Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Picks

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training at 2 o'clock eastern, I thought it was appropriate to make my picks for each of baseball's six divisions.  That said, here we go:

AL East
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
Boston Red Sox
Baltimore Orioles
Tornoto Blue Jays

The Yankees are better than last year and aren't under the pressure of not having won a World Series in almost a decade.  Tampa's pitching, both at the front end and in the bullpen, should be more stable this year and their lineup is very strong top to bottom.  Boston's lineup isn't as scary as it's been in the past and there are lingering health questions surrounding many of their starters.  The O's are finally headed in the right direction and after losing Burnett and Halladay in consecutive offseasons,Toronto is definitely in rebuilding mode.

AL Central
Minnesota Twins
Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Cleveland Indians

New ballpark, healthy hitters, a healthy starting rotation, and the same-ol' bullpen should land the Twins right back in the hunt this October.  Detroit's pitching is the best it's been in years but the lineup has some holes.  The White Sox are one of the toughest teams to forecast.  Jake Peavy, Carlos Quentin, Freddy Garcia, Alex Rois, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones...if you know what kind of years these guys are going to turn in, you're smarter than I am.  That's why I put them third.  Kansas City has some pitching and its lineup isn't as anonymous or anemic as it once was.  And Cleveland is incredibly young and its pitching is below average at best.

AL West
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Oakland Athletics
LA Angels

This is the toughest division to forecast because I think each team will finish near, if not above .500.  Texas can hit and for the first time in a long time, I truly believe they're going to be able to pitch, too.  That makes them the most well-rounded club.  Seattle has the best 1-2 punch in baseball on the mound.  It's just a question of if they have enough offense.  Nobody realized how good Oakland's pitching staff was a year ago.  Now all those rookies are a little better and they've added two former All-Stars to the rotation.  If Sheets and Duchscherer can make 20-25 starts apiece, this team won't finish last.  And LA?  I'm just not a believer.  The last few years, they've lost a lot more than they've gained.  Since 2007, it's been bye-bye Teixeira, K-Rod, Vlad, Lackey, Figgins, Kelvim Escobar, Orlando Cabrera, and Garret Anderson among others.  Relative to the rest of the division, this pitching staff isn't that good.  Their lineup is old and has holes in it and even though I think Mike Scioscia is an excellent manager, I don't think this team gets back to the postseason.  That could mean they finish second, third, or fourth.

NL East
Philadelphia Phillies
Florida Marlins
Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals
New York Mets

The Phillies are an easy pick.  This remains the most danegrous lineup in the league, and they've added Roy Halladay to the mix.  Their only potential downfall will be their closer.  Watch out for the Marlins this year.  The offense is going to be sneaky good with Han-Ram, Coghlan, Cantu and Uggla.  If Sanchez and Maybin are for real, look out and if Ricky Nolasco's demons are truly in the rearview mirror, they're going to be very strong on the mound as well.  Atlanta can pitch, but I don't see them scoring enough runs to be a 90-win team.  They should have gotten more than they did in the Vazquez trade.  Speaking of pitching, the Nats finally can!  I love the Wang signing, Jason Marquis is an innings-eater, Strasburg will be useful eventually and this year they actually have a closer.  Plus, they have a lineup that could really be a pain to face (Nyjer Morgan, Adam Kennedy, Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham).  And then there's the poor Mets.  They did nothing to bolster their pitching, Carlos Beltran is already banged up, I envision Jason Bay being a huge flop, and I'd be surprised if Jose Reyes gets 500 plate appearances.

NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Houston Astros
Pittsburgh Pirates

By re-signing Matt Holliday, the Cards stay the team to beat especially with Wainwright and Carpenter anchoring the staff.  Milwaukee has a good mix of youth and experience, plus the best righty/lefty power bat combo since Manny and Papi.  The Cubs look like a weaker version of the team that didn't make the playoffs last year.  The Reds offense is very thin, although I think they'll be able to pitch a little bit.  Houston didn't really make any impact moves (Tejada left, Brett Myers joins the staff) but they did lose both of their closers (Valverde and Hawkins) and Pittsburgh has a lovely ballpark.  If you haven't been there, I highly recommend you check it out.

NL West
LA Dodgers
Arizona Diamondbacks (Wild Card)
Colorado Rockies
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres

With Manny for a full year, and Ethier and Kemp about to enter their most productive years, this team will have a dangerous offense.  Clayton Kershaw is the key.  If he becomes a true number one this year, the Dodgers could be the best team in the NL.  If Brandon Webb is truly 100%, Arizona will have the best starting pitching in the league (including Haren and Edwin Jackson).  With Justin Upton's continued development, the addition of Adam LaRoche and the return of Conor Jackson, I see them being a playoff team.  Colorado lost Marquis but gets Jeff Francis back from injury so that's a wash, if not a slight improvement.  With all their speed at the top and contact in the middle, they should score enough to be highly competitive.  The Giants sure can pitch but offense is often a trouble spot.  The additions of Huff and DeRosa should help.  And San Diego seems a lock to finish last and a lock to trade Adrian Gonzalez before the deadline.

So to the Yankees, Rays, Twins, Rangers, Phillies, Cards, Dodgers, and D''re welcome for the massive jinx.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Top 10 Of 2010

Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, which means (I hope) the snow that's covering seemingly the entire nation will soon melt and the national pasttime will soon resume.  So with that in mind and with Opening Day now a mere 47 days away, here are my top 10 storylines of 2010 in no particular order.

10.  New York's Title Defense.  Last year, they won the AL East by 8 games and won the World Series in 6 and that was with A-Rod on the shelf until early May.  This year, Alex's hip (and ego) are 100%, Curtis Granderson, Javy Vazquez, and Nick Johnson are in while Johnny Damon, Chien-Ming Wang and Hideki Matsui are out.  On paper, this team appears to be head-and-shoulders above the other 29.  But rarely do they play the game on paper.  The Yankees are built to win now and baseball hasn't had a back-to-back champ in 10 years (when yes, the Yankees did it).

9.  Homerun Milestones.  Speaking of A-Rod, he is now just 17 homeruns away from 600 for his career and there's a very good shot he'll get there before his 35th birthday on July 27th.  His former teammate, Ken Griffey is 20 away from 650.  New Minnesota Twin Jim Thome needs 36 (and probably a team that will sign him to another one-year-deal in 2011) to reach 600.  If Carlos Delgado decides not to retire after all, he's 27 homeruns away from 500 and Albert Pujols, who just turned all of 30, is 34 bombs from 400.

8.  Welcome Back!  Former All-Stars Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, Grady Sizemore, Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Tim Hudson, Geovany Soto, and Delgado (again, if he plays) all missed significant time last season due to injury.  Now, all of them are presumably healthy and all of them are key to their team's respective success, especially Reyes and Santana.

7.  Old Faces, New Places.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jason Bay, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vlad Guerrero, Billy Wagner, Vazquez, and Granderson were some of the big names to change teams this offseason.  In doing so, many of them signed big, big contracts.  Which ones will prove to worth it, and which ones won't?

6.  Young Cy Young.  Tim Lincecum doesn't turn 26 until the middle of June.  Tim Lincecum hasn't thrown 600 career innings.  But Tim Lincecum already has 40 career wins, 676 strikeouts and enters 2010 gunning for his 3rd straight Cy Young award.  Only two pitchers in history have won three in a row, they're also the only two pitchers in history to win four in a row, and they're both future Hall of Famers- Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux.  "The Freak" has a chance to join awfully exclusive company at an awfully tender age but it won't be easy.  New NL'er Halladay, along with usual suspects Santana, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and maybe even Clayton Kershaw should prove to be strong competitors too.

5.  Young Guns.  This time a year ago, just about every baseball "expert" had already given the AL ROY award to either Matt Wieters or David Price with Tommy Hanson and Cameron Maybin the favorites in the NL.  How wrong they were.  Oakland's Andrew Bailey enjoyed the lowest OPS-against in all of baseball en route to winning the award in the AL, while the scrappy Chris Coghlan hit .372 after the All-Star break to take home the NL honor for the Marlins.  This time around, Atlanta's Jason Heyward is playing the role of Wieters while the Nats' Stephen Strasburg is playing the role of Price.  Will they live up to the hype or disappoint, opening the door for another dark horse or two?

4.  Outdoor Baseball In Minnesota Again.  After a 28-year run, the Twins are leaving the Metrodome and returning to their open-air roots.  Target Field seats 40-thousand and unlike their previous digs, is not designed to be "hitter friendly."  How will this impact Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau?  How many games will be snowed out?  How long will it take Francisco Liriano to get loose?

3.  The Other New York Team.  The '09 Mets were riddled with injuries, had one of the highest payrolls in baseball, lost 92 games, and saw their team leader in homeruns smack just a dozen of them.  The '10 Mets look to be without Carlos Beltran for an entended period of time out of the gate, have done next-to-nothing to bolster their pitching staff, and still have a really high payroll.  To top it all off, the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins look to be just as tough, if not tougher, than they were a season ago.  Last season was for eye-rolling.  This season, it might be heads that are rolling at Citi Field.

2.  There's Always Albert.  He's won three of the last five NL MVPs including two straight.  In 9 seasons, he's never finished with fewer than 33 doubles, 32 homeruns, 103 RBI, a .314 average, and 99 runs scored.  At 1.0547, his career OPS is best among all active players and fourth best all-time (even higher than Bonds).  And so far, he is presumed to be PED-free.  Now in his thirties, he has nothing left to prove but plenty still to achieve.  Will he win a Triple Crown?  Last year he missed it by 6 RBI and 9 hits.  As I mentioned above, he should reach 400 homeruns this year and if healthy, will get to 2,000 hits next year.  At his current pace, he would get to 500 homeruns early in 2013 and 3,000 hits in late 2016.  Aaron, Mays, and Murray and the only clean players with that on their resume.  To sum up: one of the best players ever to swing a bat is in his prime right now.  Enjoy him while you can. 

1.  Expect The Unexpected.  Some of last year's biggest surprises included A-Rod's 'roids admission, Greinke's breakout year, Buehrle's perfect game, Manny's suspension, the return of the Rockies, MVP-Mauer, Mark Reynolds' power surge, Brandon Webb's lost season, and the Yankees (and A-Rod) living up to expectations and breaking their World Series drought.  So what will come out of nowhere and dominate the headlines in 2010?  Will the Rays make it back to the playoffs?  How good are all the O's young players?  With John Lackey, Vlad, and Figgins gone, is LA's dynasty over and the AL West perennially up for grabs?  Can the Nats pitch yet?  Who gets traded mid-year?  Is Matt Kemp really one of the game's best young players?  And might this be the final season for All-Stars Griffey, Thome, Pettitte, Pedro, Smoltz or even Chipper?  We'll begin to get answers to these questions and more tomorrow afternoon!

Monday, February 15, 2010

You Know Your Favorite Team Is Doomed When...

...this happens. 

So much blame to go around it's hard to know where to start but Bergesen certainly deserves a sizeable chunk considering it's his arm and he has the right to say, "Hey guys, this isn't smart.  I'm not in throwing shape."

The O's marketing department and/or whoever hired this production company also shouldn't escape unscathed.  Are none of these people baseball fans?  Do any of them realize that pitchers (especially prized 24-year-old prospects) are given incredibly detailed restrictions for when they can and cannot throw?  Did it not occur to any of them that Brad was working up a sweat, huffing and puffing, and airing it out before Spring Training!? 

This is also a major botch for the organization as a whole.  Don't the promotional people have to talk to the baseball people when they want to use a player in a spot?  Is it possible the baseball people (manager, pitching coach, strength and conditioning staff) were left completely out of the loop here?  If that was the case and I'm Dave Trembley, I want somebody fired yesterday. 

For O's fans, let's hope this injury is as minor as the team claims it is.  And let's also hope their next team promo isn't a spot where Matt Wieters is asked to block home plate with Ray Lewis chugging full-steam towards his right knee.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Rodney Dangerfield Of Baseball

The sub-headline on this article pretty much sums up the lack of respect Frank Thomas received during his career and continues to receive now that he's retired.  It reads simply, "Frank Thomas a Hall of Famer?"  Not just grammatically incorrect, it's also a tremendous slight to a man who should be not just a Hall of Famer, but a slam-dunk-first-ballot Hall of Famer.

After failing to find headlines of "Tom Brady's Wife Hot?" "LeBron James Entertaining?" or "Tiger Woods Jokes...Too Soon?" anywhere else on, I figured I'd give my undivided attention to Thomas and his illustrious, if not unappreciated, career.

First off, his 521 career homeruns are tied for 18th all-time and considering six of the guys above him (Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, A-Rod, Palmeiro, and Manny) have been linked to PEDs, among clean players he's tied for 12th with current HOFers Willie McCovey and Ted Williams.

Secondly, his career OBP is an impressive .419.  While that number is good for 21st all-time, only 9 of the players above him played after 1930 and one of them is Bonds.  Among his semi-contemporaries, only Pujols and Helton have a higher career OBP.  And while we're talking about modern day numbers, Thomas ranks 15th in career OPS (.974) and among presumed clean players, he moves up to 12th. 

Next, and perhaps even more impressive, Thomas finished with almost 300 more career walks (1,667) than strikeouts (1,397).  Of the presumed clean players who rank above him on the all-time homerun list, only Babe Ruth and Ted Williams had more "walks minus strikeouts."  That's pretty good company.

As far as hardware goes, Thomas is one of just six in AL history to win back-to-back MVP awards and he finished top-5 in the voting another four times, one of which was in 2000 when he was runner-up to admitted cheat, Jason Giambi.  He also took home four Silver Slugger awards, was a five-time All-Star, and a career .301 hitter in more than 10,000 plate appearances.

According to the Bill James developed "Hall of Fame Monitor," which measures how likely a player is to get into the Hall, Thomas receives a score of 194, higher than current HOFers Hank Greenberg, Rickey Henderson, Harmon Killebrew, Joe Morgan and Ernie Banks to name a few.  A score of 130 is considered sure fire HOF material.

And while his career loses a fraction of notoriety because 57% of his plate appearances came as a DH, it doesn't take away from the fact that he was one of the most patient power hitters the game has ever seen.  

Simply put- Frank Thomas a Hall of Famer?  Yes, indeed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cabrera Treated, So What's Next?

By now, you've probably heard that Miguel Cabrera (a) spent three months getting treatment for alcoholism this offseason, (b) plans to continue with his program in spring training and during the regular season and (c) says he hasn't had a drop of booze since a drunken scuffle with his wife right at the end of the season and right at the beginning of the Tigers' collapse last year.

First off- let me say it's admirable that he's recognized his problem, sought help for it, plans to stick with his treatment, and is brave enough to speak publicly about it.  As an avid fantasy baseball player though, I wonder what impact this will have on his 2010 numbers.

For his six and a half year career, his average 162 game season looks like this: .311/33/117 with a .925 OPS.  Those, my friends, put him on pace for first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame, especially considering he doesn't turn 27 until mid-April.  So he could easily string together another 8 or 9 seasons of at least that caliber before he hits his twilight years and that's with 1200+ hits, 200+ homeruns, and 750+ RBI already in the bag.

The one thing Cabrera has yet to do though, is put together a monster season.  As good as he's been, he's never hit 40 homeruns, never driven in 130, never hit .340, never walked 100 times, and never finished with an OPS above 1.000 (although he's come awfully close).  But just because he intends on being clean for all of 2010, I don't think we can assume this will be the year he does any, or all of those things.

First off, for all his apparent in-season drinking in the past, his health and playing time have never suffered.  Since being called up, he has yet to play in fewer than 157 games and has always amassed at least 650 plate appearances.  The drinking doesn't appear to have had an impact on his power, either.  In each of his six full seasons, he has smacked 65, 78, 78, 74, 75, and 68 extra base hits and never slugged under .510.

Although I don't know him personally, my guess is that Cabrera is one of those immensely-gifted athletes who, unfair as it seems to the rest of us mortals, doesn't necessarily need to take care of himself to be excellent at his sport.  Back when I played (p.s. I've done more than 300 posts to this blog and I believe this is the first time I've used that phrase) I wasn't that fortunate, so I didn't even try.  And I'm not implying that Cabrera's decision will have no impact on his body or his life, because it will.  I just think that people who are expecting to see Cabrera post career bests across the board because he's clean might end up disappointed.  My guess is, this life change is for his long-term good, not short-term.  Either way, good for him!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How The West Was Won? Not With Joel

Maybe I'm overreacting here, but I don't think I am.  Two years and $16 million dollars for Joel Pineiro?  I know the Angels lost John Lackey to free agency, failed to trade for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, and whether they were interested or not, also watched serviceable free agent starters Rich Harden, Jason Marquis, Brett Myers, Brad Penny, Andy Pettitte, and Randy Wolf end up elsewhere, too.  With Pineiro, I just think they might have hit the panic button and felt like "doing something" was better than doing nothing at all.

In more than a thousand American League innings spent mostly with Seattle (he made 31 relief appearances with Boston in '07) Pineiro owns a 4.50 career ERA and a record that's 3 games above .500.  He's never been a big strikeout guy, either.  His best season was 151 and that was in 211 2/3 IP back in 2003.  Last year with St. Louis, he punched 105 in a career high 214 IP, and that was when he was facing pitchers!  On the plus side, he was a control freak last year allowing a league-best 1.1 walks per 9 and that translated into an excellent 1.15 WHIP.  But I don't see him repeating that, considering his career walks per 9 is more than twice what he posted a year ago (2.6).

Pineiro now joins an LA rotation that, even with him, just isn't that scary.  Jered Weaver is very good but not a true number one.  Ervin Santana has doubters after an injury-riddled '09.  Scott Kazmir is predictably unpredictable.  And at some point, Joe Saunders' luck has to run out.  The last two seasons he has somehow managed to win 33 games despite logging just 35 quality starts in 62 tries.  Seriously, check out his game log.  It's baffling!  He doesn't pitch deep into games, doesn't strike anybody out, is very hittable, prone to the big fly, and yet he keeps...on...winning!

Here's the reality for Angels fans.  Unlike what they've grown accustomed to recently, this team is, by no means, the consensus AL West favorite entering 2010.  As a matter of fact, there's an outside chance they could finish dead last.  I already covered their pitching.  And offensively, they've lost Chone Figgins and Vlad Guerrero while only bringing in Hideki Matsui, who turns 36 in June.  Torii Hunter turns 35 this July.  Bobby Abreu turns 36 in less than two months.  And while youngsters Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar finally fulfilled their promise last year, Brandon Wood is not a lock to stick around all season at third.  He's been a "can't miss" prospect for what feels like half a decade and in more than 230 plate appearances over three seasons, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is more than 10 to 1, and his career OBP is .222.  Maybe he'll figure it out and hit .260 with 25 bombs, but I'd be surprised.

Elsewhere in the division, Texas finished 6 games above .500 and 10 back of LA and that's with Josh Hamilton playing in just 89 games and Chris Davis finishing with a putrid .284 OBP in 391 ABs.  They've added Vladimir Guerrero.  Rookie Elvis Andrus hit .280 after the All-Star break and finished with 33 steals.  Julio Borbon swiped 19 bags in 157 ABs after being a summer call-up. Nelson Cruz had a break-out year with 33 homeruns in just 462 at bats and Ian Kinsler and Michael Young haven't gone anywhere.  Add Rich Harden, the continued development of promising young arms Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy, and Tommy Hunter plus a full year of Neftali Feliz, and closer insurance in Chris Ray, and "the team that could win if only they could pitch," suddenly can.

Seattle now has arguably the best one-two pitching punch in baseball with King Felix and Cliff Lee.  And after the failed Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson experiments, they seem to be building a lineup to better-suit their big ballpark.  Newbie Casey Kotchman makes sense at first base as does Chone Figgins at third.  And if they can get Milton Bradley to play nice and stay healthy, he's a steal in left.  Jose Lopez, Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, and Ken Griffey all return as well.  The M's finished four games above .500 last year and could win a bunch of games by scores of 4-3 or 3-1.

Even Oakland could give LA a scare.  The A's hit the fewest homeruns and owned the lowest slugging percentage in the league in 2009.  They also started a rookie pitcher in more than 70% of their games.  And yet, they finished just 6 games below .500, were outscored by two runs all season, and finished tied for 3rd in the AL in ERA.  They also have the reigning rookie of the year in closer Andrew Bailey who led baseball in OPS against in 2009 (.476).  Newcomers Jake Fox and Kevin Kouzmanoff should provide a little more punch to their lineup along with the re-signed Jack Cust.  Mark Ellis missed more than 50 games a year ago.  And the newly-inked Justin Duchscherer should be physically and emotionally 100% after missing all of 2009 with arm trouble and clinical depression.  Plus, big-time outfield prospect Michael Taylor (a more complete player than the prospect they traded to get him, Brett Wallace) is waiting for a call-up.  I'm not saying the A's are a Wild Card dark horse but it would be foolish to write then off as cellar-dwellers for a second straight year.

The bottom line is this.  Top to bottom, the American League West should be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball (once again) in 2010.  Last year, it was the only division where every team won at least 75 games and between October and now, we've seen last year's runway winner get a little worse and the teams that finished behind them get a lot better.  That, more than anything else, could explain the Pineiro signing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Big Unit, Yes...But The Best Unit Ever?

With Hall of Fame voting on lots of baseball fans' minds right now and with Randy Johnson's retirement still semi-fresh as well, here's a question to ponder.  Is the Big Unit the best pitcher in the history of the game?

Clearly 5 Cy Youngs, 4,875 strikeouts, 303 wins, 10 All-Star appearances, two no-hitters (one of which was a perfect game) and a World Series co-MVP help to put him on the short list.  But that "short list" must also include names like Nolan Ryan, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, and depending on your opinion of him, Roger Clemens.  So let's dig deeper.   

Of the players I just named, only Nolan Ryan has more career strikeouts than Johnson and he has nearly a thousand more.  But at the same time, Ryan also issued 2,795 walks giving him a career K:BB ratio of 2.04.  Johnson's is a much more impressive 3.26.  Also to the Big Unit's credit is his career mark of 10.6 strikeouts per 9 innings- the best in baseball history.  So the notion that Nolan Ryan was a "better" strikeout pitcher than Randy Johnson is somewhat misguided.  The Express just managed to throw 1200 more innings.  Other statistics of note when comparing the two: Ryan was the least hittable pitcher in big league history (6.6 H/9 compared to a still-respectable 7.3 for Johnson) but given his penchant for the free pass, Ryan's career WHIP is higher (1.25 versus 1.17).  In other words, Ryan managed to be "effectively wild" for almost 54-hundred innings.

They didn't start giving out the Cy Young until 1956 and there wasn't an AL and NL winner until 1967, so you can't Young, Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson for their lack of hardware.  We can at least try to compare their other numbers though, and I'll start with Young.  He and Johnson both played for 22 years but during those 22 years, Young made 813 starts to Johnson's 603, meaning Young averaged 9.5 more starts a season.  Based on that, it's no wonder he has Randy by more than 200 wins and everybody else not named Walter Johnson by at least 100. It was a different game in the late 19th and early 20th century, though.  I can pretty much guarantee you'll never see a pitcher repeat Young's 1892 season with Cleveland: 36 wins, 1.93 ERA, 453 IP.  But if we look at their entire careers and break it down to "average box score per appearance" here's what we get:

Young: 8.1 IP, 2.4 ER, 7.8 H, 1.3 BB, 3.1 K
Johnson: 6.7 IP, 2.5 ER, 5.4 H, 2.4 BB, 7.9 K

Young got about 4 more outs per appearance, but he also allowed more baserunners and did not feature the strikeout as a weapon nearly as much as Johnson did.  So in today's game, you could argue that the strikeout pitcher might fare better than the pitch-deep-into-games-contact guy.  And let's not forget that Johnson spent his career facing the likes of Bonds, Pujols, Sosa, Canseco, McGwire, Frank Thomas, Belle, Bagwell, Helton, Piazza, Manny, Papi and others, whereas during Cy Young's monster 1892 season, Bug Holliday led baseball with 13 homeruns and Dan Brothers was batting champ at .335.  In 1908, when Young posted a career-best 1.26 ERA over 299 IP, Tim Jordan led baseball with 12 homeruns and Honus Wagner was probably one of the game's biggest offensive threats.  That year, H-Wag (they probably called him that back then) went .354/10/109 with 53 steals.

My argument isn't a whole lot different when it comes to Mathewson and Walter Johnson.  For comparison, here are their average pitching lines next to Randy's.

Mathewson: 7.5 IP, 1.8 ER, 6.6 H, 1.3 BB, 3.9 K
Big Train: 7.4 IP, 1.8 ER, 6.1 H, 1.7 BB, 4.4 K
Big Unit: 6.7 IP, 2.5 ER, 5.4 H, 2.4 BB, 7.9 K 

Matthewson won 30 a total of four times and had five seasons of at least 25 wins and an ERA under 2.00 (as low as 1.14 in 1909).  But in 1909, Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown with a .377/9/107 season and 76 steals.  I don't know this for a fact, but I bet there were a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games that year.

Walter Johnson, a two-time MVP and career shutouts leader (110) had his best year in 1913.  It was one of his two MVP campaigns and in earning the award, he went 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA, 11 shutouts and 243 strikeouts.  In 1913, no player topped 20 homeruns and just two topped 100 RBI.  By 1924, the game had started to change.  The Babe had arrived and smacked 46 homeruns (19 more than the next closest guy) and Rogers Hornsby hit .424.  Johnson went 23-7 with a 2.72 ERA, 6 shutouts and 158 strikeouts- not overly eye-popping, but good enough to win the MVP.

My point in all this is if you were to put some of these old-time, dead-ball-era pitchers on the mound against the 2009 Yankee lineup, I doubt they would pitch into the 8th inning.  And by head-to-head average box score, durability is their only clear advantage.

Gibson was probably the best pitcher in the 1960's while Carlton and Seaver shared that honor in the 1970's.  And because I think it works, let's showcase their average box scores next to Johnson's.

Gibson: 7.4 IP, 2.4 ER, 6.2 H, 2.5 BB, 5.9 K
Carlton: 7.0 IP, 2.5 ER, 6.3 H, 2.5 BB, 5.6 K
Seaver: 7.3 IP, 2.3 ER, 6.0 H, 2.1 BB, 5.6 K
Johnson: 6.7 IP, 2.5 ER, 5.4 H, 2.4 BB, 7.9 K

Gibson won 20 five times, won an MVP and a Cy Young in 1968 (the year he went an astounding 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA, 13 shutouts, and 268 K's...sidenote: how did he lose 9 times?!) and another Cy Young in 1970.  But again, in 1968 one guy, Frank Howard, hit more than 40 homeruns.  Three guys drove in more than 100, and just six guys hit above .300.  Whereas that same year, 8 pitchers finished with an ERA below 2.00, 12 guys threw at least six shutouts, and seven guys won 20 or more.  All-time, Gibson currently ranks 14th (and could fall to 15th if John Smoltz notches 34 K's in 2010) on the strikeout list, and won just 251 games- 46th best all time, fewer than Jack Morris, Jamie Moyer, Mike Mussina, Jim Katt, and Bert Blyleven.

Carlton won 26 more games than Johnson but he also had the advantage of 123 more career appearances.  He also added four Cy Young awards, six 20-win seasons, and he led the league in strikeouts five times.  His best season was 1972, where he notched 30 complete games, went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA and 310 K's.  But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, 1972 was another good year to be a pitcher.  Ten of them won 20 or more, 16 of them finished with ERAs of 2.50 or less, and only seven guys hit 30 homeruns.

With Tom Seaver, it's almost a tale of two careers.  There are his New York Met days where, between 1967 and 1977, he led the league in wins twice, ERA three times, strikeouts five times, WHIP three times, and strikeouts per 9 six times.  But in his nine seasons after 1977, he never won more than 16 games, had a sub-3.00 ERA twice, was an All-Star twice, and struck out more than 150 just once.  All told, he managed to win 311 games, Rookie of the Year, and three Cy Youngs.  Despite eclipsing 250 IP a total of 11 times, he never racked up 300 K's in a season but he did finish with a sub-2.50 ERA five times (again, all between 1968 and 1975).  So in many ways, Seaver was the anti-Johnson.  He was great at the beginning of his career, but just okay in the middle and end.  Had he been able to enjoy similar success (and health) with the Reds, I think Seaver's career numbers would compare more favorably with Johnson's, but that's simply not the case. 

And while Tom Terrific dominated during some of Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, and Hank Aaron's best years, the head-to-head average box scores tell the true story.  When comparing all four, Carlton averaged one more out recorded, and Seaver and Gibson averaged two more than Johnson.  Earned runs and walks are very similar and while Johnson has a slight edge in hits, he has a sizeable advantage in K's, and in my opinion, an overall advantage against these three.

That leaves Johnson's contemporaries- Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens.  Both are ahead of Randy in the 300-win club (Maddux has 355, Clemens 354), and both boast an equally impressive number of awards.  Maddux won four Cy Youngs and 18 Gold Gloves while Clemens won seven Cy Youngs and an MVP. 

Unassuming but lethal, Maddux was unhittable in the 90's, leading the league in wins three times, ERA four times, complete games three times, innings pitched five straight times, WHIP four times (including in 1995 where he had allowed a sickening 0.88 baserunners per inning), and strikeout to walk ratio three times.  A true control artist, Maddux issued fewer than 50 walks in each of the final 15 years of his career and just 20 in 232 2/3 IP in 1997.

Clemens on the other hand, threw hard, was big and bad and had an up and down career with bouts of dominance in three decades.  He enjoyed baseball's lowest ERA in '86, '90-'92, '97-'98, and then again in '05.  He ranks just one slot and 203 strikeouts behind Randy Johnson on the all-time list and had six 20-win seasons.  But it's his inclusion in baseball's fact-finding steroids document known as the Mitchell Report that has some questioning the legitimacy of those numbers.  Clemens denies using PEDs but the proverbial "cloud of suspicion" coupled with former trainer Brian McNamee's allegations to the contrary will likely stick with him for years to come.  We'll see what HOF voters think in 2013.

That said, here's a look at their side-by-side average box scores, which are significant in that they played during the same era and pitched to a lot of the same guys:

Maddux: 6.7 IP, 2.4 ER, 6.4 H, 1.3 BB, 4.5 K
Clemens: 6.9 IP, 2.4 ER, 5.9 H, 2.2 BB, 6.6 K
Johnson: 6.7 IP, 2.5 ER, 5.4 H, 2.4 BB, 7.9 K

All three went about as deep into games, allowed about as many earned runs and baserunners, but despite the Rocket's proximity to Johnson on the all-time list, his per-appearance K totals are far behind.  Plus, unlike Clemens, Johnson's numbers are assumed to be clean.

A few final points about Randy Johnson, and why I consider him to be the greatest ever.  He achieved what he did and was at his best during, what most believe to be a drug-influenced era.  In the late 90's and early 00's, we saw hitters put up some of the greatest offensive numbers the game has ever seen and we also saw Johnson go from good to silly-good. 

In 1998, 13 players topped 40 homeruns, four topped 50, two topped 60, and one hit 70.  That same season, Johnson won 19 games and struck out 329 hitters.  In 1999, another 13 hitters topped 40 homeruns and the same two hit 60-plus.  Pitching in the same league as those two, Johnson led baseball with a 2.48 ERA, 12 CGs, and 364 strikeouts.  In 2000, 16 players hit 40 homeruns.  That same year, Johnson led baseball in winning percentage, starts, complete games, shutouts, and strikeouts.  In 2001 a total of 12 players hit 40+ and one man hit 73.  Another man had the best ERA, strikeout total (a career-best 372) and WHIP.  And in 2002 just as power numbers were beginning to come back to Earth (only eight topped 40 homeruns, and two topped 50) Johnson turned in perhaps his greatest season- a career-best 24 wins and 2.32 ERA, a fourth consecutive 325+ strikeout season, a fourth consecutive time leading baseball in K/9 and a fourth consecutive Cy Young.

He held future HOF'er Rickey Henderson (whom he faced more times than any other hitter) to a career .119 batting average and struck him out 30 times in 85 plate appearances.  In 62 career meetings he allowed 3 homeruns to Barry Bonds and none in 13 times up during his record-setting 2001.  Sammy Sosa's career OBP against Johnson is .274 over 62 PAs.  HOF'er Cal Ripken had a career OPS of .651 against the Big Unit in 61 times up.  Frank Thomas and Albert Belle both hit .233 against him, Mark McGwite .225, Gary Sheffield .209.  Todd Helton drove in two runs off Johnson in 50 meetings.  HOF'ers Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield hit .200 and .211 off him.  He struck out Jose Canseco 17 times in 25 meetings.  David Ortiz had a .494 OPS against Johnson over 28 plate appearances.  HOF'er Wade Boggs managed two singles and a walk in 18 times up.  Newly-voted-in Andre Dawson hit .133 in 15 at-bats.  And poor, poor Rafael Palmeiro.  In 21 plate appearances he reached base one time.  It was a single.

Johnson is a lock for first-ballot induction into the Hall and if ever there was going to be a unanimous selection, it should be him.  Given his career numbers, the time during which he pitched, and the juiced-up hitters he had to face, nobody was better.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hall of Fame Voters Are Absolutely Nuts

I submit to you the following names as proof: Robin Ventura, Ellis Burks, Erik Karros, Kevin Appier, Pat Hentgen, and David Segui.  Each of these players, All-Stars and award winners though they might have been, are not by any stretch of the imagination Hall of Famers.  Yet, each one of them received votes today.  A few of them even appeared on multiple ballots! 

Ventura appeared on the most- seven, which is one more than the number of Gold Gloves he won at third base.  But he's a career .267 hitter who slugged 294 homeruns, made a pair of All-Star games, got votes for Rookie of the Year, MVP twice, and had 1885 hits in 16 seasons.  In other words, he had a nice, long career and was a solid player.  But does he belong in Cooperstown?  C'mon.

Offensively, you could probably make the strongest "case" for Burks.  He was a two-time All Star, got MVP votes twice, won a Gold Glove and two Silver Sluggers while finishing with 352 homeruns, 2,107 hits, 181 steals and a .291 average over 18 seasons.  And his 1996 season in Colorado was one to remember- .344, 40 homeruns, 142 runs, 128 RBI, 93 XBH, 32 steals, and an OPS of 1.047!  But his name still doesn't belong between Jesse Burkett and Roy Campanella.

While all these Hall of Fame votes are astonishing, the David Segui ballot is the one that truly makes me think there are mental patients in the BBWAA.  Segui was never an All-Star, never won a major award, and never even received votes for a major award.  So if you're scoring at home Segui got more Hall of Fame votes than he got MVP votes in 15 seasons. 

And it's not like he had a bunch of good-but-under-the-radar seasons.  The most homeruns Segui ever hit in a year: 21.  Number of times he appeared in at least 150 games in a season: 1.  Number of 100 RBI seasons: 1.  Number of mentions in the Mitchell Report: 1.  Number of public steroid-use admissions: at least 1.  His best season, by far was 2000 when he went .334/19/103 in 150 games.  These were all career highs achieved right smack-dab in the middle of the Steroids Era.

Nothing against Segui.  Good for him for admitting he cheated, and good for him for notching almost 6,000 plate appearances.  I'd just love to talk with the guy who thinks he deserves a spot between Tom Seaver and Joe Sewell in baseball immortality.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Impact Move For The Mets? No Bay!

Jason Bay and the Mets have agreed on a 4-year, $66 million dollar deal according to WFAN

While I'm sure New York fans are pleased, this move does not make them the favorites (a) to win the NL East, (b) the NL Wild Card, or (c) even finish above .500. 

Let's not forget- this is a team that lost 90 games a year ago.  Out of the 16 NL teams, their pitching staff finished 12th in ERA, 11th in quality starts and batting average against, second-to-last in walks allowed, and third-to-last in baserunners per inning.  And so far all they've done to address these deficiencies in a pitching-rich division is sign Kelvin Escobar and lose J.J. Putz to free agency.

True, Bay has played in at least 145 games for each of the last 5 seasons and for his career, he averages 33 homeruns, 107 RBI, 12 steals, and a .387 OBP per 162 games played.  But let's not forget Bay is switching from the 8th most offense-friendly park in baseball (Fenway) to the 9th worst (Citi Field) so to book him for another .275/30+/100+ season would be presumptious.  Just look what Citi Field did to David Wright last year.

The biggest factor in New York's success (or lack thereof) in 2010 is less likely to be Bay's production, but rather the production and health of Jose Reyes.  If he's on base and running in front of the likes of Beltran, Wright, and Bay- the Mets might be able to out-slug their opponents 82 times.  But if he's not- they might not.

Bottom line...Bay is a good player but he's not a franchise-saver.  And worst of all for the Mets, he can't pitch.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Arms Race

If today was Sunday, April 4th and not Thursday, December 24th, we would be just hours away from the start of the 2010 baseball season with the defending champion Yankees visiting Fenway Park on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.  Unfortunately, we have to wait 101 days for that to happen.  But with New York and Boston adding big-name starters to already talented pitching staffs this month, it's not too early to start the debate: whose is better right now?

First- where things stand.  If the season started today, Boston's rotation would likely look something close to this:

Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
John Lackey
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Clay Buchholz/Tim Wakefield/Boof Bonser

While New York's will probably take the form of something resembling this:

C.C. Sabathia
A.J. Burnett
Javier Vazquez
Andy Pettitte
Joba Chamberlain/Phil Hughes/Chad Gaudin

My first impression is how similar these rotations are.  Both boast big-name, World-Series-champion names at the top of the rotation...high-ceiling-when-healthy-veterans in the middle...and full-of-promise young guns at the back end.  So at first glance, there's no glaring front-runner.

Breaking it down slot-for-slot though is a different story.  When comparing number one starters, the edge has to go to Sabathia.  C.C. was everything he was supposed to be last season (19 game winner, low ERA, ton of innings) whereas Beckett was inconsistent (11-3, 3.35 before the break...6-3, 4.53 after...awful in April, brilliant through July, bad in August, good in September).  Both are capable of being Cy Young contenders in 2010 but right now, the edge goes to Charles Carsten and New York.

At number two, Jon Lester was the anti-Beckett for the Sox last year, having a rough first two months but then settling down nicely and pitching more like a number one the rest of the way (including his one and only postseason start).  He also led the team in strikeouts.  Burnett didn't have as many K's as Lester (which is surprising, considering that's one of his specialties) and also had a higher ERA and WHIP, plus he was much more hit-or-miss in '09 (postseason included).  So at number two, the edge goes to the Sox.  And for Yankee fans who argue Lester is the number one ahead of Beckett, but still not as good as Sabathia, you're right.  But Beckett is still better than Burnett.  So either way, the teams are 1-1 after their first two starters.

I'm going to do third and fourth starters as a group because there really is no clear cut number three or number four just yet on either team.  For the Sox, it probably will be Lackey at three given his immense contract but I wouldn't be shocked to see Dice-K outpitch him and gain the spot.  For the Yanks- same thing.  Vazquez is the new guy and has better stuff, but Pettitte has the better track record in New York.

As for whose combo is better, this really is open to some interpretation but I'm going to lean Boston and here's why.  Over the last five years the 31-year-old Lackey really hasn't had a "bad" season.  He hasn't had more than one "excellent" season, but he's always been good.  His ERA has always been sub 3.90, he's always been a decent strikeout guy and he's been a bulldog in the postseason.  Is he worth what he got?  No.  Is he a lock to make 32 starts?  No.  But will he work nicely here?  I think so.  And it's the same thing for Dice-K.  He's not the future Hall of Famer the Sox paid for, but as a number three/four he's also pretty serviceable.  It will also be very interesting to see what kind of year he puts together in 2010 if he's completely healthy.  His '07 was a learning year, his '08 was lucky, and his '09 was a wash due to arm trouble.  But, he's only 29 and we assume he'll enter '10 at 100 percent.  Even Yankee fans wouldn't be shocked if he wins 15 games, has a 3.50 ERA and a bunch of strikeouts, which would basically be the average of his '07 and '08 seasons.

The Yankees just can't be 100% sure what they're going to get from Vazquez and Pettitte.  Javy was terrible (granted, pitching through pain) in his previous stop in New York and shifts from a very pitcher friendly park to a very hitter friendly one.  It's also worth noting that in three seasons in the AL in the last five years, his ERA was 4.84, 3.74, and 4.67.  For his career, he is just 3 games over .500 and has allowed nearly a hit an inning.  Plus he turns 34 halfway through next season.  That's not to say he can't follow up his stellar '09 with a comparable 2010, but I would be absolutely floored if his ERA was under 4 this season, let alone under 3.  With Pettitte, it's not an issue of what to expect.  He's spent 12 of his 15 excellent big league seasons as a Yankee.  With the exception of his rookie season and an injury-shortened '02, he's never won fewer than 14 games and his career ERA is just a shade under 4.  The problem is, he turns 38 in June.  To his credit, he had a great second half of '09.  But he was bad (4.59 ERA) at home, not great in September, and unreliable in the postseason.  Maybe he has another Pettitte-like 14-10, 4.15 ERA season in 2010, but he's getting to the age where stuff starts to fade.  The biggest thing New York has in its corner is health.  Javy and Pettitte have been incredibly healthy lately whereas Lackey and Dice-K both struggled with injuries as recently as last season.  But given the age advantage of the Sox starters, plus their potential ceilings when healthy, it's the Boston by a nose.

At number five, I say it's a push because we just don't know what to expect from these guys, nor do we know from which exact guys to expect it.  In 16 starts last year Buchholz, the Sox presumptive number five, was 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA and a K:BB of less than 2:1.  He got tagged for 6 earned or more 4 times but at the same time, he had a 10-start-stretch where he made 9 quality starts.  He's only 25 and already has a no-hitter on his resume so we know he can pitch.  We just don't know if he's ready to make 25+ starts yet.

In New York, 24-year-old Joba Chamberlain had a 2009 that has to be considered disappointing.  In 31 starts, he logged just 156 1/3 innings, an average of just 5 innings per appearance.  He finished a pedestrian 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA, a K:BB of less than 2:1, allowed 21 homeruns, and more than 3 baserunners every 2 innings.  What's absolutely staggering though is a quick glance at his splits when he's a starter versus when he's a reliever.  Over his short career (slightly less than 300 innings) he has a 1.50 ERA, .182 BAA, and K:BB of nearly 4:1 in 50 relief appearances.  But over his 43 starts, his ERA balloons to 4.18, BAA rises to .266, and K:BB dips to 2:1.  So whether we'll see him at the beginning of games or at the end remains to be seen, but there's no denying the talent is there.  Another contender, 23-year-old Phil Hughes has a shot at the rotation too, but like Joba, seems much better suited coming out of the pen.  Last year his ERA was 5.45 in 7 starts, compared to just 1.40 in 44 relief appearances (the first time he'd relieved).  In fact, in 28 career starts over three seasons, his ERA is 5.22 and he's a game under .500.  So while it's understandbale that the Yanks would rather see one of these guys make it as a starter, their performances tell much different stories.  New York might have to settle for having a dynamite set-up man and closer for the next 10 years.

Are these teams done building their 2010 rotations?  Hard to say.  I don't see the front-ends changing much, but depending on injuries, player development, and needs at the back end...anything is possible.  For now, I give the edge to Boston.  We'll see what happens in 101 days.