Never Give Up
Some old baseball players don't know when to quit. And who can blame them?
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.
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 $58.20M
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.
Player Salary 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 $6.500MFlores, 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.
C: Molina 1B: Pujols 2B: Miles 3B: Rolen SS: Eckstein LF: Duncan Rodriguez CF: Taguchi RF: Encarnacion SP: Carpenter Reyes Wainwright RP: Isringhausen Looper Rincon Flores Hancock Johnson Kinney ThompsonOne 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:
GO/AO 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
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:
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:
Thirdly, speaking of TLR. . .
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
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.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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)
* 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
Detroit: 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
St. Louis: 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
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.
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"):
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:
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
I pitch and then
Your ghost man lopes toward second base
One side is cracked, and full of holes.
This slow start this spring
Open Chat: Alex Rodriguez and Aramis Ramirez
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!'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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*
* 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.
...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.
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.
New York Mets-Los Angeles Dodgers
First batter: Single to center.
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.
San Diego Padres-St. Louis Cardinals
"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."
Minnesota Twins-Oakland A's
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
Off the Bench:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.