Boston's Future Is as Bright as Its Recent Past - Part Two
We extolled the virtues of Boston's ownership and management in Part One yesterday and discussed a few of the most important decisions at hand. In Part Two, we will cover the organization's philosophy and how it shapes the near- and long-term outlook of the club.
The foundation of the franchise is based on scouting and player development. The Red Sox are not afraid to select the best players available in the draft and pay over slot if that's what it takes to get them. More teams should follow this strategy because it is one of the cheapest ways to secure quality talent. Rather than doling out $40-50M over four years for a medicore starter like Carlos Silva, Boston concentrates on drafting and signing as many quality arms as possible, believing that it's as much a numbers game as anything else.
Management is willing to think "outside the box" while priding itself on taking an opportunistic approach when it comes to deals. However, they are not infallible. Theo Epstein & Co. have made their share of mistakes, especially when it comes to free agent signings. Look no further than their record with shortstops since allowing Orlando Cabrera to leave for free agency after the 2004 World Series championship for proof. That said, one would need to be afflicted with tunnel vision to focus on the Julio Lugos when the signing of David Ortiz five years ago more than makes up for these errors.
As we discussed yesterday, the Red Sox stand to lose Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling to free agency, as well as Royce Clayton, Matt Clement, Eric Gagne, Eric Hinske, Bobby Kielty, Doug Mirabelli, and Mike Timlin. Boston is unlikely to pursue any of the free agents other than Lowell and Schilling with much vigor. At the right price, I'm sure they would consider Hinske or Kielty, Timlin, and possibly Mirabelli if the club decides to exercise its option on Tim Wakefield.
Boston will undoubtedly pass on its option to bring back Julian Tavarez for $3.85M. Brendan Donnelly and Kyle Snyder figure to be non-tendered. Javier Lopez could be offered arbitration while Kevin Youkilis is a good bet to sign a multi-year deal to cover his arb-eligible years at a minimum.
All of the other players on the roster are either under contract or the control of the club. Boston has two everyday players (Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia), two starting pitchers (Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester), and two of its top three relievers (Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen) that will be making close to the minimum salary. The Sox might be interested in working out a two- or three-year deal with Paps to keep him happy as well as to avoid arbitration a year from now.
Coco Crisp, who will earn $4.75M in 2008 and $5.75M in 2009 (with an $8M club option or a $0.5M buyout for 2010), could be moved to a team in need of a center fielder but unwilling to meet the contract demands of free agents Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Aaron Rowand. Crisp runs well and his outfield defense has catapulted to the top echelon, making him an ideal fit for a team loaded with flyball pitchers in a big ballpark.
With only one more year guaranteed on the eight-year contract he signed in December 2000, Manny Ramirez is more marketable than ever. The future Hall of Famer will make $20M in 2008 and the Sox have club options at that same salary for 2009 and 2010. Manny also has $31M in deferred compensation due him, which will be paid out in 16 annual installments of $1.94M from 2011-2026.
For the sake of this analysis, we have assumed that Lowell and Schilling will be re-signed, Ramirez will be back for at least one more year, Ellsbury will be the everyday center fielder, and Crisp will be traded. With these variables in mind, here is what appears would be the starting lineup, pitching rotation, bench, and bullpen in 2008.
1. Ellsbury, CF
2. Pedroia, 2B
3. Ortiz, DH
4. Ramirez, LF
5. Lowell, 3B
6. Youkilis, 1B
7. Drew, RF
8. Varitek, C
9. Lugo, SS
1. Beckett, RHP
2. Matsuzaka, RHP
3. Schilling, RHP
4. Lester, LHP
5. Buchholz, RHP
CL - Jonathan Papelbon, RHP
SU - Hideki Okajima, LHP
SU - Manny Delcarmen, RHP
C: Doug Mirabelli, Kevin Cash, or Dusty Brown
INF: Alex Cora and Jed Lowrie
OF: Brandon Moss
The above list of players totals 21, leaving the club with four holes to fill. Lopez, Timlin, and Wakefield could take up three of these spots, and either Kielty or a player like him could wind up as a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder.
We drill down a bit deeper into the makeup of the roster with emphasis on ages, stats, and salaries.
1. Josh Beckett, 27, RHP
W-L 20-7 | ERA 3.27 | WHIP 1.14
2007 Salary: $6,666,667
2008 Salary: $10,166,667
2009 Salary: $11,166,667
The above salaries include a pro rata share of a $2M signing bonus that Beckett received when he agreed to a three-year extension in July 2006. Give the Sox a high five for negotiating this deal in the midst of Beckett's most disappointing season in the majors. Boston stepped up and signed its ace to a contract that is more than $5M below market over each of the next two campaigns as well as a very reasonable $12M club option for 2010. Given his Cy Young-type season and outstanding October, Beckett may well be the top pitcher in the game at this very moment.
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka, 27, RHP
W-L 15-12 | ERA 4.40 | WHIP 1.32
2007 Salary: $6,333,333
2008 Salary: $8,333,333
2009 Salary: $8,333,333
2010 Salary: $8,333,333
2011 Salary: $10,333,333
2012 Salary: $10,333,333
As with Beckett, the above salaries include a pro rata share of a $2M bonus that Dice-K earned when he signed a six-year contract in December 2006. Matsuzaka also has escalators that could increase the total value to $60M. The heralded import from Japan faded down the stretch but seems like a good bet to improve upon his numbers in 2008.
3. Curt Schilling, 41, RHP
W-L 9-8 | ERA 3.87 | WHIP 1.25
2007 Salary: $13,000,000
Schilling is looking for a one-year deal. The veteran pitcher indicated last spring that he would return in 2008 at his current salary of $13M, but the Red Sox wanted to buy time to see how his health and performance would hold up in his age-40 season. It seems to me that the two sides should be able to work out a mutually agreeable contract.
4. Jon Lester, 24, LHP
W-L 4-0 | ERA 4.57 | WHIP 1.46
2007 Salary: $384,000
Lester bounced back from a treatable form of lymphoma to win Game 4 of the World Series. He promises to be an important piece of the Boston rotation for the next several years.
5. Clay Buchholz, 23, RHP
W-L 3-1 | ERA 1.59 | WHIP 1.06
2007 Salary: Minimum
Buchholz is best known for the no-hitter he threw in his second major-league start on September 1. He is the real deal and projects to be an All-Star caliber pitcher, if healthy, for years to come. The righthander, who missed the postseason because of shoulder fatigue, will not be pushed next season. Look for him to pitch 160-180 innings (vs. a total of 148 spread over AA, AAA, and MLB in 2007). Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer told Patrick Sullivan and me in an exclusive interview last March that Buchholz, who throws a mid-90s fastball, had the best slider and changeup in the system. He struck out Nick Markakis with a knee-buckling breaking ball to end his no-no two months ago. In a nutshell, his stuff ranks among the best in the game.
6. Tim Wakefield, 41, RHP
W-L 17-12 | ERA 4.76 | WHIP 1.35
2007 Salary: $4,000,000
The Red Sox exercised a $4M option for 2007 a year ago and can continue to do the same each year until the club waives its right to bring Wakefield back. Think of him as an insurance policy.
On the horizon: Michael Bowden. ETA: September 2008 or 2009.
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon, 27, RHP
W-L 1-3 | SV 37 | ERA 1.85 | WHIP .77
2007 Salary: $425,500
Is there a better closer in the game than Papelbon? After watching him dominate opponents during the regular season and throughout the playoffs, I would be hard-pressed to choose someone over him. He is one tough sonofagun, a rare closer who has no problem being used in the eighth and ninth innings to get more than the usual three outs. Keeping Paps in the bullpen proved to be one of the smartest moves the Sox made.
Set-Up: Hideki Okajima, 32, LHP
W-L 3-2 | SV 5 | ERA 2.22 | WHIP .97
2007 Salary: $1,225,000
2008 Salary: $1,275,000
A former member of the Yomiuri Giants, Okajima was signed as a free agent in November 2006. The lefthanded reliever signed for a whopping bonus of $50,000 (which is included in the above salaries) and Boston has a $1.75M club option for 2009. Okajima has performance and award bonuses that are rather insignificant in the big picture. He may have been the most pleasant surprise in Beantown last season.
Set-Up: Manny Delcarmen, 26, RHP
W-L 0-0 | SV 1 | ERA 2.05 | WHIP 1.02
2007 Salary: Minimum
Long on potential, Delcarmen took a huge leap forward in 2007 and heads into next season as one of Boston's two valuable set-up relievers. He is young and cheap and possesses a live arm.
Middle Relief: Mike Timlin, 42, RHP
W-L 2-1 | SV 1 | ERA 3.42 | WHIP 1.08
2007 Salary: $2,800,000
Old reliable. If Timlin's demands don't get out of line, look for the veteran reliever to return to Boston for a sixth season.
LOOGY: Javier Lopez, 30, LHP
W-L 2-1 | SV 0 | ERA 3.10 | WHIP 1.33
2007 Salary: $402,500
Lopez actually had reverse splits last season, yet has been slightly more effective vs. LHB over the course of his career.
On the horizon: Craig Hansen (ETA: 2008) and Justin Masterson (ETA: Late 2008 or 2009).
Jason Varitek, 35, C, B-B/T-R
AVG .255 | OBP .367 | SLG .421 | HR 17 | RBI 68
2007 Salary: $10,000,000
2008 Salary: $10,000,000
Varitek turns 36 next April. The Captain has one more year left on the contract he signed a couple of months after the 2004 World Series championship. His pitch calling and relationships with a diverse group of pitchers received a lot of play during the postseason telecasts. It will be interesting to see if Boston reaches out to Tek before his contract expires.
Doug Mirabelli, 37, C, B-R/T-R
AVG .202 | OBP .278 | SLG .360 | HR 5 | RBI 16
2007 Salary: $750,000
Kevin Youkilis, 29, 1B/3B, B-R/T-R
AVG .288 | OBP .390 | SLG .453 | HR 16 | RBI 83
2007 Salary: $424,500
Based on his postseason, it is safe to say that Youkilis is now much more than the "Greek God of Walks." He looks like someone who could be a .300/.400/.500 hitter, which plays at either side of the infield. If Lowell is re-signed, Youk will return to first base. However, he gives Boston a legitimate option to man the hot corner – at least for a year or two – should the bidding get outlandish for the World Series MVP.
Dustin Pedroia, 24, 2B, B-R/T-R
AVG .317 | OBP .380 | SLG .442 | HR 8 | RBI 50
2007 Salary: $380,000
Pedroia got off to a poor start last April, caught fire in May, and proceeded to put up a season that should earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors. The diminutive second baseman hit .333/.389/.467 (with 37 BB and 36 SO) from May 1 through the end of the regular season while more than holding his own in the playoffs (.283/.348/.483). A terrific defender, Pedroia's fielding gem saved Buchholz's no-hitter.
Julio Lugo, 32, SS, B-R/T-R
AVG .237 | OBP .294 | SLG .349 | HR 8 | RBI 73
2007 Salary: $8,250,000
2008 Salary: $9,000,000
2009 Salary: $9,000,000
2010 Salary: $9,000,000
2011 Salary: $9,000,000 vesting option with 2,400 PA in 2007-10 and 600 PA in 2010
There's no reason to mince words here. Lugo was a huge disappointment in his inaugural season in Boston. His 73 RBI might mislead those who don't know better but a .643 OPS playing half of one's games at Fenway can't be explained away, almost no matter how well he may have played in the field. Julio's defense improved in the final two months of the season and the play he made to his right in the World Series finale was both heady and spectacular. Lugo now owns a ring so things can't be all that bad.
Mike Lowell, 34, 3B, B-R/T-R
AVG .324 | OBP .378 | SLG .501 | HR 21 | RBI 120
2007 Salary: $9,000,000
I discussed Lowell in detail yesterday. The bottom line is that Boston will have to overpay to keep him around. Popular with fans, his price tag most likely went up – or at a minimum firmed – with the almost concurrent news of A-Rod's opt out and his MVP honors last Sunday.
Alex Cora, 32, 2B/SS, B-L/T-R
AVG .246 | OBP .298 | SLG .386 | HR 3 | RBI 18
2007 Salary: $2,000,000
2008 Salary: $2,000,000
Every team needs to have an Alex Cora on its roster. The utility infielder could get expensive though if he were to be named AL MVP as he has a clause in his contract that would pay him $125,000 for capturing this award!
On the horizon: Jed Lowrie. ETA: 2008.
Manny Ramirez, 35, LF, B-R/T-R
AVG .296 | OBP .388 | SLG .493 | HR 20 | RBI 88
2007 Salary: $18,000,000
2008 Salary: $20,000,000
Manny being Manny as they say. He played almost everyday from April through August, missed more than 20 games in September, then went 16-for-46 with 4 HR and 11 BB in the postseason when everything was on the line. Ramirez will be shopped once again but will most likely wind up in Boston next season. Fenway Park suits him best defensively so I would expect him to finish his career as a DH for an AL club.
Jacoby Ellsbury, 24, CF, B-L/T-L
AVG .353 | OBP .394 | SLG .509 | HR 3 | RBI 18
2007 Salary: Minimum
Ellsbury hit .330/.389/.442 and stole 50 bases in 57 attempts over approximately 600 combined plate appearances in AA, AAA, and MLB. He promises to be a significant upgrade offensively and is a plus defensive center fielder with his arm the only tool holding him back.
J.D. Drew, 32, RF, B-L/T-R
AVG .270 | OBP .373 | SLG .423 | HR 11 | RBI 64
2007 Salary: $14,000,000
2008 Salary: $14,000,000
2009 Salary: $14,000,000
2010 Salary: $14,000,000
2011 Salary: $14,000,000
Drew struggled for most of the season but rebounded in September and October, giving hope for better things to come in 2008 and beyond. With an unpopular contract in hand, Drew faced a difficult fan base and media while dealing with his 1-1/2 year-old son's health during the summer. J.D. may be much more comfortable in his second season in Boston and is certainly capable of putting up a .285/.385/.475 type line.
On the horizon: Brandon Moss. ETA: 2008.
David Ortiz, 32, DH/1B, B-L/T-L
AVG .332 | OBP .445 | SLG .621 | HR 35 | RBI 117
2007 Salary: $12,500,000
2008 Salary: $12,500,000
2009 Salary: $12,500,000
2010 Salary: $12,500,000
Signing David Ortiz as a free agent after the Minnesota Twins non-tendered him in the winter between the 2002 and 2003 seasons and re-signing him a couple of times may be a few of the best moves that the current management team has made. Big Papi earned $1.25M in 2003, $4.5875M in 2004, $5.25M in 2005, and $6.5M in 2006. He received a $2M bonus for signing an extension in April 2006 for $12.5M per year for the 2007-2010 seasons with a club option at that same price for 2011 with, get this, NO buyout!
Patrick Sullivan will handle Part Three tomorrow with a focus on Boston's amateur drafts and farm system.
Note: Contract information was provided by Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Boston's Future Is as Bright as Its Recent Past - Part One
With two World Series titles in the past four years and one of the best farm systems in the game, the Boston Red Sox are now the model big-market franchise. Sure, the Sox have built-in competitive advantages and possess the second-highest payroll in baseball, but the organization, for the most part, has used its resources wisely. The same cannot be said of several other franchises, be it small or large markets.
The success starts at the top. The ownership group, headed by John Henry, Chairman Tom Werner, and CEO/President Larry Lucchino, deserves credit for buying the team, investing in it, and assembling an outstanding management team. Outside of George Steinbrenner and Carl Pohlad, I believe Henry, Werner, Lucchino, et al are the only owners who have overseen a pair of World Series championships.
Executive VP/General Manager Theo Epstein, who was hired in November 2002, is one of only three GMs who have won multiple World Series titles (the others being Pat Gillick and Brian Cashman). Not bad for anyone, much less someone who hasn't turned 34 yet.
Manager Terry Francona, who was hired in December 2003, has skippered two championships in four seasons. He is signed through 2008 and will earn $1.75M next year. Francona also earns bonuses for making playoffs and winning the LDS, LCS, and World Series. Look for Tito to get a multi-year extension and a raise that will send his average annual salary toward $2.5M.
Assistant GM Jed Hoyer and VP/Player Personnel Ben Cherington, both of whom served as co-GM during Epstein's absence from October 2005 through January 2006, coupled with Director of Player Development Mike Hazen and Scouting Director Jason McLeod, add to the strength of Boston's front office. Let's also not forget the contributions of Senior Baseball Operations Adviser Bill James, who was hired by Henry five years ago. The depth of talent in the front office is virtually unmatched in MLB.
The management team has a number of important decisions to make this fall. First and foremost is whether it wants to make a run at Alex Rodriguez, who opted out of his 10-year, $252 million contract on Sunday night. Boston, the two Los Angeles franchises, San Francisco, and perhaps Detroit, Seattle, and one or both of the Chicago clubs would appear to have the most resources and interest in signing the soon-to-be three-time AL MVP.
If the Yankees are true to their word and don't pursue A-Rod, then one has to think that Mike Lowell will receive their money and affection. The latter apparently is looking for a 4/$56M deal. Put me in charge and I would not offer anything remotely close to that asking price. The fans can chant "MVP" all they want, but he is not worth that kind of money. He will turn 34 before the season starts and is a risky proposition beyond two years.
Teams should be aware that Lowell was a product of Fenway Park in 2007 (.373/.418/.575 at home, .276/.339/.428 away). They should also all but ignore his 120 RBI. Those runs served Boston well in 2007 but are not necessarily repeatable in 2008 and beyond, especially for a club that doesn't have as strong of a lineup as the Sox.
Lowell may be a good guy, unselfish, and clutch – you know, the types of things we hear about *after* a player performs well or a team wins it all. But wasn't he all those things when Florida dumped his $9 million annual salary on Boston in the Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez trade? Wasn't Lowell all that when the Red Sox couldn't find any takers last winter? I know he had an outstanding season but that's now in the past. Success doesn't come by looking in the rear-view mirror; it comes to those who focus on the future rather than the past.
If the Red Sox don't want to wait out what will likely be an auction for A-Rod's services, then it can negotiate with Lowell now. However, I don't see it as an "either or" decision. Kevin Youkilis, while not the equal of Lowell defensively or as athletic as Rodriguez, could man the hot corner adequately for a year or two. David Ortiz could get more time at first base, if necessary, while waiting for Lars Anderson, who just turned 20, to develop into a major leaguer. Jed Lowrie could be a viable option as well. A second baseman at Stanford and a shortstop throughout his professional career, the 23-year-old has the hands and arm strength to make the move to third base. He would be a downgrade offensively but far from a liability.
As a result of the above, I would go after Rodriguez in a big way. Nobody knows what it will take at this point. Instead, we only know that the highest bidder will win out. Clubs are going to want to offer no more than six years and Scott Boras is going to hold out for ten. The compromise may be eight but if it's six or ten, it will – rest assured – be ten. If it works, great. If it doesn't, that's OK, too. The Red Sox are loaded and can deploy the money elsewhere if things don't work out with A-Rod.
Aside from Rodriguez and Lowell, Boston needs to make a decision with respect to Curt Schilling. Now 41, the veteran righthander, whose $13M 2007 option vested when the club won the World Championship in 2004, is free to negotiate with any team. Both sides have enough interest in each other that a deal could be reached to bring back Schilling for one more season with perhaps a mutual option for 2009. Andy Pettitte would be a high-end comp at $16M while Greg Maddux would be a low-end comp at $10M. The latter's options could serve as a model for negotiations between the Red Sox and Schilling. Maddux has a $6M player option that increased to $8.75M due to the fact that he exceeded 185 IP last season and San Diego has a $11M club option.
The Red Sox can exercise its option on Tim Wakefield each year at $4M. At worst, bringing back Wakefield gives the Red Sox insurance in case Schilling breaks down and Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz don't pan out as expected. As a sixth starter, Wake would likely get 8-12 starts and could work out of the bullpen as a long reliever when the rotation is healthy.
Be sure to return tomorrow for Part Two when we discuss Boston's lineup, bench, starting rotation, and bullpen in more depth.
How Sweep It Is!
As everyone who is reading this site knows, the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to win its second World Series title in four years. The Red Sox have now won eight Fall Classic games in a row to become the only club to own two World Series titles this decade.
In addition to sweeping the World Series in 2004 and 2007, the Sox beat the Angels three straight in the ALDS both years, then overcame 3-0 and 3-1 deficits to the Yankees and Indians, respectively, in the ALCS. The franchise that never says die won its final eight games in 2004 and seven games in 2007.
Mike Lowell was named the Most Valuable Player in this year's World Series, capping an outstanding regular season and run in the playoffs. There are numerous side stories, including the fact that Alex Rodriguez has decided to opt out of his $252 million, 10-year contract with the Yankees. Lowell and Rodriguez are both free agents and could potentially swap teams for 2008 and beyond.
We will have much, much more on the Red Sox tomorrow, including a comprehensive review of where the team has been and where it may be going. Be sure to visit us on Tuesday and throughout the fall and winter as we discuss the season that was, the season that will be, the Rule 5 draft, free agents, trades, interviews, guest columns, and more analysis on pitchers (such as pitch types, batted balls, strikeout rates, etc.) than you can shake a
stick bat at. I'll add one more sentence here so I don't end this entry with a preposition.
Weekend World Series Blog
Here's a pretty comrehensive summary of Terry Francona's dilemma by Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe. Because there is no Designated Hitter in Fall Classic contests being played in National League parks, Francona has to sit one of his regulars.
The debate in Boston has become binary; it's either Papi or Youk who will sit (and I guess Francona agrees). Two options that should be on the table but apparently were not have barely been discussed.
First, Youkilis could move over to third base and replace Mike Lowell. Sure, Lowell has a great glove and has had a fantastic season. He has even had a great post-season. But Kevin Youkilis is hitting .396/.491/.750 in the second season and while placing too much stock on a small sample would be short-sighted, so too is ignoring as hot a hand as Youk's.
Here's the option I would have liked to have seen considered. Why not displace the weakest link of this Sox attack, centerfield? Coco Crisp has been a disaster and Jacoby Ellsbury has offered little relief. Both are phenomenal defenders, however, and with Daisuke Matsuzaka hurling tonight (a slight fly-ball pitcher) in Coors's spacious outfield, Francona is opting for defense. A Manny/Drew/Youkils left-to-right outfield would be about as bad as it gets defensively but the offensive upgrade of a scorching hot Youkilis over a freezing cold banjo-hitting centerfield duo would probably be justified. And remember, Youkilis played just about all of September 2006 in left field for Boston and held up just fine.
I rank the who-to-sit options thusly:
We'll see if there is any impact tonight.
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/27/2007, 11:26 AM EDT
Using sOPS+, which is defined here, the following table breaks down how well (or poorly) Boston and Colorado hitters do in all of the various pitch counts.
1st Pitch 111 130
1-0 Count 106 109
2-0 Count 106 110
3-0 Count 145 66
0-1 Count 94 104
1-1 Count 132 90
2-1 Count 108 146
3-1 Count 105 106
0-2 Count 93 129
1-2 Count 124 90
2-2 Count 100 100
Full Count 112 119
After 1-0 111 103
After 2-0 111 105
After 3-0 109 92
After 0-1 114 109
After 1-1 120 106
After 2-1 118 120
After 3-1 105 108
After 0-2 112 114
After 1-2 113 104
After 2-2 109 112
Three Balls 110 109
Two Strikes 116 110
As shown, the Red Sox are below average when it comes to hitting in 0-1 and 0-2 counts. They hit well on the first pitch and when ahead in the count. Colorado, which is a bit more of a free-swinging club, has had lots of success on the first pitch (.391/.401/.633 with 50 2B and 37 HR in 764 plate appearances).
I don't know if Josh Fogg can throw first and second pitch strikes past Red Sox hitters. Diasuke Matsuzaka, on the other hand, might be a good fit if he can keep the Rockies guessing all night with his assortment of pitches. It says here that the matchup favors Boston with or without Youkilis in the lineup.
- Rich Lederer, 10/27, 11:45 AM PT
As it turns out, Dice-K hasn't been effective when the batter has put the ball in the play on the first pitch. Opponents are hitting .350/.388/.675 with a 134 OPS+ in such situations. Fogg also hasn't had success when hitters have put the first pitch in play (146 OPS+). The Colorado righthander has gotten ripped the second time through the lineup (142 OPS+), which basically equates to pitch numbers 26-75 (OPS+ over 150).
Unless the umpire has a big strike zone, I see the Red Sox knocking Fogg out of the game before the fifth inning is completed. Whether Matsuzaka can make it through five will depend on if he can keep his breaking stuff and pitch count down. Either way, look for both bullpens to get a lot of work tonight.
- Rich Lederer, 10/27, 5:05 PM PT
Ladies and gentlemen, Rich Lederer!
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/27, 10:34 PM EDT
By the way, when it comes to watching baseball games on TV, I'm sure glad that I live on the west coast. It's absolutely ridiculous when a nine-inning game lasts 4 hours and 19 minutes and ends a few minutes before the clock strikes 1 a.m. on the east coast. Quoting my brother, "Didn't baseball games used to be shorter than football games?"
- Rich Lederer, 10/27, 9:59 PM PT
Much was made of Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia becoming the first pair of rookies to bat 1-2 in a World Series game and the only rookies to combine for seven hits in a Fall Classic contest. But I don't recall hearing or reading anything about the fact that these two youngsters were Pac-10 Players of the Year – Pedroia in 2003 and Ellsbury in 2005.
Pedroia played college ball at Arizona State and was the Pac-10 conference's co-POY (along with Stanford's Ryan Garko, who was a catcher back then). The Boston second baseman was a shortstop with ASU and, in fact, was named National Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 by Collegiate Baseball.
Ellsbury went to Oregon State and was the conference's co-POY (with Arizona's Trevor Crowe). An outstanding defensive center fielder in college and in the professional ranks, Ellsbury is fleet of foot and promises to be a .300 hitter with 30 to 40 stolen bases per year. Ellsbury and Pedroia are also known for their strike-zone judgment and makeup.
Boston has another Pac-10 Player of the Year – Jed Lowrie, who won the award in 2004 – in its ranks. (Interestingly, Pedroia, who was named POY the previous year as a sophomore, finished second behind Lowrie in his junior season.) A second baseman at Stanford, Lowrie has played mostly at shortstop in the minors. He may not have the quickness and range to handle that position in the majors, but there is little doubt that the switch-hitter can produce offensively at the highest level. Lowrie had a combined line of .298/.393/.503 (with 68 XBH, 77 BB and 91 SO) at AA and AAA this season.
Kudos to the Red Sox for drafting, signing, and developing these Pac-10 Players of the Year.
- Rich Lederer, 10/28, 9:10 AM PT
There are many variables that impact what type of pitch a pitcher will throw on any given pitch. The type of hitter, the count, if there are runners on base, what the score is, what pitch was just thrown, as well as the different types of pitches a pitcher has in his arsenal all play a big part in what pitch will be thrown next.
Given any situation that a pitcher is in, be it close game or blowout, facing Ryan Braun or Ryan Freel, in a hitter's count or pitcher's count, there is a certain frequency that he should throw each of his pitches for optimal results. These frequencies are dependent on the situation and pitcher, and even though we don't know exactly what they may be in each situation, they do exist. A pitcher can't let a hitter get too comfortable in any situation, so even if the pitcher has an amazing slider, he is still going to have to occasionally throw a fastball to keep a hitter honest.
Last week I looked at the sequencing of pitches in an at-bat and used the overall percentage that a pitcher threw his fastball as a proxy for his true rate of throwing a fastball on any particular pitch. Prompted by these two threads on The Book's website, I went back into my database, and for every pitcher with at least 100 pitches, I found out how often they threw their fastball. I've created lists like this before, but this time I created splits based on the count the pitch was thrown in, either hitter's counts, pitcher's counts, or neutral counts. Using the overall percentage of pitches that were fastballs (FB%) for a pitcher as their true rate of throwing fastballs, I then looked to see if pitchers were throwing a significantly different amount of fastballs in each type of count. I used the frequencies of fastballs thrown because it is the easiest pitch to look at. Every pitcher throws a fastball and while they all don't move the same, fastballs have much more in common across different pitchers than any other pitch does.
I have 421 pitchers in my sample, and in hitter's counts 299 of them threw significantly more fastballs than their overall average, while only 4 threw significantly fewer. In pitcher's counts, 286 pitchers threw significantly fewer fastballs, while only 9 threw significantly more. This is pretty much what we would expect to happen. One reason why hitter's counts are considered advantageous to hitters is because they see lots of fastballs (more than the overall average), which are generally easier to hit than breaking balls.
Results like that also make me think that the overall fastball frequency of a pitcher isn't a good substitute for his frequency in different counts. In my article last week I looked at Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia and Greg Maddux and their pitching patterns. Splitting their fastballs by count yields this chart, which shows the number of pitches thrown by each pitcher and the percent that were fastballs, both overall and in hitter's counts. (Hitter's counts are 3-0, 3-1, 2-0 and 2-1. Pitcher's counts are 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, and 0-1. The other counts are considered neutral counts.)
Name Total Pitches FB% Hitter's Counts FB%-hitter's counts
Josh Beckett 1122 0.68 108 0.81
C.C. Sabathia 1232 0.62 136 0.71
Greg Maddux 1137 0.65 105 0.62
All three pitchers throw a lot of fastballs overall, and two of them throw more fastballs than their overall average when in hitter's counts. This pattern holds true for almost all the pitcher's in my sample, with the average FB% going from 55% overall to 68% in hitter's counts. In light of this difference, using the overall FB% doesn't seem like the best proxy for the true FB% in hitter's counts.
One way to estimate the true amount of "skill" involved in an act is to regress it toward the population mean. In this case, I'm looking to estimate the true level of decision making that impacts the FB% in hitter's counts (basically finding the amount of "skill" for a measurement given the observed frequencies, random standard deviation, population average and population standard deviation). Once the regressed FB% are found you've got a much more accurate idea about what to expect in a given count from a pitcher. The overall FB% of a pitcher doesn't really matter to a hitter because a hitter will always find himself in a situation that alters the base frequency. Here's a table showing the eight pitchers who throw the most and least fastballs in hitter's counts.
Name Hitter's Counts FB%-hitter's counts
Scot Shields 87 0.96
Daniel Cabrera 68 0.94
Jose Valverde 50 0.94
Brian Fuentes 65 0.94
Derrick Turnbow 75 0.93
Sean Green 82 0.93
CJ Wilson 71 0.92
C. Wang 77 0.91
Mark Buehrle 134 0.36
Ubaldo Jimenez 167 0.36
Jamie Moyer 162 0.35
Doug Davis 74 0.35
Andy Pettitte 93 0.29
Mike Maroth 63 0.26
Julian Tavarez 69 0.25
Kenny Rogers 88 0.20
The first thing I noticed about the list is that the top group are almost all relievers, while the bottom group is almost all starting pitchers. There are other starters besides Cabrera and Wang at the top of the list, but for the most part, relievers are more likely to throw a fastball in a hitter's count. This is probably because they don't usually have a good second or third pitch that they can throw strikes with. Fastballs for relievers are also usually faster than those of starters, so even if the batter knows the pitch is coming, they might not be able to do anything with it. Starters generally have more pitches than relievers, so they become less reliant on one pitch in any count, although as Cabrera shows, this isn't always the case.
I wouldn't take too much from that list as there are good and bad pitchers at both ends of the list. However, if you were to take absolute difference between the FB% in hitter's counts and the FB% in pitcher's counts, you would get a list of pitchers who are throwing their fastballs equal amounts in both counts.
Name FB%-hitter FB%-pitcher Difference
Curt Schilling 0.50 0.50 0.00
Andy Pettitte 0.29 0.29 0.00
Livan Hernandez 0.44 0.44 0.00
Julian Tavarez 0.25 0.25 0.00
Mark Buehrle 0.37 0.36 0.01
Greg Maddux 0.62 0.61 0.01
Jake Westbrook 0.82 0.39 0.43
Jack Taschner 0.89 0.45 0.44
Brad Lidge 0.80 0.35 0.45
Frank Francisco 0.91 0.45 0.46
Rafael Perez 0.74 0.27 0.46
Derrick Turnbow 0.93 0.43 0.51
The guys at the top of this list usually have the reputations for being "smart" or "crafty", willing to throw any pitch at any time. Without looking at their other pitches, I can't verify that they will throw anything in any count, but according to this list, they don't alter the amount of fastballs they throw based on the count, which means at least that they throw the same total frequency of off-speed pitches in the different counts. The bottom of the list is populated with pitchers who drastically change the amount of fastballs they throw depending on the count. Someone like Lidge, who just has two pitches, primarily throws fastballs in hitter's counts and sliders in pitcher's counts. Even if Lidge is throwing his fastball and slider at their optimal frequencies in these counts, the difference between frequencies gives hitters very good information about what pitch is coming.
Comparing the pitch frequencies for the same pitcher in two different time periods, like Fausto Carmona in the regular season vs. the playoffs, is another interesting application of these frequencies. Using his regressed regular season pitch frequencies as his true frequencies, you can see if he significantly changed his style of pitching in the playoffs. I looked at this briefly before, but here are the FB% for Carmona and Sabathia in the playoffs compared to how they usually pitch. For whatever reason, both pitchers threw significantly more fastballs in hitter's counts in the playoffs than in the regular season.
Name Count type True FB% Playoff FB% Playoff N
Fausto Carmona Hitter 0.83 0.91* 44
Fausto Carmona Pitcher 0.58 0.73* 80
C.C. Sabathia Hitter 0.71 0.89* 35
C.C. Sabathia Pitcher 0.46 0.47 118
*-significantly different from true FB% (alpha=5%)
This is more of a backwards looking analysis that explains what happened rather than why it happened or what will happen in the future. Even still, it's fun to look at.
I think of the frequencies that pitches are thrown like the slices on a circular spinner. Making the correct decision about what pitch to throw is easy for a pitcher, just spin the Wheel-of-Pitches and throw whatever comes up. Knowing how big to make the slices for each pitch in different situations is much harder than actually deciding what pitch to throw. I didn't really look at this, but I'm curious how much the catcher contributes to setting the frequencies and spinning the wheel. At the top of the list of pitchers who throw fastballs in any count (the "smart" pitchers) were two pitchers on the Red Sox, with a third, Dice-K, just missing the cut. Jason Varitek generally gets credit for calling a good game, so I'm curious about his level of contribution to pitch selections.
My No-Longer Lovable Red Sox
As the Boston Red Sox get ready to play another World Series, for the first time in several decades their players will do so without the added burden of overcoming someone else’s history. While the 2004 Red Sox likely had the support of most fans around the country, this support has largely evaporated in the intervening three years. In fact, a growing number of people now find the team and its fans tiresome and insufferable. How could this have happened? Do we really deserve this scorn?
I first started following the Red Sox in earnest in 1968, known in New England as “The Year After,” very much in the glow of The Impossible Dream. I was seven years old and a fourth generation rooter of the Old Towne Team. I recall listening to the radio with my great-grandfather in the early 1970s, talking about the long-ago days when the team won pennants regularly. I did not choose to become a Red Sox fan, any more than I chose my brown hair, blue eyes, or allergies. Sure, maybe I took to the game more than the rest of the family did, preferring the Game of the Week over a trip to the beach, but it wasn’t like I picked which team I was going to root for. I am sure if I had grown up in a family of Yankee fans I would today be self-absorbed and have an enlarged sense of entitlement. (I kid, I kid.)
Although I did not choose my team, and though my team always lost at the end, the Red Sox were something I wore with pride. I grew up in southeastern Connecticut, where Red Sox fans held a majority position among many dissenters. The Red Sox did not win, but they were good enough so that every year you could construct a plausible case for how they could win. (I know, because I would write up the case, longhand, with tables and charts, in a spiral notebook. “Luis Alvarado will take over at 3B and capture the rookie of the year award, Sonny Siebert will win 18 games, Jerry Moses will club 18 home runs …”). The Red Sox did not finish below .500 until I was out of college. They generally ended up finishing 2nd or 3rd, just good enough so that winning next year seemed possible. I considered myself lucky. I got to root for Tony Conigliaro and Reggie Smith and Luis Tiant, and they won more games than they lost every year. How great was that? I listened to most of their games on the radio, and (by the age of 10) kept score.
This seemed perfectly normal, though perhaps a bit excessive. I was a Red Sox fan, and we were the smartest and best fans in baseball. I knew this because the announcers on the Game of the Week said it, and the national magazine writers wrote it. We never left the game early, knew all the strategy and rules, and cheered good plays by opposing players. Roger Angell, who wrote baseball essays for the New Yorker, regularly mused about Boston’s beautiful ballpark and faithful fans. Even though I only went to a game or two a year, it seemed they were speaking or writing about me. When I became an adult and moved near Boston, I began going to more games and keeping score at the ballpark, proudly sitting amongst my fellow smart and faithful fans. It seemed we were better looking than other fans, too.
The near-misses and disappointments began to pile up, surely. The year-end setbacks of 1972, 1977 and 1978 each hurt in its own way, and the 1974 collapse was a particularly tough blow. But the fun always, always, outweighed the grief. The 1975 World Series is remembered just as much for the great performance of the Red Sox as it is for the champion Reds, the seven-game defeat celebrated more than mourned. After the Series, I wrote a thesis on baseball for my sophomore English class, which was well received by my baseball-loving teacher. When I went away to college in upstate New York in 1978, I was among a lot of Yankees and Mets fans, but I never thought, “Gosh, you guys are lucky that you got to experience a World Championship.” I watched the Bucky Dent Game a few weeks later, in a dormitory lounge surrounded by Yankee hats. I am sure I was hassled about this, but it was (mostly) good-natured. Your team was your team, and I could still talk baseball until 3:00 in the morning with Yankees and Mets fans.
After the brutal loss in the 1986 World Series, the worm began to turn on Red Sox loyalists. For the first time, stories began to appear that we were not only loyal and smart, but also “long suffering” and “wallowing in misery.” (Who, me?) In 1990, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote the book The Curse of the Bambino, which described the history of the Red Sox as a torturous trail of tears, and their fans as cynical brooding people whose identities relied on the pain caused by their team. In Shaughnessy’s world, Red Sox Nation (a term he coined) would crumble to dust if the Red Sox ever won the World Series. And he blamed all of it, especially the 71-year championship drought, on a “curse” placed when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Although most of the premises of the book were nonsense, it sold very well, has been the basis for an HBO documentary, and is still in print 17 years later.
Had the term “Red Sox Nation” been in vogue in 1975, it would have been used to describe a loyal, friendly, intelligent group of fans. There was no wallowing that I was aware of. I recently re-watched the 1975 World Series, and the announcers never mentioned any suffering. The Red Sox were a proud and storied franchise who had not won in 57 years—many teams (the Cubs, the White Sox, and the Phillies) had gone longer, and the great Reds in the opposite dugout had waited 35 years themselves. I believe that the fans Shaughnessy described in his book (“Oh, woe is me”) did not exist in appreciable numbers until he created them. With The Curse, it began to dawn on a segment of Red Sox fans that, by golly, we have suffered. Blaming it all on a curse, or on the sale of Ruth, seemed therapeutic, and more satisfying than passing it all off as a bunch of bad juju.
I moved away from the city in 1993, going clear to the other side of the country. When I told my mother I was moving West, she was mainly amazed that I could leave the Red Sox. In some ways, I have not left them at all, though I have been to Fenway Park less than 10 times since moving. Within a few years I began hearing from friends back in Boston that Red Sox fans had become intolerable. Naturally, I came to their (our?) defense. “You are imagining this,” I told them. “Dan Shaughnessy does not speak for us, stop reading his column.” The good-natured rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, I was told, had become truly hateful. “Yankees Suck” (or “Jeter Swallows”) T-shirts were being worn by children. Keep score? Nah, they were too busy screaming obscenities about the opposing players.
In 2000, Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson wrote Red Sox Century, an impressive history of the team’s first 100 years. Stout and Johnson rightly ridicule the “curse”, bringing the Red Sox fan back to his or her rightful place of dignity. Instead, they roast the team for 82 years of incompetence and bigotry, in essence claiming the team has not deserved its loyal fans. The problem with the team had not been the sale of Ruth at all. In fact, using tortured and fanciful reasoning, the Ruth sale was proper and defensible, and the ensuing deals which created the first Yankees dynasty were smart trades that just happened to not work out. The holes in their theory are too plentiful for an article of this size, but the book has many things to recommend it, and gives many unknown stories and players their due.
Although a more impressive piece of research than Curse of the Bambino, its tone was unsatisfying in a different way. Tom Yawkey was not the loveable old coot from my youth—he was a racist. For that matter, so were Eddie Collins, Joe Cronin and Mike Higgins. The Red Sox should have had Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, but instead we got Don Buddin and Tommy Umphlett. The authors concluded that the team did not win because they were not good enough to win, and they did not deserve to win.
This is not right either. The Red Sox had lost four World Series in Game 7. Obviously they were good enough to win any of those games, as they had beaten their opponent three times in the Series already. And although it is true that the team was the last to integrate, this sad fact still makes them only marginally more onerous than the team who was second-to-last, or seventh-to-last. When it comes to race, there was a lot of shame to go around in the America of the 1950s, and I am not willing to lay it all on Tom Yawkey.
What was most unsatisfying is that neither book captures all of the fun I have had following the Red Sox. Shaughnessy presented me as living a life of agony, and Stout as wasting my time on a bunch of bigots and losers. In fact, I have enjoyed nearly every minute of it. There are plenty of things about the world that get me aggravated. Following baseball, rooting for the Red Sox, is basically a hell of a lot of fun. My memories of sitting in the stands with my grandfather, or listening to the radio at our cabin in Maine, are not marred by what might have happened in 1949. There was no wallowing.
So in 2004, you may have heard, the Red Sox finally won the World Series. For those who wondered what would happen when this blessed event finally occurred, the answer was: Unconstrained Joy. The biggest celebration in the history of the city. And not just in Boston. The team’s triumph was a great national baseball story.
And now? If the team was ever the “lovable loser,” those days are long gone. The Red Sox have the second highest payroll in the game, which makes its fans’ continued complaints about the Yankees higher payroll seem a bit tacky to the followers of the other 28 teams. Many Red Sox fans who were quick to defend their team’s “choker” label now happily pin the label on the Yankees instead, while reveling in their own team’s show of grit and character. The breaks of 1978 (Lou Piniella’s miracle stab in the playoff game) were just bad luck, while those of 2004 (Tony Clark’s double bouncing into the stands) were forgotten in the rush to make fun of the Yankees.
But that’s not right either. Reading those last sentences over, I see that I am also guilty of painting the picture with too fine of a brush. If there is a Red Sox Nation, it is very fractious and complicated. There is no unanimity of opinion or attitude about the team or anything else. At the end of the day, I should only speak for myself.
“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived … as a professional sports team,” Roger Angell once wrote. That was 32 years ago, and since then I have taken on a career, a home and a family, and put away (most) childish things. Not all of them. It was the “business of caring,” Angell concluded, that justifies the affiliation. It does not so much matter what one cared about, he wrote, as long as one could retain this feeling in their soul. “Naiveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”
As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I submit that the team is no more, and no less, worthy of my caring than they were five years ago, or thirty years ago. The winning has changed the labels applied to me, but the new labels are no more accurate than the old labels. Winning is fun, don’t get me wrong. But I had fun in 1969, when we finished a gentleman’s third. Maybe it was even more fun—I was eight years old, after all. But in thinking it over, I admit that I miss the days when Red Sox fans were admired and thought to be the smartest guy in the room. Maybe we weren’t, but I liked hearing it.
But really, I just want to be treated like any other fan. I know faithful Indians followers, smart Pirates nuts, proud Phillies loyalists, and, yes, kind Yankees fans. My wish is that they all experience the occasional championship banner, but also that they enjoy the journey every year. But none of them, and certainly not I, can represent a Nation, or be made to pay for the sins of their team.
Mark Armour writes baseball from his home in Corvallis, Oregon. He was the co-author, with Dan Levitt, of the award-winning book Paths to Glory, the editor of Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, and the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. His next large project is the life of Joe Cronin.
Series Preview - Peelin' Back the Onion a Bit
After attending Saturday and Sunday nights' masterpieces at Fenway Park, this will be tough but I am checking the fanboyism at the door and just looking at the numbers to see just what we are looking at here in these two teams. The Colorado Rockies are on fire. We get that much, right? But let's step back and determine if they truly have become as good a ballclub as the odds-on favorites Boston Red Sox or if Rox fans can expect this magical run to come to an unceremonious end.
Over the course of the entire season, it is clear to see that Boston was the better club:
AVG OBP SLG OPS+ OPS+ Lg Rank
COL .280 .354 .437 103 Sixth
BOS .279 .362 .444 107 Third
ERA ERA+ ERA+ Lg Rank DefEff
COL 4.32 111 Third .701
BOS 3.87 123 First .704
Both teams have been very good all year long, but Boston has been head and shoulders above Colorado when it comes to both run scoring and run prevention. Also, I would be remiss if I did not point out another enormous disparity, payroll:
Heck, Boston should have the better club. But since a baseball season is a work in progress and Colorado had an historic run to finish up the season and get to this point (while Boston limped to the finish line and did not exactly cruise in the ALCS), let's look at some additional numbers.
AVG OBP SLG
COL .283 .358 .454
BOS .286 .366 .452
COL 3.86 (4.71 first half)
BOS 3.98 (3.76 first half)
September / October (not including playoffs)
AVG OBP SLG
COL .298 .373 .488
BOS .286 .366 .472
As you can see, the gap narrows considerably. Colorado takes no back seat at all to Boston when you compare the two after the All Star Break and in September/October. Finally, let's take a look at how the two have fared in the post-season to try and deduce what we can.
AVG OBP SLG
COL .242 .326 .390
OPP .221 .296 .362
AVG OBP SLG
BOS .304 .388 .513
OPP .236 .287 .364
You can talk about historic streaks and days off and double plays grounded into and bullpens and who plays the game the right way and momentum and all that other stuff but the above numbers seem to be the ones being missed by the general public. Yes, Boston played a tight series against Cleveland but the reality is that they are hitting and pitching the ball ridiculously well. Meanwhile, Colorado's bats went a bit cold thus far in the playoffs. That will have to change for them to have a chance in this series.
For fun, here are the five best hitters and five best pitchers in the series, according to VORP:
Enjoy the series, everyone, and be sure to hang stop in here for wall-to-wall Series coverage.
The World Series From the Perspective of the Blogosphere
I don't know if the World Series is considered the second season or the third season, but it's finally upon us. And it promises to be an exciting one. The team with the most wins vs. the club with the most consecutive victories. Call it old money vs. new money.
All 30 teams emerged from spring training with hopes and dreams. Nine teams finished the 162-game regular season with a legitimate shot at winning it all. After the one-game playoff (or play-in) for the wild card spot, eight clubs were within 11 victories of hoisting the World Series trophy. The Division Series pared that list down to the Final Four. And the Championship Series produced the American and National League representatives for the 2007 World Series.
If the recent past is prologue, whichever team wins it this year may not even make the playoffs next season. That's right, only one of the last six World Series champs made the postseason the year after winning it all. But flags fly forever as they say so I'm sure fans of the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, if given a chance, would trade a down year in 2008 for a World Series title in 2007.
The Red Sox are trying to become the second team since 1990 to win the World Series after finishing with the best record in the majors. Only the 1998 Yankees have won the most games and the World Series in the same season during this period.
As I mentioned last week, "With Colorado's triumph over Arizona in the NLCS, a wild card team has now advanced to the World Series for the SIXTH consecutive year. Prior to 2002, only two wild cards had made it to the World Series since the current playoff format was established in 1995." These wild card champs are 4-4 in the World Series.
Don't dismiss the Rockies on the basis of the American League being stronger than the National League. Despite recent dominance by the AL in the All-Star game and inter-league play, the NL won the World Series last year as well as in two of the past four seasons and three of the past six. Any MLB club can beat any other team in a short series, especially one as hot as Colorado.
* * * * *
I've turned to a couple of Rockies and Red Sox bloggers to get their takes on the final chapter of the 2007 season.
Brandi Griffin, aka as the Rox Girl of Purple Row: A Colorado Rockies Blog, provided the following essay:
Long Track, Short Track
When the stretch run was getting underway, Rich handicapped the teams on this site much as one would horses at a track and it’s interesting to me to contrast these two teams in horse racing terms. Boston has been a front-runner, a Seattle Slew style marvel that raced to the lead of the pack and never really was challenged the rest of the way. Colorado, on the other hand, had a flair for the dramatic, having to chase down several teams in their improbable charge down the final straightaway for the NL Wild Card, nudging the Padres in a literal and disputed photo finish.
Now the two teams have shown equal aplomb on the series of sprints we call the MLB playoffs, with the Rockies just blowing past the Phillies and D-backs from the gate, ending the races before the other team had a chance to get their footing. The Red Sox likewise dispatched the Angels in the ALDS, but then showed the world that they still have their chaser’s legs from 2004 in the seven game set versus the Indians.
Last year, the supposed Fall Classic was a battle of two teams that showed few of these traits, Detroit and St. Louis both sputtered into the playoffs and then sputtered through, and for me at least, it was merciful of the Cardinals to dispatch a sloppy Detroit team so quickly to end the thing. This year promises to be different, both teams seem like the best their leagues have to offer, and while Boston’s got the pedigree and frankly the better team, Colorado has all the traits to like in an underdog, few weaknesses and a solid core that will be able to handle its own in the short fight. Both teams have proven that they won’t back down from the challenge of a deficit, meaning neither team should feel safe with just three wins. At the same time, both team have shown killer instincts.
Alright, a quick fact that you might not know about the Rockies is that they play to the level of their competition. Including two more wins in the playoffs against Cole Hamels and Brandon Webb, Colorado has now gone 19-13 in games started by an opposing pitcher that ranks in the top 10 of his league’s ERA. This isn’t meant to impress a team that just breezed through John Lackey, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in the playoffs and beat Scott Kazmir regularly during the regular season, but it is a warning that the Rox will treat your aces and fifth starters alike, and sometimes make one look like the other or vice versa. Also, one of the unmentioned aspects of Colorado’s highly touted defense happens before pitches are even thrown thanks to the work of the team’s advance scouts. The Rockies positioning has been superb in both these series, and if you listen to both D-backs and Phillies fans you will hear the common lament of “we hit the ball hard, it was just right at their guys” as they try to figure out how the Rox blew right past them.
The eight day layoff might have put a chill on the momentum, but this is an intelligent team that does extensive prep work on its opponents and those eight days also gave the team plenty of time to study the Sox. Both teams execute in all facets at a very high level and take advantage of others' inability to do so. I've got a feeling that good or bad for my Rockies, that this series will be one for the ages.
* * * * *
Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods is a Red Sox fan through and through. He collects baseball cards and Boston World Series titles. He has an appreciation for the past and present.
I have the four most important baseball cards in the world spread out on the table in front of me like religious relics. The closest thing in my life to religion has for all of my literate life been baseball and the Boston Red Sox, and today I am in the midst of one of the highest moments of that life of greedy, tantrum-laced worship: the Red Sox have won the pennant.
The last time they did this, in 2004, I was elated, exhausted, wrung out, grateful, somewhat unhinged, unkempt, given to spates of maniacal laughter, and more than a little physically ill. I was most of all deeply worried that it could still all be for naught if they lost the World Series. This time it’s a little easier to simply enjoy the ride. After the joy of the final out in the 2004 World Series, I scrambled to find a way to get to Boston for the parade, as I’d always promised myself I would. I met my brother there, who had driven up from Brooklyn in a car festooned with a big red banner reading “YAZMOBILE.” We wanted to say thank you to the team that finally did it and also to the players who came before; this was their win, too. The graying former player we most hoped to see on the duckboats, to cheer our throats raw for, to thank, was Carl Yastrzemski, but Yaz wasn’t there.
Yaz is here, however, in front of me, on the table. Over the past year, for reasons I am unable to fully understand, I’ve spent a disturbingly large amount of time writing about the baseball cards I collected as a child in the 1970s. I’ve gone on at length about journeymen and utility infielders, my meditations on the likes of Jose Morales, Tom Hutton, and Rich Dauer giving some semblance of shape to my often directionless existence. I’ve even spent most of a week of my brief time here on earth writing about Kurt Bevacqua not only as a Brewer but in a fictional Topps incarnation as a Mariner (who he never actually played for).
But I have never gotten around to writing about the four most important cards in the world, my Yaz cards from 1975, 1977, 1978, and 1980. Maybe now is the time. With the Red Sox in the World Series I can barely concentrate enough to brush my teeth, but I’ve decided that I’m going to find a way during this World Series to finally write about my four cardboard conduits to Yaz. I guess you could say I’m preparing to pray.
Next Up: The World Serious
The Red Sox put up the makings of a picket fence in the first three innings and never looked back despite being challenged by the Indians in the middle innings. Dustin Pedroia lowered the boom in the seventh with a two-run home run over the Green Monster off heretofore untouchable reliever Rafael Betancourt, then doubled with the bases loaded to knock in three more in the eighth to put the game out of reach and send Boston to the World Series for the first time since they won it all in 2004.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
- - - - - - - - - - -- -
Indians 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 10 1
Red Sox 1 1 1 0 0 0 2 6 X 11 15 1
Kevin Youkilis and Jason Varitek both contributed two extra-base hits and Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon combined to pitch four scoreless innings to cap the winner-take-all victory in the American League Championship Series. Boston is the only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the LCS, remarkably accomplishing this feat three times (1986, 2004, and 2007).
Even though Boston was extended to the full seven games, its pitching rotation is set up perfectly to handle the World Series schedule. ALCS MVP Josh Beckett will pitch the opener on five days of rest. He most likely will start games one and five and be available to help out in relief in game seven, if need be.
Game 1--Wed., 10/24 at 5:35 p.m. in Boston
Game 2--Thur., 10/25, at 5:29 p.m. in Boston
Game 3--Sat., 10/27, at TBA in Colorado
Game 4--Sun., 10/28, at TBA in Colorado
Game 5--Mon., 10/29, at TBA in Colorado
Game 6--Wed., 10/31, at TBA in Boston
Game 7--Thur., 11/1, at TBA in Boston
Boston and Colorado head into the World Series with winning streaks and confidence. The Red Sox have won three in a row and have produced more victories than any other team in baseball this year. The well-rested Rockies are undefeated in postseason play, having won ten consecutive games and 21 of 22 dating back to the middle of September.
The upstart Rockies defeated the Red Sox two of three during an interleague series at Fenway Park in June, outscoring them 20-5 in the process. Manager Clint Hurdle has already announced that ace Jeff Francis will start game one on Wednesday night and rookie Ubaldo Jimenez will go in game two on Thursday night. Hurdle has not decided who he will use in games three and four. His choices will be among righthander Josh Fogg, lefthander Franklin Morales, and sinkerballer Aaron Cook, who missed the final two months of the regular season with a strained muscle in his side.
By virtue of the American League winning the All-Star game in July, the AL East/ALDS/ALCS champion Red Sox will have the home-field advantage. Boston and Colorado both have unusual ballparks and outstanding home records. If the Red Sox take the first two games in Boston, it will be interesting to see if the Rockies can regain the lost momentum in Colorado. On the other hand, if the Rockies can earn a split in Boston, the NL Wild Card/NLDS/NLCS champs will head to Denver with the home-field advantage for the rest of the series.
We will have more on the World Series, including stats and other fun-filled facts over the next couple of days.
I'm wanted to look at pitch sequencing this week and see how pitchers pitch in certain situations. What happens after a certain pitcher starts a hitter off with a fastball? What pitch do they throw for the second pitch? What if they start him off with a curve? Whats the most common first pitch to a batter? Do certain pitchers follow predictable patterns of pitches? Josh Beckett has dominated the ALCS so far, so I thought he was a good choice to start with.
Of the 1016 pitches that PITCH f/x has recorded for Beckett, he has thrown 67% fastballs, 27% curves and 6% changeups. He throws his fastball more than an average pitcher does, partly because he only has three pitches and partly because his fastball is such a good pitch. On the first pitch to a batter, Beckett pretty much throws his pitches at their normal frequencies (69% FB/23% CB/8% CH). It gets a little more interesting after he has thrown one pitch though. If Beckett starts the hitter off with a fastball (and the batter doesn't put it into play), the second pitch that Beckett throws is slightly more likely to be another fastball. Of the 155 pitches he has thrown after a first pitch fastball, 73% of them have also been fastballs. When Beckett throws a curve on the first pitch (and it isn't put in play, which happened on 61 pitches), his second pitch is a fastball only 53% of the time.
This is where I start to get a little hazy with the math, but if the decision to throw a fastball or not or every pitch were independent and Beckett has a 67% chance of throwing a fastball on any pitch, then given 155 pitches, you would be 95% confident that the range of fastball frequencies would be between 61-73%, which is what happened for the pitches after a first pitch fastball. However, when looking at the same 95% confidence interval for the pitch after a first pitch curveball (61 pitches), you get a range of 57-77% fastballs, but he actually only threw his fastball 54% of the time in those situations. Beckett significantly deviates from his "normal" pattern of pitching and throws fewer fastballs after he starts a hitter with a curveball.
This is easier to understand in a table, so here's a table with all the information from the previous paragraph. The numbers quoted above were frequencies that he threw different pitches. The way to read the table is that after a first pitch fastball that wasn't put in play, Beckett threw 155 pitches, 73% fastballs, 21% curveballs and 6% changeups.
Overall First After First After First After First
Pitch Freq. Pitch Pitch FB Pitch CB Pitch CH
FB .67 .69 .73 .54* .44*
CB .28 .23 .21 .44 .17
CH .05 .08 .06 .02 .39
N 1014 265 155 61 18
*-significant at 5% level, given number of pitches thrown in that situation and overall average.
There are plenty of obscure relationships between Beckett's pitches, such as what happens when he starts a batter off with two fastballs or curveballs, but before looking at those relationships, I need to make sure that my assumption of independence between pitches isn't going to be a problem. There are plenty of reasons why Beckett would throw more curves and change ups on the second pitch to a batter that he started off with a curveball. If a batter had a tough time hitting off speed pitches, it would make sense that Beckett would give him several in a row. In fact, if he starts a hitter off with two curveballs in a row, the chance that the third pitch is a fastball is 58%.
The assumption that his decision to throw a each pitch is independent isn't totally realistic, because the situation and type of hitter will impact his decision about which pitches to throw, but it doesn't really impact my results. The distributions will be different depending on the situation (I'd be more surprised if they weren't), but I'm more interested in how he changes his pitching patterns in certain situations, rather than if he changes or not. Is he throwing more fastballs on the first pitch than is expected? Does he follow up fastballs with curveballs? What does he throw after a fastball is fouled off? The assumption that he has a static 67% chance to throw a fastball on any pitch might end up being more of a problem, but I think that can be fixed with some regression toward the average values in each situation.
C.C. Sabathia is a power pitcher who throws his fastball more than average. Overall, for all pitchers, fastballs are thrown 55% of the time and 57% of first pitches are fastballs. Sabathia throws his fastball 61% of the time, but on his first pitches, he leans even more on his heater, throwing it 78% of the time. This is a significant difference given his overall average, but whether he starts the hitter off with a fastball or curveball, by the second pitch Sabathia is back to throwing pitches at their normal frequencies. The one oddity on the second pitch of an at-bat occurs if he starts the hitter off with a changeup. After a first pitch changeup, Sabathia throws a fastball only 44% of the time and throws more changeups instead. Sabathia's chart is below.
Overall First After First After First After First
Pitch Freq. Pitch Pitch FB Pitch CB Pitch CH
FB .61 .78* .59 .59 .44*
CB .21 .08 .22 .32 .08
CH .17 .14 .19 .09 .47
N 1101 298 199 22 36
*-significant at 5% level, given number of pitches thrown in that situation and overall average.
Greg Maddux is another roughly three pitch pitcher, but he has a slightly different pitches than either Sabathia or Beckett, as well as a pretty different overall style of pitching. Instead of just listing more frequencies for Maddux, his frequency table is below. The interesting things to notice here are how much he throws his fastball as the first pitch of an at-bat, and that if he starts an at-bat with a cutter there’s a good chance he’ll come back with a cutter as the second pitch of the at-bat.
Overall First After First After First After First
Pitch Freq. Pitch Pitch FB Pitch CH Pitch CT
FB .66 .75* .65 .68 .33*
CT .15 .12 .16 .12 .59
CH .19 .12 .19 .21 .07
N 1112 345 216 22 36
*-significant at 5% level, given number of pitches thrown in that situation and overall average.
It seems to me that pitchers would be most effective if they didn’t fall into tendencies regarding pitch sequencing. Beckett, Sabathia and Maddux are all essentially three pitch pitchers who throw fastballs more than average. They all throw slightly different amounts of fastballs, but on the first pitch of an at-bat, Sabathia and Maddux throw proportionally more fastballs than they do overall. Hitters are already probably looking for a fastball from these pitchers, but they can afford to look even more on the first pitch. On the first pitch of an at-bat, Sabathia and Maddux don’t exactly become 1-dimensional pitchers, but they do remove some of the uncertainty regarding pitch selection from a hitter’s mind, although they could be varying the location enough on the first pitch to make up for it. Beckett is much more in line with his overall pitch frequencies on the first pitch. He does throw 67% fastballs, so hitters should still be looking fastball on the first pitch, but no more than at any other time they face him.
The next step in this vein of research is to expand from looking at just three pitchers to all pitchers. Ideally, I would know what the average fastball (and other pitches) frequency is in the different sequencing situations I looked at, maybe split by hand orby type of pitcher. In addition to seeing if the pitch frequencies differed from a binomial distribution, I could also see how much they differed from the average frequencies in those situations. Using a static value for the frequency a pitcher throws a pitch is also not totally accurate and with average values for each situation, I could regress each pitcher’s situational frequency and get a better approximation of his true frequencies.
From the Field to the Dugout to the Front Office
On the heels of an off day, it's time to talk about news outside the world of the playoffs. Two days ago, Bill Stoneman stepped down as the Angels general manager. Stoneman, 63, had served as GM for eight years. Tony Reagins, formerly director of player development, was hired as the team's new GM.
The Angels advanced to the postseason four times under Stoneman. The organization won its only World Series championship in 2002, Stoneman's third year on the job. He signed Bartolo Colon in December 2003 and Vladimir Guerrero in January 2004. Guerrero won the AL MVP in his first season with the Halos. Colon won the league's Cy Young Award the following year.
Stoneman becomes the fourth successful GM to depart a high-profile job in recent weeks. Terry Ryan, 53; Walt Jocketty, 56; and John Schuerholz, 67, had previously announced their resignations. The GM position is becoming more and more a younger person's job. The number of 20- and 30-somethings with corner offices is not a coincidence. Look for this trend to accelerate into the future.
- Rich Lederer, 10/18, 7:45 AM PT
Stepping down into the dugout for a moment, the Cincinnati Reds made news on Sunday when the club confirmed that it had signed Dusty Baker to a three-year contract to become its next manager. It was the first time that the Reds turned to an outsider to run the team in 18 years.
Lou Piniella was the last manager hired by Cincy with no ties to the organization. Every manager since has either come from the minors, the coaching staff or from a scouting/advisory role. Piniella, of course, led the Reds to a World Series championship in his first season at the helm in 1990. Let's hope fans don't expect a repeat performance from Baker this year – or anytime soon. Homer Bailey, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce may give Cincinnati optimism for the future, but there is no reason to think that Baker is going to be a difference maker.
- Rich Lederer, 10/18, 8:15 AM PT
I have a new toy. A couple weeks ago I wrote about pitches that were similar to Barry Zito’s curve and Mariano Rivera’s cutter. I though it was pretty interesting, but the list I made was based on pitches that I eyeballed as having similar values. With some help from Tangotiger, I was able to create similarity scores for pitches and given a particular type of pitch, say Zito’s curveball, I can find the most similar pitches to it, based on speed and the spinless “break” values. The most similar pitch to Zito’s curve is Ted Lilly’s curve. The pfx_x value (the amount the pitch moved due to horizontal spin) on Zito’s curve is unique for a curve and is actually close to pfx_x values for sliders.
The most similar pitches to Rivera’s cutter are the fastballs of Jared Burton and Juan Salas. I had never heard of Burton or Salas, but both guys throw a fastball that is relatively similar to Rivera’s cutter and both pitchers have reverse splits. Other pitchers with similar pitches to Rivera's cutter, such as Jason Isringhausen and Micah Owings, don’t show a reverse split, but they don’t throw their “reverse” pitch nearly as often as Rivera, Burton or Salas, which I think is key to having a reverse split.
I think the rest of my afternoon is spoken for with this toy (Jamie Moyer’s fastball is most similar to Cole Hamel’s changeup), so if there are any requests for similar pitches, I’d be happy to look at them.
After a couple rounds of corrections to my pitch-identifying algorithm, I’m pretty confident in the process, but there are definitely pitch types that it doesn’t identify very well, particularly splitters. Correctly identifying pitches is important for my analysis, so I’d love any suggestions/advice people have about which pitchers throw splitters.
- Joe P. Sheehan 10/18, 1:23 PM ET
Playoff Blog - 10/17/2007
After last night's defeat I am not sure I have a whole lot to muster. At this point all I can say is that Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo, and more specifically their .198/.228/.252 performance thus far in the post-season (136 PA's), have just about done me in.
Paul Byrd offered the blueprint for beating the Red Sox these days - just throw strikes. Boston's hitters are patient, and excellent when they get ahead in the count. It's a whole other story when they get behind. This is true of most hitters, but then most hitters are not as patient as Boston's. The difference for the Red Sox over and above most teams is not necessarily in hitting ability (save Ortiz and Manny) but rather approach. Take their ability to sit dead-red up in the count and Boston's hitters turn to...well...they hit like so many of them did last night.
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/17, 8:32 AM EDT
Rockies Make it to the Show, Jake Westbrook Dazzles, the Red Sox Just Hit Into Another Double Play
We're going blog style today and although it seems wrong not to lead with the Colorado Rockies, this is fanboy season and I am hung up on this Boston-Cleveland series. Besides, considering his great work yesterday on Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales, isn't Rich the guy to tackle the National League?
Anyway, the Red Sox outplayed Cleveland in every measure I can think of last night except for two, double plays grounded into and runs scored (not trivial items). Here is how the two teams performed last night:
AVG OBP SLG SO BB GIDP
BOS .226 .294 .355 4 3 3
CLE .200 .273 .300 10 3 0
Adding to Boston's frustrating night was the atrocious home plate umpiring of Brian Gorman. While there were some notable missed calls that fell Boston's way, two critical erroneous strike calls were especially painful for the Red Sox. With one out and men on first and second in the visitors' half of the sixth, Manny Ramirez took what absolutely should have been ball 4 on a 3-0 pitch. This would have loaded the bases for Mike Lowell but instead, three pitches later, Ramirez scorched a two-hopper to Jhonny Peralta for an inning-ending double play.
The other came the following inning. Coco Crisp followed Jason Varitek's two-run home run by working a 3-1 count on Jake Westbrook (who was excellent by the way). The fifth pitch had to be 10 inches off the plate but was called a strike by Gorman. Crisp, as he is wont to do, capped the at-bat by striking out.
I am hoping for better umpiring, a steadier starting pitching performance from Tim Wakefield and much timelier hitting from a lineup that just kinda fell asleep for a night.
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/16, 8:21 AM EDT
Aside from the umpiring and grounded into double plays, I would say last night's game was about Kenny Lofton and Diasuke Matsuzaka.
Lofton slugged a two-run homer in the second inning to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead that was never surrendered. Did I mention that the veteran of 17 seasons failed to hit a single HR for the Indians in 52 games and 196 plate appearances during the regular season?
Dice-K hasn't been right for two months. To wit, here are his stats since August 15th:
IP H R ER BB SO HR W-L ERA
56 61 44 44 29 51 9 2-5 7.07
I don't know if Matsuzaka is tired or if teams have caught up with him, but he is certainly not performing at the level Boston hoped when the club paid $103 million to secure his services for the 2007-2012 seasons. Two months six years does not make but the early returns have not played out as expected.
- Rich Lederer, 10/16, 8:45 AM PT
-I lived in Denver for the summer of 2006 and attended a lot of Rockies games, so I was intrigued when they rolled off a bunch of wins in a row toward the end of September to sneak back into the Wild Card race. I thought it was just a good story, except that they kept winning, and everyone else kept losing, culminating with their win over the Padres in the one game playoff.
Other writers have written about the Rockies miraculous run, but I'm more interested in how much of this current run is due to luck vs. talent. Prior to their big winning streak to end the regular season, the Rockies were a .500 club with roughly a .500 pythagorean record. What happened to transform that team into the one that went 20-8 in September? Who knows, and if you're rooting for the Rockies, the better question might be, who cares?
-I think it would be somewhat ironic/comical if the Indians won the ALCS, then lost to the Rockies in the World Series, which would mean the Indians have lost to both 1993 expansion teams in the World Series.
I had a couple random thoughts about the Red Sox/Indians series too.
-I haven't had a chance to really dig into it, but Beckett's start on Friday was amazing. His curve looked great and even though he was getting roughly his average movement on it according to Pitch f/x, he threw more curves than normal during the game. His curve looked especially good on television, so I was surprised that it only had "average" movement for his curve, but when he threw it in the strike zone, hitters didn't do much with it.
-Since 1999, JD Drew has never put a 3-0 pitch in play. He's 0-for-0 in in 154 plate appearances. The Red Sox as a team don't put many 3-0 pitches in play, but I thought it was interesting that Drew has kept his streak going for nine years.
- Joe P. Sheehan, 10/16, 1:40 PM ET
Much has been written about Colorado's hot streak but it's worth repeating many of the well knowns, if for no other reason than to see them in the following format:
* The Rockies have won 10 in a row.
* The Rockies have won 21 of their last 22 games.
* The Rockies are the first team since the 1935 Chicago Cubs to win at least 21 of 22 after September 1.
* The Rockies are the first team to sweep their opponents in the division and championship series.
* The Rockies are the first team since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds to start a postseason with seven straight wins.
In addition to the above, let's not forget that the Rockies were in fourth place in the NL West on September 15, trailing Arizona by 6 1/2 games. Furthermore, let's not forget that the Rockies went into the bottom of the 13th inning down 8-6 to San Diego in the wild-card tiebreaker with Trevor Hoffman on the hill for the Padres.
In other words, Colorado barely made it into the postseason and now the club is the only one that is guaranteed of playing in the World Series. It will be interesting to see if the eight days of rest works for or against them. Arguments can be made on both sides of that one, especially when you factor in the fatigue, health, and rotation of the AL winner should that series go the distance.
While I'm happy for the fans, I can't help but wonder where everyone was a month ago when the Rockies beat the Marlins at home in front of 19,161 faithful in the first game of the current streak. The team didn't draw 30,000 to a game until September 21 and failed to sell 40,000 tickets until September 25. I guess you can call them October-weather fans.
- Rich Lederer, 10/16, 10:55 AM PT
With Colorado's triumph over Arizona in the NLCS, a wild card team has now advanced to the World Series for the SIXTH consecutive year. Prior to 2002, only two wild cards had made it to the World Series since the current playoff format was established in 1995.
The wild cards are 4-4 in the World Series. The Marlins won it twice in this fashion (1997 and 2003). The Angels beat another wild card (Giants) in 2002 and the Red Sox were the last to accomplish this feat in 2004.
- Rich Lederer, 10/16, 4:50 PM PT
Jimenez and Morales: Not Out of Nowhere
Two of Colorado's four starting pitchers in the postseason are rookies who were not only called up to the Rockies late in the season but have proven to be instrumental as the team moves to within one win of its first World Series appearance ever.
The National League's Wild Card representative has been riding the young arms of Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales to remarkable success. The Rockies have won the last 11 games in which Jimenez and Morales have started. Three of these victories have come in the postseason. Manager Clint Hurdle is handing the ball to Morales tonight and is hoping that the lefthander can extend these streaks to 12 and four by beating the Arizona Diamondbacks in front of Colorado's home fans.
Neither Jimenez nor Morales were unknown to our readers or those who follow minor leaguers closely. During the off-season, I ran a series Categorizing Minor League Pitchers that was designed to identify promising pitching prospects by focusing on strikeout and groundball rates.
Morales, who turned 21 last January, ranked fifth in strikeouts per batter faced (K/BF) in 2006 among all minor league starters with above-average groundball rates. Yovani Gallardo and Philip Hughes made their mark in the majors this year and Wade Davis, who threw a no-hitter, continued to move up the ladder in Tampa Bay's system.
NORTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND GB RATES)
PITCHER AGE ORG LEV K/BF GB%
Yovani Gallardo 21 MIL A+/AA 31.70% 47.14%
Philip Hughes 21 NYY AA 31.44 50.72
T. J. Nall 26 LAD AA 28.17 46.61
Wade Davis 21 TB A 27.82 48.25
Franklin Morales 21 COL A+ 27.37 53.18
Here is what I had to say about the 6-foot, 170-pound Venezuelan:
Speaking of Liriano, Colorado Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd said Morales has "Francisco Liriano-type ability." The lefthander struck out 16 batters in a 7-inning game last year and has whiffed 369 and walked 176 batters in 315.1 career frames. He works in the mid-90s and has reportedly touched the upper-90s. K/GB types like Morales and Deduno at Coors Field would help mitigate the disadvantage of pitching in such extreme altitude.
Jimenez was spotlighted in Part Four - Double-A. The table from that article (which has been re-printed below) included strikeout and groundball data for every pitcher in Double-A with 50 or more innings.
SOUTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND BELOW-AVG GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Dan Smith ATL SL 35.39% 30.53%
Tony Sipp CLE EL 33.47% 38.89%
Brandon Knight PIT EL 32.82% 35.90%
William Lamura CWS SL 31.75% 26.72%
Matt Garza MIN EL 30.36% 38.46%
Scott Elbert LAD SL 29.57% 29.45%
Carlos Marmol CHC SL 29.39% 43.26%
Ubaldo Jimenez COL TEX 29.35% 41.42%
Marcus McBeth OAK TEX 29.02% 38.19%
Yovani Gallardo MIL SL 28.81% 39.68%
In August 2006, I also ran an article Screening for Pitching Prospects in which "I screened all of the minor league statistics to determine the top five starting pitchers in each league, sorted by K/9 with 50 or more IP and a HR/9 rate of less than 0.9 (or one home run per ten innings pitched)."
Not only did Jimenez, who turned 23 last January, lead the Texas League in K/9 but his rate (10.59) was a full strikeout better anyone else. Here is the excerpt from that article:
PITCHER TEAM W-L ERA WHIP K/9
Ubaldo Jimenez TUL/COL 9-2 2.45 1.21 10.59
Mitch Talbot COR/HOU 6-4 3.39 1.36 9.59
Juan Morillo TUL/COL 10-8 4.70 1.54 8.35
Paul Kometani FRI/TEX 5-5 5.60 1.56 7.95
Matt Albers COR/HOU 10-2 2.17 1.23 7.37
Ubaldo Jimenez pitched so well in Double-A early on that he was promoted to Triple-A at the end of June. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has struggled at Colorado Springs (3-2, 6.07 ERA, 1.58 WHIP). To his credit, Jimenez has continued to keep the ball in the high-altitude park (5 HR in 59 1/3 IP) but his strikeout and walk numbers (1.36 K/BB ratio) have suffered. It's way too early to give up on the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic although he will need to exhibit better command before getting a shot at the big leagues.
Other pitchers of note who ranked in the top five in their respective minor league in K/9 in 2006 and were highlighted in this article included Gallardo, Hughes, Chad Billingsley, Rich Hill, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, Dustin McGowan, James Shields, and Jered Weaver – all of whom enjoyed anywhere from moderate to huge success in the majors in 2007.
Jimenez and Morales are excellent examples of the importance of paying attention to the ability to miss bats and age vs. level when it comes to evaluating prospects. Both pitchers still need to improve their command and throw more strikes if they are to reach their full potential. But they have been plenty good enough during the past month. How these rookies perform over the next couple of weeks could go a long way in determining just how high those Rocky Mountain Highs really are.
ALCS: Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians (first place, AL Central, #2 seed) vs. the Boston Red Sox (first place, AL East, #1 seed)
There's some history here. For the fourth time in the last thirteen seasons the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox square off in post-season play. This is the first time the two have played in the ALCS but not the first time the teams have played winner-take-all for the America League. In 1948, Boston peculiarly decided to hand the ball to Denny Galehouse for the first time that season in a one-game playoff after the clubs tied for the AL title. The Tribe won decidedly.
The ALCS pits arguably baseball's two best teams. The two tied for the AL's best record, and both clubs feature exceptional, balanced attacks that should make for great drama. When going right, Boston's offense functions better but Cleveland's top-heavy starting rotation might just make up for whatever edge Boston holds over a 162 game season. The importance of pitching depth matters less in the playoffs and Cleveland hopes to ride their two aces to a World Series slot.
Game 1: Friday, 10/12, 7:07 PM ET - CLE (Sabathia, 19-7, 3.21) @ BOS (Beckett, 20-7, 3.27)
Game 2: Saturday, 10/13, 8:07 PM ET - CLE (Carmona, 19-8, 3.06) @ BOS (Schilling, 9-8, 3.87)
Game 3: Monday, 10/15, 7:07 PM ET - BOS (Matsuzaka, 15-12, 4.40) @ CLE (Westbrook, 6-9, 4.32)
Game 4: Tuesday, 10/16, 8:07 PM ET - BOS (Wakefield, 17-12, 4.76) @ CLE (Byrd, 15-8, 4.59)
Game 5*: Thursday, 10/18, 8:07 PM ET - BOS (TBD) @ CLE (TBD)
Game 6*: Saturday, 10/20, TBD - CLE (TBD) @ BOS (TBD)
Game 7*: Sunday, 10/21, TBD - CLE (TBD) @ BOS (TBD)
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA
Cleveland 96 66 .593 52-29 44-37 811 704
Boston 96 66 .593 51-30 45-36 867 657
The Red Sox won 5 of 7 contests against the Indians this season.
Joe P. Sheehan, BOS in 6
Hopping in the way-back (Wasdin) machine for a second, this series has a familiar feeling to it. The Red Sox and Indians met in the playoffs three times in the mid/late-'90s, with the Indians dominating in 1995, winning handily in 1998 before finally being defeated by Pedro Martinez (and the Red Sox) in 1999. I bring those series up not because of any similarity to the current one, but because I think it's pretty cool that Tim Wakefield, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, and Julian Tavarez were all involved in the '95 series too.
In 2007 the teams are built differently than in the 1990s. Instead of the amazing offense that was a fixture of their earlier playoff teams (the '95 Indians outscored the '07 Indians by 29 runs, despite playing 18 fewer games), Cleveland is led by two dominant starters, an above average bullpen and a good offense. The Indians' strength lies with their top pitchers, but C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona can't start every game and the two Rafaels (Betencourt and Perez) can't relieve every game, so eventually their lower tier pitchers will be called on, which could really hurt them. The Red Sox are also built around great pitching (they allowed the fewest runs in baseball), a great offense (they scored the fourth-most runs) and while they can't use Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon every game either, they have better depth after those top guys. Overall, the Red Sox are better at both scoring and preventing runs, so I think they're going to party like it's 1999.
Rich Lederer, BOS in 7
It's tough, if not downright dumb, to bet against Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling in the postseason. Beckett and Schilling are a combined 12-2 with a 1.88 ERA in 168 innings over their careers during the playoffs. Moreover, they head into the ALCS in tip-top form. Beckett threw a complete-game shutout and Schilling tossed seven scoreless innings as Boston swept the Angels in the ALDS. Beckett's fastball and curve combo ranks among the best in the game, and Schilling's splitter was virtually unhittable in his last outing.
Sure, the Indians can counter with an intimidating 1-2 punch of their own in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Sabathia and Carmona were two of the top four starters in the AL this season, and the latter is coming off an absolutely dominating performance vs. the Yankees in the ALDS . The bottom line is that neither club can afford to lose the first two games of the series with their aces on the hill.
As difficult as it is to separate Boston's and Cleveland's starting pitching, the difference between the two closers is night and day. If Eric Wedge hands Joe Borowski (4-5, 5.07 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) the ball in the ninth when the Indians are ahead by three runs, I'm sure Cleveland will be OK. However, it might be a different story if the veteran is asked to preserve a one-run lead. The manager would be better served to use Rafael Betancourt (5-1, 1.47 ERA, 0.76 WHIP) in important situations. It's Betancourt – not Borowski – who has held Boston to four hits in 36 at-bats (.111/.179/.222), including 1-for-11 with five Ks vs. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. If you subtract Julio Lugo's contributions, the Red Sox are 1-for-32 against Betancourt. I'm sure Wedge knows that. I'm just not convinced he will make the best use of it.
With respect to managerial decisions, what we do know is that Terry Francona is going with Bobby Kielty over J.D. Drew in right field in tonight's opener. Kielty is 9-for-29 with 4 2B and 2 HR in his career vs. Sabathia, whereas Drew is 0-for-3 with 3 SO. Kudos to Tito. Manny is 12-for-21 with 3 2B and 4 HR vs. the 6-foot-7, 290-pound lefty. Francona is starting him, too. Pure genius.
Boston has superior hitting, pitching, and defense, as well as the home-field edge. The Indians will do well to extend the Red Sox to seven games.
Patrick Sullivan, BOS in 6
Yes, Boston surrendered fewer runs and scored more than Cleveland but there is much more to that story than meets the eye. Cleveland's team 105 OPS+ is significantly weighed down by Josh Barfield's 58 OPS+ in 444 plate appearances. 21 year-old Venezuelan Asdrubal Cabrera now holds down the second base job for Cleveland and in his 186 PA's this season contributed a very solid .293/.354/.421 line. Further, Travis Hafner was just ok for much of the 2007 campaign but finished like his old self, hitting .316/.414/.551 for the month of September. He was solid in the LDS as well.
Players who will have no bearing whatsoever on the LCS outcome also make Cleveland's pitching look worse that it is for the purposes of analyzing their prospects for this series. Neither Jeremy Sowers nor Cliff Lee will see the light of day for the Tribe and it's a good thing for them. The two southpaws combined for a mere 70 ERA+ in 165 innings this season.
Still, Boston is a magnificently assembled team, which is not to say that they are not prone to lapses. But with devastating offensive and run-prevention games when firing on all cylinders (as they seem to be now), there just are not many holes anywhere on this club. Papi and Manny are locked in, while Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek and JD Drew make for a fantastic second tier of hitters after the big two. We won't discuss Coco and Lugo.
On the pitching side I have my concerns about Games 3 and 4 with Dice-K and Tim Wakefield taking the hill but then so too should Cleveland fans with Westbrook and Byrd. Boston pounds mediocre righties. As for my previous fears about Boston's bullpen, they have proven unfounded thus far in the post-season. Against Los Angeles in the LDS, Red Sox relievers yielded a mere two hits in just under seven innings of work.
This is a good match up but in the end Boston will prove too strong. They pound in Games Three and Four and chase one of Cleveland's Big Two early in one of their starts. Curt Schilling nails it down at Fenway in Game Six.
You won't want to miss Joe's Sabathia/Beckett preview below.
Beckett vs. Sabathia
With the ALCS starting tonight, I wanted to take a quick look at the Game 1 starting pitchers, Josh Beckett and C.C. Sabathia from a PITCHf/x perspective and show some charts that I enjoyed analyzing when I "scouted" Jake Peavy. There will be a full series preview up later today, so be sure to check back for that.
Here are two charts, showing the difference between each pitch and a non-spinning version of that same pitch, which compare Beckett and Sabathia.
Pitch N Speed Pfx Pfz BreakX BreakZ
FB 624 94.7 -7.58 8.87 2.67 3.55
CB 252 77.3 5.24 -5.03 -2.29 12.38
CH 52 86.1 -8.47 3.47 3.08 6.98
Pitch N Speed Pfx Pfz BreakX BreakZ
FB 561 94.0 6.46 9.37 -2.19 3.38
CB 187 81.5 -4.49 0.27 2.31 9.31
CH 166 86.1 9.47 6.21 -3.44 5.89
SL 22 80.8 -0.02 1.47 0.41 8.95
There are some basic differences between the two pitchers, such as Beckett's curve having more downward movement than Sabathia's (which is probably closer to a slider in terms of movement), but overall, the way their pitches move are relatively similar. The biggest difference, besides throwing hands, is that Beckett throws his fastball more often and is pretty much a two pitch pitcher, while Sabathia uses three pitches.
Another graph I thought was interesting in my analysis of Peavy was the pitch frequency by inning.
One neat thing on Beckett's frequency chart is that he throws his fastball much less as the game goes on, almost following a linear pattern. The 6th inning is the only inning that deviates from this pattern, and rather than saying Beckett must throw a lot of curves in the 6th, I would think that this inning is when he would usually face the best hitters in the lineup for a third time, so he throws fewer fastballs than he otherwise would. For what its worth, the 6th inning has been one of Beckett's least successful innings this year. Sabathia appears to follow a similar pattern for fastball usage as Beckett does, but he has more off-speed pitches to work with. You can see from his chart how, unlike Peavy, he doesn't show the dramatic increases in certain pitches every couple innings. Sabathia throws his off-speed pitches more frequently as the game progresses, but it's a gradual increase, as opposed to the sharp transitions of Peavy.
Be sure to check back later for a Baseball Analysts staff preview of the series.
NLCS: Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies (wild card, NL West, #4 seed) vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks (first place, NL West, #1 seed)
Colorado vs. Arizona. Both teams hail from the NL West. Both teams are expansion franchises from the 1990s. Both teams hold spring training in Tucson. Both teams met to open the season and split their first 16 meetings before Colorado won the last two games of the season-ending series after Arizona secured the division. Both teams lost 76 games last year and tied for last place. Both teams won 90 games this year. Both teams are made up of homegrown talent. Both teams are chomping at the bit to represent the NL in the World Series.
Game 1: Thurs., 10/11, 8:37 PM ET - COL (Francis, 17-10, 4.22) @ ARI (Webb, 18-10, 3.01)
Game 2: Fri., 10/12, 10:18 PM ET - COL (Jimenez, 4-4, 4.28) @ ARI (Davis, 13-12, 4.25)
Game 3: Sun., 10/14, 8:30 PM ET - ARI (Hernandez, 11-11, 4.93) @ COL (Fogg, 10-9, 4.94)
Game 4: Mon., 10/15, 10:00 PM ET - ARI (Owings, 8-8, 4.30) @ COL (Morales, 3-2, 3.43)
Game 5*: Wed., 10/17, 8:30 PM ET - ARI (TBD) @ COL (TBD)
Game 6*: Fri., 10/19, 8:30 PM ET - COL (TBD) @ ARI (TBD)
Game 7*: Sat., 10/20, TBD - COL (TBD) @ ARI (TBD)
* - if necessary
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA
Arizona 90 72 .556 50-31 40-41 712 732
Colorado 90 73 .552 51-31 39-42 860 758
The Rockies won 10 of 18 meetings against the Diamondbacks this season.
Joe P. Sheehan, COL in 6.
Besides having Brendan Webb, the Diamondbacks are best known for the fact that they were outscored by opponents on the season and won their division. Despite playing in a field that inflates offense almost as much as the post-humidor Coors Field, they scored the third fewest runs in the NL, posted the worst batting average and OBP, and allowed the fifth fewest runs in the NL. Huh? The Diamondbacks rotation is led by Webb, but after him it's a collection of warm bodies, all of whom are pretty average pitchers.
The Rockies starting rotation is very similar, with the biggest difference coming at the top, where Webb is better than Jeff Francis. Offensively, the Rockies are far and away the better team. They scored more runs than Arizona, both at home and the road, and however you break it down, the Rockies have much better hitters than the Diamondbacks.
For the first all-NL West NLCS, I predict two things. First, that the record for most total feet above sea level in a playoff series will be shattered. Second, a Rockies win in 6 games. I think the Rockies' offense gives them a big advantage, although the Diamondbacks have been confounding people all year.
Patrick Sullivan, COL in 6.
OK - let's get the obvious out of the way:
1) Colorado is on fire. Since September 15 they have lost just once (to Arizona and Brandon Webb interestingly enough). They hit .298/.373/.488 in September and had an un-Coors like 4.02 team ERA for the month. They steamrolled through the Phillies.
2) Arizona won the National League West this season with a negative run differential. This makes many statheads sad. Nonetheless here they are, hosting Game One of the NLCS at Chase Field.
So Colorado in a cakewalk, right? Not so fast. Arizona has actually been a very good team by virtue of run differential and any other metric that drills down further than wins and losses for some time now. In the month of September they were 15-11 and sported a comfortably positive run differential. A theretofore limp offense came around as Conor Jackson and Tony Clark were both sensational, and Mark Reynolds recaptured some of his early season magic. They hit .272/.354/.457 in September and pitched well to boot. They were the first team in the NL to clinch a playoff slot and once they were in, absolutely dominated the Cubs. It's ok to say it. The D-Backs are now a legitimately good ballclub.
I think it is going to be a fantastic series but ultimately the Rockies prevail thanks to more offensive star power and a deeper rotation (I really like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales). Colorado in 6.
Al Doyle, COL in 7.
The Rockies made me look stupid by sweeping the Phillies after I predicted a 3-2 Philadelphia win in the NLDS. The trio of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was one reason for picking the eventual loser, but the law of averages was the main factor in my wrong choice.
Rich Lederer, ARI in 7.
Colorado entered the division series on a 13-1 tear that included an 11-game winning streak. Those kind of runs can't go on forever, and I figured the surging Rockies were due for a letdown. They clearly disagreed. So why am I picking the Rox to beat the Diamondbacks and move on to the World Series?
The D-backs have been sprinkled with a fair amount of pixie dust themselves this season. Teams that are outscored 712-732 shouldn't win 90 games, but that's exactly what they did. From a statistical and real world standpoint, both teams are overdue for a date with adversity.
With ace Brandon Webb, closer Jose Valverde and some dependable middle relief, the D-backs bring decent pitching to the series, but this is a team with plenty of weaknesses. A .250 team average and .321 OBP is the worst in the National League, and it came at a hitter's park. Eric Byrnes led the team with a paltry (by current standards) 83 RBI.
While Chris Young has been hailed for his 32 HR and 27 stolen bases, the D-backs leadoff man has more holes in his game than a Swiss cheese warehouse. A .237 average and .295 OBP (just 43 walks and 141 strikeouts in 569 ABs) means Young is a one-dimensional hitter at this stage in his career. Normally, two home runs and a 3 for 11 performance with three walks against the Cubs would be an encouraging sign, but all eight of Young's outs were marked with a K.
I watched Doug Davis for several years while he was with the Brewers, and he seldom inspired much confidence. The Rockies have Jeff Francis and a makeshift rest of the rotation, but I like their bullpen depth, offense and sure-handed glovework. Look for a Rocky Mountain World Series, but don't bet the mortgage money on my evaluation.
The contrarian streak in me says Arizona is going to win the series. Nine of ten ESPN experts picked the Rockies to win the series. Seven of them predict it will last no more than six games. Joe and Sully like Colorado in six as well. But something doesn't add up. Arizona is a -125 favorite tonight, yet Colorado is favored to win the series.
As Sully noted, the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies the last time the game mattered for both sides. Brandon Webb defeated Jeff Francis. But Webb is far from a lock against the Rockies. In five prior starts vs. his division rival, the reigning Cy Young Award winner was 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA. Brad Hawpe (9-for-15 with 3 HR and 11 RBI) owns him. Kaz Matsui (8-for-17 in 2007 and 11-for-26 lifetime) has hit the sinkerballing righthander, too.
With a minus-20 run differential, the D-Backs are the fifth division winner since 1969 to be outscored during the regular season. Bad news, right? Well, the others were the 1984 Royals, 1987 Twins, 1997 Giants, and the 2005 Padres. Of these teams, Arizona and Minnesota are the only two to advance past the first round . . . and the Twins won the World Series. That sounds like a blueprint for the Diamondbacks to me.
Whichever team wins tonight wins it all. The layoff and a loss will shatter Colorado's momentum. Besides, momentum is overrated when it comes to the postseason. The 1960 Yankees won their last 15 games but lost in the World Series to the Pirates. Webb and the home-field advantage will be the difference makers. Arizona in 7.
Playoff Postmorta - The Blame Game
The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs all had their 2007 World Series hopes dashed quickly in the LDS. The four teams were dominated by their respective competition. Have a look:
AVG OBP SLG
NYY .228 .300 .404
CLE .315 .417 .524
LAA .192 .250 .253
BOS .269 .369 .495
COL .267 .339 .495
PHI .172 .274 .366
CHC .194 .307 .255
ARI .266 .358 .532
Let this post serve as your one-stop destination for figuring out whom to rail against when your local sportswriter fails you and is just picking out his or her favorite target again. The fact is that many of the players that the losing teams depended on all season long fell flat on their face in the LDS.
That is not to say they lack the innards to rise to the occasion and get it done when it matters most. No, all it means is that they did not perform as well as they could have - and as their teams needed them to - over a three or four game stretch. Next season, should they be fortunate once again to appear in the post-season, these players may well carry their teams.
These lists will show you what exactly went wrong for the respective losing teams. This will be our last look back at the LDS before we turn ahead with an NLCS preview tomorrow morning and an ALCS primer on Friday. Without further ado, here are the players whose performances most crippled their teams chances of advancing.
New York Yankees
AVG OBP SLG '07 OPS
Melky .188 .188 .375 .718
Posada .133 .235 .200 .969
Jeter .176 .176 .176 .840
A-Rod .267 .353 .467 1.067
IP H BB K ERA '07 ERA
Wang 5.7 14 4 2 19.06 3.70
Clemens 2.3 4 2 1 11.57 4.18
Of note: Derek Jeter had 17 outs in 17 plate appearances.
Los Angeles Angels
AVG OBP SLG '07 OPS
Anderson .222 .300 .333 .828
Cabrera .250 .308 .333 .742
Figgins .231 .231 .385 .825
Vlad .200 .333 .200 .950
Kendrick .200 .182 .200 .797
IP H BB K ERA '07 ERA
Lackey 6.0 9 2 4 6.00 3.01
Escobar 5.0 4 5 5 5.40 3.40
K-Rod 0.3 1 1 1 54.00 2.81
Of note: Los Angeles scored in just two of the 27 innings they came to bat.
AVG OBP SLG '07 OPS
Rowand .083 .083 .333 .889
Utley .182 .308 .182 .976
Burrell .182 .308 .455 .902
IP H BB K ERA '07 ERA
Kendrick 3.7 5 2 2 12.27 3.87
Of note: It's hard to pass around too much blame here as two of the three games were very much within reach. In short, Philadelphia's bats simply failed them and their surprise rookie phenom Kyle Kendrick appeared over his head in a Game 2 start at Citizens Bank Park.
AVG OBP SLG '07 OPS
Lee .333 .385 .333 .913
Soriano .143 .200 .143 .897
Ramirez .000 .077 .000 .915
IP H BB K ERA '07 ERA
Lilly 3.3 7 4 4 16.20 3.83
Hill 3.0 6 2 3 9.00 3.92
Marmol 3.0 3 3 6 9.00 1.43
Of note: When your three offensive superstars let you down the way Chicago's did, you are not going to advance very far.
OK, that's it for negativity and regret in this space. Starting tomorrow we revel in the excitement of the two League Championship Series.
We ordinarily would only post such a format on the Weekends but let's be serious here, what else are we going to write about today? We have playoffs on our scattered brains, and thus will unapologetically move full steam ahead with a blog format.
I couldn't help but notice yesterday that Rich seemed to be downplaying the contributions David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez made in Boston's sweep of the Los Angeles Angels. Rich said the following:
Although David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will get a lot of the credit for lifting the Sox to the first-round victory, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling shut out the Angels for 16 innings.
OK maybe he did not downplay it, but he failed to mention specifically what Ortiz and Ramirez did in the series. Combined, the two put up a ridiculous .533/.731/1.333 AVG/OBP/SLG line. Boston fans have long been treated to superb hitting from these two but never at this level simultaneously. It will be difficult to keep the momentum going, however, with a five day break and C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona set to go this weekend.
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/9, 8:15 AM ET
Before I can turn my full attention to the upcoming ALCS and NLCS, I feel the need to make the following comments with respect to Joe Torre, who may be on his way out in New York.
Joe Torre is a class act. He is a pro. Respected by his players and peers. Too bad the same thing can't be said of George Steinbrenner. Torre should have been able to leave on his own terms or at least with the dignity he showed throughout his 12-year career with the Yankees. He was good to baseball and baseball was good to him. Fifty years. Four world championships. Nine-time All-Star. MVP. Gold Glove. Batting title. And, yes, a Hall of Famer.
- Rich Lederer, 10/9, 8:30 AM PT
Two infielders famous for not living up to some lofty expectations came through in a major way for their teams in the LDS. Three others notable for carrying their teams at times and coming through when needed most did not. Have a look:
AVG OBP SLG
K. Matsui .417 .500 1.083
S. Drew .500 .500 1.143
D. Jeter .176 .176 .176 (3 GIDP)
A. Soriano .143 .200 .143
A. Ramirez .000 .077 .000
It will be interesting to see if Arizona and Colorado continue to get heightened performance from Drew and Matsui, respectively.
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/9, 12:47 PM ET
They say good pitching beats good hitting, especially in the postseason. Well, the League Championship Series will feature four of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
Let's take a look:
ERA+ Lg Rank
ARI 114 1
COL 110 4
ERA+ Lg Rank
BOS 118 1
CLE 109 3
Don't let those hitters' ballparks fool you. Arizona, Colorado, and Boston can flat out pitch. And so can Cleveland. These teams also boast good defenses (with Colorado tied for second in the NL and Boston tied for first in the AL in defensive efficiency). It's important to note that a run saved is worth more than a run scored.
- Rich Lederer, 10/9, 10:25 AM PT
After the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox dusted off their opponents in three games and the Indians got off to a 3-0 lead over the Yankees, I was all set to title this article "Sweeps Week." Well, so much for a clever title.
Phil Hughes shut down Cleveland for 3 2/3 innings and Johnny Damon delivered a run-scoring single to get New York on the board in the third and a go-ahead, three-run jack in the fifth to lead the Bronx Bombers to an 8-4 victory over the Tribe. The series resumes tonight with Chien-Ming Wang coming back on three days' rest to face Paul Byrd, who hasn't pitched in 11 days.
The Yankees are heavy favorites to win Game 4 and force a Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday. Did manager Joe Torre live to die another day or will New York do it for Joe? I have mixed feelings about the outcome. On one hand, I wouldn't want the Yankees to lose if it results in Torre getting fired in this manner. Then again, if they win the series, that means having to put up with the media giving George Steinbrenner credit for lighting a fire under his troops. Aargh!
With respect to the latter, it's funny how long it took for the men in pinstripes to respond to the Boss' threat (if indeed they did at all). Play-by-play announcer Chip Caray made it an issue in the fifth inning but only AFTER Damon had homered to put the Yankees ahead. More than anything, it just goes to show how the media likes a good story. Had New York lost, I'm sure Caray would have laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Steinbrenner for putting too much pressure on his players. If the Yankees win this series, it will have NOTHING to do with their owner (other than the money he shelled out to acquire all of those free agents). By the same token, if they lose the series, then give credit to the Indians. Cleveland is a well-balanced team and tied Boston for the most wins in the majors this year. It's not about Steinbrenner; instead, the focus should be on the players on the field.
In any event, the winner of the Yankees-Indians series will earn the right to meet Boston in the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox swept the Angels in the ALDS for the second time in four years. The Halos scored only four runs in three games, putting up nothing but zeroes in 25 of the 27 innings. That type of output isn't going to win many postseason games unless you have Christy Mathewson on your side.
Although David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will get a lot of the credit for lifting the Sox to the first-round victory, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling shut out the Angels for 16 innings. These two righthanders are putting up postseason resumés that rank among the all-time greats. The bottom line is that Boston can hit, pitch, and field with the best, will be well rested for the League Championship Series, and have home-field advantage the rest of the way.
Over in the National League, did anybody predict that the Diamondbacks and Rockies would vie for the right to represent the senior circuit in the World Series? Both teams did the NL West proud. Including the San Diego Padres, a case could be made that the West may have had the three best teams in the league this season. With all of the young talent in this division, the West could become the powerhouse of the National League for years to come.
But, in the here and now, it's unlikely that Arizona or Colorado has what it takes to beat the Red Sox, Indians, or Yankees in a best of seven series. However, if one of these Cinderella teams pulls it off, it will make for a much-better story than what the Boss is saying.
Four Better or Worse
Four playoff series. Four teams with two wins. Four teams with no wins. Four potential sweeps. Are the four division series a four-gone conclusion?
The two National League Division Series get the spotlight today. The Diamondbacks and Cubs will meet in Chicago, while the Phillies and Rockies will face off in Colorado. Lefthanders Rich Hill (11-8, 3.92 ERA) and Jamie Moyer (14-4, 5.01) are charged with the responsibility of staving their respective clubs from elimination. The youngster and veteran, of course, will need hitting support from their teammates in order to succeed.
Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee have combined to go 4-for-27 through two games in the series. The good news for this trio is that they will get the opportunity to make things right against Livan Hernandez, who is 4-8 with a 5.19 ERA on the road. The 1997 NLCS and World Series MVP has given up 19 HR in 102.1 innings while allowing more walks (47) than strikeouts (46) when pitching outside the state of Arizona.
The Phillies seemingly have an even tougher task than the Cubs. First of all, the NL East champs will need to win two games on the road. Secondly, Philadelphia needs to accomplish this trick against a team that hasn't lost more than once in its last 17 games! While it is fair to say that Colorado is the *hottest* team in baseball, it remains to be seen whether they are the *best* team.
But such a question is not as far-fetched as it would have been a month ago. The 3-H club in Matt Holliday, Todd Helton, and Brad Hawpe, plus rookie sensation Troy Tulowitzki and power-hitting third baseman Garrett Atkins head a strong offense. Manny Corpas, Brian Fuentes, and LaTroy Hawkins offer a formidable nucleus in the bullpen. Jeff Francis is a quality starter. As I see it, young, talented, and inexperienced starters Franklin Morales and Ubaldo Jimenez will determine just how far Colorado is likely to go in the postseason.
With the foregoing in mind, manager Clint Hurdle will send out Jimenez (4-4, 4.28 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) in tonight's game. After a couple of rough starts in August, the 23-year-old pitched well down the stretch, including a 10-strikeout performance vs. Arizona in the team's must-win finale. In Jimenez's only outing vs. the Phillies (at Philadelphia on 9/10), he held them to four hits, three walks, and two runs in six innings. The rookie didn't figure in the decision in the 6-5 loss.
- Rich Lederer, 10/6, 12:00 PM PT
ALDS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians
The Indians won the AL Central this year with a record of 96-66, accomplishing what many had been predicting of them for several years, and today will host the first playoff game in Cleveland since 2001. The Yankees used a furious second half charge to win their first wild card since 1997 and extend their streak of reaching the playoffs to 13 years in a row. The Indians have some great pitching and the Yankees have the best offense in baseball, so it could be an interesting series in terms of conflicting styles. I've gathered some information about the series and each team, and then have two guest writers, Earl from Pinstripe Alley and Ryan from Let's Go Tribe to break down the series, position by position.
Hey fellas, I’m Earl Mitchell and I’ve been a writer for Pinstripe Alley since last year. I’m 33 years old and I do social work in the mental health field [insert creative jokes here]. I’ve been a diehard Yankee fan since 1985, living in the Chicagoland area surrounded by Cub fans. I became a Yankee fan because Don Mattingly was my idol. After 13 straight postseason appearances, the dark days of the late 1980s and early 1990s seem like a really long time ago. I’m honored to have been asked by Rich to voice my opinion on the series between the Yanks/Tribe. Should be a great series.
Hi, I'm Ryan Richards of Let's Go Tribe. After going through the late-season collapse of 2005, it was nice to have a boring last week of the season thanks to an early clinch. It's only been six years since the Indians were in the playoffs, but that was long enough for Kenny Lofton to play for eight teams before coming back to Cleveland.
Game 1: Thu., Oct. 4, 6:30 pm on TBS, Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang) @ Indians (C.C. Sabathia)
Game 2: Fri., Oct. 5, 5:00 pm on TBS, Yankees (Andy Pettitte) @ Indians (Fausto Carmona)
Game 3: Sun., Oct. 7, 6:30 pm on TBS, Indians (Jake Westbrook) @ Yankees (Roger Clemens)
Game 4:* Mon., Oct. 8, 6:00 pm on TBS, Indians (Paul Byrd) @ Yankees (Mike Mussina)
Game 5:* Wed., Oct. 10, 5:00 pm on TBS, Yankees (Wang) @ Indians (Sabathia)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
NYY 52-29 42-39 94-68
CLE 52-29 44-37 96-66
Head-to-head results: The Yankees swept the season series, 6-0.
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
NYY 968 .290 .366 .463 .829 123
CLE 811 .268 .343 .428 .751 105
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+
NYY 777 .268 .340 .417 .757 96
CLE 704 .268 .322 .407 .729 109
Jorge Posada (.338/.426/.543, 20 HR, 90 RBI) was spectacular from the get-go and had the best offensive season of his career at the ripe old age of 36. Unlike most catchers who tend to get tired and rundown late in the year, Posada had his best offensive output in the month of September (.395/.511/.632) and is primed for a big postseason.
Victor Martinez (.301/.374/.505, 40 2B, 25 HR) threw out 32% of potential base stealers, a massive improvement over an 18% clip last season. He also posted career highs in home runs and doubles. He was remarkably consistent, not posting an OPS below .800 in any month this season.
Earl says: I would have said Martinez last season, but Posada has just been unbelievable in 2007. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Even. Posada has the better rate stats, while Victor has the counting stats (thanks to some time at 1B) and a better arm.
Doug Mientkiewicz (.277/.349/.440, 5 HR, 24 RBI) missed three months of the season with a broken wrist as a result of a collision with Mike Lowell of the Red Sox back in May. He wasn’t expected to get much playing time after his return from the DL on Sept 1st, but the season-ending injury to Andy Phillips (who, ironically, also suffered a broken wrist) opened the door for Mientkiewicz to reclaim the starting role and has taken playing time away from Jason Giambi.
Ryan Garko (.289/.359/.483, 29 2B, 21 HR) had to convince the Indians he could play first base this spring. Drafted as a catcher, Garko moved up through the Indians' system because of his bat. After the Indians dealt Ben Broussard last season, Garko switched to first base in the minors, and was good enough by the end of March to make the club. His bat made sure he didn't go back to the minors; Ryan has a quick, short, and aggressive swing, and while he'll chase balls out of the zone, he is also adept at making contact.
Earl says: This one isn’t close. Big edge to Tribe.
Ryan says: Advantage Indians, assuming Doug Mienkiewicz comes back to earth.
Robinson Cano (.306/.353/.488, 19 HR, 97 RBI, 41 doubles) struggled terribly for the first six weeks of the season (.234/.276/.312, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 8 doubles) then suddenly caught fire in the middle of May and continued to rake for the rest of the season (.328/.376/.540). Cano is emerging as one of the top second basemen in the league and may very well be a perennial .300, 25 HR, 100 RBI guy who can play Gold Glove caliber defense.
Asdrubal Cabrera (.283/.354/.421, 9 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR) wasn't supposed to be a contributor this season. The Indians traded for Josh Barfield in the off-season, and if anything, Cabrera was seen as Plan B at shortstop if Jhonny Peralta didn't rebound from a bad 2006. The Indians had Cabrera start the season in AA, and after a short stay in Buffalo, he was brought up to replace Barfield, who was hitting an abysmal .243/.270/.324. Cabrera's defense was a given, but his offensive contributions at such a young age were a very pleasant surprise.
Earl says: Cabrera is a nice player, but this one isn’t close either. Big edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: This one's easy: Yankees
Derek Jeter (.322/.388/.452, 12 HR, 73 RBI, 15 SB) had another very good season at the plate and is still the heart and soul of this organization. The Captain remains one of the best clutch players in the game when his team needs him most (.418 w/ RISP and 2 outs). Jeter’s production was slowed for several weeks with a nagging knee injury, but did catch fire in mid-September and finished the regular season on a 15-game hitting streak.
Jhonny Peralta (.270/.341/.430, 27 2B, 21 HR) has rebounded both on offense and defense after a brutal sophomore season. His range is still among the worst in baseball, but he's cut down on his errors, and has always been good around the bag. Peralta had a bizarre home-road split this season, hitting .297/.367/.514 at Jacobs Field, as well as having 16 of his 21 home runs come at home.
Earl says: Tough to pick against the Captain in October. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Advantage Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez (.314/.422/.645, 54 HR, 156 RBI, 24 SB) had a season for the ages and will be the runaway AL MVP when the votes are tallied in November. While the rest of the club struggled during the first two months of the season, it was A-Rod who kept this team afloat and is the primary reason why they are playing in October. All eyes will be on A-Rod again with his struggles in the postseason in years past, but he has been a completely different player in 2007 dealing with the pressure of New York.
Casey Blake (.270/.339/.437, 36 2B, 18 2B) was originally slated to play mostly at first, but Andy Marte couldn't hit and later got hurt, so Casey returned to his old position. He's been very acceptable at the hot corner, perhaps because not much was expected of him. Casey is a streaky hitter, and very good when he's guessing right. He's coming into October on a hot streak after hitting .302/.344/.477 in September.
Earl says: You have to ask? This is A-Rod’s year. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Yankees.
Johnny Damon (.270/.351/.396, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 27 SB) had the same problem as many of his teammates during the first two months of the season. Damon sustained nagging leg injuries for much of the first half and lost his centerfield job to Melky Cabrera. Not surprisingly, he has been the Damon of old since the All Star break once his legs got healthy (.296/.364/.450, 7 HR, 36 RBI).
Kenny Lofton (.296/.367/.414, 25 2B, 7 HR, 23 SB) returned for his third stint with the Indians this July. Kenny still has the wheels and the eye to play the same kind of game he played ten years ago. Instead of leading off and playing center, he's in left and hitting seventh because of Grady Sizemore.
Earl says: This is one pretty even. Lofton has had a good year back in Cleveland and Damon is healthy again and playing well.
Ryan Says: Lofton's provided what the Indians need, but Damon's been better. Point to the Yankees.
Melky Cabrera (.273/.327/.391, 8 HR, 73 RBI, 13 SB) brings a youthful energy boost and an aggressive style of play to this team. He unseated Johnny Damon as the everyday centerfielder early in the season and led all centerfielders with 14 assists. Cabrera is primarily a slap hitter with occasional power who generally doesn’t take a lot of pitches.
Grady Sizemore (.277/.390/.462, 34 2B, 24 HR, 33 SB) had another outstanding all-around season, taking walks, stealing bases, and hitting for power, to say nothing of his defense. Left-handed pitching can still neutralize Grady’s bat, though he won't see many southpaws beyond Andy Pettitte in this series.
Earl says: Melky on his best day doesn’t compare to Sizemore on his worst day. Big edge to Tribe.
Ryan Says: Indians in a no-brainer.
Bobby Abreu (.283/.369/.445, 16 HR, 101 RBI, 25 SB) was downright atrocious and completely lost at the plate from the beginning of the season until the end of May (.228/.313/.287, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 6 doubles). In a truly remarkable turnaround, Abreu’s offensive production the rest of the season coincided with the numbers on the back of his baseball card (.309/.396/.520, 14 HR, 79 RBI, 34 doubles).
Franklin Gutierrez (.266/.318/.472, 13 2B, 13 HR) gradually beat out Trot Nixon as the everyday right fielder. Franklin is a natural center fielder, though he has more than enough arm to play right. Hitting for corner-outfielder power has been a major stumbling block for Gutierrez, especially with Grady Sizemore entrenched in center. He answered those questions by slugging .472 this year, though, like Jhonny Peralta, he has an extreme home/road split, slugging .617 at home and .343 on the road.
Earl says: I thought Abreu was finished in May. He really turned it around and is a major cog in that lineup. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Yankees
Hideki Matsui (.285/.367/.488, 25 HR, 103 RBI) had another good season and seems to have regained the power stroke that he lost recovering from a broken wrist in 2006. Like the other left-handed hitters in the lineup, Matsui struggled early on but caught fire in July and August and finished with the kind of numbers Yankee fans have come to expect from him. Most of his playing time of late has been as the DH and I don’t expect that to change much in the postseason with Damon playing superior defense in left field.
Travis Hafner (.266/.385/.451, 25 2B, 24 HR) had a poor year by his standards. He still took his walks, but suffered from a power outage, becoming more of a ground ball hitter instead of a line drive slugger. He came on strong in September, hitting .316/.414/.551, and showing more of a line drive stroke.
Earl says: Matsui struggled in September because of his knee barking, but tends to hit well in October. Hafner scares me. Edge to Tribe.
Ryan Says: Even in a down year, I'll take Hafner over Matsui. Indians.
Off the Bench:
Jason Giambi (.236/.356/.433, 14 HR, 39 RBI) missed much of the regular season after having surgery on his foot at the end of May. Since his return from the DL on Aug 8th, he has essentially been a $20M+ reserve who comes off the bench late in the game as a pinch hitter and DH’s on occasion. Giambi could get a start or two as the DH in the ALDS, but don’t expect to see him at first base during the postseason.
Shelley Duncan (.257/.329/.554, 7 HR, 17 RBI) was another element of the Yankees youth movement who burst onto the scene by hitting 6 homeruns in his first 41 big league at-bats. Torre seemed to indicate that he could get the start at DH against Sabathia on Thursday and he has hit well against lefties (.303, 10-33) during his limited time in the majors. Duncan does have holes in his swing though, and will strikeout more than his fair share (20 K in 74 AB).
Others: Wilson Betemit (IF), Jose Molina (C)
Jason Michaels (.270/.324/.397, 11 2B, 7 HR) should get a start in Game 2, though a lack of left-handers in New York's bullpen should restrict his pinch-hitting opportunities overall.
Kelly Shoppach (.261/.310/.472, 13 2B, 7 HR) is Paul Byrd's personal catcher, but you might not see him in Game 4. Kelly hasn't hit at all in the second half (.178/.211/.356).
Others: Trot Nixon (OF), Chris Gomez (IF), Josh Barfield (PR/IF)
Earl says: The bench was a big problem for the Yanks earlier in the season. Not anymore. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: The Yankees have the more useful bench.
Chien-Ming Wang (19-7, 3.70) is a ground ball machine who throws strikes and eats innings (almost 6.2 IP per start). After hitters around the league started to figure out his sinker, Wang has been mixing in his slider more often to keep them honest. Although he will get the ball on the road in both Game 1 and Game 5 if necessary, he has been a far better pitcher at Yankee Stadium (2.75 ERA) than on the road (4.91 ERA). He has also been the beneficiary of a ton of run support (7.04 runs per game).
Andy Pettitte (15-9, 4.05) was everything the Yanks could have hoped for when he came back to the Bronx in the off-season after a 3-year stint in Houston. He was the workhorse this team needed and didn’t miss a start after being plagued by elbow problems the last few years. As usual, Pettitte finished strong with an 11-3 record in the second half of the season with the team winning 13 of his 16 starts during that span.
Roger Clemens (6-6, 4.18) hasn’t pitched since Sept 16th and was sidelined most of the month due to elbow/blister/hamstring problems. He is scheduled to pitch Game 3, but could be replaced by Mike Mussina or rookie Phil Hughes if he can’t go. Of course, Clemens LOVES the big stage and loves the idea of playing John Wayne riding in on his horse to save the day.
Mike Mussina (11-10, 5.15) had the worst season of his career in 2007, but will likely get the start over rookie Phil Hughes because of Joe Torre’s preference of postseason experience over inexperience. As of this writing, he is scheduled to pitch Game 4 of the ALDS, but that could change if Clemens cannot go in Game 3 or if Torre opts for rookie Phil Hughes instead.
C. C Sabathia (19-7, 3.21) has increased his strikeouts and dropped his walks for the fourth consecutive year. He’s become very efficient on the mound, and averaged seven innings a start. He hasn’t faced the Yankees since 2004 and a long break between starts like that usually favors the pitcher.
Fausto Carmona (19-7, 3.06) rode his power sinker for his few starts with some success, and then started to spot his secondary stuff. As good as he was in the first half (107.2 IP, 3.85 ERA), he’s been even better in the second half (107.1 IP, 2.26 ERA). He ended last season back in the rotation after a disastrous stint as the Indians’ closer, and really took off this spring.
Jake Westbrook (6-9, 4.32) missed most of May and June with an oblique injury. He’s pitched well in the second half, posting a 3.44 ERA in 104.2 innings pitched.
Paul Byrd (15-8, 4.59) rebounded from a disappointing 2006 campaign, eating innings and sending hitters back to the dugout frustrated at making outs off of his batting practice fastballs. Byrd’s secret is control and movement, but he will lose it very quickly. I don’t like Byrd against the Yankees lineup at all.
Earl says: The 1-2 punch of Sabathia and Carmona certainly beats Wang and Pettitte. But the rest of the rotation on both sides pose a lot of questions marks. Edge to Tribe.
Ryan says: Ryan says: Sizable advantage for the Indians.
Mariano Rivera (3-4, 3.15, 30 Saves, 4 Blown Saves) is not consistently as unhittable as he has been in the past, but is still among the elite closers in the game. His very un-Mariano like ERA this season can be attributed to his struggles against two often seen AL East opponents; Red Sox and Orioles. Against those clubs he put up a robust 8.33 ERA and blew 3 saves, while his numbers against the rest of baseball were as good as ever (1.69, 1 Blown Save).
Joba Chamberlain (2-0, 0.38, 24 IP, 34 K, 0.75 WHIP!) has been spectacular since his arrival and has been the Yankees’ best weapon out of the pen. The kid throws gas consistently in the upper 90s and possesses a devastating slider in the upper 80s that he can locate. Much is made about the “Joba Rules” but it probably won’t be a major issue in the ALDS due to the off-days on Saturday and again on Tuesday if the series goes that far.
Luis Vizcaino (8-2, 4.30, 14 Holds) is another of the several Yankees who came back from the dead after struggling early. Under the tutelage of Mariano Rivera, he altered his mechanics and was lights out from June through August (1.31 ERA in 41.1 IP). Vizcaino was sidelined for eleven days in September as a result of shoulder fatigue and has been very shaky since his return (10.12 ERA in 8 IP).
Kyle Farnsworth (2-1, 4.80, 15 Holds) has always been very frustrating for Yankees fans. He can be completely lights out one night and get hit hard the next. Simply put, he is consistently inconsistent and often struggles to find the strike zone. He gets into trouble when he falls in love with his slider and cannot locate it and then has to come back with a fastball in a hitter’s count. Aside from a few stinkers, he has been okay for most of August and September.
Others: Phil Hughes (fifth starter)
Joe Borowski (4-5, 5.07, 45 SV) leads the league in saves, but it wasn't pretty. One of Joe’s most memorable (in a bad way) performances came against the Yankees in April. With two outs in the ninth, and 6-2 Indians lead, Borowski let the next six runners reach, culminating with an Alex Rodriguez walk-off home run. That game was the last time Borowski faced the Yankees.
Rafael Betancourt (5-1, 1.47, 31 HLD) has been a constant in recent Indians’ bullpens. He’s essentially a fastball pitcher, especially with runners on base. Hitters always seem to be late on his four-seamers, possibly because of his deliberate delivery, his release point, or both. However he gets hitters out, he’s been the Indians’ best reliever and one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.
Rafael Perez (1-2, 1.78, 12 HLD) relies on a fastball and slider. He’s held left-handed hitters to a .145/.209/.241 line, and doesn’t have too much trouble with right-handers (.213/.257/.324), either.
Jensen Lewis (1-1, 2.15, 5 HLD) was brought up in mid-July, and has worked his way into Eric Wedge’s trusted circle of relievers. He’ll pitch in the 6th and 7th innings.
Others: Tom Mastny (middle relief), Aaron Laffey (5th starter/long relief), Aaron Fultz (LOOGY)
Earl says: Mo over Borowski is obvious and Joba and Betancourt seems like a wash to me. Nonetheless, the rest of the Tribe pen is deep and much more stable. Edge to Tribe.
Ryan says: Even with Borowski dragging things down, the Indians have the better bullpen.
Earl's Prediction: The key to this series is how the potent Yankee offense will fare against the 1-2 punch of Sabathia and Carmona. If the Yanks manage a split in Cleveland, they will come back home to a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd, ready to feast on Westbrook in Game 3 and perhaps Byrd in Game 4. However, if the Tribe find themselves trailing the series 2-1 going into Game 4, I fully expect to see Sabathia ready to pitch on short rest because I can’t imagine the Indians relying on Byrd to keep their season alive with their big guns sitting on the bench. Yankees in 4.
Ryan’s Prediction: The Indians take the first two at home, the Yankees blow the Indians out in New York, and CC Sabathia pitches the Indians to the ALCS in Game 5.
ALDS Preview: Los Angeles Angels vs. Boston Red Sox
Hi everyone. I'm the Baseball Beat guy. Patrick Sullivan and I are going to preview the American League Division Series between the Los Angeles Angels (94-68) and the Boston Red Sox (96-66). I've been a fan of the Angels since 1969 when my Dad was hired by then-general manager Dick Walsh as Director of Public Relations and Promotions. It was a tough job as there wasn't much to promote back then. Ownership has since transitioned from Gene Autry to Disney to Arte Moreno. Angels fans love Autry and Moreno, but did you know that the team won its only World Championship under Disney?
Sully here, and I must confess that this matchup is pretty neat for Rich and me. As many of you know, Rich resides in Southern California and is a longtime supporter of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels. I have spent most of my 27 years in the Boston area and have loved the Red Sox for as long as I can remember. Rich and I even attended an Angels-Red Sox game together back in the Summer of 2005. Rich wrote about that night here (Johanna, joining me at tonight's contest, is now my wife for those who follow the link).
The schedule, with five games played over eight days, looks like one befitting a basketball or hockey playoff series. Hey, with wild cards and all, it almost is. But the Angels and Red Sox made it the old-fashioned way – they earned it by winning their respective divisions.
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 3, 6:37 PM ET on TBS – LAA (John Lackey) @ BOS (Josh Beckett)
Game 2: Fri., Oct. 5, 8:37 PM ET on TBS – LAA (Kelvim Escobar) @ BOS (Daisuke Matsuzaka)
Game 3: Sun., Oct. 7, 3:07 PM ET on TBS/TNT – BOS (Curt Schilling) @ LAA (Jered Weaver)
Game 4*: Mon., Oct. 8, 9:37 PM ET on TBS – BOS (Josh Beckett) @ LAA (John Lackey)
Game 5*: Wed., Oct. 10, 8:37 PM ET on TBS – LAA (Kelvim Escobar) @ BOS (Diasuke Matsuzaka)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
LAA 54-27 40-41 94-68
BOS 51-30 45-36 96-66
Head-to-head results: Boston won 6 games out of 10.
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
LAA 822 .284 .345 .417 .762 101
BOS 867 .279 .362 .444 .806 113
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
LAA 731 .266 .328 .412 .740 95
BOS 657 .247 .314 .392 .706 86
Due to the fact that Gary Matthews Jr. was left off the roster and Vladimir Guerrero isn't healthy enough to play right field, the Angels will be going with a makeshift lineup that will probably include shifting regular third baseman Chone Figgins to right field and inserting utilityman Maicer Izturis at the hot corner. We won't know what manager Mike Scioscia will do until the starting lineups are announced but are guessing that the winningest skipper in Angels' history will see fit to make the changes described above.
Jeff Mathis (.211/.276/.351, 4 HR, 23 RBI) began the season in the minors, was called up to the majors in early July, took over the starting job when Mike Napoli got hurt, and never gave it back. His stat line peaked at .248/.306/.434 on September 6 but a 1-for-27 finish reduced his numbers to a level that can be deemed nothing short of a liability *at* the plate (rather than *behind* the plate).
Jason Varitek (.255/.367/421, 17 HR, 68 RBI) bounced back from an injury-plagued 2006 that had Sox fans wondering if the Captain might be all done. He bounced back nicely and eased the minds of Red Sox fans. You can nitpick about the contract and the production and whether it was a good deal but, at the end of the day, all that matters was that the Sox had the luxury of penciling in a good player in the catcher slot. In this catcher’s market, you’ll take that.
Rich says: Mathis can handle himself defensively but Varitek has more experience and is a better hitter. Edge Boston.
Sully says: Agreed
Casey Kotchman (.296/.372/.467, 11 HR, 68 RBI) was one of the best hitters in the AL through the middle of June before suffering a concussion on a thrown ball in a game vs. the Dodgers. Kotchman, who returned nine days later and went hitless for a week, has never been the same, hitting .263/.338/.390 with only 3 HR in 236 AB the rest of the way.
Kevin Youkilis (.288/.390/.453, 16 HR, 83 RBI) is a very good baseball player, comfortably above average as first basemen go. Youk prides himself on his approach – he ranked 7th in baseball with 4.47 pitches per plate appearance – but his second-half slugging average of just .391 is of concern to Sox supporters. Even when he is going badly he is ok but when he really turns it on, he can be one of the best in the game. A September up-tick over and above his July and August performance keeps hope alive for a first-half replication in the playoffs.
Rich says: I'm calling this one a tie. The tie usually goes to the runner but neither of these guys is particularly fast. No blood. Just like Schilling in 2004.
Sully says: Hey, irk Schill at your own peril. He reads these here internets and will be gunning for the Halos in Game 3. Anyway, by virtue of his stellar finish I am giving this one to Kotchman.
Howie Kendrick (.322/.347/.450, 5 HR, 39 RBI) can flat out hit. But he's really nothing more than a singles and doubles hitter at this point in his career. I mean, Howie couldn't draw a walk (9 BB in 353 PA) if you gave him a piece of paper and a pen. His power should develop over time but, for now, he is a poor man's Bill Madlock. Which ain't half bad.
Dustin Pedroia (.317/.380/.442, 8 HR, 50 RBI) had an excellent season and will in all likelihood run away with the AL Rookie of the Year award. Those numbers up there look nice and all but if you have a look at Pedroia’s line since bottoming out with a .518 OPS on May 1, you start to realize just how special a player the Sox have on their hands. He has hit .335/.392/.470 since that time, a line that would have him hanging right with any keystoner in baseball not named Utley.
Rich says: I would have picked Kendrick before the season began. Oh wait, I did. He was on my fantasy team. But I gotta give Pedroia a tiny (sorry, bad joke) edge at this point in time.
Sully says: Pedroia in a photo finish thanks to his consistency and approach. Edge: Boston
Orlando Cabrera (.301/.345/.397, 8 HR, 86 RBI, 20 SB) is in the midst of one of his best seasons ever. His offensive numbers have never been better and his glovework has been exceptional (although perhaps not as fantastic as 2001 when he was with Montreal). He really doesn't have a weakness. O.C. can hit for average, has decent extra-base power for a shortstop, can hit & run, bunt, steal a base, pick it with the best, throw, you name it. Very underrated in most sabermetric circles.
Julio Lugo (.237/.294/.349, 8 HR, 73 RBI) was awful this season, one of the very worst shortstops in all of baseball. Pitchers rarely fail to overwhelm him and I cannot imagine things will be different with the potent arms the Angels have lined up. He’s brutal.
Rich says: Let's be real. Cabrera in a landslide. Sully just wishes that Boston still had him.
Sully says: What can I say?
Maicer Izturis (.289/.349/.405, 6 HR, 51 RBI) is better than most of us think. I mean, check out those numbers. Not bad for a utility player who has served the Angels well by filling in at second and third base for long stretches. Izturis is one of three switch-hitters in the starting lineup. He makes good contact and can jack it out of the park on occasion, especially when hitting from the left side.
Mike Lowell (.324/.378/.501, 21 HR, 120 RBI) seems to be garnering some unmerited team MVP support in some corners but he still had one whale of a year. A pro’s pro, Lowell has been a steadying force for an offense that has seen its share of ups and downs throughout the season.
Rich says: There's no use arguing this one. Lowell, hands down.
Sully says: Yeah, this is a no-brainer.
Garret Anderson (.297/.336/.492, 16 HR, 80 RBI) is on fire. Turn back the clock, folks. The 35-year-old left fielder is hitting like it's 2002 or 2003. GA, who sat out the final two games of the regular season with a case of pink eye, hit .305/.361/.530 with 13 HR and 65 RBI during the second half. One of the best "guess hitters" in the game, Anderson needs to produce in order for the Angels to score runs and compete with the Red Sox.
Manny Ramirez (.296/.388/.493, 20 HR, 88 RBI) could be the greatest determinant of this series. He has been bad, good, excellent, ok and injured at various points in the season. Who shows up come tonight is really anyone’s guess.
Rich says: Man, this is a toughie. Ramirez is a Hall of Famer so it's difficult, if not unwise, to go against him. But, in the here and now, I gotta call this one a draw. Did I really say that?
Sully says: Here we go. Rich, go with Manny. I ain't buyin' what GA's been sellin' these last few months and neither should you.
Reggie Willits (.293/.391/.344, 0 HR, 34 RBI, 27 SB) gets the call in CF because incumbent Gary Matthews Jr. (.252/.323/.419, 18 HR, 72 RBI) was left off the roster due to an ailing left knee. A slap hitter with no power, Willits draws walks, runs well, and is a good choice to have at the plate in certain situations. Then again, Reggie was a terrible option to have at the plate during most of the second half when his batting average (.271) and on-base percentage (.370) fell well below their first-half levels (.312 and .408).
Coco Crisp (.268/.330/.382, 6 HR, 60 RBI) is one hell of a defender but often looks lost at the dish. Don't be surprised to see Jacoby Ellsbury cut into some of his playing time.
Rich says: The loss of Matthews hurts. I can't see taking Willits or Crisp. Call it a push.
Sully says: I am not sure you have an appreciation for just how inept Crisp can be at the plate. I give Willits just a slight edge thanks to his on-base skills.
Chone Figgins (.330/.393/.432, 3 HR, 58 RBI, 41 SB) has led the majors with a .381 batting average since May 31. However, Figgy enters the playoffs in an 0-for-22 slump, perhaps owing to an injured left wrist that has caused him some problems down the stretch. He is equally good from both sides of the plate. Just not sure what to expect from him in the playoffs, either at the plate or in right field.
J.D. Drew (.270/.373/.423, 11 HR, 64 RBI) is the favorite whipping boy of the masshole sect of Red Sox Nation but look at those final numbers. They aren't worth $14 million but they are not half bad either. Mix in the fact that he ended up hitting .342/.454/.618 for the month of September and we may just have to turn Central Park into a makeshift confessional for Phills and Sox fans to repent over all those nasty things they said about Pat Burrell and J.D., respectively.
Guerrero. Oops, Vlad is likely to DH this week (see below). Figgins has had the better season but Drew is in more familiar territory out there and comes into the series with a hotter bat than his counterpart. Too many variables to call it one way or the other.
Sully says: I would have said big edge to the Angels a month ago but with more of a track record to speak of and coming into the post-season on the heels of a lights-out September, I am giving a small edge to Drew and the Red Sox.
Vladimir Guerrero (.324/.403/.547, 27 HR, 125 RBI), who sat out four of the final six regular-season games due to a sore triceps muscle, will probably serve as the primary designated hitter in this series. Big Daddy Vladdy as he is called by Angels color analyst Rex Hudler is as dangerous as they come when healthy. However, Vlad has had a tendency of becoming even more anxious than normal during the postseason and might be neutralized like he was in 2004 when Boston held him to just two hits in 12 at-bats in a three-game sweep.
David Ortiz (.332/.445/.621, 35 HR, 117 RBI) may have just had his best season. The counting stat crowd wouldn't know it (he had 19 less home runs) but his career-high OPS+ of 176 would certainly seem to support the contention. Like Drew, Ortiz comes in smoking too. He hit .396/.517/.824 over the season's final month.
Rich says: The numbers don't lie. I know Angels fans wouldn't trade Guerrero for Ortiz, but Big Papi bested Vlad across the board. I hate to say it but the DH slot goes to Boston.
Sully says: Vlad's a great player, just not David Ortiz.
Off the Bench:
Juan Rivera (.279/.295/.442, 2 HR, 8 RBI in 43 AB) could see time in right field but is more likely to be used as a pinch hitter or perhaps as a DH if Vlad is healthy enough to take his old spot back. Rivera, who missed the first five months of the season with a broken leg, looked tentative during most of September.
Mike Napoli (.247/.351/.443, 10 HR, 34 RBI) will probably start one of the games behind the dish. He was slowed by a leg injury during the second half and lost his starting job to Mathis.
Others: Erick Aybar (utility), Nathan Hayes (OF), Kendry Morales (1B/DH), and Robb Quinlan (designated lefty masher).
Jacoby Ellsbury (.353/.394/.509, 3 HR, 18 RBI) tore through the minors this season and impressed in a fair amount of Big League time. He may start a game or two in Crisp's stead but even if he does not, he provides some nice depth for Terry Francona's club.
Eric Hinske (.204/.317/.398, 6 HR, 21 RBI) is better than these numbers look. He's a career .255 hitter who just happened to put up a crummy batting average this campaign. He still has some pop and still knows how to approach an at-bat.
Others: Kevin Cash (C), Doug Mirabelli (C), Bobby Kielty OF), Alex Cora (INF).
Rich says: The Angels bench has been depleted of its strength. Not all that crazy about Boston's depth either. Edge goes ever so slightly to the Sox, mostly due to Ellsbury's presence.
Sully says: Too close to call, but I think both teams feature pretty decent benches. No word on why Francona did not also add Rich Gedman, Marc Sullivan and Spanky MacFarlane to supplement his catching depth in 'Belli and Cash.
Rich: I was wondering the same thing, Sully. Can only guess that Ellsbury is going to be pinch running for Tek and Tito wanted the flexibility to pinch hit for the backup catcher in the late innings. Did I mention, edge to Angels in the manager category?
John Lackey (19-9, 3.01) isn't called Big Game John for nothing. Lackey led the AL in ERA and Runs Saved Against Average (42) and was second in wins. He has also led the league in shutouts in three of the past five years. The big righthander is as tough as he is ugly. He wants the ball in crucial games and never wants to come out.
Kelvim Escobar (18-7, 3.40) pitched brilliantly through mid-August when he was leading the AL in ERA, then tired down the stretch, before righting the ship last Saturday when he pitched six solid innings in a win over OAK. He did a great job at keeping the ball on the ground (28 GIDP) and in the yard (11 HR in 195.2 IP).
Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91) will be making his first appearance in the postseason. The second-year pitcher experienced a bout of tendinitis in the spring and has only recently recovered to the point where his fastball has a 9-handle on it. Weaver gave up just one earned run in five of his final seven starts while allowing no more than one walk in all but one game.
Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27) was the only 20-game winner in Major League Baseball. He's a true ace and for what it's worth, dominated the Angels in two 2007 starts.
Diasuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40) had well-documented troubles towards the end of the year but finished decently in his final three starts. When it was all said and done, he was an above average starter who threw over 200 innings with an exceptional strikeout rate. If I am Francona, I have Jon Lester on alert for an early call should Matsuzaka appear to be struggling on Friday night. Dice-K is the type that either has it or does not.
Curt Schilling (9-8, 3.87) had a 3.34 ERA and a 7.5 K/BB over his last nine starts. He's back, folks, and though I am not one for the touchy-feely stuff, Schilling is one hell of a competitor to boot.
Rich says: The Lackey-Beckett matchups are about as good as it gets. The righthanders are two of the top three candidates for the AL Cy Young Award. Furthermore, both pitchers won the clinching game of the World Series on short rest in their first trip to the postseason – Lackey, of course, in 2002, and Beckett in 2003. I would call these two a draw and give the Angels a slight edge when it comes to Escobar-Matsuzaka and Weaver-Schilling (bloody sock or no). Bottom line: Angels, by the smallest of margins.
Sully says: Lackey would probably be the runaway favorite for the Cy Young if he had not made the two starts against Boston in 2007 (8.38 ERA in just over 9 IP). The Sox own him, as he is precisely the type of pitcher they have handled over the years. Look for Sox hitters to wait Lackey out and drive mistakes they force him to throw in hitters counts. As for the other matchups, Escobar has not broken a 60 game score since August while Matsuzaka turned a corner over his last three outings. Do I really need to go into Weaver and Schilling? Boston gets the nod here.
Francisco Rodriguez (5-2, 2.81, 40 Saves) completed his third-consecutive season with 40 or more saves. A strikeout pitcher, K-Rod punched out 90 batters in 67.1 innings. Frankie is lights out if he has his fastball and slider are both working on the same night.
Scot Shields (4-5, 3.86, 31 Holds) had an uneven season. He gave up two runs or more in nine games over the course of the second half. His ERA more than doubled from 1.70 at the All-Star break to 3.86 by season's end. Scioscia still has confidence in his veteran set-up man and is likely to hand him the ball in the eighth inning whenever he is needed.
Justin Speier (2-3, 2.88, 24 Holds) missed 2-1/2 months early in the season but was nails in September. He is the Halos "go to" guy in the seventh inning and could be used every game if necessary.
Darren Oliver (3-1, 3.78) had an 11-game streak from August 31-September 22 in which he threw 14.1 IP without allowing a run. His good fortune came to an end when he surrendered three runs on September 25 and he gave up another run in his next outing on Sunday. A lefty with reverse splits this season, his role is somewhat unclear given the new-found depth in the names of Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana in this short series.
Others: Dustin Moseley (groundball specialist), Ervin Santana (long or middle relief), and Joe Saunders (fourth starter or possible LOOGY – I'm talking to you, Big Papi).
Jonathan Papelbon (1-3, 1.89, 37 SV) is one of the best closers in baseball. There is not much else to say.
Hideki Okajima (3-2, 2.22, 27 HLD) was a Rookie of the Year candidate until faltering badly in August and September. Since August 1, Okie has posted a 6.23 ERA. It will be interesting to see how Francona
mismanages this one.
Manny Delcarmen (0-0, 2.05) needs to be featured more prominently. He was lights out all year long.
Javier Lopez (2-1, 3.10) is used too often as a LOOGY for a guy with reverse splits but remains a dependable item coming out of the Boston bullpen.
Others: Jon Lester (emergency starter/long reliever), Eric Gagne (which one shows up?), Mike Timlin (middle relief).
Rich says: Two of the best bullpens in the league. Minor edge goes to the Angels because their usage patterns are much more transparent than Boston's.
Sully says: A really difficult one to call but I will give the Angels the advantage given Eric Gagne's struggles, Francona's bullpen management problems and Okajima's iffy finish.
Rich's Prediction: Boston is the favorite for good reason. The Red Sox had the best record in the majors, the biggest run differential, won the season series, and own the home-field advantage. Oh, and Boston comes into the series in better physical shape than the Angels. Add all these factors up and even an (objective) Angels fan would have to pick them to win the division series. The Sox win this one in four or five. A sweep will have Boston players and fans thinking 2004 all over again. However, since 1990, only the 1998 Yankees have won the World Series after finishing with the best record in the majors.
Sully's Prediction: Boston in four. I think the Sox paste Lackey in Game 1 and don't look back. The Halos will pull one out but I think this is too much of a mismatch for Los Angeles. As the numbers clearly demonstrate above, Boston has the better lineup and the better pitching - a tough combo to overcome.
* * * * *
Note: Be sure to check out our playoff previews for the Cubs-Diamondbacks and Rockies-Phillies series, both of which are also scheduled to launch today.
NLDS Preview: Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies
I'm Al Doyle, history columnist (Past Times) for Baseball Analysts. I have written approximately 100 player profiles, interviews and features for Baseball Digest. One of my favorite experiences in writing baseball history was interviewing the survivors of the pennant-winning 1944 St. Louis Browns for a 2004 article in St. Louis magazine.
My interest in the Rockies dates back to 1993, as our family moved to Colorado just weeks after the franchise played its first game. I have seen the team set records in surpassing the 4 million mark in attendance, the push to the playoffs in 1995 as well as the creeping fan apathy of recent years.
Now back in the Midwest, I follow the Rockies from afar. Although I don't get to see the team much, Denver remains one of my favorite places in America, and Coors Field is a gem of a ballpark. My analysis of what can be expected from the Rockies in the NLDS follows.
Hi, I'm David Cohen, one of the team of bloggers at The Good Phight. We've covered the Phillies for the past three seasons and would love to claim that we were believers even when they were, altogether now, seven games back with seventeen to go. But, we'd be lying if we said that. We do live and die by the team and are finally feeling rewarded with our first playoff game in 5,094 days. No Joe Carters this time, though, ok?
Yorvit Torrealba (396 AB, .255, 8 HR, 47 RBI, .323 OBP) gives the team some gap power and run production at the bottom of the order. From what I've seen of Torrealba behind the plate, he handles himself well and should have a long career (barring injury) as a platoon or solid backup catcher. Chris Ianetta (.218, 4 HR, 27 RBI, .330 OBP in a disappointing rookie season) may also see some action.
Carlos Ruiz (.259/.340/.396, 6 HR, 54 RBI) was a bit of a disappointment this year, but he did show improved patience at the plate. Regardless, he was better than free agent signing Rod Barajas. Ruiz was hit hard by pitches twice in the final series and is day-to-day for the NLDS.
Al says: Tossup.
David says: very very slight edge Phillies.
Todd Helton (557 AB, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .320, 114 BB, .434 OBP) is no longer the slugger he once was, but his ability to get on base and smack doubles (42) makes him a cleanup-hitting tablesetter of sorts for Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe. This will be Helton's first postseason series in an 11-year major league career. The three-time Gold Glover is one reason why the Rockies committed just 68 errors as a team. Helton had just two miscues in 1448 chances this season for a .999 fielding percentage.
Ryan Howard (.268/.392/.584, 47 HR, 136 RBI) didn't duplicate his 2006 MVP line of .313/.425/.659, but who can blame him? He missed 12 games in May due to injury, but still put up monster numbers, including an all-time record 199 strikeouts. With 47 HR and 136 RBI, though, who cares?
Al says: Phillies get the edge here. Howard is an offensive force.
David says: Helton is a great player, but Howard is better.
Kaz Matsui's offensive numbers (.410 AB, 4 HR, 37 RBI, .288, .342 OBP) reflect a 2006 move from Shea Stadium to Coors Field. Matsui smacked .330 in Denver as compared to .249 on the road. Baserunning is Matsui's strong suit, as he was 32 for 36 (.889) in stolen bases this season is and 62 for 71 (.873) as a major leaguer.
Chase Utley (.332/.410/.566, 22 HR, 103 RBI) missed even more time than Howard - a full month spanning July and August. But, he was still the best second baseman in baseball (68.8 VORP to Placido Polanco's 49.0) and should be for another decade or so.
Al says: Advantage Phillies. Utley is one of the best at his position.
David says: No easier comparison than here - Utley by a mile.
Troy Tulowitzki's skill with the glove was no surprise, but his 24 HR and 99 RBI (.291, .359 OBP) were definitely better than expected. The Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove candidate came on strong in the second half, with 15 HR and 60 RBI after the All-Star break. Tulo definitely likes Colorado, as he hit .326, with 15 home runs and 60 RBI in Coors and just .256/9/39 elsewhere.
Jimmy Rollins (.296/.344/.531, 30 HR, 94 RBI) is the Philadelphia fans' MVP choice (I'm not entirely sold). He joined the rare 20 HR, 20 2B, 20 3B, 20 SB club (only three other members) and set the all-time record for at-bats (716) and total plate appearances (778). Rollins started every game, played excellent defense, hit for power, and was a terror on the basepaths. He still could use some patience at the plate, but that's mere quibbling at this point in his career.
Al says: Give this one to the Phillies, as Rollins is among the elite at SS. Tulowitski is no slouch.
David says: Edge to Rollins, but Tulowitzki is no slacker.
Garrett Atkins (.301, 25 HR, 111 RBI, .367 OBP) staggered to a slow start, hitting .223 with 3 HR and 20 RBI in 197 AB during April and May. The right-handed swinger made up for that with a .339/5/29 August before hitting .390 in the final month of the season. Atkins is middle of the pack defensively.
Wegham Nubbselms (.255/.321/.368, 11 HR, 76 RBI) is the combination of Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, and Greg Dobbs (combination name courtesy of Christina Kahrl), as Charlie Manuel toyed with third base all year, trying to turn water into wine with this crew. Manuel settled on Helms and Dobbs providing the "offense," with Nunez coming in for late inning defense and key starts by groundball pitchers.
Al says: Advantage Rockies
David says: OK, maybe this is easier - huge edge to Atkins (and maybe he'll be a Phillie next year?)
Matt Holliday (.340, 50 2B, 36 HR. 137 RBI, .340, 216 hits, .405 OBP) is usually mentioned with Rollins among the top MVP candidates. As his stats indicate, Holliday hits the ball with authority to all fields, as shown by his 13th inning opposite field triple that nearly cleared the right field fence during Monday's play-in game against the Padres.
Defense? Holliday won't be confused with Curtis Granderson. Despite misjudging Brian Giles' flyball turned game-tying double on Monday, he is adequate in baseball's least demanding position.
Pat Burrell (.256/.400/.502, 30 HR, 97 RBI) was absolutely miserable for the first half of the season, and was almost booed out of town. But then July 1 came and he turned into one of the best hitters in baseball with a .300/.427/.612 line and 22 HR and 65 RBI. Already a patient hitter, he had 114 walks, the most in his career and the third most in MLB (to Bonds and Helton).
Al says: Rockies get the edge for sure, but don't be surprised if Burrell does some damage.
David says: Edge to the Rockies and their MVP candidate.
Speedy slap hitter Willy Taveras (372 AB, .320, 2 HR, 24 RBI, 33 SB but just 21 walks for a .367 OBP) hopes to recover from his nagging leg injury in time for the series. Even if Tavares claims to be 100 percent, productive Ryan Spilborghs (11 HR, 51 RBI, .299 in 264 ABs) may also see some action (ED: Spilborghs will be starting as Tavares has been left off of the NLDS roster. His AVG/OBP/SLG line was .299/.363/.485 this season).
Born a generation too late to become the perfect 1970s Astroturf chopper that he would have been, Willy T. is the king of infield singles. As might be expected, Taveras covers the spacious Colorado outfield with ease.
Aaron Rowand (.309/.374/.515, 27 HR, 89 RBI) - Rowand had a career year, showing power and patience at the plate he had shown glimpses of in 2004 but never before or again . . . until now. One of the key numbers for Rowand was 161 - games played. He was healthy and didn't pull any stupid hustle moves that wind up in a DL stint.
Al says: Advantage Phillies.
David says: Phillies
Brad Hawpe produced 116 RBI batting sixth. Add in a .291 average, 33 doubles, 29 homers and a .387 OBP (81 walks), and Hawpe becomes a genuine threat. He does have one glaring weakness. The lefty swinger hit just .214 against southpaws as compared to .315 against right-handers. It's something that Cole Hamels or crafty Jamie Moyer could exploit.
With no stolen bases in 2007, Hawpe is the extreme opposite of speedy Shane Victorino, his Phillies counterpart.
Shane Victorino (.281/.347/.423, 12 HR, 46 RBI) had an almost identical year to last year, proving to be a very good guy to have on the bases in front of the big boppers. The one major difference this year was that Victorino learned how to steal a base - 37 with only 4 caught stealings. He was a large part of the reason why the Phillies set the all-time record for team stolen base percentage. He missed much of August and September with a leg injury, but appears healthy now.
Al says: Advantage Rox.
David says: Rockies
If Spilborghs doesn't start, a thin Colorado bench becomes much better. Utility infielder Jamey Carroll (.225, 2, 22) hit the game-winning sacrifice fly on Monday, but his average dove 75 points from last season's .300 performance as a regular player. Former everyday shortstop Clint Barmes (.216 in 37 ABs) is eligible for the postseason roster.
Cory Sullivan (.286, 2 HR, 14 RBI in 140 ABs) has a little more pop and less speed than Tavares. Jeff Baker (.222, 4, 14) is a journeyman who can play the outfield and first base. With or without Spilborghs, this is a situation that screams for an experienced lefty pinch-hitter and a multitalented super sub.
Jayson Werth (.298/.404/.459, 8 HR, 49 RBI) was mostly a bench player until Victorino got hurt. He filled in more than admirably, posting a 1.109 OPS in August. He cooled off in September, but he is a potent and patient bat off the bench. Plus, he can steal a base or two when needed, as the Mets learned the hard way when he stole two in the ninth on August 30 to fuel a comeback win and a key four-game sweep.
Greg Dobbs (.272/.330/.451, 10 HR, 55 RBI) is worthless against lefthanded pitching (.481 OPS) and is not much of a fielder at third base, but he has power and patience against righties (.808 OPS, 10 HR, 27 BB). He also provided clutch at-bats down the stretch when needed, including a pinch hit grand slam against the Mets on September 16 that powered the Phillies to their second sweep of the Mets in less than three weeks.
Chris Coste (.279/.311/.419, 5 HR, 22 RBI) didn't make the big league roster out of spring training despite impressing in 2006. He eventually was called up for good in June to pinch hit and occasionally fill in at catcher. He has limited patience and power but is better than the Barajas alternative.
Wes Helms (.246/.297/.368, 5 HR, 39 RBI) never lived up to his promise from 2006 when he hit to the tune of .329/.390/.575 in limited playing time. His power didn't come back and he rarely provided any added value at the plate.
Al says: Advantage Phillies
David says: Phillies - they've upgraded a major weakness from years' past.
What makes the Rockies' run to the postseason especially amazing is how it happened with a rotation that had more patches than an old pair of overalls. Even perennial retreads such as Elmer Dessens (four starts) and Mark Redman (three starts) saw late season action.
Three April starters - innings-eating sinkerballer Aaron Cook, Rodrigo Lopez and Jason Hirsh - are out with injuries. Cook spoke about coming back during the playoffs after a two-month layoff, but that sounds like a stretch even for the courageous righty who previously bounced back from life-threatening blood clots.
Left-hander Jeff Francis (17-8, 4.22 in 215.1 IP) is the real deal. The Canadian-born Francis gives the Rockies a top of the rotation starter that has been a rae commodity in the franchise's 15-year history. Normally a 4 or 5 starter, Josh Fogg's status has grown through attrition. He enters the NLDS with a 10-9 record and 4.94 ERA.
The hopes of Rockies fans are riding on a pair of young and very inexperienced arms. Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4, 4.28, 15 starts, 82 IP) and Franklin Morales (3-2, 3.43, 8 starts, 39.1 IP) have shown incredible poise for 23 and 21-year old rookies. It was Jimenez who put the Rox into the tiebreaker with his 10-strikeout performance against the Diamondbacks on Sept. 30.
Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.39) lived up to his billing in his sophomore season as he emerged as a true ace. He averaged just under a strikeout an inning, and drastically improved his K/BB rate from 3.02 to 4.12. He missed a month but still compiled 177 strikeouts, good for a seventh-place tie in the NL. He was shaky in his first two starts after returning from injury, but looked excellent in a key 8 inning shutout performance last Friday. He'll start game one for the Phillies.
Jamie Moyer (14-12, 5.01) had a sensation April (2.65 ERA in 5 starts), making critics doubt that he was over the hill at 44. He was pretty horrible after that, though, with a 5.68 ERA and over 1.5 baserunners per inning. That is, until the last day of the season when he pitched like a master (0 ER, 5.33 IP, 6 K) to get the Phillies the NL East title. He'll start game 3.
Kyle Kendrick (10-4, 3.87) was a AA call-up in June. The Phils hoped to get an innings-eater, but got much more, as he was the team's most reliable starter (given Hamels' injury) for the rest of the season. He has a weak spot against lefties (.922 OPS), but has been able to shut righties down (.628 OPS) to keep his ERA under 4. With the Phillies' offense, that's enough to get 10 wins and a game 2 playoff start.
Kyle Lohse (3-0, 4.72) was acquired at the trade deadline and helped provide innings when the Phillies desperately needed it. He's a quintessential fourth or fifth starter who will probably be used out of the bullpen in the playoffs.
Al says: Edge to the Phillies, but their rotation is hittable.
David says: Without Adam Eaton and with a healthy Hamels, Phillies.
As in 1995, it was the relievers who played a significant role in putting the Rockies into the postseason. Then-manager Don Baylor squeezed every drop out of an overworked bullpen that was asked to put in three to five innings almost every game.
Starting with the middlemen, Taylor Buchholz (6-5, 4.23 in 93.2 IP) also started eight games, and he could go several innings if needed. Veteran LaTroy Hawkins (62 G, 55.1 IP, 2-5, 3.42) bounced back nicely after a rough start. Lefty Jeremy Affeldt (75 G, 59 IP, 4-3, 3.51) was better than expected, and Matt Herges changed speeds well enough to finish 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 48.2 IP. At age 37, Herges is by far the oldest member of the Rockies.
Former closer and two-time All-Star Brian Fuentes was demoted after blowing four straight saves earlier in the season. A strong finish (1.19 ERA from August to the end of the season) dropped his ERA from 3.98 to 3.08. The left-hander finished with a 3-5 record and 20 saves.
Current closer Manny Corpas is another promising young arm. The 24-year old righty had a 4-2 record, 2.08 ERA and 19 saves. The Phillies better come up swinging against Corpas, who gave up just 20 walks in 78 IP. While it wouldn't surprise me to see manager Clint Hurdle go with Fuentes in the ninth if left-handed hitters Utley and Howard were due up, Rox leads are in capable hands with Corpas.
Bret Myers (5-7, 4.33, 21 SV) was controversially moved to the bullpen in April after three horrendous starts. As a reliever, he had a 2.87 ERA, a 3.6 K/BB ratio, and let up only 4 HR in 53.3 IP. Because the rest of his options are not good, Manuel will use Myers to close out almost any lead, and Myers will usually do so effectively.
Tom Gordon (3-2, 4.73, 14 HLD) missed two and a half months with a shoulder injury. Manuel uses Gordon to setup Myers, which he did terribly from August 2 to September 5 (9.69 ERA). But he remembered how to pitch after that, throwing 13.67 innings with a 1.32 ERA from September 8 to the end of the season.
J.C. Romero (1-2, 1.24, 22 HLD) was a waiver wire pickup in June who paid huge dividends. In September, he was the closest thing to a guarantee to ever come out of the Phillies bullpen, as he pitched 15.67 innings and gave up no runs. He'll start the reliever train of Romero, Gordon, and Myers that Manuel will use over and over and over again. If any other reliever appears in a game, the Phillies are in trouble.
Al says: Advantage Rockies.
David says: Rockies, because of their depth and Fuentes being hot and a lefty.
Al's Series Prediction
It's easy to point to the relative rawness of Tulowitski, Jimenez, Morales and Corpas, but just about the entire roster is getting their first taste of the postseason. Amazingly, Hawkins is the only Colorado player with an October resume, as he appeared in the ALDS and ALCS with the Twins in 2002 and 2003.
Starters on both teams are going to get hit hard. If it comes down to the bullpens, the underdog Rockies have the upper hand, but my gut instincts tell me the Phillies win the series in five games.
David's Series Prediction
The two teams are very similar - offensive powerhouses in hitters parks with bad pitching. The difference here is going to be Cole Hamels. The Rockies have a very good pitcher in Jeff Francis, but they don't have a dominant frontline ace like Hamels. Hamels will make two starts (if necessary) and win both (again, if necessary). The Phillies' offense will power the team to at least one win from the other starters. That's three, and that's all that's needed in a five game series. I say Phils in 4 and Hamels is saved for the NLCS, but 5 isn't out of the question either.
NLDS Preview: Will the Cubbies be snake-bitten again?
Hi, I'm Bryan Smith, the co-creator of this here site and now a writer for Baseball Prospectus. Not many of you have seen me write about the Majors too often, but after watching most of the Cubs’ season, I jumped at the opportunity to write this preview when Rich asked. While I won't live and die by this team like I did in 1998 and 2003, the latter of which left me irrationally upset, I'll feel as if I have something invested as long as the Cubs still have Kerry Wood. Ron Santo deserves this.
Hi, I’m Marc Hulet and I dabble in writing about the minor leagues for Baseball Analysts and I am also a newspaper editor in Ontario, Canada. Despite my northern location I have been a huge fan of the Diamondbacks since the team’s inception (although my favorite D-Back, Orlando Hudson, is on the disabled list). I even had the pleasure of spending two weeks at spring training in Arizona this past March and saw the Diamondbacks play, along with a handful of other teams. I can honestly say I love the state as much as the ball club, especially with another Canadian winter looming just around the corner. I am also honored to be sharing this preview with Bryan, who just happens to be one of my favorite writers. Now, on with the show…
Chris Snyder (.252/.342/.433, 13 HR, 47 RBI) was beginning to look like a bit of a bust earlier this year, highlighted by a .192/.283/.385 line June. But he turned things around in the second half of the year and hit .301/.393/.519 after the All-Star break. Unfortunately, he still struggled against right-handed hurlers and hit more than .100 points higher against southpaws.
Jason Kendall (.241/.298/.308, 3 HR, 41 RBI) has had an ironic mini-resurgence in his return to the Junior Circuit, as it took an exit from Moneyball Oakland to get him walking again. While Tim McCarver will have you believe Kendall's leadership and experience is a feather in the Cubs' cap, former broadcast partner Lou Piniella would be much better off playing Geovany Soto.
Marc says: Even. Snyder is a little bit better offensively but I have to give Kendall credit for his veteran experience, leadership and solid handling of pitching staffs.
Bryan says: It's even or a slight Cubs advantage if Soto plays often, a slight edge for Arizona if it's all Kendall.
Tony Clark (.249/.310/.511, 17 HR, 51 RBI) spent most of the season as a bench player but manager Bob Melvin started the veteran over sophomore player Conor Jackson a significant portion of the time when the season was on the line. Will this continue into the playoffs? My guess is yes, even though Clark’s one season of playoff experience was ugly: .143/.143/.190 in 21 at-bats for the 2004 New York Yankees during the League Championship series. Clark has game-changing power, which is something the more consistent Jackson lacks.
Derrek Lee (.317/.400/.512, 22 HR, 82 RBI) worried Cubs fans when he returned from last season's season-ending injury to hit just six home runs in the first half, but Lee clubbed 16 in the second half, including seven in September, to push this team to the playoffs. Lee is the team's best fielder, second-best hitter, and nicest guy. Dads, you want your daughters after men like Lee.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago, regardless of who is manning first for Arizona.
Bryan says: Lee is a better player than what you could produce by melding Clark and Jackson together.
Augie Ojeda’s (.274/.354/.354, 1 HR, 12 RBI) name looks pretty silly here, especially when Arizona has arguably the National League’s best defensive second baseman in Orlando Hudson. But Hudson is out for the season with a hand injury so the second base duties fall to 32-year-old minor league veteran Ojeda, who did not play in the majors at all in 2005 or 2006. On the positive side, he has shown a pretty good stick down the stretch, although he possesses little power or stolen base speed. Alberto Callaspo could also see some time at second base, but he struggled this year and hit only .215/.265/.271.
Mark DeRosa (.294/.373/.422, 10 HR, 72 RBI) was the center of much criticism against Jim Hendry after his spend-happy winter, but DeRosa's value in 2007 far exceeded his $2.75 million salary. DeRosa is an old-school, double-switch loving manager's best friend, and you won't see Piniella hesitate to move DeRosa to right field or third base if needed. Minor worrisome trend: the DeRosa that slugged .520 in April has moved on, as he's been reduced to a far more middle infield-like .092 Isolated Power in the second half.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago with O-Dawg on the shelf.
Bryan says: Augie will got a lot of cheers in Wrigley, but he's just not DeRosa's, even second-half DeRosa's, caliber.
Mark Reynolds (.279/.349/.495, 17 HR, 62 RBI) is the beneficiary of veteran Chad Tracy’s bad luck. Tracy is out for the year (and possibly part of 2008) after microfracture surgery on his knee. Reynolds was a bit of a sleeper early on in his minor league career as a 16th round draft pick out of the University of Virginia in 2004. But his power is legit (He hit 31 minor league homers in 2006). Reynolds still has work to do and he is going to struggle to hit .270 in the future if he does not improve his approach at the plate (37 walks compared to 129 strikeouts in 366 at-bats). On the plus side, he has shown the ability to make adjusts and, after hitting below .200 in June and July, hit more than .300 in both August and September.
Aramis Ramirez (.312/.367/.552, 26 HR, 101 RBI), for my money, is the best pure hitter in Chicago since Frank Thomas, and one of the National League's most dangerous hitters. While Lee doesn't walk enough, his ability to make consistent hard contact is as good as anybody in the game. With the game on the line, Cubs fans want Ramirez at the plate.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago (Is there an echo in here?).
Bryan says: Reynolds isn't the hitter his numbers suggest, and Aramis might be better than his. Cubs.
Stephen Drew (.238/.313/.370, 12 HR, 60 RBI) had a disappointing first full season in the majors. Unlike Reynolds, Drew has yet to show that he is making adjustments in The Show, as he has been consistently mediocre throughout the season. He needs to step up his game in the playoffs to help compensate for the loss of Hudson and Tracy.
Ryan Theriot (.266/.326/.346, 3 HR, 45 RBI, 28 SB) has oddly become the favorite player of manager Lou Piniella, which has allowed him to exceed his destiny as career utility infielder for an everyday shortstop job. While Theriot is powerless at the plate, his baserunning does make him the most likely member of the team to replicate a Dave Roberts in 2004 type stolen base. Is that a backhanded compliment?
Marc says: Slight edge to Arizona
Bryan says: I agree, largely because Drew has the *potential*, but it's closer to even than I would have ever imagined three years ago.
Eric Byrnes (.286/.353/.460, 21 HR, 83 RBI, 50 SB) is playing like a man on a mission, or more accurately a player in a contract year, which is great for Arizona’s playoff hopes (but bad for their checkbook). Byrnes should be a force to be reckoned with in the field (he may run through a wall or two in this series alone), at the plate and on the base paths. He has the ability to change the tone of a ball game with one play.
Alfonso Soriano (.295/.334/.550, 32 HR, 67 RBI, 19 SB), like the rest of the team really, recovered from a horrible April (.270/.308/.392) to validate his huge offseason contract. While like no other leadoff hitter in the Majors, Soriano is completely at home in the top spot, leading off multiple September games with a solo shot. Defensively he takes horrible reads on balls, but the Diamondbacks would be fools to underestimate his arm, as it's among the most accurate of any Major League outfielders.
Marc says: As much as I love Byrnes, I think Soriano has the edge here with his excellent finish to the season… but it’s close.
Bryan says: Despite Byrnes' big season, edge to the Cubs and their September MVP.
Chris Young (.237/.295/.467, 32 HR, 68 RBI, 27 SB) is going to make the White Sox rue the day they included him in the Javier Vazquez trade, if he hasn’t already. There are not many players that combine defensive prowess and home run power like he does… and at the tender age of 24. On the downside, though, Young is still prone to poor plate discipline (141 Ks in 569 at-bats) and does not get on base enough (.295 OBP).
Jacque Jones (.282/.333/.395, 5 HR, 65 RBI) smiles a lot. There, I said something positive. Cubs fans took a dislike to Jones around his .176/.250/.275 June, calling for him to be traded in July, and not even forgiving him after an .818 OPS in the second half. In reality, Jones is a decent asset, a slightly above-average outfielder (prone to stupid mistakes) and a decent bat against right-handed pitching (while prone to looking stupid).
Marc says: Despite the low batting average and on-base percentage, Young takes it. He’s going to be a monster with a little more experience under his belt.
Bryan says: Arizona wins a category outright!
Jeff Salazar (.277/.340/.394, 1 HR, 10 RBI) and Justin Upton (.221/.283/.364, 2 HR, 11 RBI) could both see time in right field for Arizona. Unfortunately, combined, they have only 234 career MLB at-bats. Upton is also questionable for the opening series after taking Ubaldo Jimenez' 96-mph fastball off his wrist on Sunday. Salazar has an interesting combination of speed and power.
Cliff Floyd (.285/.372/.423, 9 HR, 45 RBI) will most likely get the most time in right field during this series, but like the catching position, the team would be better off using the younger player, in this case Matt Murton. While the two might still be a wash at the plate, Floyd is among the worst defensive outfielders in the playoffs, and a far better fit at his old home at first base. So, I suppose, this makes him the most likely Cub to jump up and down pouting if a fan steals a ball from his glove.
Marc says: Something tells me, if healthy, Upton could have some sort of magical October rookie performance ala Bobby Jenks or F-Rod, but maybe I’m just crazy. If not, the edge goes to Chicago.
Bryan says: I would have never guessed the Cubs could have an edge in right field, but they do, albeit a slight one.
Off the bench:
Miguel Montero (.224/.292/.397, 10 HR, 37 RBI) is a nice complement for Snyder, although he does not offer the veteran experience a young pitching staff might need in a stressful playoff series. His power potential off the bench is a plus.
Conor Jackson (.284/.368/.467, 15 HR, 60 RBI) is a great player to have on the bench, if Melvin does in fact favor the veteran Clark in the playoffs. Jackson has the ability to hit for average and even has a little pop (although it is below average for a first baseman).
Jeff Cirillo (.200/.273/.300, 0 HR, 6 RBI) did not have a great regular season but he is an experienced bench player who has come up with key hits in the past.
Carlos Quentin (.214/.298/.349, 5 HR, 31 RBI) has yet to show Arizona fans just how good he really is, thanks in part to a shoulder injury earlier in the season. If truly healthy, Quentin could be a force off the bench and he should be an above-average regular for years to come.
Geovany Soto (.404/.448/.692, 3 HR, 8 RBI) is no .404 hitter, nor even the hitter his Triple-A numbers (.349/.418/.648) would suggest. But he's got some pop and he can throw a runner out, so at this stage, he's five times the catcher Kendall is.
Mike Fontenot (.283/.339/.409, 3 HR, 29 RBI) seemed destined to be a footnote in history when he was tossed into Sammy Sosa's boot from the south side, but Theriot's old college teammate has made a career for himself. As a pinch-hitter against right-handed pitchers, and DeRosa's double-switch partner, Fontenot has solid bench value.
Matt Murton (.283/.355/.422, 8 HR, 22 RBI) either needed more consistent playing time, or the kick-in-the-ass demotion to jump-start his season, as he was gangbusters after returning from Iowa in August, hitting .316/.381/.553 the rest of the way. My ridiculous prediction is a home run off Doug Davis in this series.
Craig Monroe (.220/.268/.371, 12 HR, 59 RBI) hasn't looked great since Jim Hendry traded for him, and he didn't look great in Detroit before that, but as a Jones platoon-mate, late inning defensive replacement, and all-or-nothing pinch hitter, I have seen why the Cubs made this move.
Marc says: Edge barely to Arizona on the strength of pinch-hitting experts Cirillo and Clark, as well as Chicago’s inexperience.
Bryan says: Completely even from where I'm sitting. I hope, as a Cubs fan, Bob Melvin has as much faith in Cirillo as Marc.
Brandon Webb (18-10, 3.01) is Mr. Diamondback. Webb has gone from unheralded eighth round draft pick to underrated prospect to unquestionable ace of Arizona’s playoff-bound staff. The sinkerballer combines the rare ability to induce grounders (career 3.25 groundball to flyball ratio) AND strikeout a significant number of batters (194 in 236.1 innings), which should serve him well against Chicago’s big boppers.
Doug Davis (13-12, 4.25) continues to plug away as one of baseball’s most underrated left-handed starters (wouldn’t Texas love to have him back?). He allows his fair share of baserunners (95 walks and 211 hits in 192.2 innings) but he always seems capable of wiggling out of jams. However, the lefty will face a Cubs’ lineup heavy with right-handed batters.
Livan Hernandez (11-11, 4.93) could prove to be one of the most valuable pitchers on the Diamondbacks’ staff this October. Why? He is the only starting pitcher with playoff experience. He has pitched in two World Series (Florida, 1997; San Francisco, 2002) and overall he has a 3.99 ERA and a 6-2 record in 10 postseason appearances, including eight starts. The one downside to Hernandez circa 2007 is that he has fringe stuff. I watched him pitch in spring training this year and thought he was done.
Micah Owings (8-8, 4.30) is currently scheduled to appear in Game 5 of the series, if necessary, according to MLB.com. The rookie hurler has looked absolutely dominant in a handful of starts this season. On the downside, he has also looked positively terrible in a number of starts this season, especially in June and July. Owings, though, has some added value. With a .333/.349/.683 line in MLB 60 at-bats and his reputation as a great two-way player in college, I would personally favor him as a pinch hitter over anyone else on Arizona’s bench late in the game, save perhaps for either Jackson or Clark.
Carlos Zambrano's (18-13, 3.95) fist-pumping is likely to be featured heavily on FOX's pregame over-dramatic montages, but he is the face for playing baseball with emotion. It took Michael Barrett's fists to provoke the Cubs ace to starting to pitch like one, and save a bad August, he's been great ever since. Zambrano will make his mistakes with command, but expect Rich's favorite, a lot of groundballs and strikeouts in Big Z's start(s).
Ted Lilly (15-8, 3.83) has, for years, been considered on the cusp of major success, and he found it with a return to the National League. The Cubs certainly overpaid for Lilly, but given the attendance numbers in Wrigley this season, I don't think anyone minds the few extra million it cost for the team's most consistent starter. Lilly hit a career high in strikeouts and a low in BB/9 in his finest season, and while he might give up a few home runs, expect a quality start when he takes the mound.
Rich Hill (11-8, 3.92) is similar to Lilly in a way, what with his gopherball tendencies and big, slow curveball. However, while Lilly used better command to post slightly better numbers, no one will deny Hill gets points for better stuff. Hill's inconsistency should be nerve-wracking to Cubs fans, but like the start that clinched the Cubs postseason berth, he's a threat to have no-hit stuff with every start.
Jason Marquis (12-9, 4.60) is the reason it's imperative for the Cubs to win a game in Phoenix. While the right-hander had a fantastic season after a disastrous 2006, his 5.36 second half ERA is most indicative of his talent level. On a good day Marquis stays down in the zone and gets his groundballs, letting the Cubs steady infield defense do the work. On bad days he hangs that slider, loses command and gives up a run per inning. The less the Cubs depend on Marquis' start, the better their chance to win the series.
Marc says: Edge Chicago, although I might give the edge to Arizona’s third and fourth starters. Zambrano and Webb are close to a wash and Lilly trumps Davis in a battle of the lefties.
Bryan says: I agree Chicago gets it, but just by a nose, because I'll be afraid in both Webb’s games as well as Owings' start.
Jose Valverde ( 1-4, 2.66, 47 SV) finally broke through to be the closer that Arizona thought he could be, and he ended up leading the majors with 47 saves in 54 opportunities. One of the big reasons for his success has been the confidence he has shown after limiting his repertoire to his fastball and splitter. The big question, though, is how well he’ll handle the postseason pressure.
Tony Pena (5-4, 3.27, 30 HLD), like his counterpart Carlos Marmol is new to the role of late-game reliever so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. Brandon Lyon (6-4, 2.68, 35 HLD) has a little more experience in the high-pressure role so he could get the call in the playoffs, but Pena has better stuff and a wider margin for error. Pena was formerly known as Adriano Rosario, before his true identity and age (he was three years older) were discovered during a Major League Baseball investigation in 2004.
Ryan Dempster (2-7, 4.73, 28 SV) is, when pitching well, the Cubs fifth-best reliever. However, when healthy this season, no one else gets consideration in close games in the ninth inning. Dempster has neither knockout stuff nor pristine command, so like the days of Rod Beck in 1998, every save comes with a good dose of sweat -- and Dempster is neither as good or as entertaining as '98 Beck!
Carlos Marmol (5-1, 1.43, 16 HLD) is the star of the show. It looked for awhile like Marmol would never give up a run this season, and while he hung a few sliders along the way, he's been as valuable as anyone during this run. Marmol is a converted catcher that seems to sling the ball with everything he has, touching 96 mph and then dropping a nasty slider that he tends to command well. Cubs fans can only pray that in the highest leverage situations, it's Marmol (and not Bobby Howry, though he has been good) that gets the ball.
Marc says: Edge to Arizona on the strength of Valverde’s season and Dempster’s inconsistencies.
Bryan says: Arizona has both the edge in depth and closer, so they win this big category.
Marc: As much as I would love to see the Diamondbacks’ youngsters advance to the next round of the playoffs, I just can’t see them overcoming the odds. Chicago has a much more well-rounded roster, as well as a collection of veterans with playoff experience, something that is sorely lacking in the desert. Arizona is also already spread thin depth-wise due to injuries. That said, the 2007 playoffs should be an extremely valuable experience for the likes of Upton, Young and Webb and could help create a juggernaut club within three to five years. I think the D-Backs’ youngsters will make the series interesting and will by no means roll over and play dead; Chicago in five.
Bryan: The three most important people for this series are all on the Cubs, in my mind: Soriano, Lee and Ramirez. If Webb and company can minimize their damage, they will absolutely win the series, as the Cubs have little else offensively. However, all three are running into October on a hot streak, so I'm picking the Cubs. It may take all five games, but Zambrano on Game 5 fumes is an even better bet than the Cy Young runner-up Webb, in my mind. Like Marc, Chicago in five.
2007 Playoffs: Not So Fast
Although every team has now played 162 games, the regular season is not quite over. That's right, after six months and 2430 games, we need one more contest to determine the final spot in the 2007 postseason.
The San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies both have a shot at joining the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, and Philadelphia Phillies as the playoff participants in the National League. In the meantime, the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, and New York Yankees are getting ready for the American League Division Series.
Today's play-in game between the Padres and Rockies will be the first one-game playoff since 1999 when the New York Mets beat Cincinnati 5-0 for the NL wild card.
OK, here is what we know as of Monday morning:
The Colorado Rockies will host the San Diego Padres at 7:37 p.m. ET tonight.
The winner of the COL-SD game will travel to Philadelphia to start the NLDS on Wednesday.
The other NLDS will match the Chicago Cubs against the Arizona Diamondbacks. This series will also begin on Wednesday in Phoenix.
Over in the American League, the Red Sox will play host to the Los Angeles Angels in a series that commences on Wednesday.
The New York Yankees will visit the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.
The Rockies, who have won a franchise-best 89 games, have the momentum, winning 13 of their final 14 games. But the Padres have a huge pitching advantage with Jake Peavy taking the mound vs. Josh Fogg. In a sort of David vs. Goliath matchup, Colorado fans should be comforted by the fact that Fogg has beaten several aces this year (including Brandon Webb in early September and Curt Schilling). Padres fans are heartened by the fact that Peavy, who has a chance to join Boston's Josh Beckett as the only 20-game winners in the majors this year, leads the NL in wins (19), ERA (2.36) and strikeouts (234).
Like Peavy, Matt Holliday is also playing for more than just a chance to extend his season. Holliday, who is leading the league with a .340 batting average (three points higher than Chipper Jones), will need to keep from going 0-for-5 tonight in order to win the batting crown. The Colorado outfielder also tops the NL in hits, doubles, total bases and has a chance to overtake Ryan Howard for the RBI title as well. Moreover, a big game tonight could make him the favorite – if he's not already – to capture the MVP award, too. Hey, voters like a good story so if Holliday does something heroic tonight, he would leap to the forefront of the MVP race, much to the angst of Jones, Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Prince Fielder, David Wright, and Hanley Ramirez.
Neither SD nor COL have ever won a World Series. The other seven have all won a world championship although nobody reading this piece has ever witnessed the Cubs doing so. Hey, everybody is allowed a bad century now and then.
Remarkably, four of the playoff participants have won a World Series this decade, yet the Yankees are the only team back from last season's postseason. With a victory tonight, San Diego can make it two returnees. Either way, MLB will have the fewest returning playoff participants since 1995 when the postseason format was increased from four to eight clubs.
In my estimation, the four best teams in the playoffs may all come from the American League. First of all, the Red Sox, Indians, Angels, and Yankees are the only clubs that won more than 90 games. Secondly, the AL dominated the NL once again, going 137-115 (.544) in inter-league play. Thirdly, did I mention that Arizona's 90 wins are the fewest by a league leader in a full season since 162-game schedules went into effect in 1961?
But the Cardinals proved just last year that none of this stuff matters all that much once October rolls around. Let the crapshoot begin.
Note: Starting tomorrow and continuing through Thursday, Baseball Analysts will have in-depth previews for each of the four division series.