The New Testament of Fielding Stats and Awards
With the World Series behind us, the baseball world now turns its attention to award winners, free agents, the Rule 5 draft, and the hot stove league. We will cover all of these matters &ndash and much more – this off-season.
The Fielding Bible Awards, chosen by a ten-man panel, were announced yesterday. The balloting is distinct from the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. The latter has been in existence since 1957 and the voting has been conducted among MLB managers and coaches since 1965. In addition to the makeup of the voters, the Fielding Bible Awards are different from the Gold Gloves in that the former is designed to honor the best defensive player at each position in the majors (as opposed to naming winners for each of the two leagues) and the outfield spots are broken down by left field, center field, and right field.
Here are the Fielding Bible Awards for the 2008 season (with commentary provided by John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions):
First Base – Albert Pujols, St. Louis
He was the only repeat winner last year, and now Albert Pujols is the only three-time winner of the Fielding Bible Award. But this time it wasn’t so easy. Mark Teixeira gave him a run for his money. Pujols finished with 90 points while Teixeira pulled in 88. One flip-flop would have garnered Teixeira at least a tie for first. Five panelists gave first place to the slugger from St. Louis while the late-season Angels star earned four. Former Angel Casey Kotchman received the final firstplace vote.
Second Base – Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
This one surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. Brandon Phillips finished third in our voting last year and now has won his first Fielding Bible Award with 86 points. I voted for Chase Utley, who had the highest Plus/Minus figure at any position this year (+47 – see the Kenny Rogers discussion below for more information about the Plus/Minus System). But the panelists who watched Phillips play more regularly have seen what he can do on the field and rewarded him accordingly.
Third Base – Adrian Beltre, Seattle
It was a runaway victory for Adrian Beltre. Beltre won the award two years ago in the closest vote we’ve ever had (the tiebreaker was invoked) but this year his 36-point margin of victory, 90 points compared to 64 points for second-place finisher Evan Longoria, was the second largest margin of victory in this year’s voting. Longoria showed that the rookie hype for him wasn’t just about his prodigious bat. He can flash the leather as well.
Shortstop – Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia
Jimmy Rollins won his first Gold Glove last year, and this year he wins his first Fielding Bible Award. The year started slow for Rollins. He didn’t begin to show up on the Plus/Minus leaderboard at shortstop until well into the season, thanks primarily to his early-season injury. But he got it going and overtook Yunel Escobar in the last week of the season to win the Plus/Minus Crown with +23. Rollins also led all shortstops with the most Good Fielding Plays (65) by a good margin over Orlando Cabrera (55) and Erick Aybar (55). Rollins’ 88 points in the voting, compared to 59 points for runner-up J.J. Hardy, represented this year’s largest margin of victory. Escobar finished third in our voting, Aybar fourth and Cabrera sixth.
Left Field – Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay
He’s baaack! And he didn’t even have to play a full season to win it. Carl Crawford missed most of the month of September but still wins the Fielding Bible Award in left field for 2008 with 87 points. It’s his second award, having won it in 2006. In 2007, he finished second to Eric Byrnes by a mere three points. Despite the missed time, Crawford held off Willie Harris’ late run for the highest Plus/Minus total in left field (+23 to +22).
Center Field – Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
Like Carl Crawford in left, Carlos Beltran won the award for center fielders in 2006, but he finished second to Andruw Jones in a close battle in 2007. Now he wins his second Fielding Bible Award with 82 points. Minnesota’s rookie speedster Carlos Gomez (74 points) finished second. Unlike Crawford, Beltran played injury free in 2008, starting 158 games in center field for the Mets, the highest total of his career.
Right Field – Franklin Gutierrez, Cleveland
Franklin Gutierrez led all right fielders in Plus/Minus last year with +20, although he did not win the Fielding Bible Award. To show that 2007 was no fluke, however, Gutierrez led them again this year with +29. Here’s the amazing part: he did it while playing only 88 games in right field in 2007 and only 97 games this year. Gutierrez received 85 total points from our panel and is a first-time Fielding Bible Award winner in right field.
Catcher – Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Maybe his brothers are getting jealous; they’re creeping up on him. But it’s a repeat Fielding Bible Award for Yadier Molina in 2008 (88 points). Jose Molina finished tied for second with Jason Kendall of the Brewers this year at 63 points. With Bengie Molina placing eighth in the voting, it’s the first time any set of two brothers, much less three, have cracked the top ten in our Fielding Bible Award voting. That record may stand for quite some time.
Pitcher – Kenny Rogers, Detroit
Greg Maddux of the Dodgers has won the National League Gold Glove Award for pitchers in 17 of the last 18 years. The American League Award has gone to Kenny Rogers of Detroit in five of the last eight years. But are they truly the two best fielding pitchers in baseball? Were they really the best in each and every year that they won? Aren’t these two guys getting pretty old? Aren’t there some younger studs out there to take their places?
The complete vote tally can be viewed here.
While in general agreement with the voters as to the winners, I was surprised to learn that Garret Anderson placed fifth among left fielders. I can't imagine that he deserves to rank in the top half of his peers, much less fifth. The good news is that no single voter rated him higher than fourth. Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski earned even more respect from me (although I don't know if that is possible given how highly I think of them) as the only two panelists who didn't vote for GA at all.
As opposed to Neyer and Posnanski, I have to wonder about Mike Murphy. Not only did the latter rank Anderson fourth but he had Robinson Cano as his No. 2 second baseman (while listing Chase Utley ninth, Dustin Pedroia tenth, and excluding Mark Ellis altogether). Murphy's credibility as a voter can also be questioned by virtue of his rankings for Fielding Bible Award winners Albert Pujols (fourth), Brandon Phillips (third), Adrian Beltre (tenth), Jimmy Rollins (third), Carl Crawford (ninth), Carlos Beltran (fifth), Franklin Gutierrez (sixth), Yadier Molina (second), and Kenny Rogers (second). Furthermore, the top players Murphy voted for at second base, third base, and shortstop didn't even rank in the top ten in total points. I have no idea why the Chicago sports radio host was asked to be on the panel, but he should be removed prior to next year's balloting if it is the goal of the Fielding Bible Awards to be taken seriously as the preeminent word on defensive excellence.
Most of the panelists value the Plus/Minus System that was developed by Dewan. A check of the 2008 and 2006-08 leaders and trailers passes my smell test. The bottom line is that fielding systems employing play-by-play data such as Dewan's Plus/Minus, David Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR), and Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are much more accurate than traditional defensive statistics like putouts, assists, errors, fielding percentage, and even range factors. For more on advanced defensive metrics, be sure to check out Evaluating Fielding by Tom Tango, the noted sabermetrician.
The Big Chase
Rain or shine, the Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Series champions. Congratulations go out to all of the players, coaches, staff, Charlie Manuel, Pat Gillick, ownership, and the City of Brotherly Love.
As a Long Beach native, I am extremely happy for Chase Utley. He and my son Joe are the same age, and they played in the Long Beach Little League and Long Beach Pony League at the same time. I had the good fortune of coaching Chase for a couple of games on a youth All-Star team but had the bad fortune of coaching against him most of the time.
Chase played on the Pirates while Joe played for the Dodgers. We didn't stand a chance. As it turned out, the Dodgers didn't have anyone who went on to play Major League Baseball. The Pirates had two. Yes, two. Chase Utley and Sean Burroughs. Although Chase is better known today, it was Sean who made headlines in those days.
You may recall that Burroughs was the star of the Long Beach Little League teams that won back-to-back world championships in 1992 and 1993. He pitched two no-hitters at Williamsport in 1993, striking out 16 in each game. Sean was also the best hitter on both All-Star teams.
Burroughs was much more than a Little League phenom. He was the ninth overall pick in the 1998 draft by the San Diego Padres. Two years later, Sean won a gold medal as a member of Team USA in the Olympics Games in Sydney, Australia. He is the only player that I am aware of who has ever won a Little League Baseball World Series championship and an Olympics gold medal.
Chase was two years older than Sean and did not play on the Little League All-Star teams that won consecutive titles. But Utley was special in his own right. I shared my thoughts on Chase in the summer of 2006 after he had extended his hitting streak to 31 games.
I have a special affinity toward Utley. Chase and my son Joe played youth baseball for Long Beach Little League. Joe played on the Dodgers. Chase played for the Pirates. One of Chase's teammates was Sean Burroughs, who just may be the best Little League player ever. Joe and Chase are two years older than Sean and neither played on the LBLL All-Star teams that Burroughs spearheaded to World Championships in 1992 and 1993.
My son's team was coached by a real estate agent and me. The Pirates were coached by an attorney and Sean's dad, Jeff, the 1974 AL MVP. Needless to say, the Dodgers never beat the Pirates in those years. Jeff was a terrific coach and the Pirates had more talent than the rest of the league combined.
I can remember Utley's tryout like it was yesterday. You could tell that he was special. Everything Chase did stood out. He roped a handful of line drives from the right side, then crossed over the plate and repeated the same feat from the left side. The kid had star written all over him.
Utley prepped at Long Beach Poly High School (hitting .525 with 12 home runs his senior year in one of the toughest leagues in the country) and was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round (76th overall) of the 1997 amateur draft. He turned down a large signing bonus from his hometown team, played three seasons at UCLA (earning All-American honors his junior year), and was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round (15th overall) in the 2000 draft. He signed that summer, hit over .300 in low-A, advanced to high-A in 2001 and triple-A in 2002. Utley tore up the International League the second time through in 2003 and got called up to the majors that summer.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder was one of the best-hitting middle infielders in 2005 and has become one of the best hitters period this year. A fan favorite, Utley's makeup is off the charts. He plays hard all the time, running out groundballs and hustling in the field and on the basepaths. Chase is well-liked and respected by his teammates, as well as those of us who were fortunate to witness his beginnings.
Like his former teammate Burroughs, Utley can now lay claim to being a world champion. The second baseman did his part, hitting .292/.380/.535 with 33 HR during the regular season and adding three more homers during the postseason while making a memorable and decisive defensive play in the final game of the series.
With the score knotted at three in the top of the seventh and the go-ahead run on second base, Chase ranged to his right to field a ground ball off the bat of Akinori Iwamura, pump-faked a throw to first, and made an off-balance throw to home plate to nab a surprised Jason Bartlett for the final out of the inning. It was the type of heads-up play that has distinguished Utley throughout his baseball career, from Little League to Pony League to high school to college to the minors and for the last six years in the majors.
As fate would have it, Utley and Burroughs almost faced each other in the World Series. San Diego traded Sean to Tampa Bay for Dewon Brazelton in December 2005. Unfortunately, Burroughs only played eight games for the Devil Rays and was released in August 2006. He never played another game in the big leagues.
Two months before Burroughs was released, Tampa Bay selected Evan Longoria with the third overall pick in the amateur draft. Not only were Burroughs and Longoria third basemen but both are Long Beach products – just like the 2008 World Series champion Chase Utley.
The 2007-08 Winter Trading Season in Review
With the World Series underway it means that the off-season is not far off. In baseball, though, the off-season is never a quiet one; there is always something going on. Last year, the stretch from November to February was a busy time with a number of big names changing jerseys, including Erik Bedard, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, and Dan Haren. There were also a number of top prospects changing hands, such as Chris Tillman, Deolis Guerra, and Cameron Maybin.
This week, I am going to review how those big trades (at least one star name, plus five or more players involved) worked out for both clubs. Next week, I am going to take a look at some of the smaller trades of the off-season that had larger-than-expected impacts on one or more club.
The Twins, Rays exchange young, potential stars
OF Delmon Young
IF Brendan Harris
OF Jason Pridie
To Tampa Bay:
RHP Matt Garza
SS Jason Bartlett
RHP Eduardo Morlan
This trade may have had more impact on the 2008 Major League season than any other trade made all of last year. Not only did the Rays receive a solid Major League starter and an excellent defensive shortstop, but the club also re-made the clubhouse atmosphere with the expulsion of Delmon Young. Matt Garza became a solid No. 3 starter for the Rays behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields. He won 11 games and pitched 184 innings with just 170 hits allowed. Jason Barlett was hurt for a while but he gave the pitchers confidence when he was on the field, which allowed them to pitch to contact. In Minnesota, Delmon Young had an OK season but he failed to hit for power (.115 ISO) and continued to struggle with his patience (5.7 BB%) and pitch selection. Brendan Harris appeared in 130 games with modest success, but is really a utility player. Both Jason Pridie and Eduardo Morlan spent the majority of the season in the minors.
Winner before 2008: Even
Winner after 2008: Tampa Bay
Oakland improves depth with Dan Haren deal
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Connor Robertson
OF Carlos Gonzalez
LHP Brett Anderson
OF Aaron Cunningham
1B Chris Carter
LHP Dana Eveland
LHP Greg Smith
The Arizona Diamondbacks secured a talented No. 2 starter - something a lot of teams lack - but they gave up a great deal of depth to obtain Dan Haren, who is signed through 2013. Haren had a stellar 2008 with 204 hits allowed in 216 innings. He posted rates of 1.67 BB/9 and 8.58 K/9 - with an eye-popping 5.15 K/BB. He also lowered his home runs allowed and batting average against for the third straight season. Connor Robertson spent the majority of the season working out of the Triple-A bullpen but he appeared in six big league games.
In Oakland, Carlos Gonzalez appeared in 86 games for in the Majors at the age of 22 and showed his youth - but also his potential. The toolsy outfielder hit .242/.273/.361 with 22 doubles and four homers in 302 at-bats. The outfielder, who split time between center field and right field, obviously needs some more seasoning after posting rates of 4.1 BB% and 26.8 K%, with an ISO of .119. Both Dana Eveland and Greg Smith provided more than what was expected of them - although they both faded significantly in the season half of the season. Eveland made 29 starts and posted an ERA of 4.34. He struck out 118 batters and allowed 172 hits in 168 innings of work. His nemesis, though, was the walk. Eveland posted a walk rate of 4.13 (77 in total). Smith made his Major League debut in 2008 and started 32 games for Oakland. He allowed just 169 hits in 190.1 innings, but walked 87 batters (4.11 BB/9). Smith also posted a strikeout rate of 5.25 K/9. He will have to improve upon his GB% of 34.2 if he is going to have a long stay in the Majors, especially given that his fastball averages out at 87.6 mph. Brett Anderson had a solid minor league season and the 22-year-old lefty ended the season by pitching in the Triple-A playoffs. He could contribute at the Major League level in 2009. Aaron Cunningham was slowed by injuries early in the 2008 season, but he rebounded and ended the year in Oakland and should be a future MLB fourth outfielder - at the very least. Chris Carter, who began the winter as a White Sox prospect only to don three different jerseys, is an all-or-nothing slugger who dominated the California home run race with 39 bombs (13 more than the next closest hitter). That total was also second in all of Minor League Baseball, next to veteran Dallas McPherson, who hit 42 in Triple-A.
Winner before 2008: A draw
Winner after 2008: A draw, leaning Oakland's way
Sometimes trades don't work out the way you think they will...
3B Miguel Cabrera
LHP Dontrelle Willis
OF Cameron Maybin
LHP Andrew Miller
C Mike Rabelo
RHP Eulogio de la Cruz
RHP Dallas Trahern
RHP Burke Badenhop
After this trade, just about everybody in baseball - yours truly included - handed Detroit the World Series title. But clubhouse chemistry went awry in The Motor City and players had disappointing seasons. Miguel Cabrera had a terribly slow start to the season and he was criticized for coasting on his new, fat contract. By the time the season ended, though, most of his stats were in line with his career norm - except perhaps his average (.292, the lowest since his rookie season) and on-base percentage (8.3 BB%, again the lowest since his debut year). All-in-all, though, he still managed to hit 37 homers (.245 ISO) and drive in a career-high 127 runs. Former young stud Dontrelle Willis was a mess on the mound with a 9.38 ERA and 35 walks allowed in 24 innings of Major League work. That was a far cry from his 22-win 2005 season at the age of 23. Detroit handed him a three-year deal after the trade for about $30 million so they are stuck with him for the next couple of seasons.
For Florida, the trade netted some interesting names but they did not do much in 2008. The key to the trade was young outfielder Cameron Maybin, but he spent the majority of the season in Double-A. His line of .277/.373/.456 in 390 at-bats was good, but not great, especially when you look at the fact he struck out 31.8% of the time with just 13 home runs. On the plus side, he had a late-season promotion to Florida and hit .500 in 32 at-bats. Andrew Miller, the second key piece of the trade, probably should have spent the season in Triple-A rather than in the Majors where he posted a 5.87 ERA in 29 big league appearances - including 20 starts. He posted a walk rate of 4.70 BB/9, but a respectable strikeout rate of 7.46 K/9. He allowed 120 hits in 107.1 innings of work. Mike Rabelo was supposed to fill Florida's void behind the dish but he hit just .202/.256/.294 in 109 at-bats during an injury-filled season. Burke Badenhop appeared in 13 Major League games - including eight starts - but posted a 6.08 ERA with 55 hits and 21 walks allowed in 47.1 innings. Eulogio de la Cruz had a respectable season in the Triple-A starting rotation but he posted an 18.00 ERA in six Major League games with 15 hits and 11 walks allowed in nine innings. Dallas Trahern posted a 6.16 ERA in 21 Triple-A starts.
Winner before 2008: Detroit
Winner after 2008: Possibly a draw?
Baltimore fleeces Seattle
LHP Erik Bedard
OF Adam Jones
LHP George Sherrill
RHP Chris Tillman
RHP Kam Mickolio
LHP Tony Butler
If you're a Seattle fan, this trade still makes you sick. Erik Bedard was OK when he was able to pitch but then he broke down - again. He posted a 3.67 ERA and allowed just 70 hits in 81 innings of work. But he also allowed a few too many big home runs (1.00 HR/9) and his command was lacking (4.11 BB/9). There is a chance that Bedard could get non-tendered this winter, which would really, really burn. In exchange for the frustrating Bedard, Seattle gave up a closer, a possible future star outfielder, and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. George Sherrill saved 31 games, although he faltered in the second half of the season. Adam Jones' game showed some holes, including a 4.6 BB%, but he played with energy, continued to show improvements and oozed potential. Chris Tillman, 20, could be one of the Top 5 pitching prospects in baseball. In Double-A, he allowed just 115 hits and 65 walks in 135.2 innings. He also struck out 154 batters. Kam Mickolio does not have a huge ceiling but he made his MLB debut in 2008 and should be a serviceable reliever.
Winner before 2008: Seattle, barely
Winner after 2008: Baltimore
Twins surprise everyone by sending Johan Santana to... the Mets?
To New York (NL):
LHP Johan Santana
OF Carlos Gomez
RHP Deolis Guerra
RHP Kevin Mulvey
RHP Philip Humber
Minnesota had a number of suitors for Johan Santana but the organization played its cards poorly and lost out on a number of potential suitors. When Santana started grumbling, the Twins acted hastily and took a deal from New York that never did look all that appetizing - and it looks even less so now. Santana's stuff was not quite as sharp as it used to be, but he still helped the Mets and led the club in almost every pitching category, including wins (16), innings pitched (234.1) and strikeouts (206).
For the Twins, Carlos Gomez was the only player to establish himself in the Majors after the trade. He shows potential and is still young at the age of 22, but he really didn't hit for average, power or get on-base, with a line of .258/.296/.360. He does, though, currently offer speed (33 SB) and defence. Deolis Guerra has been disappointing since the trade and his stuff took a big step back this past season in High-A ball. He posted a 5.47 ERA and allowed 71 walks and struck out just 71 batters in 130 innings. Both Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey spent the majority of the season in Triple-A with modest results and will likely have to break into Minnesota as relievers.
Winner before 2008: New York
Winner after 2008: New York
Baltimore learns about the risks of acquiring young pitching
SS Miguel Tejada
RHP Matt Albers
LHP Troy Patton
OF Luke Scott
3B Mike Costanzo
RHP Dennis Sarfate
Houston took a gamble on Miguel Tejada after his name had been dragged through the mud a bit, and then it got dragged through the muck again after the trade. Regardless, the offensive-minded shortstop had a solid season with a line of .283/.314/.415 in 632 at-bats. His power, though, continued to be MIA with an ISO of .131. Tejada scored 92 runs but his total of 66 RBI was the lowest in 10 seasons. He is no longer the impact hitter that he once was. Over in Baltimore, the club was thankful for receiving Luke Scott in the deal. The outfielder, who did not secure a role in the Majors until he was 28, posted a line of .257/.336/.472 with 23 homers and 65 RBI in 475 at-bats. Pitchers Matt Albers and Troy Patton were derailed by injuries. Albers is rehabbing a partially torn labrum, while Patton underwent surgery for a similar, but more severe, injury. Dennis Sarfate spent the season in the Baltimore bullpen and allowed 62 hits in 79.2 innings. He posted rates of 7.00 BB/9 (no that is not a typo) and 9.72 K/9. Continuing with out theme, he pitched with an injured shoulder all season and was going to have surgery at the end of the year. Mike Costanzo had a disappointing season at Triple-A.
Winner before 2008: Baltimore
Winner after 2008: Baltimore
Be sure to check back next week when we take a look at some of the "smaller trades" from the winter of 2007-08, that still had big impacts on the 2008 season.
Rising Stars Collide in Arizona
Are you ready to catch a rising star? The Arizona Fall League will feature the third annual Rising Stars Showcase today, which will pit the brightest young prospects in baseball against each other for bragging rights. Players are selected to the teams by scouting and minor league directors from each Major League organization, in consultation with Arizona Fall League executive director Steve Cobb and his baseball personnel staff.
The most impressive prospects on the American Division team include: Tommy Hanson (Atlanta), Aaron Poreda (Chicago AL), Sean West (Florida), Gordon Beckham (Chicago AL), Logan Morrison (Florida), Brett Wallace (St. Louis), Daniel Murphy (New York NL), and Josh Reddick (Boston).
Daniel Murphy, who is in Arizona to work on his versatility, is currently hitting .412/.500/.588 in 34 at-bats. He was scored 12 runs, in part due to eight walks (and just three strikeouts). Gordon Beckham, a 2008 first round draft pick, has just five hits in 20 at-bats but three of those have been doubles. Another 2008 first rounder, Brett Wallace, who made it all the way to Double-A in his debut, has been struggling. He is currently hitting .133/.188/.267 in 30 at-bats. Josh Reddick has followed up a solid 2008 regular season with a slow start to the AFL. He is currently hitting .211/.225/.342 in 38 at-bats. Reddick has just one walk to go along with 16 strikeouts. Logan Morrison is currently hitting .423/.423/.654 in 26 at-bats, with one home run and five runs scored. He could very well be knocking on the door of the first base job in Florida next season.
Fellow Marlins' prospect Sean West has a 3.38 ERA through three games. He has allowed 11 hits, three walks and nine strikeouts in 10.2 innings pitched. Tommy Hanson has been lights-out in Arizona and has yet to allow a run in three starts. He has allowed just one hit and three walks in 8.2 innings of work. He has also struck out 14. Aaron Poreda, working out of the bullpen, has dominated with no runs allowed in five games. He has allowed five hits, two walks and eight strikeouts.
The key players for the National Division team include: Philip Hughes (New York AL), Jeremy Jeffress (Milwaukee), Brian Matusz (Baltimore), J.P. Arencibia (Toronto), Matt Wieters (Baltimore), Carlos Triunfel (Seattle), Julio Borbon (Texas), and Greg Halman (Seattle).
Matt Wieters just keeps on hitting. The catcher, who made it to Double-A in his debut season, is currently hitting .345/.486/.483 in 29 at-bats. He is almost certain to make his MLB debut in 2009, if healthy. Julio Borbon is another player who had a breakout 2008 but he is finding the league to be a little bit tougher. He is currently hitting .229/.357/.286 in 35 at-bats. Borbon has just one extra base hit, seven walks and 10 strikeouts. Catcher J.P. Arencibia may be a little worn out after a long season. He is in the AFL specifically to work on his plate discipline after walking just 18 times in 510 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. In 35 at-bats in the fall league he has just three walks... so he's improving slowly. Carlos Triunfel, one of the youngest players in the league, is hitting .311/.347/.467 in 45 at-bats. He has struck out just five times and has scored 13 runs. Fellow Seattle prospect Greg Halman is hitting .282/.333/.538 in 39 at-bats. He has walked twice with 16 strikeouts.
Brian Matusz, a 2008 first round pick, made his pro debut in the AFL after signing late in the year. He has a 1.29 ERA in two starts. He has allowed just three hits and two walks in seven innings. Matusz also has nine strikeouts. Philip Hughes has not been overly sharp in the fall league, with a 5.68 ERA. He has allowed 12 hits and eight walks in 12.2 innings. Hughes also has 11 strikeouts. One really bad outing has skewed Jeremy Jeffress' numbers. He currently has a 12.86 ERA in seven innings. He has allowed 10 hits and six walks to go along with seven strikeouts.
Be sure to check back at the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League, in late November, for a more detailed look at some of the best, worst - and most surprising - performances by some of the Major League's future stars.
Game One - A Look Back
David Pinto offers a good look at how Philadelphia took down Tampa Bay in Game One last night.
The Phillies dominated game one much more than the 3-2 score indicates. Hamels and the bullpen shut down the Rays offense, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out eight. The Phillies picked up plenty of hits, but the Rays pitching was in bend, don't break mode. They allowed no hits with runners in scoring position, but one of those ground outs scored a run. That was the difference maker. One or two big hits and the Phillies win this game in a blow out.
I decided I would use Game One as an historical jumping-off point of sorts. Thank goodness for Baseball Reference.
Chase Utley became only the third second baseman to homer in the first inning of Game One of the World Series. Joe Morgan did it against the Yanks in 1976, Craig Counsell homered off of Mike Mussina in the 2001 Fall Classic and in a game I attended, Dustin Pedroia took Jeff Francis deep last year at Fenway.
Looking closer, or rather altering the parameters, a second baseman has homered just 18 times in Game One of the Series and on just three occasions has a second baseman playing for the visitors homered. The last time a second baseman homered for the road team in Game One of the World Series? Why it was none other than Joe Morgan, this time playing for the very same franchise as Utley in the 1983 Series off of Baltimore's Scott McGregor. And damn, now that I look, McGregor was very good in 1983; 260 innings, 3.18 ERA. As Larry David would say, PRETT-AYY, PRETT-AYY good.
None of this is particularly earth shattering. But it's the World Series, an event whose significance needs no further explanation. The World Series! And it doesn't matter if the Yankees or Dodgers or Red Sox or Cubs or Rays or Robins or Athletics or Senators or Phillies are participating. It's a big deal, and worthy of its own historical backdrop.
As I write this, Carl Crawford just homered. He is the sixth left fielder in history to go yard for a home team trailing Game One of the World Series. The last one to do it with two outs? Tom Tresh, who passed away just last week, in 1963.
The following season, Tresh was a monster against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. He hit .273/.414/.636 and launched what might have been one of the biggest home runs in World Series history. The Series was tied heading into Game 5 and in the top of the ninth with two outs, Mickey Mantle at second and his team trailing Bob Gibson and the Cards 2-0, Tresh hit a two-run home run to spoil Gibson's shutout and send the game into extras. Unfortunately, the Yanks gave up three in the top of the tenth. Who was the hero for St. Louis? 2008 World Series color commentator for FOX, Tim McCarver, who hit a three-run home run off of Pete Mikkelsen to send the Cards back home with a 3-2 series lead. St. Louis would win it in seven.
See what I did there? I closed the loop. Tied it all back. Seriously, B-Ref's Play Index is more fun than anyone should be allowed.
World Serious Predictions
The World Series is finally upon us.
Courtesy of ESPN.com, the following bullet points provide a concise look at the matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies.
• The Rays have home-field advantage because the AL won the All-Star Game this season. That game was won by Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir and lost by Phillies pitcher Brad Lidge. Evan Longoria drove in the tying run with an eighth-inning hit off former Phillies closer Billy Wagner.
• This is the first time since 2001 that the World Series was between two division winners (i.e., no wild-card team).
• This is the first East vs East World Series matchup since 2003 (Marlins defeated Yankees).
• By making it to the World Series for the first time, we can cross the Rays off the list of teams never to make the World Series. The franchises still on the list are the Rangers, the Nationals and the Mariners.
• History: The Rays are 10-5 all-time against the Phillies, though the teams haven't met since June 18, 2006. That was eons ago, for the Rays especially, whose starters the last time they played the Phillies included an infield of Travis Lee, Jorge Cantu, Julio Lugo, and Aubrey Huff.
• Strength vs. strength: The Rays were baseball's best home team during the regular season. The Phillies' 44-37 road record was the best in the NL.
• Strength vs Weakness: The Rays were 12-6 against NL teams this season. The Phillies were 4-11 against the American League, second-worst among NL teams (Padres, 3-15).
Game 1: Phillies (Hamels, 14-10, 3.09) @ Rays (Kazmir, 12-8, 3.49) 10/22, 8:00 PM ET
* * *
Game 2: Phillies (Myers, 10-13, 4.55) @ Rays (Shields, 14-8, 3.56) 10/23, 8:00 PM ET
Game 3: Rays (Garza, 11-9, 3.70) @ Phillies (Moyer, 16-7, 3.71) 10/25, 8:00 PM ET
Game 4: Rays (Sonnanstine, 13-9, 4.38) @ Phillies (Blanton, 9-12, 4.69) 10/26, 8:00 PM ET
Game 5: Rays @ Phillies 10/27, 8:00 PM ET
Game 6: Phillies @ Rays 10/29, 8:00 PM ET
Game 7: Phillies @ Rays 10/30, 8:00 PM ET
To find out which team is going to win the World Series, I turned to our Designated Hitters, participants in our "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?" series that kicked off Baseball Analysts, and a number of baseball insiders for their predictions.
I asked our guests three questions:
1. Which team will win?
2. How many games?
Without further ado, here is what our esteemed friends have predicted:
Peter Abraham, Yankees beat writer for The Journal News and LoHud.com (via The LoHud Yankees Blog):
2. 6 games.
3. The Phillies were dreadful in interleague games this season, which doesn't bode well for the Series. The Rays have a superior rotation and with their power to left field, should be able to score runs at Citizens Bank Park. Mocking Joe Maddon for emphasizing winning in spring training might not have been such a good idea in retrospect.
David Appelman, creator of FanGraphs.com:
2. 6 games.
3. Howard, Rollins, Utley, Burrell, Werth, and Victorino. The Phillies have a superior lineup and the Rays' power output cannot continue. The Rays 20% HR/FB in the ALCS shouldn't happen again. Rays probably have an edge in the pitching department but Hamels has been stellar and and I think Myers is in for a better series. Just a hunch.
Alex Belth, founder and lead writer for Bronx Banter:
2. 6 games.
3. I'm picking the Rays because I'm an AL fan, I'm familiar with the team, I enjoy watching them, and I'm impressed that they beat the Sox in 7. However, I'm not overly confident in the selection even if it proves to be a popular one. I could see the Phillies pulling out an upset in five. But I'm drinking the Tampa Bay Kool Aid, so nevermind my hunches, go Rays.
Larry Borowsky, Viva El Birdos:
J.C. Bradbury, economist and operator of Sabernomics.com:
2. 6 games.
3. Two reasons. One, the Rays don't hit lefties so good, and they'll have to face Hamels and Moyers twice each in this series.They'll be lucky to win 2 of those 4 games. Second, I don't like the Tampa Bay bullpen ---- it only has 2 pitchers (Balfour and Price) who can throw the ball past anybody, and the workhorse of the relief corps, Wheeler, is just not very good. Maddon needed 4 relievers to get 3 outs in the 8th inning of Game 7, which speaks volumes; Bradford, Howell, and Wheeler can't be trusted too far, and Maddon knows it. Price, who did not appear in the ALDS and was the pitcher of last resort in the ALCS, may (should) have earned himself a bigger role with his Game 7 performance; if he's used in meaningful situations in the W.S., it will make the TB bullpen a lot better.
2. 7 games
3. I believe the Rays have the edge with starting pitching.
Maury Brown, founder of the Business of Sports Network, including The Biz of Baseball:
2. 6 games
3. Predicting who will win the World Series is a 50/50 endeavor, so I'm in on this action. The match-ups should be great with the Phillies getting a slight edge in the pitching dept. while the Rays have power and speed on the offensive side.
Other observations? I predict there will be bar room conversations around the country like, "Is that Dave Navarro behind the plate for the Rays? Wasn't he in Jane's Addiction?" Odds are that FOX will figure out some way to insert "More Cowbell" into every bases loaded jam sequence when games are at the Trop. And finally, I predict that Bud Selig will say for the umpteenth time during the Fall Classic that with the Rays going from worst to first, this is truly the Golden Age of Baseball.
Craig Calcaterra, attorney and founder of ShysterBall:
2. 6 games.
3. They'll bludgeon anyone not named Cole Hamels. The big Phillies advantage -- the bullpen -- will be neutralized as Philadelphia's will have to go to work too early, and Tampa Bay's won't have to come in under pressure.
Dave Cameron, writer for U.S.S. Mariner and Fangraphs.com:
2. 6 games.
3. Because they have significantly better #2 through #4 starters.
Mike Carminati, Mike's Baseball Rants:
2. 7 games.
3. It comes done to game 1: If Cole Hamels is effective and the Phils win game 1, I think the Phils could win in seven games. If they lose game 1, the Rays will win in 5. The thing that concerns me most about the Phils is their starting pitching behind Hamels. They might be able to ride more big postseason games from Myers and Blanton, and Moyer might bounce back after two horrific postseason starts, but more than likely, they won't. The Phils offense started to pull it together, to get the whole offense firing on all cylinders, toward the end of the Dodgers series. If they start to sputter it will hurt them.
Fred Claire, former executive vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and current writer for MLB.com:
2. 6 games.
3. The Rays in the World Series—it seemed to be the Impossible Dream in the team’s history entering 2008. And just when it seemed they were assured of a spot in the Fall Classic it appeared the Rays were headed for a classic fall.
Bill Deane, baseball writer, author, editor and consultant:
The Rays have shown they have true talent in both their starting rotation and in their lineup. They are young and they are good. The biggest concern I thought the Rays faced might very well have been answered in Game 7 of the ALCS when David Price closed the door on the Boston Red Sox.
Joe Maddon’s team no longer has to worry about letting a golden opportunity slip away. The young Rays simply need to turn their wonderful young talent loose and let the rest take care of itself.
The 2008 World Champions—the Tampa Bay Rays. As strange as it may sound, that’s why they play the games.
2. 7 games.
3. Because I'm an NL fan, and I don't want to be torn between rooting for my prediction or rooting for the NL team.
David Gassko, writer for The Hardball Times and Heater Magazine:
2. 7 games.
3. They have home field advantage, they play in the tougher league, and their performance this season was no worse than the Phillies. Anything can happen in a seven-game series, but the Rays definitely have to be the favorites.
Brian Gunn, screenwriter and past proprietor of Redbird Nation:
2. 7 games.
3. These are two fairly similar teams (both teams can mash, both can run, both have killer bullpens, neither hits for average all that well). The difference is that the Phillies have one truly reliable starter and the Rays have three. That's why I'm taking the Rays (although personally I hope I'm wrong; the Phillies -- by almost any measurement the least successful of the original 16 franchises -- need a little love from the baseball gods).
Marc Hulet, Baseball Analysts and FanGraphs.com:
2. 5 games.
3. The Rays hitters are motivated. How else can you explain the numbers they posted during the League Championship Series against the Red Sox - a veteran team that is hardly a pushover?
The young trio of Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena was almost unbelievable in the series, especially in terms of power numbers. Combined throughout the seven games, the group hit 11 home runs and drove in 25 runs. Hardly a one-dimensional offence, the Rays also stole 10 bases and took their fair share of walks (25). In the NL League Championship Series, the Phillies hit five homers as a team and a pitcher (Brett Myers) was tied for second on the club with three RBI. As for pitching, the Phillies starters were hardly dominant by allowing 30 hits and 13 walks in 25.1 innings. In 43.2 innings, the Rays starters allowed 37 hits and 18 walks.
Kevin Kernan, columnist and blogger for the New York Post:
2. Not provided.
3. After picking the Rays to win in seven games against the Red Sox in the New York Post, I'm staying on their bandwagon.
Jonah Keri, ESPN columnist:
MLB now stands for Mediocre Baseball League. Most organizations are run so poorly that it doesn't take much to separate yourself from the crowd. The Phils and Rays are the two best teams because both have instinctive, talented and hard-nosed ballplayers. Cole Hamels is the difference-maker for the Phils. David Price is the weapon Joe Maddon needed in his bullpen. The Rays have the AL edge.
2. 7 games.
Mark Langill, baseball author and publications editor/team historian for the Los Angeles Dodgers:
3. Good starting pitching (big extra day off for Garza), great defense, a shutdown rookie in the bullpen (Price) and the two hottest sluggers still going (Upton and Longoria) by a nose over a loaded Phillies attack.
2. 5 games.
3. This is our generation’s 1969 Mets, although Longoria is a little young to play Ed Charles.
Joe Lederer, guest columnist and assistant general manager, Riverwalk Golf Club:
2. 6 games (W-L-W-L-W-W).
3. Phillies have the best pitcher (Hamels), best closer (Lidge) and two best hitters (Utley and Howard) among the two teams. If Hamels can pick up the win on the road in Game One, I have no doubt with their big bats behind them, Myers (twice), Moyer, Blanton and Hamels (again) can pick up three more wins.
Tom Lederer, guest columnist and assistant director, recreation and community services for the city of Lakewood (CA):
2. 7 games.
3. I see it as a tight matchup. I give the edge to Tampa Bay based on starting pitching. The deeper Philly bullpen will get called often in the Moyer and Blanton starts. I see David Price continuing his success and playing a key role. If Game 7 comes down to Garza vs. Moyer, look for me in the cashier's line.
Will Leitch, contributing editor at New York Magazine:
2. 7 games.
3. I think it comes down to David Price. He makes the Phillies’ bullpen advantage slightly less vast. I hope Ryan Howard doesn’t mind facing Price about, oh, six times in the late innings this series.
Mitchel Lichtman, research analyst, author, and contributor to Inside the Book:
2. 6 games.
3. The Rays have around a 57% chance of winning. They have a 19% chance of winning in 6 and 18% of winning in 7, so I have to go with Rays in 6.
John Manuel, editor, Baseball America:
As to the “why,” both teams are about equal in talent relative to their respective leagues, but since the AL is the superior league overall, the Rays are the superior team, again, to the tune of around having a 57% chance of winning a 7-game series.
More specifically, the weak link for the Phillies is Moyer. If he is the game 3 pitcher (rather than Blanton), he pitches twice in the series. Also a weak link for the Phillies is a RH DH (to play against Kazmir). They essentially have none. Not that the Rays have much of a RH DH either. Other than those items, the teams are very similar in talent. Both are more vulnerable to LH pitching of course. If Manuel continues to bat Utley and Howard back-to-back, and there is no reason to think that is going to change, the Phillies will be very vulnerable to the Rays’ bullpen which has 3 good left-handers, in Howell, Miller, and Price. If I am the Rays manager, I will bring in a lefty to oppose those two batters, any time late in the game when the leverage is decently high.
2. 6 games.
3. Talent, talent, talent -- Rays have a No. 1 overall pick (Price), No. 2 (Upton), No. 3 (Longoria), plus former first-rounders like Baldelli, Pena, Floyd, Howell (supplemental), Kazmir . . . just a very talented team that has been led well by veterans and the rare manager who makes a difference, Joe Maddon. Philly has talent and a better bullpen plus an ace in Hamels, but I think Tampa's offense is more varied, it's more athletic, better defensively and has better starting pitching.
Rob Neyer, author and senior writer at ESPN.com:
2. 5 games.
3. The Phillies simply can't match up with the Rays. Cole Hamels is better than anyone he'll face, but otherwise every Tampa Bay starter will have the edge on his mound opponent. And the Phillies' lineup, though solid, wouldn't score more runs than the Rays if both were in the same league. Brad Lidge is the Phillies' one obvious edge ... but as good as David Price has looked lately, even that's not a sure thing.
Joe Posnanski, sports columnist for the The Kansas City Star, baseball author and blogger:
2. 7 games.
3. It has been a while since we have had a great, close World Series. These things usually go in cycles. Plus this one reminds me a lot of '91, with two relatively surprising teams playing, and that series was incredible. I pick the Rays because of their starting pitching, home field, and, yeah, a little bit of destiny.
John Rickert, associate professor of mathematics at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and member of the Society for American Baseball Research since 1983:
2. 7 games.
3. Home field advantage is the largest difference between the teams.
Bob Rittner, guest columnist and retired history teacher:
2. 6 games.
3. Rays bullpen matches up well against Phillies lefty leaning lineup and bench and Rays bench is more varied than Phillies. Also, Rays starting staff is deeper.
Peter Schmuck, sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun and past president of the Baseball Writers Association of America:
2. 6 games.
3. The Rays have home-field advantage and a huge psychological advantage after holding off that late charge by the Red Sox in the ALCS. They'll be very loose and the Phillies will be a little rusty after a week's layoff.
Dave Studeman, co-owner of The Hardball Times and editor of The Hardball Times Annual:
2. 7 games.
3. I think this will be a great Series, featuring two evenly matched, interesting teams. I like the Rays' starting pitching better, but I think the Phillies have the better bullpen and offense. For those who like intangibles and dramatic storylines, the Series will feature the oh so woefully inexperienced Rays vs. the prospect of a Brad Lidge meltdown. What fun!
I would look for fielding plays to make a difference. The Rays have had good defense this year, though they made some errors in the second half of the Boston series. The Phillies' defense is even better.
I have making predictions--can't we all just get along and enjoy the games???--but if forced I will pick the Rays in seven. The AL is the superior league and the Rays' starting pitching is looking good.
Patrick Sullivan, Baseball Analysts:
2. 7 games.
3. Philadelphia's bullpen provides the big edge. Barring some masterful deployment of heretofore lesser options like David Price and perhaps even Edwin Jackson by Joe Maddon, I think the Rays will be outclassed in the relief pitching department. Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson are better than any option at the Rays' disposal. Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler seem to be limping to the finish line.
Bob Timmermann, librarian and operator of The Griddle:
2. 6 games.
3. The Phillies will win one start from Hamels and scratch out another from one of the other starters, but the Rays showed that they can hit the ball over the fence. Frequently. More frequently than the Phillies.
John Walsh, research physicist and regular contributor to The Hardball Times:
2. 7 games.
3. The Rays won more regular season games in a more difficult league. They did exceed their pythag W-L by a few games, but even taking that into account, I favor them over the Phillies.
Jon Weisman, founder and operator of Dodger Thoughts:
2. 6 games.
3. Just betting on the better regular-season team. Cole Hamels will make the Phillies ultra-competitive, and I think the games will be close more often than not. But I just think Tampa Bay will prevail.
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Of our 32 entrants, 26 are going with Tampa Bay and only six with Philadelphia. Nobody is predicting a sweep, three (Hulet, Langill, and Neyer) see the Rays taking the Phillies in five games, 12 are picking TB in six, and ten see the AL champs needing all seven games to win it all. Among the half-dozen PHI supporters, 50% believe the NL champs will beat back the Rays in six and 50% think it will go the full seven.
As for me, I will go along with the consensus and choose the Rays in 6. Tampa Bay won the AL East, the toughest division in baseball, and the American League once again is the superior circuit. Add the fact that the Rays have home-field advantage, and it seems to me that the 200:1 long shots at the beginning of the season are poised to win their first World Series championship ever.
From Worst to the World Series
The Tampa Bay Rays pulled off the "Improbable Dream" by beating the Boston Red Sox, its American League East rival, four games to three in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. The "worst to first" Rays will now face the Philadelphia Phillies, winners of the NLCS in five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The latter series seems as if it took place last month.
Although FOX may not be happy about the World Series pairing, my sense is that baseball fans are thrilled. The Rays will be gunning for their first World Championship and the Phillies, the first professional team to lose 10,000 games, will be shooting for the club's second World Series victory in over 125 years. In a year in which the Chicago Cubs seemed destined for the October Fall Classic, the lovable losers-turned-World Series champs will either be the Rays or the Phillies.
Before delving into a World Series preview, I'd like to cover the highlights (and lowlights) from last night's exciting finale between the Rays and Red Sox.
ALCS MVP Matt Garza (2-0, 1.38) impressed the baseball world by overpowering Boston twice in the seven-game series. The 24-year-old right hander limited the Sox to eight hits and two runs while striking out 14 batters over 13 innings. Garza mixed a mid-90s fastball with a couple of nasty breaking balls while working into the eighth inning of Game 7. After allowing a solo home run to Dustin Pedroia, the second batter of the game, Garza didn't give up another hit until Jason Bay singled with one out in the seventh. In between, he commanded the strike zone, struggling against Pedroia (HBP and BB) only.
During the pre-game "analysis" on TBS, Dennis Eckersley said, "It's hard to beat a pitcher like (Lester) twice in a series." Sure, if you happen to make that comment *before* the series begins. But, it's no more difficult to beat a pitcher like him a second time once you've beaten him the first time. As a result, Eck's statement was one of those cliches that former players-turned-analysts like to perpetuate.
Speaking of the announcers, Buck Martinez made way too big of a deal about James Shields' 4-5 record after a Tampa Bay loss in the early going during Game 6. Talk about small-sample size? Besides, what was the team's record after a loss? What was his ERA (and other pitching stats during those games)? Who were the opponents? Where were the games played? What is his career record in such situations? Moreover, Shields was 4-5, not 1-8 or 0-9. Geez. And to think statheads don't know what they are talking about? What about non-statheads when they use stats? Now, THAT is lethal.
While on the subject of statistics, I wish Chip Caray and his fellow announcers would let us know when we should rely on certain numbers and when we should "throw them out." I get easily confused. Throw out the regular season stats in the postseason (but only when they tell you). Throw out the numbers from certain matchups, such as the fact that Kevin Youkilis was 1-for-14 in his career against Garza as he dug into the batter's box for the third time in Game 6. After Youk popped out to shortstop Jason Bartlett, he was 1-for-15.
Going into a commercial break, Caray termed Game 7 "pivotal." Yup, the teams either pivot home or to the World Series.
When home plate umpire Derryl Cousins exited Game 6 with an injury, crew chief Tim McClelland took over his duties. Not surprisingly, the announcers tried to make a big deal out of these umpires' strike zones. Ron Darling took the cake when he said, "Cousins called that pitch a strike and McClelland didn't." That pitch? I didn't know that any two pitches were the same. Identical pitch types, speed, spin, and location. Yeah, right.
Darling graduated from calling Hideki Okajima a "situational" lefty when the latter entered Game 2 of the ALCS to a "crossover" reliever in Game 6. I guess those two innings Okajima pitched convinced Darling that the southpaw was more than a LOOGY. A quick check of the facts would have prevented the Yalie from putting his foot in his mouth as Okajima had appeared in 130 career games and thrown 131 innings. He worked in five of seven Championship Series games, including three stints of two innings each.
If Jason Varitek stays back on that relay throw from Pedroia, there is a chance that he would have been able to tag Carlos Pena out. Then again, he may have gotten run over a la Pete Rose and Ray Fosse. As my brother Tom texted me, that's an "occupational hazard." I quickly typed, "Yup, look what happened to Buck Martinez." Tom responded, "Bain dramage."
Regarding plays at the plate, Bay displayed a pretty weak arm when he tried to throw out Willy Aybar at home on Rocco Baldelli's single in the bottom of the fifth. The throw had nothing on it and the ball must have bounced three or four times before Aybar crossed the plate with what turned out to be the winning run.
The strikeout, throw 'em out double play that ended Boston's hopes in the top of the sixth increased Tampa Bay's win probability from 65.9% to 74.3% according to Fangraphs. You can stay abreast of these changing circumstances live via play-by-play logs and in-game box scores. It's a great way to teach yourself about win probability added and the impact of leverage.
Based on WPA, the stars of Game 7 were Garza (.263), David Price (.204), and Aybar (.169). Mark Kotsay (-.182) and Varitek (-.177) hurt the Red Sox the most. I sent my colleague Sully the following text message, "Sad you have nobody better than Kotsay and Tek in those situations." If Boston had a legitimate RHB on the bench, manager Terry Francona could have used him to pinch hit for Kotsay, perhaps forcing Joe Maddon to take Price out after walking Bay to open the ninth. But, unfortunately for the Red Sox, Tito didn't have that option available to him.
With respect to Price, as Tom asked, "how many times will the No. 1 pick influence the postseason a year later?" Think about that for a second. The team has to pull a Tampa Bay and go from worst record to a playoff spot from one year to the next. That is a rare occurrence in and of itself. Add the fact that the player chosen also needs to go from high school or college ball to the majors and have an impact at that and we're talking about an extremely low probability.
Now that Price has a win and a save under his belt, I don't think it is inconceivable that the pride of Vanderbilt will become the "go to" guy in Tampa Bay's bullpen in the World Series. It makes you think of Francisco Rodriguez and his impact in the 2002 World Series. Price also makes me think of Steve Carlton. His slider is filthy.
Hypothetical question: Had the Red Sox beaten the Rays and Price been charged with the loss, how much heat do you think Maddon would have taken for sending his prized rookie out to the mound in the ninth inning? As it turned out, the city of Tampa Bay spent the evening partying, but can you imagine the second guessing had Maddon's decision gone awry? It would have ranked right up there with Grady Little's decision to stick with Pedro Martinez in the seventh game of the 2003 ALCS and haunted Maddon for the rest of his (shortened) career.
I bet Andrew Friedman is glad he's with the Tampa Bay Rays rather than his former employer Bear, Stearns & Co., don't ya think?
And Then There Were Three
. . . OK, two-and-a-half.
After beating the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS, we now know that the Phillies will represent the National League in the World Series.
What we still don't know (quite) yet is whether Philadelphia will face the Rays or the Red Sox for all the marbles. Tampa Bay, which has scored 31 runs in winning three in a row, will send Scott Kazmir to the mound tonight in the hope that the 24-year-old southpaw can shut down Boston and send the upstart Rays to their first World Series ever.
Credit manager Joe Maddon for thinking outside the box and and making the bold decision to go with his young lefty even though the order of the rotation would suggest that James Shields should pitch Game 5 in Fenway and Kazmir in a "if necessary" Game 6 at home on Saturday. Should the Red Sox extend the Rays to a Game 7 in Tampa Bay, then Maddon will turn to Matt Garza to pitch the rubber match.
In the meantime, Boston manager Terry Francona will rely on, in order, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester to pitch the Red Sox into their third World Series in the past five years. If history is any guide, I wouldn't count Boston out at this point. In winning it all in 2004 and 2007, Francona's club came back from 3-1 deficits in the ALCS.
Although I don't like Boston's chances of pulling off this feat for a third straight time, "it ain't over 'til it's over" as they say. One simplistic way to think about the Red Sox's chances is to recognize that Boston has about a one-in-eight shot of meeting the Phillies in the World Series if we can assume that the odds of winning each of the next three games is approximately 50-50. Sure, the Red Sox are a -150 favorite tonight, but it would likely be a slight underdog in each of the next two contests should the ALCS move to Tampa Bay.
While the real odds are somewhat less than one-in-eight, Boston faces an uphill battle after putting itself in this difficult predicament. That said, you have to take these games one at a time. A Red Sox victory tonight will change the dynamics of the series and give Boston fans hope that the Los Angeles Dodgers faithful never had the chance of experiencing.
A Review: The 2007/08 Rule 5 Draft
It's safe to say last year's Rule 5 draft was not as profitable as it has been in other years. There were no Johan Santanas, Joakim Sorias, Josh Hamiltons or Dan Ugglas selected in the winter of 2007. Some rule changes by Major League Baseball have helped clubs hang on to their minor talent.
One such rule alteration allows clubs one more year to appraise their players before exposing them to the Rule 5 draft. Clubs are now allowed to wait an extra year - four years for college players and five years for high school players - before either adding them to the 40-man roster (and beginning the count down of their three option years) or passing them under the noses of 29 other clubs in the Rule 5 draft.
What this means is that fewer raw, but talented, players are making it to this draft - which was already hit or miss to begin with. The Rule 5 draft is becoming more and more about looking for a cheap 12th arm for the staff or an inexpensive 25th man - which could arguably be said for 15 of the 18 selections from one year ago (83 percent), than it is about finding a raw gem and/or future star.
For a refresher on the rules of the Rule 5 draft, click HERE.
The 2007/08 Rule 5 draft:
1 Tim Lahey RHP Tampa Bay Minnesota
2 Evan Meek RHP Pittsburgh Tampa Bay
3 Randor Bierd RHP Baltimore Detroit
4 Jose Capellan LHP San Francisco Boston
5 Carlos Guevara RHP Florida Cincinnati
6 Sergio Valenzuela RHP Cincinnati Atlanta
7 Matt Whitney 3B Washington Cleveland
8 Wesley Wright LHP Houston Los Angeles (NL)
9 Fernando Hernandez RHP Oakland Chicago (AL)
10 Brian Barton OF St. Louis Cleveland
11 Randy Wells RHP Toronto Chicago (NL)
12 R.A. Dickey RHP Seattle Minnesota
13 Steven Register RHP New York (NL) Colorado
14 Michael Gardner RHP San Diego New York (AL)
15 Travis Blackley LHP Philadelphia San Francisco
16 Garrett Guzman OF Washington Minnesota
17 Callix Crabbe 2B San Diego Milwaukee
18 Lincoln Holdzkom RHP Philadelphia Boston
Those Who Stuck:
Bierd, 24, was grabbed by the Orioles out of the Detroit organization after the 2007 season when he struck out 10.25 batters per nine innings at Double-A. The Orioles used him sparingly in 2008 and he appeared in just 29 games and pitched 36.2 innings. He allowed 48 hits and posted rates of 4.66 BB/9 and 6.14 K/9. He'll likely head back to the minors in 2009 for some more seasoning.
Guevara was attractive to the Padres because of his screwball, which he had had a fair bit of success with in the Reds organization. Guevara stuck with the Padres but he appeared in just 10 Major League games and 16 minor league games after struggling with injuries throughout the season. He was outrighted to Triple-A in July and the Reds worked out a deal to allow him to remain in the Padres' organization. He could show up in San Diego for some injury relief in 2009.
Wright had one of the biggest impacts of any of the 2008 Rule 5 draft picks. He appeared in 71 games after being nabbed out of the Dodgers organization. In 55.2 innings, Wright posted rates of 5.50 BB/9 and 9.22 K/9. The Astros' minor league system is pretty barren at the upper levels so he is likely to get another chance at the big league bullpen in 2009, with a strong spring.
Barton was one of the "bigger names" available in the 2007 Rule 5 draft. The former Indians prospect flirted with top prospect status at one point but was always considered a bit of a tweener - not enough range for center field and not enough power for the corner outfield spots. After hitting .268/.354/.392 in 153 at-bats (82 games) with the Cardinals in 2008, that is still where his future appears to lie.
Technically, Dickey did not stick with the Mariners at the end of spring training but he was able to remain in the organization thanks to a minor trade with the Twins (with whom he had signed with as a minor league free agent earlier that winter). The most "experienced" Rule 5 selection, Dickey was 33 when he was drafted and had spent 11 seasons in the minors and had appeared in 77 big league games. So what was the big deal? After years of toying around with it, Dickey officially added the knuckleball to his arsenal. In 112.1 innings this season with Seattle, Dickey posted a 5.21 ERA and allowed 124 hits. He posted rates of 4.09 BB/9 and 4.65 K/9. Despite the lackluster numbers, he makes an interesting 12th pitcher on a staff.
Meek originally stuck with the Pirates but was designated for assignment in May and was allowed to remain with his new organization. He has always had solid stuff, but Meek has never been able to command it, having posted a career minor league walk rate of 5.66 in six seasons. He posted solid minor league numbers for the Pirates in 2008 (with the best control of his career), but struggled in nine Major League games where his control deserted him again when he walked 12 batters, with seven strikeouts, in 13 innings.
Those Who Were Returned and Flourished:
Wells, 26, originally made the Blue Jays out of spring training but appeared in just one game before injuries struck the club and required the organization to seek more experienced help. Wells returned to Cubs organization and had a nice year in Triple-A. He was rewarded with a late-season call-up and in four Major League appearances overall he allowed no hits in 5.1 innings. Wells walked three and struck out one.
Register failed to make the Mets out of spring training and was returned to the Colorado organization, where he settled into the Triple-A bullpen. He allowed 57 hits in 59 innings and posted rates of 2.90 BB/9 and 7.93 K/9. Register received a brief call-up to the Majors where he posted a 9.00 ERA in 10 games, in part due to four home runs allowed.
Those Who Returned and Took A Step Back:
The selection of Valenzuela by the Reds out of the Braves' organization was a head-scratcher from the start. His stuff was OK, but he posted ERAs above 6.00 in both 2006 and 2007 in A-ball. In his career, the reliever posted poor rates of 10.56 H/9 and 4.48 K/9. He did not stick with the Reds and, in fact, was not even good enough to pitch with the Braves' organization and he was sent to the Mexican League.
The first overall pick in the draft, Lahey bounced around on waivers and through a couple of organizations without appearing in a Major League game before being sent back to the Minnesota Twins. He spent 2008 in Triple-A and allowed 69 hits in 63 innings. The former catcher posted rates of 3.29 BB/9 and 7.57 K/9.
Whitney has had an up-and-down minor league career. After a solid debut season in professional baseball, he broke his leg in the off-season playing basketball and missed the subsequent season. A few seasons later, he slugged 32 homers in A-ball, which got him drafted in the Rule 5 draft by the Nationals. With too many infielders on the roster, Washington was unable to keep him so he was sent back to the Indians where he hit just .268/.356/.404 with 10 homers in 463 Double-A at-bats.
* * *
A few of the players listed above could still turn in a few good Major League seasons but there definitely are not many players that appear capable of having a major impact in the coming seasons. That said, one of the best things about Major League Baseball is that you never know when a player might surprise you.
The 2008/09 Major League Rule 5 draft will be held on Dec. 11, 2008 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Quick ALCS Thoughts
I was at Fenway and did not get to catch much of the Phills-Dodgers game last night, so I will just share a few random thoughts on the ALCS.
My seats behind home plate offered a great glimpse of both pitchers, so let me just state the obvious; Matt Garza was incredible yesterday. He was touching 96 into the seventh inning, mixing in a devastating breaking ball and pounding the ball both inside and out. I am not sure any team could have beaten Tampa Bay yesterday with the way Garza was throwing.
Yesterday was the fourteenth time I have attended a Red Sox post-season game at Fenway Park, and it was the most dead post-season crowd there I can remember. I am not sure that means anything
Jacoby Papitek, also known as Captain Ortellsbury...here's how he has fared in 40 ALCS plate appearances: .000/.150/.000
It was fun to watch Jon Lester go at it with BJ Upton and Evan Longoria yesterday. The Rays got the better of Lester this time but there are a lot of young, terrific players for both clubs that will be seeing each other quite a bit in the coming years.
Nationalize the Nationals of the National League
If Washington is going to bail out Bear Stearns & Co., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG, then it may as well bail out the Nationals, too. I mean, why not? Aren't the Nats just as important to Washington and inept as those four financial firms?
Well, whether the Nationals are nationalized or not probably makes little difference as the club has faltered under the ownership of Major League Baseball as well as the Lerner family. Private, quasi-private, or public, I don't think it much matters.
If you're looking for failure, try these facts on for size. The Nationals...
- failed to sign their first-round draft pick Aaron Crow,
- finished with the worst record in the majors,
- compiled the lowest attendance in the first year of a new ballpark in the post-Camden Yards era, and
- produced the lowest TV and radio ratings in all of baseball.
Oh, and two weeks ago, the Nationals fired five of its six coaches (all but pitching coach Randy St. Claire). That's right, Pat Corrales (bench), Tim Tolman (third base), Jerry Morales (first base), Rick Aponte (bullpen), and Lenny Harris (hitting) were all booted. The club also dismissed strength and conditioning coordinator Kazuhiko Tomooka and video coordinator Tom Yost. I guess somebody or a bunch of bodies had to be the scapegoats as the owners, team president Stan Karsten, general manager Jim Bowden, and manager Manny Acta obviously were not to be blamed.
Other than all that, the organization had about as good of a year as those in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
The only consolation to this year's disastrous season is that the Nationals now own the first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Washington also has the No. 9B selection as compensation for not coming to terms with Crow by the August 15 deadline (or September 22 if you're a client of agent Scott Boras).
The first prize could be a big one. While lots can happen between now and June, there is little doubt that the top prospect at the moment is righthander Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State. Strasburg, 20, was the only college player to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic baseball team in Beijing this past summer. The San Diego native leapt onto the national scene when he struck out 23 against the University of Utah at Tony Gwynn Stadium on April 11. While the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder's fastball has been known to reach triple digits, many scouts rank his knee-buckling curveball as his #1 pitch. Strasburg also throws a slider that touches the high-80s.
Strasburg won't come cheap as his "advisor" is none other than uber-agent Boras. Knowing that the Nats would face a public relations dilemma if the club failed to sign its No. 1 pick two years running, you can count on Boras using such leverage when asking for perhaps as much as an eight-figure MLB contract next summer.
Although I thought the Lerners once owned the largest stake in MBNA, the credit card behemoth, I was informed by Chris Needham, the proprietor of the former blog Capitol Punishment, the family that owns the Nationals is of the same name but different. Instead, Ted Lerner is the founder of Lerner Enterprises, the largest private real estate developer in the Washington, D.C. area. While the other Lerner family sold out to Bank of America a few years ago, these Lerners are apparently learning on the job. The Lerner family is a minority partner in Lincoln Holdings, LLC group, which owns 100 percent of the NHL Washington Capitals and the WNBA Washington Mystics and 44 percent of the NBA Washington Wizards and Verizon Center. I'll let you be the judge as to whether any of these franchises have been successful.
Where's Barack Obama and his promises of change when (and where) you need it most?
Heckuva job, Tito
Last night, with an off-day looming and his most dependable workhorse taking the hill at Fenway Monday afternoon, Terry Francona:
- Stayed with Josh Beckett way, way too long.
- Needlessly prioritized lefty/righty match-ups over simply deploying good pitchers in the fifth inning.
- Got 5.2 innings out of his best four relievers on a night his opponent got 3.1 innings out of their relief ace alone.
- Gave the ball to Mike Timlin when another Red Sox pitcher with a pulse was available in a tie-game in the 12th inning.
"From a Manager's Perspective..."
I don't know what I would do without Buck Martinez's insightful commentary.
P.S. - I can do without Chip Caray and Ron Darling, too, and, in fact, wish I had made a list of all their errors and nonsense tonight.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a tremendous season and are very much capable of taking Boston out in the 2008 ALCS. Let me explain, however, why these two teams might not be as evenly matched as they appear. The important measures, as far as I am concerned, are how a team performed over the course of the season and how they performed heading into the post-season. Because rosters change, players get injured or heal up, and guys who start slow or fast often do not end the season that way, it's important to look at a team's constitution towards the end of the season. So here are some numbers.
OPS+ 108 103
ERA+ 114 114
AUG .854 .836
SEP .796 .767
LDS .700 .856
AUG .732 .738
SEP .721 .761
LDS .660 .683
So the Red Sox appeared to be slightly better all season long and they finished the season stronger than the Rays to boot. The difference, however, is not that great. Boston had a better hitting team, and by looking just at the surface, a pitching staff that was equal to Tampa Bay's. The two teams tied for second-best in the American League with a 114 ERA+.
But take a closer look at the make-up of the staffs for this series. Barring a couple of slug-fests or a game that goes many extra innings, there is not that great a chance that either team's fifth or sixth guy out of the bullpen is pitching important innings. This is relevant because baked into that 114 ERA+ number for the Rays are 81 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. That may or may not seem like a lot to you but for the Red Sox, there are 260 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. What this means is that a lot of players that will play no role whatsoever in this series (think Buchholz and Craig Hansen and David Aardsma and hopefully, Timlin) negatively impact Boston's statistics in a way that is entirely meaningless for the purposes of evaluating their chances.
The end result is that Boston is a little bit better at both plating and preventing runs. I like them in six games.
BOS-TB: A History Lesson
The defending World Series champions are set to face the team with the worst record in the majors last season to see which team will represent the American League in the 2008 World Series. There has never been anything close to such a matchup since the advent of the wild card.
Another story line is that Boston and Tampa Bay will be the tenth pairing of a wild card team and a first-place club from the same division. Let's check out how intra-division League Championship Series have played out in the past:
1996 ALCS: New York Yankees (92-70) over Baltimore Orioles* (88-74) 4-1
1997 NLCS: Florida Marlins* (92-70) over Atlanta Braves (101-61) 4-2
1999 ALCS: New York Yankees (98-64) over Boston Red Sox* (94-68) 4-1
1999 NLCS: Atlanta Braves (103-59) over New York Mets* (97-66) 4-2
2003 ALCS: New York Yankees (101-61) over Boston Red Sox* (95-67) 4-3
2004 ALCS: Boston Red Sox* (98-64) over New York Yankees (101-61) 4-3
2004 NLCS: St. Louis Cardinals (105-57) over Houston Astros* (92-70) 4-3
2005 NLCS: Houston Astros* (89-73) over St. Louis Cardinals (100-62) 4-2
2007 NLCS: Colorado Rockies* (90-73) over Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72) 4-0
* denotes wild card team
As shown, the wild card entrant has won four of nine, equal to a success rate of 44.4%. Looked at it in reverse, the division champ has defeated the second-place club 55.6% of the time.
Boston won the World Series as the wild card in 2004. The Red Sox swept the Angels in the ALDS that year, came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS, and won four straight from the Cardinals in the World Series.
The Sox are 31-16 in the postseason with two World Series championships during the Theo Epstein era. That is nothing less than a remarkable record.
History is history. It doesn't necessarily tell us anything about today. But history has a way of repeating itself and those who ignore it do so at their own peril.
Dodgers / Phills
Rob Neyer and David Cohen both make convincing cases that Philadelphia is every bit the team Los Angeles is and then some. Here's Rob:
...the Phillies have actually been hotter than the Dodgers. As Cohen also notes (not pictured above), Ryan Howard was even better than Manny Ramirez in September. And about Torre -- maybe he does carry around some sort of October fairy dust. But if so, why hasn't he used it since 2000?
Look, I know the Dodgers are better than their record. They've got Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal now, which makes a difference. But I also know the Phillies are a little bit better, and they've got the home field for this series. Which is why I'm picking them to win.
And here's David:
The Phillies finished much stronger than the Dodgers. The same story has been told about the Dodgers' strong finish. But the Phillies were 17-8 in September, the same exact record as the Dodgers for the month. And the Phillies were much stronger in the last 16 games. The Phillies finished 13-3, whereas the Dodgers went only 9-7 to finish the season.
Ok, let's dig a little deeper now. Here are some relevant numbers for the final few months of the season.
AUG .783 .716
SEP .815 .793
LDS .787 .798
AUG .731 .699
SEP .652 .740
LDS .628 .525
Run Differential for August and September
RS RA Diff
LAD 250 217 33
PHI 253 211 42
Run Differential for September
RS RA Diff
LAD 135 86 49
PHI 138 111 27
The notion that the Phillies finished stronger or that they are the better team is a difficult case to make when you take in all of the above numbers. Cohen points to the Dodgers 9-7 finish to the season but remember, Philadelphia was playing meaningful games until the very end. The Dodgers had vanquished the Diamondbacks by the time Los Angeles lost three of its last four games.
Going around the diamond, the teams look remarkably similar to me. A lot of the position players seem to cancel each other out, except that the Dodgers enjoy considerable advantages at catcher and in left field, while Philly's first and second basemen provide them a big edge. I think the Dodgers are a bit better to begin with but there is one built-in aspect to this match-up in particular that I think may dictate the series outcome. Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth pound on southpaws but are just .230/.348/.439 and .255/.360/.407 hitters respectively against righties. With the Dodgers' bevy of right-handed power arms lined up, Philly's offensive supporting cast should be neutralized.
I like the Dodgers in six.
League Championship and World Series Odds
Round two of the playoffs begins today with the Los Angeles Dodgers visiting the Philadelphia Phillies. The NL West champs are coming off a sweep of the Chicago Cubs while the NL East leaders took three of four from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Given the fact that we have already previewed the Dodgers and Phillies (as well as the additional information in the Link of the Day in the sidebar on the left), I thought it might be more fun to take a look at the League Championship and World Series odds as presented by Bodog.
Odds to Win the League Championship Series:
Los Angeles Dodgers Even
Philadelphia Phillies -120
Boston Red Sox -140
Tampa Bay Rays +120
Odds to Win the World Series:
Boston Red Sox 7/4
Tampa Bay Rays 5/2
Los Angeles Dodgers 3/1
Philadelphia Phillies 13/4
Which League will the 2008 World Series Winner come from?
National League +125
American League -155
Will either team sweep the NLCS?
Exact Series Finish:
Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0 13/1
Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 5/1
Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 4/1
Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 6/1
Philadelphia Phillies 4-0 8/1
Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 4/1
Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 5/1
Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 11/2
Exact Number of Games in the Series:
4 Game Series 9/2
5 Game Series 7/4
6 Game Series 6/5
7 Game Series 5/2
Odds to Win the 2008 NLCS MVP:
Manny Ramirez 3/1
Brad Lidge 5/1
Chase Utley 5/1
Ryan Howard 5/1
Cole Hamels 6/1
Derek Lowe 7/1
James Loney 7/1
Jimmy Rollins 7/1
Jonathan Broxton 8/1
Matt Kemp 8/1
Pat Burrell 8/1
Russell Martin 9/1
Andre Ethier 10/1
Takashi Saito 12/1
Casey Blake 15/1
Jayson Werth 15/1
Shane Victorino 15/1
Will either team sweep the ALCS?
Exact Series Finish:
Boston Red Sox 4-0 9/1
Boston Red Sox 4-1 7/2
Boston Red Sox 4-2 3/1
Boston Red Sox 4-3 5/1
Tampa Bay Rays 4-0 12/1
Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 6/1
Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 7/2
Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 11/2
Exact Number of Games in the Series:
4 Game Series 9/2
5 Game Series 7/4
6 Game Series 6/5
7 Game Series 9/4
Odds to Win the 2008 ALCS MVP:
David Ortiz 5/1
Dustin Pedroia 5/1
Jason Bay 5/1
Jonathan Papelbon 5/1
Jon Lester 6/1
B.J. Upton 7/1
Evan Longoria 7/1
Kevin Youkilis 7/1
Akinori Iwamura 8/1
Carlos Pena 8/1
Dan Wheeler 8/1
Jacoby Ellsbury 8/1
Scott Kazmir 8/1
Carl Crawford 10/1
J.D. Drew 10/1
Who do you like and in how many games and why?
Seeing Red: The Minor League System of the Year
Depth is an important thing to have in Major League Baseball. Numerous unexpected injuries occur each year. Players counted on to make important contributions are ineffective. As such, Major League Baseball teams count on their minor league systems to help fill those voids - both temporarily and permanently. The organizations also look to their systems for future stars.
So which club benefited the most from its minor league system in 2008? The answer is fairly clear-cut when you analyze each organization's Major League Roster:
The Cincinnati Reds
The most impressive thing about the Cincinnati Reds' season is that the club developed a number of very promising young players despite having the organization's top two prospects fail to succeed as expected. While Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce (albeit to a lesser extent than Bailey) struggled, players such as Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto thrived. Although technically not a rookie due to having too many innings at the Major League level, Edinson Volquez - an import from the Texas organization - was arguably Cincinnati's best starting pitcher.
The club also benefited from fill-in contributions from a large number of home-grown talents, including Adam Rosales, Paul Janish, and Daryl Thompson. Let's start off by taking a look at the biggest impacts from the minor league system in 2008.
Joey Votto 1B
Born: September 1983
MiLB Seasons: Six
How Acquired: 2002 second round pick (high school)
2008 stats: .297/.368/.506 | 156 H | 24 HR | 84 RBI | 10.1 BB% 19/4 K%
This former catcher burst upon the scene in 2008 and could have been a serious Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League, if it had not been for Geovany Soto's excellent season in Chicago. Votto, a Canadian, began the season with Scott Hatteberg acting as insurance, but the veteran was soon deemed expendable. Votto ended up appearing in 151 games for the Reds in 2008 - more than any other player on the club. He was also second in OPS-plus among the regulars at 124. Votto posted an ISO of .209 in 2008, as well as an impressive 25.2% line-drive rate. The left-handed hitter held his own against southpaws with a line of .289/.356/.477.
Jay Bruce OF
Born: April 1987
MiLB Seasons: Three and a third
How Acquired: 2005 first round pick (high school)
2008 stats: .254/.314/.453 | 105 H | 21 HR | 52 RBI | 7.4% 26.6%
So, is he Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn? Maybe he's somewhere in between? Both Kearns and Dunn were highly-regarded outfield prospects when they burst upon the scene, but Kearns (.315/.407/.500 at age 22) never fully translated his athletic skills to the diamond and has yet to fully reach his potential (and is now with Washington). Dunn (.262/.371/.578 at age 21) , has had much more success, but he has developed into a one-dimensional slugger (and is now in Arizona). The Reds are hoping for more from Bruce, who struggled in his first Major League season. Now, to be fair to Bruce, he had a pretty nice season for a 21-year-old. However, the expectations were astronomical for the budding superstar, especially after he burst onto the scene early in the season when he batted .579 and slugged 11 hits, while posting five walks and just one strikeout in his first five games. He struggled to hit for average the rest of the season, but Bruce slugged 14 homers in the final two months.
Johnny Cueto RHP
Born: February 1986
MiLB Seasons: Three
How Acquired: 2004 amateur free agent (Dominican Republic)
2008 stats: 174 IP | 9.21 H/9 | 3.52 BB/9 | 8.17 K/9 | 1.50 HR/9 | 4.90 FIP
Not even the Reds expected Cueto to be this good this fast. You can completely ignore the 9-14 record, and the ERA. Yes, Cueto was inconsistent but you cannot discount the raw numbers for the 22-year-old hurler. He showed solid control for a hard-throwing youngster and has excellent make-up. Cueto does a nice job of mixing his three-pitch repertoire, which includes a 93-95 mph fastball, a slider and a change-up (although he used this pitch just 6.7% of the time). He needs to work on avoiding the long ball and could stand to induce more ground balls (38.6 GB%), especially while pitching at home.
Born: May 1986
MiLB Seasons: Four
How Acquired: 2004 first round pick (high school)
2008 stats: 36.1 IP | 14.61 H/9 | 4.21 BB/9 | 4.46 K/9 | 1.98 HR/9 | 6.41 FIP
The numbers are ugly, especially for someone who was touted as an early favorite for the Rookie of the Year crown. Bailey allowed way too many hits and home runs. The hard-thrower also did not strike anybody out. The whispers about Bailey's lack of desire have been around since high school and, although he's only 22, it's time for him to show a little bit more at the upper levels of professional baseball. Bailey's fastball velocity was down in 2008, which is cause for concern, especially considering how much he leans on it (71.4% of the time in his MLB career). He obviously needs to rely on his secondary pitches more, including his curveball, which can be a plus pitch.
Edinson Volquez RHP
Born: July 1983
MiLB Seasons: Five
How Acquired: Traded for Josh Hamilton (Texas)
2008 stats: 196 IP | 7.67 H/9 | 4.27 BB/9 | 9.46 K/9 | 0.64 HR/9 | 3.60 FIP
As mentioned above, Volquez was not technically a rookie in 2008 nor was he a product of the Reds' system. However, he pitched just 80 Major League innings over three seasons with Texas with little or no success. Traded for Josh Hamilton - in a trade that worked out great for both clubs - Volquez blossomed in Cincinnati at the age of 25. One of the reasons for his success was that he relied more on his plus change-up to compliment his 92-95 mph fastball (and occasional breaking ball). He led the club in wins with 17 and strikeouts with 206, and was second in innings pitched with 196. The innings total can actually be seen as a negative as manager Dusty Baker overworked yet another young pitcher. Volquez also led the team in walks with 93, which resulted in a lot of pitches thrown (3,386 to be exact).
Others: A collection of minor league players filled in admirably for injured Reds in 2008. Outfielder Chris Dickerson may have secured himself a roster spot for 2009 with a solid debut at .304/.413/.608. Catchers Ryan Hanigan and Wilkin Castillo (acquired in the Dunn trade with Arizona) could battled for the back-up catcher roll in 2009. Infielders Paul Janish and Adam Rosales both struggled with the bat but showed enough on defence to be considered for bench roles next season. Pitcher Daryl Thompson, a former top prospect in the Montreal/Washington system, finally overcame injury woes and made his much-anticipated debut and could be in line for more innings in 2009.
The Runner Up: The Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins narrowly missed the American League playoffs despite relying on a young pitching staff, which included rookies Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins and near-rookie Kevin Slowey. Brian Bass and Craig Breslow, after being acquired from other organizations, were also counted on heavily out of the bullpen. Infielder Brian Buscher graduated from rookie status at the age of 27 by appearing in 70 games. Youngsters Carlos Gomez and Denard Span had significant roles in the outfield. What sets Cincinnati apart from Minnesota is that the Reds' players have higher ceilings and had more statistical success overall in 2008.
The Oakland Athletics organization also received consideration for Top Minor League System of the Year, but that club was hurt by the fact most of the young players were acquired from other organizations, including Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Daric Barton, and Gio Gonzalez.
As bad as Mike Scioscia was last night, Terry Francona was not much better. His bullpen management was curious at best, but one positive that may have emerged from the evening is that he might now realize that Manny Delcarmen is a really good pitcher.
After not using him in the first two games of the series, both hotly contested, close contests that called for high-leverage relief work, it had become evident that Tito did not really trust him. But then Delcarmen allowed just one baserunner in 1.2 innings in Game 3 and then got the win last night when he came in for the squeeze-out and the Aybar ground-out.
The Red Sox have an excellent bullpen so Francona may never have been exposed for overlooking Delcarmen, but have a look at how he stacks up against his peers in the Boston pen. He deserves to occupy more high-leverage Francona mind share.
Final Two Months of 2008 Season
IP H BB K R
Delcarmen 29.1 16 12 29 7
Masterson 28.0 21 12 24 6
Okajima 20.0 11 6 21 6
Papelbon 24.0 24 1 23 8
There aren't many relievers in baseball, much less on his own roster, to whom Delcarmen should be taking a back seat. Maybe Tito has now discovered that.
Ok, let's just get the squeeze out of the way. It was an idiotic, indefensible play and one that illuminates what I have long suspected; that there is an egocentrism to the way Mike Scioscia goes about his work. On the one hand, I cannot blame him. He has a career .551 win percentage and a World Series title in nine seasons managing a team that was an afterthought when he took the gig. Now the Los Angeles Angels are on the short, short list of marketable baseball franchises. Good for Mike.
But let's be clear about that suicide squeeze call. Erick Aybar, the previous evening's hero, was at the plate and Chone Figgins, one of the Angels best players in the ALDS was on deck. It was a tie game in the ninth, and the Red Sox had their cleanup hitter, Kevin Youkilis set to lead off the bottom half of the frame. With a man on third and one out in 2008, according to BP's Run Expectancy Matrix, teams can expect to score .96937 runs, or pretty much one run per inning. In other words, had Scioscia played it straight, it would have been extraordinary for the Angels not to have scored in that scenario. Maybe you can tweak that .96937 number down some because of the players involved but it remains that the likelier scenario for plating a run would have been to steer clear of the squeeze.
So what role did Mike Scioscia's ego play? Well I am searching all over the web and I cannot seem to find one article blaming the guy for the call. Here is what Mike had to say after the game (excerpted from an article in the NY Daily News titled, get this, Don't blame Mike Scioscia for calling bunt that squeezes Angels out of playoffs)
"It was a great count for it," was the way Scioscia put it. "And Erick's a terrific bunter. Delcarmen throws hard, but it was a buntable ball. Erick just didn't get it done. That happens."
"Erick just didn't get it done." What a guy.
Scioscia knows he is teflon. The media loves "the way the Angels play" ("the right way", etc), to the point where they now actually ignore the way the Angels play (mediocre fielding, second in the AL in caught stealing, generally poor fundamentals as was on display in the ALDS). So he made the "gutsy", "aggressive" call because hey, that's how Scioscia plays and he knew there was no personal downside. And if they had converted and K-Rod came in to slam the door? Forget about it. They would be mapping the parade route through Disney as we speak.
In his column last Friday, Rich wondered "Why did so many underestimate the Dodgers when, in fact, they looked every bit as good as the Cubs coming into the NLDS?" This is a great question, and one worth exploring further.
Even on a park-adjusted basis, the Dodgers had better pitching than Chicago. We knew this coming in.
ERA+ K/BB WHIP
LAD 120 2.51 1.29
CHC 117 2.31 1.29
The untold story of this series was not that since Manny Ramirez joined the Dodgers, he has hit .396/.489/.743. We all knew that he had been unconscious. But as a team, the Dodgers boasted one of the very best offenses in the National League from August 1 on. Before Ramirez arrived, the Dodgers hit .256/.321/.376 in 2008. Since August 1, they produced at a .281/.355/.443 clip. Over that same period of time, the Cubbies have hit .274/.350/.439. When you adjust for park, it's safe to say that for two months running now, the Dodgers had been trotting out the more potent offensive attack.
Better pitching, better hitting? Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Another LA (non) surprise was the productivity of Mike Napoli in the ALDS. I heard the TBS broadcast team refer to the Angels catcher as a "role player" after he blasted two home runs the other night. Paraphrasing, Buck Martinez said something to the effect of "So often in the post-season the role players step up and make the difference."
Napoli is no role player. In fact, he's probably the second best position player on the Halos, or at least was when Mike Scioscia decided to play him (trust me, more on Scioscia later on). By definition, any catcher who is an above average hitter probably is not a role player. And really, a 26 year-old backstop who hits .273/.374/.586 is a freakin' stud.
His .250/.450/.700 line did not quite save the Angels season, but he came damn close.
Playoff News and Notes
After a couple of days, the Phillies and Dodgers are up 2-0 in their NLDS and the Red Sox and Rays are leading 1-0 as the latter two teams head into their second games this evening. Meanwhile, the White Sox and Angels need to post victories to prevent going down 0-2 a la the Brewers and Cubs, which are facing elimination tomorrow.
White Sox (Mark Buehrle) at Rays (Scott Kazmir), 6:00 ET
Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka) at Angels (Ervin Santana), 9:30 ET
The early game matches two left handers, a veteran finesse pitcher and a young power pitcher. The late contest involves two right handers. The free-swinging Angels may be just what the doctor ordered to cure Dice-K's tendency to throw lots of pitches and allow a walk every two innings. Look for Mark Teixeira, the only Halo who brings a patient and selective approach to the plate, to loom large in tonight's tilt.
Questions that come to mind:
Is this morning's bailout bill aimed toward the credit crunch in the banking system or squarely at the Brewers and Cubs?
Has C.C. Sabathia pitched his last game for Milwaukee? Where will he end up next season?
Why did so many underestimate the Dodgers when, in fact, they looked every bit as good as the Cubs coming into the NLDS?
Will the Dodgers overpay for Manny Ramirez this fall/winter? If you were Frank McCourt would you give him a five-year, $100 million contract? With a long-term deal in hand, will Manny be Manny? Or will he continue to bust his ass on the field and be Mr. Congeniality in the clubhouse?
With the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and on the verge of significantly increasing its already MLB-leading revenues, how hard will the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman go after Sabathia, Ramirez, and Teixeira? Whether these three sign with the Yankees or not, rest assured that they are all going to get nine-figure contracts at prices averaging close to $20M per season.
Has there ever been five players (Sabathia, Ramirez, Teixeira, Jason Bay, and Rich Harden) who switched leagues during the season and played such prominent roles down the stretch and are all doing their thing in the post-season?
Is Joe Torre loving October or what? The Yankees are out and the Dodgers are in.
Speaking of Manny and how good he has been since joining the Dodgers, do you realize that Andre Ethier (.360/.442/.640) has been nearly as productive as his new teammate (.396/.489/.743) since the latter's arrival on August 1?
Now explain to me why Ned Colletti signed Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones the past two off-seasons?
Is Evan Longoria any good? Where will he go in your fantasy draft next year?
Is Javier Vazquez the most maddening starting pitcher in baseball?
The city of Chicago is 0-3 in the post-season. Does the "L" in the L train stand for what I think it does?
At the same time, the city of Los Angeles is 2-1 if you include the Anaheim-based Angels. The Dodgers are doing their part to forge a freeway series but will the Angels, winners of 16 more games during the regular season, hold end up their end of the bargain?
With the benefit of hindsight, who do you think will win the four division series, the two league championship series, and the World Series? And, of course, who do you *want* to win? I'm looking at you Chicago fans.
NLDS Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
I'm Rob McMillin, author of the Dodgers and Angels blog 6-4-2, and a long-time reader of Rich's The Baseball Analysts through several homes. Patrick Sullivan asked me to do a review of the Dodgers and Cubs in preparation for their upcoming National League Division Series, and so here I am.
The long-term regular-season matchup for the Dodgers versus the Cubs is remarkably even — as of the end of 2007, it was 1,009 wins and 1,007 losses for the Dodgers. But change that to the Los Angeles era, and it becomes much more lopsided, as the Dodgers won the all-time series 343-281. The 84-win 2008 Dodgers are 2-5 against the Cubs this year, but that record may prove fairly useless for predictive purposes when it comes down to the postseason.
While the main reason for this is the Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez, there are other mitigating factors in play. Along with David Mick of Another Cubs Blog, we'll take a look at both teams head-to-head and review the teams position-by-position. As always, rate stats are indicated as AVG/OBP/SLG (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging average).
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 6:30 PM ET on TBS - LAD (Derek Lowe) @ CHC (Ryan Dempster)
Game 2: Thu., Oct. 2, 9:30 PM ET on TBS - LAD (Chad Billingsley) @ CHC (Carlos Zambrano)
Game 3: Sat., Oct. 4, 10 PM ET on TBS - CHC (Rich Harden) @ LAD (Hiroki Kuroda)
Game 4*: Sun., Oct. 5, TBD on TBS - CHC (Ted Lilly) @ LAD (TBD)
Game 5*: Tue., Oct 7, TBD on TBS - LAD (TBD) @ CHC (Ryan Dempster)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
LAD 48-33 36-45 84-78
CHC 55-26 42-38 97-64
Head-to-head results: CHC, 5-2
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
LAD 700 .264 .333 .399 .732 95
CHC 855 .278 .354 .443 .797 109
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+
LAD 648 .251 .315 .376 .691 120
CHC 671 .242 .316 .395 .711 117
Russell Martin's (.280/.385/.396, 650 PA, 13 HR) numbers have descended considerably from his astonishing 2007 campaign (.293/.374/.469); perhaps not coincidentally, some of this is due to his league-leading 149 games caught, a figure he shares with Jason Kendall of the Brewers. Breaking it down by innings caught, Kendall takes the lead outright with 1,328.1, while Martin is almost a hundred outs behind him at 1,238. Defensively, Martin has slipped some, as his throwing mechanics seem to have gone haywire, recording 11 errors. It's not at Gary Bennett levels, but it's something to pay attention to. Having watched both fairly extensively, they're both capable of calling good games, and in neither case should their inability to throw out base-stealers (both are hovering around the 25% mark) be held against them.
Geovany Soto (.285/.364/.504, 563 PA, 23 HR) won the 2008 job behind the plate with his stellar performance in September of 2007. He's among the best catchers offensively and he's above average defensively. He missed the last few games the Cubs played because of a hand injury, which is something that has been recurring to Soto in 2008. The Cubs say he's ready to go for Game 1. Soto is most likely going to win Rookie of the Year in the NL, but what's more impressive is that among Cubs position players, nobody has been more productive.
Rob says: Soto has the edge mainly because of his offensive game.
David says: Edge goes to the Cubs.
A lot of James Loney's (.280/.385/.396, 651 PA, 13 HR) value is tied up in his high batting average, and as he was unable to keep up his insane batting average on balls in play from 2007 (when he hit .350), and sure enough as it fell to .284, so did his average, and more ominously, his slugging percentage. Loney's weakness is his inability to hit lefties consistently, with a .249/.303/.361 line that has led to a late-season experiment using Nomar Garciaparra in a platoon role at first. This will only arise as an issue with the only lefty Cubs starter, Ted Lilly, but the difference — a small-sample-sized .339/.424/.643 — makes him a potent force.
Derrek Lee (.291/.361/.462, 698 PA, 20 HR) got off to a great start in April. He had a horrid May and the rest of the months were disappointing for Lee, the Cubs and their fans. He's essentially been a .750ish OPS hitter since April. Overall his numbers were still solid, but his defense is overrated (+1.1 runs) and his offensive skills are in decline. Lee's still capable of getting hot and if he could get hot like he was in April for these playoffs, an already outstanding offense becomes that much better.
Rob says: Cubs have the edge thanks to Lee's sizeable offensive prowess. It should be noted, however, that Lee hit eight home runs in April and hasn't hit more than two in a single month since May.
Dave says: Dodgers. Lee is a better offensive player than Loney, but Loney is about 13 runs better on defense. (ed note, nice call, Dave!)
"What," Cubs fans might be asking, "is Blake DeWitt (.264/.344/.383, 421 PA, 9 HR) doing at second?" Well, they could be pardoned for their confusion; earlier in the year, he was the Dodgers' starting third baseman, but as the season progressed and his hitting didn't, he eventually earned a return trip to AAA Las Vegas. Nevertheless, he still finished 2008 atop the Dodgers' leaderboard for innings at third, but once the Dodgers traded for Casey Blake and realized that Jeff Kent is too fragile to stay on the field anymore, they moved DeWitt to second and recalled him to play there in the Show.
Mike Fontenot (305/.395/.514, 284 PA, 9 HR) was probably the best role player in all of baseball this season. He's limited in that he can only play 2nd base, but he's had a very good defensive year and his offense has helped the Cubs when they need extra production the most. Fontenot won't play much against lefties (only 21 ABs in 2008), but the Dodgers have four righties starting in the series. His .398 wOBA was the highest on a team that led the league in runs scored.
Rob says: This is a clear win for the Cubs with the caveat that this matchup really shows the limitation of position-by-position analysis.
Dave says: Edge to the Cubs here.
There is no doubt that Casey Blake (.251/.313/.460, 233 PA, 10 HR w/ Dodgers) marks an offensive improvement over DeWitt (at least at this point in their respective careers), but whether it was worth giving up catching prospect Carlos Santana for a two-month rental remains to be seen. The further away from July he's gotten, the worse his offense has become (.220/.297/.415 in September).
Aramis Ramirez (.289/.380/.518, 645 PA, 27 HR) has more big hits since he joined the Cubs in 2003 than I can remember. On top of that, over the last 5 years he's been one of the best 3rd basemen year in and year out. In 2008 he improved his plate discipline and set a career high OBP of .380. The defense is above average as well. If the game is on the line, the Cubs want Aramis Ramirez at the plate.
Rob says: Another win for the Cubs, one which ends up quite large once you consider the gap between recent performance (Ramirez is hitting .342/.386/.566 in September).
Dave says: Cubs
This is probably the most perplexing move the Dodgers have made to date; Rafael Furcal (.357/.439/.573, 164 PA, 5 HR) returned to service very late from a lower back injury that knocked him out most of the season (his last regular season game was May 5). With only days to go in the regular season, no rehab stint in the minors available to tune him up, there's no reason to believe he'll be effective against live pitching. He was insanely hot to start the season, as his 2008 numbers suggest, but he's the Dodgers' biggest question mark. It will be interesting to see what Joe Torre does with him if he can't hit, especially considering the Dodgers' options most of the year have been the not-ready-for-prime-time Chin-Lung Hu and Royals castoff Angel Berroa.
Ryan Theriot (.307/.387/.359, 661 PA, 1 HR) is playing out of position. He's one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game (-9.7 runs). Lou still isn't asking for my advice so he's stuck at the position. Theriot did hit .300 this season and much more importantly, he posted an OBP of .387. Much like last year, Theriot faded down the stretch (.686 OPS in August, .660 OPS in September). Despite that, Theriot enters the NLDS 11 for his last 19 with 6 walks in that span.
Rob says: If Furcal is healthy, a huge if, he provides the Dodgers a win, but we won't know what Furcal we're getting until the postseason opens.
Ryan says: Dodgers. If Furcal doesn't play much then the edge goes to the Cubs.
The Cubs have a very good offensive left fielder in Soriano who nevertheless is still far behind Manny Ramirez (.396/.489/.743, 229 PA, 17 HR); Manny has been simply otherworldly with the Dodgers. While nobody thinks Manny will continue this hot (almost half his home runs have been hit in the two months since coming to LA), it's more than enough to make up for his defensive lapses in left, something both players are prone to.
Alfonso Soriano (.280/.344/.532, 503 PA, 29 HR) had had a disappointing year defensively. He had been so very good since he moved to LF in 2006, but the combination of age and leg injuries seems to have caught up with him. Soriano led the team in home runs despite missing about 50 games. I think he's the one offensive player the Cubs have who is capable of carrying the rest of the team. If Soriano doesn't hit in the postseason (and let's be honest, he hasn't done much of that in his career), the starters will have to be at the top of their game.
Rob says: The Dodgers win handily here.
Dave says: Dodgers. It's not even close. As good as Soriano is, he isn't Manny.
Matt Kemp's (.290/.340/.459, 657 PA, 18 HR) conversion to center was belated but necessary thanks to the acquisition of noodle-armed Juan Pierre and the collapsing Andruw Jones. Kemp logged much of his time in right prior to his conversion, but his bat (so far) plays better in center field. Kemp isn't a dancing bear defensively, but neither is he among the league's elite.
Jim Edmonds (.235/.343/.479, 298 PA, 19 HR) was picked up in May after an awful start with the Padres. As a longtime Cardinal, no Cubs fan wanted to root for Edmonds, but he made it remarkably easy to. It's as if he reverted back to the prime of his career. His .394 wOBA is 2nd on the team and his .568 slugging was the highest. My biggest concern at the time of the signing was his defense. Nobody could have predicted the offense and it turns out nobody could have predicted how well he'd play CF either. His .931 RZR was the highest since before 2004. His 45 OOZ were equal to 2005 in nearly 530 fewer innings.
Rob says: This is a slight edge to the Dodgers who don't have to give up average to get power, especially since the Dodgers won't be sending a lefty to the mound in the series.
Dave says: Cubs
Andre Ethier (.305/.375/.510, 596 PA, 20 HR) has become a solid presence in the Dodger outfield this year, hitting for decent power and average, especially so in August (.292/.346/.615) and September (.462/.557/.692). Opinions differ wildly over whether Ethier has taken a step forward on a permanent basis, but he's been hitting out of his mind lately. Even before that, Ethier emerged as one of the team's top two hitters all year.
Mark DeRosa (.285/.376/.481, 593 PA, 21 HR) had a career year in 2008. He took over RF for the struggling Fukudome in early September with Fontenot moving to 2nd against righties. DeRosa isn't your typical RF. He's an infielder by trade, but in his big league career he's proven he can play just about anywhere. He adds above average defense in RF as well. He posted a .382 wOBA in 2008 and like so many of the other Cubs, his OBP was very good (.376).
Rob says: This represents a substantial win for the Dodgers, whether Piniella starts DeRosa or Fukudome.
Dave says: Cubs. Like 1st base, defense is the deciding factor here. Ethier and DeRosa have had similar years offensively (.382 wOBA for DeRosa, .385 wOBA for Ehtier), but DeRosa is 15.8 runs better defensively. Just after I finished writing this, I noticed that DeRosa's left calf may still be too sore for him to play RF, which means Fukudome would play RF with either DeRosa or Fontenot at 2nd. If that's the case, edge to the Dodgers.
After a futile dalliance with Gary Bennett earlier in the season, the Dodgers settled on Danny Ardoin as their reserve catcher.
Angel Berroa may get a start at short if Rafael Furcal doesn't feel up to it or is showing he's obviously not ready to play. Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent will provide right-handed power off the bench unless Ted Lilly is starting. Pablo Ozuna will almost certainly be relegated to the role of late-innings defensive replacement for Casey Blake, and the od pinch-running job.
Both teams are carrying only one reserve outfielder. In the Dodgers' case, Juan Pierre is likely to be a designated pinch-runner; his starting days were all but over in the regular season, and it's hard to imagine Joe Torre using him for anything else. Felix Pie doesn't seem likely to get much playing time after he played himself out of the outfield. This is a wash, not that it much matters.
Reed Johnson has been the other half of the CF platoon and since the Dodgers are throwing righties at the Cubs, he won't get much playing time. Like Edmonds, he was picked up after his former team released him and the 2 of them have combined to put together a very good season for the Cubs in CF. Johnson can hit lefties rather well, doesn't field as well as some may think, but has had a real good season for the Cubs.
Kosuke Fukudome lost his starting job sometime in late August or early September after months of struggling to hit the ball. He won't be asked to do that much in the playoffs and he'll get a chance to be a defensive replacement. His defense is matched by only a few in all of baseball. He is spectacular on with the glove. Just can't hit.
Others: Ronny Cedeno (INF), Henry Blanco (C). Felix Pie (CF), Daryle Ward (1B/RF)
Rob says: Too close to call.
Dave says: I'll call it even because in that few plate appearances, literally anything is possible.
Derek Lowe 14-11, 3.24 ERA, 211 IP, 136 ERA+
Chad Billingsley 16-10, 3.14 ERA, 200.2 IP, 141 ERA+
Hiroki Kuroda 9-10, 3.73 ERA, 183.1 IP, 119 ERA+
Derek Lowe had early trouble but has come on strong in the second half with a 2.38 ERA. His key is getting outs on the ground with his heavy sinker; if he's giving up line drives, something's wrong with his game. Chad Billingsley is the staff's real ace, and many expect this NLDS will be his coming-out party; he hasn't attracted a lot of national attention because of a fairly slow start. He's whiffing about a batter an inning, while walking less than half that (201/80 K/BB). Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get from Hiroki Kuroda, seven scoreless innings or seven runs in the first. That overstates things, though, as Kuroda has been about what the Dodgers had expected despite some injury problems in midseason.
Ryan Dempster 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 206.2 IP, 152 ERA+
Carlos Zambrano 14-6, 3.91 ERA, 206.2 IP, 115 ERA+
Rich Harden 5-1, 1.77 ERA, 71 IP, 254 ERA+
Ted Lilly 17-9, 4.09 ERA, 204.2 IP, 110 ERA+
Ryan Dempster was closing games for the Cubs the last 3 years and now he's starting Game 1 in the playoffs. He's earned it. In only one start this year did Dempster allow more than 4 earned runs. He allowed 4 in only 5 starts. 22 times he's allowed 2 or fewer runs. He posted a 2.96 ERA this year, which stunned just about everybody. He's been the best starter the Cubs have had from start to finish.
Carlos Zambrano has had a couple of injuries in the 2nd half. They say neither is serious, but you never know. His first half was tremendous and he appeared to be more consistent than I had ever seen him. Then the 2nd half started and he was also consistent. Consistently not very good. Despite the no-hitter, Zambrano could just never get settled back down after coming back from injury.
Rich Harden has been unbelievable as a Cub. In 71 innings, he's allowed only 4.94 hits per 9 and has struck out 11.28 per 9. His ERA is 1.77. I'm still getting familiarized by Rich Harden, but from what I can gather, if he can take the mound, odds are your team is going to win the ballgame. In 9 of his 12 starts with the Cubs he allowed 1 or 0 runs. He allowed 2 runs twice and in the other start he allowed 4 runs.
Ted Lilly is coming off 4 consecutive wins giving him a career high 17. Lilly got off to a terrible start posting a 6.46 ERA in April. He posted a 3.33 ERA after the break and held hitters to a .223 batting average. Ted has had severe reverse splits in 2008. From 2005-2007 righties posted a .756 OPS and lefties a .712 OPS against Lilly. That's typical. But in 2008, lefties have hit him for a .928 OPS and righties only a .673 OPS. He's developed a cutter this year that he uses on right handed hitters and it has worked very well. He's not throwing the big over the top hook as often so that may be why the lefties are hitting him better. Maybe it's just sample size.
Rob says: Despite a formidable rotation on both sides, the Cubs have a slight advantage because Dempster and Harden are perhaps a bit better than Lowe and Kuroda, and also because they won't be asking their starters to work a three-man rotation.
Dave says: Dodgers. They have the advantage in Games 1, 2 and 5 if necessary. I don't think it's a huge edge by any means. I think Lowe and Dempster are quite similar and their numbers are comparable. Billingsley has a big advantage over Zambrano, Harden has a big advantage over Kuroda, Lilly has a good advantage over Maddux and then we're back to the Game 1 starters for Game 5. Fairly close, but overall edge to the Dodgers.
Joe Beimel 5-1, 2.02 ERA, 49 IP, 219 ERA+
Jonathan Broxton 3-5, 3.13 ERA, 69 IP, 141 ERA+
Clayton Kershaw 5-5, 4.26 ERA, 107.2 IP, 104 ERA+
Greg Maddux 2-4 5.09 ERA, 40.2 IP, 87 ERA+
James McDonald 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 6 IP
Chan-Ho Park 4-4, 3.40 ERA, 95.1 IP, 130 ERA+
Scott Proctor 2-0, 6.05 ERA, 38.7 IP, 73 ERA+ Takashi Saito 4-4, 2.49 ERA, 47 IP, 178 ERA+
Cory Wade 2-1, 2.27 ERA, 71.1 IP, 195 ERA+
The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing, as their ERAs attest, but they have been good all year.
The Dodgers use Park in middle relief, though he has been decreasingly effective as the season has worn on. Despite underwhelming stuff, Cory Wade has quietly assembled an excellent season, and will likely see substantial work. The Dodgers' late decision to add James McDonald to the postseason roster could mean they intend to use him anywhere, but I include him here; like Wade, he doesn't have the best stuff, but the late callup from AA has managed to suppress offense in small samples. The Dodgers will likely call on Joe Beimel to face lefties, where he has generally been very useful.
Neal Cotts 0-2, 4.29 ERA, 35.2 IP, 105 ERA+
Bobby Howry 7-5, 5.35 ERA, 70.2 IP, 84 ERA+
Carlos Marmol 2-4, 2.68 ERA, 87.1 IP, 168 ERA+
Jason Marquis 11-9, 4.53 ERA, 167 IP, 100 ERA+
Sean Marshall 3-5, 3.86 ERA, 65.1 IP, 117 ERA+
Jeff Samardzija 1-0, 2.28 ERA, 27.2 IP, 198 ERA+
Kerry Wood 5-4, 3.26 ERA, 66.1 IP, 139 ERA+
Kerry Wood took over for Ryan Dempster as the team's closer this year. He's done a pretty good job. He's been spotty at times. 3.31 ERA, 6 blown saves, but he's allowed a measly .638 OPS. He's converted 10 of his last 11 saves.
Carlos Marmol is good at sports. That's something we'll occasionally say around my parts after Marmol has just made a few hitters look silly. He's allowed a .135 batting average against. A .507 OPS. He's allowed 4.12 hits per 9. He walks his fair share of batters and is prone to giving up the long ball. He went through a really tough stretch in June that saw his ERA balloon from 1.75 up to 3.61 prior to the All-Star break. Since then it's been only 1.29.
Bob Howry has had a pretty bad season after several stellar years as a closer and a set-up man. To give you an idea how bad it's been for Howry this year, the month of September was his most promising month. He only made 9 appearances as Lou was kind of afraid to keep giving him the ball, but 7 of those were scoreless ones in a row. Unfortunately, they were bookended by an outing on September 2nd in which he didn't record an out and allowed 4 earned runs. On the final day the season he gave up a couple runs. So in Bob's most consistent month he still managed to have an ERA of 8.10.
Neal Cotts is the Cubs LOOGY. Lefties have hit .269/.329/.522 against him this year in 67 at-bats. This has been an issue lately for the Cubs and it likely will be one at some point in the NLDS.
OTHERS: Jeff Samardzija (7th inning, groundballs, wide receiver), Sean Marshall (long/middle relief, LOOGY), Jason Marquis (long/middle relief)
Rob says: The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing.
Dave says: Dodgers. They beat the Cubs at pretty much every spot in the bullpen.
Rob says: (ed note: He abstained.)
Dave says: I feel that based on what I've written above I should say I think this will go down to the 5th game. But I don't think it will. I think the Cubs win this series in no more than 4 games. I'll go with Cubs in 4 because Bill James' log5 method gives the Cubs the highest odds of winning it in 4 at 22.5%. I think the Dodgers offense is improved with Manny, but it's still not equal to the Cubs lineup. The Cubs have a rather large edge offensively, as well as defensively, that I think the Cubs advance to the NLCS.
ALDS Preview: Tampa Bay Rays versus Chicago White Sox
This ALDS preview is brought to you by R.J. Anderson, senior editor of DRaysBay and Beyond the Boxscore, as well as by Baseball Analysts columnist Marc Hulet, who truly believes the White Sox have the most beautiful female fans he's ever seen at a ballpark. But that's not the only reason why they have his support...
Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 2 at 2:30 p.m. in Tampa Bay, James Shields vs Javier Vazquez
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. in Tampa Bay, Scott Kazmir vs Mark Buehrle
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 5 at TBA in Chicago, Matt Garza vs John Danks
Game 4*: Monday, Oct. 6 at TBA in Chicago, TBA vs Gavin Floyd
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct. 8 at TBA in Tampa Bay, TBA vs TBA
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
TB 57-24 40-41 97-65
CWS 53-28 35-46 88-74
Head-to-head results: Tampa Bay won six out of 10 games in 2008
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
TB 774 .260 .340 .422 .762 103
CWS 811 .263 .332 .448 .780 108
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
TB 671 .246 .314 .400 .714 90
CWS 729 .261 .320 .410 .730 95
After an unlucky and injury plagued 2007 Dioner Navarro showed some of the promise that made him one of the top catching prospects for the New York Yankees way back when. Navarro is a switch-hitter with occasional home run power who does not walk or strikeout all too much but seems to have a fair grip on the strike zone. Defensively Navarro features a strong and accurate arm and decent blocking ability.
A.J. Pierzynski had another solid offensive season. He doesn't walk but he also does not strike out too much. The White Sox catcher has 28 games of playoff experience and has .287/.351/.529. Defensively, Pierzynski is nothing special but calls a nice game. His arm won't instill fear in many base runners.
R.J. says: Navarro all day.
Marc says: Navarro probably has an edge defensively, but I'd call it a draw offensively.
Carlos Pena is almost certainly the leader of the Rays. The journeyman with the majestic smile and laugh did not set the east in flames like 2007, but that was to be expected. Pena still hit some timely home runs, including a big one versus Boston recently, and leads the Rays in WPA by quite a bit. How patient is Pena? In 2008 he’s walked nine times with the bases loaded. Solid at first base, Pena will not botch many plays.
Paul Konerko had a pretty rough season offensively. The 32-year-old veteran has battled through some nagging injuries, although his numbers have been declining to two years now. He may be sorting things out a bit, just at the right time, as he has slugged eight homers in September.
R.J. says: Pena is superior.
Marc says: Konerko does not give away as many at-bats as Pena but the younger first baseman is clearly a step ahead in the batter's box when he makes contact.
Akinori Iwamura made a seamless transition from third to second this season. Despite changing positions, Iwamura remained as the Rays lead off hitter on most days and will not expand the strike zone.
Alexei Ramirez has had a very interesting season and has hit some pretty big home runs in August and September, including his grand slam against Detroit earlier this week to force the deciding game with Minnesota. Ramirez has walked just 3.6 percent of the time in his rookie season but he offers more power than most second basemen (.185 ISO). Even though he showed power late in the season, Ramirez hit just .211 in September.
R.J. says: Ramirez has a way, way better bat, although his defense is a bit iffy.
Marc says: Personally, I'll take Iwamura's steadiness and consistency over Ramirez' inconsistencies (and flair for the dramatics).
Evan Longoria is almost certainly the American League Rookie of the Year. Unreal power Longoria will hack occasionally. Longoria also plays very good defense and has a fiery demeanor that the mainstream media will fall in love with.
Joe Crede's back has not only ended his season, but it could very well be threatening his career. In his absence, the White Sox will have to look to Juan Uribe, which is a huge drop defensively and in the power department. Neither player, though, hits for average on a consistent basis. Josh Fields chose a really bad year to slump.
R.J. says: Evan Longoria. Evan Longoria. Evan Longoria.
Marc says: It's not even close: Longoria.
Jason Bartlett suffered a knee injury around mid-season, which could explain for the defensive metrics rating him worse. In the second half Bartlett has been a far better hitter, although he still deservedly hits ninth.
Orlando Cabrera has led the White Sox in games played, at-bats, hits and stolen bases. He also plays a steady shortstop. Although he has been a consistent performer throughout his career, Cabrera really hasn't fit in well in Chicago. Regardless, he should continue to be steady in the playoffs and has 27 games worth of post-season experience.
R.J. says: I’m a bit torn here, but Cabrera gets the slight nod.
Marc says: I definitely favor the steady veteran here.
Eric Hinske depending on Carl Crawford's health it seems as if Hinske will get the majority of reps in left field with Fernando Perez filling in for defensive and left-handed pitching situations. Hinske is awful defensively and his bat has been in a coma for most of the second half.
The left-field picture is a little muddled at this point. If Carlos Quentin can some how make it back (without re-injuring himself), then Chicago has a huge advantage. If not, then it looks like Dewayne Wise and Nick Swisher could see time in left. Wise has resurrected his career and has had some big hits in September, although he's shown time and time again that he's just not a good hitter (.211 career average). Swisher should be the overwhelming choice in left field, but he has been absolutely brutal with the bat in 2008. He does, like just about every other White Sox player, offer some power potential.
R.J. says: I think a powerful Wise and an iffy hitting Crawford match up close to equal.
Marc says: Thanks to Crawford's off-year and finger injury, it's not as much of a landslide as it should be. I'll still take him over a combination of Wise and Swisher, though.
B.J. Upton tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in early May, the reason for his lack of power. Upton covers a ton of ground in center and has one of the best arms in the league. Anyone attempting to take home on a hit up the middle will quickly realize Upton ’s arm combined with his shallow alignment can cause issues for base runners.
Ken Griffey Jr. is definitely a shadow of his former self both offensively and defensively. He hit just .260/.347/.405 in 41 games with Chicago but he can still take a walk and hit for occasional power. Griffey Jr. also hit pretty well in his previous playoff appearances.
R.J. says: Upton is better defensively and offensively than Griffey Jr.
Marc says: I will also take the youngster over the grizzled veteran. It's kind of sad, actually, that Upton is still better with basically one arm tied behind his back.
Gabe Gross is the king of walk-offs but he’s been really good overall. Acquired in May for Josh Butler, Gross will play right field most days with Rocco Baldelli (again depending on Crawford’s health) possibly sparing him against southpaws.
Jermaine Dye just keeps getting it done in right field and at the plate for the White Sox. His strong arm gives runners pause. His power will also keep pitchers honest. Unfortunately, Dye has not performed overly well in post-season play despite some significant experience. In 147 at-bats, he has hit just .259/.319/.395.
R.J. says: Love Gross, but Dye, easy.
Marc says: Despite his struggles in the post-season, I would rather have Dye at the plate with the game on the line.
Cliff Floyd signed with the intent to play for a winner, or perhaps I should say “hit” since he hasn’t played defense at all. Floyd will probably split time with Baldelli. This is a pretty platoon-driven lineup.
Jim Thome has not been quite himself this season. That said, he has still hit a ton of homers (34) and walked a lot (91). In 188 post-season at-bats, Thome has hit just .222 but he's slugged 17 homers (.287 ISO) and driven in 32 runs.
R.J. says: Thome is having another monster season.
Marc says: The average may not be there but Thome loves to homer and drive in runs in the playoffs.
Willy Aybar can play any infield position, although playing him up the middle is at your own risk. He might see some time at DH as well. A switch hitter Aybar the Rays acquired him (along with prospect Chase Fontaine) for Jeff Ridgway in the off-season.Rocco Baldelli needs something magical in the playoffs to occur in order to cap off an amazing comeback story.
The bench probably isn't going to figure into the series much, unless another injury occurs. Toby Hall might see a few innings behind the dish. Brian Anderson will likely be a late-game defensive replacement for Griffey and/or Swisher.
R.J. says: Rays again, I think Aybar would start on the White Sox.
Marc says: I'd give the edge to the Rays since there is more depth and more pop in the bats sitting on the bench.
James Shields is one of the best pitchers in the game. His change-up is really, really good, and he mixes in a decent curveball. Shields doesn’t walk many and his durability and efficiency resemble a poor man’s Roy Halladay.
Scott Kazmir is having an extremely odd season. His fastball usage is way up, as are his fly balls and home runs allowed, and his outings have left something to desire, mainly efficiency.
Matt Garza was acquired last off-season in the Delmon Young trade. Strides have been made by Garza, including a one-hitter against the Florida Marlins. Garza’s fastball is extremely good and he has good breaking stuff.
Andy Sonnanstine doesn’t feature anything that would make tools whores drool, but he simply doesn’t walk anyone. Sonnanstine’s cutter is his main pitch, but he uses nearly a half-dozen different pitches and grips.
Javier Vazquez had another typical Vazquez season. He has good stuff and he strikes out a ton of batters (200 in 208.1 innings) but he just does not do well under pressure. Good thing there is no pressure in the playoffs.
Mark Buehrle keeps getting it done despite less than stellar stuff. He allows a ton of hits and doesn't strike out many batters (5.76 K/9) but he also doesn't walk anyone (2.14 BB/9) and he does a reasonably good job of keeping the ball on the ground (49.6 GB%). Expect him to rise to the challenge in the playoffs.
It's already been a great season for the former phenom known as Gavin Floyd. He led the club in wins but he showed signs of tiring down the stretch after pitching a career high number of innings. His K/9 (6.32) and BB/9 (3.05) rates were nothing special this season. He should be OK early on in the playoffs, but he'll have to be watched carefully if the White Sox move on into the later rounds.
Another young pitcher in uncharted territory, John Danks showed some guts on Tuesday night as he pitched the White Sox into the playoffs. He has good stuff for a lefty and has a diverse repertoire, but it remains to be seen how well he'll hold up over the course of a long post-season.
R.J. says: I’m going with the White Sox here on the basis that Kazmir won’t morph into 2007 Kazmir and that Danks will make the third start.
Marc says: The White Sox have the edge thanks to some veteran pitchers. I'm also not sold on Garza's ability to pitch while under pressure.
Grant Balfour went from designated to assignment to mint piece reliever within one season. Balfour brings the heat constantly, although he does have a slider.
J.P. Howell is a left-handed Sonnanstine. Not the flashiest pitcher, Howell features some decent breaking stuff but won’t throw an egg through a cement wall anytime soon.
David Price also known as Velociraptor Jesus, Price throws a hard fastball that moves and a slider that sits in the upper 80s. Look for Price to get some of the workload from Howell and Trever Miller when it comes to lefties.
Chad Bradford gets a ton of ground balls and is a bit of a unheralded part of the pen. Along with most of the Rays dependable relievers Bradford can go multiple innings.
Bobby Jenks' strikeout numbers have declined each of the past four seasons and they dropped significantly in 2008 from 7.75 to 5.55 K/9. Part of that could be blamed on his injury woes this season, but it is still a little alarming. Even without the strikeouts, though, Jenks does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (57.6 GB%).
Scott Linebrink was brought in as a free agent last winter to help stabilize the bullpen but he, like Jenks, battled injuries. Despite the shoulder woes, Linebrink showed improve K/9 (7.77) and BB/9 (1.75) rates in 2008 compared to his disappointing 2007 campaign.
Octavio Dotel had a bit of an issue with the home run during the regular season (1.61 HR/9) but he definitely resurrected his career in 2008. He struck out 12.36 batters per nine innings and batters hit just .216 off of him. He offers insurance for the White Sox if Jenks' back acts up again.
Matt Thornton clearly had a career year in 2008 and finally harnessed his excellence fastball. He struck out 10.29 batters per nine innings and lowered his walk rate from his career number of 4.48 to 2.54 BB/9. Batters also hit just .202 against him.
R.J. says: Not really sure here, Balfour and Howell are just as good at Jenks and Thornton, and I’m not sure Bradford and Price aren’t better than Linebrink and Dotel. Rays, barely.
Marc says: Price could give the Rays a real edge in an extra-inning game, but overall I like the White Sox' veterans.
R.J.'s Prediction: Rays in five. The White Sox will tee off a few times on the Rays pitchers, but when all is said and done the Rays scrape out three hard-fought wins.
Marc's Prediction: The Rays have a more well-rounded club and the team also has youth on its side (It is roughly three years younger than the White Sox) but Chicago has the momentum. If it goes five games, the fresher Rays have the edge but I'll take Chicago in four thanks to the superior (veteran) pitching.
Dodgers / Cubs
Due to some technical difficulties, we will have to hold off on posting the other NLDS preview until after Game One tonight of the Dodgers-Cubs series. It's some good writing, though, so be sure to check back tomorrow morning.
Rob McMillin of the Los Angeles baseball blog 6-4-2 and David Mick of Another Cubs Blog will be your contributors.
NLDS Preview: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies
OK, this one gets the post-season started at 3 PM ET this afternoon.
Peter Baker from TheGoodPhight.com chips in with Phillies analysis, our own Al Doyle helps out from the Milwaukee side.
Al says that as a Wisconsin resident for 15 years, he has been surrounded by the statewide celebration since the Brewers qualified for the post-season for the first time since 1982. Will the joy go beyond the first round of the National League playoffs? Only time will tell.
The Brewers drew nearly 3.07 million fans (including 22 consecutive sellouts at Miller Park) in one of baseball's smallest markets this season, so the enthusiasm began well before September.
As Peter can attest, there is similar enthusiasm surrounding the Phillies after their second consecutive division crown.
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 3 PM ET on TBS - MIL (Yovani Gallardo) @ PHI (Cole Hamels)
Game 2: Thu., Oct. 2, 6 PM ET on TBS - MIL (CC Sabathia) @ PHI (Brett Myers)
Game 3: Sat., Oct. 4, 6:30 PM ET on TBS - PHI (Jamie Moyer) @ MIL (Dave Bush)
Game 4*: Sun., Oct. 5, TBD on TBS - PHI (TBD) @ MIL (Jeff Suppan)
Game 5*: Tue., Oct 7, TBD on TBS - MIL (TBD) @ PHI (TBD)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
MIL 48-33 44-37 92-70
PHI 49-32 41-40 90-72
Head-to-head results: PHI, 5-1.
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
MIL 750 .253 .325 .431 .756 102
PHI 799 .255 .332 .438 .770 103
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+
MIL 689 .256 .323 .406 .729 112
PHI 680 .260 .329 .410 .739 115
Carlos Ruiz – The full season slash numbers are terrible, yes, but Ruiz managed to go .244/.345/.346 after July 15. Okay, that’s still not very good but a team with a solid offense can carry a cheap, young, solid defensive catcher at that rate. But can he maintain that? Stay tuned… The Chris Coste Story continued in 2008, where he showed himself to be a credible backup catcher with decent pop, especially against lefties (.881 OPS). Can’t get around on the hard stuff. And let’s face it, this is a 35 year old catcher from Concordia College. Anything we get from him is gravy. His time here will probably be up soon when the Lou Marson Era begins in Philadelphia.
Jason Kendall (.246, 2 HR, 49 RBI, 8 SB) started a team record 149 games behind the plate this year. He did a fine job handling pitchers and in tossing out opposing baserunners by gunning down 41 of 96 attempted steals for a 42.7 percent success ratio. A slap hitter, Kendall was the only real contact type in the lineup. He struck out just 45 times in 516 AB.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. Kendall isn't much at the plate, but he's solid defensively and throws out tons of potential base stealers.
Al says: Brewers get the nod here.
Who is Ryan Howard? Game-changing monster or terrific mistake hitter? Know this: When Howard is in a groove, there’s no one you’d rather have at the with runners on base, needing a few runs. When he’s scuffling, he’s just brutal. Terrible defender (18 errors at first base). Majestic, often otherworldly specimen of a hitter who can literally carry a team for weeks at a time (hit .273/.356/.593 with 40 homers since May 15). Unlike 2007 he was healthy all year and put up the counting stats to show it. We’ve learned to love Howard for what he is, and have no intentions of throwing out the beautiful baby with the somewhat putrid bathwater.
Prince Fielder (34 HR, 102 RBI, .276, 84 BB, .372 OBP, .507 SLG) came on strong in September after a largely mediocre first 130 games. Even though his numbers are down from a 50-HR, 116-RBI season in 2007, the lefty swinger is a threat to take it out of the park at any time. With 134 strikeouts, Fielder is one of five Brewers with triple digits in that category. A likely candidate for the DH role as he grows older, Fielder committed 17 errors in 2008.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, barely. You're great, Prince, but Howard's better.
Al says: Phillies and their MVP candidate get the nod here, but Fielder can mash.
What happened? The first six weeks of the season appeared to be the start of the inevitable MVP campaign for Chase Utley. Then suddenly the bad thing happened. His power all but disappeared (11.53 AB/HR through the end of May; 27.71 AB/HR thereafter). Whispered rumors of a hip injury needing rest and/or surgery have circulated for weeks now. Nonetheless, an 80 percent Utley is still the best second baseman in the league. Add in his Gold Glove-caliber defense, and you have a truly special player who should seriously contend for an MVP award one day. A World Series MVP? We can hope.
This is the one of two changes to the lineup made by interim manager Dale Sveum. Switch-hitting Ray Durham (370 AB, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 35 2B, 53 BB, .380 OBP) now gets most of the starts over erratic Rickie Weeks (.234, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 115 K, 66 BB and 19 SB in 475 AB). The veteran Durham has been nagged by hamstring problems, so it remains to be seen how much he will play. Weeks can tantalize with his bat speed, and the ball jumps when he connects, but hand and wrist injuries plus prolonged slumps have kept his career average under .250.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. The best defensive and offensive second baseman on the planet.
Al says: No-brainer. Utley, both at bat and defensively.
Pedro Feliz is bitter medicine. Good for you in a lot of ways (defense) but dreadful in others (overall offense). He had, however, a strange knack for late inning heroics (.313/.368/.575 in close-and-late situations) and single-handedly won a couple games for us with big late-game hits. Also posted the best BB/K ratio (33 BB / 54 Ks) of his career.
Craig Counsell (248 AB, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .226, 46 BB, .355 OBP) gets more starts under Sveum than he did when Ned Yost filled out the lineup card. What advantage does the 38-year old bring over streaky Bill Hall (404 AB, .225, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 124 K, .293 OBP)? Counsell provides a much-needed lefty bat in the predominantly right-handed Milwaukee lineup. His dependable defense, smart play and patience at the plate stand in stark contrast to the one-dimensional, swing from the heels style of his teammates. Hall can literally carry a team for a week when he goes on a tear, but that didn't happen at all in 2008. He is adequate defensively and has a rifle arm. Hall will start against lefties Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, but Counsell will also see some action at the hot corner and possibly at second base.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. And I feel dirty for saying it. It's bad when a .301 OBP, in the case of Feliz, wins you a matchup, but Counsell and Hall have just been awful. And Feliz's defense certainly helps, too.
Al says: Phillies have the edge, but third isn't a big strength for either team.
Let-down campaign? In part. Oft-overlooked is the serious ankle sprain that Jimmy Rollins suffered in mid-April, and that he struggled to play through for a few weeks before finally going on the disabled list. His offense suffered for most of the season, and the ankle injury seems to be a plausible explanation. He still swipes bases at an ungodly rate (47 steals in 50 attempts… 94 percent!) and he’s only solidified his reputation as a Gold Glove defender. He also posted the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. Hopefully he’ll remain healthy in 2009 and regain some of the home run power he lost in 2008.
J.J. Hardy (.283 , 24 HR, 74 RBI, .343 OBP) put up similar numbers to his 26 HR, 81 RBI totals for 2007. He is solid defensively and has a strong arm. Hardy has overcome injuries to become one of the better players at his position. Having batted second, fifth, sixth and seventh in 2008, Hardy is the one Brewers starter who gets moved around the batting order. Svuem may do the same in the NLDS.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. It's awfully close, Rollins' defense and speed are terrific. Hardy's just been better all year.
Al says: Slight edge to the Phillies.
A tale of two seasons -- .271/.410/.571 through June 30; .230/.322/.444 thereafter. Pat Burrell still hung on to most of his ability to draw walks, but tailed off pretty much everywhere else. Constantly replaced late in games for “defensive purposes” despite being a sure-handed (albeit slow) left fielder. A free agent after this season, all signs point to Burrell playing elsewhere in 2009, probably somewhere in the American League. Good luck, Pat. Some of us will miss you.
Slugger Ryan Braun (.285, 39 2B, 7 3B, 37 HR, 106 RBI. .553 SLG, 14 SB) made a smooth transition to the outfield after a rough (.895 fielding percentage) rookie season at 3B in 2007. Although he looked unpolished at times, Braun has played well defensively, with a better arm and speed than average for the position. A pure power and average hitter, Braun was ineffective for much of September due to a nagging rib injury. He came through in a big way during the final four games of the season by slugging game-winning bombs against the Pirates and Cubs. Even though he can be impatient at the plate (just 42 walks in 611 AB) Braun is clearly one of baseball's top young players.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. It's Ryan Braun's world. I'd be inclined to call it a tie if Burrell weren't slumping so badly coming into the postseason based on Burrell's edge in OBP.
Al says: Brewers have the advantage here.
Shane Victorino: $480,000, .293/.352/.447. Aaron Rowand: $12,000,000, .271/.339/.410. Even with park adjustments, is it even close? Victorino continues to mature as a player, and although his stolen base rate was significantly worse than last year, he improved at almost every measurable aspect of the game, at a more important defensive position. Cheap, quality production at a premium position. Sign me up!
After being suspended for the first 25 games of the season by MLB for failing a substance test, Mike Cameron (.243, 25 2B, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 17 SB) saw nearly half of his 108 hits go for extra bases. It was an all or nothing season for Cameron, who whiffed 142 times in just 444 AB. The three-time Gold Glover can still chase 'em down in the alleys. Sveum has used Cameron as a leadoff man, which is an unusual spot for a low-average hitter who doesn't make consistent contact.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. Cameron wins due to more power, although Victorino's edge in OBP makes it close, and the defense is a wash.
Al says: Phillies get the edge, but not by much.
Geoff Jenkins - .246/.301/.392. Ewwwww… Everyone makes mistakes, Pat Gillick. This was one of yours. Jayson Werth made the transition from right-handed half of a right field platoon to full-timer during the summer of 2008. He showed the ability to hit for power, get on base, and play occasionally stellar defense. Still doesn’t hit righties very well (.767 OPS) but destroys lefties (1.020 OPS, MLB leading 16 homers). The Phillies likely see Werth as Burrell’s 2009 left field heir apparent. They could do worse.
After becoming an All-Star for the first time, Corey Hart (612 AB, 45 2B, 20 HR, 91 RBI, 23 SB, .268, .300 OBP) cooled off considerably in the second half. Despite his lack of patience at the plate (just 27 BB and 109 Ks), Hart brings a lot of positives to the Brewers. He hits for power, runs well for a big man and is more than adequate in the field.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. Nominally deserved All-Star berths notwithstanding...
Al says: Even
Greg Dobbs – The best pinch-hitter in baseball in 2008, the lefty-hitting Dobbs set a new Phillies record for pinch hits in a season. Good pop but so-so speed, his ability to play third base and either corner outfield position makes him a valuable commodity.
Matt Stairs – Kills right-handed pitching, swings hard, and he’s your best chance at a late inning home run. Cannot really run at all and plays pretty bad defense. With that mustache and the bald head, he kind of looks like the guy who got his face sliced off by the propeller in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a pretty groovy look to cop.
Eric Bruntlett – Yes, Bruntlett is your top right-handed pinch-hitting option. Good thing the Brewers are low on LOOGYs. As a defender, he’s quite versatile, capable of playing shortstop, third base, and the corner outfield positions competently. For a Stanford graduate, Bruntlett is a great utility player.
So Taguchi – What do you call a baseball player who doesn’t really do anything well anymore, but who coasts on his reputation and a vague appearance of athleticism? No, not Ken Griffey, Jr.! It’s Taguchi. A frequent defensive replacement and pinch runner for Burrell, he’s neither a great fielder nor a great baserunner. No power, no OBP, no nothing, really. The fact that he made the postseason roster speaks volumes about how desperately lacking this team is in right-handed hitting.
Depending on the situation, Hall or Counsell along with Durham or Weeks will be available in the infield. Gabe Kapler (229 AB, 9 HR, 39 RBI, .301) was one of the best fourth outfielders and pinch hitters in the majors this season, but a shoulder injury will keep him out of the NLDS. Speedy Tony Gwynn Jr. (.195 in 41 ABs) will take Kapler's place on the roster.
Mike Rivera (62 AB, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .306, .373) performed well as Kendall's backup despite seeing limited playing time. He can also fill in at 1B, as can Brad Nelson, who hit a pair of doubles in seven September ABs. The raw rookie is on the roster as a lefty pinch hitter.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, barely. Dobbs is the best pinch hitter in baseball, which makes up for the bench's heavy leftward tilt (lefties Dobbs, Stairs, and Jenkins; righties Taguchi, Coste, and Bruntlett). The Brewers have weapons, but the Phillies have just a touch more quality.
Al says: Phillies. Not having Kapler available is a big loss for the Brewers.
Cole Hamels – Young, amazingly talented, and not yet in his prime. What’s not to like? Well, he exceeded his previous career high in innings pitched by 44 innings (plus whatever he winds up throwing in the postseason). There’s a pretty substantial risk of injury in the future, but like they say, Flags Fly Forever. The Phillies first true ace since Curt Schilling.
Brett Myers – This is so confusing. There was first-half Brett, who was absolutely brutal and was relegated to the minors for a stint mid-summer. Then, there was Awesome Brett, who along with C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana was one of the best pitchers in the league over the last half of the summer. Then, we had Windin’ Down Brett, who over his last two starts in September was as bad as any starting pitcher I’ve ever seen, grooving super-straight 88 MPH fastballs right over the heart of the plate. The Brett We Get may very easily determine how far the Phillies go this offseason. One has to wonder how much longer the team can tolerate such a highly-paid, unreliable dunderhead on its roster.
Jamie Moyer – Yeah, just your run-of-the-mill 45 year old 16 game winner. And those weren’t “empty wins,” either; Moyer posted an ERA of 120. His skills and approach have barely changed in over a decade and he keeps himself in terrific physical condition. One has to wonder if he can pitch until he’s 50. I wouldn’t necessarily bet against it.
Joe Blanton – He was eeeehhhh… PRETTY good during his Phillies debut (4-0, 4.20 ERA). And they have him under control for a reasonable salary next season. There are worse guys to have out there, I just wish they didn’t have to give up so much to get him. He’s a decent bet to keep the Phillies in a game, but a longshot for a masterpiece.
CC Sabathia (11-2, 1.65, 130.2 innings pitched, 128 K, just 25 BB) has turned out to be one of the great midseason acquisitions of all time. The big lefty even led the NL in complete games (7) despite making just 17 starts in Milwaukee.
Sabathia has the whole package - a blazing fastball, sharp breaking stuff, excellent command, durability and the mentality of a staff ace. He has volunteered to pitch on three days rest and will do so again Thursday in Philly.
Ben Sheets (13-9, 3.09, 198.1 IP, 158 K, 47 BB, 5 CG) is out of the NLDS and most likely for the entire postseason with a torn ligament in his elbow. After this stellar 1-2 combination, the rotation takes a big turn for the worse.
Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.88, 24 IP) has just four starts in 2008. The 22-year old tore his ACL in a collision while covering first base in April. Making an exceptionally speedy recovery, the right-hander gave up a run in four innings while starting against the Cubs last Saturday.
After going 9-5 as a rookie in 2007, the Mexican-born Gallardo is often touted as a future staff ace. He has the talent to reach that level, but Gallardo is extremely inexperienced for a pitcher in such an important game. He could well rise to the occasion, but I'd be surprised to see Gallardo pitch more than five innings.
Righties Dave Bush (9-10, 4.18 and just 48 walks in 185 IP) and Jeff Suppan (10-10, 4.96, 177.2 IP) round out the rotation. Hard-throwing but erratic lefty Manny Parra (10-8, 4.39) will be used out of the bullpen. Bush finished strong after getting hammered early in the season, while Suppan was battered in September.
Peter says: Edge: Draw. Okay, it's a cop-out. I guess you pick your poison: Depth or upfront dominance? A pitcher like Sabathia is awfully close to a guaranteed win, but do you let it all ride on him and pray in the games he doesn't pitch? A toss-up.
Al says: I think it's a draw as well.
Brad Lidge – ‘Nuff said. 41-for-41 in save attempts, well over a strikeout per inning, Lidge is a Cy Young and MVP candidate who deserves a ton of credit for solidifying the back end of the Phillies bullpen and helping to make it one of the very best in baseball. Some shaky outings here and there, but there was probably no one in baseball this year that you’d want on the mound with the game on the line than Lidge.
Ryan Madson – Picture it: Tall, lanky right-hander with plus change-up and decent fastball carves out nice career as solid middle reliever on perennial east coast contender. Then, seemingly overnight, “Stretch” starts throwing 95 MPH to offset an already terrific change-up. He allows one earned run in 14 innings in September, with 17 strikeouts. Did we just witness the birth of an elite relief pitcher? Stay tuned…
J.C. Romero – Employed mostly as a LOOGY, he’s also more than capable of getting the occasional right-handed hitter out, too. Great stuff, but a little wild. Also a little, shall we say, “demonstrative” on the mound when successful. Nobody likes a showoff, even if you share initials with a certain you-know-who…
Chad Durbin – The aliens’ great experiment was a success. Last winter, Durbin was abducted by extra-terrestrials who needed to harness his homer-licious pitching proclivities to power their flying saucers. His replacement, in a funny The Last Starfighter-ish twist, was a robot made in Durbin’s exact likeness. This Robo-Durbin was one of the game’s best relief pitchers this season, helping to lock down the 6th and 7th innings before handing them over to the Madsons and Lidges of the world. Now that we anticipate that the real Durbin will return next season, we’ll have to see if Robo-Durbin teaches him any new tricks on his way out of town.
J.A. Happ – Rookie lefthander with promising stats in AAA, he’s been added to the roster, I imagine, to hedge on the all-too-likely possibility that one of starters (coughMYERScough) lays an egg out there. He gets plenty of strikeouts but walks a few too many. Likely to be the first line of defense in the case of an injured starter.
Scott Eyre – Ladies and gentlemen, your LOOGY. On the roster for the sole reason of getting Prince Fielder out. Which is no small thing.
Clay Condrey – Another unlikely success story this year, and looking at the numbers I have no idea how in the hell he did it. He doesn’t get strikeouts, he gave up a ton of hits, his walk rate is decent and he gives up his share of home runs. If he can keep working his magic into the postseason, hey, life is good.
Sveum used Johnny Wholestaff over the final week of the season, yanking starters early and often. Thanks to strong performances by AAA call-ups and September surprise Todd Coffey (not eligible for postseason play), the results were unexpectedly successful. Things could be much different with a 25-man roster.
Versatile Seth McClung (6-6, 4.02, 12 starts in 37 G) could come in for an inning or four. When he has his command, the hard-throwing McClung can be dominating, but control has been his problem. Eric Gagne (4-3, 5.44, 50 G, 46.1 IP, 10 saves, 7 blown saves) was signed to be the closer, but ineffectiveness led to a demotion to middle relief. Gagne has looked good in recent outings.
Guillermo Mota (5-6, 4.11) has a plus fastball, but command issues means he can be erratic. Lefty Mitch Stetter (3-1, 3.20) gave up more walks (19) than hits (14) in 25.1 IP while striking out 31. Carlos Villanueva (4-7, 4.07, 9 starts, 108.1 IP, 93 K, 30 BB) has done an excellent job out of the bullpen after flopping as a starter. He's capable of going two or three innings.
Salomon Torres (7-5, 3.49, 28 SV, 71 G, 80.1 IP) was given the closer's job out of desperation. He took the challenge and performed well until late in the season. If Torres was tired, perhaps the two days off since Sunday will solve that problem.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, and it's not even close. One of the best bullpens in the league, a bona fide closer and quality set-up men, versus the Brewers Island of Misfit Ex-Closers.
Al says: Advantage Phillies. Aside from Sabathia's starts, the Brewers relievers could be putting in a bunch of innings.
* * *
Peter's Prediction: Despite relatively small changes in personnel from last season, the Philadelphia Phillies went from an offensive juggernaut with bad pitching in 2007 to a more balanced attack in 2008. Their 92 wins was the franchise’s highest mark since 1993. The overall composition of both the Phillies and Brewers is quite similar; the Phillies are just slightly better offensively, they have a slightly better pitching staff with more depth, and more team speed. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Game One. If the Phillies lose the first game, they face Sabathia the next evening and the very real possibility of being down 0-2 going to Milwaukee. Of course, there’s also the very real possibility that the overworked Sabathia’s arm is going to fall off his body, like it did in last season’s ALCS with Cleveland. These five game series are almost literally a crapshoot. I’m not going to pretend to have some kind of clairvoyance to predict how this series will turn out based on each team’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s almost purely an educated guess, and since I’m a Phillies fan, I’m going to guess the Phillies win the series in 4 games. Hamels is solid if not spectacular in Game One, with Gallardo pitching very well for five innings before stepping aside for Milwaukee’s weak bullpen, where the Phillies’ bats will feast. Sabathia wins Game Two, then the Phillies take Games Three and Four in Milwaukee.
Al's Prediction: Phillies in four games. The Brewers have too many weaknesses (all or nothing offense, starting pitching depth, mediocre defense) to go to the NLCS. It's still quite an achievement to make it to the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
Much of the credit can go to Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio, who stepped up and approved the Sabathia deal that cost the Brewers several top prospects. With Sheets and Sabathia heading for free agency after the season, Attanasio saw 2008 as a one-year window of opportunity and acted accordingly.
When Yost tightened up as the team slumped in September, Attanasio pulled the trigger and fired the manager with just 12 games left in the season. It was an unprecedented move for a playoff contender, but turning the team over to Sveum and new bench coach Robin Yount has had the desired effect.
ALDS Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
They don't start this one until later tonight but it's the one nearest and dearest to our hearts. So we're throwing it up first this morning. We will have the Phills/Brewers later on this morning (or at least before first pitch), the Cubs/Dodgers later in the afternoon and then we will run with the other ALDS series tomorrow morning. Al and Marc from The Baseball Analysts chipped in, and we have bloggers from around the web that are helping us, too. So stay tuned.
Let's defer to last year's preview in order to set this year's up.
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 two of us attended another game this season – this time at Fenway Park. Our Sunday included breakfast with Bill James and Jared Porter, Director of Professional Scouting, followed by an afternoon tilt between the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, a young team that went on to win the AL East. We even had the opportunity to pose for a photo before the game.
Today, we sit on the opposite coasts awaiting with excitement the first pitch to this year's ALDS.
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 10 PM ET on TBS - BOS (Jon Lester) @ LAA (John Lackey)
Game 2: Fri., Oct. 3, 9:30 PM ET on TBS - BOS (Daisuke Matsuzaka) @ LAA (Ervin Santana)
Game 3: Sun., Oct. 5, TBD on TBS - LAA (Joe Saunders) @ BOS (Josh Beckett)
Game 4*: Mon., Oct. 6, TBD on TBS - LAA (John Lackey) @ BOS (TBD)
Game 5*: Wed., Oct 8, TBD on TBS - BOS (TBD) @ LAA (Ervin Santana)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
BOS 56-25 39-42 95-67
LAA 50-31 50-31 100-62
Head-to-head results: LAA, 8-1
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
BOS 845 .280 .358 .447 .805 108
LAA 765 .268 .330 .413 .743 96
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+
BOS 694 .250 .323 .390 .713 114
LAA 697 .261 .322 .406 .729 109
Mike Napoli (.273/.374/.586, 20 HR, 149 OPS+) platooned with Jeff Mathis the first two months, missed a large portion of June through mid-August, then earned the starting job for good with a fantastic September (.453/.508/.906). Napoli is not only the hottest hitter on the team – going 20-for-34 with 5 HR in his final 11 games – but one of its best.
Jason Varitek (.220/.313/.359, 13 HR, 74 OPS+) was awful this season. The Red Sox are the only American League playoff team who won't field a good catcher. In all likelihood, regardless of how far they advance, the Red Sox will yield ground to their opposition behind the plate. Varitek's awful September dashed any hope that his .264/.376/.431 August offered Sox fans.
Rich says: This is the first time an Angels catcher deserves to get the nod over the Boston captain.
Sully says: Not even close.
Mark Teixeira (.308/.410/.552, 33 HR, 153 OPS+) has hit .358/.449/.632 since being acquired by the Angels at the end of July. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound switch-hitter is the only Halo with more walks (97) than strikeouts (93). He is the single biggest difference between this year's club and the one that was swept by the Red Sox last year.
Kevin Youkilis (.312/.390/.569, 29 HR, 145 OPS+) was an American League MVP candidate this season and I wonder how many folks really know it. You look at the Red Sox record, run differential, runs scored, etc. and you wonder how they did it with all of the problems on offense (injuries to Lowell, Papi, Drew, the existence of Lugo and Varitek). Well, look no further than Youkilis and the guy positioned to his right. They became stars in 2008.
Rich says: Both Tex and Youk can hit and field with the best but the edge goes to the Angels newcomer.
Sully says: Narrowly, I give it to Tex as well.
Howie Kendrick (.306/.333/.421, 3 HR, 98 OPS+ in 92 games) hit for average once again but his poor walk (.033) and home run rates (.008) limit his value offensively. His defense has advanced to the point where he is now a plus fielder.
Dustin Pedroia (.326/.376/.493, 17 HR, 123 OPS+) may win the AL MVP (rightly or wrongly) and has emerged as a real team leader. As disadvantaged as Varitek makes the Red Sox compared to the other post-season catchers, Pedroia gives the Sox nearly as great of an advantage over the other playoff keystoners.
Rich says: Pedroia is the easy pick here.
Sully says: Agreed.
Erick Aybar (.277/.314/.384, 3 HR, 84 OPS+ in 98 games) split time with Maicer Izturis until the latter was sidelined for the season in August with a torn left thumb ligament. The 24-year-old defensive whiz missed two weeks on two separate occasions this season. He is one of three switch-hitting infielders.
Jed Lowrie (.258/.339/.400, 3 HR, 91 OPS+ in 81 games) took over full time shortstop duties after Julio Lugo went down with an injury. Looks like he might have Pipped him. Lowrie's numbers might not be anything to write home about but remember, this is not the turn of the century. Hanley Ramirez aside, shortstops no longer count among the game's best hitters like Nomar, A-Rod, Jeter and Tejada once did.
Rich says: It's hard to get excited by either shortstop. I would call it a toss-up or a slight edge to Aybar for his defensive prowess.
Sully says: Lowrie is no slouch defender and every bit the hitter the 2008 versions of Michael Young and Miguel Tejada were. His .117 BB/PA rate to Aybar's .037 tells you a lot of what you need to know about the differences between the two players.
Chone Figgins (.276/.367/.318, 1 HR, 84 OPS+) had the worst year of his career. Period. His only contributions of note were his improved walk rate (.120) and 34 stolen bases in 47 attempts (72%). Given Figgy's lack of power, Boston's pitchers would be well served to pound the strike zone in an effort to keep him from getting free passes.
Mike Lowell (.274/.338/.461, 17 HR, 105OPS+) battled injuries all season long but could be a real wild card (heh) in this series. His start was horrendous, he crushed the ball in May and June, then stunk again as he battled injuries only to have a strong September when he was in there.
Rich says: Lowell is the choice but only if healthy.
Sully says: If Lowell is unhealthy and it forces Mark Kotsay into the lineup, Figgins gets the nod. Otherwise, yeah, just as Rich stated above.
Garret Anderson (.293/.325/.433, 15 HR, 99 OPS+) put up a fairly typical season, hitting nearly .300 with moderate power and little interest in taking a walk. The 14-year veteran (3.42) and his fellow starting outfielders rank in the bottom 10 among 68 qualified AL batters in pitches per plate appearance.
Jason Bay (.286/.373/.522, 31 HR, 133 OPS+) was a main reason that the Red Sox went 34-19 after Manny Ramirez left town at the trade deadline. He has been terrific since arriving here, and provides an incredible amount of lineup depth hitting out of the 6-hole.
Rich says: Bay over GA. Way.
Sully says: Nice, Rich.
Torii Hunter (.278/.344/.466, 21 HR, 112 OPS+) had a career-best OBP while tying his single-season high with 50 walks. The first-year Angel had a Gold Glove-type season in center field, making several spectacular catches while covering plenty of ground and displaying one of the most accurate arms in the league.
Jacoby Ellsbury (.280/.336/.394, 9 HR, 89 OPS+) led the American League with 50 stolen bases and was only thrown out 11 times. Since August 1, he hit .314/.352/.463 and stole 15 bases at a 79% clip. If that guy shows up, you can actually consider this one a draw.
Rich says: You know what you're gonna get with Hunter. That's good enough to win this position battle.
Sully says: Ellsbury seems over-matched against the hard throwers. Look for Lackey and Santana to pound Ellsbury inside. I don't think he will be much of a factor.
Vladimir Guerrero (.303/.365/.521, 27 HR, 131 OPS+) batted over .300 and hit at least 25 home runs for the 11th straight season, matching a streak set by Lou Gehrig (1927 to 1937). He tied for the AL lead in IBB (16) and GIDP (27). Vlad has a powerful but inaccurate arm and no longer can go from first to third on a single or first to home on a double.
Guerrero has struggled in two his previous playoff appearances against Boston, going 4-for-22 with just one extra-base hit. Moreover, his aggressive, first-pitch hacking approach has been exploited by other teams during the post-season as well (.183/.258/.233 in 16 games).
JD Drew (.280/.408/.519, 19 HR, 139 OPS+), like Lowell, comes into the post-season as something of an unknown. When healthy and locked in, he is an MVP-caliber performer (AL Player of the Month in June). When shaky, he is still an asset. His walk-rate never goes anywhere.
Rich says: Guerrero, but not by as much as the average fan might think.
Sully says: A reluctant nod to Vlad because of JD's gimpy finish.
Juan Rivera (.246/.282/.438, 12 HR, 87 OPS+) played sparingly through June, then hit .268/.299/.505 while playing in 75% of the games over the final three months of the season. Like most Angels, he rarely draws walks. Never known for his speed, Rivera has become even slower since breaking his leg playing winter ball in Venezuela in December 2006.
David Ortiz (.264/.369/.507, 23 HR, 125 OPS+), like Drew, played in only 109 games this season. Ortiz hit six home runs in September and seemed to be hitting his stride heading into the post-season but even the most rose-colored view of Ortiz's current makeup would have to conclude that he remains a tick or two off of his recent dominance.
Rich says: Give me Big Papi any day of the week.
Sully says: I agree.
Off the Bench:
Gary Matthews Jr. (.242/.319/.357) was a reserve outfielder, yet ranked fourth on the team in games played. He is the most likely reserve to see action in the ALDS.
Brandon Wood (.200/.224/.327) struck out 43 times in 157 plate appearances but slugged four home runs in September when he earned more playing time than at any other point in the season.
Jeff Mathis (.194/.275/.318) will back up Napoli behind the plate, Kendry Morales (.213/.273/.393 in only 27 games) and Robb Quinlan (.262/.326/.311) will be used as pinch hitters, and Reggie Willits (.194/.321/.231) is likely to be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement as well as an occasional situational hitter off the bench.
Coco Crisp (.283/.344/.407) steps right should Drew be unable to go. Either way, it is quite likely that he starts against Joe Saunders. Crisp, the switch-hitter, will take over for the left-handed Ellsbury against the Angels southpaw. Crisp plays a terrific center field and has turned back into a passable offensive player this season.
Alex Cora (.270/.371/.349) is slipping as a defender but remains a tough out at the plate. It's hard to envision a scenario in which he takes much time from Pedroia or Lowrie but he could be used as a pinch-runner.
Sean Casey (.322/.381/.392) is the slowest man on earth and has to be the worst fielding first baseman in baseball. He also seems like he is swinging underwater oftentimes. And yet, I am pretty sure I would categorize him as a net contributor this season. He might get a look or two as a pinch hitter. Mark Kotsay (.276/.329/.403) would in all likelihood start at first base should Lowell be unable to go and Youk shifts over to third.
Kevin Cash (.225/.309/.338) is just awful.
Rich says: Yuck. Not Youk. Just Yuck.
Sully says: I will give a slight, unenthusiastic edge to Boston here.
John Lackey (12-5, 3.75, 116 ERA+) missed all of spring training and the first month-and-a-half with a strained right triceps, then pitched as well as he ever has through June (6-1, 1.44 ERA with a better than 4:1 K/BB ratio). However, the soon-to-be 30-year old has not been nearly as effective in the second half and was pummeled in his last outing, allowing 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Rangers. The 6-6, 245-pound righthander throws a low-90s fastball along with a plus curveball and a slider. Manager Mike Scioscia is handing his veteran ace the ball for Game 1.
Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49, 125 ERA+) finally realized his potential this season, earning an All-Star berth and leading the club in IP (219), SO (214), WHIP (1.12), and K/BB (4.55). The 25-year-old righthander throws the third-hardest average fastball (94.4) in MLB and a plus slider. He is scheduled to start Game 2.
Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41, 128 ERA+) surpassed everyone's expectations by making the All-Star squad and leading the staff in Wins, W-L%, and ERA. While considered a finesse pitcher, the 27-year-old southpaw's fastball sits at 90-92. He mixes in a plus changeup and an average curveball and occasional slider. He is slated to go in Game 3 at Fenway Park.
Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21, 143 ERA+) was Boston's most dependable arm this season and is the second-best pitcher in the playoffs (behind only C.C. Sabathia). Go on, check it out. Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum are out on the NL side while Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are eliminated from the American League. He's been remarkable all season long and given how battle-tested the kid is, I don't expect him to wilt out in California.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90, 158 ERA+) was simply not as good as his numbers would have you believe this season. He walks too many batters and his formula for keeping runs off the board of always depending on stranding runners is unsustainable. He had one of the very flukiest pitching seasons that I can recall.
Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03, 114 ERA+) is sort of the opposite of Dice-K. Despite notching 18 more strikeouts, 60 fewer bases on balls and a considerably better WHIP, Beckett still ended up with the higher ERA than Matsuzaka. I expect their respective ERA's to reverse for the playoffs.
Rich says: Too close to call.
Sully says: I can't make a call here, either. Daisuke and Saunders are not as good as they would appear, Lackey and Beckett are probably better (but both come in with question marks) and Lester and Santana are both undeniably terrific.
Francisco Rodriguez (2-3, 62 SV, 2.24, 195 ERA+) set the MLB record for saves this season. Make what you will of his saves total but the fact remains that he pitched well. The only criticism of the 26-year-old veteran closer is that he walks too many batters (4.48 BB/9), but he also strikes out more than his fair share (10.14 K/9) and keeps the ball in the park (0.53 HR/9). The free agent-to-be flashes a 92-mph fastball (down from the mid-90s earlier in his career), a wicked slider when on, and one of the most improved changeups in baseball. The latter has become his true out pitch, especially when facing LHB.
Scot Shields (6-4, 31 Holds, 2.70, 161 ERA+) is a solid veteran set-up man. He didn't tire down the stretch as he has in past years.
Jose Arredondo (10-2, 16 Holds, 1.62, 269 ERA+) may assume the role of closer next season but will serve as a bridge between the starters and Frankie during the 2008 playoffs.
Darren Oliver (7-1, 12 Holds, 2.88, 152 ERA+) was more effective than ever this year. While Oliver is the only lefty in the bullpen, he is more than a LOOGY, averaging 1 1/3 innings per appearance.
Jon Garland (14-8, 4.90) and Jered Weaver (11-10, 4.33) will be used exclusively in long relief in a series that only requires three starting pitchers.
Jonathan Papelbon (5-4, 41 SV, 2.34, 196 ERA+) will be the reason the Red Sox lose this series should they go down. He has yielded an .822 OPS in September and seems entirely too dependent on a fastball that he is not even throwing as hard as he did at this time last season.
Manny Delcarmen (3-2, 18 Holds, 3.27, 140 ERA+)
Hideki Okajima (3-2, 23 Holds, 2.61, 189 ERA+)
Justin Masterson (6-5, 3 Holds, 3.16, 145 ERA+)
Javier Lopez (2-0, 10 Holds, 2.43, 189 ERA+)
This bullpen, when you take the trio of suck that was Mike Timlin, Craig Hansen and David Aardsma out of the picture, was pretty damn good and really came together towards the end of the season. Paul Byrd and Tim Wakefield should offer depth (unless one is called upon to start Game 4).
Rich says: I haven't given up on Paps yet. He is every bit as good as K-Rod in my judgment. The balance of the 'pens are equally solid. No blood.
Sully says: I will give the nod to the Halos with Papelbon struggling coming into the playoffs.
* * *
Rich's Prediction: An argument could be made on behalf of the Angels or the Red Sox. To wit:
- The Angels had the most wins in baseball. The Red Sox had the biggest run differential in the AL.
- The Angels took eight out of nine games from Boston this season. The Red Sox swept Los Angeles in the 2004 and 2007 ALDS.
- The Angels had the best road record in MLB. The Red Sox had the second-best home record in the majors.
Based on the above, there's nothing I can hang my Angels hat on except for two factors:
1. Home-field advantage.
2. BOS appears to be about as banged up as the LAA were in 2007. Hint: It didn't turn out too well for the Halos a year ago.
While I don't see the Angels returning the favor and sweeping the Red Sox this time around, I believe the AL West champs have what it takes to beat the AL wild card in five.
Sully's Prediction: Boston beats Lackey twice and Saunders once but loses to Santana. I like the Sox in four.