten seasons. Then look for a big decline in batting average and power late in his career, finishing at about the age of 35. The media might make the Lee-Choi trade look bad for years to come, but Hendry was completely defensible in the move, no matter where the Cubs finish in 2004.
OK, let’s venture into the minors, where the top 3 ranked teams enjoyed very nice weeks. No matter how you rank it, the Angels, Dodgers and Brewers should have been the top ranked organizations this offseason. Los Angeles was ranked highly mainly for their pitching, in which they boasted Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, and Joel Hanrahan. But since then, Jackson didn’t make the Dodgers and has struggled in AAA so far, Miller has gone under the knife, and Hanrahan is rumored to be the player to be named later in the Milton Bradley trade. But, the organization is still faring well, but this time with a different trio of arms: Andrew Brown, Chad Billingsley, and Chuck Tiffany.
Brown has been the best thus far, striking out an amazing thirty-six batters in a little over nineteen innings, while walking only five in the Southern League. Brown, along with Colorado Rockie right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, have easily been the best two pitching prospects so far. Billingsley, a controversial choice in the first round last season, is making the Dodgers look very good with a 1.69ERA in his first sixteen innings. Tiffany has only started twice in the South Atlantic League, striking out eleven in his first eight innings. All three look very promising, and only adds more depth to a great Dodgers minor league pitching staff. A little ironic that Paul DePodesta’s organization has the most high school arms in the Majors?
Anaheim is seen as the opposite of Los Angeles, as they are high-ranked mainly due to their hitting. At catcher they have Jeff Mathis, who is hitting .333 in AA. Casey Kotchman had a huge week, and is hitting .350 with seven extra-base hits in sixty at-bats. Alberto Callaspo, a surprise choice for the AA roster, is struggling a bit, as he doesn’t have an extra-base hit yet. His possible future double-play partner, Erick Aybar, is doing well in high-A. And Dallas McPherson continues to give the Angels a reason not to re-sign Troy Glaus. The one negative aspect of the past week for the Angels was Bobby Jenks, who last his last start due to elbow pain, uh-oh.
Milwaukee is considered a very stacked organization, and the Major League team should begin to feel the fruits of their labor very soon. Ben Hendrickson has began the year very well in the International League, and I look for him to break the rotation in Miller Park very soon. Corey Hart has done very well, and if Ben Grieve struggles, should land the right field spot at some point. J.J. Hardy is struggling big time, but double play partner of the future Rickie Weeks has reemerged from his slump in AA. Finally, it’s Dave Krynzel, who is blocked by Scott Podsednik, is dominating the International League, giving the Brewers a little trade bait come July.
Speaking of International League center fielders, Krynzel isn’t the only prospect in that terrain. Indians top prospect Grady Sizemore, the White Sox’ Jeremy Reed, and Toronto’s Alexis Rios are all in the same league. Of that bunch only Sizemore isn’t doing well, as he just topped the Mendoza line this week. Both Reed and Rios are above .350, and both should be fighting for Major League spots soon.
Though Sizemore isn’t doing well, it’s a former Indians top prospect, Corey Smith, that has started off the season well. Smith has caught fire in the last week, and has hit five home runs in fifty-four at-bats this season. The third basemen is hitting .333, and also has five doubles to make a slugging percentage of .704. Another former hot corner prospect, Tony Blanco, is also off to a powerful start for the Cincinnati Reds. Blanco, part of the Scott Williamson deal, is hitting only .226, but leads the Carolina League with six home runs in 53AB.
Finally, I want to turn our attention to last year’s draft, in which many players are doing well. Both Kyle Sleeth and Tim Stauffer had their best starts of the year this week, looking to justify top-five selections for the Tigers and Padres. Vince Sinisi and Conor Jackson, two college sluggers, are both off to hot starts in the California League, and both have moved to the outfield from their original positions. John Danks is doing his best Scott Kazmir impression in the Midwest League, striking out more than twenty hitters in just over eleven innings. And post-first round players Omar Quintanilla (Athletics) and Xavier Paul (Dodgers) also started to warm up this week. I’ll chart this draft as the year goes on, so keep reading.
With that being said, let’s talk about this year’s draft. The talk now seems to be that Justin Verlander is the second best prospect overall, meaning the Tigers could take the right-hander with the second choice. I see this as a large mistake, looking at Stephen Drew, who hit his tenth homer this week, as the second best player in this draft. Drew is a refined hitter with great plate discipline, handles the shortstop position well, and could advance through the system quickly. Verlander is as raw as a college arm gets, boasting big strikeout numbers as his only draw. In fact, I can see arguments for Wade Townsend and Phillip Humber before Verlander as well. But this likely won’t happen, and you’ll see both Verlander and Jeff Niemann be chosen before his other two Rice teammates.
Finally, I want to turn your attention to a recent Chris Kahrl chat at Baseball Prospectus, highlighting this question particularly:
This only reminds me of an odd 2B situation around the Major Leagues, in which the Whtie Sox and Cardinals both have unidentified problems. Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Boston could all be cited as places that have 2B issues, but I do see help on the way. Baltimore will look to deal either Hairston or Roberts at some point this year, and Milwaukee would be stupid to hang onto Junior Spivey. Russ Adams will allow J.P. Riccardi to deal his least favorite Jay, Orlando Hudson, and the Phillies might unload Chase Utley in a trade. Finally, the top player might be Jose Vidro, who the Expos could unload if they are in a bad spot at the All-Star Break. I can already see the lines forming for Vidro, particularly a battle between DePodesta and Theo Epstein.
That’s all for this week, mainly because with a six-game winning streak, I have no bitching about the Cubs. Take care, and thanks to both Lee Sinins and Kevin Goldstein for their daily work, without which there would be no Wait ‘Til Next Year. I leave you with a list of leaders, the leaders of innings pitched given an ERA of 0.00...
1. Rodrigo Lopez- 12.2IP
Jered Weaver won his 12th game of the season without a loss as the fifth-ranked Long Beach State 49ers (27-9) beat the #31-ranked Cal Poly Mustangs (33-14-1), 11-5. The Big West Conference battle attracted a record 3,274 fans at Baggett Stadium in San Luis Opisbo, surpassing the opening night crowd in 2001 against Stanford.
Mr. Friday Night struck out 14 batters (the ninth time he has had 10 or more Ks in a game this year) in seven innings. Although Weaver gave up three runs in the first inning, two were unearned. He ended up allowing seven hits, one walk, five runs but only two earned. (Box Score)
SAT MORN UPDATE: Thanks to Repoz, you can also read an account of the game from the Santa Maria Times--an article that includes a few quotes from Weaver.
Weavering Through The Web
Those of you who are blog readers know this already, but Rich Lederer of All-Baseball.com has been following Weaver's amazing exploits all season on his blog, Rich's Baseball Beat. Lederer has attended and reported on a bunch of Weaver's starts and his recaps of the games and stories of the scouts sitting near him are must-reads.
Aaron specifically mentions the article I wrote last month comparing Weaver to Mark Prior as well as my coverage of Jered's one-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece vs. UCLA at Petco Park in March when I spoke to the Padres' scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton about the phenom after the game.
Gleeman also makes an observation that Weaver's combined sophomore and junior seasons are virtually identical to Pedro Martinez's stats in 2000--a year that some have dubbed the greatest single-season pitching performance ever.
IP ERA SO BB H Pedro 2000 217.0 1.74 284 32 128 Weaver 03-04 214.0 1.60 262 31 127
Unlike a lot of writers, Gleeman does his homework. That's why you'll be reading his articles for years to come.
All Aboard the Dream Weaver Train
Jered Weaver is the subject of a feature article in USA TODAY.
Writer David Leon Moore compares Weaver to Mark Prior as I did last month in Richard's Prior.
His stats are astounding, similar to what another big right-hander, Mark Prior, did at Southern California in his junior season in 2001, when he was 15-1 with a 1.69 ERA. That June, Prior was picked No. 2 overall by the Chicago Cubs; last year, he was 18-6 for the Cubs and finished third in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
Moore points out that Weaver pitched his latest gem (a complete-game shutout last Friday night against UC Irvine, beating another undefeated pitcher and pro prospect--righthander Brett Smith--in the process) under the watchful eyes of high-powered baseball agent Scott Boras and Padres scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton. Boras is expected to be Weaver's agent and the Padres have the number one pick in the upcoming draft.
Small Sample Size Surprise Stars
If I wanted to extend the alliteration in the title, I could have added the word skeptical as that would describe my general feeling about the players discussed below in my Sunday Special (there I go again).
If nothing else, it's sure fun to speculate when it comes to these suddenly special springtime stars.
Ho Hum...Weaver Throws Another Gem
Jered Weaver pitched a four-hit, complete-game shutout as the #5-ranked Long Beach State 49ers (24-9) beat the #7-ranked UC Irvine Anteaters (23-8-1), 3-0, on Friday evening at Blair Field in Long Beach. Weaver (11-0) struck out 12 and did not allow a walk in outdueling UCI's Brett Smith, who was also undefeated going into the game.
The All-American threw 107 pitches (77 strikes and 30 balls) while facing only 30 batters. In addition to his dozen Ks, Weaver induced seven outs through the air, seven on the ground, and one via a caught stealing. The junior righthander has struck out ten or more batters in eight of his 11 starts this season.
Weaver and Smith pitched a scoreless game for six innings before the 49ers scored the decisive run in the bottom of the seventh, the first Smith (6-1) had allowed in the past 31 innings. Jered's victory was his first ever against UCI, a team that had roughed him up to the tune of a 8.64 ERA in his previous two outings against them. (Box Score)
Weaver's Line vs. UCI:
IP H R ER BB K 9 4 0 0 0 12
With the win over UC Irvine, Weaver now has six wins over top-30 opponents. The Pride of the Beach previously had beaten Cal, USC, Baylor, Arizona, and Wichita State. Opponents are hitting .146 against him.
IP H R ER BB K ERA W-L 80.2 40 9 9 11 118 1.00 11-0
Weaver, who has already been named the National Pitcher of the Week a record five times (2/9, 2/16, 3/8, 3/15, 3/29), is in a good position to earn his sixth weekly award. He is also a leading candidate for The Roger Clemens Award honoring the outstanding pitcher in college baseball, Baseball America's College Player Of The Year, and the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award.
Last year's Golden Spikes Award winner was Rickie Weeks of Southern University. Other past winners of this prestigious award include current major major leaguers Mark Prior ('01), Jason Jennings ('00), Pat Burrell ('98), J.D. Drew ('97), Travis Lee ('96), Mark Kotsay ('95), Jason Varitek ('94), Darren Dreifort ('93), Phil Nevin ('92) and Robin Ventura ('88). Former major leaguers that have captured the award include Alex Fernandez ('90), Ben McDonald ('89), Jim Abbott ('87), Will Clark ('85), Dave Magadan ('83), Terry Francona ('80), Tim Wallach ('79), and Bob Horner ('78).
IP H R ER BB K ERA W-L 306.2 207 90 83 63 336 2.44 33-8
Weaver's latest victory tied ex-Dirtbag pitcher Andy Croghan's school mark for career wins with 33. Before the season is out, Jered could also pass Croghan in innings pitched (356 2/3) and Rocky Biddle in strikeouts (361). Weaver is on pace to become the single-season leader in innings (currently held by Steve Trachsel with 148 2/3), strikeouts (144 by Scott Rivette and Weaver in '03), and wins (17 by Daniel Choi).
Everything and Nothing
The Hardball Times crashed on Tuesday, and as I write this, isn't back up yet. We have some great tech guys fixing the problem, and it looks like everything will be restored fine. It's the early stages of what has been an amazing project, and I hope we don't lose any readers as a result.
Also, let me say congrats to the Cub Reporter for a Business Week mention, and for Mike's Rants being mentioned in a MSN Slate article recently. It's great to see my boys here at All-Baseball getting some pub, it really humbles me and reminds me of the kind of talent that we have here. And seriously, someone give Alex Belth a job in writing...please...
So the Cubs won today, an easy 8-3 victory over the Pirates. Matt Clement pitched well, and I have to credit Dusty for taking him out after crossing the 100-pitch mark. Farnsworth is having some early season issues, but I won't worry about him come the summer months. With a warm arm, Farnsworth is consistently at 100 mph, which makes his slider all the more deadly.
Lord, Aramis Ramirez is currently the best Cubs hitter. Sure, he's hitting only .294, but he's smoked five doubles already, and his two home runs yesterday were really uplifting. I really expected Derrek Lee to step up early as the top Cub hitter, but he hasn't. And just as I expected, all the Cubs cynics are pointing to some Korean first basemen on the Marlins that hit his fourth homer yesterday.
Speaking of the Marlins, Miguel Cabrera currently leads the Majors with six home runs. I really was backing up Miguel in a debate we had before the season at All-Baseball, but I didn't think his success would come this fast. If he can keep this up all season, some of my insane comps might actually fit.
Unlike many Cub fans, I don't hate the White Sox. Much of my family supports the South side, and I went to more games at Comiskey than at Wrigley growing up. Don't get me wrong, I'm a diehard Cubs fan, I just don't root against the Sox in all of their 162 games, only six of them. But still, I'm constantly badgered by Sox fans who love pointing out their team. The Sox are hitting at an insane rate right now, and once that regresses to normal, their true colors will show. And unlike Farnsworth, I can't say Billy Koch has the brightest of futures.
So to branch away from Major League Baseball, I've been thinking about the draft lately. Rich Lederer has helped me to believe that Jered Weaver is a lock for the top spot, although places like Baseball America will try to make it into a controversey. I also believe that Detroit would be stupid to take anyone but Stephen Drew, the best hitter in college baseball. Drew has great power and patience at shortstop, and is a safer choice than anyone else.
So that brings us to the Mets. New York likes to make flashy selections, someone they can flaunt, and someone that will demand a very hefty bonus. Before Jeff Niemann's troubles, it appeared Drew would drop to here, but with Niemann out of my top five, Jim Duquette has a touch choice. He could go with a couple high school pitchers, likely Nick Adenhart from New England, he could go with someone from the Rice trio, or he could go with Justin Verlander. BA has tried to tout Verlander all season, and right now, I expect him to be the third selection in this year's draft.
Now, I want to talk about the future of this blog. I have not written a lot here, both because I'm doing hard work for THT and on the side, and because there aren't a ton of topics for me to discuss. What kind of stuff do you readers like to get from here? What can I do that will bring you back? In order to make this a better site, I need some advice here and now...
Notes from a disgruntled Cubs fan
I guess despite my favorite pitcher tossing an eleven strikeout game today, I wasn't happy with how the weekend went. Maybe I'm still upset with how the Cincinnati series went, but the Cubs really should have swept this series.
Sergio Mitre was not my choice to make the fifth slot in the rotation, but he pitched one helluva game on Saturday. He only throws two pitches, a big breaking pitch and a bigger sinking fastball. Steve Stone was noting that by showing his breaking ball early, hitters were biting for his sinking fastball, causing an exorbitant amount of groundballs. Great game Sergio, you definitely earned another start.
But flip to the top half of the seventh inning, when the Cubs are winning 2-1. Paul Bako leads off, and like Bako, grounds out to the shortstop. Up comes Sergio Mitre, with about 80 pitches under his belt for the night. I said to my friend watching the game with me, "This early in the year, you take out the rookie after six innings." I know the bullpen is worn down from the night before, but you don't take your chances here. Mitre gets out, but retires the Braves in order in the seventh, making me look like a moron.
And then comes the eighth. Mitre quickly retires the first two hitters, but up comes the Braves' hardest out, Marcus Giles. I was a fan of Giles years ago, but I damn near love the guy today. He works counts well, and he is by far a more difficult out than Chipper Jones, J.D. Drew or Andruw. After a Giles single, Dusty Baker brings in Andy Pratt to face Chipper and Drew. Andy Pratt? You mean the same Pratt that had allowed two walks in two-thirds of an inning the night before? Please no. Let it be Farnsworth (later the goat), Hawkins, or Kent Mercker. But not Andy Pratt.
Well, we lost. Between this and being shut out by Paul Wilson, it's been a frustrating season. Six games is a little early to be frustrated with your manager, but I'm quickly tiring of Dusty. Derrek Lee is quickly becoming my favorite Cubs position player, but why is he batting sixth? While Baker is getting better with the pitch counts, managing relievers and lineups is essential to his job. Yikes.
The next thirteen games are against Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti and the Mets. I have high expectations, and by that, I mean at least 9-4. It's time for this team to start flexing their muscle, and proving that unlike the San Francisco Giants with Jason Schmidt, one injury will not ruin this team.
To make matters worse, I've been reading/seeing the crosstown White Sox do well. Magglio Ordonez is on an insane hot streak, and the Sox are slowly convincing me they are good enough to win this division. I like that Ozzie stuck with Jon Garland through eight innings the other night, but they are a little short on starters. Arnie Munoz had a great start for them in AA the other night, so maybe they'll have a midseason replacement for Schoenweis.
And in the Yankees game Sunday, I was treated to the sight of Bubba Crosby, the only Yankee I currently like. Bubba had a great play in center running into the wall, and then stayed back long enough on a Danny Wright knuckle-curve to hit it to deep right-center. Crosby reminds me a lot of Reed Johnson in Toronto, and if given the chance, would likely produce similar numbers. But timing is everything in baseball, and in the long run, I look for Crosby to turn into more of a fourth outfield type.
Didn't get to see much of PETCO, but it looked nice. I'm waiting to get the full run-down by Hardball Times contributor Vinay Kumar. And a few notes from the weekend that I thought I'd throw at Rich Lederer: is that Victor Zambrano 3-0 and Andy Pettite on the DL?
Rockin' and Rolen
After the first week of the 2004 season, Scott Rolen is leading the major leagues in home runs (4), runs (7), and RBI (13). Is this the year Rolen has an MVP-type year and finally gets his due?
Scott Bruce Rolen, who graduated from Jasper (Ind.) High School in 1993, won the state's "Mr. Baseball" honor given to the top high school player. Although Scott received several basketball scholarship offers from Oklahoma State and Georgia (among others), he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after being drafted in the second round of the 1993 amateur draft.
Rolen progressed through the Philly farm system at a fast pace before emerging as the National League Rookie of the Year in 1997. However, Rolen never quite lived up to being "the next Mike Schmidt" and was traded in July 2002 from the Phillies along with Doug Nickle and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith. That's right--Polanco, Timlin, and Smith. And don't forget the money that the Phillies threw into the deal to even things out.
Although Rolen has never batted .300 or hit more than 31 HR in a season, he has produced at a consistently high level over the first seven-plus years of his career.
Season Averages Per 162 Games:
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG 598 103 169 41 4 30 109 13 5 81 131 .282 .374 .510
Rolen's adjusted on-base plus slugging average (OPS+) has averaged 128, and it has ranged from 121 to 139 every season. The five-time Gold Glove winner has also averaged 25 Win Shares per year and already has a total of 176 for his career.
The righthanded-hitting Rolen, who has yet to lead the league in any hitting category or play in a World Series, hasn't performed under the limelight in Philadelphia and St. Louis. Nonetheless, the 6'4", 240-pound Rolen has been a productive hitter, an excellent third baseman, and a good baserunner.
Rolen, who turned 29 years old last week, may, in fact, be one of the top ten third basemen in baseball history through age 28.
ON BASE PLUS SLUGGING AVERAGE
OPS 1 Eddie Mathews .933 2 Chipper Jones .931 3 Wade Boggs .898 4 Scott Rolen .884 5 John McGraw .883 6 Mike Schmidt .874 7 Harlond Clift .872 8 George Brett .863 9 Denny Lyons .862 10 Troy Glaus .849
That's not a bad threesome ahead of Scott. Two of the best third basemen in history and perhaps the best of the previous ten years.
Let's take a look at how Rolen compares to his peers in OPS vs. the league average so as not to slight players from eras with less favorable hitting conditions:
OPS RELATIVE TO THE LEAGUE
RATE PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Home Run Baker 126 .845 .673 2 Eddie Mathews 124 .933 .752 3 Wade Boggs 123 .898 .731 4 Denny Lyons 122 .862 .704 5 Mike Schmidt 121 .874 .720 6 George Brett 121 .863 .713 7 Chipper Jones 120 .931 .775 8 John McGraw 118 .883 .746 9 Bob Horner 118 .847 .719 10 Ron Santo 118 .841 .716 17 Scott Rolen 114 .884 .775
Rolen slips to 17th under this method but is not far behind many legends of the game. Hmmm...seeing Bob Horner's name on that list reminds me that it's probably time to unload those rookie cards I still own.
Rolen ranks 10th in runs created and 14th in runs created vs. the league average (see below).
RC 1 Eddie Mathews 1088 2 John McGraw 1063 3 Denny Lyons 930 4 Harlond Clift 894 5 Ron Santo 879 T6 Freddy Lindstrom 839 T6 Billy Nash 839 8 George Brett 786 9 Eddie Yost 774 10 Scott Rolen 759
RUNS CREATED RELATIVE TO THE LEAGUE
RATE PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Wade Boggs 177 572 323 2 John McGraw 171 1063 622 3 Eddie Mathews 164 1088 665 4 Home Run Baker 159 651 409 5 George Brett 157 786 500 6 Mike Schmidt 151 629 417 7 Chipper Jones 151 756 502 8 Denny Lyons 150 930 619 9 Darrell Evans 141 450 320 10 Ron Santo 139 879 632 14 Scott Rolen 133 759 571
Rolen ranks 8th in runs created per game and 14th in runs created/game relative to the league average.
RC/G 1 John McGraw 11.00 2 Denny Lyons 9.77 3 Wade Boggs 8.04 4 Eddie Mathews 8.01 5 Chipper Jones 7.91 6 Harlond Clift 7.29 7 Billy Nash 7.17 8 Scott Rolen 6.96 9 George Pinckney 6.94 10 Home Run Baker 6.88
RUNS CREATED/GAME RELATIVE TO THE LEAGUE
RATE PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Wade Boggs 177 8.04 4.54 2 John McGraw 172 11.00 6.40 3 Eddie Mathews 163 8.01 4.90 4 Home Run Baker 159 6.88 4.33 5 George Brett 157 6.79 4.32 6 Mike Schmidt 151 6.80 4.50 7 Chipper Jones 150 7.91 5.26 8 Denny Lyons 150 9.77 6.51 9 Darrell Evans 141 6.25 4.44 10 Ron Santo 139 6.10 4.37 14 Scott Rolen 133 6.96 5.24
Most impressively, Rolen places 10th and 8th in runs created above average and runs created above position.
RCAA 1 Eddie Mathews 482 2 John McGraw 434 3 Denny Lyons 305 4 George Brett 278 5 Home Run Baker 258 6 Chipper Jones 255 7 Wade Boggs 234 8 Ron Santo 212 9 Mike Schmidt 197 10 Scott Rolen 189
RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION
RCAP 1 Eddie Mathews 481 2 John McGraw 451 3 Denny Lyons 308 4 George Brett 278 5 Home Run Baker 273 6 Chipper Jones 251 7 Wade Boggs 230 8 Scott Rolen 197 9 Mike Schmidt 188 10 Harlond Clift 184
The above screens were based on 3,000 or more plate appearances.
Given that Rolen is a superior-fielding third baseman to those players on the above lists (with the exception of Schmidt), it would be fair to conclude that he is definitely one of the top all-round 3B ever through the age of 28.
According to Bill James' similarity scores, Rolen's closest comps from an offensive standpoint are as follows:
Similar Batters through Age 28:
The players with similarity scores above 900 are considered to be "truly similar" based on James' definitions. Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones, Shawn Green, and Dale Murphy are or were top-notch offensive players. What separates Rolen from the pack is his defensive position. He is probably most similar to Jones given that the latter also played third base through the age of 29. Jones has been better with the bat and Rolen has been better with the glove.
I think the comments in Baseball Prospectus 2004 say it best:
So maybe he's Ron Santo instead of Mike Schmidt. The Cardinals aren't complaining. Rolen's excellence in Philly was veiled only by the expectations he shouldered. He's a complete ballplayer and an elite performer. He'll have many more fine seasons like this past one.
There is no question that Schmidt was a better home run slugger than Rolen through age 28. However, Schmidt didn't reach the 40-HR plateau until he turned 29. Could this be the year Rolen steps it up and hits 40? If so, look for the Schmidt comparisons to re-emerge as Michael Jack followed his 45-HR season in 1979 at the age of 29 with 48-31-35-40-36-33-37-35.
Like the authors of Baseball Prospectus, I think Rolen is more like Santo than Schmidt. That said, I think we should leave open the possibility that Rolen could be entering his prime power seasons and may end up being compared once again to the best third baseman in baseball history.
A Perfect Ten
A day after watching his brother pitch impressively at Dodger Stadium in front of nearly 27,000 fans, Jered Weaver returned to the hill Friday with Jeff among the 309 in attendance as the visiting Long Beach State 49ers defeated Cal State Northridge, 15-4, in the Big West Conference opener.
Despite allowing three runs in a game for the first time this season, the younger Weaver ran his record to 10-0 in ten starts. The junior righthander was far from his best, matching his season-low with six strikeouts and allowing two walks for only the second time this year. He also gave up a home run and benefited from a couple of outstanding defensive plays by center fielder Steve Velazco. (Box Score)
After the game, Weaver told beat writer Gordon Verrell of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram:
"I wasn't 100 percent. I didn't have my good stuff at times. But I was pitching with a lead, and you're going to pitch a little differently than if it's tied."
Coach Mike Weathers echoed Weaver's comments:
"He didn't have his great stuff. He didn't strike everybody out. But he did a good job pitching with the lead."
The All-American leads the nation in wins (10) and strikeouts (106) and is fifth in ERA (1.13).
DIVISION I PITCHING LEADERS
1 Jered Weaver, LBSU 10
1 Alan Drechsler, LeMoyne 0.84
1 Jered Weaver, LBSU 106
Source: Boyd's World
Last year, Weaver was third in wins (14) and sixth in strikeouts (144) and ERA (1.96). Only Jeff Niemann of Rice ranked ahead of Weaver in all three stats with 17 wins, 156 Ks, and an ERA of 1.70. The 6'9", 260 pound Owl got off to a slow start this year owing to minor elbow surgery last fall but has pitched well of late and is now 5-2 on the season with 60 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.68.
Weaver, Niemann, and Justin Verlander of Old Dominion are considered three of the top pitching prospects. Niemann's teammates Philip Humber and Wade Townsend are also potential first-round picks in the upcoming draft.
Thought Out Predictions
I've been gone for a good part of a week, and I didn't get the chance to advertise the new All-Baseball homepage, where my colleagues and I now have a group blog. It's being updated multiple times a day, and yours truly will be making his first post in minutes. Onto my article...
Earlier I quickly ran through my predictions, but I wanted to write out my thoughts, so here goes, division-by-division:
Not many teams face a downhill season like the Phillies, a club that appears to be the easiest lock in baseball. Ed Wade has built a team that lacks weaknesses, from the NL's best lineup to a strong, rebuilt bullpen. The story of the year will be Atlanta's first downfall in a decade, but I have predicted the playoff streak to continue. Good seasons from newcomers J.D. Drew and John Thomson will keep a 90-win team in Georgia, and in the end, they'll hold off the Astros. John Scheurholtz will look like a genius when rookie corner infielders Adam LaRoche and Andy Marte carry the team through September. And just Wait 'Til Next Year, everyone will be predicting the Braves to fall out of the playoffs in Spring Training 2005.
I'm on of the few not predicting the Mets to be last, I guess I just see a spark here. When Jose Reyes returns the team will have a very potent lineup, from Reyes and Kaz at the top, to Piazza-Floyd-Cameron in the middle, to Garcia-Phillips-Wigginton at the end. Al Leiter was one of baseball's best after the break, and the team has the room to add another starter by midseason. Florida will struggle coming off a World Championship, as expectations for players like Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willie are a little too high. Instead the focus should be on developing players like Hee Seop Choi, Ramon Castro, and most of all, Miguel Cabrera. Montreal has the makings of a good club, but I can't imagine how decimated that 25-man roster will be August 1.
In the NL Central, I must admit that I have some bias. Expectations for my Cubbies are higher than they've ever been, due to an October collapse mixed with media hype. If Dusty can manage around the injury bug they're a lock, the club is simply the best in every facet of the game. I don't believe I'm underrating the Astros here, instead I think the general population overrates them. Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens are nice additions, sure, but how much can they contribute at this point? Where else are they improved? Finally, I think the Cards might be holding the division by May, but should drop it by June. It's just impossible to win without pitching, no matter how many All-Stars your lineup has.
At the bottom of this division, things start to get ugly. Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should all be jumbled together, none with 75 wins. I pick the Brewers fourth simply because I believe that few managers get as much out of their players as Ned Yost does. A second half youth movement could either make the team red hot, or make them fall apart. Austin Kearns is the league's next superstar, but he is too undeveloped to hold a team on his shoulders yet. Holes on the left side of the infield and the entire rotation are too large to ignore, and it won't take long for Dave O'Brien to realize he's inherited a bottomless pit. Finally, I have the Pirates to finish last. They may be fourth by the Break, but trades should deem them worthless in the second half. The only questions here are who will be managing come August and who will come to PNC by September?
My hardest division choice came in the NL West, where choosing a team is like picking between brussel sprouts, lima beans, and anchvies. I was left with the Padres, mainly because I think Kevin Towers will be the 2003's Jim Hendry is given the chance. I'm not going to call Jered Weaver to win Rookie of the Year like Rich Lederer might, they just have too much depth to call him up. San Francisco has no depth, but Jason Schmidt and Barry Bonds could be enough to carry this team. In the end, a rotation with the likes of Kirk Rueter will damage this club far too much. Peter Gammons might be picking Arizona, but I can't see it. They have San Francisco's depth without their superstars, but just enough good players to lurk around .500. And Luis Gonzalez? Like a timebomb waiting to hit the 60-day.
Toronto is learning the hard way that hiring an analytical GM doesn't make a division winner overnight, a lesson Los Angeles will soon learn. Paul DePodesta won't hesitate to make a trade, but there are just too many holes for this computer nerd to patch. Landing Magglio Ordonez at midseason and watching Edwin Jackson have a Dontrelle effect will be fun, but writing Cesar Izturis everyday in the scorecars will become too old for those O.C. fans. Finally, expect Colorado to have the NL's worst record. The NL Central's bottom feeders can eat at themselves, but the West's flush of mediocrity will be too much for the Mile High boys. Any team banking on the performance of Shawn Estes is going to have a rough six months.
Though men like John Kruk are hyping the Anaheim Angeles. I just can't buy into them. Oakland is too tough to knock off, it seems like they'll just hand around there like the '03 Cubs. Billy Beane will swing any deal to put this team on top, and his ability to outwit competitiors continues to pay off. They might not appear to have enouogh offense, but I think Mark Kotsay and Bobby Kielty might surprise you. Vladimir Guerrero is a fantastic addition, but I expect Tim Salmon and Jose Guillen to have big drops. Darin Erstad's move to first will prove to be the wrong decision, as Garret Anderson will not fulfill Peter Gammons huge MVP-like expectations. Anaheim is a very good team and the 2005 favorites, but they'll have one more season on the outside looking in.
The boys over at U.S.S. Mariner have been criticizing Bill Bavasi al winter, and each time I've been left to agree. But while the team could have done better with each move, they aren't a terrible team. There are not a lot of glaring weaknesses, but just not enough strengths to outwin the Angels or A's. Raul Ibanez, Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche should all face dropoffs, and the Mariners can't have that happen and win 85-90 games. The AL's worst team should be the Texas Rangers, where John Hart has established the league's most futile pitching staff. Sure, Mark Teixeira might be a superstar in the making, but if A-Rod couldn't get this team out of the basement, how will Mark?
If the NL West is like picking between bad foods, it's fair to say the AL Central is like picking between different ways to die. The Central is plain terrible, and most divison's #3 could win here. But geography holds strong and the games simply must go on. I have Kansas CIty, because in Allain Baird's credit, they are an extremely deep team. Sure they don't have great strengths, but unlike their Central enemies, they have no weaknesses. Hold onto Beltran as long as you can Baird, he really is MVP-caliber. Minnesota has a very nice lineup, yes, but where is that pitching staff depth? Will J.D. Durbin and Jesse Crain be able to make up for the early season woes? Ozzie Guillen's ability to manage is an overrated problem, the 3-4-5- spots in the rotation aren't. Unless Jon Garland turns into Kip Wells, expect the White Sox in third.
Spring Training problems got Milton Bradley kicked out of Cleveland already, which isn't exactly a good thing. The Indians have the depth to withstand his loss, but Bradley was just beginning to come into his own. Grady Sizemore might get pushed a little faster as a result, and Mark Shapiro will be praying that doesn't have the Brandon Phillips effect. Cleveland has a semi-potent lineup, a bona fide ace, and an underrated bullpen, so they'll be closer to third than fifth. That leaves Detroit for last because while improved, the Tigers aren't rebuilt. Not finishing with the worst record in the AL would be a nice start and a very nice tribute to Alan Trammell. Me, I'm just hoping the team hasn't permanently ruined Jeremy Bonderman's arm.
Given the Rangers having the worst AL record, Detroit will battle with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for second. Lou Piniella has done a good job in Florida, but in the Al East, Tampa won't smell 75 wins. Rocco Baldelli and Victor Zambrano are interesting subplts that should give even you a reaosn to actually read Tampa's box sxore. For years the D-Rays have been clawing at the Baltimore Orioles, but in 2004, they'll see again the same results. Flanagan and Beattie built a nice offense in Baltimore, but they kind of forgot about the pitching staff. They'll spend 2004 evaluating what they have in pithcings like Ainsworth, Riley and Bedard, and then build accordingly. Toronto will be less of a factor than the sabermetric community likes to believe, and they'll be sitting closer to Baltimore than Boston at year's end.
Last but not least is the rivalry. Much has been made of who is better between Boston and New York, but at this point that's left to be determined by the injury bug. New York is facing the best situation right now, as both Nomar and Trot Nixon have been lost to injjury Theo will attempt to out thing the Yankees, but he'll learn the hard way that money, not knowledge, is power.
Onto the playoffs:
Oakland over New York; Cubs over Philly
Oakland over Cubs in 7
And finally, I'll close out today's article with a few lists I thought up. First, here is my prediction of what teams will be choosing in the top 10 of baseball's 2005 June amateur draft:
Lastly, the team that will have a different manager in one year:
* Phillies- Bowa out by midseason, my guess is Joe Kerrigan is named replacement
* Marlins- Jack McKeon retires after abysmal season
* Expos- Frank Robinson gets tired of having his best players always traded or left unsigned and quits
* Pirates- Lloyd McClendon out by midseason
* Diamondbacks- Bob Brenly fired at the end of the year
* Dodgers- Jim Tracy out by August
* Rockies- Clint Hurdle replaced at year's end
That's it for today, enjoy the baseball of tomorrow...
Hey everyone, I'm finally back. I've been away from the computer for about a week and a half, but on Opening Day I return. Did anyone else watching the O's-Red Sox game last night see the similarities between Sidney Ponson and Carlos Zambrano? About 80% fastballs, big sinker and a decent slider? Next stop for Big Z...knighthood!
I'll throw some links from the Internet out this afternoon along with some predictions, but for now I'll go through the basics without comment...
Wild Cards: Braves and Red Sox
NL MVP: Albert Pujols (though Derrek Lee makes noise)
AL MVP: Carlos Beltran (too many in the AL East)
Tune back later!
Opening Night in the States
Passing the time watching the Boston Red Sox-Baltimore Orioles game Sunday night on ESPN2.
*Top of the first inning. Johnny Damon, looking like the main character in the comic strip B.C., and Bill Mueller both ground out to Miguel Tejada, Baltimore's biggest offseason acquisition. Manny Ramirez comes to bat and lines a pitch on the outside part of the plate to right field for a single. A beautiful piece of hitting. David Ortiz strikes out on a 96-mph fastball by Sidney Ponson.
The Yankees and Devil Rays kicked off the season in Japan and now Baltimore hosts Boston. Has Cincinnati played yet?
*Bottom of the first. Pedro Martinez gets the opening day start for the BoSox. It will be interesting to see how he pitches given his questionable performance during the spring. Baltimore's lineup is introduced, and it looks stronger than the visitors. Granted, Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon are out with injuries but it is what it is.
Jon Miller informs us that Dave Wallace, Boston's pitching coach, says Pedro will be on a 90-pitch count limit. Martinez' first five pitches are all thrown at 88 mph, well below his normal velocity. Brian Roberts grounds out 6-3 and then Melvin Mora hits an infield single on a 79-mph changeup. I'm anxious to see how the Oriole newcomers (Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, and Javy Lopez--Baltimore's 3-4-5 hitters) perform in their first game together.
Tejada flies out to center field. Johnny Damon throws the ball back to the infield weakly, and it reminds me of a thought I had last October. Has there ever been a worse-throwing group of CF in the final four than Damon, Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton, and Juan Pierre?
Palmeiro singles to left but Ramirez throws out Mora going from first to third base. Cincinnati shortstop Pokey Reese makes a great play to beat Mora to the bag, and the latter does the unthinkable by running into the final out of the inning at third.
*Top of the second inning. Joe Morgan predicts that Pedro will throw better as the game goes on. Gabe Kapler hits a grounder under Mora's glove. E-5. Count me as a skeptic as to whether Mora can make the transition to 3B. Miller announces that it's the "coldest opener in Oriole history". Speaking of history, I notice the Orioles wearing 50-year anniversary patches on their sleeves. Kapler gets thrown out attempting to steal second base and yells "no way" to the umpire as he walks off the field to end the inning. While it's never wise to make an out on the basepaths, this one is more understandable given that Kapler was trying to get himself in scoring position with two outs.
*Bottom of the second. Lopez hits a first pitch fastball for a line drive home run down the left field line. That one's gotta feel awfully good for the free agent catcher as well as Peter Angelos, the Baltimore owner who stepped up this winter in hopes of making his team more competitive this season. Jay Gibbons singles to right on a 79-mph changeup, then steals second on another change of pace for only the second SB of his career.
With first base open, Martinez drills David Segui in the back. Not surprisingly, the Baltimore fans begin to boo Pedro. Larry Bigbie taps the ball back to the mound, Pedro picks it up, looks at second, and then throws awkwardly and wildly to first. Gibbons scores. Luis Matos singles to left, scoring Segui and sending Bigbie to third. Baltimore 3, Boston 0.
Pedro's start is reminiscent of his opening day performance at Toronto two years ago when he got roughed up for nine hits and eight runs (seven earned) in only three innings. It also harks back to his third start of the season last year in Baltimore when he got knocked around for nine hits and ten runs over 4 1/3 innings. If not for that one outing, Pedro's ERA would have been 1.78 or nearly half a run below his league-low 2.22.
Back to the action on the field. Matos steals second base. Pedro then strikes out Roberts and Mora on 91-mph fastballs (the highest level he's reached on the speed gun thus far) and retires Tejada on a fly out to deep right center field. Damon catches the ball on the run, then jumps toward the crowd in the outfield bleachers, handing the ball to a lucky fan.
*Top of the third inning. Mark Bellhorn comes to the plate, and it occurs to me that he and Todd Walker essentially swapped teams (albeit Bellhorn via a short stay with Colorado in between) without being traded for one another. Bellhorn's walks will be more appreciated by Boston management and Walker's experience is more up Dusty Baker's alley. It might be one of those situations where each player prospers, making both teams happy.
While Reese is drawing a base on balls, ESPN reporter Sam Ryan interviews Bud Selig. She asks him about the controversies surrounding major league baseball's decision to export its opening day to Japan, the outlook for Montreal moving to Washington D.C., and steroids. Selig never looks particularly comfortable in such settings, but he does his best to answer what Ryan probably believes are "hard-hitting" questions.
Damon proceeds to hit a dribbler up the first base line, Ponson fields the ball cleanly, tosses it toward first base, and the ball hits the caveman in his back. The home plate umpire calls Damon out for interfering with the throw. The replay clearly shows that the ump made the correct call despite Damon's protestations. Mueller inside outs a single to left field and Ramirez hits a single off Ponson's leg, driving in Reese. Baltimore 3, Boston 1.
*Bottom of the third. Palmeiro flies out to right field. Seeing Kapler out there makes me think Boston is in for a long year if Nixon doesn't return as expected in May. If the Red Sox were willing to sacrifice defense, they could always put Millar out in right, Ortiz at first base, and Ellis Burks in the DH role. I'm not suggesting these moves as much as I'm pointing out that Boston may not be as strong as generally believed without their full roster healthy.
Lopez then singles off the body of Martinez, the sixth hit allowed in just 2 1/3 IP. Pedro then induces Gibbons to hit into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play. After three innings, Martinez has thrown 58 pitches and is looking like someone who will be lucky to get in six innings tonight.
*Top of the fourth inning. With two outs, Bellhorn doubles to right and Kapler fails to score. Reese comes up with runners on second and third and bunts--yes, bunts--the ball back to Ponson, who makes a poor underhanded toss that Palmeiro digs out to end the inning.
*Bottom of the fourth. The Dodgers-Indians trade involving Milton Bradley is scrolling along the bottom of my TV screen. I think this is a good trade for both franchises. Bradley gives the Dodgers a young, talented CF who can hit third, while the Indians pick up Franklin Gutierrez, a 21-year-old OF who was the Dodgers' minor league player of the year in 2003. During the inning, Martinez strikes out Matos, looking like the Pedro of old.
*Top of the fifth inning. Damon grounds out 4-3 and is now oh-fer-three for the evening. Mueller has his third good at bat, slapping a single to left field. Ramirez lines to center and Matos throws behind the runner, trying to beat Mueller scrambling back to first. Ortiz comes to the plate, looking like a 1990s version of Mo Vaughn. He gets hit in the leg with the pitch despite a valiant attempt to get out of the way. Ponson then overpowers Millar, striking him out to end the inning.
*Bottom of the fifth. Cal Ripken joins Miller and Morgan in the booth, primarily to promote his new book Play Baseball The Ripken Way. Morgan asks Cal if he can teach kids to play every day--at least for 10 years, apparently referring to Ripken's consecutive games streak (which, hello Joe, actually lasted 17 years ... but who's counting, right?). Tejada gets his first hit as an Oriole on a full-swinging bunt. Upon questioning, Ripken concedes that he may wish to come back as a manager or coach some day, but he appears to be in no hurry to return until his 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son are grown.
*Top of the sixth inning. Miller mentions that Babe Ruth grew up in Baltimore and played for a minor league team in town before he was sold to Boston. A timely piece of Baltimore-Boston trivia. Jason Varitek hits into a 4-6-3 DP with Palmeiro making another nice scoop at first. Ponson throws his 100th pitch of the evening while walking Bellhorn. I've got to think that this will be his last inning even though he's still hitting 93-94 on the speed guns.
Reese comes to the plate and Morgan admits that he thought Pokey was going to be a good hitter when he was playing for Cincinnati because the same hand/eye coordination that makes him such a noted defensive player is what should make him a good hitter as well. I'm shaking my head on this one as I think of dozens of similarly gifted no-hit, good-field players. Ponson walks Reese and is replaced by Rodrigo Lopez with two outs and runners on first and second.
Miller and Morgan question the choice of the righthanded-throwing Lopez over the lefty Buddy Groom, who is also warming up in the bullpen, given that Damon and Mueller are due up for Boston. A quick check of the splits shows that LHB and RHB both ripped Lopez equally last year and Damon appears not to be affected by one more than the other. Damon then grounds out to short on a nice play by a charging Tejada.
*Bottom of the sixth. Martinez delivers the first pitch of the inning and 84th of the game wide right to Gibbons, who later grounds out to short. Ramirez makes a nice running catch in shallow left on a ball hit by Segui. Pedro throws three straight balls to Bigbie, then three consecutive strikes--the last on a questionable call that appeared to be low and/or outside. Martinez throws 93 pitches and is congratulated in the dugout for a workmanlike opening-day performance (six innings, seven hits, three runs, only two earned, one walk, and five strikeouts). Pedro gets credited with a quality start whereas Ponson (5 2/3 IP and only one run) doesn't. So much for the credibility of that stat.
*Top of the seventh inning. Mueller leads off with his third single of the game. Ramirez grounds into a 4-6-3 DP with another fine play by Tejada turning two. Ortiz launches a long foul ball down the right field line that just misses being a home run. He then draws a base on balls for the second time. I think Ortiz's OBP may go up this year because it wouldn't surprise me if he adds at least 20 BB to last year's total. However, I think his SLG will drop owing to the likelihood of more at bats early in the season and against more lefties (.216/.260/.414 in 2003) due to an overall increase in playing time. Millar then flies out to end the inning.
*Bottom of the seventh. Mike Timlin enters the game and strikes out Matos on a pitch in the dirt. Sam Ryan interviews Ponson in the Orioles clubhouse, the first time MLB has granted permission for such exchanges during the course of a game. I think that is a nice touch. I also like the idea of miking players (in this case Reese, who asked Palmeiro when he reached first base earlier in the game if Ripken was in the ballpark because he was hopeful of meeting him).
Roberts walks and is caught stealing second. Mora also walks. Tejada fights off an inside pitch and singles to right. Palmeiro, who Morgan says is 220 hits from becoming only the fourth player in history to reach 500 HR and 3000 H, singles through the hole vacated by the shortstop as a result of a shift which puts three infielders between first and second base. The replay shows Raffy looking more like Wee Willie Keeler ("Hit 'em where they ain't") than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, or Eddie Murray--the other three in the 500/3000 club.
Lopez doubles to deep right center field between a confused Damon and Kapler, knocking in two more runs. Baltimore 6, Boston 1. Exit stage left for Timlin with a 40.50 ERA to work off at the gym. Alan Embree, Boston's designated LOOGY, comes in and retires Gibbons. LOOGY stands for a "Lefthanded One Out Guy". I think the acronymn would be better if it were "Lefthanded One Out Get Yanked" but nobody asked me.
*Top of the eighth inning. Mike DeJean loads the bases and is relieved by B.J. Ryan. Damon grounds into a 6-4 force play, scoring the runner from third and getting credited with a run batted in. This is another reason why RBI is an overrated stat. Team dependent and not nearly as valuable when exchanged for a precious out. In any event, Baltimore now leads 6-2.
*Bottom of the eighth. Scott Williamson enters the game. Segui hits a bouncer that glances off the outside of the first base bag for a gift double. Bigbie strikes out looking for the second time. Matos reaches base on a throwing error by Boston SS Cesar Crespo allowing the pinch runner Jose Bautista to score from second. Fans of the Red Sox Nation must be muttering to themselves about now, praying for Garciaparra's stay on the DL to be as short as possible. Roberts and Mora both ground out to end the inning.
*Top of the ninth inning. After Ryan retires the first two hitters, Millar and Kapler reach base on Boston's 10th and 11th hits and 18th and 19th base runners of the evening. Ryan, in hopes of becoming more than just a LOOGY to Baltimore, Ks Varitek to end the game. Boston fans spit. Baltimore 7, Boston 2. The Orioles are now in first place in the A.L. East with a 1-0 record and the Red Sox are in last place at 0-1.
What's that saying? Hope springs eternal? Well, no matter how they look on paper, you gotta play the games on the field. Play ball!
Rich's Weaver Baseball BEAT Continues
Jered Weaver won his ninth consecutive game, striking out 11 over eight innings as the visiting Long Beach State 49ers defeated the Cal State Fullerton Titans, 6-2, in a non-conference matchup Friday evening.
Weaver, after falling behind 2-0 in the third, retired 16 of the final 18 batters he faced. It was the first time this season that the junior righthander had either trailed during the course of the game or allowed more than one run. (Box Score).
The All-American, who had his scoreless streak halted at 23 1/3 innings, struck out double digits for the seventh time out of nine starts this season. Weaver now has an even 100 strikeouts vs. only nine walks.
Weaver vs. CSUF:
IP H R ER BB K Weaver 8 7 2 2 1 11
IP H R ER BB K ERA W-L Weaver 64.2 29 6 6 9 100 0.84 9-0
"Since 1974, I have been covering college baseball for Collegiate Baseball newspaper. There have been some fabulous pitchers who have participated in college baseball since that time, such as Roger Clemens of Texas, USC's Randy Johnson and Mark Prior, as well as numerous others. But I can't remember any who has had the season Jered Weaver is putting together. He is the only college pitcher to be named Louisville Slugger's National Pitcher of The Week four times (he now has five). What he has done is absolutely amazing."
"Jered is doing things I've never seen before in college ball, and I've been around a while. I've never seen a guy start a game striking out the first 10 batters he faced, as that's what Jered did in a game against USC. For sure, I never thought I'd see it again. And then Jered comes back and does it again against Brigham Young. He's just been phenomenal."
"He's something, that's for sure. I know the Padres are interested."
"He was already a great pitcher and now ... well, now he's unbelievable."
Eric Stephens, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, recently quoted four prominent college coaches in Absolute Power.
"He was sensational. What was unbelievable was that he was that good that early in the year."
"Two words. Awesome and phenomenal. You had the GM there and all the scouts, and he got up for it. Didn't faze him."
"There was nothing we could do. He could have struck out 25 if they had left him in there."
"If you put him in a big-league game tomorrow, I think he could handle himself pretty well. His stay in the minors will be very short."
"He's the top player on our list," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers, whose team has the No. 1 pick this year. "He's the only guy Chief (Padres scouting director Bill Gayton) has told me to lock in on so far."
The Padres, who pick No. 1 overall, already are zeroing in on Weaver. Petco Park, the Padres' new home, was christened with a college tournament, and San Diego GM Kevin Towers was on hand to watch Weaver fan 15 while one-hitting UCLA for eight innings. In a previous Baseball America story, Towers couldn't contain his enthusiasm about Weaver.