Never Give Up
Some old baseball players don't know when to quit. And who can blame them?
It's easy to understand why some graying veterans hang on for one more year, as playing the world's finest sport for a living sure beats the 9-to-5 world. However, this isn't a profile of Greg Maddux, Luis Gonzalez or other famous names who are well compensated for their services.
In more than a few cases, players in the 35-and-over age group aren't cashing major league paychecks. Aging minor leaguers usually have no chance at all of getting even a cup of coffee in the Show, but they still persevere. Along with the personal satisfaction of being in baseball, they can count on obscurity and (outside of AAA) meager wages as a reward.
Former big league pitcher Angel Moreno may have finally reached the end of the line, as he went 0-2 with a 10.50 ERA during brief stints with Veracruz and the Angeopolis Tigres (Tigers) of the Mexican League.
Moreno has a legitimate excuse for his subpar performance, as he turned 51 during the season. The Mexican-born lefty pitched for the Angels in 1981 and 1982 before returning to a nearly quarter century run in his native country. Moreno wasn't kept on the Veracruz Aguilas (Eagles) roster out of pity, as he went 8-4 with a 2.27 ERA as a 48-year old in 2003. He followed that performance with winning records in 2004 and 2005.
Another Mexican-born player with big league experience is riding buses south of the border. Outfielder Matias Carrillo appeared in 107 games with the Brewers and Marlins from 1991 to 1994, and he's still a productive bat at age 43.
The left-handed hitting outfielder came through with 7 HR and 48 RBI in 290 at-bats for the Tigres. Carrillo isn't being blown away by power pitchers half his age, as he struck out just 27 times.
No one can accuse Pat Borders of being a quitter. The long-time major league catcher and clutch performer for the Blue Jays during the 1992 World Series began his professional career as a third baseman with Medicine Hat of the Pioneer League in 1982. Sadly, the 2006 season - his 25th as a pro - looks like the end of Borders' playing career.
After hitting just .181 at Vero Beach of the Florida State League (playing Class A ball at age 43!), Borders went 1-for-19 (.053) at AAA Las Vegas before being released by the Dodgers organization.
A look at his career shows a man who will do whatever it takes to stay in baseball. Borders has spent at least part of each season in the minors since 1999 (usually in the Mariners system), hoping for a promotion as a backup catcher or September call-up.
Ernie Young has earned a Ph.D in AAA baseball, as he has played for nine teams at that level since 1994. The 37-year old outfielder also has 796 major league at-bats (.225, 27 HR, 96 RBI), so he has something to show for his perseverance.
Young didn't embarrass himself in 2006, as he hit an even .300 with 26 doubles, 13 homers and 68 RBI in 350 at-bats for the Charlotte Knights of the International League. Even though Young earned a September pat on the back, the White Sox didn't recall him. Young's last trip to the Show was a 2-for-4 September stint with the Indians in 2004. He has 1594 career minor league hits along with 314 HR and 1110 RBI.
Curtis Pride is another outfielder who is intimately familiar with the cities of the International and Pacific Coast leagues.
The lefty hitter performed well enough at Salt Lake City - hitting .311 with 8 HR, 44 RBI, 54 walks, a .424 on-base percentage and 21 stolen bases in 273 ABs - to earn a call-up to the Los Angeles Angels. Pride hit .222 in 27 at-bats, which dropped his big league career average a point to an even .250.
Despite his deafness (he's an excellent lip reader), Pride has played professionally since being drafted by the Mets in 1986. The 37-year old has seen major league action in parts of 11 seasons, but Pride has never spent a full year in the Show. He's been in and out of AAA since 1993, and Pride's baseball road show includes stints on independent teams. This is one journeyman with an inspiring story and life.
If they gave a Mr. AAA Baseball award, Alan Zinter would be a leading candidate.
The left-handed hitting first baseman came through with 12 HR and 44 RBI in just 212 ABs for the Round Rock Express in 2006. His other numbers - 63 strikeouts, 35 walks and a .259 average (low for the PCL) - are typical of Zinter's career.
He's the Rob Deer of AAA. At 38, Zinter can still smack the ball a long way when he makes contact, and he'll take a walk. After being signed by the Mets in 1989, Zinter finally worked his way to AAA with Toledo in 1994, and he found a home at this level.
Zinter came up with the Astros as a 34-year old rookie pinch-hitter in 2002, and he spent some time with the Diamondbacks in 2004. Other than 78 big league ABs (3 HR, 9 RBI, .167) and parts of two seasons with the Seibu Lions in Japan, the past 13 seasons have been AAA time for Zinter. Outside of his brief big league career, Zinter has played 2193 games with 7063 ABs, 1785 hits, a .253 average, 312 HR and 1161 RBI. He also has 1938 strikeouts and 1038 walks.
In contrast to Zinter, Jose Offerman spent 15 seasons racking up 1551 hits and a .273 average with eight major league teams. So what's a two-time All-Star doing in AAA at age 37?
Offerman played first base for the Tidewater Tides in 2006. The switch-hitter's .238 average in 344 at-bats wasn't the kind of performance that would lead to a spot on the Mets roster.
As a key cog (7-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 78 innings) in the bullpen of the 2002 world champion Angels, Ben Weber has been on top of the baseball world. Who can blame a 36-year old with recurring arm injuries for trying to recapture the magic?
The righty spent 2006 as a long reliever with AAA Syracuse (1-1, 4.33 ERA in 28 games) and the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League (0-1, 8.53 in 12.2 IP). Weber spent 1997 and 1998 pitching in Taiwan, so he's no stranger to doing whatever it takes to stay in the game.
Pedro Swann played for three teams in 2006. The veteran outfielder saw action with Tabasco of the Mexican League (.296 in 54 ABs) and Reading of the Class AA Eastern League (a .365 average with 4 HR and 25 RBI in 96 ABs) before returning to the familiar confines of the International League, where he hit .282 in 117 at-bats for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons.
The 35-year old Delaware native has spent at least part of every season but one since 1995 in the IL. Swann has 28 big league ABs and four hits (.143, one HR) to show for his 25 games played with the Braves, Blue Jays and Orioles. His minor league resume includes 1748 hits in 6059 ABs for a .288 lifetime average.
Catchers - even weak-hitting ones - are always in demand, and a trio of well-traveled backstops kept their playing careers alive in AAA during 2006.
Ken Huckaby parlayed a .219 batting average at Pawtucket into some time on the Red Sox roster. Used mostly as a defensive replacement, the 35-year old appeared in eight games for the Bosox. It took the former Dodger farmhand a decade to reach the majors, as he debuted with the Diamondbacks in 2001. Huckaby will enter 2007 with a .222 career average in 428 big league ABs.
Veteran backup catcher Tim Laker hit just .207 with no home runs in 188 ABs for Buffalo, but he still had the opportunity to play four games with the Indians. Laker came through with a .308 (4-for-13) performance for Cleveland.
The 36-year old Laker is an expert when it comes to packing his bags. He has appeared in the majors over parts of 12 seasons since 1992, usually as a mid-season recall. During that time, he spent just two full years (1995 and 2003) as a big leaguer. Laker has appeared in 281 major league box scores during the past 15 seasons, with career totals of 11 HR, 79 RBI and a .226 average.
Alberto Castillo did something unusual during his 20th year in professional baseball. He spent the entire season with one team.
The 36-year old Dominican caught 88 games for the New Orleans Zephyrs, hitting .268 with 0 HR and 30 RBI. Castillo has a decent major league resume, as he has appeared with seven teams over 11 different seasons. The light hitter (.222 lifetime in 995 ABs) spent most of the year in AAA during eight of his big league campaigns.
Left-handed pitchers are the kings of second chances, and a trio of mid-30s journeymen saw action in AAA during the 2006 campaign.
After posting an 0-6 record with a hellish 6.66 ERA at Omaha, 35-year old Donovan Osborne bounced back with a 2-1 record and 2.64 ERA in 47.2 innings pitched for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League.
The former Cardinals starter (49-46 lifetime in the majors) should get a chance to continue his career in 2007, as southpaws with at least a pulse are always in demand.
Chris Michalak was 9-5 with a 2.99 ERA and just 28 walks in 132.1 IP for the Louisville Bats. That was good enough to earn him a late season promotion to the Reds. In his first big league action since 2002, the 35-year old Notre Dame alumnus went 2-4 with a 4.89 ERA for Cincinnati.
Vic Darensbourg appeared to turn his mediocre career around in 2005. The 5'8" reliever gave up a single earned run in 30.1 IP (0.29 ERA) at Toledo. That earned him a promotion to the Tigers, where Darensbourg went 1-1 with a fine 2.82 ERA in 22.1 innings.
2006 wasn't as successful for the 35-year old, as Darensbourg was 1-5 with a 3.92 ERA in 41.1 IP for Buffalo. The former Marlins hurler has appeared in 309 big league games with an 8-17 career record and 4.96 ERA.
Playing in AAA and being a phone call away from potential glory and major league wages is one thing, but what about older players in independent minor leagues? Aside from a love of poverty and/or masochism, what drives them to keep going? Baseball Analysts will take a look at the graybeards of the bus leagues in our next segment.
St. Louis Cardinals: Onward Ho!
While the Redbird Nation rightfully celebrates its World Series championship, I'm going to jump ahead and take an in-depth look at the future of the Cardinals.
The fact that St. Louis won the World Series shouldn't have come as a complete surprise to anyone. The Cardinals made it to the Fall Classic in 2004 and the National League Championship Series in 2005. Before the season began, the Cardinals were the heavy favorites to win the NL Central and appeared to have the easiest road to this year's World Series of any team in baseball.
The club's roster was lined with several stars, including Albert Pujols, the best player in the game today, and Chris Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner. The Cards also had veterans Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, possessors of 14 Gold Gloves between them and still among the best at their positions in the league, as well as a solid #2 in Mark Mulder (16-8, 3.64 in 2005) and a proven closer in Jason Isringhausen (2.14 with 39 saves).
If anything, the Cardinals were a bit top heavy going into the season. The team was noticeably weak at 2B, LF, and the 5th SP. Junior Spivey was signed in December but had a terrible spring (10-for-68 with only 2 XBH and 20 SO) and was cut. Manager Tony La Russa then turned to Aaron Miles and utilityman Hector Luna as a stop gap until GM Walt Jocketty acquired Ronnie Belliard at the trading deadline. So Taguchi and John Rodriguez took turns in left during the first half, while rookie Chris Duncan, who turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and Scott Spiezio split time down the stretch.
Sidney Ponson was given first crack at the #5 spot in the rotation but was released in July. St. Louis picked up Jeff Weaver, who put up numbers (5-4, 5.18, 1.50 WHIP) more similar to Ponson (4-4, 5.24, 1.62) than not, yet survived the season and wound up winning one game in each of the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series.
As things turned out, it wasn't so much that the Cardinals won it; rather, it was how they won it. Pujols slugged 25 HR in April and May, then went on the DL and missed 15 games with a strained right oblique. Rolen, who was relatively healthy in the aftermath of an injury-plagued 2005, played with a bum shoulder in September (.227/.299/.398) and was benched twice in the playoffs. Edmonds was sidelined for six weeks with post-concussion syndrome and World Series MVP David Eckstein sat out more than a month, not starting 35 of the final 40 games of the year.
Mulder missed all of July, came back and got ripped in two abbreviated starts in August and underwent shoulder surgery in September. Isringhausen went down with a bad hip and also had a season-ending operation the same week as Mulder.
It took everything the team had just to hold off the Houston Astros at the wire and put itself in a position to win the city's first World Series championship in 24 years. Suffice it to say that more people saw it coming in April than in September.
With that backdrop, let's drill down into the roster and examine how things stack up for next year. The Cardinals have eight players under contract for a total commitment of $58.2 million. (The team's opening day payroll in 2006 was approximately $89M.)
Player Salary Status
Albert Pujols $15.00M Signed thru 2010 (club option for 2011)
Scott Rolen 12.00 Signed thru 2010
Jason Isringhausen 8.75 Signed thru 2007 (club option for 2008)
Chris Carpenter 7.00 Signed thru 2007 (club option for 2008)
Juan Encarnacion 5.00 Signed thru 2008
Braden Looper 4.50 Signed thru 2008
David Eckstein 4.50 Signed thru 2008
Ricardo Rincon 1.45 Signed thru 2008
The Cardinals also control a number of players, including pitchers Randy Flores, Josh Hancock, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, and Adam Wainwright; catcher Yadier Molina; infielder Aaron Miles; and outfielders Chris Duncan, John Rodriguez, and So Taguchi. Other than Taguchi ($825,000), all of the above players earned no more than $400,000 (with 10 of the 12 within 10% of the minimum salary of $327,000). Only Taguchi and Miles are eligible for arbitration.
Based on the above, the Redbirds - absent trades, non-tenders, or outright releases - could return 20 players from the 2006 championship team. With the minimum salary increasing to $380,000 next season, the Cardinals are already on the hook for roughly $65M in 2007. This figure is based on the $58.2M plus the following estimates:
So Taguchi $1.000M
Yadier Molina 0.800
Adam Wainwright 0.650
Anthony Reyes 0.500
Chris Duncan 0.500
Aaron Miles 0.500
John Rodriguez 0.425
Randy Flores 0.425
Josh Hancock 0.425
Tyler Johnson 0.425
Josh Kinney 0.425
Brad Thompson 0.425
Flores, Hancock, Johnson, Kinney, and Thompson should all draw similar salaries, somewhere in the range of $400-450K. In the meantime, I doubled Molina's and Wainwright's 2006 salaries and bumped up Reyes and Duncan by 50%. If one player makes a little bit more or less than these projections, it won't have much effect on the team's total.
Should Bill DeWitt, Jr. choose to maintain a payroll in the neighborhood of $90 million, it will mean that the organization can spend approximately $25M to fill out its roster. Let's take a peek at which holes need to be filled before speculating as to where the money should be spent.
One of the first orders of business is to make a decision on whether or not to exercise the option on Jim Edmonds. The Cardinals can re-sign the 36-year-old center fielder for $10M or buy out his contract for $3M. As such, the real cost to bringing back Edmonds for one more season is $7M. Can Walt Jocketty find a suitable replacement offensively and defensively for that kind of dough? I highly doubt it. As a result, I believe it makes sense to keep Edmonds in the fold.
The club also needs to decide Wainwright's future. Should they keep him as the closer or convert him to a starting pitcher? If Wainwright can be successful throwing at least 100 pitches per outing, wouldn't it be a better use of his talent to make him a starter? Sure, he may not be able to throw that hammer curve and a 94-mph heater all game, but 91-93 with a "plus-plus" breaking ball should work just fine.
Once Wainwright's fate is determined, management will know how many starting pitchers are needed. Re-signing Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver may be the path of least resistance although I would be surprised if the budget is such as to accommodate both. Suppan is an average pitcher who could easily command a three-year, $21-24M deal as a free agent in a market that is ripe with cash. Weaver is represented by Scott Boras and is likely to seek a similar deal even though he would have been hard pressed a couple of months ago to find a team that would be willing to give him anything more than a one-year, $3-4M "take it or leave it" offer.
A starting rotation of Carpenter, Wainwright, Suppan, Reyes, and a low-cost option would be a reasonable fivesome. The bullpen is a different matter. Isringhausen, 34, is coming off his second hip operation in two years and may not be ready when the season opens next spring. If Izzy is healthy, the Cardinals should try and get one more year out of him. Otherwise, Jocketty might be well served to trade the defensively challenged Duncan to an AL team for a set-up man who could step into the closer role if given the opportunity. Brian Gunn has suggested Pat Neshek or Fernando Rodney as the type of relievers the Cardinals may wish to target.
OK, let's see where St. Louis stands with respect to that $25M in discretionary funds. Give $7M net to Edmonds and $7-8M to Suppan, leaving $10-11M for three other players - a starting 2B, a #5 SP, and perhaps a LF (to replace Duncan if traded).
Ronnie Belliard made $4M last year. I don't think the Cardinals will allocate more than that for a second baseman. Belliard didn't hit too well in his stint with the 'Birds but should be good for .270/.330/.400 type production. Other options include Craig Biggio, Ray Durham, Adam Kennedy, and Mark Loretta. Biggio, Kennedy, and Loretta all made between $3-4M last year.
With the remaining $6-8M, I might be inclined to offer Luis Gonzalez $5M for one year with a club option for 2008. Gonzo supposedly wants to stay in the NL and may value the opportunity to get back to the World Series one more time. He is obviously in the decline phase of his career but still hit .264/.345/.427 on the road. Another slightly younger and more athletic possibility would be Jay Payton (.296/.325/.418), who might be able to command a 2x5 offer.
As far as the fifth starter goes, reaching out to Mulder with an incentive-based deal seems like a prudent course of action to me. If he doesn't pan out, Jocketty could try to pick up someone else off the scrap heap or give Brad Thompson a shot. The latter throws strikes and induces a lot of groundballs. There are worse options than him.
Shake it all up and it's possible that the 2007 Cardinals could be just as good as the 2006 model. Such a team, if healthy, should win more than 83 games but not necessarily another World Series championship.
Update: For more on the Cardinals, be sure to read Brian Gunn's How the Cardinals Shocked the World and Won the World Series at The Hardball Times and Larry Borowsky's Right as Rain post at Viva El Birdos that details how the pitchers stepped up during the playoffs.
. . . And Then There Was One
The St. Louis Cardinals. The only team that won 11 postseason games. The only playoff team that won its last game. The only team whose players can say they are the 2006 World Series champions.
Who'da thunk four weeks ago? The Cardinals barely made the playoffs, holding off the Houston Astros on the final weekend of the season to capture the National League Central title. St. Louis (83-78) entered postseason play with the third-worst record ever and emerged as the World Series champ with the lowest winning percentage of all time.
Better to get pinned with that label than to win 116 games like the Seattle Mariners in 2001 and the Chicago Cubs in 1906 and not win the World Series. Flags fly forever. The number of victories just becomes a piece of trivia. Quick, how many regular-season games did the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals win on the way to their last championship? The answer is 92 but nobody really cares anymore.
There are only two things that matter: (1) making the postseason and (2) winning your last game. Do both of those and you can call yourselves World Series champs.
The Redbirds went into the Fall Classic as heavy underdogs. The Detroit Tigers, winners of 95 games during the season and seven in a row in the playoffs, were made 2:1 favorites to win the World Series. The American League destroyed the National League in inter-league play this year, going 154-98 (.611). The AL had also shown its superiority of late by winning 10 straight All-Star Games and 10 of the past 14 World Series. The poor team from the NL didn't stand a chance or so most pundits and fans thought.
The fact that the Tigers had six days off going into the World Series received a lot of attention - and for good reason. The last half dozen teams with five or more days of rest all went on to pop champagne corks in the locker room following their final game. But there were a couple of trends working against Detroit. Five of the six division and league championship series in 2006 were won via upsets (with only the Mets' sweep of the Dodgers in the NLDS going by the book). Moreover, the team with the lower win total during the regular season had captured the World Series title more often than not since the introduction of divisions in 1969.
Thanks to the Cardinals, the team with the inferior record has now won 3-of-the-last-4, 6-of-the-last-8, 10-of-the-last-14, and 21-of-the-last-37 World Series. Call it mystifying. Call it exciting. Or do as Billy Beane and call it a crapshoot or "five hands of blackjack." Roll the dice or deal the cards. The recipe is pretty straightforward. Make the postseason, give your club a 1-in-8 chance to win it all, get hot, and earn the right to tell the world that the reason you won was because your team pulled together when it mattered most. It's as simple as that.
The Cardinals won the NL Central, then played their best baseball of the season in beating the Padres in the NLDS, the Mets in the NLCS, and the Tigers in the World Series. Make no mistake about it, St. Louis won it all fair and square. The team did just enough from April through September and everything asked of it during October. St. Louis was the only team to win all three of its postseason series and that, my friends, is all that matters.
Sure, some people will say that Detroit didn't hit or field or run the bases well. And you know what? Those folks are right. But rather than calling the Tigers out for losing the Series, why not give credit where credit is due? St. Louis beat Detroit four games to one. The Yankees didn't do that. The A's didn't do that. And the Cardinals didn't give the Padres or the Mets a chance to do that either.
The St. Louis Cardinals. The only team that won 11 postseason games. The only playoff team that won its last game. The only team whose players can say they are the 2006 World Series champions. Congratulations to management, the players, the city of St. Louis, and Redbird Nation.
Part Two: Monday. An in-depth look at the Cardinals and how they stack up for 2007.
The Ballad of Danny Ray Herrera
And so it begins.
On Monday, Baseball America published its 2006 Minor League Position Rankings, ushering in Prospect Lists Season around the web. Like the first bus loading senior citizens for a foliage tour through the Champlain Valley, or a group of coeds dressing up like naughty nurses for a fraternity Halloween party, it's a certain sign that fall is now officially upon us. And while most of the ensuing focus and discussion will rightly fall on the prospects who make such lists, I'd like to turn your attention to one player who almost surely will not.
Daniel Ray Herrera was drafted out of the University of New Mexico by the Texas Rangers in the 45th round (Pick #1345) of this year's draft. He grew up in Odessa, TX and attended Permian High, the school made famous by "Friday Night Lights." (Unfortunately for Herrera, he didn't attend at the same time as Minka Kelly). Wait a second. Where was I now? Ah, yes. . .
Herrera stands a wee 5'7", so he won't be selling any jeans. And a fastball that tops out at 86 MPH won't cause radar guns to make sweet love to him. But something happened to Herrera's game during his final college season, when all he did was get guys out:
YEAR CL IP ERA BB SO BAA
2004 FR 72.67 5.33 24 51 .308
2005 SO 93.00 6.20 33 67 .310
2006 JR 128.33 2.24 29 104 .238
As impressive as that junior year appears to the naked eye, it's worth analyzing in even greater detail.
Consider the following:
Herrera pitched in the college equivalent of (a pre-2006) Coors Field, with a three-year Park Factor of 159 (which means his home field has yielded an average of 59% more runs than a neutral park over the past three seasons). Last season, he pitched in stadiums with a Total Park Factor of 139.6. Yet, his ERA over 128 IP was 2.24, the third-lowest of all draft-eligible college pitchers last year with more than 100 innings pitched.
Moving to the world of Defense-Independent Pitching Stats, Herrera's DIPS ERA creeps up to 3.28, a general function of the relatively large number of hits he allowed in the thin mountain air. But still. Adjusting his DIPS ERA for the full effects of the level of competition against whom he pitched and the parks in which he threw, dropped his fully-adjusted ERA back down to 2.20.
But that's not all.
Prior to June's draft, scouts most often cited five players as the most pronounced college groundball pitchers. With this in mind, I went back before the draft and hand-calculated the Ground Outs/Air Outs (not all batted ball data is publicly-available at the college level) for each, to see how Herrera compared:
Danny Ray Herrera (LHP, New Mexico) 2.86
Derrick Lutz (RHP, George Washington) 2.23
Jason Godin (RHP, Old Dominion) 1.95
Brett Sinkbeil (RHP, Missouri State) 1.86
Jared Hughes (RHP, Long Beach State) 1.60
Dallas Buck (RHP, Oregon State) N/A
Fine, you're probably saying. Big deal. The kid had one good year in college. He induced a lot of ground balls, threw strikes, and got a reasonable number of whiffs while pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark. But he's short and doesn't throw especially hard, remember? Surely, the minor leagues would have exposed him for what he really is, right?
Let's take a look.
After breezing through the AZL for nine innings, Herrera got the call up to the Class A-Advanced Bakersfield Blaze of the California League and headed to the bullpen. Over the course of 54.3 IP, here's how he fared:
Herrera Lg. Avg.
OPS Against .518 .764
BABIP .293 .333
WHIP 0.94 1.47
BB/9 1.99 3.58
K/9 10.10 7.62
HR/9 0.00 0.81
GB% 70.7% 45.7%
In other words, Herrera once again disproved the doubters.
Now, none of this is to say that Herrera is certain to maintain these levels of performance as he continues his march towards the major leagues. As with the majority of prospects at his age and level of development, the odds are most certainly against him.
But here's to hoping that next season we might all begin to recognize him for the things he has already accomplished, rather than continually dismissing him for the things he might someday not.
THANKS: Boyd Nation's site is an incredible resource for all things college baseball. His passion for the Land of Aluminum Bats is obvious. Jeff Sackmann revolutionized the way the general public, even hacks like me, could analyze the minor leagues. If Bill James and Jessica Alba ever bore a child, and their child came out as a minor league baseball website, it would probably look something like minorleaguesplits.com.
Kent Bonham is a consultant in Washington, DC. He can be reached here.
Net Stolen Bases: Leaders and Laggards
Back in March 2005, I introduced the concept of the net stolen base. The idea was founded on rewarding players for SB and penalizing them for CS. The original formula was SB - (2 * CS) = Net SB. In this year's version, I have also included pickoffs. The updated formula is now SB - (2 * (CS + PO)).
The number of stolen bases, as a standalone stat, is misleading. It is somewhat like hits. If you don't know the number of at-bats, it is hard to put the the number of hits into context. As a result, when looking at SB, we need to know the number of attempts. Stolen bases as a percentage of attempts gives us a rate stat similar to batting average. However, in order to add value, a player needs to be successful stealing bases much more often than just 51% of the time. You see, CS is a double-edged sword. A runner who is cut down trying to steal not only produces an out, but he also removes himself from the base paths. As a result, we need to penalize him for the out as well as the lost baserunner.
In one of many studies on the value of stolen bases, James Click demonstrated that the breakeven point for stealing second base is approximately 73%, and it ranges from 70% to 93% (depending upon the number of outs) for stealing third base.
OUTS STOLEN BASE BREAKEVEN
0 Second 73.2%
1 Second 73.1%
2 Second 73.2%
0 Third 74.8%
1 Third 69.5%
2 Third 92.7%
The above breakeven points may zig and zag a percentage point or two from one season to the next, but the basic premise is the same year in and year out. When stealing bases, a player needs to be successful somewhere between 70-75% of the time. If not, he is doing more harm than good by attempting to steal bases. Sure, there are some other factors at play here, mainly the game context (i.e., the score, the number of outs, who's pitching, who's catching, and who's at bat). But, generally speaking, a baserunner needs to be called safe nearly three times as often as out when attempting to take those extra 90 feet.
Before we get ahead of ourselves here, let's take a look at the past season's stolen base leaders.
2006 STOLEN BASE LEADERS
PLAYER TEAM SB
1 Jose Reyes NYM 64
2 Juan Pierre ChC 58
Carl Crawford TB 58
4 Chone Figgins LAA 52
5 Hanley Ramirez Fla 51
6 Dave Roberts SD 49
7 Ichiro Suzuki Sea 45
Corey Patterson Bal 45
9 Felipe Lopez Was 44
10 Alfonso Soriano Was 41
11 Scott Podsednik CWS 40
12 Rafael Furcal LAD 37
Ryan Freel Cin 37
14 Jimmy Rollins Phi 36
Brian Roberts Bal 36
16 Derek Jeter NYY 34
17 Willy Taveras Hou 33
18 Kenny Lofton LAD 32
19 Bobby Abreu NYY 30
20 Orlando Cabrera LAA 27
21 Chris Duffy Pit 26
22 Johnny Damon NYY 25
Mike Cameron SD 25
Luis Castillo Min 25
Eric Byrnes Ari 25
Brandon Phillips Cin 25
Jose Reyes led the major leagues in SB with 64. Carl Crawford led the American League with 58. The question is: How valuable were these stolen bases?
Here are the stolen base leaders in the context of caught stealing, pick offs, and net SB.
SB LEADERS WITH CS AND PO TOTALS
PLAYER TEAM SB CS PO NET SB*
1 Jose Reyes NYM 64 17 3 24
2 Juan Pierre ChC 58 20 0 18
Carl Crawford TB 58 9 1 38
4 Chone Figgins LAA 52 16 0 20
5 Hanley Ramirez Fla 51 15 0 21
6 Dave Roberts SD 49 6 3 31
7 Ichiro Suzuki Sea 45 2 1 39
Corey Patterson Bal 45 9 0 27
9 Felipe Lopez Was 44 12 1 18
10 Alfonso Soriano Was 41 17 2 3
11 Scott Podsednik CWS 40 19 2 - 2
12 Rafael Furcal LAD 37 13 0 11
Ryan Freel Cin 37 11 4 7
14 Jimmy Rollins Phi 36 4 0 28
Brian Roberts Bal 36 7 2 18
16 Derek Jeter NYY 34 5 0 24
17 Willy Taveras Hou 33 9 2 11
18 Kenny Lofton LAD 32 5 0 22
19 Bobby Abreu NYY 30 6 1 16
20 Orlando Cabrera LAA 27 3 0 21
21 Chris Duffy Pit 26 1 1 22
22 Johnny Damon NYY 25 10 0 5
Mike Cameron SD 25 9 0 7
Luis Castillo Min 25 11 1 1
Eric Byrnes Ari 25 3 2 15
Brandon Phillips Cin 25 2 2 17
* Net SB = SB - (2 * (CS + PO))
Based on Click's work, I could have used SB - (3 * (CS + PO)) rather than SB - (2 * (CS + PO)) to come up with a 75% breakeven point. However, I chose to err on the side of conservatism, plus I think it is slightly easier to compute the net number in your head using two times rather than three. When possible, remember to keep it simple, stupid. So, in honor of KISS, we will use the Deuce in our formula.
Based on the adjusted stolen base totals, the top 10 most efficient base stealers were as follows:
MOST EFFICIENT BASE STEALERS
PLAYER TEAM NET SB
1 Ichiro Suzuki Sea 39
2 Carl Crawford TB 38
3 Dave Roberts SD 31
4 Jimmy Rollins Phi 28
5 Corey Patterson Bal 27
6 Jose Reyes NYM 24
Derek Jeter NYY 24
8 Kenny Lofton LAD 22
Chris Duffy Pit 22
10 Hanley Ramirez Fla 21
Orlando Cabrera LAA 21
Ichiro Suzuki and Carl Crawford were the most efficient base stealers last year. Both combined quantity with efficiency. Feel free to add Dave Roberts if you're interested in the NL leader in this category.
Using the same forumula, we can also determine the least efficient base stealers.
LEAST EFFICIENT BASE STEALERS
PLAYER TEAM SB CS PO NET SB
1 Jamey Carroll Col 10 12 3 -20
2 Jeff Francoeur Atl 1 6 1 -13
3 Bill Hall Mil 8 9 1 -12
4 Jose Bautista Pit 2 4 2 -10
5 Reggie Abercrombie Fla 6 5 2 - 8
Ronny Cedeno ChC 8 8 0 - 8
Dan Uggla Fla 6 6 1 - 8
8 Magglio Ordonez Det 1 4 0 - 7
Yuniesky Betancourt Sea 11 8 1 - 7
Ryan Zimmerman Was 11 8 1 - 7
David Eckstein StL 7 6 1 - 7
Every player on the list above is literally costing his team outs and potentially runs and even wins. Jamey Carroll, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Ryan Zimmerman may have pleased their fantasy baseball owners in the stolen base department last year, but they were a net negative for their real owners with respect to stealing bases. Using Carroll as an example illustrates the point. The little second baseman stole 10 bases last year, but he also finished among the top 10 in CS (12) and was tied for second in PO (3). In other words, he cost the Rockies 15 outs while removing himself from the bases 15 times. Shake it all up and our formula suggests that Carroll was worth minus 20 bases when attempting to steal in 2006.
As it relates to the NL Rookie of the Year balloting, if you are at all torn among Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Zimmerman, look no further than their net SB as perhaps a tie breaker. Ramirez contributed a net positive 21 bases - good for 10th best in MLB - while Uggla and Zimmerman cost their teams 8 and 7 bases, respectively, for a net differential of nearly 30 bases.
Jeff Francoeur is a certified out maker. He was third in the NL and fourth overall in outs (defined as AB - H + CS + GIDP + SH + SF) last year. He had a poor OBP (.293) and SB% (14%). A good athlete, Francoeur lacks discipline at the plate and on the bases. Oh, his ceiling is high. But he has more holes than Pinehurst in his game at the moment.
Looking at net stolen bases can be valuable in so many ways. For example, if a team wants to sign Alfonso Soriano to a huge long-term contract, I just hope that management realizes what it's getting or not getting, as the case may be. Every serious baseball fan knows by now that Soriano became just the fourth player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season. But, if the truth be known, he wasn't much of an asset when attempting to steal bases in 2006. At best, Alfonso turned in an ever so slightly positive net SB contribution last year.
Worse yet is Scott Podsednik, whose claim to fame to date has been stealing bases. Although the Chicago White Sox left fielder stole 40 bases, he was a net liability in this department. Yep, you read that right. Podsednik was caught or picked off 21 times, resulting in a net contribution of minus 2 bases. If Podsednik's not helping you on the base paths, where is he adding value? Certainly not with the bat (.261/.330/.353).
Net stolen bases can also be used at the team level. Here is a ranking from top to bottom based on the offensive side of the equation (exclusive of pickoffs).
TEAM SB CS NET SB
1 NY Mets 146 35 76
2 NY Yankees 139 35 69
3 San Diego 123 31 61
4 Cincinnati 124 33 58
5 Baltimore 121 32 57
6 Philadelphia 92 25 42
7 LA Angels 148 57 34
8 Seattle 106 37 32
9 LA Dodgers 128 49 30
Tampa Bay 134 52 30
11 Chicago Cubs 121 49 23
12 Pittsburgh 68 23 22
13 Oakland 61 20 21
14 Minnesota 101 42 17
15 Arizona 76 30 16
16 Cleveland 55 23 9
17 San Francisco 58 25 8
18 Houston 79 36 7
19 Texas 53 24 5
Boston 51 23 5
21 Toronto 65 33 - 1
Washington 123 62 - 1
23 Chicago Sox 93 48 - 3
Kansas City 65 34 - 3
Milwaukee 71 37 - 3
26 St. Louis 59 32 - 5
27 Florida 110 58 - 6
28 Colorado 85 50 -15
29 Atlanta 52 35 -18
30 Detroit 60 40 -20
The Mets, Yankees, and Padres - playoff teams all - were 1-2-3 in the majors. The Tigers and Cardinals - battling each other in the World Series - ranked among the bottom five.
Now let's take a look at the defensive side of the picture.
TEAM SB CS NET SB
1. Florida 69 46 -23
2. Detroit 49 35 -21
3. Baltimore 80 50 -20
Cincinnati 50 35 -20
5. Texas 67 40 -13
6. Minnesota 54 31 - 8
7. Seattle 72 38 - 4
8. LA Angels 77 40 - 3
9. Kansas City 58 30 - 2
Pittsburgh 102 52 - 2
NY Yankees 92 47 - 2
12. St. Louis 63 32 - 1
13. Arizona 90 45 0
14. Oakland 88 41 6
15. Colorado 99 42 15
16. Tampa Bay 108 46 16
17. San Francisco 98 40 18
18. Houston 78 28 22
19. Philadelphia 94 35 24
20. NY Mets 111 40 31
21. LA Dodgers 110 38 34
22. Milwaukee 97 31 35
23. Chicago Cubs 118 39 40
24. Atlanta 101 30 41
25. Chicago Sox 116 34 48
26. Washington 110 30 50
27. Cleveland 128 34 60
28. Boston 108 23 62
29. Toronto 130 32 66
30. San Diego 150 26 98
Detroit, as one would expect, doesn't look so bad here. The Tigers do a pretty good job at holding runners and Pudge Rodriguez has been one of the best catchers ever at throwing out runners attempting to steal. San Diego, on the other hand, looks downright awful. Mike Piazza, without a doubt the best-hitting catcher of all time, has never been known for his defensive prowess, especially his arm.
Netting out the offensive and defensive contributions for each team produces the following results:
TEAM OFF DEF NET
1 Cincinnati 58 -20 78
2 Baltimore 57 -20 77
3 NY Yankees 69 - 2 71
4 NY Mets 76 31 45
5 LA Angels 34 - 3 37
6 Seattle 32 - 4 36
7 Minnesota 17 - 8 25
8 Pittsburgh 22 - 2 24
9 Philadelphia 42 24 18
Texas 5 -13 18
11 Florida - 6 -23 17
12 Arizona 16 0 16
13 Oakland 21 6 15
14 Tampa Bay 30 16 14
15 Detroit -20 -21 1
16 Kansas City - 3 - 2 - 1
17 LA Dodgers 30 34 - 4
St. Louis - 5 - 1 - 4
19 San Francisco 8 18 -10
20 Houston 7 22 -15
21 Chicago Cubs 23 40 -17
22 Colorado -15 15 -30
23 San Diego 61 98 -37
24 Milwaukee - 3 35 -38
25 Cleveland 9 60 -51
Washington - 1 50 -51
Chicago Sox - 3 48 -51
28 Boston 5 62 -57
29 Atlanta -18 41 -59
30 Toronto - 1 66 -67
Seven of the eight playoff teams were essentially even to plus in terms of their effectiveness in stealing bases and preventing stolen bases. Only the Padres were hugely negative.
Whether plus or minus, keep in mind that stolen bases are worth less than one-half of a base per game to the best and worst teams. The difference between the #1 club (Cincinnati) and the #30 (Toronto) approaches one base per game - not insignificant but a relatively minor matter when compared to the disparities between the best and worst teams with respect to pitching, hitting, and fielding.
In closing, it is important to make two points:
1. Stolen bases are not as valuable in today's high-scoring environment as they were in the Dead Ball era or during the pitching-dominated 1960s and early 1970s.
2. Outs are more precious today than ever before.
As a result, pay attention to both quantity and quality. The net stolen base concept does a good job at doing just that.
Open Chat: PineTarGate
We have two posts for you today. Two-for-the-price-of-none. A World Serious special.
First of all, be sure to read Al Doyle's feature on Mickey Lolich, entitled The "Fat Man's Hero" and the 1968 World Series. It's a good read, whether you remember following the series back then or for those of you who may not have been born quite yet.
Secondly, let's turn this entry over to the readers with a return of the Open Chat that was unveiled last week.
The Cardinals won the first game behind the solid pitching of Anthony Reyes, who was backed by an early two-run HR by Albert Pujols. The Tigers came back and took the second game with Kenny Rogers turning in another masterful start in October. He has now joined Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers to make three starts in the postseason without allowing a run. Mathewson, of course, threw three shutouts in the 1905 World Series.
Rogers had either a "clump of dirt" or pine tar on his pitching hand. I don't know about you but is this dirt? If it was a one-time thing, I might say "ehh, maybe." But ESPN ran video clips after the game that clearly showed Rogers with pine tar in the same spot on his pitching hand in every postseason start this year. Coincidence? I think not!
My first question to you is:
Should Rogers have been examined more closely by the umpires and thrown out of the game on the spot?
For some background info on the subject, here is how Rule 8.02 reads: "The pitcher shall not . . . (b) Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically for 10 games."
There is a precedent for ejecting a pitcher for the use of a foreign substance in a postseason game. Jay Howell, a reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was ejected and suspended for two games in the 1988 National League Championship Series. Don't ask me why it was two games rather than 10. (Tip of the hat to Viva El Birdos.)
Some folks might argue that Rogers shut out the Cardinals for seven more innings after washing off the clump of dirt (as he called it). Well, who is to say that Rogers didn't simply transfer the pine tar to his glove or the bill of his cap? Could this help explain why he has suddenly turned into Whitey Ford in the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series? I mean, it's not like this guy is without controversy.
My second question is:
Is Tony La Russa guilty of not making a bigger issue of the matter? Is his friendship with Jim Leyland getting in the way here?
Thirdly, speaking of TLR. . .
Should he have pinch hit Chris Duncan for Yadier Molina in last night's game with the bases loaded, two outs, and down 3-1? Is this a case where going with the so-called "hot hand" got in the way of logic? Personally, I don't see how La Russa can lose that game with Duncan sitting on the bench.
It's all yours. Have at it.
The "Fat Man's Hero" and the 1968 World Series
"I guess you could say I'm the redemption of the fat man. A guy will be watching me on TV and see that I don't look in any better shape than he is. 'Hey, Maude,' he'll holler. 'Get a load of this guy. And he's a 20-game winner.'" - Mickey Lolich
In addition to Denny McLain's 31-6, 1.96 ERA season, the pennant-winning 1968 Tigers smashed 185 home runs - by far the best in the majors - during a year when pitching completely ruled baseball.
Detroit's .235 team batting average may look feeble by current standards, but the Tigers were above the American League total of .230. 1968 was so weighted towards pitching that the Yankees finished in fifth place with an 83-79 record despite a record-low .214 team BA.
While his 22-9 record may not reflect it, Bob Gibson's 1968 performance was more dominant than McLain's. That's because the Cardinals ace set a record with his 1.12 ERA that was even lower than the best of the dead ball era. A few more runs at the right moments, and Gibson could have easily finished with 26 or 27 wins.
With such superior staff aces, it's not surprising that the Tigers and Cardinals faced off in the World Series. The Series opened in St. Louis with Gibson and McLain on the mound. The Cardinals scored three runs in the fourth inning, and that was more than Gibson needed.
The intense right-hander racked up a record 17 strikeouts for a 4-0 shutout. Detroit's three errors almost equaled their five hits in the team's first World Series appearance since 1945.
With the publicity-loving McLain grabbing the national spotlight for his 31-win season, the rest of the Tigers staff was unknown outside of Michigan. Number 2 starter Mickey Lolich was no slouch, as he went 17-9 with a 3.19 ERA in 220 innings pitched. A 197 to 65 (better than 3 to 1) strikeout to walk ratio provided one indicator of his skill.
Nelson Briles (19-11) started for the Cardinals against Lolich. In addition to holding St. Louis to six hits in an 8-1 complete game victory, Lolich (a .110 career hitter) slugged the only home run of his career.
"It was a high pitch on a 3-2 count, up by the bill of my cap," Lolich said in a 1988 interview. "I tomahawked it trying not to strike out, and it went over the fence." Known for his sense of humor and willingness to serve as the "fat man's hero," Lolich explained why he never slammed another bomb.
"It's too far to run," he said.
Home field advantage didn't help the Tigers in Games 3 and 4, and the Cardinals took easy 8-3 and 10-1 decisions. Four errors helped sabotage McLain as he lost his second duel against Gibson. Down 3 games to 1, the Tigers turned to Lolich to keep their slim hopes alive.
The lefty got off to a rocky start, giving up three first-inning runs, including a two-run HR by Orlando Cepeda. It proved to be the only poor inning Lolich had during the World Series, as he shut down the Cardinals the rest of the way. The Tigers came back with a three-run seventh inning to win 5-3. Left fielder Willie Horton was the hero for Detroit, as his perfect throw to catcher Bill Freehan cut down speedster Lou Brock trying to score from second base on a single in the fifth inning.
It was back to St. Louis for Game 6. A 10-run third inning allowed McLain to cruise to a 13-1 complete game victory. Who was going to pitch the deciding game for the Tigers? Game 3 starter Earl Wilson (13-12, 2.85 ERA) could go on four days rest, and his seven HRs in just 88 ABs even provided another longball threat in the lineup.
Manager Mayo Smith had already made a daring move during the Series when he replaced weak-hitting (just .135 in 215 ABs) defensive specialist Ray Oyler at shortstop by moving centerfielder Mickey Stanley to the infield. That made room in the lineup for Al Kaline, who missed much of the season with a broken wrist.
Like a riverboat gambler on a roll, Smith passed on the safe choice of Wilson and asked Lolich to go on two days rest.
"Mayo asked me if I could pitch five innings," Lolich recalIs. "I gave him one of those cliched answers like 'I've got all winter to rest.'"
Lolich didn't put in five innings against the Cardinals. He rang up a third straight complete game. Gibson and Lolich matched zeroes for six innings before first baseman Norm Cash and Horton singled in the Tiger seventh.
Left-handed hitting Jim Northrup came to the plate and hit a line drive to centerfielder Curt Flood. Normally one of the best defensive players in the game, Flood misjudged Northrup's smash, which went for a two-run triple.
The Tigers added another pair of runs before Lolich gave up a harmless ninth-inning solo homer to Mike Shannon and won the deciding game 4-1. In 27 innings, Lolich gave up just five runs for a 1.67 ERA, striking out 21 with six walks. Detroit was the fourth team in World Series history to come back from a 3-1 deficit. The home team finished with a 2-5 record in the '68 Series.
Lolich turned out to be far more than a one-time wonder. Frequent negative remarks about his pot belly and Lolich's ability to laugh at himself ("Some people have great bodies and a bad arm. I've a got a bad body and a good arm" and "All the fat guys watch me and say to their wives 'See, there's a fat guy doing O.K. Bring me another beer.'") made it easy to ignore his durability.
The big lefty followed up his Series MVP performance with a 19-11 record in 280.2 IP in 1969. After going 14-19 in 1970, Lolich put together a pair of seasons that destroyed any stereotypes about his physical condition.
During his 25-14, 2.92 performance in 1971, Lolich led the majors in starts (45), innings pitched (376), strikeouts (308) and wins. His 29 complete games led the American League, and no one had tossed more innings since Ed Walsh in 1912.
Sounds like a Cy Young Award performance, doesn't it? Not when 22-year Vida Blue was putting together a 24-8, 1.82 season with the A's, which was enough for him to beat Lolich 98-85 in voting for the honor.
Lolich followed up with 22-14 record and a career-best 2.50 ERA in 1972. He started 41 games and completed 23 in 327.1 IP. Once again among the league leaders in a number of stats, Lolich gave up just three earned runs in 19 IP (1.42) during the American League Championship Series against the A's, but had an 0-1 record in two starts.
The string of 300 IP seasons continued in 1973 and 1974, but the results were a disappointing 16-15 and 16-21 as the Tigers crumbled and fell into the basement. After a 12-18, 3.78 season in 1975, Lolich was traded to the Mets for Rusty Staub.
His 207 wins in Motown make Lolich the second winningest pitcher in Tigers history behind George Mullin (209 Ws). A 217-191 career record doesn't sound like something that an out-of-shape blob could post. Don't let the gut fool you. Mickey Lolich was a strong, durable pitcher who was at his best in the clutch.
2006 World Series: Tale of the Tape
After two months of spring training, six months of regular season play, and more than two weeks of the division and championship series playoffs, the time has come for the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals to put their gloves on and square off in the 102nd World Series.
We bring you all the facts and figures, including the schedule (with projected starting pitchers), stats, lineups, and more.
95-67, Finished 2nd in AL Central Division
Scored 822 Runs, Allowed 675 Runs (Pythagorean W-L: 95-67)
Won ALDS (3-1) over the New York Yankees
Won ALCS (4-0) over the Oakland A's
10th World Series (4-5)
Last Appearance: 1984 (Beat SD in five games)
Ballpark: Comerica Park (Park Factor - 99)
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
83-78, Finished 1st in NL Central Division
Scored 781 Runs, Allowed 762 Runs (Pythagorean W-L: 82-79)
Won NLDS (3-1) over the San Diego Padres
Won NLCS (4-3) over the New York Mets
17th World Series (9-7)
Last Appearance: 2004 (Lost to BOS in four games)
Ballpark: Busch Stadium III (Park Factor - 98)
The last time the Tigers and Cardinals met in the World Series was in 1968 when Detroit fought back from a 3-1 deficit and won Games 5, 6, and 7 to capture the title. Mickey Lolich won three games, including the finale on two days' rest.
Game 1: Saturday, October 21 @ Detroit, 8:03 p.m. ET - Anthony Reyes (5-8, 5.06) vs. Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.63)
[According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time in World Series history that each team will start a rookie pitcher in the opening game.]
Game 2: Sunday, October 22 @ Detroit, 8:23 p.m. ET - Jeff Weaver (8-14, 5.76) vs. Kenny Rogers (17-8, 3.84)
Game 3: Tuesday, October 24 @ St. Louis, 8:33 p.m. ET - Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84) vs. Chris Carpenter (15-8, 3.09)
Game 4: Wednesday, October 25 @ St. Louis, 8:27 p.m. ET - Jeremy Bonderman (14-8, 4.08) vs. Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.12)
Game 5: Thursday, October 26 @ St. Louis, 8:27 p.m. ET
Game 6: Saturday, October 28 @ Detroit, 7:57 p.m. ET
Game 7: Sunday, October 29 @ Detroit, 8:00 p.m. ET
* all games on Fox
REGULAR SEASON STATS
NAME G AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Tigers 162 5642 822 1548 294 40 203 2531 785 430 1133 60 40 .274 .329 .449 .777
Opp 162 5535 675 1420 263 38 160 2239 642 489 1003 49 35 .257 .321 .405 .725
NAME G AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Cards 161 5522 781 1484 292 27 184 2382 745 531 922 59 32 .269 .337 .431 .769
Opp 161 5496 762 1475 310 34 193 2432 735 504 970 63 32 .268 .337 .443 .779
NAME G GS W L Sv QS IP H R ER HR BB SO K/9 P/GS WHIP ERA
Tigers 162 162 95 67 46 88 1448 1420 675 618 160 489 1003 6.23 94.1 1.32 3.84
NAME G GS W L Sv QS IP H R ER HR BB SO K/9 P/GS WHIP ERA
Cards 161 161 83 78 38 74 1430 1475 721 762 193 504 970 6.11 92.8 1.38 4.54
NAME G AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Tigers 8 276 44 82 19 1 13 142 44 26 47 3 2 .297 .353 .514 .867
Opp 8 265 23 62 14 0 8 100 23 22 52 1 1 .234 .302 .377 .680
NAME G AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Cards 11 351 42 90 12 5 11 145 40 36 54 6 3 .256 .337 .413 .750
Opp 11 363 33 83 19 3 8 132 33 40 70 7 1 .229 .311 .364 .674
NAME G GS W L Sv QS IP H R ER HR BB SO K/9 P/GS WHIP ERA
Tigers 8 8 7 1 3 0 71 62 23 23 8 22 52 6.59 100.4 1.18 2.92
NAME G GS W L Sv QS IP H R ER HR BB SO K/9 P/GS WHIP ERA
Cards 11 11 7 4 3 0 97 83 32 33 8 40 70 6.49 93.1 1.27 2.97
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
1. Curtis Granderson, CF .260 .335 .438 99
2. Placido Polanco, 2B .295 .329 .364 81
3. Sean Casey, DH .272 .336 .388 87
4. Magglio Ordonez, RF .298 .350 .477 113
5. Carlos Guillen, 1B .320 .400 .519 137
6. Ivan Rodriguez, C .300 .332 .437 98
7. Craig Monroe, LF .255 .301 .482 100
8. Brandon Inge, 3B .253 .313 .463 99
9. Ramon Santiago, SS .225 .244 .262 32
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
1. David Eckstein, SS .292 .350 .344 81
2. Scott Spiezio, LF .272 .366 .496 121
3. Albert Pujols, 1B .331 .431 .671 180
4. Jim Edmonds, CF .257 .350 .471 111
5. Juan Encarnacion, RF .278 .317 .443 94
6. Scott Rolen, 3B .296 .369 .518 127
7. Preston Wilson, DH .263 .307 .423 84
8. Yadier Molina, C .216 .274 .321 54
9. Ronnie Belliard, 2B .272 .322 .403 88
FACTS AND FIGURES
The Cardinals have the second-lowest winning percentage of any World Series team ever. The lowest? The 1973 New York Mets (82-79, .509). The outcome? The Mets lost to the A's in seven games. The only other clubs with fewer than 90 wins were the 1987 Minnesota Twins (85-77, .525), 1997 Cleveland Indians (86-75, .534), 2000 New York Yankees (87-74, .540), and 2005 Houston Astros (89-73, .549).
The team with the worst record has won 2-of-the-last-3, 5-of-the-last-7, 9-of-the-last-13, and 20-of-the-36 World Series since the introduction of divisions in 1969.
The Tigers haven't played a game since last Saturday. The last six teams that started the World Series with five or more days of rest all went on to win. According to Elias, the 1991 Minnesota Twins, 1989 Oakland A's, 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, 2002 Anaheim Angels, and 2005 Chicago White Sox all entered the World Series with five days off and emerged victorious. The 1995 Atlanta Braves and 1996 New York Yankees had six-day breaks - matching what Detroit has - and won the title.
Seven of the nine teams in baseball history to start the Series with five days off went on to win. The only losers were the 1988 Oakland Athletics (to the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the 1990 A's (to Cincinnati). Both were managed by Tony La Russa.
American League teams have won six of the last eight World Series, with only the 2001 Diamondbacks and 2003 Florida Marlins winning titles for the NL (both by beating the New York Yankees).
Detroit manager Jim Leyland sums it up best, "Do I think overall, by the looks of things, that the American League was a stronger league this year? Yes, I do. Do I think that it goes in cycles? Yes, I do. Do I think that has anything to do with this World Series? Not one damn thing. Nothing."
Zoomlander: Starting, Relieving and Throwing Hard
When it comes to general sports, I am a fan of watching people perform at the highest levels. This means, for example, that I got into it last week watching a women's college volleyball match because one player from Hawai'i (highly ranked nationally) was totally, and I mean totally, dominating. Everyone knew she was going to spike the ball and it was as if she took aim at one opposing player after another and made them eat leather. I do not know anything about volleyball, but I know she was performing at a level significantly higher than her opposition.
This type of performance, although somewhat far-reaching, reminded me of Tigers pitchers Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. Specifically, their performance against the Yankees in the ALDS (since I actually got to watch some of it) and more specifically, their approaches to Yankees sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi were especially overpowering. These guys are fun to watch!
Here are two excerpts that show specific at-bats in full (clips thankfully prepared by an anonymous "donor"):
Verlander vs. A-Rod
Zumaya vs. Giambi
According to the radar display, each of these fastballs (5 of the 6 pitches) registered at or above 100 MPH. As if that was not challenging enough, as soon as A-Rod sniffed some contact, Verlander delivered an 85 MPH bender to expedite A-Rod's departure. Cool stuff in and of itself. . .
. . .But while changing around the format of the video, I came across an interesting feature which provided another option for making comparisons, and here is the resulting clip in full:
The clip itself comes from the same camera and same angle from the same game. Both pitchers are synchronized to release point and both are throwing 100 MPH fastballs.
Of course, the first question to me is: how do these guys throw so hard? Secondly, what became very interesting to me is a couple of things that Verlander and Zumaya apparently do a little bit differently, along with the implications that those differences might have for different types of pitcher (starters vs. relivers).
Here is the comparison one more time, slowed down in full:
In one quick sentence, Verlander appears to be more efficient with his body, whereas Zumaya seems to rely more on his arm. These are the areas I would like to focus on here.
In this section of the video, Verlander is moving more directly towards home plate than Zumaya, who is moving slightly to the 3rd base side. This appears to allow Verlander greater freedom to open his rotating hips as each pitcher arrives at foot-plant in frame 2.
This is important because it gives Verlander more potential to transfer energy from both his linear movement towards the plate as well as his rotating hips. In contrast, Zumaya's midsection is going to have to do more work to overcome this change in direction as he gets his upper body squared up to home plate before release. If this can not be accomplished, Zumaya is going to have to find those missing MPH's in another link towards the end the chain. The quick version of this is that Verlander appears more efficient in setting up forwards flexion of the trunk that is occurring during the time surrounding ball release.
Two other quick clues that indicate more efficient rotational ability for Verlander:
1. Check again the second frame of the clip section directly above. Look at the distance between Verlander's feet and Zumaya's feet.
2. Note the finish of Verlander in the full speed video as his momentum leaves him "falling" toward the 1st base side.
Now while Verlander is busy getting his hips and upper body in position, Zumaya is doing something else exceptionally well:
The first thing I noticed in the comparison was Zumaya's arm action. You can see the different positions of each pitcher's throwing arm in frame 1. While Verlander has his elbow, shoulder, and the ball at virtually the same height, Zumaya clearly has his elbow raised above his shoulder. This requires some internal rotation of the arm (humerus at the shoulder joint) and it is important because it creates more distance for Zumaya's hand to travel in order to catch up to Verlander (which he does). Frame 6 is where each player has reached maximal external rotation, and because of Zumaya's initial position in Frame 1, he has been able to create and store more elastic energy to be delivered upon release. Click here for a brief "textbook" explanation.
Starter vs Reliever
Thinking of this at surface level, it is logical that the starting pitcher should be more efficient. A starter is required to throw more innings and more pitches and increased efficiency reduces stress on the arm. The fact that relievers can come in and air it out does not dismiss the need for mechanical efficiency, but the nature of their short appearances may allow them more room for error. For instance, a reliever is less susceptible to muscular fatigue pitching one inning as opposed to 6 or 7, and it may be during those times of muscular fatigue that the door for injury is opened wider for certain pitchers.
As far as the conclusion goes, I do not have one yet. This is the start of an increasingly in-depth look at the physical demands of starting and relief pitching. Reviewing as much research as has been done on the topic is step one, but I'll also have some upcoming opportunities to learn from leading experts in the fields of exercise physiology and throwing mechanics.
Two Baseball Poems
(for Chris Tillman)
I pitch and then
your memory rises high above the house to bounce
upon the roof, careen across the shingles
and then begin to roll back down to earth.
I dash beyond the porch
on backyard, left field grass to warning track
beneath the eaves and overhang
calculating hit to carom to catch
last moment stride to blind belief
see it all bounce off the gutter once
reach up and try to hold it
but it falls beyond my grasp
then lies there still, a ground-rule double.
Your ghost man lopes toward second base
but turns, pulls up then kicks the bag
and stays there. You laugh
and then, too late, I kneel
and grab the ball. It is
empty, white, weighs almost nothing.
One side is cracked, and full of holes.
BEFORE THE FALL
This slow start this spring
could mean there are holes, dead spots
in the order, weakness
up the middle, and at each corner
Age. Some of us
are in the wrong position
and with each stretch
the muscles pop and tear.
There is no defense
no great depth on which we can depend.
Our speed is suspect
and power, at best, sporadic.
From the cellar the sky is far away
and possibly false, the mound so high
who can help from falling awkward off?
The arms and hands have no control
and the eye wanders, unfocused
anywhere but home.
Each day we greet the earth, but circle
back between the lines
Alone. The night brings
no relief but tomorrow
and the place where we stand
printed on paper
black and white.
Help is at least a year away
and we are closer to hell than that.
We are stepping in for the last time
going out across the fields.
It is a long season
and we are out of our league.
What can we do
but keep playing, playing
look to the sky, to the sun, a white blur
and pray that the rain comes, that summer is wrong?
Among other things, Glenn Stout majored in softball and poetry at Bard College. His poem "Notes Toward an Obituary in the St. Louis Sporting News" was recently published in the inaugural edition of 108 Magazine. He is the author or editor of more than sixty books and lives in Vermont.
Open Chat: Alex Rodriguez and Aramis Ramirez
Lou Piniella agrees to a three-year deal to manage the Chicago Cubs. ESPN. Chicago Tribune.
Piniella expects Cubs to go hard after A-Rod.
1. Will Alex Rodriguez waive the no-trade clause in his contract and agree to a trade with the Cubs?
2. If you were Jim Hendry, what would you offer for A-Rod?
3. If you were Brian Cashman, what would you ask for in return?
4. Will Aramis Ramirez opt out of his contract and sign with the Yankees? Or the Angels? Or will he stay put in the Windy City?
FWIW: TradeSports.com is taking action on whether Alex Rodriguez will start the 2007 season as a Yankee. Go to Trading Categories on the left-hand side of the site > Baseball > MLB Reg Season Props. As of late last night, the bid was 70 and the offer was 79.5 with the last trade at 70.
You provide the answers in the comments section below.
Lyons and Tigers and Berra. . .Oh, My!
News Item: Fox fires baseball broadcaster Steve Lyons for making a racially insensitive comment directed at colleague Lou Piniella's Hispanic heritage on the air during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Response: I have never cared for Lyons - as a player, a color analyst, or as an in-studio commentator - and I don't condone his comments in this instance. That said, I believe Fox overreacted by firing him.
In these politically correct times, we have simply become overly sensitive about such comments, especially when the subject matters are on the American Civil Liberty Union's protected list. I believe a reprimand or even a suspension (if he had been reprimanded before) would have been more suitable.
Wondering if I was being insensitive, I shared the news with my brothers via email in the hopes of getting another view on the matter. Neither one of them is a red neck or anything close to it. In fact, I believe my older brother Tom is as objective and fair as they come. My younger brother Gary is principled and culturally sensitive. In short, they would both make excellent jurors or even arbiters.
Tom wrote back, "I thought it was a very stupid comment" and went on to elaborate as to the whys and wherefores.
My son Joe, who I also included as a recipient of the original email, chimed in, "My question is 'What took so long?'"
Now it was Gary's turn. We were all online and the emails were being exchanged rather quickly. He wrote back, "While understanding the seriousness of racism and the like, this undersores the political correctness that is at hand." The example he then gave is priceless.
"I see, in the Tigers game, it's not OK for Lyons to say that Piniella was 'hablaing Espanol' and 'I still can't find my wallet,' albeit for cheap laughs . . .
. . . But what if Lyons had been working alongside Yogi Berra and Yogi said . . . (as he did about a hotel stay he recently had):
'The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase . . . but nobody ever goes there any more cuz it's always too crowded!'
Lyons then would add, 'Huh, was that English, Yogi? Come to think of it, Yogi, since you stayed at my house, my linen closet seems to be a bit lighter!'"
Gary concludes by adding, "I'm sure he would have been fired for that, too. Good grief! If I've learned one thing, you can observe a lot just by watching!"
Pretty good, huh? Oh, and I owe Gary a special thanks for the title to this post as well. He is pretty clever.
For more on the matter, including reactions by Lyons to his firing, be sure to read the L.A. Times version of the story.
Replacing the Wild Card: The "Challenge Round"
There seems to be a pretty general consensus among sabermetric folks that baseball's current system of post-season eligibility and play is seriously flawed. Rich Lederer's post here the other day is one indication, an on-going discussion in the SABR-L listserv is another, and sabermetric hero Billy Beane's famous characterization of the playoffs as a "crapshoot" is a third, but the concerns are hardly new.
Wild card contenders compete with one another based on overall record, but play very different schedules. Small divisions produce frequent runaway champions and many meaningless post-clinching games. First place over 162 games often means little when the wild card awaits a competitive runner-up. Worst of all, an eight-team tournament of seven short series means it has become very unlikely that the best team will actually be crowned World Series champion. Even a team good enough to have a 60% chance of winning a random game against any other playoff team has only a small chance of winning three consecutive short series to be named champion.
The recent, rather nonsensical agonizing over whether Joe Torre should be fired because of three losses after the Yankees finished with the best record in baseball is a symptom of the getting-close-to-random nature of the current post-season system (Joe received too much credit for the four World Series wins and now receives too much blame for the absence of them since). Baseball should have a way to maintain or even increase interest in late regular season baseball, while also giving better teams (better as shown by the large sample of games that is the regular season) a stronger chance of actually winning a World Series. As you might guess, I have a suggestion.
The first step is to return to the four-division structure that prevailed from 1969 to 1993. More teams per division will produce more variation in results year to year (check the AL East standings over the last few years and then look up "ossification" in the dictionary), and more chances of close battles for first place. But of course MLB is never going to return to a world where only four division winners are eligible to play post-season games. The reduction in the number of teams playing meaningful late season games would be too significant to ever get wide approval among the owners. So we need an alternative.
I propose that instead of going directly to a four-team tournament, each of the four divisions first have a "Challenge Round" in which the second place team in each division would have an opportunity to catch the first place team in a series of head-to-head games. In effect, the regular season would be extended for up to another 6 games between the first and second place teams, until one or the other clinches the division. If they end up tied at the end of 6 games, they play a seventh game in the form of a one-game playoff. To provide a few examples of how this system would work, suppose divisions ended as they did in 2006. In a Challenge Round, Anaheim (second place, four games behind) would play Oakland needing six wins in seven games; Minnesota (first place) and Detroit (one game behind) would play, with the Tigers needing four wins in six games; and LA and San Diego (who tied for first) would play a full best of seven game Challenge Round series.
What if the first place team finishes the regular season schedule more than six games in front of the second place team? In that case, the second place team in the Challenge Round would have the opportunity to play the first place team however many games it would take to catch up to first place, but would have to win every game until it caught up - any one loss would end the series in favor of the first place team. If the second place finisher somehow managed to win all the consecutive games needed to tie, a one-game playoff would follow. So again using 2006 finishes as an example, the Red Sox would play the Yankees needing 11 straight wins, and the Phils would play the Mets needing 13 straight wins - though remember, with larger divisions these sorts of runaways become less likely.
Such a Challenge Round used in each of four divisions every year would have all the advantages of the wild card system but would avoid many of its disadvantages:
- As today, eight teams would participate in post-season play.
- All teams that are within striking distance of second place in each of four divisions remain in contention for the post-season late into September.
- But teams are only competing for post-season spots against teams in their own division, who will presumably be playing very similar schedules. No more unfair competition between wild card competitors coming out of weaker and stronger divisions.
- No more meaningless late season post-clinching games for first place, because every extra game of margin ahead of second place will increase a first-place team's chances of Challenge Round success. And similarly, no meaningless post-wild card-clinching games - even after clinching second, a team will know that every game closer to first it can get by the end of 162 games, the better a shot it will have in the Challenge Round.
- And maybe most important of all, the four winners of the Challenge Round, the four teams who get to the National and American League Championship Series, will have earned that participation based on their actual, cumulative achievement over a full 162+ games, a much more realistic method of evaluating the teams most deserving that position than the current, nearly random, Division Series battles. In short: less "crapshoot," more deserving winners. And all without compromising the desire of the owners for lots of potential post-season spots that many teams can shoot for, and lots of lucrative post-season games.
The Challenge Round idea would be an unusual approach to organizing post-season play in American professional sports. But baseball is an unusual game in many respects and the proliferation of playoff-eligible teams and very inclusive tournaments decided by a long sequence of short-series elimination rounds, even if they have proven relatively popular in basketball, hockey and football, do not seem likely to reflect a healthy long-term approach for baseball. A tournament that over time appears to be producing champions that seem almost randomly selected will eventually lose the respect of its fans.
The precise details of the Challenge Round concept are certainly subject to tweaking - there is nothing magical for example about the length of the Challenge Round I've suggested, and it could just as easily be set for a different number of games. Nor have I tried to tackle the issue of what sort of regular season schedule four divisions with thirty teams might use - perhaps a topic for a future article. But I hope the basic concept is food for thought on an important baseball issue.
Bruce Regal is a lawyer in New York. His posts and articles on baseball appear on the Mets fan forum site Amazinz.com.
Taking a Critical Look at Leyland's Lineups
I was all prepared to write a positive article about Jim Leyland and his lineup creation in Game 1 of the ALCS.
. . . and then I saw Neifi Perez's name in the #2 hole in Game 2. Yes, the guy who hit .243/.260/.316 in 2006 and just .200/.235/.215 in 21 games and 65 at-bats with the Tigers was elevated from the bench to the second spot in the lineup.
I realize Leyland's hand was forced a bit once he learned that Sean Casey had a partial tear in a muscle in his left calf and would be unable to play in Game 2. With backup Chris Shelton not on the ALCS roster, Leyland improvised by sliding shortstop Carlos Guillen over to first base and inserting Perez with a 6 next to his name on the lineup card. The veteran manager's only other realistic option would have been to put Ramon Santiago at short. However, the 27-year-old is more like Perez than not, sporting a .225/.244/.263 line this year and .227/.292/.299 in 793 career AB.
Leyland chose his poison and went with Perez over Santiago. I have no problem with that. Neither player can hit so why not go with the better gloveman? If nothing else, Neifi can pick it. An ounce of run prevention is always worth a little more than an ounce of run creation.
What I don't get is why Leyland wrote down Perez's name in the batting order between Curtis Granderson's and Placido Polanco's. He is a liability with a bat in his hands. I don't want to hear that Perez has a history of hitting Esteban Loaiza well. Three singles in 10 AB doesn't overcome a career of offensive ineptitude.
The only rationale for putting Perez in that spot is to hope that Granderson gets on base and Neifi moves him over to second via a sacrifice bunt or to third on a groundout to the right side. That's all well and good if one wants to employ a "little ball" strategy, but the bottom line is that the likelihood of scoring more than one run in a particular inning nosedives when using outs to advance runners. There is a time and a place for productive outs, but I'm not an advocate of designing a lineup in today's higher run-scoring environment with this stragegy in mind.
To wit, what if Granderson doesn't get on base, which is about two-thirds of the time? Now you're left with a batter who has a lifetime OBP under .300 coming up next. In fact, Perez has never even had a single season away from Colorado with an OBP of .300. With the exception of pitchers, Neifi is about as close to an automatic out as there is in baseball. Placing him in the order where he has roughly a 1-in-9 chance of getting an extra plate appearance over the course of the game vis-a-vis the #3 hitter (Polanco), a 2-in-9 chance over the #4 hitter (Magglio Ordonez), a 3-in-9 chance over the #5 hitter (Carlos Guillen), etc. makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Granted, the Tigers beat the A's on Wednesday night - but they did so in spite of Leyland's lineup. After upsetting the New York Yankees in the ALDS, Detroit has now won the first two games of the ALCS. Whatever it is that they're doing, they're doing it well. Kudos to Leyland and his troops. However, I would argue that Detroit's margin of error is rather small, and it gets even smaller by batting Perez second. Look, this is a team that doesn't put many runners on base. Oh sure, they can hit for power, but the Tigers need all the help they can get when it comes to generating base runners.
As long as the club's pitching holds up, the Tigers will be just fine. Leyland has four capable starters and can run Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, and Todd Jones out there in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. That threesome reminds me of the 2002 Angels with Scot Shields, Francisco Rodriguez, and Troy Percival. A couple of young power arms and a proven veteran to shorten ballgames in a hurry.
Pitching and defense. This combo has always been a good recipe for success - and never more so than in the postseason. There was a reason why Detroit was 76-36 on August 7. But let's not forget the fact that this same team was 19-31 in its last 50 games. To their credit, the Tigers have stepped up in October and are once again playing as if the calendar read April, May, June, and July when they were the best team in baseball.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. I liked Leyland's Game 1 lineup because he loaded up the back end with low on-base and high slugging types. Given the same personnel, there aren't too many managers who would have had the resolve to bat Craig Monroe (28 HR), Marcus Thames (26), and Brandon Inge (27) seventh, eighth, and ninth. Unfortunately, there are way too many skippers who would bat Perez second as Leyland did in Game 2.
A New Home for A-Rod?
It's no secret that Alex Rodriguez may have played his last game for the Yankees. When Joe Torre dropped A-Rod to eighth in the batting order in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers, it indicated very uncharacteristic panic on Torre's part or a stunning lack of confidence in A-Rod.
The future Hall of Famer's "poor" year - 35 home runs, 121 RBI, 90 walks and a .290 average - are the kind of stats that most players can only dream about. Recent declarations of A-Rod's future with the Yankees may be sincere, or they could be a tactic designed to fend off lowball bidders.
Perhaps Torre - a manager known for his communication skills - will have a talk with A-Rod and reassure him of his star status. Problem solved, at least until Steinbrenner throws a tantrum or the New York media jumps on A-Rod's next slump.
If the Yankees ultimately decide to dump Rodriguez, one question would dominate the process: What kind of value do they place on A-Rod? Do his playoff struggles make him as devalued as an obscure Third World currency, or would full compensation for a 31-year-old, five-tool player be expected? My guess is that A-Rod won't be given away if a trade takes place, but potential buyers will get a discount on his considerable talent.
There is the matter of a no-trade clause, but that obstacle has already been overcome once before when A-Rod was picked up from the Rangers. Some observers point to his potential pride about leaving New York on unsuccessful terms, but any competent PR specialist can fix that.
"It's painful to leave the Yankees, but the (fill in the team) have made it clear how much they want me here, and I'm thrilled to be a part of this team" or a similarly diplomatic statement from A-Rod will surely be uttered during a post-trade press conference. The chance to escape from the Big Apple pressure cooker may be very appealing, so it's more of an "I'll go to the right place" clause than an ironclad agreement.
So where could A-Rod end up? What would be an ideal situation for a player of his ability?
The Mets and Angels have been mentioned as potential destinations, but there's no way Steinbrenner would give his local rivals a chance to have A-Rod return to his old form with the Mets. That goes triple for the Red Sox. The Angels are a playoff contender without A-Rod, and adding him to the roster might be enough to allow them to beat the Yankees in postseason play.
Any team that acquires A-Rod will be on the hook for four years and $64 million, as the Rangers are paying $10 million a year of his record-setting contract. In today's economic climate, $16 million a season for an elite player in his prime years isn't unbearable.
With control over his destiny, A-Rod would veto any deals to the Devil Rays, Royals, Pirates and other perennial losers. Even if a second-rate team was willing to take on his salary (unlikely), they are too far from contention to expect one player alone to take them to the postseason.
How about a team in a less intense media market that is within striking distance of the playoffs or World Series? Let's start with the National League, since that would be a logical preemptive postseason damage control move for the Yankees.
Keep in mind that A-Rod moved to third base to accommodate Derek Jeter, and he could easily move back to his old position. Since his trade value is uncertain at this time, any speculation as to who would be swapped for him will be minimal for now.
The Astros have dumped piles of salary obligations (Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Andy Pettitte) since the end of the season. This is a team in desperate need of offense, and Minute Maid Park is an ideal place for A-Rod to put up some big numbers.
While the Astros have had decent attendance, they would benefit at the box office by adding A-Rod, who would pair with Lance Berkman for a deadly 1-2 combo. This move makes a ton of sense if A-Rod is O.K. with Houston, but he may have soured on Texas after three years with the Rangers.
How about a small-market long shot? The Reds made a modest run at the postseason in 2006, and A-Rod would put Cincinnati in position for a serious shot at the NL Central title.
Rodriguez becomes a shortstop again with the Reds, and he could help fill plenty of empty seats that would make a $16 million/year salary bearable. The hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark would provide an ideal stage for A-Rod's slugging skills, and this would provide a revival of interest in a historically strong baseball town.
A look at the Reds roster shows few players who might be of interest to the Yankees since Bronson Arroyo isn't going anywhere, so this is an unlikely move. That's especially true with Ken Griffey Jr. (not a close pal of A-Rod's) around. Even if the former Mariners set their differences aside, it would probably take a three-way trade for the Reds to pull this off.
Two other NL teams would be darkhorses in the chase for A-Rod. With Jimmy Rollins on the roster and a gaping hole at third, the Phillies probably wouldn't be willing to move A-Rod back to his old position. Rodriguez and Ryan Howard back-to-back in the same lineup would give opposing pitchers plenty of nightmares. After three years in New York, A-Rod's skin should be thick enough to deal with the Philadelphia boo-birds.
Combined with Scott Rolen at 3B, David Eckstein moving across the infield to 2B and Albert Pujols at 1B, A-Rod would give the Cardinals one of the best infields in baseball history. There are three obstacles to such a scenario.
Having Rodriguez, Pujols and Rolen in the 3-4-5 slots means no left-handed hitters in those key places in the batting order. Adding A-Rod's salary gives the Cardinals zero revenue gain, since new Busch Stadium sold out before the season this year, and things should be similar in 2007. There are few quality players among the outfielders and pitchers to offer in a deal.
If the Cardinals prefer A-Rod to Rolen, it creates a possible swap. There are far worse options for A-Rod than going from the Bronx Zoo to friendly, baseball-crazy St. Louis.
Turning back to the American League, three teams might help themselves with A-Rod.
Is it time for the conservative Twins to think big? Brad Radke's $9 million salary is gone, as is Shannon Stewart's $6 million contract. Hefty raises for Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau will gobble up a big chunk of that $15 million, but trading for A-Rod may also solve another looming problem.
Torii Hunter's $12 million option was picked up by the Twins, but the spectacular centerfielder becomes a free agent after next season. If the Twins swap Hunter for A-Rod, it's a $4 million net increase in salary, and the trade should boost ticket sales. After New York, the congenial environment of the Twin Cities might be a welcome change for A-Rod.
That moves Johnny Damon to left or out of New York altogether, but that's not for the Twins to worry about. The White Sox can make a deal work if A-Rod plays short and they can dump a high salary (probably a starting pitcher to make room for Brandon McCarthy in the rotation) on the Yankees. After a disappointing season, the Sox could use a big move to keep the momentum going in their never-ending rivalry with the Cubs.
How about a gutsy Billy Beane/Moneyball deal? Free agent Barry Zito's contract is off the books, and putting Eric Chavez (a lefty swinger who would do well at Yankee Stadium) in an A-Rod trade keeps the salary hit manageable for the A's. Rodriguez could play at either spot on the left side of the infield in Oakland.
My prediction? Torre and Steinbrenner say A-Rod will be a Yankee in 2007, but don't be shocked if a trade takes place.
League Championship Series
The American and National League Championship series are upon us. Oakland vs. Detroit and New York vs. St. Louis. The A's have the home field advantage in the ALCS even though they didn't have it in the ALDS. The Mets, who were the only favorites to win last week, retain home field advantage in the NLCS.
There will be no predictions this time around. Not gonna go there again. No need to embarrass everyone - including myself - a second time. Once is enough.
If there was a lesson to be learned in the Division Series, it is this: Any MLB team can beat any other MLB team in a short series. Period. Better yet, put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence. And, while we're at it, let's put it all in caps and in bold and in a larger font size.
ANY MLB TEAM CAN BEAT ANY OTHER MLB TEAM IN A SHORT SERIES!
Now that proclamation doesn't mean that "any MLB team will beat any other MLB team in a short series." There is a big difference. I'm not saying that the inferior team *will* win; rather, I'm saying that the inferior team *may* win. Everybody needs to remember that simple tenet. You. Me. The New York media. George Steinbrenner. Every. Body.
This isn't 1968. Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich are retired. The Chicago Seven is nothing more than the Cubs starting rotation. And the Oakland Raiders sure as heck aren't going to be in the Super Bowl this year.
For the past 38 years. . .err. . .For 37 of the past 38 years, baseball has traded quality for quantity. More is better. More teams. More divisions. More series. More this. More that.
What were they thinking when they came up with the idea of the wild card? After a 162-game season, teams that did not win their division get another chance to win their league and win the World Series? What a country! Step right up! Everybody's a winner. Give everybody a participation trophy while we're at it. Nobody goes home a loser. (I can hear Jay Stewart now, telling the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that their consolation prize is the #1 pick in the June draft.)
The bottom line is that the postseason is no longer what it once was. Teams no longer play 154 or 162 games to determine who wins the pennant and goes to the World Series. Today, teams play nearly every day for six months so baseball can determine which EIGHT teams make the playoffs, including two clubs that weren't even good enough to beat out teams in their own division!
As a result of this more egalitarian system, the best teams no longer wind up in the World Series. In fact, wild cards have advanced to the Fall Classic in each of the past four years and five of the last six. The wild cards even won three championships in a row, including one in which both teams made it in through the back door.
2005: Chicago White Sox in four games over the Houston Astros*
2004: Boston Red Sox* in four games over the St. Louis Cardinals
2003: Florida Marlins* in six games over the New York Yankees
2002: Anaheim Angels* in seven games over the San Francisco Giants*
2000: New York Yankees in five games over the New York Mets*
* denotes wild card
Makes you want to put down some money on the Tigers, huh?
The whole point is that **** happens in the postseason. Teams with home field advantage can and do lose. Underdogs can and do win. Wild cards have as good of a chance to win as anyone else. Billy Beane was - and is - right: The playoffs are a crapshoot. Nothing less. Nothing more.
Oh, sure, you've got to get there. I understand that. But once you're there, the nature of the beast (five and seven game series) is such that any MLB team can beat any other MLB team in a short series. Period. Exclamation point.
A Tribute to the Twins
[Editor's note: Al Doyle has agreed to join our staff at Baseball Analysts. Al has been a regular contributor to Baseball Digest since 1986. He has also covered the Mexican League for the Mexico City News. The veteran writer's first appearance on this site was as a guest columnist - Baseball Is More Than Superstars - in June. Please welcome Al aboard.]
Even though the Twins were swept by the A's in the American League Division Series, the organization deserves credit for making a strong comeback from the brink of contraction in 2001.
My fascination with the team goes back to 1999. I was in Minneapolis a number of times that summer, and what better way to spend a few hours than catching a Twins game? Tickets were always available, as the Twins finished the season with a 63-97-1 record.
It would be an understatement to describe the summer of '99 as hard times for the franchise. This was the era when fans could buy a season ticket to the upper deck bleachers for $99 and receive a bat autographed by Kirby Puckett or Tony Oliva. The practical-minded Twins front office figured that hot dog and peanut revenue from fans in the (very) cheap seats was better than nothing. The Metrodome is a loud, vibrant place when it's full, but crowds of 12,000 emphasize why domed stadiums and Astroturf are far inferior to outdoor baseball.
Talent on the roster was as sparse as the attendance. The offense was especially weak, as the starting lineup seemed to be a collection of number 7 and 8 hitters with little thunder in their bats. Ron Coomer's 16 home runs led the "Twinkies," while Marty Cordova's 70 RBI were tops in that category.
The team batting average of .264 was tolerable, but the Twins finished last in the majors in home runs (105) and runs scored (686). That left the pitching staff with little margin for error.
Staff ace Brad Radke deserved better than a 12-14 record, as his 3.75 ERA was fourth best in the American League. Young pitchers Joe Mays (6-11, 4.37 in 171 innings pitched) and Eric Milton (7-11, 4.49, 206.1 IP and a no-hitter) showed promise and provided hope for the future.
The bottom of the rotation was the problem. LaTroy Hawkins' 10-14 record came with a 6.66 ERA, while Mike Lincoln went 3-10 with a 6.84 ERA before he was sent down to Salt Lake City.
Rick Aguilera was superb as the closer (3-1, 6 saves, 1.27 ERA) when his $4.3 million contract was sent to the Cubs in May. Mike Trombley did an adequate job in that role until a late season slump dropped his record to 2-8 with a 4.33 ERA and 24 saves.
Two games from 1999 stand out in my memory. The first was on August 24 against the Red Sox. It was a Tuesday, which is significant.
That was the year of the guaranteed Tuesday win promotion. If the Twins lost on Tuesday, your ticket was good for another game. Pedro Martinez at the peak of his prime (23-4 that season) was on the mound for the Red Sox. If there is a sure thing in life, Pedro facing the light-hitting Twins was it.
Pedro was everything that could be expected and more. His fastball was 95 to 97 MPH with plenty of movement, and his 85 MPH slider consistently painted the black. The Twins were overwhelmed, as Martinez struck out 15 in eight innings, giving up just an unearned run and four hits as the Red Sox won 7-1.
The lone Twins run came when Jacque Jones struck out on one of Pedro's untouchable sliders. The sharp-breaking pitch bounced away from catcher Jason Varitek, who fired the ball down the right field line as he attempted to throw out Jones at first base. Jones ran all the way to third.
Denny Hocking came up and hung tough with Martinez, who threw everything on or an inch off both corners. The Twins utilityman battled masterfully, fouling off pitches and laying off tempting tosses that just missed the strike zone. Pedro finally busted Hocking inside, and the underdog managed to dribble a slow roller down the first base line to score Jones.
That at-bat stuck in my memory, as I knew manager Twins Tom Kelly was a stickler for fundamentally sound baseball, and Hocking demonstrated it. A few months later, I was writing an article about the most versatile players in the majors for Baseball Digest. Since Hocking played every position but pitcher and catcher, I arranged a phone interview with him.
Every interview should go as well as that discussion did. Hocking was friendly, eager to talk about baseball, and he generously shared his knowledge. I was wrapping up my questions when he threw me a bonus.
"Wanna hear about my best at-bat of the season?" Hocking asked.
"I sure do," came the reply.
"It was at the Dome against the Red Sox," Hocking said. "We were facing Pedro. . ."
"I was there!" I screamed. "You really battled him. Tell me about it."
Hocking proceeded to describe the long, nerve-wracking AB and the end result - not much to the undiscerning eye, but a fine piece of hitting against a dominating pitcher.
"It was just a little grounder to first, but that was my best at-bat of the year," Hocking concluded. "It got the run home."
That interview brought back memories of the game. Jones played centerfield (Torii Hunter had the night off) and made a spectacular leaping catch against the wall when the game was out of reach. Despite the circumstances, the Twins hustled, backed up throws and had their heads in the game.
Having grown up watching the Cubs play losing, fundamentally inept baseball and spending most of my adult life in Brewers and Rockies territory, I had seen far more than my share of lethargy and late season defeatism. That definitely wasn't happening with the Twins.
"These guys may not have tons of talent, but they sure give you an honest day's work," was what was going through my mind as I left the Metrodome. Something told me this team had a brighter future. With that free ticket from guaranteed win night, I attended the last home game of the season against the Tigers on September 30.
Despite a three-run pinch hit bomb from Midre Cummings, the Twins lost 6-5. That loss - the sixth in what became an eight-game losing streak - dropped the team's record to 63-95. Never mind a .500 season. It would take a couple of wins just to creep over .400.
It was what is often described as a "meaningless" game between two losing teams. Chad Allen batted fifth for Minnesota, and his stats (10 HR and 46 RBI in 481 ABs) say volumes about the state of the offense. Infielder Brent Gates (3 HR, 38 RBI, .255) started at first base in one of the last appearances of his career, and this was one of the very rare instances where a player in that normally power-packed position batted ninth.
I worked my way down from the cheap seats to a prime spot right behind the Twins dugout. Despite the continual frustration of a losing season, determination was etched on every player's face. They came to win. Don't tell them it was a meaningless game unless you wanted a bloody nose and busted teeth.
The young Twins played hard, running out grounders and being alert and focused on defense against the Tigers. How could you not pull for these guys?
Their salary budget might look like George Steinbrenner's petty cash account, but the Twins organization wasn't going to accept sloppy play. Minnesota native Kelly cultivated and enforced that mentality, and it eventually paid off.
The front office and scouting department found some sleepers and shrewd draft picks, and minor league managers and coaches emphasized fundamentals and smart play. The Twins turned the corner in 2001, leading the American League Central division in the early going before fading to a 85-77 finish. It was the first of what has turned into six consecutive winning seasons.
TK resigned after the season, claiming he wasn't sure if he was willing to put the effort required into managing. That excuse sounded questionable, as it came from someone who gave five quarters worth of toil and preparation for every $1 he earned.
How about a big name to replace Kelly? That's not how the Twins do things, as they wanted a guy who understood the organization's philosophy. Coach and Kelly protege Ron Gardenhire was chosen, and he has led the team to four postseason appearances in his five years as manager.
As usual, the Twins got to the playoffs in their unpretentious, grind it out manner again this year. Utilityman Nick Punto became the starting third baseman in May. Solid defensively, Punto hit a single home run in 459 ABs, which is extremely unusual for a power position.
Radke provided the inspiration and example by continuing to pitch despite a torn labrum. A season-ending injury to lefty sensation Francisco Liriano meant as many as three rookie pitchers were in the starting rotation, but the Twins still won the A.L. Central with a combination of solid relief pitching, a revamped offense, and "Twins baseball," verbal shorthand for intelligent, fundamentally sound play.
Advancing runners, proper positioning on defense and making clutch plays. Pitchers throwing strikes, coaxing groundouts and working at a steady pace. This is "dull" to those whose concept of baseball is limited to the Home Run Derby mentality. When the Twins are playing well, it's baseball choreography of the highest level.
When it doesn't happen - as in all three games of the ALDS, which saw the Twins make a number of uncharacteristic errors, failures to advance runners and lapses of judgment in the field - defeat is usually the result. Even though the team didn't advance in postseason play, the Twins are proof that baseball is more than bidding wars for free agents.
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog" is a saying that applies to the Twins organization. I'll take these scrappy little mutts over the pampered show dogs any day.
...and That's Why They Play the Games on the Field Rather Than on Paper
I believe in Jeremy Bonderman and am not surprised that the Tigers won today. However, I was blindsided by Detroit beating the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. I'll tell ya, I just did not see that coming at all.
But so what? I also had the Twins defeating the A's. In other words, I'm 0-2 in my playoff predictions thus far. And I'm not looking too keen in the Padres-Cardinals series either.
As far as the Mets-Dodgers NLDS goes, I don't know who I had. I picked the Mets on Tuesday, then took the Dodgers on Wednesday when I learned of the injury to Orlando Hernandez. It wasn't that I was all that enamored with El Duque as much as I was concerned about the team's starting pitching depth.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they may not extend the series to get to Oliver Perez or John Maine a second time. L.A. is losing 4-2 through four innings as I write this. We know it will be the Tigers and A's in the American League Championship Series. The participants in the NLCS are still to be determined but odds would point to a Mets-Cardinals showdown right now. But the way things have gone thus far, who knows?
The last time Detroit and Oakland faced each other in the ALCS was in 1972. (Speaking of the 1972 Tigers, getting a chance to listen to Ernie Harwell call the action in the DET-NYY game on Friday night was a special treat.) Will 2006 turn out to be more like 1973 when the A's outlasted the Mets in the World Series in seven games or 1984 when the Tigers defeated the Padres in five? Dodger fans are no doubt hoping that a rematch of the 1988 Fall Classic is at hand. (In the meantime, Kirk Gibson is on standby, not knowing if he should dress in a Tigers' uniform or in a Dodgers' uni.)
More likely than not, 2006 will have its own script - one that none of us would have foreseen ahead of time . . . well, at least not me.
On a somewhat separate note, the Yankees' lineup in Game 4 seems like the death knell for Alex Rodriguez. I mean, batting eighth? Wow. I'm not going to jump all over A-Rod like many in the mainstream media. Instead, I'm just making an observation about how he is being used more than anything else. If you ask me, the guy is as good as gone. Rightly or wrongly, I don't see him in pinstripes next year.
Do you think Rodriguez *will* be back with the Yankees in 2007? Do you think he *wants* to return to New York next year? If A-Rod is traded, where will he go and how will he do with his new team? If you were the owner or GM of one of the other 29 clubs, would you give the Yankees an everyday player and a prospect *and* take on his contract in full? (Remember, the Texas Rangers are still picking up a significant portion of his salary.]
Rodriguez stands to make $27 million per year from 2007-2010. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, he may opt out after 2007 unless he gets an $8M/year raise or $1M more than MLB's highest-paid player. The likelihood of him opting out is slim and none - and slim just left the room. His complicated deal can be found here. The bottom line is that a new team would only be on the hook for $16M per year or $64M over the life of the remaining contract.
Is A-Rod a good or bad risk at that price? You make the call.
Jeter's Consistent Adjustments
[Editor's note: Jeff Albert has agreed to join Baseball Analysts as a regular contributor. Jeff, who owns and operates swingtraining.net, first appeared on this site in August with his well-received two-part special on Alex Rodriguez and Andruw Jones. A graduate student pursuing a M.S. in Exercise Science at Louisiana Tech, Jeff has worked with high school, college and minor league baseball players (doing training and video analysis). Please welcome Jeff aboard.]
Derek Jeter is not the guy who jumps out to me as having the "model swing," but it sure is hard to argue with the results. Jeter can hit. By hit, I mean that he puts the barrel on the ball consistently (independent of slugging or on-base percentage). This was quite obvious as he made his 2006 playoff debut with a 5-hit performance.
In the span of his five at-bats, Jeter showed his versatility with the stick as he turned on a 1-0 fastball, fought back from 0-2 to shove a 3-2 fastball into left-center, served a high off-speed pitch to right-center, turned on another fastball (0-1), and finally capped it by launching a hanging 1-1 curve over the centerfield fence. So what does this say? The Yankee captain can turn on an expected fastball, fight off pitches when he is behind in the count, and also punish pitchers for spinning mistakes left in the middle of the strike zone.
Looking a bit closer at the video, I started to notice a couple of things (which are also common in other high-level hitters) that allow Jeter to excel in such a wide variety of hitting situations. Many players have difficulty covering varying pitch types in so many parts of the strike zone, but these are just a couple of things that allow the likes of Jeter to produce so many hits.
What I first noticed was the adjustment he made to the off-speed pitch hit for the home run. Most hitters are usually taught to set their timing for a fastball and try to adjust down in speed. How does this happen? Here is the home run:
There is a slight "delay" visible in Jeter's swing. Now here is a closer look at how this translates into adjusting for an off-speed pitch:
Jeter's home run from the ALDS Game 1 is on the left and the swing on the right is another home run from earlier this season. The obvious difference is the timing of the hip rotation, which logically starts earlier when reacting to a fastball. On the right, I intentionally chose an outside pitch (resulting in an opposite field home run) to diffuse any comments suggesting that he is opening up early in order to get to an inside pitch. In this case, he needed to stay as "closed" as possible in order to effectively hammer that outside fastball.
Footplant (heel landing) is a basic indicator of when the "unloading" of the swing begins and a noticeable opening of the hips for most high-level hitters begins just before the heel of the foot plants. We are seeing here that Jeter is delaying the "unloading" of his swing to adjust for the slower speed of this curveball.
Also of note - and more of a general observation - is Jeter's ability to consistently put himself in a balanced, athletic position. If you remember from the A-Rod swing analysis, his balance has essentially changed, which may have some implications to his fluctuating performance over the past three seasons in New York.
One more major factor in Jeter's consistency (and also many other high-level hitters) is his ability to set up and maintain his swing path (swing plane):
The front or lead arm will often act as the guide for the path of the swing, and this is the case here. It should be fairly easy to predict where the barrel of the bat is going to end up based on the direction of the lead arm, and that is what the lines are intended to illustrate in this clip. The yellow line at the end of the clip replaces the original red line, and the red line at the end indicates that Jeter's swing results in contact in nearly the identical plane that he had originally set up as he began to unload.
Jeter's ability to stay in this swing plane may also go a long way in explaining his ability to spray the ball all over the field. The general set up and balance of his body, along with the position of his lead arm, allows Jeter to not only authoritatively handle outside pitches, but also to pull his hands in without "rolling" his hands over. In other words, on a tight pitch inside, Jeter's lead arm pulls across his chest (via retraction of left scapula), which brings his hands in while maintaining his intended swing path. In baseball speak, this is "staying inside the ball."
The short of it is that Jeter's visual and reactive skills (recognize pitch type and location) are backed by his ability to get the bat where it needs to be (coordination of swing pattern). Players can often be heard saying that they try to "trust their hands" and Jeter can probably trust his more than most as his body sets up the path (train tracks) and the hands (train) get the barrel (passenger) efficiently to the desired destination (ball).
New York Mets-Los Angeles Dodgers
A Penny for my thoughts on Game 1: Can you say "Pedro?" It just amazes me how a manager behaves one way during the season and in a completely different manner during the postseason. Perhaps it is managers - not players - who choke under pressure. In the case of Grady Little, it wouldn't be the first time.
What was Jeff Kent thinking? The ball that Russell Martin hit was well over the head of right fielder Shawn Green. The latter had no chance of catching it on the fly and, in fact, pulled up and positioned himself perfectly to play the carom off the wall. Kent, in the meantime, was hanging around second base so he could tag up and go to third. He didn't start running until the ball hit the base of the wall. Pulling a piano a la Laurel and Hardy in The Music Box, Kent was thrown out at home, followed seconds later, in Another Fine Mess, by J.D. Drew.
How many runs would you expect a team with the following sequence of plays to score in this particular inning?
First batter: Single to center.
Second batter: Infield single.
Third batter: Long single to deep right field.
Fourth batter: Double to left.
Fifth batter: Intentional walk.
At a minimum, you would expect a station-to-station team to have scored two runs and still have the bases loaded with no outs, right? At that point, according to Baseball Prospectus' Run Expectancy Matrix, teams at-bat would have scored an additional 2.37 runs during the 2006 season. Let's round that number down to 2 to be conservative. Last time I checked, 2 + 2 = 4. In other words, the above sequence should have led to a 4-run inning. Instead, the team in question scored once, leaving THREE runs on the table in what turned out to be a - you guessed it - 6-5 loss to the hosts.
Oh well, the Dodgers and Mets now turn to Hong-Chih Kuo and Tom Glavine, a couple of left-handers with a combined total of 291 wins. It should be quite a contrast in styles: Kuo's live arm vs. Glavine's finesse. Game 3 features Greg Maddux vs. Steve Trachsel . . . John Smoltz hasn't decided which team he will pitch for in Game 4.
* * *
San Diego Padres-St. Louis Cardinals
I sent my pal Brian Gunn of the now retired Redbird Nation the following email during the game on Tuesday:
"I know you are watching...and I know you are loving this!!! Is Albert Pujols any good?"
Brian wrote back, "If Pujols learns how to hit the intentional ball, he'll have no holes in his game."
I responded with "...and then his name would be Albert Nojols."
Pujols or Nojols, this guy can flat out hit. He is the biggest difference maker in the game today. As Larry Borowsky of Viva El Birdos told me in a separate email (all letters in small caps, of course), "pujols and scott carpenter --- in a 5-game set, those two plus a little luck will probably win you the series 1/3 of the time. . . . . maybe it'll go that way." Throw a healthy Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds into the mix and the Cards are a very top-heavy team. I realize that this may be their last shot at winning a World Series for a while, but they should not be ruled out just yet.
* * *
Minnesota Twins-Oakland A's
After Tuesday's second-inning bomb, Frank Thomas is now 8-for-19 with 3 HR in his career vs. Johan Santana. Nothing like a national stage to gain some well-deserved fame after a terrific 17-year career, huh? Forget the fact that The Big Hurt will likely become the seventh player in the history of the game to retire with at least 500 HR and a lifetime batting average of .300 or better, I just know that some writer will justify his selection of Thomas for the Hall of Fame based on how he performed in the 2006 playoffs. Aargh!
I awoke Wednesday morning with the following email awaiting me from the astute and sabermetrically inclined Patrick Sullivan (aka Sully) of The House That Dewey Built: "I wonder if Ozzie enjoyed that performance from the comfort of his own couch?" Ouch.
According to home run guru David Vincent, in a post on the SABR-L board (is there a reason why you're not a SABR member yet?), "Frank Thomas waited 13 years between hitting a home run in post-season. This is the longest anyone has waited. Then he hit a second four-bagger in the game to become the oldest guy to have a multi-homer game in post-season."
Vincent, who is also the official scorekeeper for the Washington Nationals, proceeded to make a list of of the players with the longest waits along with the number of years between post-season dingers.
Frank Thomas 13
Mark Grace 12
Bobby Grich 12
Wally Joyner 12
Hank Aaron 12
Eddie Murray 12
In addition, Vincent included a table of the oldest players with a multi-homer game (with ages expressed as yy.ddd):
PLAYER DATE AGE
Frank Thomas 10/03/2006 38.129
Larry Walker 10/05/2004 37.308
Babe Ruth 10/01/1932 37.237
Eric Karros 10/04/2003 35.334
Ted Kluszewski 10/01/1959 35.021
* * *
New York Yankees-Detroit Tigers
Can I mention the fact that Derek Jeter went 5-for-5 with a HR on Tuesday or is that proof I've bought into the media hype? As long-time reader Wimbo exclaimed in the comments section attached to Monday's article, "Boy, Jeter sure played like the MVP last night." Before one of my critics jumps in, I know full well that post-season play doesn't count toward the MVP voting. Jeter's performance during the regular season was plenty good enough to earn him his first MVP trophy when the hardware is handed out next month.
If the Tigers go three and out, they will do so without Jeremy Bonderman getting a chance to pitch. That's too bad. The 23-year-old right-hander had the best K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 metrics of any Tiger starter. Yes, he bettered Nate Robertson, Kenny Rogers, and Justin Verlander across the board. He also placed second in the AL among qualified pitchers (behind Santana) in K/100P. As I told Mike Plugh of Canyon of Heroes, "Put me in charge and he would be the ace of the staff." I realize that Bonderman went last Sunday, but I would have scheduled him to start Game 3 on Friday rather than Game 4 on Saturday.
Alex Belth, founder and co-writer of the always engaging Bronx Banter, wrote an excellent article about Chien-Ming Wang for SI.com. Alex quotes me, as well as Joe Sheehan and Nate Silver from Baseball Prospectus, and renowned authors Glenn Stout and Allen Barra. Go check it out.
* * *
TEAMS TIME (ET) NAT TV PITCHERS
Detroit at NY Yankees 1:00 PM ESPN Verlander vs Mussina
St. Louis at San Diego 4:00 PM ESPN Weaver vs Wells
LA Dodgers at NY Mets 8:00 PM FOX Kuo vs Glavine
Maddux, Lowe and Who's This Guy Kuo?
Hi, I'm Dave Studeman of The Hardball Times, and I've been a Mets' fan since Don Bosch first patrolled center field for Casey Stengel. Given the disastrous news that's come the Mets' way lately, I'd like to call this article Glavine, Maine, and Pray for Rain.
Hi, I'm Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts. (I think you know me.) Following Dave's lead - never a bad thing to do - I've been a Dodgers' (see I even used an apostrophe here, just like Dave) fan since - dare I say? - Walter O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles from some borough in New York. Wow, that was a long sentence. Are you still with me? If so, I'd like to call this article Maddux, Lowe, and Who's This Guy Kuo? because I think the latter could be the difference maker in this series.
So we're just a couple of old baseball fans happy that our favorite teams are facing each other in the postseason and collaborating on a preview. Dave will supply the following comments for the Mets, and Rich will do likewise for the Dodgers. But if you want to see both of our predictions, you'll have to check both of our sites.
Paul Lo Duca (.318/.355/.428, 5 HR, 49 RBI) was the Mets' number-two hitter all year, and the strange combination of Reyes and Lo Duca at the top of the order worked well for the Mets. Lo Duca was very durable this year (he was the only catcher to qualify for the batting title) and he avoided his usual second-half slump.
Russell Martin (.282/.355/.436, 10 HR, 65 RBI) started the season in Las Vegas (AAA), yet played in 121 of 133 possible games after he was called up to the Dodgers. He hit much better at home (.319/.391/.514) than on the road (.244/.319/.356). Martin threw out 31% of potential base stealers and made just six errors and had only five passed balls.
Dave says: Dead even.
Rich says: I agree.
Carlos Delgado (.265/.361/.548, 38 HR, 114 RBI) had an off year in batting average, but his home run power remains. Delgado is one of those guys who actually really provides veteran leadership and he's been partially credited with Beltran's resurgence this year. Good lefties can get him out.
Nomar Garciaparra (.303/.367/.505, 20 HR, 93 RBI) began the season on the DL but wound up playing 122 games, the most since 2003. He hit for average and power and struck out only 30 times all year. However, Nomar slumped in the second half (229/.286/.408) although he slugged a couple of walk-off home runs in the final two weeks of the season.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets.
Rich says: Ho-hum, I agree.
Jose Valentin (.271/.330/.490, 18 HR, 62 RBI) was one of the two most pleasant surprises of the Mets' season. When Kaz Matsui was injured (and finally traded to Colorado), it was Valentin who stepped forward to take over the second base job. In addition to his offensive numbers, he was superb in the field. Should handle the postseason pressure well.
Jeff Kent (.292/.385/.477, 14 HR, 68 RBI) played like the Kent of old down the stretch rather than an old Kent. Missed most of July and the first week in August but is once again healthy. He hit well at Dodger Stadium (.333/.432/.565) and ripped LHP (.347/.444/.592).
Dave says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Rich says: Dave's the man. Did Valentin really hit .170./.326/.265 for the Dodgers last year?
Jose Reyes (.300/.354/.487, 19 HR, 81 RBI) isn't really the Mets' MVP, but that's the only negative thing you can say about the young superstar. According to ESPN The Magazine, no player in the history of the major leagues has ever had a season with as many runs, hits, homers and steals as Reyes has had this year. He is a supercharged force on the basepaths.
Rafael Furcal (.300/.369/.445, 15 HR, 113 R, 37 SB) was the Dodgers MVP this season. He didn't have as much competition as Reyes. The two shortstops have pretty similar stats. Rafael walks more often and Jose steals more bases. But they are more alike than not. The Dodgers lead-off hitter will need to get on base to ignite their offense, which is more dependent on walks, singles and doubles than home runs.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets (but not a big edge).
Rich says: Not so fast, Dave. Too close to call. A dead heat.
David Wright (.311./381/.531, 26 HR, 116 RBI) seems to have lost ground to Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Zimmerman as the hot young third baseman in the National League East, but don't overlook the kid. Wright can be shaky in the field and streaky at bat, but he's a talent who could have a big impact this postseason. He had some big clutch hits this year, and his righthanded bat will be critical against the plethora of lefties the Mets are likely to see.
Wilson Betemit (.263/.326/.469, 18 HR, 53 RBI) joined the Dodgers at the trading deadline in late July. He fared worse as a Dodger than as a Brave. A switch-hitter, Betemit usually sits vs. LHP. Struck out 102 times in 373 AB.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets.
Big Huge edge to the Mets.
Cliff Floyd (.244/.325/.407, 11 HR, 44 RBI) appears ready to play, but it's hard to say how well he'll play. When healthy, Floyd is a dynamite hitter and an underrated fielder, but he's not in great shape at this time. Also very prone to lefties.
Marlon Anderson (.297/.354/.513, 12 HR, 38 RBI) was acquired at the end of August. He hit .375/.431/.813 (including 7 HR and 12 XBH in 64 AB) during his month with the Dodgers. Went from being a pinch-hitter to starting LF, replacing rookie Andre Ethier down the stretch. Which Anderson will show up in the series - the newfound slugger or the batsman with a career OPS of .710?
Dave says: Edge to the Dodgers
Rich says: Not an Anderson believer. Call it even.
Carlos Beltran (.275/.388/.594, 41 HR, 116 RBI) was the Mets' MVP. He not only had a great year at bat, but he was superb in center field and may well be the best baserunner in the majors. Only weakness is that he can't hit at Shea (.224/.368/.487) and also has some trouble against lefties.
Kenny Lofton (.301/.360/.403, 79 R) enters the postseason with a nine-game hitting streak in which he went 12-for-37 with 11 runs scored. His 32 SB were the most since he stole 54 in 1998. Hit into a career-high 16 GIDP. May sit vs. LHP (.214/.275/.274). The Mets would be well advised to run on the poor-throwing Lofton.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets.
Rich says: You can drive a truck through the spread that separates Beltran and Lofton.
Shawn Green (.277/.344/.432, 15 HR, 56 RBI), another former Dodger, was a midseason pickup from the Diamondbacks and has performed about as expected for the Mets. Another Met outfielder vulnerable to lefties.
J.D. Drew (.283/.393/.498, 20 HR, 100 RBI) was as good as any RF in the NL despite the lack of attention this year. Known as a five-tool player, Drew no longer tries to steal bases. However, he runs the bases well and is one of the best-fielding RF in the league. J.D. struggles vs. LHP (.244/.338/.378) and was often rested during the season when the Dodgers faced a tough southpaw.
Dave says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Rich says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Off the Bench:
Endy Chavez (.306/.348/.431, 4 HR, 42 RBI) has been the other pleasant surprise among Met regulars. Look for him to get significant playing time, particularly if Floyd's injuries slow him down.
Julio Franco (.273/.330/.370) had another age-defying year. The 48-year-old with the two-year contract even played some third base for the Metropolitans. Franco will likely be the Mets' primary pinch hitter.
Andre Ethier (.308/.365/.477, 11 HR, 55 RBI) was a candidate for Rookie of the Year through August, hitting over .300 every month. Then September arrived and his numbers (.143 with 0 HR in 49 AB) fell off the cliff. One camp believes he tired; another camp thinks the league finally caught up to him. He could be a factor either off the bench or perhaps in a starting role in one or more games.
Olmedo Saenz (.296/.363/.564, 11 HR, 48 RBI) lit up lefties to the tune of .397/.457/.741 with 5 HR in 58 AB. He is a dead fastball hitter and is vulnerable to breaking balls and off-speed pitches by RHP. Inexplicably, Saenz didn't play much in August and September. It will be interesting to see how Grady Little uses him in this series.
Dave says: Chavez will be a key contributor. Edge to Mets.
Rich says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Orlando Hernandez (11-11, 4.66, 4.09 with the Mets) would have opened the series for the Mets, but he injured his calf yesterday and his status is questionable. Like his younger brother, Livan, Orlando has starred in the postseason and will be key to the Mets' hopes.
Tom Glavine (15-7, 3.82) will be the Mets' highest-profile starter this postseason, with the injury to Pedro Martinez. Glavine had a remarkable year for a 40-year-old, changing his pitching approach at an age when most pitchers are looking for new employment. He now strikes out more batters than he used to, but he's still a crafty lefthander in his heart.
Steve Trachsel (15-8, 4.97) wasn't a lock to even start in the postseason until Pedro Martinez's shoulder gave out. Trachsel seems to be playing with fire every time he pitches, and many Met fans will be holding their breath when he's on the mound. Given how slowly Trachsel works, that's not the healthiest thing to do.
John Maine (6-5, 3.60) has been another pleasant surprise for the Mets. Acquired from the Orioles during the offseason, Maine has shown he can succeed on the major league level if he doesn't nibble with his pitches. Trust your stuff, John!
Derek Lowe (16-8, 3.63) established himself as the ace of the Dodgers with a 9-3, 3.33 second half. He wins by throwing strikes (2.27 BB/9) and keeping the ball on the ground (3.99 G/F) and in the ballpark (0.58 HR/9). The tall righthander was 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA while carrying the Red Sox to the World Series championship in the 2004 postseason.
Hong-Chih Kuo (1-5, 4.22) made a name for himself and earned a permanent spot in the rotation when he shut out the Mets for 6 innings at Shea Stadium on 9/8 for his first (and only) big league win. The 25-year-old lefty had a 3.06 ERA with 42 K and only 9 BB in 32.1 innings in September. How he performs in Game 2 could make or break the series for the Dodgers.
Greg Maddux (6-3, 3.30 with LA and 15-14, 4.20 overall) was intentionally held back so he could start Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, where he was 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA this year. The four-time Cy Young Award winner had a 1.09 WHIP during his two-month stay in LA. Don't look for Maddux to face more than 27 batters as he will take himself out of the game before that happens.
Brad Penny (16-9, 4.33) is not the pitcher everyone saw at the All-Star Game. Owing to a bad back, Penny may not start and, in fact, could be held out of the series entirely. His ERA skyrocketed to 6.25 in the second half, culminated by a one-inning, four-hit, three-run outing in his last start of the season.
Dave says: Definite edge to the Dodgers.
Rich says: We're on the same page again.
Billy Wagner (3-2, 2.24, 40 Saves) has been everything the Mets hoped for when they signed him to a megadeal during the offseason. Wagner's arm is electric and he's used to pitching under pressure. He hardly ever worked more than one inning at a time during the season, so it will be interesting to see how Willie Randolph uses him this postseason.
Aaron Heilman (4-5, 3.62, 27 Holds) leads a very deep bullpen of secondary relievers. Heilman got off to a slow start, but he's had a 2.65 ERA since the All-Star break and can pitch several innings. Randolph has an extremely deep bullpen (Bradford, Mota, Feliciano, Hernandez, etc.) and he won't hesitate to pull a starter who's on the ropes.
Takashi Saito (6-2, 2.07, 24 Saves) didn't break camp with the big-league club, yet took over as the closer after Eric Gagne went down and the since-departed Danys Baez proved incapable of holding down that role. He struck out 107 batters while allowing only 48 hits in 78.1 innings. His rise to prominence proved to be one of the keys to the Dodgers' stretch run.
Jonathan Broxton (4-1, 2.59, 12 Holds) joined the Dodgers in May and assumed the set-up role for good in August and September. Broxton will try to overpower hitters, relying on a fastball that will hit 97-99 on the radar guns. He is just coming into his own, as evidenced by a 1.53 ERA and 11.97 K/9 in August and September.
Dave says: It's a wash.
Rich says: Wagner is the difference. Slight edge to Mets.
The Mets had the best record in the NL with 97 wins. The Dodgers qualified for the postseason via the wild card with 88 victories. The Mets beat the Dodgers, 4 games to 3, in head-to-head play. The Mets also have the home-field advantage. So, I must like the Mets, right? Wrong.
If this series were played back in the spring or, better yet, in the middle of July (when the Dodgers were in the midst of losing 13 out of 14 games and Pedro was striking everyone out), I would fully expect that the Mets would not only emerge victorious but perhaps sweep. However, fall is now in full swing, the Dodgers have won 7 in a row and 9 of 10 (I know, the Mets are on a 4-game streak of their own), and New York's starting pitching may be the weakest of any team in the postseason. As such, I'm going with the Dodgers. Yeah, dem Bums in 5.
My MVP? Derek Lowe.
If you'd like to see Dave's prediction, check out this same article at The Hardball Times.
AL and NL Division Series Previews
The second season begins today. Eight out of 30 teams remain in the running for the World Series. If the playoffs are a "crapshoot" as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane once said, then the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Dodgers have as good of a chance to win it all as the New York Yankees and New York Mets.
To help me sort it all out, I have turned to eight writers who have followed their respective teams for years. Their expert analysis and opinions are included in each of the previews below. Be sure to visit each of their sites for an even deeper look into the series at hand.
New York Mets (first place, NL East, #1 seed) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (NL wild card, #4 seed)
GAME 1: Dodgers @ Mets, Wed., 4:00 PM ET - Lowe (16-8, 3.63) vs. Hernandez (11-11, 4.66)
GAME 2: Dodgers @ Mets, Thu., 8:00 PM ET - Kuo (1-5, 4.22) vs. Glavine (15-7, 3.82)
GAME 3: Mets @ Dodgers, Sat., TBD - Maddux (15-14, 4.20) vs. Trachsel (15-8, 4.97)
GAME 4: Mets @ Dodgers, Sun., TBD
GAME 5: Dodgers @ Mets, Mon., TBD
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA
NY Mets 97 65 .599 50-31 47-34 834 731
LA Dodgers 88 74 .543 49-32 39-42 820 751
Head to Head: Mets, 4 games to 3.
Matthew Cerrone, MetsBlog.com: Mets in 5.
The series between the Mets and Dodgers will come down to two battles: the one between the Mets and Hong-Chih Kuo, and the one between Mets SS Jose Reyes and Dodgers C Russell Martin.
The opening game of this series will be crucial for the Mets, given that the left-handed Kuo, who has pitched well already this season at Shea Stadium, is set to start in Game Two. It's no secret that the Mets have struggled against left-handed pitching since early-August. Therefore, a loss for the Mets in Game One could realistically put them down two games heading to Los Angeles to face their old nemsis, Greg Maddux.
Meanwhile, as always, Reyes will have the responsibility of providing momentum for the Mets, while confusing and demoralizing the Dodgers. Martin's job will be to control him. If he can, New York's offense will struggle.
In the end, because of their veteran advantage in these two scenarios, I believe the Mets will control both battles and win the series.
Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts: Look, it's hard to blame the Mets. They ran away with the NL East lead early on (moving into first place on April 7 and not letting go) and were 35 games over .500 on September 13. At that point, it would almost defy reality for them not to have slumped some, and sure enough, they lost 10 of their next 13 games. During that time, however, they were tinkering with their starting rotation and other matters, finding out just what Pedro Martinez could give them. (Heartache, as it turned out.) With the playoffs approaching, the Mets won their final four games to end their season back on a winning note.
There's little reason to think that any National League team should be able to beat them on the way to the World Series - except for the fact that what happened in the first few months of the season might no longer be relevant. The Dodgers finished the season 7-0 and 41-19, and in a four-game series in September, took two easy victories from the Mets and nearly a third. The Mets should be chomping at the bit to show their supremacy, but the Dodgers have positioned themselves as a worthy rival. Dodger rookie Hong-Chih Kuo may not be ready for the pressure of a Game 2 start, but will Steve Trachsel and/or John Maine be ready for later games themselves? Call the Mets the favorites, but as far as a series prediction goes, I offer only this: Game 5 heads into extra innings.
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San Diego Padres (first place, NL West, #2 seed) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (first place, NL Central, #3 seed)
GAME 1: Cardinals @ Padres, Tue., 4:00 PM ET - Carpenter (15-8, 3.09) vs. Peavy (11-14, 4.09)
GAME 2: Cardinals @ Padres, Thu., 4:00 PM ET - Weaver (5-4, 5.18 w/ STL and 8-14, 5.76 overall) vs. Wells (1-2, 3.49 w/ SD and 3-5, 4.42 overall)
GAME 3: Padres @ Cardinals, Sat., TBD - Young (11-5, 3.46) vs. Suppan (12-7, 4.12)
GAME 4: Padres @ Cardinals, Sun., TBD
GAME 5: Cardinals @ Padres, Mon., TBD
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA
San Diego 88 74 .543 43-38 45-36 731 679
St. Louis 83 78 .516 49-31 34-47 781 762
Head to Head: Padres, 4 games to 2.
Geoff Young, Ducksnorts: Padres in 5.
The Padres and Cardinals are pretty evenly matched, but San Diego's pitching staff is deeper. As long as the Padres don't let mega superstud Albert Pujols beat them again, they stand a good chance of advancing. Some folks are predicting that San Diego will take the series in fewer games, but since this is the Padres, and they don't do anything the easy way, it'll almost certainly go the distance. That fifth game probably will go extra innings and scare the bejeezus out of the home crowd. And then everyone will have to try and figure out what bejeezus means. Face it, this could get ugly.
Larry Borowsky, Viva El Birdos: Padres in 4.
Why? In a word, bullpens. The Padre relievers had the second-best ERA in the league, 0.62 better than their Cardinal counterparts (who ranked 7th). San Diego's top three relievers (Hoffman, Linebrink, and Meredith) held batters to a .212 average and a .256 on-base percentage; St. Louis' top trio (Wainwright, Looper, and Hancock) posted .249/.303 in those categories. The Cardinal trio was effective; San Diego's was dominant.
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In the rotation pairings, the Padres gain a big edge with David Wells, the type of left-hander who's given the Cardinals fits all year; whichever game he starts is a probable Padre win. The Cardinals' hopes rest almost entirely with Chris Carpenter; two good starts from him and it could be a series. But that brings us back to the bullpens: In each of his last two starts Carpenter carried a lead into the 8th inning but coughed it up. He was well past 100 pitches both times, but Tony La Russa had so little trust in the bullpen -- still reeling from the loss of Jason Isringhausen in early September -- that he opted to stay with his tiring ace. La Russa's relievers will have to rise to the occasion for the Cardinals to have a shot.
New York Yankees (first place, AL East, #1 seed) vs. Detroit Tigers (AL wild card, #4 seed)
GAME 1: Tigers @ Yankees, Tue., 8:00 PM ET - Robertson (13-13, 3.84) vs. Wang (19-6, 3.63)
GAME 2: Tigers @ Yankees, Wed., 8:00 PM ET - Verlander (17-9, 3.63) vs. Mussina (15-7, 3.51)
GAME 3: Yankees @ Tigers, Fri., 8:00 PM ET - Johnson (17-11, 5.00) vs. Rogers (17-8, 3.84)
GAME 4: Yankees @ Tigers, Sat., TBD
GAME 5: Tigers @ Yankees, Sun., TBD
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA
NY Yankees 97 65 .599 50-31 47-34 930 767
Detroit 95 67 .586 46-35 49-32 822 675
Head to Head: Yankees, 5 games to 2.
Peter Abraham, The Journal News (White Plains, N.Y.) and The LoHud Yankees Blog: Yankees in 3.
One team has gotten steadily better as the season progressed, the other steadily worse. Now that the Yankees have Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield back, Joe Torre can wield a lineup that will quickly run up pitch counts on starters and run through relief pitchers.
I remain amazed that the Tigers won so many games in the American League with that lineup. But their steady slide in the second half (19-31 in the last 50 games) was probably a better representation of their roster than how they performed in the first half
The Yankee pitching is suspect because of late-season injuries to Randy Johnson and Mariano Rivera. But they need only be adequate for the Yankees to win this series.
Brian Borawski, TigerBlog: Tigers in 5.
Keep an eye on right-handed reliever Scott Proctor. Torre got him some rest at the end of the season and he could be a difference maker if Rivera is limited to one inning because of muscle strain in his forearm.
This is your classic match up of pitching vs. hitting and in a playoff setting, pitching usually rules. I like the game two battle of Justin Verlander over Mike Mussina and the game four match-up of Jeremy Bonderman over Jaret Wright, so that leaves the Tigers having to win their game five matchup against Chien-Ming Wang. I expect the Tigers to lose bad in game one but then figure Wang out the second time through in game five.
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It'll be really interesting to see how each manager uses their pens. While both have studs in Mariano Rivera and Joel Zumaya, it's anywhere from bad to okay throughout the rest of the pen for both teams. So if the Tigers can get to the ailing Randy Johnson early and force Joe Torre to go to less consistent part of the Yankees' pen, the Tigers might even be able to pull this one out in four.
Minnesota Twins (first place, AL Central, #2 seed) vs. Oakland A's (first place, AL West, #3 seed)
GAME 1: A'S @ Twins, Tue., 1:00 PM ET - Zito (16-10, 3.83) vs. Santana (19-6, 2.77)
GAME 2: A's @ Twins, Wed., 1:00 PM ET - Loaiza (11-9, 4.89) vs. Bonser (7-6, 4.22)
GAME 3: Twins @ A'S, Fri., 4:00 PM ET - Radke (12-9, 4.32) vs. Haren (14-13, 4.12)
GAME 4: Twins @ A's, Sat., TBD
GAME 5: A's @ Twins, Sun., TBD
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA
Minnesota 96 66 .593 54-27 42-39 801 683
Oakland 93 69 .574 49-32 44-37 771 727
Head to Head: Twins, 6 games to 4.
Seth Stohs, SethSpeaks.Net: Twins in 4.
To me, winning in the playoffs is all about starting pitching. If your starting pitcher can keep you in the game, anything can happen. He just has to be able to turn the game over to a strong bullpen and specifically, a strong closer. So, how do we compare the Twins starters to the A's starters? Well, Johan Santana is remarkable. He faces the A's best, in Barry Zito. After those two pitchers, neither team is really sure what it will get. The Twins have question marks, and the A's have pitchers with potential who just haven't put it together yet for various reasons. That's why I think this series will be won in the bullpens. That definitely favors the Twins whose season bullpen ERA was just 2.03 (the A's 3.57 is good for third in the AL). Offensively, both teams are middle of the pack. The A's have Frank Thomas, Nick Swisher and a bunch of other guys. The Twins have Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and the very hot Torii Hunter right now.
However, the beauty of the playoffs (and maybe its frustration), is that it is a new season. You never know who is going to play poorly in a short series. And you know that some lesser-known player is going to come up with some big hits. I expect that to be the case. Both of these teams are very good, very sound teams. But I think that the Twins bullpen will be the factor that helps them advance to the ALCS.
Ken Arneson, Catfish Stew: Twins in 5.
These are two very similar teams: they both have good starters, deep bullpens and a solid defense (each team committed only 84 errors). Neither offense is intimidating; the two teams finished 8th and 9th in runs scored.
The Twins have two major advantages in this series. First, the A's let-'em-hit-it-weakly approach to pitching and defense seems to be neutralized on artificial turf. The A's had an AL-worst 6.21 ERA on fake grass this year. In the six games at the Metrodome between the two teams this year, the Twins scored 37 runs. In Oakland, the Twins only scored four runs in four games.
The second Twins' advantage is having Johan Santana lined up to pitch twice. The A's either have to somehow beat Johan Santana at the Metrodome, where he hasn't lost in over a year, or sweep the three non-Santana games. Barry Zito will probably have to outduel Santana at least once, if his career in an Oakland uniform is to continue beyond this series. Santana is by far the best pitcher in these playoffs, and he should be the difference here.
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As for me, I would take the Mets, Padres, Yankees, and Twins. Favorites all. These teams had better records than their opponents and also beat them head-to-head in every case. Should an upset occur in the NL, I would expect the Dodgers to beat the Mets. In the AL, I can see the A's beating the Twins, especially if they handle Santana in the opener. If there is a sweep, I would look for the Yankees to get their brooms out against the Tigers.
Thank goodness, the games are played on the field rather than on paper. It's time to get after it. Play ball!
Baseball Analysts - Most Valuable Players
With the regular season behind us, it is time to focus on the playoffs. I will have a preview of the ALDS and NLDS on Tuesday. In the meantime, I wanted to fill out my (make believe) ballot for each league's Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year. We will start with the MVP today, move to the CYA on Wednesday, and finish with the ROY on Friday.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL: He beat his closest statistical challenger, Ryan Howard, in AVG/OBP/SLG. They both play first base - Pujols like a Gold Glove winner; Howard like a DH. Albert hit RHP and LHP. Albert hit at home and away. He led the league in OPS (1102). In short, Pujols was the best player in the league (again).
Back in February, I wrote "You can write down what Albert Pujols is going to do now. When it's all said and done, he's going to be right around .330/.420/.620 with 40 HR and 125 R and RBI." Well, I was close. But Pujols actually exceeded all three rate stats, as well as my HR and RBI projections - despite spending 15 days on the DL in June.
2. Carlos Beltran, CF, NYM - .275/.388/.594, 38 2B, 41 HR, 127 R, 116 RBI, 95 BB, 18 SB
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, FLA - .339/.430/.568, 50 2B, 26 HR, 112 R, 114 RBI
4. Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI - .313/.425/.659, 58 HR, 149 RBI, 108 BB
5. Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU - .315/.420/.621, 45 HR, 136 RBI, 98 BB
6. Chase Utley, 2B, PHI - .309/.379/.527, 40 2B, 32 HR, 131 R, 102 RBI, 15 SB
7. David Wright, 3B, NYM - .311/.381/.531, 40 2B, 26 HR, 116 RBI, 20 SB
8. Jose Reyes, SS, NYM - .300/.354/.487, 30 2B, 17 3B, 19 HR, 122 R, 64 SB
9. Rafael Furcal, SS, LA - .300/.369/.445, 32 2B, 9 3B, 15 HR, 113 R, 37 SB
10. Mike Cameron, CF, SD - .268/.355/.482, 34 2B, 9 3B, 22 HR, 25 SB
Just missed: Brian McCann, C, ATL - .333/.388/.572, 34 2B, 24 HR, 93 RBI
I feel good about having representatives from all playoff teams. The fact that no pitchers are included leaves me with an empty feeling. But how do you differentiate among Brandon Webb, Roy Oswalt, and Chris Carpenter to include one and not the others? Billy Wagner was also a consideration. However, if I wasn't willing to give the closer my Cy Young vote, how could I leapfrog him over the other three?
Most voters won't have Rafael Furcal or Mike Cameron in their top tens. Instead, they will favor someone like Alfonso Soriano, who has gaudier stats. That's fine. Soriano had a fantastic season. I'm just partial toward up-the-middle defensive players. In the case of Furcal and Cameron, I believe they were the MVPs of teams going to the playoffs.
1. Derek Jeter, SS, NYY: The Yankees captain had a terrific season. He was 2nd in the AL in AVG (.343) and 4th in OBP (.417). Jeter was also 2nd in R (118), 3rd in H (214), and 7th in SB (34 with only 5 CS). Derek played in 154 games and did a
little bit lot of this and a little bit lot of that. Did I mention that he hit .388/.489/.592 with runners in scoring position?
Like it or not but Jeter will probably win his third consecutive Gold Glove, too [corrected version]. Add it all up and you have a player who hit, ran the bases, and played defense for a team that had the biggest margin of victory over its division opponents.
2. Johan Santana, SP, MIN - Led MLB in W (19), ERA (2.77), and K (245)
3. Joe Mauer, C, MIN - .347/.429/.507 (first catcher to lead MLB in AVG)
4. Grady Sizemore, CF, CLE - .290/.375/.533, 53 2B, 11 3B, 28 HR, 22 SB in 162 G
5. Jermaine Dye, RF, CWS - .315/.385/.622, 44 HR, 120 RBI
6. David Ortiz, DH, BOS - .287/.413/.636, 54 HR, 137 RBI, 119 BB (led AL in WPA)
7. Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN - .321/.375/.559, 34 HR, 130 RBI
8. Carlos Guillen, SS, DET - .320/.400/.519, 41 2B, 19 HR, 100 R, 20 SB
9. Roy Halladay, SP, TOR - 16-5, 3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
10. Travis Hafner, DH, CLE - .308/.439/.659, 42 HR, 117 RBI, 100 BB
Just missed: Frank Thomas, DH, OAK - .270/.381/.545, 39 HR, 114 RBI
I would not wince at all if Johan Santana won the MVP. Unfortunately, I don't think the best pitcher in baseball stands much of a chance and, in fact, would be surprised if he finishes in the top five. Sad but true.
You know the competition is fierce when I can't find room on my ballot for Manny Ramirez (.321/.439/.619, 35 HR, 102 RBI, 100 BB), Jim Thome (.288/.416/.598, 42 HR, 109 RBI, 107 BB), and Jason Giambi (.253/.413/.558, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 110 BB). Just goes to show how valuable C, SS, 2B, and CF are, especially in the AL where there are 14 DHs competing with all the position players for batting stats. Or how about Alex Rodriguez? He had one of the best seasons ever for someone so ridiculed in the press. A third baseman on the best team in baseball, putting up a .290/.392/.523 line along with 35 HR and 121 RBI would normally be in the discussion for league MVP. Not this year.