Pohlad Blues

While the Mets signed Pedro to a mind-numbingly enormous contract the Twins were outbid by the Toronto Blue Jays for Corey Koskie. This, if anything, is a clear sign of the state of major League Baseball. Indications are that the Twins were unwilling to give the oft injured Koskie a third year on his contract. Koskie is not one of the elite free agents of the offseason, but his contributions to the Twins will be sorely missed. Koskie was one of the last remaining 2001 Twins to leave, part of the team which brought the Twins back into contention after the dark years of 1993-2000. Koskie was the most patient hitter in a lineup of hackers. His plate discipline was straight out of Moneyball. With a career OBP of .373, 25 home runs in 2004, excellent defense and the respect and admiration of his teammates, Koskie has become (in the words of Sid Hartman) "The Twins biggest free agent loss since Jack Morris."

One could argue that the Twins lost Koskie because they were wary of his pattern of nagging injuries. This is partly right. However, if Carl Pohlad was willing to raise the payroll by even a few million, the risk would have been far smaller. Most teams sign players which never return the investment made on them due to injury or lack of ability. The Yankees are a prime example with four players signed to massive contracts who have vastly underachieved (Giambi, Brown, Vasquez and Williams) due to these same factors.

The difference between the Twins and the Yankees is this. The Yankees can afford million dollar blunder after million dollar bunder after million dollar blunder; the Twins can't. If Twins owenership spends anything beyond two or three million the bunder becomes crippling. Joe Mays was signed to a large contract after a stellar 2002 season and was injured almost immediately afterwards. The Twins lost seven million in Terry Ryan's seasonal quest to make Pohlad's self imposed salary cap of 54 million. With an extra seven million the Twins could have kept Koskie. Instead they paid for Mays' injury troubles in a way only a small market team can, leaving Twins fans everywhere signing the Pohlad Blues this winter.


Come right out and meet the Mets

Nothing is official , but I suppose no trade is truly official until after Billy Beane is asked if he wants to be included. Nothing has been signed, although I have no doubt that the Mets sent a couple of six pack of Mont Blancs. Nothing at this point is definite, but there is a good chance that come April, Pedro will be throwing the opener at Shea with Sammy behind him in right.

Admittedly, the Mets were 26th in the league in runs scored and 28th in hits. However, over this same period, they were pathetic in several other statistical categories, including fifth in strikeouts (in their lineup), 19th in walks, and 28th in OBP. Truthfully, it's hard to know where to start if you're the Mets. They rank 28th in fielding percentage, but eighth in ERA. They were 26th in strikeouts (by their pitching staff), fifth in walks given up, and 27th in saves. Just to toss in one more stat, the Mets were 15th (dead middle of the league) in homeruns hit.

This is not a problem with an easy solution. The easiest part is identifying what does not need to be done. I see only one thing. The Mets need not take any drastic steps to reduce staff ERA. The ERA was spread evenly across the staff, so neither starters nor relievers carried or hindered the team. One very obvious problem is that of saves. Looper was fairly consistent (29 of 34) but blown saves are scattered through the bullpen, 6 from Mike Stanton and 4 from Ricky Bottalico with five others floating around. Those fifteen blown saves in the hands of a more capable, more durable closer could have been turned easily into ten more wins, enough to move the Mets to .500. While a dominant starter is certianly an ambitious move, it may not be the most oportune one, especially when Mets pitchers are hamstrung by a defense that rivals the current EPA in both agressiveness and effectiveness. If the Mets really wanted to improve their staff, they should have found some competent, tough relievers and, most importantly, they should have held onto Scott Kazmir. At a bare minimum, his trade potential would have skyrocketed given the current state of free agent pitchers on the market. With the exceptions of Johnson and Martinez, the pitching market is composed of possible or current number two and three starters. If Kazmir would have posted a few good starts with the Mets at the end of the year after they were out of the running, he could have brough considerable compensation to the Mets. I fault the Mets in no way for signing Pedro, though, as he is a quality pitcher who is definite to give a team five more wins a season over the average starter. However, I think there are other, larger holes to fill, especially on defense and offensive consistency.

None of the offensive categories that the Mets are deficient in (R, H, K, BB, and AVG) are categories that Sosa will help substantially in. His defense is average, but does nothing to help an error prone, weak throwing outfield. He will add some spash to a team with the personality of cardboard, surly cardboard, but if he leaves Chicago with bad blood, I have the feeling that some of those feelings will carry over, and New York sports fans are the least forgiving people on the face of the Earth. It has been mentioned ad nauseam that Sosa's gentle, senstitve persona will be in conflict with the New York fans. I can see the same sort of issues with Pedro, who is extremely susceptible to his emotions. Sosa's and Redro's high maintenance personalities will be targets if the Mets underachieve, as they are alsmot certian to do.

Now, finishing this on the morning of the 14th, the Pedro trade is official and I expect Sosa's name to find its way back into the hot stove conversations by tomorrow. No matter if they win or lose, I can say something about the Mets' season this year that usually can't be said. It's going to be interesting.


The Court of Public Opinion

While in the middle of my weekly baseball reading, I came across this article on ESPN.com. It deserves to be reprinted in full. For those you you who prefer the Page 2 site itself, here is the direct link.


by Skip Bayless

From the start, it was as clear as "the clear" that the feds were only after one man. It was obvious the Bush administration wanted to slap one big, bad face on its campaign to clean up steroid abuse in sports. After all, that dartboard face belongs to the easiest target this side of Osama.

Most fans already consider Barry Bonds an arrogant jerk. Most people outside the Bay Area view him as a muscled-up monster wielding a war club. THG, the name of a new, undetectable steroid, might as well have stood for That Hated Godzilla.

Barry Bonds has already been convicted -- without proof.
All along, federal agents and prosecutors whispered to reporters that they had enough evidence to take down the San Francisco Giant. Stand-up-in-court evidence. Go-to-jail-for-perjury evidence that Bonds routinely received anabolic steroids supplied by indicted BALCO founder Victor Conte to Bonds' indicted trainer and friend, Greg Anderson.

So for months, reporters anticipated a BALCO trial just before the presidential election. Sure, the Bush administration would turn it into one last political baseball with which to knock some Bonds-hating voters off the fence. But the election came and went without so much as a trial date being set.

However, that didn't plug the illegal leaks to the media. Last week, the biggest bombshell was dropped by the San Francisco Chronicle, right on Bonds' head. The newspaper printed what was supposed to be his sealed testimony to the BALCO grand jury.

That's when this became as clear as shattered glass: The feds have decided their evidence will get them no farther than the court of public opinion. And in that runaway jury of an arena, Bonds quickly was convicted and sentenced to life in baseball's Hall of Shame.

Surely the feds knew exactly what they were doing. They tossed a match in a bone-dry forest of squawk-show hosts and fans dying to bury Bonds. Within hours, most people had leaped, or been yanked, to this conclusion: Bonds finally admitted he uses steroids!

Talk about a crime.

The feds knew most people wouldn't let the facts get in their way. Most people want to believe Bonds' body is chiseled in steroids. But nobody seems to have any of that case-building fuel called proof.

Understand, you're talking to a columnist who has been as publicly suspicious of Bonds' pumped-up physique as any member of the media. Since Bonds hit his record 73 home runs in 2001, I've written that it's virtually impossible to pack on 30 or so pounds of lean muscle mass in your mid-30s -- when the body's muscle-building testosterone naturally wanes -- without some help from performance-enhancing drugs. But I've always concluded that I can't know for sure because, to this day, I have not witnessed Bonds ingesting or injecting steroids and I'm not aware of a single person beyond the shady Anderson (or Bonds himself) who can provide evidence that Bonds "juiced."

But let's be as clear as a magnifying glass about exactly what Bonds told the grand jury. He did not tell them what Jason Giambi told them, according to testimony leaked to the Chronicle the day before the Bonds bombshell. Giambi admitted he had been buying and using traditional black-market steroids and human growth hormone long before he approached Bonds' trainer for tips on how to maintain the physical edge Bonds has sustained through his late 30s.

That, Giambi testified, was when Anderson recommended he use the two forms of THG. "The clear" could be taken orally. "The cream" could be rubbed into the skin like ointment.

Remember, the athletes who testified before the grand jury were granted immunity -- as long as they told the truth. They do not have immunity from perjury.

Yet Bonds told the grand jury basically the same story that his former friend Gary Sheffield did. Sheffield said he trusted Anderson because Bonds had known him since high school, when Bonds and Anderson had been teammates. Sheffield said that, after training with Bonds one offseason, he briefly used some stuff Anderson had recommended. Only later, he said, did he find out it was THG.

Bonds shouldn't be guilty just because Giambi admitted using steroids.
True or not, that's a plausible story.

Bonds said he was so run-down following the death of his father during the 2003 season that Anderson recommended a "rubbing balm." Bonds said Anderson compared it to "flaxseed oil." Bonds said it did nothing for him and that he soon stopped using it.

Again, a plausible story.

Yes, reportedly, Anderson kept records of Bond's THG use dating back to 2001. And yes, the feds leaked a phone call they taped of Anderson boasting to an unidentified acquaintance about the steroid program he had designed for Bonds. Yet an ESPN "Outside the Lines" report portrayed Anderson as little more than a small-time pusher who sold and used steroids.

It's certainly possible that Bonds is guilty only of trusting the wrong "friend." It's possible Anderson, in the taped call, was merely trying to impress a buddy with exaggerated claims that he created Barry Bonds, robo-slugger. I must admit: It is still possible that Bonds, with the all-time great genetics passed down from his father Bobby, a five-tool star, was able to turn himself into a late-30s record-breaker by taking nothing more than legal supplements and eating and training with severe discipline.

This, remember, isn't track and field. That sport long ago ruled out the "I didn't know" defense from athletes who tested positive. In international track and field, competitors are held solely responsible for what they put into their bodies. The dog cannot eat their homework.

But baseball remains in its steroid-abusing infancy. This is the first time star players have claimed they were duped into using performance-enhancers. This was a "designer" steroid that didn't require a needle and syringe. Hypothetically, if Anderson had said, "Hey, just try shooting this stuff in your butt," Bonds surely would have been more suspicious.

Bonds and Sheffield could become baseball's first cautionary tales -- and the last players given a reprieve for not finding out exactly what they were putting into their bodies.

Either way, I need proof.

I've spent enough time around Bonds to tell you he's a maddeningly elusive blend of naive and sly. There's the Bonds who was born with a Silver Slugger in his mouth, the privileged son of a star and the godson of a superstar, Willie Mays. Barry Lamar Bonds was spoiled rotten and often shielded from an outside world he was taught not to trust. He can be blindly, childishly loyal to the few in his inner circle he thinks are his friends.

But Barry Bonds, baseball player, is as wise as a serpent. He's the first hitter who has ever had the advantage over most pitchers because he knows them better than they know themselves. Because of a long-ago injury, he's still allowed to wear a hard-plastic protector on the arm exposed to the pitcher. But would he resort to, say, using a corked bat? No way. Too proud. Too good.

To using steroids? I can't be sure.

Bonds was taught by his father to despise the media. He has admitted to reporters that "you guys shouldn't believe half the stuff I tell you." But does that prove he lied when he told HBO's Bob Costas in 2002 that he "has never used" steroids?

Bonds' numbers are incredible -- but it remains to be seen whether he cheated.
Sorry, no.

Giambi didn't incriminate Bonds. No other player did, that we know. In interviews with ESPN The Magazine and ABC's "20/20," Conte ratted out sprinters Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery -- and in turn incriminated himself, much to his lawyers' shock. But Conte admitted only to supplying Anderson with THG. Conte said he had no idea if Anderson was giving it to "Barry or Gary."

Several Bay Area media members I respect -- guys who knew Bobby Bonds -- believe Barry was taught far too much respect for the game to stoop to steroids. For sure, he's the most gifted player I've seen. No hitter has ever been more disciplined or made consistently better contact while swinging with such perfect balance and mechanics at so few pitches. For me, Bonds is in a league with Michael Jordan for performing on cue. The more Bonds has been criticized, the mentally tougher he has become under pressure.

You can argue that steroids might have boosted Bonds' confidence and made his trigger a little quicker, allowing him a split-second longer to recognize a pitch. But he would have had my Hall of Fame vote before he got big.

And while it might not be probable, it's still possible Bonds jumped from 49 homers in 2000 to 73 the next season simply because he discovered the late-career wonders of nutrition, supplements and weight-training. It's also possible he has perjured himself and will go to jail.

But spring training draws nearer without anything but leaks.

Bonds will still pack The House that Barry Built -- SBC Park. A Bonds at-bat will remain the most riveting moment in sports. People who wouldn't have watched before will want to see how far those "mutant muscles" can send a ball into the bay.

And for the rest of my days, I might wonder if, just maybe, Barry Bonds was wrongly convicted in the court of public opinion.


Dear John to Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Canseco, Sheffield, Caminiti ...

I can't bring myself to read the full reports. I knew all along that there was circumstantial evidence. I knew for years that there were accusations and allegations. I knew, for as much as I personally dislike Sheffield, there was something in his stories a few months ago. I knew that my father was probably right. Up until the last week I was able to put up barriers. I wanted to believe in him.

Unlike Aho and Brooks, I am not a Minnesota native. I didn't see the great World Series in '87 or '91. I grew up in the Bay Area, about equidistant from San Francisco and Oakland. My greatest memories are of the Bay Bridge Series, the earthquake, and the Bash Brothers. Now the first thing that comes to mind when I think of McGwire is Creatine. When I think of the madcap race he and Sosa had to 61, all I can think of is a shattered bat on a grey day at Wrigley and x-rays of Hall of Fame memorabilia. Bonds is not the first hero to fall from grace. We forgave McGwire. We forgave Sosa. But Barry may be a different story. I'm not interested, however, in speculation as to when and how fully we may or may not forgive Barry. I'm not that rational right now. I'm still thinking about his homeruns, his elbows hanging over the inside edge of the plate, the electric feeling when he came into the on deck circle. I'm still thinking about the road trip I took to Chicago just so I could see the Giants play a game, about standing the whole game because the only tickets left were standing room, and that the morning after I went to the game he hit a ball in batting practice that broke a window in a building across the street. I'm thinking about all the nights and days I went to the park to see him. But I don't know what to think of it anymore. It feels like a relationship, when someone says they've been cheating on you. All these memories you have suddenly feel out of place. You don't know what to do with them anymore.

In Aho's entry, he suggested that Bonds' fault was greater than Rose's. I disagree. Bonds may have dirtied the game, but he did so the same way that Sosa, McGwire, Canseco, and however many spitball pitchers ever existed. He did so trying to be better, stronger, faster. He erred but it was for the game. Rose bet on the game while managing. I see no worse act on could take on the game. Nothing is more dishonorable, nothing leaves a more indelible mark. Bonds tried to give himself an edge, albeit an ilicit one. Rose used the game explicitly for his own financial gain. He did not show respect to the competition. His bets led the bets of thousands of bookees and gamblers, all convinced that Rose knew something they didn't. What Rose did says more than "I'm going to win this game anyway I can, even if I cheat." What Rose did says, "I care more about making money from betting on games than winning the games themselves." I guess what I'm saying is I'd let Bonds babysit, but not Rose.

Only one act in the history of baseball was worse than what Rose did. Only the Black Socks are deeper in baseball hell than Rose. The rest of these players, I believe, are bound for purgatory. They need time to reflect on their folly, to see where they went wrong, even as they pursued what they believed was good.

To return to my earlier analogy, I think at this point in my relationship with Barry, there's only one thing left to say; It was good while it lasted.


Roids and Roses

In the past few years sports commentators, writers and bloggers including the bloggers of the Confines have heaped praise on Barry Bonds. The man changed the game to the point that he almost singlehandedly put his team in the playoffs. In the past four seasons Bonds hit a home run in 7.9 at bats, shattered the all time walk record. Bonds' performance over the past four years turned statisticians on their collective heads. He was far from my favorite player but I still called him the best hitter since Ted Williams.

Until this..

I'm lucky in a way. This hurts a bit less for me. I was introduced to baseball through the Twins of 1987 and 1991. This is an organization which last had a player hit 30 or more home runs in 1987. So its easier for me to pass judgement from afar, confident that my team is clean. I don't have the complications of being a Giants fan, or much of a Bonds fan for that matter. Even for me, however, what Bonds did to baseball surpasses everything except what baseball did to itself in 1994.

Bonds was never popular in the way which Sosa and McGwire were. Barry wasn't supposed to break the record set in the now cannonized summer of 1998. Bonds ignored the media, and they made him pay for it, helping to make Bonds one of the most unpopular players in the game. At the same time Barry was forced to deal with his father Bobby Bonds waste away from cancer. Although Bonds has damaged the game more than any single invidual player, he is no monster.

In the 1980's the Pete Rose scandal rocked the game. Rose disgraced the game. There is no doubt of that. Rose did not however, throw the credibility of every hitter in the game into question. Rose did not draw other managers into betting on baseball (at least that I'm aware of). Rose disgraced himself alone, and baseball could retain an appearance of intregrity.

Bonds' sin is not simply that he was a player who took steriods, it is that Barry Bonds took steriods. Bonds was already a hall of fame player before he began to take the steriods. Bonds was the son of a great player, godson of an even greater player. Bonds was the heir to the mantle of Mays and Aaron and he threw it away. Bonds drew other players to the same deplorable means of ascent which he has used to unprecdented effect.

From the San Francisico Chronicle:

"One week after Bonds testified, New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi and his brother Jeremy, both former Oakland A's, described in detail how they had injected themselves with performance-enhancing drugs. The Giambis testified they were drawn to Anderson because of Bonds' success.

Other players who admitted their use of performance-enhancing drugs were former Giants Armando Rios, Benito Santiago and Bobby Estalella. The players said they had come to know Anderson because he was Bonds' trainer.

A sixth witness, Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield, testified that while he trained with Bonds in the Bay Area before the 2002 baseball season, Bonds had arranged for him to receive "the cream," "the clear" and "red beans," which the prosecutors identified as steroid pills manufactured in Mexico.

Sheffield said he had never been told that the substances were steroids. Bonds also was using "the cream" and "the clear," Sheffield said. "Nothing was between me and Greg," Sheffield testified. "Barry pretty much controlled everything. ... It was basically Barry (saying), 'Trust me. Do what I do.""

I don't know for certain is Sheffield is telling the truth, but it doesn't really matter. The pattern is very clear. Every single player associated with BALCO was drawn into it by Bonds, either directly (as Sheffield testified) or indirectly as with the Giambi's.

Bonds' accomplishments of the past four seasons are now relgated to the scrapheap of history. Everything which Barry might well have ligitmately accomplished is now nothing. A possible astrisk would become Bonds' scarlet letter. The effects of what Bonds' has done to the game is far worse than anything which Pete Rose did. While Rose compromised his postion as manager, Bonds ruined the credibility of all any player who nears the hitting prowess which he displayed over the past four seasons. Throughout the events of the past four years I have remarked that baseball seemed to be one of the last vestiges of the promise of America: that all people will be able to rise as far as talent and hard work can take them. Amid the corproate scandals, prison abuse, debt, and religious intolerance baseball remained above the fray, untainted in my mind.

No longer.


Rocket's Red Glare

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

It was a fear of mine that the flash of Beltre or the flare and panache that the Big Cardinal three would cloud the eyes of the MVP voters in the NL. I was afraid they might lose sight of the fact that while the other four major candidates for the award had fantastic, even miraculous seasons, that none of them were the Most Valuable Player.

Not even close. One man in baseball changes the game like no other, and his name is Barry Bonds. The sportswriters (and my fellow bloggers) agreed with me, on the MVP. They ignored the typical numbers that define an MVP and looked at numbers in light of the BBE (Barry Bonds Era). Brooks, Aho and I extended this same sabermetric grace to CY Young candidates, (although I don't care if you evaluate Santana in conventional, unconventional, sbaermetric, bianary or roman-numeral terms, he won it ever way) and it was Randy who came out on top. Just for a point of comparison, I've also included Jason Schmidt's numbers

C 18 4 2.98 214.1 9.15 2.76 .217 .329
J 16 14 2.60 245.2 10.62 6.59 .197 .315
S 18 7 3.20 225.0 10.04 3.26 .202 .323

With the exception of ERA and wins, Schmidt was better than Clemens. Neither was even close to Johnson. He was a force to be reckoned with. HE THREW A PERFECT GAME. I know some of the terminology can be difficult, but I think this one is self explanatory. Randy was dominant this season, just shy of three hundred strikeouts. Clemens had 218 (Jason came in at 251). If the DBacks would have scored him just three runs a game ...

Unlike previous years, I will not argue that Jason Schmidt was robbed of a Cy Young award, even when all of his statistics were perceptibly better than Clemens, even given injury problems. After deciding to vote for Bonds, the sportswriters of this country must have turned off there brains and jumped on the star spangled bandwagon, thinking how wonderful it was that Clemens hadn't retired. I would have been much happier if he drove off into the sunset in his Steinbrenner-bought Hummer, so that Randy "Dead Eye" Johnson could have sauntered up to the conference table and got the respect he so richly deserved.


Retirement Community?

I guess that Brian Sabean wants to go into the nursing home business instead of general managing. Make no mistake, Omar Vizquel is a solid signing, but only for a one or two year deal and only at 2 million a year. Otherwise he's being overpaid. Take a look at the elders the Giants are projected to field next year:

C A.J. Pierzynski 28 (athough he looks like a teenager when you remember the Giants 2002 starting catcher, Benito Santiago)
1B J.T. Snow 37
2B Ray Durham 33
SS Omar Vizquel 38
3B Edgardo Alfonzo 31
LF Barry Bonds 40
CF Marquis Grissom 38
RF Michael Tucker 34

Omar is a great pickup as a cheap stopgap shortstop, but he is not a long term solution for any team, let alone a team which is already this old. It is beyond my ability to comprehend why on earth Sabean would spend $12.25 million on Vizquel when the Giants have almost no relief pitching.

Not content with making such an awful move there are reports that the Giants are courting Steve Finley. I like Steve Finley, he's a good fielder for his age and proved last year that he can still swing the bat. I have no doubt that he would be better than Grissom, however, Finley is going to turn 40 this coming March. Another 40 year old is the last thing the Giants need, although when you consider how good that forty year old is, you might think about it for about three seconds. Then you remember that there is only one Barry.

I have no doubt that as long as Barry Bonds continues to smash records, the Giants will contend. However, the Giants a timebomb ticking towards a geriatric explosion. Instead of giving his lineup some youth to offset the anicent status of most of his players Sabean continues to tempt fate. I'd be quite nervous if I was a Giants fan right now.




Good Lord.

I cannot believe anyone selecting the gold glove winners this year even proposed Jeter with a straight face.

It was not as if there were not other canidates: Guzman, Omar, Crosby. Even Orlando Cabrera would have been better. I'm not going to get into the stats here, since somebody already did a hell of a job of that:

Aaron's Baseball Blog

It looks like the Yankees really can buy anything.


The Bud Selig of the real world

I guess this is what happens when the Yankees actually lose to the Red Sox. If it's not one evil empire, it's another.


Postseason Awards Edition

After the miracle of this World Series, the exorcism of the curse of the Bambino, and the most spectacular comeback / collapse in sports history, it's still not over. For those of us who cannot get enough of baseball, these are the days when we huddle together, crunching stats, reminiscing about our favorite moments and making our cases for the best players of the year. Unlike the sportswriters, we've seen fit to add a category, to give recognition to those who deserve it. Brooks, while on the DL with a nasty virus, has nonetheless given his blessings to to picks the Aho and I (Righty) have made. To keep it simple, I'll distinguish myself in italics.

So now, without further ado, here they are, the best of 2004.

AL Cy Young: Johan Santana

I have more or less argued this one to death. I think it is quite telling however, that Curt Schilling has said that Santana was completely deserving of the award. When you get an endorsement from your nearest competition (who was miles back anyway), the race is over.

2. Curt Schilling
3. Rest of league

AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero

Vlad "The Impaler" Guerrero managed to almost singlehandedly muscled the Angels into the playoffs. In the last nine games of the season Guerrero drove in 11 RBI's, including two in that critical October 2nd game with the A's. He didn't have a bad season aside from that either, hitting .337 with 126 RBI and 36 HR. Sheffield deserves some consideration, but the protection in the Yankee lineup far exceeds anything the Angels can offer. Without Guerrero the Angels aren't even contenders for the AL West.

2. Johan Santana
What more is there to say? Completely dominant. Gaudy numbers, intimidation factor through the roof, and hasn't lost in around twenty five starts. Without him, the Twins are questionable to win the division. With him, they win it in a walk.

A quick note: After the disgrace of the NL Cy Young in 2003 (when Jason Schmidt was robbed), I and many of my fellow baseball fans felt that relievers needed an award of their own, and that the Cy Young should henceforth only be given to starting pitchers. We will hope that the baseball writers of America follow suit.

AL Relief Pitcher of the Year: Joe Nathan

Although he had an excellent bullpen in fromt of him, Nathan's stellar numbers set him apart from his competition. His ERA is a miniscule 1.62, opponents are hitting Nathan at only .187. Nathan also boasts an outstanding K/9 ratio of 11.07. Nathan became the mainstay of a bullpen which was considered to be questionable at the begining of the season and became a dominant force in the ninth for the Twins.

2. Keith Foulke
If the postseason were included, Foulke would likely take over the first spot from Nathan. He was a horse for Francona and silenced every hitter he was asked to.
3. Mariano Rivera
If the postseason were included, he might be bumped off the list completely.

NL MVP: Barry Bonds

There is no argument. There is no debate. Barry bonds is the textbook definition of MVP. The man redefines greatness every season. The only records he has left to break are Ruth's Aaron's and his own. How about a single season OPS of 1.4217 and an OBP of over .600, the highest totals ever(breaking his own records from 2002)? How about 45 homeruns in 373 AB(it took Beltre 598 AB to hit 48)? Words fall short with this man. 232 walks. 120 intentional. Still led the league in AVG and SLG by huge margins. He defines the success of the Giants, who are a .500 team without him.

2. Beltre
3. Rolen, Edmonds, Pujols (Tie)

NL Cy Young: Randy Johnson

He may not win due to his record, but he deserves it. What Santana has done in the American League, Johnson has mirrored in the NL. The two have posted nearly identical ERA's, Johnson, however, was followed in games by an incompetent bullpen. Johnson's opponent batting average: .197. Johnson also boasts similarly dominant numbers in K/9 (10.62), K/BB (6.44) not to mention his 2.60 ERA and leading the lead in strikeouts. If Johnson loses it will solely be on the basis of his poor record, which is a damned shame.

2. Jason Schmidt and Roger Clemens (tie)
Even with the supposed collapse of Schmidt, his numbers kept up as well as or better than Clemens. If Johnson had not pitched so well, it would have been a tough call.

NL Relief Pitcher of the Year: Eric Gange

Even with minor stumbles this year, Gagne was still head and shoulders above the rest of relievers in the NL. True, his saves streak did come to an end, but no one but him will even come close. OBA was sub-Mendoza at .181 and his ERA was 2.19. Add in a K/9 of 12 plus and the greatest intimidation of any closer in baseball, and Gagne is the clear winner.

2. Brandon Lidge, Billy Wagner (tie)
Both had respectable numbers for the year. Had Wagner not been hurt, and had the Phillies played enough meaningful games, he might have pulled ahead. As it is, there's no real reason to make a distinction between the two. They lost.

There they are, your winners for 2004. Hope you all enjoyed the games. Now, as they've gotten used to saying in Boston for the last nine decades, we'll all have to "Wait until next year." Or at least the winter meetings.


It Begins ...

Tonight begins an epic showdown. Money, power and influence on one side, brought to bear against youth and exuberance, corporation against family, light against dark. The essence of true evil will assume human form tonight and try to strike at a warrior pure of heart who has inspired this country.

I am not speaking of the Vice Presedential debate. There is something far more important going on tonight, game one of the ALCS between the Twins and Yankees. I assume you've already figured this out by now. I am ready to see Santana rip apart the Yankees lineup. I am ready to see Keving Brown break his other hand in frustration, ready to see Torre finally get fired, to see the evil empire all come crumbling down around them. I may not be as optimistic as Brooks, but I'm on board too. This year, the Twins have the look of a contender and if Johan Santana stays Johan Santana the sky is the limit.


Baseball's second season

There are still many firm believers that baseball has been tarnished by changes in the past few years. Among the most despised is the invention of the wild card. Is it because more wild card teams have won the World Series in recent memory than teams that finishes with the best record? Is it because teams that don't win their division don't deserve a chance at the playoffs? Considering that baseball still has the fewest teams participating in the playoffs of any of the major sports, coupled with the way the strikes and lock-outs have crippled baseball the wild card has been instrumental in bringing people back to the sport.

There is a good reason that the top teams don't win year in and year out. I can tell you from personal experience that what wins in the postseason is pitching, defense and perhaps most of all, heart. Statistics be damned in the postseason; it's all about the heroes. The Twins had Frank Viola throwing sweet music in winning the final game of the 1987 World Series, only to be topped for years later by Jack Morris' 10 inning gem. There was Joe Carter's walkoff homerun to win the Blue Jays their second straight World Series. The best starting trio in baseball beat the best bullpen in baseball in 1995 as the Braves beat the Indians. The Yankees in 1996, coming out of a two game hole to rally for four staright wins on Rivera's electric arm that went up the ladder for two innings every night, only to be turned to the wicked John Wetland to close it out. The 1997 Marlins featuring a game five masterpiece by Livan Hernandez in which he threw 145 pitches and was prepared to come back in game 7 out of relief as both teams went to the starters in extra innings. The 2001 Diamondbacks using Johnson to win games two, six and seven (the final out of relief) to share the MVP with an equally dominating Curt Shilling. Last years Marlins relying on the raw talent of Josh Beckett.

Where does that leave us this post season? Who has the heart and hero potential to win it all?
I'm a firm believer you need two aces to win it all and that leaves the Red Sox and Twins battling it out in the ALCS and Houston and the Cards battling it out in the NLCS. Of course anything can happen in a short series but I'll take my bets on these teams.

It took Jack McDowell three years to believe in the Twins. He finally gave in when he said, "So I guess stats don't really win. Teams do." His case in point was the 2001 Mariners. We all should have learned that lesson from the Mariners' 116 win season in 2001, when they shed the stats of the game's most dominant pitcher (Randy Johnson), the game's best shortstop (Alex Rodriguez) and, at the time, the game's best player (Ken Griffey Jr.) and won the AL West by 14 games. I didn't learn from that and I tip my hat to a team for which every player would love to play. This Twins organization has been raised on winning.

I might be the only person who follows baseball to say this, but I'll hedge my bets on a Twins - Astros world series.


Searching For A Spark.

The San Francisco Giants lead the NL Wild Card by a half a game. Not since the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa has an event been so mysterious. Equally mysterious are the underachieving Chicago Cubs, a half game out of the wild card lead. Righty Grove has already posted an excellent analysis of the Cubs pitching, which I recommend to those of you who have any doubts about the Cubs Starting rotation. To put it simply, the Giants pitching is roughly as good as a AA team without Jason Schmidt. The Giants staff is 12th in the NL in ERA, and boasts two pitchers with an ERA under 4.00. If I was to choose one player to embody the Giants staff as a whole it would be former closer Matt Herges. Anyone who can save 23 games with an ERA of 5.23 is nothing short of a magician. With apologies to Jason Schmidt and Barry Bonds, the Giants are a team featuring mostly Journeymen players and AL Central castoffs. How have the Giants managed to craft a lineup that has scored the most runs in the NL with Bonds only hitting once? Manager Felipe Alou has been brilliant at shuffling the Giants lineup, always putting his hottest hitter behind Barry Bonds.

The Cubs have displayed an complete lack of focus, involving themselves in pointless verbal feuds with TV broadcasters, the local media and opponents. Some feuding is only natural but the Cubs have become a textbook case of overindulgence of temper tantrums. Dusty Baker needs to step up the plate and show that he will not tolerate the kind of whining which the Cubs have all too frequently indulged in. Baker, unbelievably, told reporters that "My dad didn't like no whining. He didn't like no excuses, either. I'm the same way." Yet when asked about Moises Alou's complaints about TV broadcasters being "too negative" he responded that "There could be merit to some of it." I know that Dusty has always been a players' manager, but this rises to the level of sticking his head in the sand. Last season it took an all out brawl to give the Cubs the drive they needed to make the postseason. Last year it took Kyle Farnsworth tackling Paul Wilson when he charged the mound to spark the Cubs. This year requires something more subtle, for Baker put the mantle of players' manager on the shelf for a few weeks and just be a manager. After all, Paul Wilson probably won't make the same mistake twice.



We've been talking about it for the last three seasons, originally as footnotes to the real records he was breaking. In Barry Bond's assault on the most prestigious numbers in baseball (single season and all time homeruns) he's been setting all sorts of records along the way. The one that has, at times, taken center stage, is the sheer volume of walks he generates. I think at this point it is fair to say that no hitter in the history of the game (rightly or wrongly) has been more feared. No one changes a game more than Barry Bonds. I have problems with the way he is treated, for many reasons. Firstly, I simply believe that this is not how the game should be played. Baseball is perhaps the most egalitarian (at least in the NL) game concieved and to take his at bats and turn them into the farce they've become is disgusting. Every man on the field get's his three a game, guaranteed and opposing managers have taken that away from him. Secondly, there is no one in the majors, not Vlad and his chiropractic gyrations, not Manny and his "Made-For-Slow-Mo" homers (and fielding), not Ichiro's Sixty Foot Sprint, not even the most determined looking man in baseball, Sammy Sosa, or Sheffield and his wrist-breaking waggle as impressive. For me, it's all about number 25, the most imposing force in sports, lurking in the on-deck circle, slowly striding to the plate like a gunfighter at high noon, waiting with the patience of a saint for a strike. It's the way he turns on a ball before I can even identify it with the help of the on-screen pitch speed. It's the simple grace, the effortlessness of the swing, the purest, cleanest, fastest swing in baseball. It is perfection.

Joe Morgan finally brought some sanity to this deabte. You can argue the benefit of giving a man over 200 free trips to first base, and man who in those at bats would have had less than ninety hits, likely less than eighty. You can argue the point of picking one guy on the team not to beat you. You could even forget to take your medication and pull a Jack McKeon and say that even if Ruth hit behind him you wouldn't pitch to Barry. Joe Morgan, a man for which I have tremendous respect, who I've even met, (although I don't remember it. I smudged his autograph as well) put it like this. If you tell a pitcher to walk him intentionally, you're telling him that you do not believe he can get Barry out and eventually, you are going to have to pitch to Barry Bonds. Now you've set up in the minds of everyone on the field that Barry is superhuman, that he cannot be taken down my mere mortal pitchers, and that if he doesn't hit a home run, it's because he was distracted by the things that Barry Bonds thinks about. God only knows what those are. Maybe he's wondering if he could do this with his eyes closed. The point is, this isn't good for the game, it isn't even good for the team. You need to build a team that believes it can win, no matter what. For as much as I hate them, that is how the Angels won two years ago.

And one other thing. I know that passions run high, and that everyone in a field as competitive as professional sports is going to want to win every night, but I think there's a moment when opposing managers, opposing players, even opposing pitchers stop and watch his balls go sailing into McCovey Cove. I think even they can appreciate that greatness for exactly what it is, if only for a second. But not for a second time. We all know what's coming in the next AB. 4 wide, take your base please. In the end, we'll only get to guess what might have happened if pitchers would throw to him with some consistency, or if the Giants had gotten two big bats to protect him, or if there were a limit on intentional walks. But for as hard as they make it, he's still at 701 and I don't think he's planning on stopping.


North Side Wake Up Call

It was a familiar situation for the Cubs. Going into the bottom of the seventh against the Marlins they were down two runs. Dontrelle Willis had held them scoreless for seven, despite not throwing much of a game. His control was off early, and the Cubs had the bases loaded in the second. Derek Lee promptly grounded out. Until the fifth, Willis was having trouble throwing first pitch strikes. But the Cubs let him settle into a groove and he was taking them apart at leisure. With the Marlins bullpen ready to come in and lock down the game, it was a show we'd all seen before. The Cubs hadn't hit a home run all day, and they weren't going to. That's a recepie for failure, for the Cubs. Zambrano had thrown very well, giving up only one earned run, the two runs due to a throwing error and a broken bat flare. The Cubs don't have a Rally Monkey for these sorts of situations. The animal most associated with the Cubs is a goat. This seemed appropriate.

There was only one person on the field who must have felt out of place. Only one man felt unfamiliar today. Sammy Sosa hadn't hit sixth in a lineup in over 10 years. But his first two at bats were familiar. They were exactly what we'd come to expect from the Cubs this year.

And then, it happened. The Cubs had threatened and then scored one in the seventh, but all that managed to do was bring the dreaded Guillermo Mota into the game. After the strikeout of Moises Alou looking to end the inning, the Cubs looked beaten. Two more runs off Mota, or Benitez with the bottom of the lineup? Highly unlikely.

In the eighth, Dusty Baker pinch hit with Nefif Perez. This in itself was enough to suggest to me that he was ceding the game, but Perez rapped a ball through the infield and took second on a throwing error. There was a glimmer of hope for a moment, and then I saw the man in the on-deck circle. It was Sosa.

There have been times when seeing the Dominican Daddy step to the plate with the game on the line would have sent electric shivers through me. But I thought we'd lost that Sammy. For the year he's hitting .236 with men on, .209 with a man on second, and .185 close and late (results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck). I thought it was the end.

And then it happened. He happened. Sosa chipped a ball into the outfield, scoring Perez. The Cubs piled on for three more with a bases loaded double from Lee. Still, in the back of my mind, there was a worry. Hawkins had to go through Conine, Encarnacion and Gonzalez. He did it in nine pitches. Nine strikes. Three strikeouts. He was pouring heat on the outside corner and had Conine and Ecnarnacion swinging at pitches six inches off the plate. It was determination, it was grit, and it was blistering fastballs centimeters from the edge of the plate.

It may be premature, but this is exactly what the Cubs needed. There were flubs, blown bunts, Nomar came out in the fifth, and the error in the first. But the Cubs needed to remember how good they really are. They needed to pick up a game on the 'Stros and Marlins. And more than anything else, one thing needed to be proven, that Sammy Sosa was still Sammy Sosa. If the Cubs win the Wild Card, this game will have been the turning point. This is when they started believing they could win it all. In the end, it was the Marlins who looked beaten, flailing at Hawkins in the ninth. The Cubs looked ready for more.

Contender Analysis: The Twins

DISCLAIMER: I am, and always have been a Twins fan. Since every sportswriter or commentator has biases I see no conflict of interest in profiling the Twins.


The most important factor in determining playoff success (aside from just being red hot) is starting pitching. The Twins have an excellent one two punch with Brad Radke and Johan Santana. I have already read from the gospel of Johan Santana pretty throughly. Johan started twice last year againist the Yankees with one excellent start, and one bad one. This is a different Santana now, having gained complete control over his stellar changeup and he hasn't given up more than three earned runs since June 3rd (only allowing 3 ER once in that stretch). Radke has also improved over last year, currently tied for the MLB lead in quality starts (3 ER or less) with 22. Brad usually takes it up a step in the post season; last year he had a 2.84 ERA in the Yankees series, and a 1.96 ERA in the 2002 playoffs. Brad is a gamer.

The problems are with the Twins 3-5 starters. They're not paticuarly good. Terry Mullholland (4-8, 5.06 ERA) has pitched very well at times, but not well enough to obscure his age(41). Carlos Silva (10-8, 4.56 ERA) is my pick for the number three starter. GM Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire have wisely decided to use a three man rotation in the first round. Silva has pitched badly againist the Yankees (12.60 ERA) but very well againist Boston (2.84 ERA) and effectively againist Oakland (3.86 ERA). However, Silva is in his first year as a starting pitcher and sometimes has trouble pitching deep into ballgames. Even with these difficulties, is the bullpen stays true to form the Twins should be alright with a 5-6 inning effort. Unfortunately, the likes of Carlos Silva scares no one, which leaves the spot for the number three starter up in the air.

Kyle Lohse is working his hardest to make sure that the Twins leave him out of any possible playoff rotation. With an ERA of 5.56, his inability to get hitters out with either bases empty (.322 opponent BA) or with men on (.297 opponent BA) and his utter lack of control, Lohse is increasingly looking like he will not be pitching in any kind of meaningful postseason situation.

The Twins starters should hold up over a five game series. However, in a seven game series they would have to rely on the strength of their bullpen in order to win.


The Twins pen is their greatest strength. They have picked up the starters, bolstering team ERA to lead the AL. The most impressive dimension of the Twins pen is the depth of talent available. The Twins have five pitchers (Rincon, Balfour, Crain, Romero and Nathan) out of relief who are trustworthy in high pressure situations. Joe Nathan has made an unexpectedly smooth transition into the closer role, becoming almost unhittable at times. With 39 saves and a K/9 of 10.97 Joe has become one of the elite closers in the AL. Setting Nathan up are four hard throwing relievers in Juan Rincon, Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain and JC Romero. Juan Rincon has been one of the primary arms coming out of the pen, and his pitched very well this year with a 2.86 ERA. JC Romero has not given up a run since June 1st and is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA over 34 and 2/3 innings since then. That's a club record for consecutive scoreless innings. Grant Balfour has been another solid power arm out of the pen, with a 3.56 ERA (with a 2.63 ERA after the break in 13.2 innings). Balfour was injured recently but shoud be healthy in time for the ALDS. Jeese Crain has only been up for a month, with only 16 innings on the season. Gardenhire is crazy about Crain, who will likely see playing time in the postseason.

The pen also includes Joe Roa and Aaron Fultz. Roa has been adaquate; Fultz has been sent down to AAA and only recenly recalled. These two do not perform well under pressure.


This is the area of greatest concern. The Twins' offense has not kept up with other contenders this season. The Twins rank 10th in AL in RBI's and runs scored, in team BA (.263) and eleventh in OBP.

The Twins have made several roster shuffles in an attempt to remedy their hitting woes. The most effective was giving Justin Morneau everyday starts at first. Since Morneau took hold at first base (July 31), the Twins have improved to 8th in the AL in RBI. The return of Shannon Stewart as a true leadoff hitter has also helped, but still does not address other problems, such as the power deficiency. The Twins, as a team, are slugging .428. This doesn't look too bad against an opponents SLG of .405, but the Yankees, Boston and even the light-hitting A's (compared to the Sox and Yanks) are slugging at much higher percentages. The Twins are still, despite the addition of Morneau and return of Stewart, a subpar offensive team and the worst offense of any contender in the AL, and really of any division winner. They must pitch well in order to survive. The Twins also lack a veteran presence on the bench, which could hurt them as they progress into the playoffs.


In order for the Twins to win in the postseason they have to pitch well. The Twins will need clutch hitting to make up for a lack of consistent power. The other big question is if Silva/Mullholland can pitch well enough to give the Twins a shot in a later rounds. The Twins are as likely as anyone to advance past the ALDS, but a seven game series would prove a considerable challenge.


Quantum Leaps?

The Spiderman Catch from Marlon Byrd was a true magic moment in baseball. Holding on for dear life, he struggled halfway up the centerfield wall to rob Andruw Jones of a homerun. But what did it really mean for the Phils to take a doubleheader from the Braves?

In the end, not a thing. It was a marvelous performance, solid defense, great pitching, and clutch hitting. In short, it looked more like the A's, or the Twins, or the Bosox traded uniforms with them. Especially the A's. It looked like the A's left town after dropping two the the Sox and decided to play a double header for the Phillies. Maybe they still loved the old Athletics stomping grounds. Maybe they just wanted to play a team worse than Boston. Whatever happened, the A's did not show up at Oakland (sorry, Network Associates) Coliseum Wednesday night. It must have been the Phillies. And those Phanatics weren't playing the Braves last night. It must have been those A's.

But seriously, this is what the Phils were supposed to be, from day one of spring training. There were people talking about a Phillies World Series. These games in mid August could have been the second most exciting series all year, to the Yanks and Sox in mid August. It could have been the battle of the NL East. It could have been a clash of dynasties; one in the twilight of its reign, the other hungry and raw, ready to turn the baseball world on its head. I don't pretend to know what went wrong. It reminds me of a line that is credited to no one in particular:

"We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time."

The Phillies are out of time. They were weeks ago. I can't fathom how the Braves are running away with the division. There's only one thing I can say. It's a shame for all of us that they didn't pull it together. Then these games could have been dramatic, even profound, instead of a spectacle and a reminder of what could have been.


AL Cy Young: Why the debate?

There has been some talk about which pitcher is most deserving of the AL Cy Young. A number of names seem to have come up in most press coverage, most frequently those of Mulder, Schilling and Santana. A good indicator of the contenders seemed to be would be anybody in the top 5 in ERA (Although, I am by no means saying ERA without flaws but face it nobody without a top 5 ERA has a chance).

AL ERA Leaders (9.5.04)
1. Tim Hudson 2.95
1. Johan Santana 2.95
3. Curt Schilling 3.38
4. Jake Westbrook 3.42
5. Pedro Martinez 3.55

Mark Mulder appears nowhere on this list. In fact due to some recent troubles his ERA has jumped to a pedestrian 3.90. To be fair however one ought to look at some of his other numbers just in case. Opponents are hitting Mulder at a .250 clip and getting on base at a .320 clip. His K/BB ratio (one of my favorite stats) is at 3.19 which is a fair increase from last year, his K/9 declined slightly. All in all, Mulder has had a good season. However, the only reason his name is mentioned in the Cy Young race are his 17 wins. Although this is a important factor it isn't enough to overcome such a high ERA.

What about the other member of the Big Three in contention? The main rap against Hudson is that he simply has been injured too long during the season to deserve the award, and its a good rap. Comparing a guy with only 149 IP started to the other contenders simply doesn't make sense. Wait til next year.

Jake Westbrook is enjoying a breakout year with the resurgent Indians. Jake has held batters to a .251 average. However, with his record only at 12-7 and his ERA at 3.42 he is unlikely to overtake any of the other contenders and thus much more analysis is largely academic.

Pedro can also be disqualified; he has a excellent season, no doubt. For all the talk about his diminished status as a power pitcher he still averaged 9.45 K/9, opponents are hitting an anemic .232 off him. However, his ERA is the highest its been in years (since 1996 with the Expos) and the batting average is about .15 higher than last season. A good season, but one of Pedro's weakest in years and not worthy of another Cy Young Award.

Curt Schilling has recently come (along with Santana) to be considered one of the top two contenders for the award. At 18-6 his record is hard to argue with. However, in the world of Aho, win/loss record is just a factor and not the factor in selecting a worthy candidate. Curt is holding his opponents to a .251 average and unlike some of other names mentioned with almost the same stat he has done a better job of keeping men off the basepaths with a .279 OPS. Another factor is playing on a gutsy contender like the Sox, helping to pitch them into contention (and nearly past the Yankees thus far). His K/9 has declined by a significant margin but I don't hold the development of finesse over power against a guy.

Now if you've been reading this you might be wondering what criteria I'm using to determine the worthiness of these pitchers Cy Young chances. Well, folks its this simple; Johan Santana has made himself 2004's standard of excellence in AL pitching.

The numbers are just unreal. Since his league best ERA has already been posted I'll examine the lowest opponent batting averages in the majors.

1. Randy Johnson .192

2. Santana .196

3. Jason Schmidt .204

4. Oliver Perez .206

5. Al Leiter .215

You might have noticed that the only one in the American league is Johan. In fact the next best AL starter is Ted Lilly at .232, and he doesn't appear on the list until #11. Santana also has the lowest opponent OBP in the AL at .253, and the lowest ERA, and the most K's (by almost 30 over Pedro). What's more is Johan has been hottest when it counts the most: after the break. He is 8-0 with a 1.68 ERA since the All-Star hiatus. This is the man who has been AL pitcher of the month twice in a row. Johan's k/9 is an insane 10.34.

The only reason that there is any debate over Santana is his 16-6 record. Perhaps if Schilling was getting a win in every start I might consider that enough difference in their records. However to deny the award to Johan based on Schilling having two more wins is well, there is only one word for this ladies and gentlemen: idiocy. Only one man is leading in every significant pitching statistic other than wins (and 16 wins is pretty damn good with 6 starts to go).

That man is Johan Stantana.

Spetember Reading List

With the school year rolling around again, trees turning colors and the Yankees pitching staff rummaging through Giambi's locker for horse tranquilizers, I felt I ought to put up some required reading for any true baseball fans.

Gammons, with his usual brevity, gives us a bevy of predictions of free agent signings for 2005. I actually found this article even more interesting, in which all the teams out of contention were sized up. Reading through these send me on a web search of Scott Boras, and I came across an article from 2001 laying out very clearly who he is. After reading Moneyball I tend to agree with Rick Morrissey. Eventually this search led to some far more humorous content.

All from The Brushback:

Scott Boras Demands $35 Million To Rescue Drowning Child

Man Playing Entire Season Of MLB 2004 Not Getting Laid Anytime Soon

Baseball Fight Marred By Actual Punches

MLB To Institute New Minority Firing Initiative

Peter Gamons Arrested on Marijuana, Gun Charges

It's football, but I still have to mention it because it's jsut that funny

Struggling Eagles Admit J-Lo/Ben Afleck Breakup 'May Have Been A Distraction'

Check the archives for other satirical colunms, but just a fw more baseball related entries before I sign off.

Montreal Expos Lost in Poker Game

Yanks Quietly Place Sleeping Jose Contreras On Raft Back To Cuba

And finally, to continue the theme from my last post,

John Kruk's Column Mistaken For Lost Writings Of Ernest Hemingway

Let's all hope the Rays can get out of Florida and help wipe out the Yankee's division lead. Until next time sports fans.


Bring Back Bobby V

In a recent BBTN (Baseball Tonight) segment, John Kruk and Harold Reynolds were asked to rate the five contending teams in the NL Wild Card race on pitching, defense and offense. Kruk rated the Marlins and Padres above the Cubs for pitching, officially making him the stupidest man ever on the program, edging out both Ken Caminiti (I'm assuming he's been interviewed at least once) and Jose Canseco.

If the Marlins had kept Penny, and that's a big if, I might consider them for second on the list. However, trading him took a formidible chunk out of their rotation. Willis is at 9-9 with an ERA just points below 4, Beckett is 6-8 with a 4.05 ERA, and while Ismael Valdez is 12-7, his ERA is 5.23. Carl Pavano is carrying this rotation at 16-5 and 3.09. That is the ninth best ERA in the NL, but he's #23 for strikeouts, behind Willis. More on Valdez, he does not have a winning record for his carreer and has been wildly inconsistent since his first four years as a Dodger. His K/9 has declined steadily since 2000 from 6.22 all the way down to 3.13. Furthermore, Willis' brilliant K/9 ratio from his debut year is down to 6.45, and he is no longer holding opposing batters to a .245 BA, possibly because hitters have figured out his bizarre mechanics. They now hit him at a .276 clip. If I had to guess as to what was wrong, it was that batters have imporved at hitting him out of the stretch(.266 with the bases empty and .292 with men on), eliminating the advantage of his 'elbows and knees' delivery. Beckett's numbers look eeriely similar to his 2003 stats, with the only difference being a 60 point jump in his SLG. Valdez's stats look about like one would think with his record and ERA, as is the case with Pavano. This does not look like a very healthy rotation to me; it looks like an ace and three number three or four starters, or maybe some young pitchers trying to figure it out.

The Padres are an interesting choice for second best rotation. Adam Eaton is the only one with a losing record at 9-12, 4.71 ERA. Both Brian Lawrence (13-11, 3.82) and David Wells (9-7, 3.49) have midling records. Only Jake Peavy stands out at 11-4 and a 2.21 ERA. The problem with Peavy is that he's untested, not even having reached 100 innings last year in the show. His K/9 has been going down since he came into professional baseball (which is to be roughly expected when he started above 12) but dropped from 8.29 to 7.21, although his WHIP improved marginally. Batters are hitting .282 against Lawrence, way up from last year (.258) and they are slugging .460 off him, a fifty point jump over last year. In contrast, Peavy's numbers are .235 and .352. Wells has actually improved his K/BB by two full points since 2001, but but K/9 has been dropping steadily since '98. I don't think I have to even bother with Sabermetric numbers for Eaton, sometimes ERA and W-L record are pretty honest about a pitcher. The only one that seems to hold any hope for him is that his K/9 has stayed fairly high, above 6.75 for his carreer. Still no one in that rotation scares me but Peavy who is 6-0 since the All Star break and who gets tougher with runners on and tougher still when they're in scoring position (.245 empty, .220 men on, .189 scoring position). After the break, batters agaisnt Wells are hitting .301. Before it was .244. His offense has bolstered his win total, giving him a record since the break of 5-2 while his ERA has climbed over a full point. This seems to be the same story with the Marlins.

I will admit before I start in on the evaulation of the Cubs that I am rather partial to them. That being said, here goes.

Kerry Wood, (7-6, 3.30) Mark Prior, (4-4, 4.87) Matt Clement, (9-12, 3.44) Greg Maddux, (13-8, 3.70) and Carlos Zambrano (12-8, 2.94) are the best rotation in the National League. Period. Zambrano's carreer K/9 (in two and and half seasons) is 7.59, AVGAgainst (or AVGA from now on) is .234, sucked even further down by is almost Mendoza-esque .222 this season so far. By the way, that is the only time in the history of baseball that Mendoza has been used as a compliment. Clement's K/9 has gone up from last season, to 9.48. His ERA has gone down, from 4.11 to 3.44. His AVGA is identical at .227. I have no explanation for his record, except that the Cubs offense has not picked up its pitchers this year. Wood's K/9 remains over nine for the year and his AVGA is at .230. Prior still has an astronomical K/9, 10.62 (10.71 for three seasons), although his AVGA and SLGA has jumped by a lot, due mainly to his injury begning the season and the one that took him out of a game on July 15th. I'll finish with the elder statesman of the group, a man who came home to end his carreer, the most dependable pitcher for the last fifteen years. You have to go back to 1988 to find a year he had a losing record, or a season in which he won less than fifteen games. His K/9 is solidly at 6.27 and AVGA is .245 for the last ninteen years. There was an article on ESPN.com awhile back that talked about just how good Maddux has been, especially compared to his contemporaries.

Coming into this season, according to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, the average National League pitcher during Maddux's career (1986-present) had an ERA of 4.24. Maddux's career ERA, on the other hand, looked a little different than that:

At a fabulous 2.89.

You might not be surprised to learn that's the greatest difference in ERA by any 300-game winner in modern history (after 1900), compared to his league ERA...

Maddux also has the biggest difference, compared to his league, in baserunners per nine innings (2.39 better than his league) and walks per nine innings (1.51 better). And he's second only to Christy Mathewson in strikeout-walk ratio (1.49 better). So this just in: This guy can really pitch...

What has also defined this man is that he's one of the great control artists of his time -- or any time. He once ripped off nine straight seasons with a walk ratio lower than 2.00 per nine innings. And only three pitchers in history ever had a longer streak. [one of which was Cy Young]...

Only five 300-game winners in history have had a higher career winning percentage than Maddux (.638). And, not coincidentally, only three had more seasons in which they won at least 10 more games than they lost. Maddux has had eight seasons like that.


1. Lefty Grove .680
2. Christy Mathewson .665
3. Roger Clemens .664
4. John Clarkson .650
5. Grover C Alexander .642
6. Greg Maddux .638


12 Christy Mathewson
11 Cy Young
9 Grover Alexander
8 Greg Maddux
8 Kid Nichols
8 Walter Johnson
8 Lefty Grove

Furthermore, all of these pitchers are horses, pushing or passing 200 innings with regularity. How anyone could not rate this as the best rotation in the NL Wild Card race, the NL, or even the Major Leagues is beyond me. The only rotation even close is Oakland.

At least Krukmeister (for as dumb as his choices were) and I can agree on one thing, the Giants rotation is dead last among contenders. Honestly, let the mascot pitch. He couldn't do much worse that Reuter.

Currently listening to the A's on MLB.com and Swisher is 1-1 in his first three at bats with two walks (what a Moneyballer) and a double. That's nothing but good news, unless you're Ted Lilly.


This blog may eventually prove to be nothing more than a way to settle bar bets, when someone accuses me of predicting the Reds to win the Central in the next decade, or the Yankees to finally admit that they sold the souls of New York to play the way they've played for the last ten years. It may be a useful place to read baseball commentary. It may start a new world order. Who knows?

Now, the ceremonial throwing out of the first pitch, by, none other than Jessie Orosco ... well, at least after I get him out of the wheelchair.

Play ball.